Top 10: A-List Ensembles

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Still from "Knives Out"

The key ingredient to having a flawless acting ensemble is every actor, from the main lead to a small cameo, doing quality work. If a picture has an ensemble packed with star power, that should only attract more interest. The new murder mystery Knives Out” might do just that since it features names like Chris Evans and Daniel Craig shedding their franchise personas. As an added bonus, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ana de Armas, Don Johnson, Lakeith Stanfield, and Christopher Plummer make up the pedigree cast.

To acknowledge the film’s release, here’s a list of ten of the best A-list ensembles put on screen.

10“Birdman” (2014)
dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu

The best word to describe this Best Picture winner is that it’s meta. It features actors playing actors and given its narrative about the superhero climate, has former superhero actors in the cast. For starters, Batman himself Michael Keaton plays the title character while Edward Norton, aka The Hulk, parodies himself as he portrays a difficult method actor. Plus, Emma Stone, aka Gwen Stacy, along with Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan, and Andrea Riseborough make up the starry ensemble.

9“The Hours” (2002)
dir. Stephen Daldry

When a picture has Oscar winners Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and Julianne Moore starring, it’s guaranteed that it’ll have flawless performances. All three actresses certainly live up to that guarantee as they play three women from different generations interconnected by the novel “Mrs. Dalloway.” The movie also features a who’s who of character actors like Ed Harris, Claire Danes, Miranda Richardson, John C. Reilly, Toni Collette, and Allison Janney.

8“Love Actually” (2003)
dir. Richard Curtis

As Christmastime approaches, “Love Actually” should be on your watch list. This festive comedy follows a series of interwoven story lines about people finding romance in the holiday season. It also has a slew of British A-list talent including Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy, Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, Rowan Atkinson, and the late Alan Rickman. Blimey!

7“Hairspray” (2007)
dir. Adam Shankman

The cast of a movie about a teenager dreaming of stardom shines quite brightly. Based on the Broadway musical of the same name, “Hairspray” features a mix of esteemed veterans and famed teen idols. As Edna Turnblad, the protagonist’s overbearing mother, John Travolta shows off his famous musical chops while Michelle Pfeiffer plays a pitch perfect villain in the form of Velma Von Tussle. Queen Latifah, Zac Efron, James Marsden, Amanda Bynes, Christopher Walken, and Nikki Blonsky, who made her feature debut, round out the rest of the cast.

6“The Departed” (2006)
dir. Martin Scorsese

Having Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson in one’s film feels like a dream team. Given how the actors slightly play against type, it creates an added benefit. Both DiCaprio and Damon are an impressive dual act as double-crossing cops even if they don’t interact for most of the picture. Plus, Nicholson is a sinister force of nature as Frank Costello, an Irish mob boss while Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, Mark Wahlberg, and Alec Baldwin do exemplary supporting work.

5“JFK” (1991)
dir. Oliver Stone

Based on a true story, “JFK” follows Louisiana district attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) as he conducts an investigation on the John F. Kennedy assassination, risking his life and career in the process. As his investigation progresses in this three-hour picture, Garrison comes across various faces played by a slew of recognizable actors from the realms of film and television. An eclectic mix of Oscar winners like Joe Pesci, Sissy Spacek, and Jack Lemmon along with familiar actor’s actors such as Wayne Knight and Pruitt Taylor Vince.

4“Sin City” (2005)
dir. Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller

In this black-and-white adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, the performances from the packed cast carry all sorts of colors. For example, names like Mickey Rourke and Clive Owen play characters who are morally gray. Additionally, you have Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro seeing red as the rage-fueled villain Jackie Boy. In “Sin City,” there’s a lot of literal red which will easily put off some viewers. But, the incredible cast makes watching it worthwhile.

3“The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001)
dir. Wes Anderson

One of Wes Anderson’s directing trademarks is having a packed ensemble. Out of all his films that have a starry cast, though, “The Royal Tenenbaums” remains his magnum opus. By mixing humor and melancholy, the actors successfully blend in with Anderson’s idiosyncratic vision while offering a realistic portrait of a dysfunctional family. Oscar winners Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Anjelica Huston are among the names in the stellar cast.

2“Network” (1976)
dir. Sidney Lumet

Network” is a fine example of megawatt star talent playing to the highest balcony. In this cutting satire, Faye Dunaway chews her way through Paddy Chayefsky’s dialogue as a TV network programmer who’d kill for ratings. Plus, the late Peter Finch is iconic as the “mad as hell” former anchor Howard Beale while William Holden, Robert Duvall, and Ned Beatty are in similarly flawless form.

1“Steel Magnolias” (1989)
dir. Herbert Ross

Based on the play of the same name, “Steel Magnolias” is a classic about six Southern women dealing with love and loss. At its center is two-time Oscar winner Sally Field as social worker M’Lynn and Julia Roberts as Shelby, her diabetic daughter. Then there’s Dolly Parton as Truvy, a kindly beautician and Shirley MacLaine as the neurotic Ouiser. Daryl Hannah and Olympia Dukakis portray the demure Annelle and humane Clairee, respectively. It’s a perfect example of all the main performers being on the same exemplary wavelength.

Which A-list ensemble is your favorite? Please share your thoughts!