Joe Dante has made some of the most iconic films in the 70s and 80s and achieved success through his beautiful meld of tongue-in-cheek comedy with fantastic elements. He’s displayed his ability to satire pop culture through films like The Burbs and Gremlins 2 while also making satirical comments on cinema as a whole with his early films like Piranha and Hollywood Boulevard. Dante’s iconoclastic approach to big spectacles in cinema have provided him with the title of manning some of the most important films of anyone’s childhood! Check out our ranking of Joe Dante’s 13 feature films, below!
13. THE HOLE (2009)
The Hole is a painful entry in Dante’s filmography. A horror movie about a mysterious hole in the ground that haunts those who open it, The Hole is a gimmick heavy movie that becomes more and more cringe worthy as you watch. The acting is poor and the script does nothing to supplement what’s missing from the actors (and vice versa). Unlike the rest of Dante’s films that are rarely meant to be taken seriously, The Hole painfully portrays itself as a movie that so desperately wants to be serious. The funny thing is, if this came out in the 80s, it would probably be absorbed in a much different way.
12. BURYING THE EX (2014)
Dante’s films of the 00’s are nowhere near the caliber of his films from the 80’s, but Burying the Ex does have a certain charm to it. Burying the Ex centers on a young man whose girlfriend comes back to life after a bus accident and tries to continue on their (literally) lifeless relationship. Where The Hole strives to be taken seriously, Burying the Ex revels in its ridiculousness and is one of those late night comedies that garner a few laughs here and there.
11. LOONEY TUNES: Back in Action (2003)
Just another run of the mill studio comedy – Looney Tunes: Back in Action does include a pretty large amount of Dante’s classic tongue-in-cheek satire with some of our most beloved cartoon characters. Besides that, though, there’s nothing really to write home about it.
10. HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD (1976)
Joe Dante’s first directing credit came under Roger Corman at New World Pictures with Hollywood Boulevard, a satirical look on the film industry with a variety of different vignettes in the exploitation and grindhouse genres. Films like this aren’t meant to be taken too seriously and a lot of the charm comes from its low-budget nature. In fact, Hollywood Boulevard was the cheapest movie ever made at New World Pictures, due to its use of footage from other New World films!
9. EXPLORERS (1985)
On its face, Explorers is just another 80s kid’s movie about space, however it’s a pretty important movie in its own right! Explorers gave two pretty iconic actors their acting debuts with Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix! The duo, along with a third friend, build a homemade spaceship that sends them up into the galaxy where they meet and communicate with aliens for the first time in human history! Young Ethan Hawke is a strange thing to see and in terms of film history, this one’s worth watching for that!
8. SMALL SOLDIERS (1998)
Small Soldiers took the ideas presented three years earlier with Toy Story and flipped the entire genre on its head. A satirical parallel to the corporate fueled wars, Small Soldiers is centered on a group of action figures that were implanted with Military grade micro-processors that won’t stop at anything short of their objective: to destroy.
7. INNERSPACE (1987)
Dante took on another Spielberg production in ’87 with his creative take on the science fiction genre. Innerspace stars Dennis Quaid as a marine who gets miniaturized and finds himself injected into a total stranger’s body (Martin Short). The structure of this film falls within the category any other space film would take, but instead uses that formula to explore the inside of the human body as opposed to any kind of galaxy. In fact, the inventive use of special effects for this film earned Dante his first and only Oscar win!
6. GREMLINS 2: The New Batch (1990)
Dante’s sequel to the iconic 1984 film, Gremlins 2 is inferior to the original in practically every way, but there’s still so much enjoyment and fun that comes with seeing those little gremlins running around on screen. On top of that, Dante’s tongue in cheek humor is perhaps at its most defined as he creates a meta experience that both pokes fun of the Gremlins franchise as well as defends it with multiple ‘middle fingers’ to the nit-picky critics of the original movie. Either way, if you’re a fan of The Gremlins, the sequel is absolutely still worth a watch for its satirical take on pop-culture with the help of our favorite furry little rodents!
5. THE BURBS (1989)
Joe Dante’s mainstream hit The ‘Burbs is one of those trope heavy 80s movies that you simply love for its predictability. Hosting a pretty hefty cast with Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Corey Feldman, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, and Dante favorites Dick Miller and Henry Gibson, The ‘Burbs is a satirical look at suburban life and how people in the suburbs communicate with their neighbors. It’s awfully relatable and the eccentric 80’s comedy and thriller aspects make it that much more fun.
4. PIRANHA (1978)
The Roger Corman-produced spoof of Jaws gave Joe Dante his first taste of notoriety. Stephen Spielberg even said that Piranha was the best rip of Jaws he had come across! Joe Dante maximizes the feeling of suspense and dread in such a fun, concise manner that Piranha is easily one of the most rewatchable movies of Dante’s!
3. MATINEE (1993)
Matinee is an awesome take on the 60s era exploitation world of cinema. John Goodman stars as Lawrence Woolsey, a Hitchcock-Corman type producer, who’s promoting his newest exploitation movie in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis in Key West! Dante takes us back to a time that we sense was very special to him and every moment of this feels like an homage to the world that introduced him to cinema in the first place! The excitement of seeing a film in theaters with all of its extravagant production is something completely missing in today’s world of moviegoing so to see it depicted so beautifully here is enough to make you yearn for a past you never lived in! Matinee is an awesome film that’s gravely underrated when stacked up against the rest of Dante’s filmography.
2. THE HOWLING (1981)
Joe Dante’s take on the werewolf genre is one for the ages and is honestly one of the most fun werewolf films ever constructed! Dante showed on Piranha that he’s capable of slipping in tongue-in-cheek humor with horror, but in The Howling, he really maximizes the horror elements that Piranha didn’t do. Nearly 40 years old, The Howling is as entertaining today as I’m sure it was upon it’s release!
1. GREMLINS (1984)
Pure 80s comedy and adventure, The Gremlins is one of those films that defined a generation and aged just as well over time. Joe Dante’s humble roots in the exploitation/b-movie genre allowed him to succeed on the mainstream level when it finally came time to do so. There really isn’t much else to say other than that this is one of those timeless contributions to cinema!