Scriptwriting so brilliant it can make your brain hurt

by A_Different_Drummer | created - 11 Jul 2017 | updated - 01 Sep 2018 | Public

This is an experimental work-in-progress. I have been a TV/film addict for longer than I can remember. I was given a choice of a 12-step program, or community service (writing for IMDb). Obviously I chose the latter. With thousands of films and TV episodes stuck in my head - REMEMBER, IT IS A MEDICAL FACT THAT UNDER HYPNOSIS A BRICKLAYER CAN RECALL THE TEXTURE OF THE FIRST BRICK HE EVER LAID -- I wanted to acknowledge writing so extraordinary, it is really above and beyond the call of duty. Oddly, most of the entries below come from the TV universe -- this could be because movies have larger budgets for SFX whereas TV writers, with fewer resources, need to go for the brass ring each and every time.

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1. Cheers (1982–1993)
Episode: Swear to God (1988)

TV-PG | 30 min | Comedy, Drama

Sam is in the middle of picking up an attractive woman named Suzanne in the bar, when he's telephoned by another former lover named Denise who wants to see him as soon as possible. So many ... See full summary »

Director: James Burrows | Stars: Ted Danson, Kirstie Alley, Rhea Perlman, John Ratzenberger

Votes: 242

Turned out I was not the only one who heard the brilliant line "What color is the sky in your world?" and could not forget it.

2. Doctor Who (2005– )
Episode: The Wedding of River Song (2011)

TV-PG | 46 min | Adventure, Drama, Family

April 22nd, 2011; 5:02pm. Having finally accepted his fate the Doctor travels to Lake Silencio for his final day. But one woman refuses to let time take its course.

Director: Jeremy Webb | Stars: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Alex Kingston

Votes: 5,014

We all know Steven Moffat is a "national treasure" (like Judy Dench) and expect greatness as a matter of course. But in this episode Karen Gillan's character (in an alternate dimension where she is sort of a she-god) is being pursued by the alt version of the young man who, in our reality, she is already married to. In the alt-world, she was ignoring him completely until the good Doctor Who pointed out the young man's romantic intentions. So she starts to pay attention. And gets the message. As the boy continues his puppydog attempts to woo her, she takes the initiative with the grandest REVERSE-PROPOSAL in the history of the written word ... an unforgettable line of dialog delivered with her back to the young man as she strides down a hallway with him following .... "We should GET A COFFEE some time ... and MARRIED."

3. Wings (1990–1997)
Episode: Legacy (1990)

TV-PG | 23 min | Comedy, Drama

Estranged brothers reunite at a small airport to try to find their recently deceased father's hidden fortune.

Director: James Burrows | Stars: Tim Daly, Steven Weber, Crystal Bernard, Thomas Haden Church

Votes: 133

In the opener, Steven Weber's politically incorrect character sees a gorgeous girl walking across their "mini-me" airport and mumbles "Major Hooters." The young lady takes offense so, without missing a beat, he extends his hand as an introduction, "Major Bob Hooters, nice to meet you."

4. American Gods (2017– )
Episode: Git Gone (2017)

TV-MA | 61 min | Drama, Fantasy, Mystery

The story of Laura's life and death is explored, including her first encounter with Shadow and how exactly she came to be sitting on the edge of his motel room bed.

Director: Craig Zobel | Stars: Ricky Whittle, Emily Browning, Crispin Glover, Bruce Langley

Votes: 2,841

American Gods is such an extraordinary evolution in the history of scriptwriting that, frankly, I am still trying to digest it. This episode is a bizarre piece of backstory in an amazing series which is itself so bizarre that even the frontstory barely makes sense. Except to those of us already heavily medicated. In the scene in which Emily Browning's character, recently revived from the dead, for reasons not entirely clear, is chatting with a facsimile of Annubis, the God of Death (whom she had cheated by being magically revived), Annubis tries to probe her complicated relationship with her husband, a relationship that appears to have changed, as it were, "post-mortem." The dialog goes: Anubis: Was it love? Laura: It wasn't. But I suppose it is now. Anubis: That is unfortunate. Love will always have you at a disadvantage. Laura: I think being dead has me at a disadvantage.

5. Outcast (2016–2017)
Episode: Not My Job to Judge (2017)

TV-MA | 45 min | Drama, Horror

Megan must face the consequences of her actions. While a dissappearance in Rome leads Kyle to a dangerous consequence of the possessions.

Director: Howard Deutch | Stars: Patrick Fugit, Philip Glenister, Wrenn Schmidt, Madeleine McGraw

Votes: 270

In this uber-creepy series, which is also addictive, Philip Glenister's loopy preacher is a joy to watch. So much frailty behind such a tough exterior. There is a particularly memorable scene where, for no obvious reason, Wrenn Schmidt's character tries to commit suicide and Glenister's character rescues her. As Schmidt recovers, she seems to expect a lecture from the good Rev? Instead, she gets one of the greatest non-sequitors in the history of TV, a line of gibberish that rhymes -- "Not my job to judge. Like the Good Book says, there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead and some come from behind." Schmidt considers this and then squeaks, "That's not the Bible! That's Doctor Seuss!" Without skipping a beat, Glenister replies, "STILL A GREAT BOOK!"

6. The Twilight Zone (1959–1964)
Episode: To Serve Man (1962)

TV-PG | 25 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

An alien race comes to Earth, promising peace and sharing technology. A linguist and his team set out to translate the aliens' language, using a book whose title they deduce is "To Serve Man".

Director: Richard L. Bare | Stars: Lloyd Bochner, Susan Cummings, Richard Kiel, Hardie Albright

Votes: 3,160

Episode 89 of this series is still an object of awe and wonder even today. The "dual meaning" of the book title (stolen from the ETs and translated secretly) has a message just as relevant today as then. OMG, it's a cookbook!

7. The Twilight Zone (1985–1989)
Episode: Her Pilgrim Soul/I of Newton (1985)

TV-PG | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

In "Her Pilgrim Soul," two scientists must discover why the spirit of a woman is reliving a previous life within their holographic computer. "I of Newton" showcases a mathematician in a battle of wits with the Devil for his soul.

Directors: Wes Craven, Kenneth Gilbert | Stars: Kristoffer Tabori, Anne Twomey, Gary Cole, Wendy Girard

Votes: 273

In the 1985 reboot, a mathematician has a battle of wits with the Devil. The Devil explains that he is all-powerful, and a Master of Time and Space. However, he offers the mathematician one last chance to win his soul back. All the mortal has to do is present the Devil with a task he cannot perform. The mathematician considers this and replies, "OK, Get Lost."

8. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003)
Episode: Innocence (1998)

TV-PG | 60 min | Action, Drama, Fantasy

Buffy and her friends battle the Judge and face unexpected danger from Angel, who has lost his soul after experiencing a moment of true happiness.

Director: Joss Whedon | Stars: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan, Charisma Carpenter

Votes: 3,183

The episode that changed the face of network TV. I think it is still being taught in film classes. Buffy and Angel (the bad vampire who was cursed to get his soul back, making him a "good' vampire forever carrying the memories of the evil he had done, and suffering eternally for that) decide to "get busy" (Whedon would later explain how much debate the production team had about that) and the one single, resulting, moment of joy (according to the terms of the original curse) transforms Angel back into into his old soul-less self. He then sets about destroying everything and everyone Buffy loves. This reverse take on the vampire myth was not only original and unique but on an unconscious level it brought to the fore the age-old notion that love and hate are themselves only a razor's edge apart. Whedon deserved the praise for this one. This outrageous arc bored into the collective consciousness so quickly that, later in the series, the writers were comfortable writing dialog where Boreanaz himself would pretend to get offended if another character thought he had temporarily "turned evil." And the audience lapped this up. TV history was being made.

9. Banshee (2013–2016)

TV-MA | 60 min | Action, Crime, Drama

An ex-con assumes the identity of a murdered sheriff in the small town of Banshee, Pennsylvania, where he has some unfinished business.

Stars: Antony Starr, Ivana Milicevic, Ulrich Thomsen, Frankie Faison

Votes: 78,713

The one of a kind spin that Whedon brought to Buffy was imitated in this "modern western" where the anti-hero assumes the identity of a dead lawman and uses the badge to sort out his personal problems. The core premise was not 100% unique - this twist had been used here and there -- but was never used as the base for an entire series and frankly had never been used so well. One of the greatest iterations of TV 3.0.

10. Angel (1999–2004)
Episode: Untouched (2000)

TV-14 | 44 min | Action, Drama, Fantasy

Angel attempts to help a girl with telekinetic powers before she falls into the hands of Wolfram and Hart.

Director: Joss Whedon | Stars: David Boreanaz, Charisma Carpenter, Alexis Denisof, J. August Richards

Votes: 1,428

I am on record predicting that "early Whedon" will be remembered by purists as being better than late Whedon, when the suits and the accountants got to him. Buried in this episode is one of the best 7-word throwaway lines in the history of TV. Whedon, not yet aware that one day his name will be synonymous with the Marvel library, riffs off the infamous Bruce Banner line "You wouldn't like me when I am angry" in this otherwise forgettable episode about a girl named Bettany whom Angel needs to rescue before Wolfram and Hart can get her. She stays at Angel's HQ (the old hotel) and in the middle of the night shows up in Angel's room, looking for action, but still awkward. "I can make you happy," she stammers. Without a blink Angel replies deadpan, "You wouldn't like me when I am happy." One short sentence that simultaneously riffs off BOTH the Hulk legend and the Buffy legend at the same time! Wow.

11. Black Lagoon (2006)

TV-MA | 25 min | Animation, Action, Adventure

A Japanese businessman, captured by modern-day pirates, is written off and left for dead by his company. Tired of the corporate life, he opts to stick with the mercenaries that kidnapped him, becoming part of their gang.

Stars: Megumi Toyoguchi, Daisuke Namikawa, Maryke Hendrikse, Brad Swaile

Votes: 10,334

Among hard-core anime fans, this unique and (so far) one of a kind series may not be considered perhaps the best-ever, but it rates darn close in terms of animation, story and brutal dialog. In episode 22, the "hero" (a former Japanese salary-man who unintentionally got involved with the underworld) goes out of his way to rescue a young female student who was kidnapped by a local gang. After a brilliant rescue, the "damsel in distress" reveals herself to be the head of a rival gang and tears a strip off the hero in one of the memorable dissertations on the nature of Good and Evil I have ever heard, effectively turning all notions of "hero" and "victim" completely unside down. The series is known far and wide as an action series but this episode in particular comes across almost as a morality play and it is both provocative and brilliantly penned.

12. Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005–2008)
Episode: The Swamp (2006)

TV-Y7 | 25 min | Animation, Action, Adventure

Aang hears a swamp calling to him. In the swamp, Aang and the gang find out that this is not any natural swamp.

Director: Giancarlo Volpe | Stars: Zach Tyler, Mae Whitman, Jack De Sena, Dante Basco

Votes: 1,550

Let's start with a confession. Although I have seen some extraordinary moments of creativity on TV over the years, the series that inspired me to create this list was AVATAR THE LAST AIRBENDER. Not the film version - ugh! -- and definitely not Korra. The original. I have seen it twice through (so far). The second time I took detailed notes. Aside from the sharpness of the writing and the deft wit, there are layers upon layers here I have never encountered before. Avatar TLA is in my view the most sophisticated writing project in the history of TV. This episode for example "seems" to be simply about the gang getting lost on a hostile island. But if you re-watch and pay attention to what is actually being said, you will find, buried deep in this ANIMATED CHILDREN'S SHOW (!?!) a summary of what many scholars believe to be the oldest religious doctrine on our planet, one that goes back tens of thousands of years into prehistory, and one which simply says that everything is "connected" to everything else. Just like our best Quantum Physics theorists.

13. Legion (2017–2019)
Episode: Chapter 7 (2017)

TV-MA | 46 min | Action, Drama, Sci-Fi

David tries to find a way out of his predicament.

Director: Dennie Gordon | Stars: Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Aubrey Plaza, Bill Irwin

Votes: 4,055

Let's, for now, not go into the superb IRONY that this Marvel TV show, a wonderful iteration of what I like to call TV 3.0, packs more metaphysical fun into a single episode than the entire Marvel Dr. Strange movie (released a few months earlier) which cost a zillion times more. Because this is not an "irony" list and therefore that factoid is beyond the purview of this commentary. Instead, let's look at the cleverness in the way the hero David (played by Dan Stevens) uses his "power" to construct a representation of his "rational self" in time of need. There is a marvellous and unforgettable script conceit in the way David notices that this new construct of himself, sent to rescue him, speaks with a perfect British accent. When he questions the other version of himself as to ... why the accent? ... the other version simply underscores that this is his "rational" counterpart. The implication? If each of us could fabricate a construct of our rational side, how could it NOT speak with a Brit accent??? That alone should have you on the floor laughing. About 2 minutes later, "David Prime" becomes a willing participant in this "inner dialog" and is merrily explaining to his new construct (the one with the accent) how he got into the mess, and how he might get out. As his enthusiasm grows, he (David Prime) suddenly adopts a British accent of his own, as if to bond with his own alt-version. And -- remember that Dan Stevens is playing both roles simultaneously!! -- the construct, who boasts a perfect British accent, immediately mocks the sloppy British accent that David Prime tried to put on. This humor is fast, quick, brutal --- and if you blink YOU MIGHT MISS IT. Which qualifes it for this list. And, even more fun, it harks back to a long-overlooked scene in HOUSE (also so quick you could have missed it) where Hugh Laurie, as British as an English Pub, playing an American doctor with a perfect American accent, tries to phone a colleague in London and, for about 10 seconds, tries to put on a "terrible British accent" just to make that colleague feel more comfortable. Same gag, just as fast, just as funny.

14. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013– )
Episode: Self Control (2017)

TV-14 | 43 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

As Radcliffe and Aida's plan goes into action, Fitz and Simmons are trapped in the Playground unsure of which of their friends are real and which ones have been replaced by LMDs.

Director: Jed Whedon | Stars: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker

Votes: 3,555

A decade or so ago it was much easier to find "pure" Joss Whedon, that is, material both written and directed by Joss. Today Joss is protected by many layers of corporatism and getting to the good stuff is harder. This episode was written by Whedon. Regardless of what you might think of the "long arc" in the series (which has become a bit dark for my taste) in this episode John Hannah's character gives a brilliant dissertation on the nature of reality (all the more appropriate given recent scientific views that reality itself may be a simulation) only to find that his "creation," the anatomically perfect AIDA, has found a paradox in her own programming. Initially he pooh-poohs her concerns ... but by the time he realizes she is dead-serious, it is too late. And the very words "dead serious" take on new meaning. This short arc is brilliant and list-worthy. It is as good as any similar arc from any episode of Star Trek ever filmed ... and probably better.

15. Goliath (2016– )
Episode: Cover Your Ass (2016)

TV-MA | 56 min | Drama

As both sides begin their depositions, more secrets start to come to the surface, threatening to destroy everyone involved.

Director: Anthony Hemingway | Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, William Hurt, Maria Bello, Olivia Thirlby

Votes: 689

"SORRY DOESN'T FEED THE CAT!" (Hey, don't make that face. You know you are going to try to use it in a coversation.)

16. Kung Fu (1972–1975)
Episode: Pilot (1972)

75 min | Adventure, Drama, Western

After avenging the death of his teacher, a Shaolin monk flees China to the American West and helps people while being pursued by bounty hunters.

Director: Jerry Thorpe | Stars: David Carradine, Barry Sullivan, Albert Salmi, Wayne Maunder

Votes: 1,055

"Why would you strike a blind man TWICE for the same offense?" (says blind Master Po as he allows himself to be hit once but intercepts the second blow).

17. The Avengers (2012)

PG-13 | 143 min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

69 Metascore

Earth's mightiest heroes must come together and learn to fight as a team if they are going to stop the mischievous Loki and his alien army from enslaving humanity.

Director: Joss Whedon | Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner

Votes: 1,209,470 | Gross: $623.28M

"YOU AND I REMEMBER BUDAPEST VERY DIFFERENTLY." If you have been paying attention to the patterns in this list, it will come as no surprise that the script for the first Avengers feature was written by Joss Whedon. How good is this guy? Thought you would never ask. A 7 word sentence -- called a "throwaway" in the biz because it connects to nothing else -- is uttered by Hawkeye to Natasha and, based on those 7 words and nothing else, millions of viewers around the world "knew" that something romantic had happened between the two, and the chat rooms were a-buzz. Even better, Whedon delivered the line in a way which defined the difference between the sexes -- still using only 7 little words -- to a degree that has eluded professors and scholars for centuries.

18. Secret Agent (1964–1967)
Episode: No Marks for Servility (1964)

52 min | Action, Adventure, Crime

An international financier has come to the notice of M9, as he is believed to be an extortionist and murderer. When some important people are found dead, Drake goes undercover as a butler at the financier's rented villa in Rome.

Director: Don Chaffey | Stars: Patrick McGoohan, Mervyn Johns, Francesca Annis, Howard Marion-Crawford

Votes: 74

"One of the most revered tropes in the biz and I traced it back to this episode. Secret Agent, trained professional, John Drake, to complete his assignment, pretends to be a butler attached to a summer home where the bad guy is staying. McGoohan, never less than brilliant, gives the performance of his life as a strong independent man forced to pretend to be a mere "gentleman's gentleman." There is an iconic scene here where the villain, thinking Drake is a mere butler, berates him verbally. Drake smiles stoically through it all, but a closeup shows that he clenched his fist so tightly he actually shattered a wine glass he was holding. But the piece de resistance was the skeet shooting scene. This was the original, shamelessly copied ever since. Sensing there is something odd about his new butler, the villain invites Drake to try his hand at skeet shooting. After first missing all but one himself, the villain hands the gun to Drake who all the while is protesting this is not his style. Grudgingly, Drake shoots --- a perfect score. Stunned, the villain asks Drake if he had ever shot skeet before? No, reveals Drake with truly scary sincerity, THAT WAS HIS FIRST TIME.

19. Zorro (1957–1959)
Episode: Zorro, Luckiest Swordsman Alive (1957)

30 min | Action, Adventure, Comedy

In an effort to discredit Zorro, Capt. Monestario has a Zorro impersonator rob a crown of jewels from the mission. Zorro must redeem his reputation.

Director: Norman Foster | Stars: Guy Williams, Britt Lomond, Henry Calvin, Romney Brent

Votes: 42

Having seen this episode as a child it was burned into my brain. Only later, with the help of Google, did I find that tens of thousands like me had never forgotten it either. Zorro, possibly one of the greatest swordsmen alive, has to deal with the fact that a fencing master has been summoned to find him and kill him. At one point the fencing master has a falling out with his evil comrades and kidnaps an innocent. There is no time to change identities, so it is Don Diego not Zorro that has to challenge the man. Don Diego, a buffoon with a sword, must take on the master. The villain promises to make the end quick. Don Diego, who can barely hold a sword correctly, keeps apologizing for not knowing what to do yet, AMAZINGLY, as if by accident, manages to parry every move from the master; ultimately, in a wild and clumsy attack, disarming the professional. It is an unforgettable trope but it must be considered that the writers were "inspired" by Danny Kaye's hit movie COURT JESTER from the prior year, which contained a similar but "backwards" trope -- Kaye's character was really a buffoon but under hypnosis became the greatest swordsman alive.

20. Quigley Down Under (1990)

PG-13 | 119 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

Sharpshooter Matt Quigley is hired from Wyoming by an Australian rancher paying a very high price. But when Quigley arrives Down Under, all is not as it seems.

Director: Simon Wincer | Stars: Tom Selleck, Laura San Giacomo, Alan Rickman, Chris Haywood

Votes: 18,328 | Gross: $21.41M

Much has been made of the trope in the original Fistful of Dollars (where in the finale the villain successfully fires killshots into Eastwood's heart with a rifle, not knowing there is a metal plate hidden there, and after each unsuccessful shot Eastwood closes the distance to finally achieve pistol range) but amazingly no one ever talks about the carefully structured showdown in this nearly-perfect, almost-ignored movie. Early in the film Selleck's character drops a throwaway line to the villain that he "never cared" for Colt's invention of the pistol, and much prefers his rifle. As the film brilliantly works up to the showdown, the villain, who considers himself a whiz with a handgun, makes a show of giving Selleck a loaded colt-45 for the finale, smirking all the while. Selleck not only outdraws and kills the villain, but (in true Eastwood style) the villain's two flanking henchmen at the very same time. Just before the villain dies, he looks confused and surprised. Selleck delivers one of the most unappreciated lines of dialog in film history: "I said I have no use for them ... I never said I didn't know how to use one!"

21. The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)

R | 121 min | Action, Crime, Drama

44 Metascore

A woman suffering from amnesia begins to recover her memories after trouble from her past finds her again.

Director: Renny Harlin | Stars: Geena Davis, Samuel L. Jackson, Yvonne Zima, Craig Bierko

Votes: 68,898 | Gross: $33.33M

Geena Davis' last major movie was a pet project. As an amnesiac killer trying to retrieve skills (a strange yet endearing take on Bourne) she suddenly discovers she can cut a carrot like a pro. Her family (part of her amnesiac "cover story" which she now thinks is real, and they don't know any better) tries to help by tossing her vegetables from the fridge. She catches them in one hand, cuts them with the other. "I am a chef," she trills happily, thinking the amnesia is finally cured. Then an apple is tossed to her and in a moment of glee she throws the apple up into the air, picks up a large kitchen knife and -- like in a circus act -- throws the knife in a blur of motion and pins the helpless apple to a cupboard door, almost cut perfectly in half. Her family looks just a little dismayed. She however retains her optimism -- "CHEFS DO THAT!?"

22. Dennis Miller: The Big Speech (2010 TV Special)

Comedy, Reality-TV

Dennis Miller performs his verbose stand-up comedy before a politically friendly California crowd. The title is fitting due to the complete flip from his acidic urbane rants from previous ... See full summary »

Director: James Yukich | Star: Dennis Miller

Votes: 93

This HBO special was not a shining moment in Miller's career and was way too political. But Iron Man 2 (also a weak effort) had had just come out, and Miller quipped one of the greatest comic "put-downs" of all time in reference to the highly eccentric (and very strange) Mickey Rourke, who played a villain in the IM film. In the scene shown on the monitor, Rourke walked onto a race track (with a race in progress) brandishing a set of uber-long electrical whips that protruded from a device strapped to his back. His outfit was made of leather and open chested. As Rourke's character sauntered along, he would "whip" the passing race cars, essentially cutting them in half, and then continue walking, smiling all the while. As the clip on the monitor finished, Miller quipped, "I wonder if Mickey even knows he is in a movie?"

23. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

PG | 115 min | Action, Adventure

85 Metascore

In 1936, archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before Adolf Hitler's Nazis can obtain its deadly powers.

Director: Steven Spielberg | Stars: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, John Rhys-Davies

Votes: 832,858 | Gross: $248.16M

This entry appears only for completeness in case there are sticklers reading this list who DEMAND to know why the infamous and iconic trope from Raiders (where Ford confronts a sort of crazed blade-wielding martial arts beserker who does a little dance before attacking ... then Ford pulls a pistol and shoots him!) is missing -- BECAUSE IT WAS NOT PART OF THE SCRIPT! It was ad-libbed by Ford. And the director, the unsinkable Steven Spielberg, used the take.

24. Iron Man 2 (2010)

PG-13 | 124 min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

57 Metascore

With the world now aware of his identity as Iron Man, Tony Stark must contend with both his declining health and a vengeful mad man with ties to his father's legacy.

Director: Jon Favreau | Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle

Votes: 679,191 | Gross: $312.43M

Following the rock-solid first entry, IM2 was a mjajor disappointment. However, from a dreary script with dreary characters, this bit of "sales" dialog was written for the over-drawn and cartoonish Justin Hammer character, describing a miniature missile about the size of a cigar: "These are the Cubans, baby. This is the Cohibas; the Montecristos. This is a kinetic-kill, side-winder vehicle with a secondary cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine RDX burst. It's capable of busting a bunker under the bunker you just busted. If it were any smarter, it'd write a book, a book that would make Ulysses look like it was written in crayon. It would read it to you. This is my Eiffel Tower. This is my Rachmaninoff's Third. My Piéta. It's completely elegant, it's bafflingly beautiful, and it's capable of reducing the population of any standing structure to zero. I call it "The Ex-Wife.""

25. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

PG-13 | 141 min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

66 Metascore

When Tony Stark and Bruce Banner try to jump-start a dormant peacekeeping program called Ultron, things go horribly wrong and it's up to Earth's mightiest heroes to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plan.

Director: Joss Whedon | Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth

Votes: 691,509 | Gross: $459.01M

Ultron (before his death): "You are unbearably naive." Vision: "Well I WAS born yesterday." And there goes a great signature line of dialog in a film which over time is likely to become known as "Whedon's Folly." Personally I do not for a moment believe that Joss, the master of the written word, cranked out this script entirely on his own. I believe some studio hacks gave him a set of paramters and a checklist of things which "had" to be in the script. The result was a 3 hour piece of trash -- a movie that required cybernetic implants just to be able to watch it in one sitting -- which some poor editor had to whittle down to 02:21 before completely losing his mind. There are a few neat things in this, here and there (the scenes with Linda Cardellini come to mind, the only sympatico character in the movie) but overall this film is a disaster. Even the studio, who probably caused the problem in the first place, considered it a dud.

26. Appleseed XIII (2011– )
Episode: The Cattle of Geryon (2011)

TV-14 | 23 min | Animation, Sci-Fi

A Kottos robot on the police force malfunctions in an unexpected way after meeting a little girl.

Stars: Duncan Brannan, Cole Brown, Shelley Calene-Black, Charles C. Campbell

Votes: 9

Stories about TRanshumanism do not always work as intended.This one does. In the original Frankenstein story, the interaction between the "monster" and an innocent child who stumbles on the creature has become iconic. And hard to beat. This episode recreates that scene with one difference -- the child is also artificial and the humans (two thugs) are the bad guys. It is clever and it works. Even better, it trumps itself. At the close the AI robot (the "monster") who saved the girl (also an AI) was so damaged defending the girl that he had to be rebooted. So when the girl comes to thank the bot for saving her life, he has no memory of it. She gives him a flower but, having no memory, he tosses it away. And the episode closes on that shot -- the flower lying on the ground. Is that the future of mankind?

27. Fletch Lives (1989)

PG | 95 min | Comedy, Crime, Mystery

40 Metascore

After receiving an inheritance in Louisiana, Los Angeles reporter Irvin Fletcher heads to the Belle Isle plantation where he gets himself into hilarious trouble.

Director: Michael Ritchie | Stars: Chevy Chase, Hal Holbrook, Julianne Phillips, R. Lee Ermey

Votes: 18,542 | Gross: $35.15M

To appreciate the two Fletch movies, which in no way resemble the best-selling books they were based on, you have to constantly remind yourself that here is Chevy in full flight, at the peak of his comic skills, and not constrained by script limits (as was his character in the NatLampoon series). In this film, on a plane, the annoying lady seated next to him is clearly trying to strike up a conversation in spite of Chevy's own lack of interest. She comments that Chevy's watch looks like a championship watch? He confirms it is a championship Lakers' watch. And this follows, as he continues to try to dull her interest: Fletch: It's a championship Laker watch. Cindy Mae: Oh, are you a Laker? Fletch: I used to date one - only thing I have to remember him by.

28. 3 Days to Kill (2014)

PG-13 | 117 min | Action, Drama, Thriller

40 Metascore

A dying CIA agent trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter is offered an experimental drug that could save his life in exchange for one last assignment.

Director: McG | Stars: Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielsen, Amber Heard

Votes: 83,229 | Gross: $30.70M

Amber Heard, an actress who arguably never found her potential, finds it here as a vampy dressed-in-black CIA killer who tries to put the moves on a grumpy Kevin Costner doing a nice job of playing Walter Matthau with a gun. In close quarters in an elevator, her character, Vivi, closes in on Kevin. "Don't take this the wrong way but you're not my type." "I AM EVERYBODY'S TYPE." Which, in the writing game, is what we call a truism.

29. She's the Man (2006)

PG-13 | 105 min | Comedy, Romance, Sport

45 Metascore

When her brother decides to ditch for a couple weeks, Viola heads over to his elite boarding school, disguised as him, and proceeds to fall for his school's star soccer player, and soon learns she's not the only one with romantic troubles.

Director: Andy Fickman | Stars: Amanda Bynes, Laura Ramsey, Channing Tatum, Vinnie Jones

Votes: 139,440 | Gross: $2.34M

It is not just about writing -- it is about timing. In this one Amanda Bynes is playing a girl pretending to be her own twin brother (and doing a heck of job in this hugely under-rated film.) On the field she takes a full impact soccer kick directly to the groin. Her timing is pitch-perfect. At first, nothing, after all, why should it hurt? Then, face changes, horrible realization that unless she gives a proper "guy" reaction, the jig will be up. So we have first reaction, second reaction, then a double-take and finally, trying to find the appropriate epithet, she screams with as much conviction as she can muster, "SWEET MOTHER OF...!" If you are not on the floor by that point, you need to have your chiro reset your funnybone.

30. Fargo (2014– )
Episode: The Lord of No Mercy (2017)

TV-MA | 46 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

Gloria and Winnie get closer to the truth; Emmit tries to make things right; Nikki and Ray prepare for payback; Varga cleans up a mess.

Director: Dearbhla Walsh | Stars: Ewan McGregor, Carrie Coon, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Goran Bogdan

Votes: 3,323

Straight up fact -- most production teams taking on the daunting task of turning a clever film into a series can usually churn out one strong season and then go bust, but Fargo is the exception to the rule. At S03, the writing, acting, casting, direction are all at a level where the viewer actually feels privileged just to be able to watch. (In a nearly perfect cast, David Thewlis stands out as one of the creepiest entrepreneurs of all time.) In this episode there is a scene where one of Thewlis' "team" has to get rid of an annoying IRS agent. There are two astounding things about the resulting scene. First, it is a sight gag, which is rare these days. Thewlis' man, well played by Andy Yu, walks into the scene and "mimics" the eccentricities of the IRS agent. No dialog at all for the first minute or so, but the audience understands that the agent is seeing an "equal and opposite force" across the table from him. It is brilliant. And only one thing can make it more brilliant. it was a throw-away. The scene was not even key to the story. The writers were just showing off. Wow.

31. Baki the Grappler (2001–2007)

TV-PG | 24 min | Animation, Action, Drama

Baki Hanma competes in an underground fighting tournament organized by Tokugawa. Masters of various fighting styles come from all over the world in order to determine who is the strongest fighter on Earth.

Stars: Bob Carter, Masami Kikuchi, Robert McCollum, Naomi Kusumi

Votes: 784

Everyone knows Japanese anime is insane. Which is why it is so powerful, almost addictive. Viewers should have to take and pass a psych exam before being allowed to watch. However even in that context several entries are in a class of their own. Grappler Baki is one. On the surface it seems just another entry in the martial arts sub-class. But look deeper and you will find a character with more "mommy issues" than any character in any play, story, movie or TV show even you go back to the Ancient Greeks.

32. The Defenders (2017)

TV-MA | 50 min | Action, Adventure, Crime

Set a few months after the events of the second season of Daredevil, and a month after the events of Iron Fist, the vigilantes Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist team up in New York City to fight a common enemy: The Hand.

Stars: Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones

Votes: 80,984

Not the best Marvel entry (that distinction goes to the Daredevil series) but has the best throwaway. In E03, Cox (one of the best actors in the history of action TV) has an encounter with Ritter which he abruptly ends by grabbing a piece of her wardrobe to use as an impromptu mask when he senses danger above. Moments later, Ritter and Cox meet on a upper floor while he is still en route to the danger. "You look like an asshole" says Ritter watching him hurry, in her patented S*REW Y*U delivery. "It's your scarf," is Cox' fast reply. Killer writing.

33. Counterpart (2017–2019)

TV-MA | 60 min | Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller

A hapless UN employee discovers that the agency he works for is hiding a gateway to a parallel dimension that's in a cold war with our own, and where his other self is a top spy. The war slowly heats up thanks to spies from both sides.

Stars: J.K. Simmons, Olivia Williams, Harry Lloyd, Nazanin Boniadi

Votes: 17,869

Counterpart refuses to allow even its most faithful viewer to pigeonhole the show. As you watch your brain, used to watching bland and predictable TV, has to change "modes" because from minute to minute you are watching a sci-fi show, a spy show, an action show, a mystery, a love story, and a work of philosophical wonder (as in, are we the result of Nature or Nurture?, and if you met yourself by the side of the road, would your first instinct be to hate yourself?). Also --> (dialog)

"Do you think it is possible to love someone without knowing who they really are?"

"Maybe we don't love someone for who they really are."

"Maybe love is seeing them for who they'd rather be."

In a sea of great TV, Counterpart continues to amaze.

34. Brainwashed (1960)

102 min | Drama, War

In 1938 Austria shortly after the Nazi occupation, a prominent Viennese intellectual, Werner von Basil, is arrested for smuggling art treatures out of the country and imprisoned by the ... See full summary »

Director: Gerd Oswald | Stars: Curd Jürgens, Claire Bloom, Hansjörg Felmy, Mario Adorf

Votes: 484

The writing technique is called a 'throwaway" and it is common in the body of the script but uncommon at the end. The story is of an innocent man captured and tortured during WW2. To stay sane and resist his captors, he uses the shadow the sun throws on the cell floor, through the window bars, as a makeshift chess board. Along with a book on chess he has managed to conceal, he practices famous chess games every day to keep himself from going mad. At the very end of the film comes the throwaway -- now a free man, he passes one of those streetcorner chess masters who typically take on multiple players at a time, and he takes a seat, starts playing. As the audience watches in anticipation, the "master" is fllummoxed by the amateur and shakes his head in amazement. Unforgettable scene. Great ending.

35. Star Trek: Voyager (1995–2001)

TV-PG | 44 min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

Pulled to the far side of the galaxy, where the Federation is seventy-five years away at maximum warp speed, a Starfleet ship must cooperate with Maquis rebels to find a way home.

Stars: Kate Mulgrew, Robert Beltran, Roxann Dawson, Robert Duncan McNeill

Votes: 53,399

Feeling old -- memories of the last days of true "network" TV. This show produced some of the best time travel arcs in this history of the medium. The best was RELATIVITY -- Ep 24, Season 5, 1999. True blend of sci-fi and humanism. Better than any BACK TO THE FUTURE script.

36. Steins;Gate (2011–2015)

TV-14 | 24 min | Animation, Comedy, Drama

After discovering time travel, a university student and his colleagues must use their knowledge of it to stop an evil organization and their diabolical plans.

Stars: Mamoru Miyano, Asami Imai, Kana Hanazawa, Ashly Burch

Votes: 35,717

Never mind if you love or hate anime. Don't care. This series was so beloved by fans the producers were compelled to do a sequel that was never planned. In E22 of the original you may have the best-written first kiss and the best-written star-crossed lovers. (The protagonist messed up his time travel and accidentally killed a young girl who he cared for platonically. In trying to continually time-travel to alternate universes to save her, he fell in love with another girl who was trying to help him, and stood by him in each time-line. Too late, he realized that he was in love with second girl. But he could only save one of the two..)

37. Happy! (2017–2019)

TV-MA | 60 min | Action, Comedy, Crime

An injured hitman befriends his kidnapped daughter's imaginary friend - a perky blue flying unicorn.

Stars: Christopher Meloni, Ritchie Coster, Lili Mirojnick, Patton Oswalt

Votes: 28,201

An insane show in a class of its own. S01E06 starts with a support meeting for Imaginary Friends which ends in a rant on Judy Bloom delivered by a former IF whose charge got pregnant. Wait, it gets better. Later in the same episode, Nick, the sort-of protagonist, drags the zombifed body of a young man he killed to a church and "parks" him with the priest for a half hour. When Nick returns to collect the reanimated young man, the priest no longer has him because the man, now possessed by the Devil, had wandered out. Nick is furious and delivers a single line of dialog which sums up the 2000 year history of a very controversial organization - "I BET IF HE WERE A 14 YEAR OLD BOY YOU WOULDN'T HAVE LOST HIM!"

38. Leverage (2008–2012)

TV-PG | 42 min | Crime, Mystery, Thriller

A crew of high-tech crooks attempt to steal from wealthy criminals and corrupt businessmen.

Stars: Timothy Hutton, Gina Bellman, Christian Kane, Beth Riesgraf

Votes: 39,852

Great series with great writing. S01E11 pits Parker, one of the best characters to be created in recent years, in a situation where she has to learn negotitation or deal making skills. She is tossed an orange and the instructor has an apple. THIS IS THE SAME EXAMPLE USED BY REAL INSTRUCTORS IN REAL NEGOTIATION SEMINARS. Can she negotiate a swap in time? The instructor moves to bite the apple -- which would kill the deal -- and Parker yells "I put a razor blade in the apple!" (and the instructor spits out what he bit) ".. but not in this orange." And the swap is done. Outrageously funny.

39. The X-Files (1993–2018)

TV-14 | 45 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

Two F.B.I. Agents, Fox Mulder the believer and Dana Scully the skeptic, investigate the strange and unexplained, while hidden forces work to impede their efforts.

Stars: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi, William B. Davis

Votes: 187,435

S11e07 title Rm9sbG93ZXJz, a brilliant look at the future of humanity in a world run by AI. There is almost no dialog in the script (!) so the tag line at the end "WE HAVE TO BE BETTER TEACHERS" has that much more impact.

40. Endeavour (2012– )

TV-14 | 89 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

Set in the 1960s, the show follows Endeavour Morse in his early years as a police constable. Working alongside his senior partner DI Fred Thursday, Morse engages in a number of investigations around Oxford.

Stars: Shaun Evans, Roger Allam, Anton Lesser, Sean Rigby

Votes: 15,433

If MORSE was the crown jewel of British detective fiction (and it was) this is the jewel's jewel. No expense is spared in this series to make it perfect. S01E01 has one of the best lines of dialog ever, just at the end, as a british agent "wraps things up" by giving an ultimatum to a Minister who is also the murderer, Holding a letter in one hand and a silenced pistol in the other: "Well, Minister, either you sign the Letter of Resignation or, unfortunately, I will have to get blood all over my shoes."

41. Jessica Jones (2015–2019)

TV-MA | 56 min | Action, Crime, Drama

Following the tragic end of her brief superhero career, Jessica Jones tries to rebuild her life as a private investigator, dealing with cases involving people with remarkable abilities in New York City.

Stars: Krysten Ritter, Rachael Taylor, Eka Darville, Carrie-Anne Moss

Votes: 182,156

Super lines like "I will figure out this shitshow -- there is no version of it that ends well" deserve more credit than they get.

42. The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

Not Rated | 81 min | Horror, Sci-Fi

When Scott Carey begins to shrink because of exposure to a combination of radiation and insecticide, medical science is powerless to help him.

Director: Jack Arnold | Stars: Grant Williams, Randy Stuart, April Kent, Paul Langton

Votes: 14,723

This B&W film is almost lost and it deserves an audience. Like most viewers, I was put off by the ending which was totally UN HOLLYWOOD, did not solve the problem, the hero did not win. Instead he continues to shrink while actually looking forward to the challenges his new microscopic size will bring. "To God there is no Zero!" The director later revealed the studio hated the ending but he insisted ... and got his way. An entire generation grew up uncomfortable with this film because of the ambiguous ending. Yet this older but wiser reviewer now believes that ending was the most profound of any film ever made, and completely in line with the modern view of Quantum Physics.

43. Billions (2016– )

TV-MA | 60 min | Drama

U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades goes after hedge fund king Bobby "Axe" Axelrod in a battle between two powerful New York figures.

Stars: Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff, Toby Leonard Moore

Votes: 59,640

Billions s03e07 -- "I was fodder. I knew it too ... but that is the thing. Once you are inside the cannon, there is only one way out."

44. Killing Eve (2018– )

TV-14 | 42 min | Action, Adventure, Drama