Five Favorite Films

Travis Knight's Five Favorite Films

The Director of Kubo and the Two Strings Talks the Emotional Power of Film, Childhood Loneliness, and How One TV Show Saved the World.

by | August 17, 2016 | Comments

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Photo by Getty Images / Matt Winkelmeyer / Stringer

Travis Knight served as the lead animator on the popular family films ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and Coraline, but this Friday, he makes his directorial debut with Kubo and the Two Strings. Rotten Tomatoes learned how his favorite films (and one TV show) contributed to his work on this and his past adventures. See the full list here:


Yojimbo (1961) 95%

An utter masterpiece from the great Akira Kurosawa. Curiously, a Dashiell Hammet novel provided the inspiration for this film. I love that an American pulp novel from the 1920s was the spark for a staggering work of genius from Japan over three decades later. It demonstrates how art can transcend barriers across time, space, and culture and speak to us in a meaningful way. Yojimbo was remade as Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western classic A Fistful of Dollars, which I saw and loved long before I knew the original even existed. But when I discovered Yojimbo, it was like a gift from the universe. Everything else paled in comparison. Yojimbo is part western, part gangster noir, part samurai story, all awesome. It’s so good. Plus, if Kubo’s dad looks a wee bit like Kurosawa’s resplendent muse Toshiro Mifune, that’s not necessarily a coincidence.

Flash Gordon (1980) 83%

A gloriously ludicrous slice of 1980s cinematic fromage. Between the infectious Queen soundtrack, eye-popping Technicolor special effects, super hot Italian space princess, outrageous production and costume design, a deranged Max von Sydow spitting eminently quotable lines, and a leading man whose principle qualification was being a Playgirl centerfold, this movie had it all. I must’ve watched it fifty times when I was a kid. It was on a near-constant loop in our living room Betamax. One of the great many things I love about being a father is sharing my beloved childhood experiences with my kids. I was so giddily excited to watch this movie with my children when they were old enough. I couldn’t wait. They turned it off halfway through. I spent the next twenty minutes trying to convince them how awesome it was. They weren’t having it. My kids have terrible taste.

The Grandmaster (2013) 78%

A visual genius working at the height of his powers. For emotional heft, this film can’t compete with Wong Kar Wai’s heartbreaking In the Mood for Love, but just try keeping The Grandmaster’s gorgeous imagery from being seared into your brain. The cinematography and choreography are exquisite. They’re just poetry. I was absolutely transfixed watching this film during the early stages of Kubo’s production cycle. After I picked my jaw off the floor I completely reconsidered all of Kubo’s action scenes. We had to step up our game. Wong Kar Wai had raised the bar to soaring, impossible new heights. The terrific filmmaker Zhang Yimou — who himself made two flawless action epics (Hero and House of Flying Daggers) — once said that every boy wants either a train set or to make a martial arts movie. I never had a train set. After seeing The Grandmaster, I have a feeling Wong Kar Wai didn’t either.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) 99%

This is the first movie that moved me to tears. I saw this in the theater with my mother when I was eight years old. I was a pretty lonely kid, who made friends slowly when I made them at all. So when I saw this masterwork in a darkened room, surrounded by strangers, spellbound by the flickering world onscreen that painted a devastating portrait of childhood loneliness, it felt like someone had ripped out my insides. I was sobbing in my mom’s arms, aware on some level that what I was watching was completely fake, but on another level was more real than anything I had ever felt or understood. It was the first time I became consciously aware of the power of film to make us feel something. Something I wasn’t even aware of was roiling around inside me. E.T. introduced me to the profound and melancholic truth that love and pain go hand in hand, that love both gives us strength and makes us vulnerable. But, above all, it made me understand that love heals us and gives our lives meaning. E.T. introduced me to an idea that, over thirty years later, would beat at the heart of my directing debut. An eight-year-old me wasn’t prepared for any of that. But watching this movie, clutching my mother’s arm, an overwhelming feeling of empathy washed over me, and it reminded me that I wasn’t alone after all. Someone out there felt just like I did. “Ouch” indeed.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer 83%

Ok, I know this one’s cheating. I don’t care. So it’s not a movie, so what? It did start as a movie, so it totally counts. No TV show has meant more to me than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Stop laughing, I’m serious.  It’s one of the greatest things ever created in the history of mankind. I said stop. How dare you?! I will fight you! I will fight you and I will win. It’s the best. Every right-thinking person knows that. When Buffy was on the air, I recorded every single episode on my TiVo. I’m pretty sure my DVR thought I was a fourteen year-old girl. Whatever. The show was incredible. It refused to be pigeonholed. It defied, merged, bent, and blended genres, masterfully commingling fantasy and reality. It dealt with issues of real substance. It treated its audience intelligently, with the utmost respect. Over a decade after it went off the air, it still had residence in my head and heart, and served as a model for what Kubo became: real life wrapped in metaphor. Like Buffy, we explore triumph and tragedy, loss and healing, and compassion, and forgiveness through the stylized prism of fantasy. We acknowledge that part of life… is death. That lives can be thrown away and lost and upended in an unfair and random act of casual violence, without the grandeur and rousing speechifying often found in heroic movie deaths. People we love are often ripped away from us, in an instant. And we need to find a way to reconcile that a part of life is struggle, and it has a cost. Kubo and the Two Strings, like life, like Buffy, is wonderfully bittersweet. So thank you, Joss Whedon, for giving me so much high-spirited joy and gut-wrenching heartache. You saved the world. A lot.


Kubo and the Two Strings opens Friday in wide release.

Tag Cloud

a nightmare on elm street canceled TV shows superhero Comedy Central dark reviews spanish language cinemax versus Quiz Emmys period drama Acorn TV women Disney wonder woman TV renewals Heroines new york dragons SDCC WarnerMedia dceu Chernobyl book adaptation breaking bad animated Pixar Apple TV Plus marvel cinematic universe dramedy monster movies Sneak Peek twilight witnail 2018 latino Anna Paquin YouTube Premium Academy Awards laika The Academy Arrowverse boxoffice nbcuniversal Schedule First Reviews jurassic park scene in color king kong TCA crime thriller BBC Tarantino olympics adenture Nat Geo hispanic Columbia Pictures Mindy Kaling Avengers fresh 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Tumblr Mary Poppins Returns Song of Ice and Fire GLAAD Amazon 90s Tomatazos ABC Family IFC Films comiccon History Marathons Drama RT21 spanish psycho First Look adventure hidden camera American Society of Cinematographers Polls and Games Horror HBO Max YouTube Family mutant Television Academy PlayStation CMT lord of the rings Bravo Legendary jamie lee curtis crime drama Turner 007 Photos sequels telelvision television CW Seed Awards Tour AMC Plus psychological thriller Western 24 frames Winners Netflix stop motion Crackle award winner Fargo Turner Classic Movies Trailer rt labs Holiday supernatural rt labs critics edition Disney Channel comedies BBC America A&E Hallmark Christmas movies festivals Countdown black royal family Sundance Now transformers diversity Image Comics 21st Century Fox Freeform Women's History Month disaster book gangster indiana jones Disney+ Disney Plus Marvel Television Britbox Peacock Biopics richard e. Grant international cancelled TV series Mary Tyler Moore festival ID 72 Emmy Awards game of thrones zombie Epix Lucasfilm Film Festival 2015 TruTV concert Awards Kids & Family Sci-Fi natural history USA Thanksgiving halloween tv rotten live event streaming movies El Rey elevated horror basketball Showtime crime Valentine's Day blockbuster Instagram Live The Witch video on demand Nickelodeon Masterpiece LGBT cancelled TV shows docudrama japan obituary war kong mcc CNN streaming young adult Premiere Dates Mary poppins ViacomCBS franchise Musicals TV 2020 TCA Awards Tokyo Olympics Election E! Logo Musical Trophy Talk ghosts worst VH1 OWN ABC Signature Amazon Prime scary movies slashers sequel BBC One CBS TIFF Vudu A24 Country Rocketman halloween Food Network WGN comic book movies Pacific Islander singing competition spinoff zombies DC Universe Paramount Plus cops know your critic TLC revenge marvel comics social media Opinion golden globe awards NBC universal monsters criterion Spectrum Originals ratings dc 1990s blaxploitation boxing Comics on TV green book Superheroes slasher kids feel good Comic-Con@Home 2021 vampires SundanceTV Pop TV documentary Disney streaming service talk show Shudder anime biography NBA mission: impossible 2016 20th Century Fox toy story cancelled television Elton John Brie Larson satire football The Walking Dead Black History Month Character Guide Broadway President Lifetime Christmas movies discovery Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Christmas Universal Pictures Starz See It Skip It mockumentary Shondaland Creative Arts Emmys golden globes Black Mirror Certified Fresh comic books dreamworks Spring TV Superheroe BET 2017 National Geographic space politics Watching Series thriller CBS All Access Reality Competition popular political drama Writers Guild of America Calendar ABC high school comic book movie die hard name the review suspense facebook scary BET Awards Television Critics Association Comic Book The Walt Disney Company Binge Guide spider-verse quibi Mudbound child's play Stephen King FX australia VICE stoner aapi Fox News Apple TV+ Reality Dark Horse Comics Endgame Star Trek hispanic heritage month zero dark thirty Marvel free movies documentaries The Purge 93rd Oscars Cosplay Walt Disney Pictures spy thriller children's TV all-time Warner Bros. genre screenings Hear Us Out Esquire christmas movies rotten movies we love ESPN police drama what to watch screen actors guild rom-coms based on movie TV One APB chucky IFC Interview Comedy black comedy medical drama Sony Pictures cooking theme song target Funimation razzies video Trivia YA Paramount Network comics DC streaming service Captain marvel Summer films robots Music USA Network cancelled debate king arthur leaderboard Pop cults Sundance Fall TV The Arrangement movie parents action-comedy Wes Anderson MSNBC science fiction classics TNT FOX Set visit prank batman 2021 stand-up comedy Emmy Nominations Ghostbusters Pride Month legend renewed TV shows Marvel Studios critics IMDb TV justice league TCA 2017 crossover Rom-Com aliens godzilla FX on Hulu travel sag awards harry potter NYCC RT History Infographic live action Cartoon Network BAFTA TV Land hist historical drama posters Martial Arts new star wars movies Extras Film Box Office OneApp Ovation saw finale spain 2019 45 Sundance TV Super Bowl nfl Pirates french Universal teaser fast and furious SXSW Holidays binge rt archives MCU dexter canceled true crime romance worst movies GoT DC Comics scorecard Neflix Tubi trailers werewolf toronto San Diego Comic-Con PaleyFest joker Animation trophy Pet Sematary Ellie Kemper Video Games Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt art house game show 73rd Emmy Awards GIFs The CW best sopranos Cannes Red Carpet miniseries Travel Channel dogs Best and Worst anthology technology deadpool doctor who PBS cats Paramount 4/20 TBS docuseries X-Men Rock FXX VOD comic adaptation cartoon Oscars venice archives emmy awards vs. independent Fox Searchlight sports Grammys Discovery Channel HBO Lionsgate directors TCA Winter 2020 superman new zealand Star Wars japanese pirates of the caribbean Rocky MTV remakes ITV DirecTV Adult Swim Disney Plus italian kaiju HBO Go unscripted Fantasy strong female leads series cars Baby Yoda hollywood Apple mob movies Hallmark Mystery Crunchyroll 99% AMC Exclusive Video Podcast spider-man foreign Year in Review TV movies E3 romantic comedy james bond Syfy composers Alien blockbusters Nominations Teen Amazon Prime Video YouTube Red news reboot casting heist movie Hulu Lifetime New York Comic Con Netflix Christmas movies indie nature Amazon Studios LGBTQ Spike critic resources Toys TCM Action 71st Emmy Awards Classic Film serial killer sitcom DGA Winter TV asian-american biopic tv talk south america