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The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

Four years doesn’t sound like a long enough time to justify updating a list, but video games move in bounding strides.

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The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time
Photo: Sony Computer Entertainment

Four years doesn’t sound like a long enough time to justify updating a list, but as a medium, video games move in bounding strides. Trends come and go, hardware changes, and brand-new games emerge as towering influences on the medium. When we published our initial list of the 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 were only a year old. The Nintendo Switch didn’t even exist yet. When people heard “battle royale,” they thought of Kinji Fukasaku’s 2000 film. As such, where the prospect of keeping up is concerned, four years might as well be forever.

Some games from the 2014 iteration of our list have shifted positions, while others are absent entirely; old favorites have claimed the spots of what we treated as new classics, and vice versa. Those changes speak to the fluidity of an evolving medium as well as to the broadness of experiences to be had within it. How can the same narrow handful of games, the accepted canon that looms large over every games list, hope to represent that diversity? How can a list of the greatest ever be anything but constantly in flux?

When compiling this list, my colleagues and I elected to consider more than historical context. Greatness, to the individual, isn’t just about impact on some nebulous past. It’s as much about feeling, about the way a video game can capture the imagination regardless of genre or release date or canonical status. The titles on this list come from every corner of the medium—represented for the precision of their control or the beauty of their visuals or the emotion of their story. We’ve chosen to cast a wide net, so as to best represent the individual passions incited by saving planets, stomping on goombas, or simply conversing with vivid characters. Steven Scaife

Editor’s Note: Click here for a list of the titles that made the previous incarnation of our 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time.
 

The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

100. Firewatch (2016)

The hazy amber skyscapes of Firewatch do much to emphasize the loneliness of the game’s two major characters. Such artistic flourishes are undoubtedly intentional; while most games reduce the bonds between the characters that inhabit them to the purely functional, Firewatch hangs its hat, cloak, and even its boots on the relationship between player-controlled Henry and Delilah, his foul-mouthed co-worker who he never even sees. Both he and Delilah reside in towers that have the express purpose of watching for fires in the game’s fictional national park. And while a partnership based entirely on voice communication might seem a difficult task to pull off, the performances of the two leads elevate the emotional tenor to a level rarely seen in the narrative game genre. Steven Wright


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

99. Cart Life (2010)

Video games usually de-personalize business management. They shift the perspective upward, letting us look down on workers and customers as they go about the mechanical tasks we designate from on high. Cart Life keeps things street level, building a life sim around its business management. Its monochrome characters barely scrape by, stretching cash as far as they’re able while making time to feed cats or pick daughters up from school. Though the game can easily wear you down, it also gives weight to the small victories, like selling enough to keep going. Video games have considerable power to communicate experiences to the player, and it’s used most often for saving worlds and amassing collectibles and jacking cars. Cart Life is a reminder of the humanity the medium is capable of. Scaife


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

98. BioShock Infinite (2013)

BioShock Infinite is a visceral experience about an irredeemable psychopath murdering a city of despicable fundamentalists. Booker Dewitt is tasked with saving a reality-tearing woman from a floating white-supremacist paradise, leading to the interactive slaughter of its inhabitants; so much was made of the game’s violence that many overlooked that the repugnant brutality was exactly the point. While most shooters shy away from grue or any consequences to the player’s actions, BioShock Infinite vividly depicts these rippling across universes, where a single choice can carry disastrous results. This is an astonishing game that philosophizes on the human condition—consider that the opponents of Columbia’s segregation aren’t interested in equality, rather suppressing their suppressors—while critiquing its entire genre, concluding that the protagonist of a first-person shooter shouldn’t be allowed to live in any universe. Ryan Aston


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

97. The Walking Dead (2012)

No one would’ve faulted any developer for slapping The Walking Dead name on a lackluster Left 4 Dead rip-off, and waiting for the cash to roll in—like Activision tried to do with Survival Instinct. But instead, in Telltale Games’s hands, The Walking Dead is going to go down as not only the game that shocked the entire adventure game genre out of atrophy, but as a brutal and brilliant Cormac McCarthian tale of terror and human loss unprecedented in this medium. This is a game where success is almost entirely measured in the structural integrity of a little girl’s soul, and the decisions you’ve made to keep it intact. This is the story the AMC show only dreams it’s built across its many seasons. Justin Clark


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

96. Star Fox 64 (1997)

The N64 was an awkward era in Nintendo’s history, as the company was getting its sea legs as it was transitioning into 3D gaming. And because of that weird third leg protruding obnoxiously from the center of the system’s controller, it wasn’t exactly easy to play the second title in the Star Fox series. But the controls were responsive, meaning it was at least easy for players to endure Star Fox 64’s steep learning curve. Reminiscent of games like 1985’s Space Harrier and 1995’s Panzer Dragoon, this compelling on-rails space shooter gave us anthropomorphic animals piloting what were ostensibly X-Wing starfighters in a galactic battle against Andross. The game featured local co-op, which made it even more enjoyable because of the multitude of additional explosions on screen. And though it came out toward the end of the 20th century, Star Fox 64 was very clearly inspired by cubist art, making it a perturbing and exciting departure from the vibrant and richly detailed worlds players were exploring in other Nintendo titles. Unsurprisingly, we’re still doing barrel rolls to this day, so we can thank Peppy Hare for the tip all those years ago. Jeremy Winslow


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

95. Xenoblade Chronicles (2010)

Xenoblade Chronicles, like fellow 2012 JRPG revivalist Final Fantasy XIII-2 (which, like so many other games, owes a debt to the seminal Chrono Trigger), cleverly uses the thematic components of shifting destinies and humankind versus higher powers as manners by which to depict the oscillating mental states of its central characters. You won’t be likely to find a more fleshed-out batch of heroes than 18-year-old sword-swinger Shulk and his ragtag group of Mechon-battlers. Writer-director Tetsuya Takahashi (Xenogears, Xenosaga) has been in this market for quite a while, and clearly understands that a great RPG starts and ends with its cast, and how well players can identify with their specific, often extrinsic, ambitions and dreams. Monolith Soft’s ambitious epic is boundlessly beautiful, challenging, emotionally gripping, and most distinguishably of all, effortlessly transporting. Mike LeChevallier


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

94. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (2017)

Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is unusually sensitive as a horror game, rejecting the trend of using mental illness for cheap scares. As disturbing as the contradictory voices in the titular protagonist’s head might be, her fractured psychological state doesn’t exist to leave players feeling frightened, but to serve up a philosophical inquiry with universal resonance. Between fights with scores of mythic beings (the one-versus-all war in the Sea of Corpses is among the most ominous action spectacles in gaming history), the player learns that Senua loathes the voices within her as much as she does anything else—and that self-hatred must be recognized and managed in order for her to attain some form of peace. This dark but life-affirming parable amplifies its emotional power through mesmerizing audiovisuals, where hallucinatory whispers argue over whether you’re ever going the right way and motion-capture graphics ironically seem like reality when juxtaposed against full-motion video. Jed Pressgrove


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

93. The Witness (2016)

Jonathan Blow’s long-awaited sequel to his 2008 indie megahit Braid is a puzzle game powered by ideology, a series of conundrums designed to inspire real-life note-taking and challenge your geometric savvy. The Witness is all-consuming in its mystery, capable of eating up hours and hours of your time with its demanding and exacting logic. And while this love letter to the power of knowledge and science might come off a tad smug in its hyper-rationalist worldview, the cumulative effect of its swaths of mind-melting riddles ultimately serves as a complete portrait of its creator himself: beguiling and enigmatic but thoroughly appealing nonetheless. Wright


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

92. Kentucky Route Zero (2013)

Kentucky Route Zero has released only four of its five acts at the time of this list’s publication. But even with the story unfinished, the game still feels like a cohesive whole. This is the strength of its vision, a soulful rendering of the countryside at night perfectly communicated by its lyrical text, minimalist graphics, and incredible sound design. It’s a game meant to wash over you, evocative in a way that’s broadly true and surreal yet also grounded, lived-in. You feel exactly the beauty it means you to feel, as well as the sadness, the desperation, and the desolation of a Rust Belt ravaged by false promises. Though you and the main character, Conway, are ostensibly passing through, the game never makes the mistake of putting players above it all—outsiders simply shaking their heads as they move along and forget. It recognizes struggle, but it’s careful to emphasize above all else the quiet dignity of the lives that are working through it. Scaife


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

91. The Beatles: Rock Band (2009)

Many a documentary has done a fine job collecting the sheer facts of what the Beatles were and became over that decade, but only Harmonix has managed to do it any sort of artistic justice. Given blessing by both surviving Beatles, George Harrison’s son, as well as Yoko Ono, The Beatles: Rock Band is less the band simulator or karaoke machine of the series’s numbered sequels than a meticulous Technicolor tone poem. It gives players the ability to embody the simple brilliance of the music, to stand awestruck at the band’s achievements, and to bask in the imagery that the music creates. No interview has ever been able to speak truth to the joy of what this band’s music is capable of than to physically play a guitar while the reincarnated vision of John Lennon stands in an elysian field imploring Prudence to come out to play. This is the pinnacle of the music game genre. Clark


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

90. Streets of Rage 2 (1992)

Streets of Rage 2 is a beat ’em up, not a rhythm game, but you can still get lost in its groove. The electronica- and funk-driven soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro is catchy, startling, and enrapturing. The way the four characters feel as you fight—as you punch, kick, slide, grab, throw, perform backbreakers, counter fools standing directly behind you, and more—mirrors the soul of the music: Everything is tightly constructed but flows like an improvisational avalanche. This game doesn’t hold back on the challenge front either. At times, the screen fills with so many moving bodies that the timing and decision-making required to dispatch the crowd of foes might seem impossible to perform. But when you do manage to come out of a brawl without losing a life, Streets of Rage feels like one of the hippest dances you can nail. Pressgrove


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

89. Grand Theft Auto III (2001)

Far too many people who have never actually played Grand Theft Auto III criticize it as a violent fantasia—for offering up a world in which you boost your health by having sex with prostitutes and recover your money by running them over. Those detractors are missing out on the truly compelling aspect of the game, which is the freedom it allows—and yes, freedom sometimes comes with a moral cost. The story’s mafia tropes never take themselves too seriously, so while it deals with corruption and vice, it also encourages players to focus less on rampaging murder sprees and more on what they can accomplish with, say, the game’s ridiculous physics engine. You could, for instance, steal a tank, drive down a steep hill to build momentum, and use the recoil from the turret to inexplicably propel yourself into flight. You’ll hijack a flatbed, firetruck, taxi, or even an ice-cream van, just to see what’ll happen in a world free of consequences. Riccio


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

88. Missile Command (1980)

Dave Theurer’s Missile Command is the definitive thinking person’s shooter. With limited counter-missiles at your disposal and multiple cities to protect, you must quickly observe the trajectory of every incoming enemy missile, and your shot placement must account for the radius of every ensuing explosion so as to destroy as many projectiles at once. This anticipatory approach makes the experience unquestionably distinct from other shooters of the time, such as Space Invaders, Combat, Centipede, and Asteroids, all of which featured unlimited ammo and only asked players to aim for one target with each shot. But just as important, Missile Command, released in 1980, is culturally significant in how it reflects the anxiety of the Cold War era. The game envisions a scenario where civilization must be protected from an unpredictable foreign enemy—one that doesn’t come from outer space. The gravity of this theme is amplified by the unique control layout of the game’s arcade cabinet, which gives the illusion that you’re manning a war station rather than merely playing another machine in the arcade. Few games have captured widespread geopolitical paranoia like Missile Command. Pressgrove


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

87. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016)

There’s an old moral lesson in which, after discovering that the perilously recovered treasure chest was empty, the hero realizes that the true reward was the quest itself. There’s no such moral lesson in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, which is both a rewarding adventure in and of itself and an overflowing bounty of innovation, a last-hurrah that throws everything at its fans without ever once feeling derivative. There are daring escapes from Panamanian jails, shootouts at an Italian manor’s gala, car chases through the streets of modern King’s Bay—and that’s hardly scratching the surface. The graphics come uncannily close to the game’s cinematic aspirations, a new grappling hook mechanic enhances the already epic gunfights, and sequences in the Madagascan outback add a much-needed dose of semi-open-world exploration to the series. Despite needing to encompass all of these features, the ambitious story never feels stretched or shoehorned, and delivers an emotional closure to the series as protagonist Nathan Drake must choose between his gilded obsessions and the life of his rogue brother, Sam. Given all that, Uncharted 4 avoids another moral: You can’t have too much of a good thing. Riccio


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

86. Jackbox Party Pack (2014)

The trivia and party games of the Jackbox Party Pack may be intentionally irreverent, but their execution is anything but. In a forward-thinking move, the Jackbox games divorce themselves from console controllers and even couch co-op, embracing the live audiences of Twitch streamers, making any household a potential game show host. And with that beachhead established, the Jackbox games begin to redefine even further what a game show might be, from the way You Don’t Know Jack 2015’s Wrong Answer of the Game makes players reassess “obvious” answers to the way that Drawful sometimes crafts hard-to-draw categories based on the contestants themselves. Party games often live or die based on the creativity of those assembled, but even here, Jackbox Party Pack manages to provide a steroidal boost of glee to push players over the edge. Riccio


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

85. Elite Beat Agents (2006)

Ouendan, the Japanese rhythm title Elite Beat Agents is based on, boasted unique, tactile gameplay that felt just as much like drawing elaborate art as it was tapping to a beat. The cherry on top were the visuals, a series of vignettes about Japanese citizens having trouble in their daily lives, and the Ouendan showing up to cheerlead the courage they need. Elite Beat Agents managed to somehow translate all of that to the West but with an extra injection of full-on cartoon-madcap antics, set to some of the most well-known hits ever written. And so, we have a game where a dance troupe dressed like the Men in Black gives an adventurous pug the courage he needs to save a baby who wanders onto a construction site, set to the Jackson 5. We tap along to a lone truck driver’s harrowing night killing zombies with canned nuts to Destiny’s Child. A meteorologist gets her entire city to fight the bad weather off with electric fans so she and her son can have a picnic, while you tap along to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” None of these elements combined should work, and yet, here they all are in Elite Beat Agents, one of the most delightful concoctions ever to grace a portable system. Clark


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

84. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (2004)

For as memorable as the classic Super Mario worlds have been, they feel every inch the platforming gauntlets they’re designed to be. You never really picture them as places where people live. The great triumph of the Mario RPGs is how effortlessly they build that world outward and fills in its blanks, and no game reveals Mario’s world to be such a wonderful, bizarre place as well as Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. It’s the sort of game where our hero infiltrates a secret society’s equally secret moon base. He enlists the local Pianta mafia to get him to a big arena in the sky, wherein he fights alongside a punk infant Yoshi as a sort of amateur wrestler called “The Great Gonzales.” The timing-based battle system is relocated to a stage in front of an audience that grows as Mario levels up, letting you play to the crowd for power-ups. More than just a Mushroom Kingdom coat of paint over a well-worn template, this is one of the most inspired RPGs ever made and the reason people still clamor for Paper Mario to return to its roots nearly 15 years later. Scaife


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

83. Ico (2001)

Single-player video games are lonely. Ico made loneliness feel magical by giving you a companion, even as it constantly reminded you how alien her mind must be. Just like Princess Yorda’s gnomic utterances imply a story that she just can’t share with you, so does the game’s environment imply a vast narrative of which this story is only a part, creating a potent illusion of context by withholding backstory. While the gameplay itself is basic puzzle-solving and crude combat, it’s the mood that makes it special, the constant sense that there’s something vast just outside the frame. Daniel McKleinfeld


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

82. The Talos Principle (2014)

In The Talos Principle, a kind of Garden of Eden story, writers Jonas Kyratzes and Tom Jubert articulate the conflict between skepticism and the order of God. This juxtaposition comes in the context of a series of puzzles, implying that human and deity have a natural interest in making sense out of chaos. The religious reference doesn’t moralize about sin or cater to secularist values, instead implying that inquisitiveness mechanically binds humanity to a common fate. This conflicted but life-affirming perspective trumps the adolescent nihilism that oversimplifies player choice as an illusion. Even if the philosophical angle in The Talos Principle didn’t exist, the game would still register as outstanding. The world design allows you to bounce between puzzles while also requiring a certain degree of completion to try higher challenges. Developer Croteam’s gradual integration of several puzzle types is as accessible as it is brain-twisting. If nothing else, The Talos Principle celebrates its genre with shrewdness. Pressgrove


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

81. Half-Life (1998)

Half-Life is many things: headcrabs, crowbars, unfulfilled cliffhangers, lamba logos. But what ties it all together, and what the first game in the series excels at most of all, is momentum. Instead of breaking itself off into mission-sized chunks, Half-Life is a constant push forward as Gordon Freeman escapes from a research facility attacked by extra-dimensional invaders. Freeman never speaks, and to call his character anything beyond a hand attached to a gun or a crowbar is highly charitable, but spending so long in his highly mobile perspective breeds a very real sense of desperation. It’s a feeling most prominent in the lulls, when Half-Life gives itself the breathing room to reflect and build suspense for the peril that’s yet to come. Rather than immediately leaping between climaxes, you’re allowed a moment to feel the weight of the journey and the collision of the different forces in your way, and then you press forward once more. Scaife


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

80. Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium (1993)

Phantasy Star has its fans, a great many of whom jumped on when the series went MMO, but it’s never been a franchise uttered in the same breath as Square Enix’s best and Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium releasing hot on the heels of Final Fantasy VI didn’t help. The irony is that Sega’s magnum RPG opus does pretty much everything Final Fantasy would offer in the years that followed way ahead of the curve: combo spells, manga-inspired cutscenes, space travel, multiple vehicles to play around in, and the best, delightfully earnest storytelling the genre has to offer. This is the system’s quietly ignored masterpiece. Clark


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

79. Conker’s Bad Fur Day (2001)

Considering the reason so many of us play video games, it’s odd how often most titles follow a very specific set of unspoken rules. Not so with Conker’s Bad Fur Day, a recklessly unfiltered, untapped, superego-filled romp through a parody of inanely inoffensive titles like Banjo-Kazooie. Conker cursed and solved puzzles by getting drunk enough to extinguish flame demons with his piss, blithely sent up pop culture as diverse as A Clockwork Orange, Saving Private Ryan, Alien, and The Matrix, and still had time to lob rolls of toilet paper down the gullet of a giant operatic poo monster. For sheer balls, lunatic ingenuity, and crass charm, there’s never been anything like it. Riccio


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

78. Hotline Miami (2012)

Amid the arms race of next-gen graphical evolution and the seemingly endless deluge of triple-A blockbuster shooters arrived a veritable thunderbolt of weird, Hotline Miami, and the landscape of modern gaming would never again be the same. A hallucinatory top-down action game that plays like River City Ransom as imagined by David Lynch, Hotline Miami is a fever dream of violence and retro gaming, pulling together the tropes of the medium’s innocent infancy and turning them into something altogether darker. Jonatan Soderstrom and Dennis Wedin didn’t simply make a classic game; they burrowed their way into the deepest recesses of gaming’s unconscious, and the result feels like a nightmare you just had but only half-remember. Calum Marsh


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

77. Viewtiful Joe (2003)

A dazzling homage to movie magic, superheroes, and the 2D side-scroller that was warmly praised when released on the then-floundering GameCube, Viewtiful Joe employed a battlefield blueprint inspired by cinematic visual effects. Its VFX powers (Slow, Mach Speed, and Zoom In) put players in the director’s chair (or, perhaps, that of the editor), giving them the opportunity to control and cut their own stylish fight sequences while dispatching foes and solving puzzles. And with its charming art design (a nod to both Japanese tokusatsu and American B movies) and cel-shaded graphics done oh-so-right, it remains a reminder of what enchantment might result from the marriage of film and video games. LeChevallier


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

76. Ninja Gaiden (1988)

Though tough and not infrequently cheap with its hits and enemy respawning, Ninja Gaiden rewarded perseverance with spectacle and power. It’s a game of foreboding, arcane temples and ancient demons with creepy little details as opposed to the amorphous blobs of most games of the time. Using comparatively little horsepower—especially compared to the flashier but slower Shinobi titles—the game lets players feel like a ninja, a fast, powerful warrior with both speed and power, able to manipulate the physics to do impossible things. The catch is that those impossible things aren’t just for flash and flair, but a requirement for victory. The most vital and important part of that spectacle, however, was the game’s cutscenes, the first time such a thing had been implemented in a console game, and still some of the best implemented until the Playstation era. Again, with so little in terms of resources, the cinematic cutscenes managed to replicate the language of cinema, telling a simple, fantastical story, and yet an effective one, full of twists, unexpected plot turns, tension, and stakes. Ninja Gaiden marked the moment where your primary motivation to complete a stage wasn’t a high score, but to see what happened next, and what happened next was actually interesting enough to be worth the effort. Clark


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

75. Half-Life 2 (2004)

The original Half-Life redefined the way players experienced first-person shooters with heavily scripted sequences and a well-written narrative. Half-Life 2 took this to the next level, as silent protagonist Gordon Freeman is removed from cryostasis and plunged into a future dystopia—a formerly human-populated city now turned zombie nightmare—reminiscent of Nazi Germany where the last remaining humans reside, enslaved by an unstoppable alien threat. Without ever relying on cutscenes, the game makes you a first-person participant in its storyline, one that turns the tide from oppression to rebellion fighting for the future of humanity. It’s a classic whose thrills best those of most action movies and demonstrates the remarkable innovation the medium is capable of. Aston


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

74. Halo 3 (2007)

The alien vessel you’re trapped in is less a ship than a living thing. The rooms are bordered with bloated, swollen pustules stretched from wall to wall, while sacs of throbbing “organs” hang from the ceiling, from which disgusting monsters emerge to attack—a stark contrast to the large endless fields that comprised most of Halo: Combat Evolved. Beginning on Earth with a bloody firefight in the jungles of Africa, then teleporting to an ancient structure beyond the edges of the Milky Way where multiple alien races feud, leading to the rescue mission in the disgusting living alien ship, before concluding with a recreation of the original Halo, Halo 3 remains notable for its diversity of setting and how it complements its variety of action. Aston


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

73. Three Fourths Home (2015)

Through a family’s yearning for solidarity and economic security, Three Fourths Home finds a spiritual connection between seemingly disparate generations. You make dialogue choices as twentysomething Kelly, whose disappointment about her lack of self-sufficiency could have made for a pandering tale of millennial angst. Developer Zach Sanford avoids this mistake by also emphasizing the vicissitudes of her family’s life, whether it’s her father being out of work due to injury, her younger autistic brother’s trouble at school, or her sometimes-overbearing mother trying to hold the whole unit together. This approach gives Three Fourths Home a mature social consciousness, allowing the characters to illustrate common American anxieties that transcend the party politics of our time. Pressgrove


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

72. Mass Effect 3 (2012)

Everything is on the line in the final chapter of the Mass Effect trilogy, which profoundly views sacrifice as an imperative. Having long ignored Commander Shepard’s warnings, every being in the universe now faces destruction as the genocidal Reapers bring ruin to every world. The theme of this series has always been inclusivity, and it’s with this in mind that the player must travel the game’s large and multifaceted universe to end wars, unite races, and build a resistance to an absolutely devastating threat. All the way toward the largely misunderstood climax that brings the game’s themes together in an intelligent and metaphysical way, one is forced to make difficult and heady choices, including sacrificing beloved characters and sometimes entire species toward a common good. Aston


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

71. The Binding of Isaac (2011)

Two titles are more responsible than any other for turning these last few years of gaming into the era of roguelikes. If Derek Yu’s Spelunky is the indisputable prodigy, the preppy Ivy League candidate parents love to show off to neighbors, then Edmund McMillen’s The Binding of Isaac is the problem child, the surly metalhead most likely to snub the guests and stay in the garage smoking pot and listening to Slayer. It’s a game sprinkled with visual references to terminal illness, substance abuse, abortion, religious fanaticism, and matricide—one where digging into sunflower-colored turds can net you some cool treasure and passing gas is a viable mode of offense. Yet the core mechanics operating behind this repulsive and fascinating façade are no less impeccably engineered than Spelunky’s. Alexander Chatziioannou


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

70. Katamari Damacy (2004)

It’s impossible to summarize Katamari Damarcy with the language of literature or film: plot, character, iconic images, expressive subjectivity. Instead it makes art from gaming’s preferred values: accumulation, variation, interaction, progress. The story is absurd, and its visuals and controls are willfully crude. Yet it’s a well-honed machine that generates pure joy. Because lurking behind the serious silliness is a glimpse of theme: The game is an elegant metaphor for growing up, in which the world becomes fuller and more detailed the bigger you get, beautifully conveying the thrill of an expanding horizon. If that’s not art, what is? McKleinfeld


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

69. Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting (1992)

In combat sports, speed kills. Such is the philosophy behind Street Fighter II’s third iteration, which can test your reflexes and execution like no other fighting game, especially when you put in a special code on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System version and dial the turbo all the way up. This update also gives several of the champions from Street Fighter II new ways to cover ground and space on the screen, presenting an even greater demand on players to develop smart plans of attack and defense. Otherwise, this is the same ingenious title that popularized an entire genre, established a slew of video-game icons (the menacing M. Bison, the powerful Chun-Li, the too-fast-for-his-size E. Honda), and captured the public’s imagination with its visionary depiction of the intersection between geography and violence. Pressgrove


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

68. Mega Man 2 (1988)

What Street Fighter II did for both the Street Fighter series and the fighting-game genre, Mega Man 2 did for both Mega Man and the entire platforming genre. Not content to simply perfect all the things its predecessor had done wrong, Mega Man 2 represents a lightspeed jump in ambition. Every enemy not immediately ported over from the first title hides a surprise. Every platforming challenge is tougher but fairer. The powers that Mega Man grabs from the bosses are wildly varied from just “gun that shoots [blank].” It’s in the Dr. Wily stages that the game achieves perfection, however, with a series of challenges that are still jaw dropping in their execution on an 8-bit system to this day, from the shocker of a dragon chase leading into a precarious mid-air boss fight, to the final stage, a slightly incongruous but effectively creepy grace note that takes Mega Man through a silent catacomb, punctuated by dripping acid. Better graphics and more gimmicks haven’t gifted the series with nearly the creative bravery as its very first sequel. Clark


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

67. Galaga (1981)

It’s the little details that define the unique and absorbing personality of Galaga, a space shooter directed by Shigeru Yokoyama. Here, unlike most titles of the era, each enemy makes its own sound when you hit it with a blast from your ship, giving your frenzied attempt to vanquish all the aliens an almost musical quality. The behavior of your foes—their crisscrossing fire, their doubling back once you think they’ve left the screen, their synchronized circular dives toward your ship—is practically an Olympian display of agility and misdirection. And what of your own style of shooting? Do you just frantically tap the fire button, hoping to eliminate everything in sight based on luck and aggression? Or do you methodically determine the vertical channels where you will launch bullets, catching your adversaries in the middle of their deceptive shenanigans? Popularity isn’t a valid or reliable measure of quality, but there’s a reason you’re still likely to see a Galaga machine in random spots across the country. This isn’t just another series of explosions in space, but a timeless work of art and a rip-roaring sport that almost anyone can grasp. Pressgrove


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

66. Goldeneye 007 (1997)

Not only was Goldeneye 007 one of the rare film-to-game adaptations that worked, featuring complex level designs (and bonus objectives scaling to difficulty) that required equal measures of stealth and shooting, but it also defined an entire generation of FPS gamers with its heated four-player split-screen multiplayer. The film lasted only a few brief hours, but the experience of sitting beside three dear friends, sneakily watching their screens to get a better read on their position, and then watching as they accidentally walked into the corridor you’d just riddled with proximity mines was the sort of halcyon summer haze that memoirists dream of. Riccio


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

65. Titanfall 2 (2016)

Given its predecessor’s sole emphasis on multiplayer matches, it’s almost shocking that Titanfall 2 sets such a high bar for single-player missions. The game’s focus on the creative integration of wall-running, double-jumping, sliding, shooting, and melee attacks makes even the tutorial section a blast. More importantly, this highly customizable action encourages the player to take risks that would be suicidal or impossible in everyday first-person shooters. But that’s only half the fun. Titanfall 2 ingeniously alternates between this fluid soldier-based play and weighty, deliberate mech face-offs—a juxtaposition of styles cleverly hammered home by the dialogue between the go-getter pilot and Spock-like AI of the walking machine. Everything in the campaign is designed to give you a rush, from laughably over-the-top villains to the remarkably fast burrowing through tight places to platforming sections that will make you think you’re seeing sideways. The greatness of the game’s campaign raises a controversial question in our globalized world: Who needs an internet connection or other players when the proceedings are this electrifying alone? Pressgrove


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

64. Banjo-Kazooie (1998)

Here’s the odd game that boasts a split-personality protagonist: an amiable bear representing the superego and an obnoxious bird representing the id. While Nintendo created the 3D-platformer template with Super Mario 64, Rare refined it with their tongue-in-cheek Banjo-Kazooie. The humor and game mechanics simultaneously develop all the way through to the hysterical game-show finale and subsequent boss battle that effectively take advantage of all the skills you’ve acquired across the game. Subbing the blank-faced plumber with a chilled bear and his sassy backpack-bound avian sidekick, the game stands out for its self-awareness: An unusually meta experience, it constantly pokes fun at its contrived storyline, limited characterization, and other gaming tropes. Few games are so accomplished in both personality and gameplay. Aston


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

63. Dishonored (2012)

Arkane Studios’s Dishonored combines elements of other immersive sims, like BioShock and Thief, to create a mechanically enjoyable first-person stealth game that challenges your awareness and resourcefulness. While its narrative about betrayal and revenge is rote, the game is enticing for the autonomy it offers players. Dishonored is very much a gamer’s game: It hands you a target—kill High Overseer Campbell, for example—before then turning you lose, giving you the freedom of the world and Corvo’s powers to deal with your target however you see fit. Though the end of every mission may resort to a binary lethal/non-lethal choice, the ways you can approach any mission are bountiful, making each run different enough to warrant multiple playthroughs. Winslow


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

62. Grim Fandango (1998)

Grim Fandango opens with something much scarier than being chased by necromorphs or overrun by zergs: simply being dead. Plenty of people have nervously speculated about the afterlife; this game reassuringly suggests that it will at least look awesome, by mixing Aztec aesthetics with noir tropes and presenting it with Tim Schaefer’s trademark wisenheimer goofiness. The widescreen tableaux of the graphic adventure worked like Beckett landscapes, adding a bracing chill to comic business. Amid the uncomfortable chuckles of the game’s premise, the absurd logic of adventure games is a welcome pal, and every hard-boiled cutscene is a reward worth working toward. McKleinfeld


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

61. Hitman: Blood Money (2006)

Where most assassination-themed games are marked by their sense of action, Hitman: Blood Money defines itself as a part of an open-world puzzle series, where intelligent thinking and creativity is rewarded over pointless and hasty violence. Each assassination presents an elaborate puzzle box, wherein the player must carefully survey a gorgeously detailed setting in order to determine how to off one or more targets without arousing suspicion. Assassinations that look like accidents are always more valuable than risking direct assault: Why chance getting caught shooting an actor yourself when the prop gun he’s shot with on stage can be replaced with a real firearm? A glass-bottom spa on the balcony of a penthouse is just begging to break and drop its hapless occupants to their doom. The most successful of the Hitman titles, Blood Money overflows with the sort of dark humor—at one point puts you in the position of a birthday clown who gets to push a man into a trash compactor—and creative methods of slaying that have contributed to its lasting replay value. Aston


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

60. Spec Ops: The Line (2012)

The ever-shifting sands of Dubai make for a good setting in Spec Ops: The Line: It’s an unreliable environment that matches what turns out to be the game’s unreliable narrator. The military, squad-based action also fits with the theme of responsibility, frequently forcing players to choose between two equally unsavory options. The game’s “Damned If You Do” and “Damned If You Don’t” achievements, earned from killing either a soldier or a civilian, make it clear just how blurry that titular “line” is. Spec Ops: The Line never permits players to rest easily in the distance or abstraction of a long-range war or the novelty of a video game. Players can only focus on the beauty of a blood-orange sandstorm for so long before it dissipates, revealing the gruesome consequences of your violence within it, just as the bird’s-eye view from a dispassionate drone eventually gives way to the revelatory moment in which your squad must wade through the charred bodies of the innocent civilians they just mistakenly dropped white phosphorus upon. The horror, the horror indeed. Riccio


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

59. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)

Rockstar Games’s Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas captures the essence of gang life and the hood with effectively grotesque accuracy. Controlling Carl “CJ” Johnson, you traipse through Los Santos committing acts of delinquency, crime, and murder, all in the name of the Grove Street Families. An internal battle starts to brew between members of the street gang just as other gangs begin to make their move, and you watch CJ go from gangbanger to murderer to businessman—just about the most brilliant display of character development from the PS2 era. The game’s Los Santos was neither as large nor as detailed as its recreation in Grand Theft Auto V, but the setting, a fictional depiction of Los Angeles, was distinct and realistic enough to feel like a livable city. It’s no wonder Rockstar returned to the well. Winslow


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

58. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995)

A 2D pearl with enough creative energy and nuanced artistry to fill two games, this sequel to Super Mario World gave the Yoshi clan their rightful time in the limelight, and in the process developed a set of ingenious platforming mechanics that have yet to be even shoddily imitated. Yoshi’s flutter jump, in combination with his egg aim-and-throw technique, made for a unique variation on the typical side-scrolling Super Mario Bros. escapade. Certain areas also allowed Yoshi to transform into a multitude of vehicles that could navigate previously unreachable areas. Yoshi’s Island is a game that’s absolutely brimming with pioneering ideas, representing Nintendo at its most fearlessly experimental. LeChevallier


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

57. WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames! (2003)

While, obviously, Nintendo at their best makes accessible, creative masterpieces for kids and kids at heart the world over, the Nintendo we don’t praise nearly often enough is the wacky esoteric lunatic Nintendo that runs with the most bonkers concepts right into the end zone. Most recently, this is the Nintendo that gave us Splatoon. That Nintendo also gave us WarioWare, a game whose lifeblood is an almost dadaist cocktail of absurdity. A collection of minigames, all of which can be completed within seconds, is a great, and logical little gimmick, especially for a title made for a portable system. But having those games hosted by disco clowns in blue afros and monkeys in VR helmets trying to evade the cops, and having the games themselves range from “collect four coins in 3 seconds” to “make this sad princess sniffle up the giant line of snot hanging out her nose in 3 seconds,” is the stuff of inspired lunacy. Though the sequels raise the stakes, and add more gimmicks, none are a perfectly curated a package of unfiltered crazy as the original GBA title. Clark


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

56. Braid (2008)

Braid was the first art game to combine highbrow ambition with rock-solid gameplay. Like most pioneering works, it’s largely about its own medium, appropriating the inexorable left-to-right movement and damsel-in-distress story of a certain famous gaming icon and using it as a metaphor for…life? Guilt? L’amour fou? Braid doesn’t answer all the questions it raises, and that’s a good thing. Better still is how elegantly the story and the game mechanics work together, with time-reversing levels exploring remorse and single-key puzzles as metaphors for loss. Like the games it parodies, Braid makes walking and jumping feel great, but it uses that visceral satisfaction to draw you into something profoundly disquieting. McKleinfeld


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

55. Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)

What would be a night like any other, with Batman returning a deranged Joker to Gotham’s correctional facility for deviants and delinquents, is turned on its head as the criminals that have plagued the city are suddenly released from their cells and quickly take over the joint. Batman: Arkham Asylum is exceptional for how it allows players to feel as if they’re the Dark Knight, whether he’s carefully sneaking up on and inspiring fear in his rogues gallery, applying detective skills to solve crimes, or utilizing the technology at his disposal to navigate the game’s expanding setting. A fight with the muscular Bane is action-oriented, taking full advantage of the game’s superb beat-’em-up controls, while encounters with the twisted Scarecrow has Bruce falling victim to hallucinatory nightmares that make Arkham Asylum feel as if it’s in the dominion of a horror game. It all builds to a climax where Batman’s core ideology is put to the test. The worst night of the Dark Knight’s life makes for one of the best superhero games ever. Aston


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

54. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010)

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is an ever-moving avalanche of expert game design, built from the ground up to be an experience of play, of whimsical engagement, and not just agency, a turnkey required to fulfill some clichéd predetermined narrative. In all the years that Super Mario Bros. titles have been synonymous with “good” video games, perhaps that’s the crucial element that gives them their lasting appeal and keeps drawing people in, whether they are first-time players or have been with Mario from the beginning. Games can simply be fun, and light-hearted, and wondrous. The infatuation with “adult” and “artistic” pretenses in gaming remain popular among its advocates, but in the context of what video games used to mean and why millions grew up loving them, Super Mario Galaxy 2 may be its best example yet. Kurt Shulenberger


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

53. Super Mario Kart (1992)

Nintendo’s Super Mario Kart defined the kart-racing genre with the innovative way in which it doubled down on the wackiest of mechanics. The game’s adorable characters jump and slide, as well as fire weaponized banana peels at one another, while simultaneously navigating, for example, Thwomp obstacles in Bowser’s Castle and adapting to the chocolaty mud of Choco Island or the icy traction of Vanilla Lake. The result is an amped-up arcade racer—a drift-hopping romp through a variety of obstacle courses, with each of the eight drivers handling in a completely different fashion. That variety (and the increasing speeds of each new engine class) keeps the game fresh to this day, especially in Battle Mode, which allows players to directly square off against one another, creating their own gauntlets out of endlessly ricocheting green turtle shells. Riccio


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

52. Doom (1993)

An ominous metal riff immediately trumpets a distinctive brand of intensity in the first level of id Software’s Doom. From there, the game more than lives up to the implications of its title, as the player wades through cold corridors, battles demon-corrupted human bodies, and sprints across deadly ooze. With loads of secret rooms containing precious items, Doom also welcomes you to comb an environment that seems alive, especially when you, after being lulled into complacency by the allure of an empty area, become the victim of abrupt and devilish traps, like an entire wall that slides down to unleash a menagerie of aggressive demons behind you. Because you can only aim straight ahead with a gun or chainsaw, the game forces you to take advantage of the protagonist’s running and strafing abilities, but the speed of your movement can be as discombobulating as it is enlivening. All of these aspects, more so than the game’s graphic violence, cement Doom as a horror masterpiece that transcends the first-person shooter label. Pressgrove


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

51. Mega Man 3 (1990)

Although the previous Mega Man games had already combined platforming and shooting to entertaining effect, Mega Man 3 innovated that formula in a way that remains unsurpassed. This sequel exemplifies how seemingly minor tweaks to the mechanics and audiovisuals of a signature style can supercharge a game’s kinetic potential. With the addition of a slide maneuver for the blue protagonist—the most significant alteration to the series up to that point—this entry didn’t rely on trial-and-error positioning as its predecessors did and invited audiences to escape harm or death within split seconds. And while such changes made Mega Man 3 a more dynamic action romp, the energetic but bittersweet melodies composed by Yasuaki Fajita gave the game a more complicated emotional core, hinting at some existential reluctance at play when a robot must fight other robots, including Mega Man’s own brother, Proto Man. The series was never this evocative again. Pressgrove


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

50. Bayonetta (2009)

One of the most hysterically ridiculous games ever made, Bayonetta is the story of a super-powered 10-foot-tall dominatrix-librarian-witch with glasses and a skintight outfit made of her own hair who battles rival witches, heaven’s angels, and finally God himself. An empowered female protagonist over-fetishized to the point of parody, she’s a corrective to gaming’s view of women primarily as eye candy or damsels in distress. Bayonetta’s universe is one in which men are completely disempowered, impotent against a race of Amazonian women who rule the world. The clever subversion of the typically male-dominated action genre is complemented by stunningly deep, addictive, and rewarding action mechanics, many utilizing Bayonetta’s own hair as a weapon. Aston


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

49. Killer7 (2005)

If the hallmark of auteur theory is that, without any knowledge of its production or even seeing its credits, you can tell who wrote and directed a film, then Suda 51 is undeniably one of the few legitimate auteurs in gaming, and Killer7 remains his magnum opus. Something akin to a psilocybin experience, Killer7 starts off as a linear rail shooter about a hitman with dissociative identity disorder, even then managing to be one of the most fundamentally creepy, psychologically horrific takes on such a thing. It then proceeds to mutate the entire genre to fit his needs, slowly blossoming into a profane, fever-dream manifesto on sex, politics, murder, Eastern religion, and, somehow, pro wrestling. It’s very safe to say that is not a sentence that has been or will be written about any other video game. Clark


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

48. Jet Set Radio (2000)

By the time Jet Set Radio came out, the skateboarding game was already in its decadent phase, with players forced to memorize lists of buttons like bored yeshiva students reciting the Torah. Jet Set Radio stripped the controls down to one stick and one button, replacing combo-memorization with a zen focus on the environment. Then that environment was filled with awesomeness. The cel-shaded graphics, witty cutscenes, and hip-hop-meets-J-pop soundtrack—still the best original music in gaming history—are a fervent Japanese fan letter to American graffiti street art, imagining kids of all cultures united against corporate blandness. The game uses style the way a great pop star does: as the mortar to build a dreamed-for world. McKleinfeld


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

47. Beyond Good & Evil (2003)

We’ve finally reached a point in gaming history where gamers are finally starting to ask more of The Legend of Zelda as a series, not realizing that what they’re asking for has been staring them in the face since 2004. Beyond Good & Evil definitely owes much of itself as a collection of gameplay mechanics to Ocarina of Time, but then takes that crucial creative next step for the whole idea of what Zelda could and should be. It manages to stay playful, colorful, and light in the midst of a heady sci-fi tale of human trafficking and alien civilizations, coupled with the same diverse world building and character design that Michel Ancel would bring to Rayman over the years. Clark


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

46. Dark Souls (2011)

Director Hidetaka Miyazaki’s labyrinthine world provides almost constant suspense: With no map at your disposable or straightforward path for you to follow, you must learn to move deliberately through doorways, dim passages, wooded areas, and winding ridges, as a wide variety of deadly monsters wait to rid the environment of your meddling presence. Because you must fight and then, after getting a much-needed break at a bonfire (a symbol of false salvation), refight these unholy creatures, only to stumble upon one ominously titled location after another, the game channels a purgatorial vibe unlike any other. Dark Souls invites you to question the meaning of its repetitious combat as you observe more signs of ruin, madness, and demonic life run amok. If played online, with other players either guiding or hindering you, the game functions like a demented community of outcasts and riffraff. But if you play it alone, that’s when the deepest emotions—loneliness, morbid curiosity, hopelessness, relief—can take full possession of you, sometimes within mere moments of each other. Pressgrove


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

45. Spelunky (2008)

Playing Spelunky HD often seems like a quest to find out how many different ways you can die as an explorer of underground tunnels. This uncompromising and darkly comedic 2D platformer has some of the most dynamic consequences you can fall prey to, or take advantage of once you learn the ropes, in a video game. Arrows can bounce off walls and enemies and still hit you for damage, rats can be picked up and thrown to set off traps, a bomb intended for a large foe can destroy part of a shop and cause the storeowner to hunt you down wherever you go—the possibilities are innumerable in developer Derek Yu’s randomized yet themed levels. Die once in Spelunky HD and you have to start all the way over, but the serendipitous and unusual discoveries you’ll make along the way are more valuable than any treasure you might hold onto for a couple of minutes before perishing. Pressgrove


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

44. BioShock (2007)

BioShock had greater narrative and thematic ambition than any previous big-time first-person shooter. But the real magic came—as it always does in great art—in how it was told. The FPS is well-suited to immersive exploration, and every corner of BioShock had some detail that expanded the story. Even the enemy AI, which gave all NPCs background tasks, convinced the player that Rapture was a world going about its business before being interrupted by your murderous intrusion. And no game has ever been so smart about cutscenes, the bane of most narrative FPS titles. BioShock elegantly led you through its levels with subtle environmental cues, and when it took away control, it did so for a very good reason. McKleinfeld


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

43. Animal Crossing (2001)

It feels somehow naïve for Animal Crossing to exist. The game’s focus on customizing your own space, accumulating items, and playing at a measured, even limited pace is the sort of thing we associate with crass monetization. Games like this are usually built to chase whales, but Animal Crossing knows the simple pleasure of cracking dad jokes as you catch sea bass, red snapper, and pond smelt. It finds wonder in the mundane, through quirky doodads you buy at the store or find in the dump, as well as through conversations with your neighbors that sparkle with personality. Seasons change, celebrations happen, visitors sell their wares, and your animal friends disappear into the wild world, leaving only their memories behind. Plenty of games are about managing life, but Animal Crossing is one of the few about living it, about brushing up against a vast unknown and taking things as they come. It’s almost relentlessly pleasant, built on a love for your relationships and a space to call your own. Animal Crossing isn’t naïve. It’s aspirational. Scaife


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

42. Left 4 Dead 2 (2009)

What sets Left 4 Dead 2 apart from similar first-person shooters is its core ethos of co-operative gameplay: If you don’t work with your three partners, you’re toast. You and three other survivors of an apocalyptic pandemic must fight against the hordes of the undead that now reside where America’s middle class once thrived. The game’s manic zombies (shades of 28 Days Later) will quickly overwhelm your team, though you’ll frequently encounter creatively grotesque “special” zombies that present unique threats like trapping and dragging individual players away from the group, or blinding players unlucky enough to be vomited on. Left 4 Dead 2 immerses you intently into its world by way of thrilling gameplay, character dialogue, and environmental storytelling, punctuated with rich detail and world building (will the plight of Chicago Ted ever be resolved?). Custom campaigns and add-ons made the game endlessly replayable, enforcing its status as a modern classic. Aston


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

41. Grand Theft Auto V (2013)

Grand Theft Auto V’s plot takes the greatest of joy in throwing maximum shade at its audience for enjoying what the series has always done. It’s something of a brilliant bait and switch, where the stunning veneer houses the most reprehensible digital society ever created. It’s all a dark, scathing satire on all of America’s flaws—the American dream as interpreted through by a vast prism of gluttony, lechery, and sociopathy. As much as Rockstar could and should be aiming to get a female perspective into one of their games, and sooner rather than later, their response a couple years back on the matter made sense: Grand Theft Auto V isn’t just a story starring men, but about manhood, about what’s expected of them in the real world, about their agency in the hyper-violent digital world, and what it’s all supposed to mean. Clark


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

40. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (1996)

There was once a time when Square and Nintendo held hands and skipped merrily through fields of sunflowers, and gems like Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars remind us of how awesome it was when these two industry titans partied together. The game turned the Mushroom Kingdom on its head by thrusting the titular plumber into a quest that was anything but a run-of-the-mill Mario venture. Bowser wasn’t the Big Bad, but instead a comrade, fighting alongside his adversary in addition to Princess Toadstool and newcomers Mallow, a cloud boy, and Geno, a possessed doll. Super Mario RPG’s razor-sharp wit and intuitive battle system made it a success and paved the way for the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series. LeChevallier


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

39. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)

Another timely franchise reinvention, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild discards the linear formula of previous 3D Zelda titles, offering up what may be considered gaming’s first truly open world. When the game begins, the war is already over, the battle lost a century ago. The world is in ruins. Link awakens and is immediately drafted back into a conflict where little can ever be restored to how it once was. And after a brief introduction, Hyrule is entirely yours to traverse in any way that you want. Throughout, your curiosity is aroused: Unbelievably vibrant sights abound across this seemingly endless dominion, and if one such sight in the distance catches your eye, you’re encouraged to run to it and discover the secrets it may or may not contain. You need not enter the many shrines littered across this land, but if you do, a plethora of often-tricky puzzles will stoke your imagination every bit as evocatively as the many legends that elaborate on Ganon’s takeover of Hyrule. And that no one path toward victory will ever be the same as that of another player attests to the game’s thrilling and imaginative sense of design. Aston


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

38. Fallout 2 (1998)

As stated in that ridiculous fake country song in Team America: World Police, freedom isn’t free. Expanding greatly on its predecessor’s maniacal open world, Fallout 2 will pretty much let you attempt to do whatever you want—whether that’s playing all sides in a gangster war, freeing slaves, having an affair with either the daughter or son of an overprotective father, or just being a horrible violent psychopath—but don’t expect the nonplayable characters in this game to just stand by. They’ll always remember your sinful or moral deeds, and thus, so will you. There isn’t a popular open-world game today, including the neutered Bethesda-produced Fallout sequels, that matches Fallout 2’s sarcastic commitment to freedom of choice. This classic is wilder than the Wild West, depicts a society that makes the real world look relatively sane, and reminds us that escapism comes with consequences. Pressgrove


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

37. Rock Band 3 (2010)

From singing vocals in harmony to hammering away at a four-piece drum kit, Rock Band makes players feel like they’re part of the music. The series hit its apex with Rock Band 3, the natural evolution of the series that introduced the keyboard to accompany the drums and guitars, and upgraded the plastic guitar with a real one. While Activision’s competing Guitar Hero franchise fell apart with unwelcome, irrational, and incompatible yearly iterations, Harmonix treated Rock Band as a platform, allowing players to buy whatever songs they wanted and adding valuable features with each release, like the ability to play music online, expanding the party internationally. How else can I sing Journey with my friend in Canada from my house in the land down under? Aston


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

36. Inside (2016)

While the cult of the indie puzzle-platformer has waned in recent years, Playdead’s follow-up to the critically beloved Limbo lit a pale, shimmering fire right in the heart of the genre. Deft configurations of the familiar crates, levers, and ladders that make up the expected trappings of Inside’s puzzles produce some of the most memorable conundrums of the past few years in gaming. Rather than trying to ignore the long shadow cast by its predecessor, the game maintains an active, fruitful conversation with Limbo but never to the point of sheer repetition. Immaculately authored and coiffured by six long years of development, Inside has some of the most memorable moments that the genre has yet seen. The game may only have a few tricks in its repertoire, but its success at those is difficult to overstate. Wright


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

35. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2002)

Link’s Odyssean adventure is one of discovery, of sailing across vast oceans and encountering islands where different species inhabit. Unlike other 3D games whose graphics quickly become ugly due to technological obsoletism, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker’s cel-shaded aesthetic suggests a timeless Hayao Miyazaki film made effortlessly playable, of childhood dreams come to life. Its richness also derives from the depth and maturity to its narrative, so redolent of Greek mythology, of children suffering for the sins of their ancestors and given the lofty task of saving the world from ancient evils long thought buried, undergoing experiences that will forever change them. Aston


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

34. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015)

Whereas some games put their emphasis on discovering new and ever-more-powerful loot, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is too focused to be distracted by shiny objects. Its best content is in the narrative, and there’s arguably a greater variety of monster-hunting quests than weapons to collect. Simply put, there’s a richness to the folklore- or fairy-tale-inspired monster hunts—a house undone by tragedy and betrayal, a vengeful wrath summoned up by injustice—that compels players to scout out every inch of the game’s territory (as if the poetry of a moonlit copse or the sunset from a mountainside vistas wasn’t already enough). The beauty of the game is tempered by the ugliness of the monsters (this sometimes refers to the acts of deplorable humans), just as the fantasy setting is given a solid foundation thanks to political machinations that would make Game of Thrones proud. Wild Hunt, then, feels far more real and important than its individual parts. Whereas other titles may captivate or spellbind an audience for a few hours, this game’s mature narrative manages the singular feat of keeping players invested for nearly 100 hours. Riccio


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

33. Journey (2012)

A mute, red-cloaked idea of a character trudges through a seemingly infinite desert, scarf flapping in the gentle wind. The light from a far-off mountain beckons, but not urgently, because you might want to smell the digital flowers. You will feel a sense of pride from seeing something new, rather than from eluding enemies, or from making conventional progress. This isn’t a game about the ruins left behind in the sand—the past, the what-might-have-been—but rather about the narrative ahead that still lies open for players to experience. Even when the game matches you with a second player, you can communicate only through cryptic chirps, leaving it to you to interpret intent. In this, Journey is the Everygame. Riccio


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

32. Gone Home (2013)

Set in 1995 Oregon, Gone Home sees Kaitlin returning from a year-long pre-college trip through Europe to find her family’s house in a state of disarray, with only a foreboding message left from her little sister that she will never see her again. What appears to be the setup for a horror game is instead misdirection for a powerful coming-of-age story. Kaitlin’s house is indeed haunted, but only by the sadness and longing of its inhabitants. Exploring each room reveals more about each member of her family and builds the unique narrative, ending in a wonderful inclusionary climax that speaks to the maturation of the medium of video games. Aston


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

31. Super Mario Odyssey (2017)

The joy of Super Mario Odyssey is in your self-made journey. This is a game that invites you to dwell within and interact with both the old and the new. Wander around a recreation of Peach’s Castle (from Super Mario 64) to your heart’s content, maybe enter the retro 2D levels ingeniously embedded into certain flat surfaces throughout the game’s kingdoms. You can also adopt a completely new identity throughout by possessing foes, allies, and sometimes random objects: You can rocket around as a fragile Bullet Bill, spring into action as a stilt-walking sprout, or swim up a volcano as an adorable lava bubble. However you play this game on your way to saving Peach from a forced marriage, it’s start-to-finish fun, and the travel-guide presentation of the in-game map suggests that Super Mario Odyssey aims to serve as a kind of vacation. The game’s collectible Power Moons reinforce this leisurely emphasis, as you’re as likely to get a reward from performing agile acrobatics as from paying close attention to that dog wandering along a sandy beach. This freedom elevates Super Mario Odyssey, making it not just a game, but a colorful, creative playground. Riccio


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

30. StarCraft (1998)

It has long been said that any encounter with extraterrestrial life would carry with it drastic changes to our world, such as forcing us to adapt to new technologies overnight. Though the aliens in StarCraft are fictional, their arrival upends pretty much everything that’s expected from real-time strategy games. The old, traditional Terran forces serve to showcase the asymmetric balance of the new alien races, with old fog-of-war conventions and the rock-paper-scissors combat of Command & Conquer and stolid swarm tactics giving way to forced innovation. The Zerg slowly web their “creep” across the map, blocking and burrowing their menacing, swift-tendriled troops, while the Protoss rely on regenerating energy shields to make the most of a more limited number of troops. The campaign further emphasizes the compelling clashes between species, a dynamic that allowed StarCraft’s multiplayer to thrive long after the game’s release. Riccio


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

29. Psychonauts (2005)

In a time when retro throwbacks are ubiquitous, and the platforming genre has been riding a creative high for some years now, it’s almost hard to remember the environment Psychonauts released in, where the glut of platformers had been reduced to scavenger-hunt simulators, bred for ease of use and waste of time rather than genuine inspiration. As immensely boisterous and entertaining as Psychonauts still is today, it’s miraculous once you think about the logic guiding its creative peers at the time, and Tim Schafer choosing to fly in direct opposition to most of it. The game’s concept alone would make for some fine storytelling in just about any medium with any tone—trade summer camp for corporate espionage, and you’ve got Inception, in fact—but combined with Double Fine’s abstract, exaggerated visuals, a willingness to push the absurdity envelope for humor’s sake, and truly unique, meticulous mechanics, Psychonauts remains a work of creative and comic genius that works wonders out of that concept. Clark


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

28. Final Fantasy Tactics (1997)

Not for nothing is one of the 20 main classes in Final Fantasy Tactics labeled a Calculator. This is a game for math geniuses, with no end to the mix-and-match job customization offered. Or it’s a game for future military commanders, with over 60 chess-like scenarios to survive, often at great odds. Or, with real-world inspirations like the War of the Roses at heart, perhaps it’s a tale for historians. There’s magic, too, and yards of in-game lore to read, so it’s for English majors as well. Other games presented lessons, but Final Fantasy Tactics was the complete package, a school unto itself. Many strategy RPGs preceded and followed it, some even hewing closely to the same fundamental systems, but none have managed to capture this blend of fact and fantasy. Riccio


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

27. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997)

Dozens of games have referred back to the things Symphony of the Night did back in 1997 to veer the traditionally linear Castlevania series off into completely unknown open-world territory, and few have done it as spectacularly. The main castle and its spectacular upside-down counterpart are staggering achievements in art design, and the score contains two or three of the best classical compositions of the last two decades. But more than this, the experience of exploring every haunted nook and cranny of this place, so drowning in secrets, unique weapons, and non-repeating enemies, is astounding to this day, whether the player is on his or her first or 40th playthrough. Clark


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

26. Max Payne (2001)

On a winter’s night some months after the death of his wife and child, renegade D.E.A. agent and ex-cop Max Payne takes to the streets of New York on a bloody Punisher-esque quest to avenge his family, cleaning up the corrupt city and uncovering the conspiracy that cost him everything. Combining graphic-novel noir storytelling with addictive Matrix-inspired “bullet time” gunplay, Max Payne still stuns for its rush of varied visual poetry. At the push of a button, Max moves and aims in slow motion, giving him the edge against his trigger-happy enemies, and these endlessly replayable sequences evoke the fantasy-fulfillment of playing Neo in The Matrix’s infamous lobby scene, or as one of John Woo’s renegade heroes. Aston


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

25. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991)

In 1991, a console game of such depth and sophistication as boasted by The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was simply beyond conception. In fact, it was almost beyond possibility: Nintendo had to expand the capacity of their console’s cartridges to make room for the breadth of what they’d hoped to do here. The results were well worth the expense and effort. You didn’t just play this game, but plunged headlong into its adventure, entering a story and a world whose fate you felt lay in your hands. Today, though, A Link to the Past ought to be regarded as more than a milestone for a franchise still evolving. It is what is in its own right: a legend. Marsh


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

24. Planescape: Torment (1999)

The leads of most video games tend to come in two varieties: pre-defined and blank slate. With its immortal protagonist The Nameless One, Planescape: Torment goes for both. He awakens in a morgue with no memory, and he soon learns this is par for the course; his many past selves have left scars on the incredible, unorthodox world and on the imaginative characters that have crossed his path. The game is about learning who he’s been, as well as defining who he’ll be. It asks hard questions about the nature of the self, and about whether it’s truly possible to become a better person after so many transgressions. Though nearly 20 years old, Planescape: Torment is still one of the benchmarks by which we measure the quality of video-game writing, with a level of choice and complexity that’s rarely equaled in any other RPG. Scaife


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

23. Mass Effect 2 (2010)

The Mass Effect universe was too big to stay confined to one platform, and with Mass Effect 2, Bioware finally let PS3 owners explore the galaxy on their system of choice. Gamers will probably be divided forever about whether this sequel streamlined or dumbed-down the combat, but the appeal of the Mass Effect series isn’t the fighting, it’s the world. Lots of design docs have concept art that seems straight out of OMNI magazine, but only Mass Effect 2 managed to implement that in-game, creating thousands of beautiful planets with obsessively detailed backstories for everything on them. Even more than the ambitious Elder Scrolls games, Mass Effect 2 realizes the potential of video games for executing the kind of rich world-building that fantasy and sci-fi fans love, and very much unlike Elder Scrolls, they tell the story with acting, writing, and direction that you don’t have to apologize for. McKleinfeld


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

22. Portal (2007)

One great thing about video games is that every aspect of them, from how trees look to whether gravity works, is a decision. Valve’s previous games had expertly simulated physics, but Portal asked what would happen if, like God, you could make physics different. And it presented that slapstick joke with sophisticated narrative panache. Bringing together of wunderkind student designers and veteran comic writer Old Man Murray, Portal grounded its spatial wackiness in recognizable (in)human resentments. The story of GLaDOS and Chel is one of the great, Bechdel-test-passing double acts in gaming history, made all the funnier by Chel’s classic-FPS taciturnity. McKleinfeld


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

21. Super Mario World (1990)

Super Mario World feels like Nintendo’s own technology finally catching up with every lofty, unattainable gameplay idea they couldn’t implement between 1985 and 1990. This is from an era where the first game a developer released on a new system had something to prove, and the chip on Nintendo’s shoulder shows here. The game still feels massive, teeming with secret stages, alternate exits, Rube Goldbergian stage design, and verticality the likes of which could never have been done prior, and hasn’t really been done as expertly since. Add the fact that this is a Super Mario Bros. game that actually gives Super Mario a cape, and features Yoshi’s first appearance in the series, makes it one for the ages. Clark


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

20. Final Fantasy VII (1997)

The death of Aeris Gainsborough heralded a new truth about the medium: Video games can make you cry. The sweep and thrust of Final Fantasy VII engrossed as few adventures do, of course, but to be moved by the emotional dimension of this story—to be invested in the lives and deaths of Cloud Strife and his crew of AVALANCHE eco-terrorists, to feel compelled to save this world as if it were your own—suggested the beginnings of a new kind of video-game experience. Love and pain and beauty are coursing through this thing. Action and adventure are at its core. But emotion is its lifeblood. Marsh


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

19. Super Mario 64 (1996)

We didn’t have a template for 3D games until Nintendo conceived of one for us. Super Mario 64 was an architectural marvel designed and built without a blueprint: the rolling open-world hills and sprawling primary-color vistas that seem as familiar to gamers today as the world outside were dreamed up out of nothing more than programmed paint and canvas. Shigeru Miyamoto was given the unenviable task of contemporizing his studio’s longest-running and most prominent franchise while remaining true to its 2D legacy. It’s a testament to Miyamoto’s accomplishment here that, more than 30 years later, the result feels no less iconic than the original. Marsh


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

18. Silent Hill 2 (2001)

Silent Hill 2 is a game about grief. The story is simple: A widower is drawn toward the eponymous town after he receives a letter from his dead wife, who asks that he meet her in their “special place,” a hotel off the shore. In Silent Hill he finds terrible things: monsters, demons, all glimpsed hazily through a shroud of impenetrable fog. But worst of all he finds the truth. This isn’t a game about battling creatures or solving puzzles; those elements hang in the background like the ornamentation of a bad dream. In Silent Hill 2, you find yourself asleep, and the game is about needing to wake up. Marsh


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

17. Ōkami (2006)

The sun goddess Amaterasu, taking the form of an angelic white wolf, sets out to vanquish the eight-headed demon Orochi from Nippon. So begins a tale worthy enough to follow any of the most revered Japanese folk legends in a century-spanning anthology. With aesthetics that pay tribute to the ancient art of calligraphy and the soulful connection between painter and brush, Ōkami bleeds beauty from every pore. Combat, too, is akin to the elegant strokes of bristles on parchment, smoothly interweaving Amaterasu’s lightning-quick attacks with swipes of the Celestial Brush, a tool that allows for on-screen drawings to come to life, aiding in both battle and puzzle-solving. A charming sequel, Ōkamiden, was later released for the Nintendo DS, but its lack of lasting impact proved the peerless original wasn’t in need of a second act. LeChevallier


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

16. EarthBound (1994)

There has never been a game as irreverently comic and deceptively touching as EarthBound. It takes place in a darkly skewed version of Earth, with 13-year-old Ness’s “rockin’” telekinetic powers and trusty baseball bat going toe to toe with local gangs and bullies, Happy Happy cultists, and drugged-out hippies. Despite liberally borrowing from RPG conventions (including an emphasis on grind-heavy gameplay), the game oozes originality in just about every other aspect, offering more than just escapism, but, in its battle against loneliness and negative emotions, a reason to ultimately set the controller down. Riccio


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

15. The Last of Us (2013)

Come for the zombies, stay for the giraffes. Dead Space fans will smile as they navigate claustrophobic sewage tunnels, Metal Gear Solid vets will have a blast outmaneuvering a psychotic cannibal, Resident Evil junkies will enjoy trying to sneak past noise-sensitive Clickers, Fallout experts will find every scrap of material to scavenge, Dead Rising pros will put Joel’s limited ammunition and makeshift shivs to good use, and Walking Dead fans will be instantly charmed by the evolving relationship between grizzled Joel and the tough young girl, Ellie, he’s protecting. But The Last of Us stands decaying heads and rotting shoulders above its peers because it’s not just about the relentless struggle to survive, but the beauty that remains: the sun sparkling off a distant hydroelectric dam; the banks of pure, unsullied snow; even the wispy elegance of otherwise toxic spores. Oh, and giraffes, carelessly walking through vegetative cities, the long-necked light at the end of the tunnel that’s worth surviving for. Riccio


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

14. Super Smash Bros. Melee (2001)

The best games of all time invoke an almost instant sense of nostalgia. Make no mistake: Super Smash Bros. Melee’s charms aren’t simply generated from the goodwill of its roster of characters, classic heroes like Link or Mario, but from its own chaotic twist on combat, as much a matter of playing evasion ballet as of mastering the various power-ups and environmental hazards. That said, taking such a deep bench of characters out of their elements and into a brawler was not without a special sort of charm, as watching F-Zero’s neglected Captain Falcon take revenge on an overstuffed Kirby or having Jigglypuff knock-out Luigi will simply never get old. Riccio


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

13. Super Metroid (1994)

Perfection in game design is like pornography: You know it when you see it. And in Super Metroid, it’s plain as day. It isn’t exaggeration to say that every element of the game has been conceived and calibrated to something like a platonic ideal: its level design feels complex but comprehensible; its difficulty is precisely balanced; its controls are as smooth as buttercream; and, perhaps most crucially, its sense of atmosphere is richly palpable. The greatness of Super Metroid is apparent from the moment Samus Aran floats up from within her Gunship to stand poised and ready in the rain. It’s achingly beautiful. This is game craft at the height of elegance. Marsh


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

12. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)

During the lengthy, groundbreaking development of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Shigeru Miyamoto envisioned a worst-case scenario in which Link would be restricted to Ganon’s castle throughout the game’s entirety, jumping through portals to enter mission-based worlds a la Super Mario 64. Let us be eternally grateful, then, that Miyamoto and his colleagues got a handle on their newly broken-in hardware before submitting their final product. There aren’t enough superlatives, in any language, to describe how important Ocarina of Time is, not only to the medium of video games, but to the act of telling and being enveloped by stories. You start the game as a child and finish it as an adult. Along the way, you will have traveled countless miles, met all sorts of creatures, and been tested both in battle and by a slew of imaginative puzzles. The Great Deku Tree. Dodongo’s Cavern. Jabu Jabu’s Belly. The Water Temple. Oh God, the Water Temple. Your initial foray into any of these environments isn’t easily forgotten, and the dungeons comprise only a fraction of the fantastical pleasures found in Ocarina of Time, a game that’s not just a game, but the birth of a memory that you’ll hold dear forever. LeChevallier


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

11. Resident Evil 4 (2005)

In Resident Evil 4, your mission to save the president’s daughter from kidnappers quickly goes south, stranding you in a rural village surrounded by crazed villagers infected with something very, very bad. The game offers no guidance as to how to react or escape, leaving you in a state of anxiety as Leon Kennedy attempts to flee only to be quickly cornered and overcome. The series’s transition here from the stationary camera of the previous games to a fully 3D environment was a major step forward for third-person action games, but the sense of uncertainty that wracks the player throughout the lengthy narrative, of being made the center of a horrific, frenzied nightmare, is what made this game one of the most profoundly discomfiting experiences video games have ever seen. Aston


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

10. Tetris (1984)

Tetris is a game of pure abstraction, its mastery of the simplest possible visual units as ideal and impersonal as the Helvetica font. It’s no coincidence that it came to America as an ambassador from a foreign country; like the math equations on the Voyager shuttle, it speaks a language even space aliens could comprehend. The fundamental gameplay imperative of fitting blocks together is almost offensively infantile, but players who master the game can feel neurons growing as they learn to stop just seeing the shapes, and start seeing the negative space around them. The system recalibrates your perceptions as you explore it, and that’s what a great game is about. McKleinfeld


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

9. Metroid Prime (2002)

On paper, Metroid Prime should’ve been the game that made us all believe that the Metroid franchise should’ve stayed dead after that excruciating eight-year gap between Super Metroid and this release. In reality, Retro Studios defied every expectation that came with dragging a side-scroller kicking and screaming into 3D. Everything that made Super Metroid brilliant—its sense of isolation, Samus’s varied arsenal, the sheer size of the game’s world—remains in tact here. What Retro added was grand, evil beauty to Samus’s surroundings, a subtly creepy story of ill-fated alien civilizations told entirely without breaking the gameplay, and a laundry list of FPS innovations that felt next-gen, and in more than just the graphics, even when the game was prettied up for the Wii. Clark


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

8. Portal 2 (2011)

In its co-option of a perspective (and its attendant controls) typically associated with homicidal adventures for a fundamentally cerebral, bloodless affair, Portal 2 turned out to be a beautifully rendered and addictively engaging piece of form/content subversiveness. As a single-player quest, the game is so consistently inventive that it can be downright exhausting, though alleviating the strain of its toughest segments is the laugh-out-loud humor, which comes in the form of tutorial graphics and PSA displays that playfully mock dystopian sci-fi conceits, as well as its cast of characters. Moreover, as superb as the game’s solo mode is, even more impediments await via a unique cooperative campaign whose two-player traps are just as devilishly complex, and also further rework tried-and-true FPS aesthetic and interface formulas into something thrillingly unique. As innovative, challenging, amusing, and downright entertaining as they come, Portal 2 refutes the dim-witted contemporary adage by proving that the most fun comes from turning one’s brain on. Schager


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

7. Nier: Automata (2017)

If NieR Automata were just a straight-forward open-world action title, one that could be completed in approximately 10 hours, stretching from the first line of dialogue until Ending A, it would still stand tall for being a fundamentally odd game about machines pondering their own humanity, ending on a quaintly sentimental but earned grace note. Ending A, however, is the tip of the iceberg, partially obscuring what eventually reveals itself to be one of the most unique ludological and existentialist exercises in any medium. On one hand, it’s a love letter and celebration of everything games are, as its mechanics flit joyously between genres; it’s a hack-and-slash power trip one moment, a shooter the next, sometimes even a platformer. On the other, it’s pathologically obsessed with tearing down everything about what those genres have done up to this point in the history of gaming. NieR Automata performs a philosophical autopsy on the post-apocalyptic corpse of humankind through the lens of machines finding themselves bound to make sense of their own burgeoning sentience from the scraps we leave behind. It’s a game that revels in the destruction of one’s enemies, and also forces players to recognize their own role in creating them, and the imperative of understanding them to truly move forward, a pensiveness framed by one of the most glorious, eclectic scores ever composed. Clark


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

6. Chrono Trigger (1995)

Chrono Trigger is the easiest, conversation-ending answer to the question: “Why do you like RPGs?” It’s in the wonderfully written, infinitely endearing characters that are the best examples of each of their archetypes. The great, smart-alecky humor balanced with the impending doom waiting in 1999. The twists and turns in the plot, few, if any, of which are telegraphed from miles away. The consequences of your actions across the multiple timelines. The combat. The lack of random encounters. The score. That Mode 7 clock at the start that still feels like the beginning of something epic more than 20 years later. This is every JRPG element working in total harmony. Clark


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

5. Shadow of the Colossus (2005)

Since 2005, games that examine players’ bloodlust haven’t exactly become commonplace, though many have effectively wrestled with our feelings of doubt and guilt. One of Shadow of the Colossus’s triumphs is its refusal to make murder feel good. None of the colossi, no matter how alien or invertebrate, are necessarily hostile. They all suggest frightened animals protecting their territory, and whatever catharsis you feel in slaying one comes from the selfish, uniquely human ideal of being something very small and frail standing toe to toe with something unfathomably enormous and seemingly all-powerful. The game then treats your victory with all the pomp and circumstance of having slain the last kitten on Earth. Every triumph is a tragedy for which Wander pays a deep physical and spiritual price. Clark


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

4. Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988)

Some games have one great world. Super Mario Bros. 3, the greatest platformer ever conceived, has eight of them, and its numerous inventive obstacles—from the sun that drops from the sky to attack you in Desert Land to the convoluted passages of Pipe Land—make the game delightfully overwhelming. At Mario’s disposal is an array of fantastic power-ups, which grant full flight—sometimes literally—to the player’s imagination, providing you with new ways of navigating stages and finding tucked-away areas outside the typical boundaries of platforming levels. The game also remains revolutionary because of its world map, whose various elements often communicate a powerful sense of place and mood, as with the unusually encouraging dancing trees of Desert Land and the dread-inducing blacked-out paths of Dark Land. And the secrets throughout this epic title are among the most unusual you’ll encounter in a video game—none stranger than your being able to enter the background of a level by squatting on a white block. Such unforgettable discoveries show that Super Mario Bros. 3, created by the monumental team of director Takashi Tezuka and producer Shigeru Miyamoto, isn’t just another well-crafted franchise sequel, but rather the epitome of unrelenting creativity in game design. Pressgrove


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

3. Final Fantasy VI (1994)

There’s a classic South Park episode that mocks the fact that if there’s a joke you like, chances are The Simpsons already did it. The same can be said for Final Fantasy VI, which basically broke and reset every rule for the modern RPG. It would have been impressive enough to feature 14 playable characters, each with their own unique abilities (like Sabin’s Street Fighter-like combinations). Or to introduce the steampunk combination of magic and technology to the genre. Or to offer branching narrative paths. Or to stuff the game with enough side quests to fill an entire sequel. But Final Fantasy VI did it all—first and flawlessly. That such a perfectly scored game in which the world is destroyed halfway through also finds time for humor, thanks to a certain cephalopod, is just icing on an already impeccably gluttonous cake. Riccio


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

2. Red Dead Redemption (2010)

Red Dead Redemption is the game Grand Theft Auto always wanted to be. This pseudo-sequel to 2004’s Red Dead Revolver—a functional if underwhelming third-person western saga—thrusts you into a roam-all-you-want Old West sandbox environment, allowing you the freedom to concentrate on the storyline’s primary missions or simply gallop about the vast plains, dusty deserts, and Mexican mountains, collecting rare herbs, hunting wild animals, and rescuing whatever damsel in distress you might happen upon along the way. Far less limiting than GTA’s urban metropolises, which—because so much of those cities’ interior spaces were inaccessible—always felt constructed out of paper houses, Red Dead Redemption’s settings are fully, thrillingly alive, their functioning ecosystems, sudden dramatic occurrences, and operative economy all helping to create a sense of participating in a universe that operates independent of (rather than revolves around) you. To spend time in this adventure’s locales is to feel a part of a wider world. And, consequently, to catch a glimpse at gaming’s immersive potential. Schager


The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

1. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000)

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is antithetical to everything we’re conditioned to feel about popular game design. We’re meant to appreciate the bombast and big open spaces that let us assert our dominance over and over again. But Majora’s Mask is about looking inward, about confronting our own powerlessness. It’s the smallest 3D Legend of Zelda game that Nintendo has ever produced, focused as much on its main quest as on observing daily lives and routines. You come to know people and places with an intimacy that few video games can claim, and you especially come to know your continued failure to save them. The moon obliterates the town of Termina again and again, and the people gaze upward to accept their fate as Link looks on, caught in the cycle of his own defeat. You can intervene and provide brief moments of respite by beating side quests, but the people never step out of line on their march to inevitable death. The small victories are just that: small in the face of what’s to come. You must eventually play the ocarina to restart the time loop, and you must eventually watch those victories evaporate as you move incrementally forward, powerless to save them all. Though you finally come to the solution and break the time loop to save the world and its people, you accomplish this only after so many failures, only after seeing death through the eyes of so many. Masks function in the game as a way to hide, as well as a way to empathize. The ones you’ll use most often, the ones empowered by ghosts, remind you that you’ve only arrived in the middle of a larger life cycle that you have no power over. Majora’s Mask still lets you play the hero and even manipulate the flow of time, but it never lets you bend to your will a world that exists only for you, the player. Though the moon may rise with your help this once, it’s perfectly capable of going on alone. Scaife


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Features

The 20 Best Music Videos of 2018

The year’s best music videos reflect the way we live now: the technology we use, the power we wield, and the places we carve out for ourselves.

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The 20 Best Music Videos of 2018
Photo: YouTube

The year’s best music videos reflect the way we live now: the technology we use (“Vince Staples’s “Fun!”), the power we wield (the Carters’ “Apeshit”), and the places we carve out for ourselves (“Anderson .Paak’s “Til It’s Over”). They also acknowledge the state of the world, from systemic racism (Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”) to institutional corruption (Jack White’s “Corporation”). Notably, a clear majority of the videos on our list were created by or for artists of color, whose stories serve as an act of resistance against a racist regime. The year in music video wasn’t all gloom and doom, though, as both identity and resistance manifested in profoundly joyous ways in Chaka Khan’s “Like Sugar” and Kali Uchis’s “After the Storm.” And Bruno Mars and Migos embraced playful, nostalgic visions of the past—though it’s hard not to question whether even those ostensibly frivolous throwbacks are rooted in self-care and a need to romanticize a seemingly simpler time. Sal Cinquemani

20. Prince, “Mary Don’t You Weep”

There are no guns or mass shootings in the clip for Prince’s posthumously released “Mary Don’t You Weep,” but their absence isn’t conspicuous. Gun violence is, more than anything else, about the aftermath—the loss, the grief, the haunted lives left in the wake of a fleeting shot. Amid politicians’ perpetual handwringing over when the “right” time is to talk about solutions to this epidemic, Salomon Ligthelm’s exquisitely lensed video testifies to the notion that, at least for tens of thousands of Americans this year, it’s already too late. Cinquemani


19. Rosalía, “Malamente”

Barcelona-based collective Canada marries the traditional with the modern—as in an eye-popping freeze-frame of a bullfighter facing off with a motorcycle—in this spirited music video for Spanish singer-songwriter Rosalía’s flamenco-inspired hit “Malamente.” Alexa Camp


18. Ariana Grande, “God Is a Woman”

The music video for Ariana Grande’s sultry, subtly reggae-infused slow jam “God Is a Woman” finds the pop princess bathing in a milky swirl of vaginal water colors, fingering the eye of a hurricane, and deflecting misogynist epithets, a visual embodiment of her declaration that “I can be all the things you told me not to be/When you try to come for me, I keep on flourishing/And he sees the universe when I’m in company/It’s all in me.” Directed by Dave Meyers, the video mixes animation, digital eye candy, and references to classical artwork, as well as a few WTF moments, like a set piece in which a group of moles emerge from their holes and scream bloody murder. Pointed metaphors abound, from scenes of Grande walking a tightrope to literally breaking a glass ceiling. At one point, pop’s original feminist queen, Madonna, makes a cameo reciting the Old Testament by way of Pulp Fiction—with her own characteristic twist, of course, swapping “brothers” for “sisters.” Cinquemani


17. Bruno Mars featuring Cardi B, “Finesse (Remix)”

Bruno Mars directed the video for “Finesse” himself, and its note-perfect homage to the opening sequence of In Living Color shows him to be as adept a visual pastiche artist as he is a musical one. As with the song, however, it’s guest Cardi B who steals the show, dominating every second she’s on camera as the flyest of Fly Girls in tube socks, cutoffs, and larger-than-life hoop earrings. Zachary Hoskins


16. LCD Soundsystem, “Oh Baby”

Featuring masterful performances by Sissy Spacek and David Strathairn, LCD Soundsystem’s “Oh Baby” is a stirring saga of lovers venturing into the unknown. Directed by Rian Johnson, the video follows an aging couple who build a set of strange, inter-dimensional doorways. Enter one, and you can exit out of the other, but it’s never clear what reality exists between them. Simple, cinematic, and heart-wrenching, the clip is the perfect accompaniment for James Murphy’s ponderous, uplifting electro-pop. Paired together, Spacek and Strathairn convey love’s capacity to obliterate all barriers: loneliness, old age, even death. Pryor Stroud


15. Migos featuring Drake, “Walk It Talk It”

Migos’s “Walk It Talk It” takes place on a fictional television program called Culture Ride—a clear homage to the iconic show Soul Train. This isn’t the first music video to conceptually riff on the vintage variety show format; both OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” and the Strokes’s “Last Nite” are set in Ed Sullivan Show-style sound stages. But the video is still a triumph of flashy, vintage style. Offset, Quavo, and Takeoff surround themselves with dancing spectators and major stars, notably Jamie Foxx and Drake, all of whom are transfixed by the music they’re hearing. And just as they are today, Migos is the center of attention. Stroud


14. Azealia Banks, “Anna Wintour”

Yes, those really are Azealia Banks’s nipples. At least according to the New York singer-rapper-lightning-rod’s perennially deleted Twitter account. But the music video for Banks’s single “Anna Wintour” is striking not just because of the artist’s ample bosom. Directed by Matt Sukkar, the clip was filmed in an empty warehouse using understated faux-natural lighting, an apt visual milieu for Banks’s declaration of independence: “As the valley fills with darkness, shadows chase and run around…I’ll be better off alone, I’ll walk at my own pace.” Shots of a scantily clad Banks strutting on a metal catwalk, posing in a full-length mirror, and striking a pose in front of a backlit gate pay homage to Janet Jackson’s “The Pleasure Principle,” an iconic video by another female artist who was once determined to assert control. Camp


13. Flasher, “Material”

The internet has rendered media consumption so isolating that it takes a work of profound ingenuity to remind us that art is inherently a shared experience—even if that experience is one of infuriating data buffering, inescapable clickbait, and micro-targeted advertising. Directed by Nick Roney, Flasher’s meta visual for “Material” proves that YouTube has become so engrained in the fabric of modern life that the simple action of clicking out of a pop-up advertisement is now part of our brains’ cache of muscle memory. Though the video isn’t actually interactive, you just might find yourself unconsciously reaching to take control of what’s happening on your screen. Cinquemani


12. Jennifer Lopez featuring Cardi B and DJ Khaled, “Dinero”

The music video for Jennifer Lopez’s “Dinero” is as over the top as the song itself, which finds J. Lo alternately singing over a tropical rhythm and rapping atop a trap beat—sometimes both—while fellow Bronx upstart Cardi B boasts of their borough-based bona fides. Directed by Joseph Kahn, the black-and-white clip brazenly takes the piss out of Lopez’s dubious Jenny from the Block persona—and she’s clearly in on the joke, bowling with a diamond-covered ball, barbecuing in lingerie and pearls while sipping a crystal-encrusted Slurpee, toasting marshmallows over a burning pile of cash, and walking a preening pet ostrich on a leash. The video also features a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by a Casino-era Robert De Niro. Camp


11. Tierra Whack, “Whack World”

One of the most ambitious music video projects of the year, “Whack World” is a full-length accompaniment to Tierra Whack’s debut album of the same title. Like the album, it’s 15 minutes long, with the Philadelphia-based rapper and visual artist performing a wildly different vignette in each minute. Both album and video make for an impressive sampler of Whack’s versatility as a performer—which, in visual form, translates to her inhabiting a range of quirky and inventive characters, from a facially disfigured receptionist to a rapping corpse in a sequined coffin, a sentient house, and others that defy description. With a highlight reel like this, it’s hard to image there being anything Whack can’t do. Hoskins


10. Janelle Monáe, “Make Me Feel”

Every segment of the “emotion picture” released by Janelle Monáe to accompany her third album Dirty Computer is visually striking and thematically rich in its own way. But it’s the segment for lead single “Make Me Feel” that arguably stands best on its own. Directed by Monáe’s longtime collaborator Alan Ferguson, the video features the singer and 2018 It-girl Tessa Thompson at what may be the year’s coolest party captured on screen. Widely viewed as a coming-out moment for Monáe—her pansexuality is dramatized in her interactions with both Thompson and co-star Jayson Aaron—the clip is rife with references to two recently canonized icons of sexual fluidity, Prince and David Bowie. Monáe’s choreography with Thompson and Aaron echoes Prince’s with dancer Monique Mannen in the video for “Kiss,” while the dynamic of a bold, flamboyant alter ego performing for the singer’s more reserved self is borrowed from Bowie’s “Blue Jean.” As with her music, however, Monáe is capable of wearing these influences on her sleeve (and her silver bikini top) while still making them wholly her own. Hoskins


9. Chaka Khan, “Like Sugar”

The music video for R&B legend Chaka Khan’s first single in five years giddily foregrounds a multiplicity of black bodies via vibrant, kinetic montage. The joyous clip represents a celebration of identity and persistence in the face of adversity, a thread that shoots through many of the year’s best videos. Camp


8. Anderson .Paak, “Til It’s Over”

The music video has always sat at an awkward intersection of art and commerce, having originated as short film clips serving quite literally as “promos” for new singles. It’s thus only a little strange that Spike Jonze’s video for Anderson .Paak’s “Til It’s Over” isn’t a conventional one at all, but rather an extended commercial for Apple’s HomePod smart device. In the short vignette, FKA Twigs comes home from a long work day and asks Siri to play something she’d like. After a few seconds of .Paak’s voice coming out of her HomePod speakers, she discovers that her dancing can make the physical properties of her apartment stretch and shift. Both the simple, human joy of Twigs’s movements and the technical wizardry of the expanding room are so arresting that you’ll almost forget you’re being sold something. Hoskins


7. Travis Scott featuring Drake, “Sicko Mode”

The album cover for Travis Scott’s Astroworld painted a vivid picture of the eponymous theme park as a psychedelic, vaguely sinister landscape, dominated by a giant inflatable model of Scott’s head and decidedly not to be confused with the real-life (and long-defunct) Six Flags AstroWorld. But it’s the video for single “Sicko Mode,” directed by Dave Meyers, that really brings the place to life, turning the bleak landscape of Houston’s inner city into a post-apocalyptic playground of talking train graffiti and video vixens on bicycles while Scott rides past a prowling police cruiser on horseback. Much like the multi-part song, the clip isn’t cohesive, as the scenes during Drake’s guest verse almost seem to be cut in from an entirely different video. But the abundance of bizarre imagery, both menacing and absurd, ensures that it’s never boring. Hoskins


6. A$AP Rocky featuring Moby, “A$AP Forever”

The camera is the star of Dexter Navy’s video for “A$AP Forever”: whirling in dizzy circles above A$AP Rocky’s head and pulling in and out of a seemingly endless series of television monitors, street signs, smartphone screens, and other images within images. In the final sequence, the camera moves one last time into Rocky’s eyeball, revealing a reflected image of the rapper rotating in an anti-gravity chamber. Also, Moby is there. What it all means is anyone’s guess, but the trippy effect is a perfect complement to the strain of 21st-century psychedelia in Rocky’s music. Hoskins


5. Vince Staples, “Fun!”

Directed by Calmatic, the video for Vince Staples’s “Fun!” is both an astute condemnation of racial tourism and a (perhaps unintentional) auto-critique of hip-hop’s exportation of the black experience to middle America. Like Flasher’s “Material,” it’s also a bleak commentary on the ways technology—in this case, satellite mapping—has simultaneously united and divided the human race. Cinquemani


4. Jack White, “Corporation”

Jack White’s “Corporation” is just as oblique, ambitious, and political as the artist himself. Over the course of seven minutes, a series of surreal, seemingly disjointed events occur: a cowboy puts on lipstick, a rave starts in a diner, a little boy steals a car. By the end, you learn that all of the characters are simply different manifestations of White himself, revealing the alt-blues pioneer as someone we already knew him to be: a complex, multifaceted artist whose neuroses are intimately tied to his genius. Stroud


3. Kali Uchis featuring Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins, “After the Storm”

Like the contemporary surrealist photos of its director, Nadia Lee Cohen, the video for “After the Storm” pairs a rich Technicolor palette with a playfully elastic approach to everyday banality: bringing P-Funk icon Bootsy Collins to (animated) life as a cereal box mascot and making rapper Tyler, the Creator grow from a garden like a literal “Flower Boy.” That these whimsical images appear alongside shots of singer Kali Uchis, dolled up in mid-century attire and staring blankly into the distance, suggest that they’re meant to dramatize the daydreams of a bored 1950s suburbanite. This makes the video’s final image, of Uchis and a fully sprouted Tyler acting out an idyllic nuclear family scene while their own disembodied Chia-pet heads look on from the window, as vaguely disquieting as it is humorous. Hoskins


2. The Carters, “Apeshit”

The Carters’s Everything Is Love may not have achieved the same cultural ubiquity as Beyoncé‘s Lemonade, or Jay-Z’s 4:44, but it spawned one of the year’s most poignant videos. In “Apeshit,” the power couple performs in a vacant Louvre, commandeering the world’s most famous museum without breaking a sweat. It’s a radical testament to their influence as artists, business people, and political players, as well as a bold statement about the overlooked primacy of blackness in the Western canon. Stroud


1. Childish Gambino, “This Is America”

Surprise-released to coincide with Donald Glover’s double duty as host and musical guest on Saturday Night Live in May, the provocative video for “This Is America” was already inspiring breathless think pieces by the following morning. Directed by Hiro Murai, Glover’s principal collaborator on FX’s Atlanta, “This Is America” shares with many of that show’s best episodes a knack for getting under viewers’ skins, presenting highly charged images with just enough ambiguity to encourage social media reactions of the “WTF did I just watch” variety. But if the last seven months of critical dissection and memetic recycling have inevitably dulled some of its shock value—and, by extension, its power as a political statement—the video remains an astounding artistic achievement. In a series of long shots cleverly disguised as one uninterrupted take, Glover pulls dances and faces from the intertwined traditions of pop culture and minstrelsy, seamlessly juxtaposed with eruptions of sudden, graphic gun violence. In both extremes, it’s impossible to take your eyes off of him—which is, of course, the point. Like the never-ending train wreck that is American history itself, “This is America” offers entertainment and grotesquerie in equal measure. Hoskins


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The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

These performances share a commitment to achieving emotional vitality by any means necessary.

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The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

This year offered a feast of cinematic acting that pivoted on surprise, in terms of unconventional casting that allowed performers to add new shades to their established personas, as well as in blistering work by newcomers. These performances share a commitment to achieving emotional vitality by any means necessary, shattering the banality of expectation to elaborate on universal feelings that are too easily submerged by us on our day-to-day toils. Which is to say that the finest film acting of 2018 was less indebted to the representational “realism” that often wins awards than to fashioning a bold kind of behavioral expressionism. Like many of their filmmaker collaborators, these actors are master stylists. Chuck Bowen
 

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Sakura Ando, Shoplifters

As Nobuyo, the default “mother” of an informal family of hustlers on the margins of present-day Tokyo, Sakura Ando enriches Hirokazu Kore-eda’s gentle social drama with her bracing articulation of her character’s self-discovery. Nobuya’s melodramatic arc—a woman with dark secrets whose hard-won redemption is inevitably undone by higher forces—culminates in an agonizing one-shot unraveling, but what makes her fate so devastating is the sense of surprise and liberation that Ando brings to Nobuya’s acceptance of new responsibilities, passions, and her own self-worth. Christopher Gray


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Juliette Binoche, Let the Sunshine In

For all of her versatility, Juliette Binoche has never particularly been noted for her comic skills, but she displays a subtle wit as the middle-aged and single Isabelle in Claire Denis’s Let the Sunshine In, often dismissing petulant, needy men with scarcely more than a mocking glance or a passive-aggressive comment. Binoche truly shines, though, in scenes that play up Isabelle’s feelings of panic and loneliness over having to date again, such as when Isabelle reminisces about her ex-husband and, in the process, a whole panoply of emotions, including resentment and wistfulness, flit anxiously across the actress’s face. Most moving of all is the outright panic that Isabelle betrays when a wonderful date urges her to take things slowly, triggering an existential attack over her perceived lack of time to find another partner so late in life. Jake Cole


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Emily Browning, Golden Exits

Golden Exits sustains a lingering aura of futility that’s counterweighted by the film’s beauty and by the exhilaration of seeing Alex Ross Perry realize his vast ambitions, as he’s made a modern film about relationships and social constrictions that clears the bar set by the work of John Cassavetes and Woody Allen. Perry also ultimately empathizes with Naomi, who’s paradoxically diminished by her status as the narrative’s center of attention. Regarded by her American acquaintances as a barometer of their own personal failures, Naomi is never truly noticed. She’s the gorgeous woman as specter, played by Emily Browning with an ambiguity that carries a heartbreaking suggestion: that Naomi’s unknowable because no one wishes to know her. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Nicolas Cage, Mandy

Mandy‘s smorgasbord of indulgences is held together by Nicolas Cage, who gives one of the best performances of his career. Director Panos Cosmatos understands Cage as well as any director ever has, fashioning a series of moments that allow the actor to rhythmically blow off his top, exorcising Red’s rage and longing as well as, presumably, his own. In the film’s best scene, Red storms into the bathroom of his cabin and lets out a primal roar, while chugging a bottle of liquor that was stashed under the sink. Cage gives this scene a disquieting sense of relief, investing huge emotional notes with a lingering undercurrent that cuts to the heart of the film itself. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Toni Collette, Hereditary

Flashes of insanity and malaise factor into Toni Collette’s performance in Hereditary, yet Annie cannot be defined by such traits often linked to the trope of a hysterical woman. Instead, Collette’s glares of frustration suggest a world of complicated emotions that extend well beyond pain. Terror and intense focus become indecipherable in Collette’s eyes as Annie, a diorama artist, is torn from her profession by conspiring forces, making the film’s outcome feel even more like a cross between a cruel joke and a rebuke of society’s stacking the deck through maternal guilt and shame against Annie’s aspiring career. Clayton Dillard


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

As Queen Anne and her rival sycophants, Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz, respectively, establish a delicious series of manipulative, barbarous, and poignant emotional cross-currents throughout The Favourite. Stone and Weisz verbally parry and thrust at lightning speed, one-upping one another in an escalating series of duels that inspire the actresses to give among the finest performances of their careers, while Colman expertly operates at a slower, daringly draggy and exposed speed, painting a portrait of a woman imprisoned by entitlement. Collectively, this superb acting also achieves the near miraculous feat of rendering a Yorgos Lanthimos film authentically human. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Matt Dillon, The House That Jack Built

It’s no secret that Jack (Matt Dillon), the viciously misogynistic serial killer at the heart of Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built, is at least partially a stand-in for the director himself, and the genius of Dillon’s interpretation of the character is that he never seems to be sucking up to the man who created it. He plays Jack as ruthless, self-pitying, and disturbingly empty—Hannibal Lecter without the wit or charm. No mere pawn of the Danish provocateur’s autocritical schema, Dillon both deepens and challenges von Trier’s intended self-portraiture with the uncanny blankness of his performance, creating in the process an absolutely chilling embodiment of evil. Keith Watson


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Adam Driver, BlackKklansman

Though BlackKklansman was marketed as the story of an African-American police officer impersonating a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s, it also concerns a Jewish cop’s efforts to do the same by offering a white face to accompany a vocal charade. As said cop, Flip Zimmerman, Adam Driver deliriously plumbs head-first into a disturbing irony, acknowledging the catharses that can be had by indulging in disgusting epithets secretly at one’s own expense. Or, simply: Flip insults himself, and those close to him, and Driver elucidates the character’s disgust as well as the weird spiritual purging that can occur by indulging one’s basest instincts. One of America’s best and most sensitive actors offers perhaps his finest portrait yet of a soul twisted in contradictory knots. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade

It’s a testament to the authenticity of Elsie Fisher’s performance in Eighth Grade that you’d never have guessed she’d been in front of a camera before, much less that she’s been acting consistently for years. As Kayla, the awkward, unpopular tween protagonist of Bo Burnham’s film, Fisher infuses every stammered “umm” and stumbling “like” with a palpable sense of self-loathing and social anxiety. For anyone who ever felt like Kayla in middle school, Fisher’s painfully real performance is liable to induce PTSD. Watson


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace

Finally shedding his tick-laden parlor games, Ben Foster comes to life as an actor, connecting with Will and giving him a fearful thickness of being that’s only occasionally leavened by Tom, whom Thomasin McKenzie invests with the trembling, negotiating intelligence of an unformed prodigy. Will and Tom and Foster and McKenzie’s energies are beautifully in and out of sync, simultaneously. Foster confidently cedes the film to McKenzie, which parallels Will’s gradual relinquishing of authority to Tom. Both characters know that it’s unfair to expect Tom to inherit Will’s alienation, as she has the right to give this potentially doomed society a chance, to fight for it as well as herself. In Leave No Trace‘s heartbreaking climax, a relationship dies so that an individual, and maybe even a society, may be reborn. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Hugh Grant, Paddington 2

Hugh Grant may well be more cartoonish than the animated bear protagonist of Paddington 2. As the film’s villain, a has-been thespian with the world’s most convoluted scheme to finance a one-man show, Grant can scarcely utter a syllable without throwing his head back and exclaiming it to the rafters, and the actor’s body language—a series of shocked gasps, wild-eyed stares, and manic grins—is similarly absurd. As Phoenix dons a series of ever-more elaborate disguises throughout the film, Grant’s acting somehow gets even broader, resulting in a work of giddy panto and one of the finest comic performances in recent memory. Cole


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Regina Hall, Support the Girls

It’s not often that we see decency and level-headedness radiated on screen as convincingly as it is by Regina Hall in Support the Girls, much less a film centered around such a performance. As Lisa, a put-upon restaurant manager enduring a particularly hectic day on the job, Hall suppresses the comic histrionics that she’s become known for in mainstream comedy movies in order to inhabit the delicate naturalism that writer-director Andrew Bujalski consistently cultivates in his casts. Slipping into this mode with grace, the actress conveys the sheer exhaustion and frustration of nine-to-five existence with just the subtlest of disruptions to an exterior of buttoned-up professionalism. Carson Lund


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

As the great blackness of night swoops in, we reach for assurances of “the everlasting arms,” as sung about in First Reformed‘s concluding hymnal. Ethan Hawke’s staggering performance is one of Ecclesiastian sympathy, with watchful longing and hungry silences in between reminders of Toller’s own impotence to change the world. The man’s face suggests a tragic predicament that the only ark to save us from an impending flood is in our illusions. Niles Schwartz


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Bill Heck and Zoe Kazan, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Nearly every actor in the Coen brothers’ newest anti-western is remarkable, but Zoe Kazan and Bill Heck are particularly heartbreaking, partly because the audience has been so expertly rendered vulnerable to the vignette in which they appear. By the time that we get to “The Gal Who Got Rattled” in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, we’ve seen so much brutality and cynicism that we’re hardened for more of the same only to encounter tenderness. As potential lovers who never get to be, Kazan and Heck dramatize the unmooring vulnerability of feeling attraction just when you suspect that you’ve aged out of it, informing the Coens’ florid, beautiful dialogue with trembling pathos. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Brian Tyree Henry, If Beale Street Could Talk

For this critic, the lovers at the center of Barry Jenkins’s newest parable of racism are too gorgeous, primped, fawning, symbolic, metaphorical, and seemingly straight out of a coffee-table book. As a man recently out of prison after serving a stretch he didn’t deserve, Brian Tyree Henry does for If Beale Street Could Talk what he did for Widows and continues to do for Atlanta: informing potentially self-conscious conceits with a jolting burst of common-sense machismo. If Beale Street Could Talk‘s most haunting scene is a monologue that’s hypnotically uttered by Tyree, allowing this film, for a few minutes, to actually capture the brutal poetry of the James Baldwin novel that inspired it. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Helena Howard, Madeline’s Madeline

The center of a film about commitment and disassociation, Helena Howard’s Madeline evidently relishes the opportunity to change identities in the blink of an eye. Director Josephine Decker contrasts the aspiring actress’s easy mastery of improv exercises with Madeline’s harried life outside of rehearsal, where she’s regularly manipulated by her mother and an overeager director as she struggles to control her mental illness. Decker’s film is willfully alienating in its commitment to Madeline’s tortured interiority, but Howard steers it with an undeniable power and confidence, making Madeline’s rootless chaos feel entirely legible. Gray


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Bhreagh MacNeil, Werewolf

Werewolf belongs to the extraordinary Bhreagh MacNeil. The film derives quite a bit of its power from allowing Vanessa to unceremoniously wrest the spotlight away from Blaise (Andrew Gillis), a lost and bitter man whose quest for recovery is probably hopeless. MacNeil doesn’t project Vanessa’s determination in a manner that’s familiar to rehabilitation fables, but rather physically embodies it, and McKenzie doesn’t mar her with any screenwriterly speeches. We see Vanessa’s strength in the steel of her eyes, in her willingness to ask family for help, and in her ability to get a thankless job at an old-fashioned burger and soft-serve ice cream joint, in which she grinds imitation Oreo cookies into pieces with a machine that resembles a sausage grinder. The fierceness with which Vanessa grinds these cookies—or attempts to master an ice cream machine that resembles a liquid methadone dispenser—is haunting. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Rachel McAdams, Disobedience

Esti (Rachel McAdams), at first glance, is another type: an obsequious adherent to orthodoxy. When she passionately kisses Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), you understood the gesture as compensatory, to convey that I’m just not that into her anymore. But then McAdams caps the moment by quickly playing with Nivola’s beard, and the actress subtly communicates the sense of the genuine love that exits between this husband and wife—an impression that’s confirmed when Esti later repeats the gesture with Ronit (Rachel Weisz). Only theirs is a different kind of love, and we finally get a sense of what that is when, during a tryst in a hotel room, Ronit casually sends a stream of her spit into Esti’s mouth. This moment feels organically, almost miraculously stumbled upon—arrived at by two great actors wanting to convey the singular nature of their characters’ communion. Ed Gonzalez


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The pairing of Melissa McCarthy, a Hollywood A-lister, with Richard E. Grant, a sublime arthouse presence, is one of the most invigorating surprises of this year’s cinema. McCarthy avoids the pitfall of comic actors appearing in unusually dramatic material. Rather than restricting her emotional catalogue to a few grim gestures of purposefulness, McCarthy expands her repertoire, elaborating on the sadness that’s inherent in even her blockbuster roles—a sadness that also fuels her comic virtuosity. And Grant is complicit with McCarthy’s tonal dexterity in every way. Together they offer an irresistible portrait of a bittersweet paradox of companionable alienation. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Ben Mendelsohn, The Land of Steady Habits

The Land of Steady Habits benefits enormously from the casting of Ben Mendelsohn as an unexceptionally tormented upper-middle-class guy. Here, the actor submerges the aggression that’s often closer to the surface of his sleazy villain roles, giving Anders a mysterious internal tension that’s compelling and often funny. When writer-director Nicole Holofcener follows Anders around as he drifts in and out of the lives of Helene (Edie Falco) and his grown son, Preston (Thomas Mann), and their various friends, the film has a free-associational piquancy. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Jason Mitchell, Tyrel

Sebastián Silva tasks Jason Mitchell with carrying the weight of Tyrel on the actor’s face; he’s asked to project toughness in reaction shots to aggressions both micro and macro from Tyler’s white bros, then later vulnerability as he steals away for moments of quietude to escape the ambiguous pain of social discomfort. While the scenario and performance is comparable to that of Daniel Kaluuya’s in Get Out, Mitchell’s Tyler isn’t given a catharsis of violent retribution. Mitchell’s expressions and gestures convey the betrayal of a daily life that never lets Tyler feel at ease, let alone at home. Dillard


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Michelle Pfeiffer, Where Is Kyra?

Michelle Pfeiffer’s ferociously vulnerable and intelligent performance elucidates the pain, resentment, and fear that springs from escalating disappointment. Pfeiffer informs Kyra with a fragile mixture of empathy and rage, which is particularly on display when Kyra cares for her mother, Ruth, who’s played by Suzanne Shepard with a wily and commanding dignity. Kyra is understood by Pfeiffer to be taking qualified pleasure in her own effacement, as it implies an escape from a world that has rejected her. Early in the film, we see Kyra preparing a bath for Ruth, and a mirror fashions a prism in which mother and daughter are cordoned off from one another yet simultaneously visible, evoking the punishing intimacy, and the comfort, of caring for a dependent. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Meinhard Neumann, Western

Casting is everything, the saying goes, but that’s especially true when filmmakers elect to use nonprofessionals, in which case ineffable factors such as “presence” and “authenticity” become paramount. Meinhard Neumann, the grizzled, mustachioed brooder at the center of Western who director Valeska Grisebach came across on a whim at a horse market, has these qualities in spades, in addition to a seemingly preternatural capacity for playing to Grisebach’s roving handheld camera and finding his light. His taciturn, repressed Meinhard doesn’t have a wide expressive range, but when the character does undergo a few emotional breakthroughs in the latter half of the film, Neumann seems to be genuinely accessing reserves of pain and regret deep within himself. Lund


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Jesse Plemons, Game Night

John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein assembled one of the strongest comedic ensembles in recent memory for Game Night, but a single performer still managed to steal the show: Jesse Plemons as the weirdo Gary, a sad-sack cop with a broken heart whose self-pitying glumness could ruin anyone’s vibe. Pitched perfectly at the intersection of creepiness and pathos, Plemons earns big laughs without really seeming to try. The hilarity arises instead from his expertly discomfiting embodiment of one of those off-putting personality types we’ve all unfortunately encountered: the guy you feel bad for but desperately want to get away from as fast as humanly possible. Watson


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Steven Yeun, Burning

Lee Chang-dong’s Burning is driven by a central mystery of purpose. To what genre does this film belong? Is it a horror film, a romantic triangle, a class critique, or a beguiling fusion of all of the above? Much of this mystery is embodied by Steven Yeun’s performance as a rich smoothie who’s far more appealing than the floundering hero, which strikes up a crisis in the audience’s empathy that resonates with our romantic preferences in real life. Turns out there’s a reason that confident people get all the lovers, because they are, well, confident. Yet Yeun laces his sexiness with the subtlest tint of passive aggression, so subtle that one wonders if it’s even there, investing Burning with a fleeting malignancy that’s worthy of Claude Chabrol. Bowen


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The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2018

Music, dance, action, rage, touch, rhyme, and blunt-force trauma—these are the moments that give films, and life, their staying power.

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The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2018
Photo: Well Go USA

Watching a great scene for the first time is like confronting the reality of one’s mortality. As the scene unfolds, it can feel exhilarating in the moment, though it can only be fully understood in hindsight. Think of our selections of the best scenes of 2018, then, as flashes of memory connected to a larger whole. It’s not that the whole dies without the memories, but that the whole might, upon reflection, be primarily composed of such recollected flashes. Music, dance, action, rage, touch, rhyme, and blunt-force trauma—these are the moments that give films, and life, their staying power. Clayton Dillard
 

The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2018

Amazing Grace, Reverend Cleveland Weeps

There are a number of points throughout Sydney Pollack’s Amazing Grace where Aretha Franklin’s voice hits such astounding heights that members of Los Angeles’s New Temple Missionary Baptist Church congregation and choir can’t help but rise to their feet and shout “Amen” or dance like no one is watching them. But no single moment is more profoundly moving than when Reverend James Cleveland, the concert’s musical director and Aretha’s childhood friend, walks away from his piano, sits down on a pew, and quietly weeps into his handkerchief. In this moment, the church transforms into a sanctuary to revel in the power of Aretha’s singular, iconic voice. Derek Smith


Annihilation, Suicide Is Painless

The characters who enter the alien-terraforming Shimmer in Alex Garland’s Annihilation are all people who’ve lost the will to live, yet their survival instincts compel them to self-defense against the horrors thrown at them by the film’s creepy elements. The Shimmer responds in kind, folding the terrors of characters about to meet their deaths into the flora and fauna that form out of corpses and sport gnarled looks of frozen anguish. After watching a colleague “live on” in the mutant screams of the bear that killed her, Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson)—tacitly suffering from depression and knowing the odds of her survival—decides to leave a calmer imprint of herself on this alien region. Her blissful walk into oblivion is the film’s sole moment of quietude, and perhaps the most gorgeous display of justifiable suicide ever depicted on film. Jake Cole


The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2018

BlacKkKlansman, “Too Late to Turn Back Now”

After watching Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) speak about his vision for an equal society where African-Americans are accepted for who they are, undercover cop Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) and his impromptu date, activist Patrice (Laura Harrier), visit a nearby club. What follows is Spike Lee at his most observational and celebratory: an extended sequence of black Americans joyously dancing and singing along to the song “Too Late to Turn Back Now,” free of the prejudice they encounter in their daily lives. Echoing the kind of liberated society Ture outlined in his speech, the utopic vision of this scene becomes reason enough for Ture and his followers to want to fight the power. Wes Greene


Bodied, Behn Grymm vs. Adam

After months of training, Adam (Calum Worthy) finally faces off against his friend and mentor, Behn Grymm (Jackie Long), in a rap battle that quickly turns from two buddies trading barbs to something far more insidious and calamitous. For the African-American Grymm, rapping is a means to end, a way to put food on the table for his wife and daughter. But for Adam, a white boy and intellectual born with a silver spoon in mouth, there’s no greater purpose to spitting fire, only the unfettered joys of unabated verbal destruction. In his stomach-churning assault of Grymm, Adam sheds all semblance of kinship and morality, all but shattering a friendship simply in pursuit of a big win and pushing the phrase “don’t hate the player, hate the game” far past its breaking point. Smith


Burning, Jazz Dance at Sunset

Stoned, topless, and standing beneath the South Korean flag as it flaps in the wind, Haemi (Jeon Jong-seo) begins to emulate the Kenyan “great hunger” dance she described earlier in the film. Set to Miles Davis’s “Générique,” the sequence occurs only halfway into Burning, but it feels climactic in its power, especially for Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), who seems finally entranced with Haemi to the point of no return. The scene’s thematic complexity underlies the immediacy of Lee Chang-dong’s use of a long take to capture the dance, making the film’s larger mysteries, and Jong-su’s subsequent paranoia, all the more chilling. Dillard


The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2018

First Man, Agena Spin

Damien Chazelle’s claustrophobic direction of spaceflight in First Man brutally undercuts idealized images of the Space Race with the abject terror of hurtling through the void in a rattling tin can launched into the skies using calculations performed on computers with less processing power than an Atari 2600. The film’s tensest scene is a depiction of the failed Gemini 8 mission, in which a routine spaceflight goes catastrophically wrong and sends the spacecraft into an unstoppable barrel roll. As Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) attempts to both stabilize the craft and get it back on its correct flightpath, we see him not only contending with high G-forces and dizzying spins, but also performing trigonometric calculations in long hand on graph paper. With the film’s camera firmly entrenched inside the capsule, Chazelle mines Armstrong’s claustrophobia—and rouses our—through the flashes of shaking plates of sheet metal and elaborate operating switchboards. The material reality of early space missions comes into sharp focus, clarifying the deadening trauma that weighs on Armstrong throughout the entirety of First Man. Cole


The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2018

First Reformed, Magical Mystery Tour

In an act of compassion, and passion, Ethan Hawke’s Reverend Ernst Toller indulges Amanda Seyfried’s pregnant widow in a meditative ritual she had regularly performed with her now-deceased husband. After she lays on top of Toller, synchronizing her breathing with his, the two begin to levitate and hover over gorgeous images of outer space, snowy mountains, and lush green forests. But this extraordinary and uncanny transcendence is fleeting, as the sublime imagery abruptly gives way to visions of real-world problems, such as mass deforestation and pollution, pulling Toller violently out of this reprieve from his obsession with the world’s misery. What place do love and faith have in a world that’s crumbling around us? Smith


The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2018

The Green Fog, Chuck Norris As Meme

About midway through The Green Fog, just as one is beginning to acclimate to its conceptual high-wire act—a reconstitution of Vertigo by way of clips from wide-ranging movies and TV shows set in San Francisco—directors Guy Maddin and Evan and Galen Johnson decide to entertain a ludicrous high-concept-within-a-high-concept: an entire lengthy sequence composed only of reaction shots of Chuck Norris. Staring, staring, and staring some more in a ridiculous sustained imitation of Scottie Ferguson’s paranoid daze, Norris’s blank mug becomes the best underappreciated meme of the year. Carson Lund


The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2018

Hale County This Morning, This Evening, Epic Jump Shot Drill

RaMell Ross’s evocative hymn to Hale County, Alabama and the indomitable spirit of its residents dedicates a portion of its attention to Daniel, a small-time college hoops player with big aspirations, but the actual sport of basketball only surfaces in fits and starts, interwoven as it is with the larger mosaic of Daniel’s life. The fragments that do emerge, however, show a sprightly athlete in firm command of his game, nowhere more evident than when he drains 10 of 11 long-range jumpers from around the arc in one breathless take, muttering affirmatively after each swish. Ross’s camera bobs along behind him, emphasizing the sheer force and persistence of Daniel’s motion over the shots themselves, in effect translating the feat into something more divine than worldly. Lund


The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2018

Happy as Lazzaro, The Music’s Followed Us

A band of former sharecroppers relocated to an anonymous metropolis are lulled into a church by the sound of an organ and are promptly shooed out. This everyday affront is avenged by the lightest and most surreal of miracles as the music travels into the city, seemingly rebirthed from the sound of a passing train. Its ineffable quality leads the previously guileless Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) to an olive tree planted in artificial grass and a catharsis that’s at once unclassifiable and long overdue. Christopher Gray


Hereditary, Heads Will Roll

For its first hour, Ari Aster’s Hereditary is something akin to a relentless panic attack, rife with displays mental illness, disturbing familial follies, cryptic portents of doom that would curl Poe’s toes. The highlight of the film is a scene that’s tremendous for its artistic dexterity and shock value. In the throes of an allergic reaction, the young and socially awkward Charlie (Milly Shapiro) writhes in the back seat of the family car, her throat tightening while her brother, Peter (Alex Wolff), wildly drives them down a forlorn stretch of deserted asphalt. The brilliance of the scene isn’t just the visceral depiction of an unfathomable violent incident, but the patience with which Aster dwells on the consequence: The camera remains on Peter’s face, bathed in the red glow of the car’s tail lights, as he sits static, stoic, his eyes glazed over, while his sister’s body is slumped over behind him. After several agonizingly long, laconic moments, he starts the car, drives home, and goes to bed. Greg Cwik


The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2018

If Beale Street Could Talk, Daniel’s Monologue

If Beale Street Could Talk is at its most potent in the scenes where human frailty and the specter of injustice come more elliptically to the surface, as in a long dialogue scene between Fonny (Stephan James) and Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry), an old school chum. At first it’s all soothingly friendly chitchat between the two men. Then things slip into dolefully dark territory as Daniel recalls his time in prison: “The white man’s got to be the devil. He sure ain’t a man. Some of the things I saw, baby, I’ll be dreaming about until the day I die.” What hits hardest about Daniel’s recollections is his overall sense of exhaustion. If constant subjugation doesn’t kill you, it’s suggested, then your soul is forever crippled, which is in many ways a worse fate. How can anyone walk through life with their spirit so completely paralyzed? Keith Uhlich


The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2018

Let the Sunshine In, “At Last”

Etta James’s “At Last” is like “Also Sprach Zarathustra” or “Over the Rainbow”—a piece of music so deeply imbedded in popular culture that its use risks parody. Leave it, then, to Claire Denis, a modern master of needle drops, to find just the right implementation. In Let the Sunshine In, the song becomes an exemplification of the romantic nirvana pined after by middle-aged Isabelle (Juliette Binoche), a feeling crystallized in a sensuous slow dance with a bar patron that finds Denis’s camera pirouetting sinuously with her lead character. After a series of botched relationships, Isabelle’s ecstasy is cathartic and moving in the moment but ultimately illusory and hollow, a spell cast through the concise power of Denis’s montage and broken just as quickly by a hard, sobering cut back to reality. Lund


The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2018

Mandy, Bathroom Meltdown

Mandy is a smorgasbord of indulgences held together by Nicolas Cage, who gives one of the best performances of his career. Director Panos Cosmatos understands Cage as well as any director ever has, fashioning a series of moments that allow the actor to rhythmically blow off his top, exorcising Red’s rage and longing as well as, presumably, his own. In the film’s best scene, Red storms into the bathroom of his cabin and lets out a primal roar, while chugging a bottle of liquor that was stashed under the sink. Cage gives this scene a disquieting sense of relief, investing huge emotional notes with a lingering undercurrent that cuts to the heart of the film itself. Chuck Bowen


The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2018

A Star Is Born, “Shallow”

“Shallow” makes less sense as a song than Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) performs as a celebrity, but it’s perfectly structured for Ally’s (Lady Gaga) birth as an idol. Cooper makes goosebumpy magic of Ally and Jackson mooning in the backdrop of one another’s closeups, and their performance features two of the great half-seconds in the year’s cinema: first Ally covering her face in a rush of fear, embarrassment, and exhilaration, then catching up to the song’s chorus a half-beat late with unstoppable force. Gray


The Strangers: Prey at Night, “Total Eclipse of the Heart”

The ne plus ultra of The Strangers: Prey at Night‘s irony-tinged mayhem is a lengthy set piece at a secluded mobile home park’s pool. It’s there that Luke (Lewis Pullman) brutally dispatches Dollface (Emma Bellomy), then tussles with the Man in the Mask (Damian Maffei), all set rather perversely to the camp-operatic mood swings of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” The song almost subliminally primes the characters to perform a dance of death, a point that the camera devilishly underscores by jumping in and out of the water alongside Luke and the Man in the Mask, in the process muffling the sound of Bonnie Tyler’s protestations. Ed Gonzalez


The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2018

Suspiria, Break Dance

As Susie (Dakota Johnson) dances, Olga (Elena Fokina) breaks—literally. The gist of the scene is that simple, yet Luca Guadagnino and editor Walter Fasano create an unforgiving series of images that approximates what it feels like for Olga to have her body being taken away from her. First Olga’s arms, then her torso and legs, and finally her face. By the end of Susie’s ascension within the dance company via her dexterous moves, Olga is but a urine-stained pretzel, helplessly writhing on the floor. All About Eve, eat your heart out. Dillard


The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2018

Widows, A Drive Through Town

The numerous long takes sprinkled throughout Steve McQueen’s oeuvre tend to exude a shallow, posturing quality. This shot from the filmmaker’s Widows, however, is rich in meaning. With the film’s camera mounted to the hood of a car, Colin Farrell’s Chicago councilman candidate is seen leaving an event in a low-income, predominantly black neighborhood and riding to his posh townhouse on the other side of town. In one long take, McQueen cannily and succinctly catches glimpses of how the neighborhood has succumbed to the forces of gentrification. Greene


The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2018

Wild Boys, Island Arrival

Upon landing on a mysterious island with their magisterial captor, the five wild boys of Bertrand Mandico’s film wander through the tropical jungle and discover a landscape rife with bizarre sexual pleasures. As the boys traverse through groping grass, quench their thirst with the juices of ejaculating trees, and satiate their hunger with hairy, testicular-shaped fruits, it’s as if the island is responding to their surging desires. Such an uninhibited and unhinged celebration of pure, impulsive sexuality, in a film driven by silent-film aesthetics no less, is capable of making even Guy Maddin blush. Smith


The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2018

Zama, The Ambush

Lucrecia Martel’s cinema dwells in languor and repressed energy, a wavelength for which she’s invented her own filmmaking grammar. In Zama, a tale of simmering tensions in Paraguay during Spanish colonial rule, that grammar gets audaciously applied to action scenes that briefly and violently materialize the friction felt between Spanish forces and oppressed natives elsewhere in the narrative. The first of these eruptions, a shockingly rapid and coordinated ambush in a boggy marshland at high noon, offers a stunning case study of Martel’s distinctive style in the context of frenetic action: The camera remains stagnant and the sound design sparse, but everything’s unnervingly sped-up and fragmentary, a technique that approximates the phenomenological jolt of danger. Lund


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