Empire’s Top 20 Films Of 2011

We tally up Empire's writers and contributors favourite movies of the year

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About a month ago, Empire's writers and contributors were given their most difficult task of the year: to choose their top films of 2011. How to measure up the likes of Fast Five against, say, The King's Speech? How to remember whether True Grit qualified as this year or last year? But we finally pulled it together, forced ourselves to focus and came up with this, a testament to the very best films of 2011. Read on, see what you think, and give us your thoughts on this year's best films in the comments below...

Fast Five

Dominic Toretto and crew return to ram-raid the box office.

Released: April 21

Talent: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Paul Lim (director)

Box office (worldwide): $626m

Money moment: In the least plausible police station break-in since The Terminator, Dom Toretto and his team bust into a Rio cop shop and make off with businessman Reyes’s (Joaquim de Almeida) ill-gotten loot. In a safe. Which they then use to kill Reyes’s tame cop cars. As you do.

Empire line: “A WWE reboot of Heat – with Vin Diesel in the De Niro role.”

What to say: Don’t say anything. Just high-five one another and whoop.

The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn

Spielberg sent the boy wonder and his timeless terrier on a 3D thrill ride. The Guardian spits its chips.

Released: October 26

Talent: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Steven Spielberg (director)

Box office: $207m (Europe only)

Money moment: The spectacular falcon chase across Bagghar reminded us what could be done with 3D and performance capture. It’s Raiders Of The Lost Ark meets Stop That Pigeon, sprinkled with Spielberg magic dust.

Empire line: “The romance of old-school cinema, conjured by the slick synthesis of CG wizardy.”

What to say: “It does exactly what it says on the Tintin.”

The Tree Of Life

Terrence Malick’s long-awaited return was head-scratchingly brilliant. Few actual trees, though.

Released: July 8

Talent: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, Terrence Malick (director)

Box office (worldwide): $54m

Money moment: The birth of the planet, a dazzling, Douglas-Trumbull-enhanced CG sequence that made our minds literally boggle. With a sweep of Malick’s wand we were out of the cinema and into a planetarium.

Empire line: “Malick’s return is a dizzyingly impressionistic study of family life.”

What to say: “This is a beautiful, cerebral treatise on the meaning of existen… look!! DINOSAURS!”


Classy Canadian whodunnit with more twists than a python’s prezel.

Released: June 24

Talent: Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette, Lubna Azabal, Denis Villeneuve (director)

Box office (worldwide): $3.5m

Money moment: The sharp-eyed viewer might see the final, gut-stabbing reveal coming but there’s still no parrying the ferocity of its impact. Dizzying and distressing.

Empire line: “Denis Villeneuve takes the melodramatic curse off a story whose contrivances acquire more sickening power with each new revelation.”

What to say: “Zut alors! C’est un thriller magnifique.”

Super 8

J. J. Abrams’ monster-shaped love letter to the ’80s.

Released: August 5

Talent: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Noah Emmerich, J. J. Abrams (director)

Box office (worldwide): $259m

Money moment: When *that *train comes careering terrifyingly through Lillian station, it isn’t just the young filmmakers who are panicking – audiences are ducking for cover too. Altogether now: “Production values!”

Empire line: “A personal blockbuster in honour of the greatest of all personal blockbusters.”

What to say: “If you’re expecting Cloverfield Encounters Of The Third Kind, you’re in for a surprise.”

The Inbetweeners Movie

The telly-to-big-screen adaptation that was far better than it had any right to be.

Released: August 17

Talent: Simon Bird, James Buckley, Blake Harrison, Joe Thomas, Ben Palmer (director)

Box office: £41m (UK only)

Money moment: The boys hit the town for the first time “smelling like an industrial accident in a Lynx factory and looking like the world's shittest boyband”.

Empire line: “The funniest film of the summer and a fitting end to a much-loved series.”

What to say: “It was the year the bus wankers grew up and became movie wankers.”

We Need To Talk About Kevin

Lionel Shriver’s bleakly brilliant novel came to scare moviegoers too.

Released: October 21

Talent: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Ursula Parker, Lynne Ramsay (director)

Box office: $4m (Europe only)

Money moment: Hard to pick just one in a startling film full of little horrors, but the Columbine-style massacre is a suitably gruelling climax.

Empire line: “Guaranteed to haunt you for days.”

What to say: “It’s cinema as contraceptive. If you want kids after watching this, good luck.”


Joe Wright’s ethereal actioner introduced the Grimm Brothers to the Chemical brothers.

Released: May 6

Talent: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander, Joe Wright (director)

Box office (worldwide): $64m

Money moment: Erik Heller’s (Bana) epic Berlin subway scrap with a bunch of suited goons. Joe Wright’s trademark tracking shot with a growl on its face.

Empire line: “An inspired alchemy of hard-nosed action and dreamlike splendour.”

What to say: “If Jason Bourne had a little sister Hanna would probably knock her out.”

The Fighter

A fight flick with needle.

Released: February 2

Talent: Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, David O. Russell (director)

Box office (worldwide): $129m

Money moment: Micky Ward’s climatic title shot in London against Brit bruiser Shea Neary. Thanks to Rocky Balboa we’d seen the comeback bout before, but that didn’t make any less thrilling.

Empire line: “A rousing, masterly assemblage of rags-to-riches, triumph-over-the-odds, hopes-and-dreams-hanging-on-one-big-fight boxing movie cliches.”

What to say: “It’s Rocky meets Requiem For A Dream.”

Blue Valentine

Derek Cianfrance’s terrific debut was a horror movie for 30-somethings.

Released: January 14

Talent: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Derek Cianfrance (director)

Box office (worldwide): $12m

Money moment: Dean (Gosling) and Cindy’s (Williams) brutal row in a sci-fi-themed hotel room that seems to be based on one of those ’80s Smash robot ads. The sheer incongruity only adds to the pathos.

Empire line: “A raw but beautiful picture of love uniting and dividing: tender, real and heartfelt.”

What to say: “It’s the Jaws of relationship movies.”

Black Swan

The ballet horror that won Natalie Portman an Oscar.

Released: January 21

Talent: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassel, Darren Aronofsky (director)

Box office (worldwide): $329 million

Money moment: Aside from the obvious (see page 124), it has to be Nina’s (Portman) ultimate on-stage transformation.

Empire line: “An extraordinary, intoxicating movie.”

What to say: “You could call it Portman’s cygnet-ure performance.”

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

The blockbuster it’s okay to love.

Released: August 11

Talent: Andy Serkis, James Franco, Freida Pinto, Brian Cox, Rupert Wyatt (director)

Box office: $469 million

Mon(k)ey moment: In a tense confrontation with bad-kid ape-jailer Dodge (Tom Felton), Caesar (Serkis) roars his first-ever word.

Empire line: “A worthy, exciting addition to the venerable monkey movie marathon.”

What to say: “Don’t Stop The Planet Of The Apes — We Want To Stay On!”


The latest Apatow proved to be the comedy of the year.

Released: June 24

Talent: Kristen Wiig, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Paul Feig (director)

***Box office (worldwide): ***$288 million

Money moment: The pure comedy genius of the sequence in which, trying to get cop Rhodes’ (Chris O’Dowd) attention, Annie (Wiig) can’t even get arrested.

Empire line: “Finally, a female ensemble comedy that balances realistic characters with smart laughs and side-splitting farce.”

What to say: “It’s The Hangover for women. Only, y’know, better. And for men, too.”

True Grit

The Coens’ sharp take on the classic Western was their biggest hit to date.

Released: February 11

Reviewed: Issue 260

Talent: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Joel and Ethan Coen (directors)

Box office: $251 million

Money moment: Worked for The Duke, still works for The Dude: Rooster’s (Bridges) solo charge against Lucky Ned Pepper’s (Barry Pepper) gang.

Empire line: “The Coens have mined from Charles Portis’ novel every possible wry, dry, absurd or twisted nuance.”

What to say: “It’s not a re-make, it’s a re-adaptation.”

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

It brought the spectacles back to the spy genre.

Released: September 16

Talent: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Tomas Alfredson (director)

Box office: $22 million (NB — it’s not yet been released in the US).

Money moment: George Smiley (Oldman) spins the tale of his one and only encounter with his nemesis, Karla. Not content with scheming, conniving and generally trying to bring down Western democracy, the KGB spybastard half-inches his lighter too. Outrageous.

Empire line: “It is a superior whodunnit thriller and a very grown-up one, devoted not to guns, girls, gadgets and glamour, but to the little grey cells.”

What to say: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Poorman, Oldman.”

The Artist

Didn’t take long for this to win us over. As it will the world.

Released: December 30

Talent: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Michel Hazanavicius

Box office: $7 million (NB — France and Belgium only)

Money moment: As this silent comedy has not been released yet, we don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say it involves a glass being put down on a dressing table.

Empire line: “It may be premature to call it a masterpiece, but if that’s the technical term for a film that moves and inspires us while at the same time evoking a childlike sense of delight, then, for the first time since Steven Spielberg’s E. T. in 1982, that’s exactly what it might turn out to be.”

What to say: “…”

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows – Part 2

A decade of franchise dominance ended spectacularly. Forever.

Released: July 15

Talent: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, David Yates (director)

Box office: $1.3 billion

Money moment: Neville Longbottom stands up to Voldemort and his cackling Death Eaters. “They didn’t die in vain. But you will!”

Empire line: “The effects have never been better, the sets more beautifully designed nor the explosions bigger.”

What to say:Finite incantatem!” (Then cry uncontrollably.)

The King’s Speech

Box-office smasher, Oscar-winner, backlash-attractor.

Released: January 7

Talent: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Hooper (director)

Box office: $414 million

Money moment: Lionel (Rush) and Bertie’s (Firth) heated, pre-coronation row: “I have a voice!”/“Yes, you do.”

Empire line: “For all its pageantry, it isn’t a film of grandiose pretensions. Much better than that, it is an honest-to-goodness crowdpleaser.”

What to say: “It’s the backlash backlash backlash backlash!” We like it again!


If you only saw one documentary in 2011…

Released:*** June 3

Talent: Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Asif Kapadia (director)

***Box office: ***$8 million

Money moment: The tense footage of Ayrton Senna leading a small drivers’ rebellion, forcing F1 grand fromage Jean-Marie Balestre into replacing piled-tyre barriers with traffic cones.

Empire line: “If all Formula 1 means to you is pimped-up go-karts on Sunday afternoon telly, that’s no reason not to discover Asif Kapadia’s Senna, a remarkable and affecting film.”

***What to say: ***“It’s way better than Fast Five.”


The ultra-cool, ultraviolent, ’80s-styled LA noir.

Released: September 23

Talent: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Nicolas Winding Refn (director)

Box office: $57 million

Money moment: Genuinely hard to pick one that’s not already covered off by any of the other lists here, on which Drive makes repeated appearances. As they’re taken, we’ll go for the Driver’s vehicular beach assault on gangster Nino (Ron Perlman).

Empire line: “It’s as if someone distilled a tincture of the ’80s, all cocaine attitude and Giorgio Moroder, and mainlined it into something like the present.”

What to say: Nothing whatsoever. Just chew a toothpick.

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