Your Top Three is a series here at Movies.com where we choose a topic and you give us your top three picks.
James Cameron turned 59 today, and we’d like to honor the filmmaker on his birthday with a celebration of his movies. This isn’t too hard to do, as he hasn’t directed all that many for a man of his age. Beginning with his first release in 1982 (Piranha Part Two: The Spawing), Cameron has directed or codirected only 10 theatrical features, if we include IMAX documentaries. Another reason it’s not too hard to celebrate his work is that maybe with exeption of the first, there’s not really a dud among them. Even if you don’t love Titanic and Avatar, they’re two of the most spectacular pieces of cinematic entertainment ever made.
Before those two movies, Cameron showed the world that sequels could be exceptional, as could Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicles. And throughout his career he’s advanced the craft in ways that wows us and spoils us. Consider what he did with computer special effects and later digital 3D that sort of ruined us for most of what would come afterward. In a way, he’s done the same thing with women characters in action movies. We still don’t have any heroines as empowering as Sarah Connor or his take on Ellen Ripley.
Because there’s so much to appreciate in each of his films, it’s no easier to narrow down three best or favorites from his 10 titles than it was to do the same with Hitchcock’s 30-40 titles earlier this week. We might be tempted to cheat some by squeezing The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day together into one slot, as people often do with the first two Godfather films. And while I’m sad to say I haven’t seen any of his oceanic documentaries, they also seem like something we’d want to qualify as a package together.
It’s not a shocker what the most popular picks are from readers (see the poll below), but what’s fun about someone like Cameron is that there is still a lot of variety so that nearly all his films are represented somewhere among the results — except of course the Piranha sequel, his short Xenogenesis, and the docs (Ghosts of the Abyss; Aliens of the Deep; the TV movie Expedition: Bismarck), though I’m sure someone out there has a soft spot for any or all of these.
Here are my top three James Cameron movies:
1. The Abyss
The one movie of his that still feels fresh every time I watch it, mainly because there’s nothing else like it made before or since. And I guess I just love movies that pit Ed Harris against Michael Biehn (see my top Michael Bay movie). And yes, this is a pick for the special edition, the only one I really know anyway.
There aren’t a lot of sci-fi and horror films where you’d be okay with the sequel pushing things primarily into the action genre, but Cameron does everything perfectly with this escalated follow-up to Ridley Scott’s Alien. It’s the benchmark for the idea of a sequel not just going bigger but also better.
3. The Terminator
I probably need to revisit T2, which I’ve only seen once on video 22 years ago, since so many think that’s also a great example of bigger and better. For now I prefer the original for how dark and raw and original it is, not to mention how simple yet paradoxically fascinating the plot is. Fittingly, I’ve probably gone back to this more than any of Cameron’s films.
Your Picks (the top three being Aliens followed by The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day in a tie):
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