The 20th anniversary of Focus Features is here, and we’re celebrating here at Nerds & Beyond by showcasing some of our favorite Focus Features films.
Additional Contributors: Lindsey, Kaity, Hannah
Promising Young Woman (2020)
The Academy Award-winning film Promising Young Woman was a harrowing look at how sexual assault is viewed and punished (or lack thereof) in today’s society. Written and directed by Emerald Fennell and starring Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham, the film took us on a revenge mission for the ages as Cassie seeks out the men who ruined her best friend’s life. Fennell won Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars for the film, the first win for a woman in the category in 13 years. Another fun fact, Fennell created the playlist for the film prior to starting the screenplay.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Brokeback Mountain is breathtakingly stunning and painfully beautiful in a way you can only expect from leading men Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. With incredible shots of the mountains and countryside and one of the most tragic love stories of our time, this is a film that truly stays with viewers long after they’ve finished the tragic love story between Ennis and Jack. The natural and realistic feel of this movie (thanks to well-written and executed storylines and dialogue) will make you feel as if you are following these characters in real life and will break your heart with what is one of the most emotional and impactful films of the early 2000s.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski starring Jeff Bridges is one of the most underrated cult classics. While everyone knows The Dude, it doesn’t get its due for being a timeless representation of Americana. It may have bombed at the box office, but its legacy lives on even 20 years later. Bridges’ undeniable charisma helped turn The Dude into so much more than a slacker, he’s simply an icon.
Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Jane Austen’s 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice found itself a new film adaptation in 2005 with Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen as the one and only Mr. Darcy. This romantic drama follows the budding, turbulent relationship between the two in a classic enemies-to-lovers tale. Viewers are swept up in the chemistry between Macfadyen and Knightley as they perform on a sweeping backdrop of beautiful cinematography with a lovely soundtrack. While Pride & Prejudice may be a far cry from the messy, physical, intimate romances that have become commonplace on our screens today, this film is the finest example of the unmatched, charged energy that can be found in something as simple as a glance or the proximity of one’s hands. This was director Joe Wright’s first feature film.
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Pride & Prejudice director Joe Wright reunited with his filmmaking team and Keira Knightley in 2007 to dive into another romantic drama, Atonement. Based on Ian McEwan’s best-selling novel, Atonement takes place over the course of several decades, beginning in 1935. 13-year-old fledgling writer Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) finds herself jealous over the feelings the housekeeper’s son, Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) — her crush, has developed for her headstrong older sister Cecilia (Knightley), and thus she accuses the man of a crime he did not commit. Briony will have to work to find a path to her uncertain atonement after she changes the course of three lives forever in this deep, meaningful, emotionally-fraught film. And for a fun fact about Atonement, the movie was filmed using Christian Dior stockings as a filter over the back of the camera lens for the 1935 portion of the story in order to create its beautiful glow effect!
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has earned its place amongst the classics list. The romantic sci-fi film is another cult classic on the list with a harrowing message: no matter how painful, maybe memories aren’t meant to be deleted because you’ll lose a piece of yourself in the process. Starring Kate Winslet, Jim Carrey, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, and Elijah Wood, this film continues to hold up against the test of time.
Fun fact about the film, the elephant parade scene in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was a real parade that was not part of the script. One afternoon on the set in Manhattan, someone noticed that the famed Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus was in town and was going to have its annual midnight Elephant Walk parade across 34th Street that very night. A few hours later, the cast and crew were on the scene and Joel and Clementine were at the parade.
The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017)
The Zookeeper’s Wife is the real-life story of a working wife and mother that went on to become a hero to hundreds during World War II. Jessica Chastain portrays Antonina Żabińska alongside Johan Heldenbergh as her husband, Dr. Jan Żabiński, both of whom are caretakers of the Warsaw Zoo in 1939. When Poland is invaded by Germany, the couple begins to work with the underground resistance to save Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, all while trying to stay under the radar of the Reich’s newly appointed chief zoologist, Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl). A tense, heroic, and gripping story, the film is based on Diane Ackerman’s non-fiction novel of the same name, which made use of Antonina’s diaries.
Downton Abbey (2019)
Following the 6-season run of Julian Fellowes’ beloved historical drama Downton Abbey, a film eventually followed years after the finale. Downton Abbey originally took place between 1912 and 1926, depicting the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants. The film picks back up in 1927, following a royal visit from the King and Queen of England. The original ensemble cast returned for the film, which was just as lovely as the series it was based on. Fans can now look forward to the upcoming sequel film, Downton Abbey: A New Era, which is due to hit theaters on May 20.
BlacKkKlansman is an Academy Award-nominated film from Spike Lee, based on the 2014 memoir “Black Klansman” by Ron Stallworth. The film is set in the 1970s and follows Stallworth, an African-American detective who sets out to expose the local Klu Klux Klan chapter. The film stars John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, and Laura Harrier. The film is an eye-opening look at Stallworth’s story, mixed with the intricate storytelling from Lee and the incredible performances by its cast.
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The Dead Don’t Die (2019)
In The Dead Don’t Die, Bill Murray takes you through the town of Centerville as it’s overrun with zombies, and they try to defend their town and stay alive. Rounded out with a stellar cast of Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi, and Chloë Sevigny, it will take you on an adventure you won’t want to miss.
Set in the View Askewniverse, Mallrats takes your favorite lovable characters and tells their story one day before Clerks. It’s a cult classic film that features Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, Jason Lee, Jeremy London, and Shannen Doherty. If you’re a fan of Kevin Smith films, you know this one is a must-see.
The Theory of Everything (2014)
Led by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, the duo leads you through the lives of Stephen Hawking and Jane Hawking. The film shows their relationship, Stephen’s work, and his ALS. The Theory of Everything was nominated for several Academy Awards, with Redmayne winning Best Actor.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
All right, all right, all right, we couldn’t leave this list without mentioning Dazed and Confused. Another cult classic, Dazed and Confused is still one of the most beloved movies today. In fact, at one point Quentin Tarantino listed it on a list of his Top 10 favorite films. It may have taken place in the 70s, but this coming-of-age film still holds up even today.
The studio is celebrating with a brand new reel they’ve released, which you can see below.
They’ve also partnered with AMC Theatres, who will highlight the Focus Features’
anniversary beginning on April 29 with “Focus 20” week at select theatres nationwide. AMC will showcase seven titles from the Focus Features library, each of them receiving an afternoon and primetime screening over the seven-day period. The titles to be featured are Downton Abbey (directed by Michael Engler; September 20, 2019), Brokeback Mountain (directed by Ang Lee; December 9,
2005), Burn After Reading (directed by Ethan Cohen, Joel Coen; September 12, 2008), Darkest Hour (directed by Joe Wright; November 22, 2017), Atonement (directed by Joe Wright; December 7, 2007), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (directed by Michel Gondry; March 19, 2004), and Harriet (directed by Kasi Lemmons; November 1, 2019).
Also, Focus Features is the first film brand with a dedicated hub on Peacock. The streaming platform will collect the studio’s historically acquired specialty films in one place to direct specialty film fans.