Total Recall

Elizabeth Banks' 10 Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Power Rangers star.

by | March 22, 2017 | Comments

It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to sign up for a sci-fi action thriller in which you’ll pursue something called a Zeo Crystal while wearing a form-fitting green shell — which is exactly what Elizabeth Banks is up to in this weekend’s Power Rangers movie. In honor of Banks’ bravery, we decided to dedicate this week’s feature to a fond look back at some of the brighter highlights from her filmography, and you know what that means…it’s time for Total Recall!

10. Lovely, Still (2008) 73%

Elizabeth Banks is no stranger to big-budget filmmaking, but even after breaking through to the A list, she’s continued to seek out parts in smaller-scale productions. Case in point: 2010’s Lovely, Still, in which she plays a woman whose neighbor (Martin Landau) pursues a relationship with her mother (Ellen Burstyn) — thanks in part to some encouragement from his boss (Adam Scott). It’s the type of setup that often leads to overly aggressive tugs at the heartstrings, but critics credited debuting writer-director Nik Fackler with largely resisting cheap sentiment while imparting poignant observations on aging and the human condition. As Prairie Miller wrote for NewsBlaze, “It was Bette Davis who said ‘growing old ain’t for sissies.’ And this film reiterates that notion from which no human being lucky enough to survive that long is exempt, framing old age as perhaps the greatest superhero screen manifestation of all.”

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9. Invincible (2006) 72%

He isn’t a household name, but Vince Papale is a legend among hardcore football fans — particularly in Philadelphia, where he overcame the odds to earn a spot on the Eagles’ roster and became one of the oldest rookies in the history of the NFL — as well as a living embodiment of the team’s scrappy, blue-collar image. That legend was brought to life in 2006’s Invincible, starring Mark Wahlberg as Papale, Banks as his eventual wife Janet, and Greg Kinnear as Eagles coach Dick Vermeil. The movie’s fairly boilerplate arc — fully embraced by the Disney execs bankrolling the film — might have prompted a few eyerolls from more cynical critics, but the end result still enjoyed a sweaty leg up on the many inspirational sports dramas in theaters at the time. “There’s a sugar coating to the way Papale’s story unfolds,” admitted the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips, “but not so much that you’ll spoil your dinner.”

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8. Definitely, Maybe (2008) 70%

A romantic comedy with a twist, Definitely, Maybe finds its protagonist looking back on the love affair that led to marriage and a child — by telling the story to his young daughter, with some names changed and facts adjusted, while in the midst of a divorce. Thanks in part to those narrative curveballs, most critics applauded Maybe — and even if it still ultimately traced a rather familiar arc, it was difficult to find too much fault with a resolutely charming production that made smart use of a likable ensemble cast that included Banks, Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin, Isla Fisher, and Rachel Weisz. “As the movie is about a character’s growing into his own truth rather than discovering some preordained truth, Definitely, Maybe is hard to outguess,” wrote Mick LaSalle for the San Francisco Chronicle. “For once in a romantic comedy, you won’t be able to tell after five minutes who will end up together.”

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7. Seabiscuit (2003) 78%

The horse took top billing, but Banks played a pivotal role in Gary Ross’ Oscar-nominated biopic about the Depression-era thoroughbred racing sensation, appearing as Marcela Zabala, whose wedding to Charles S. Howard (Jeff Bridges) turns Howard’s life around before he enters the horse-racing world. Part of an ensemble that also included Chris Cooper as expert trainer Tom Smith and Tobey Maguire as scrappy jockey Red Pollard, Banks helped round out the cast responsible for one of the year’s bigger critical and commercial successes, and an inspirational drama that managed to transcend its easily predictable (albeit fact-based) arc. “[It] may be too airbrushed for its own good,” wrote David Ansen for Newsweek, “but in the end nothing can stop this story from putting a lump in your throat.”

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6. Role Models (2008) 77%

Strictly speaking, the world probably didn’t need yet another comedy about grown men acting like children when Role Models came along — yet there’s no denying Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott made the most of this 2008 comedy’s fairly standard story about a couple of knuckleheads sentenced to community service. Along those lines, there’s certainly been no shortage of disapproving girlfriend roles in these movies over the years, and it’s a part that doesn’t necessarily call for someone with Banks’ estimable talent — but her presence brought a little extra depth to the movie, not to mention added dimension to what could have been a shrewish one-note character. “A formulaic movie can be lifted out of its built-in rut by making it look like it invented the formula,” argued Dave White for “Almost everything works here.”

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5. Pitch Perfect (2012) 81%

Loosely inspired by author Mickey Rapkin’s nonfiction look at the collegiate a cappella circuit, 2012’s Pitch Perfect raked in more than $115 million — and Banks, who co-produced and played a small part as competition commentator Gail Abernathy-McKadden, took on an even more impactful role for the sequel, making her feature directorial debut with Pitch Perfect 2. Critics weren’t quite as entranced by the second installment, which reunited much of the original cast (including Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson) while adding new arrivals like Hailee Steinfeld, but it made even more money, guaranteeing a Pitch Perfect 3 — and earning the praise of critics like Tony Hicks of the San Jose Mercury News, who wrote, “Pitch Perfect 2 actually is more enjoyable than the original. First-time director Elizabeth Banks manages to move the story forward and wrap it up nicely without killing the concept.”

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4. The Hunger Games (2012) 84%

The blockbuster adaptations of Suzanne Collins’ bestselling Hunger Games books arrived at a moment in which a flood of YA novels were being made into movies, but this saga differentiated itself on a number of key fronts — including acting, thanks to a powerfully talented cast that included Jennifer Lawrence in the central role and a supporting ensemble that included Banks (as the outlandishly garbed Effie Trinket), Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, and Stanley Tucci. Acting under garish makeup and a series of distracting wigs, Banks acquitted herself admirably — and saw her character take on an expanded role in the penultimate film, Mockingjay Part 1. “Book’s good. Movie’s better,” wrote the Boston Globe’s Ty Burr after the second installment, Catching Fire. “Wait, what?”

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3. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) 85%

Technically, Judd Apatow’s The 40 Year-Old Virgin didn’t feature every comedy star to come out of the woodwork over the next decade — but watching the Steve Carell-led hit now, it can definitely feel that way. Banks shows up here in a supporting role as Beth, the bookstore employee whose flirty banter with Carell’s sexually inexperienced protagonist leads to some unexpectedly raunchy shenanigans — and making her mark in the midst of an expertly assembled ensemble that also included Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen, Jane Lynch, Kat Dennings, and Kevin Hart. “If you’re looking for a successor to There’s Something About Mary and American Pie, look no further. It has arrived,” decreed James Berardinelli for ReelViews. “And, if I may be so bold, this is more enjoyable than either of them.”

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2. Slither (2006) 87%

There’s nothing like a good creature feature — at least partly because solidly entertaining entries in the genre can seem like they’re so few and far between. Years before his work on Guardians of the Galaxy gave him name recognition with mainstream audiences, writer-director James Gunn wowed genre fans with Slither, a smartly written thriller about a car salesman (Michael Rooker) who becomes infected with a sluglike alien and passes it along to his mistress (Brenda James) before beginning his final transformation — and setting his sights on his wife (Banks), who’s turned to the local sheriff (Nathan Fillion) for help. If this sort of thing is your bag, you’ll find Slither hard to resist — and even if it isn’t, you may be compelled to agree with the Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum, who wrote, “Gross-out horror comedy is my least favorite genre, but this movie’s so skillful I have to take my hat off to it.”

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1. Love & Mercy (2014) 89%

The Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy tells the story of the mercurial Beach Boys co-founder’s often tortured journey, but it’s also a love story — one poised on the fulcrum of Wilson’s relationship with Melinda Ledbetter, who entered his life in 1986 and was part of the lengthy process of getting Wilson away from controversial therapist Dr. Eugene Landy. And although director Bill Pohlad’s film earned a lot of attention for the way it divided Wilson’s life into two discrete arcs — one in which he’s played by Paul Dano, and another starring John Cusack — Banks shouldered a lot of responsibility with her performance as Ledbetter; for the movie to work as more than a standard redemption story, the people on screen needed to feel more like their real-life counterparts than characters. “Love & Mercy might not go as deep, or as dark, as it could,” admitted the AP’s Lindsey Bahr, “but it’s a commanding and artful film, that’s full of excellent and worthy performances whether you’re a student of Brian Wilson or just a curious tourist.”

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