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The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

on February 26, 2016, 12:00am
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Triple 9 looks tough as nails. Machine gun maniacs covered in red paint, double-crossin’ one another, trying to stay ahead of the cops and mob? Cool. But perhaps the most appealing feature of John Hillcoat’s upcoming film is that cast: Kate Winslet, Chiwitel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul, Teresa Palmer, Anthony Mackie, and Michael K. Williams.

Looking back, there’s a deep-rooted tradition of great action films with big casts. Hell, there’s a rich history of ensemble films in general. With that in mind, Consequence of Sound turned a page or two on film history and searched for the most distinct, diverse, and all-around well-cast ensembles to hit the silver screen.

Normally, the rule of thumb for these kinds of lists are to do solid numbers. Top fives, top 10s, top 100’s, what have you. Yet, with a title like Triple 9, could a piece like this not be the top 27? Besides, in ensemble filmmaking, more is more you know

–Blake Goble
Senior Staff Writer

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27. Spring Breakers (2012)

spring breakers1 The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, and Gucci Mane

Groupthink: It’s a wonder that all the right spices ultimately coalesced for Spring Breakers to achieve the combination of violence, comedy, satire, and pathos that it does. Much of that is due to director Harmony Korine’s masterful command of tone, not to mention his understanding of how Buzzfeed nostalgia and escalating acts of rebellion manifest among disaffected millennials. But none of it would’ve landed without the perfect cast: As the four teens at the center of this crime fantasy, Gomez, Hudgens, Benson, and Korine deftly combine party-girl obnoxiousness with a fierce confidence that can’t help but both threaten and entice the hyper-masculine circles they invade. But once James Franco’s laughable-till-he’s-somehow-not Alien shows up, the girls begin revealing their true natures, meshing with the grill-wearing gangster until the world’s most unlikely alliance is formed. There might be no better portrait of the millennial underbelly than the choreographed sway the girls perform with ski masks and assault rifles as Alien plays a Britney Spears cover on piano. –Randall Colburn

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26. The Winner (1996)

winner e1456426410834 The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Vincent D’Onofrio, Rebecca De Mornay, Richard Edson, Delroy Lindo, Michael Madsen, Billy Bob Thornton, and Frank Whaley

Groupthink: The Winner is a weird-ass movie. Released to zero fanfare in 1996, it follows a naive everyman who, after weeks of winning big at Vegas casinos, finds himself romanced and hustled by a number of quirky con artists, hitmen, and oddballs. A veritable who’s who of ‘90s eccentrics, the cast mellifluously melds the quiet menace of Michael Madsen, the amiable spasticity of Richard Edson, and Frank Whaley’s unhinged charisma. Billy Bob Thornton’s in full arthouse mode, and Rebecca De Mornay and Delroy Lindo help bridge the gap between the film’s sleazy Las Vegas milieu and the script’s bracing surrealism. –Randall Colburn

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25. Three Kings (1999)

3 kings The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and Spike Jonze

Groupthink: A twisted take on Treasure of the Sierra Madre set in the immediate wake of the Gulf War, Three Kings embraces the madness of its premise: four American soldiers on a quest for Saddam Hussein’s hidden gold. Each of the leads brings something different to the table, with Spike Jonze standing out as the dimwitted but well-intentioned Conrad. George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg bring charisma in spades to this dark comedy, and Ice Cube serves as the gang’s moral compass. Yes, you read that correctly. –Collin Brennan

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24. The Wood (1999)

the wood The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Omar Epps, Richard T. Jones, and Taye Diggs

Groupthink: Rick Famuyiwa garnered a ton of praise for 2015’s Dope, but 1999’s The Wood set a high bar for what to expect out of the Nigerian-American director. Taye Diggs, Richard T. Jones, and Omar Epps star as friends on the cusp of adulthood who spend the hours before Diggs’ wedding reminiscing on various episodes from their youth. It’s a quiet, unassuming coming-of-age tale disguised as a romantic comedy and one of the truly underrated entries in the buddy film genre. –Collin Brennan

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23. The Descent (2005)

the descent The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, MyAnna Buring, Saskia Mulder, and Nora-Jane Noone

Groupthink: The Descent’s got everything a horror fan could ask for: vivid gore, terrifying creatures, and an environment that’s every bit as threatening as the monsters. What it also has is something that, even in the 11 years since it was released, is still a rarity: an all-female cast that asserts itself as much more than a mere collection of damsels in distress. Every member of the film’s central spelunking crew is well-drawn, both in their personalities and interpersonal conflicts. Unlike most pick-em-off horrors, you’re not rooting for any of these women to meet their fate, if only because the core dynamic among them is so resonant. –Randall Colburn

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22. The Towering Inferno (1974)

the towering inferno movie poster The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, the Richards, Vaughn and Wagner, um, O.J. Simpson, and Jennifer Jones

Groupthink: The Towering Inferno’s aged about as badly as the other disaster flicks of the ‘70s. Poseidon Adventure, Airport, Earthquake, The Swarm… There are too many expensive, sappy films with great casts in that decade to count. But for all intents and purposes, The Towering Inferno had the very best cast of the bunch, and it curiously got three Oscars and a Best Picture nomination. Nice going, Irwin Allen. Why put out a fire with water when you have the power of Paul Newman’s blue eyes guiding the way? Or maybe Dunaway could have yelled at the fire to put out. Or O.J. … nevermind. –Blake Goble

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21. The Women (1939)

the women poster The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Norman Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Mary Boland, and Paulette Goddard

Groupthink: The Women had titans of old Hollywood. Adapted from Clare Boothe Luce’s play of the same name, The Women is just that. There are no men featured. Joan Crawford, Norman Shearer, and Rosalind Russell are Manhattan socialites and wives who have a blast gossiping about their dopey dudes for the sake of high dramedy. And quickly: There is in fact a Diane English remake from 2008 that also has a good cast, but it’s incredibly avoidable. –Blake Goble

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20. Now and Then (1995)

now and then film poster The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Melanie Griffith, Rosie O’Donnell, Demi Moore, Rita Wilson, Gaby Hoffman, Christina Ricci, Thora Birch, Janeane Garofolo, Hank Azaria, Bonnie Hunt, and Cloris Leachman.

Groupthink: You remember this one, right? If you were a young girl of the ‘90s, this was prime sleepover viewing. If you were a boy, you likely walked into your sisters’ sleepover and wound up staying for Now and Then on the grounds that the cast was familiar and the film was quite fun. Lesli Linka Glatter’s coming-of-age film runs with its cutesy, giggly nostalgia trip as it assembles a two-sided cast of the most recognizable girls and women from 20 years ago. –Blake Goble

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19. The Thin Red Line (1998)

the thin red line movie poster The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Sean Penn, Jim Caviezel, Elias Koteas, Ben Chaplin, Nick Nolte, Dash Mihok, John Cusack, Adrien Brody, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Jared Leto, John Travolta, George Clooney, Nick Stahl, John Savage, and Thomas Jane

Groupthink: If you were a white male actor circa 1998 in Hollywood, you were more likely than not considered to play a role – big, small, or doomed to hit the cutting room floor – in The Thin Red Line, Terrence Malick’s return to filmmaking after a 20-year absence. The cast is positively sprawling, an ensemble film in every sense of the word. There are arguments to be made for Jim Caviezel’s Private Witt, Ben Chaplin’s Private Bell, or even Adrien Brody’s Cpl. Fife (whose role was famously hacked to pieces in the editing room) as the film’s protagonist, but long stretches of the movie unfold without them, and many of its most affecting moments happen to supporting characters like Nick Stahl’s cherubic Pfc. Bead or Dash Mihok’s Pfc. Doll. If you’re really trying to capture the enormity of war, you pretty much have to forgo a traditional protagonist; Malick’s movie is about war’s cumulative effects on the psyches of men who are bound to a brotherhood whether they like it or not. It’s not about the individual here, it’s about the unit. –Randall Colburn

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18. The Usual Suspects (1995)

the usual suspects The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro, Kevin Pollak, Chazz Palminteri, Pete Postlethwaite, and Kevin Spacey

Groupthink: It’s hard to overstate the importance of The Usual Suspects. Not only does this film have one of the most defining plot twists of all time, but along with L.A. Confidential, it ushered in a new era of neo-noir crime films set in and around Los Angeles. Like a more demented, cynical version of Ocean’s Eleven, this one depends entirely on an ensemble of cast-off criminals played by A-list actors. Kevin Spacey’s poker face is the obvious standout, but Gabriel Byrne, Stephen Baldwin, and Benicio del Toro also acquit themselves nicely. –Collin Brennan

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17. The Big Chill (1983)

the big chill The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, and JoBeth Williams

Groupthink: Whether it realized it or not (probably not), The Big Chill basically invented its own subgenre: old friends reuniting in the face of tragedy. So many movies have been made in this template since Lawrence Kasdan’s comedy hit cinemas in 1983, yet pretty much none of them have resonated. That’s probably because the format lends itself to narcissistic navel-gazing, but also because none of these latter-day films have a cast with the charisma and natural rapport as this one. It didn’t hurt that Kasdan’s crackerjack cast – Glenn Close, William Hurt, Tom Berenger, Jeff Goldblum – were already well-established, but the film achieves that rare quality where the interactions between the characters feel neither scripted nor improvised, just natural. Kasdan’s script also keeps existential rumination to a minimum, focusing instead on inside jokes, lived-in exchanges, and the subtle changes that unfold among old friends as they enter their mid-30s. –Randall Colburn

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16. Mustang (2016)

mustang poster The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Güneş Şensoy, Doğa Doğuşlu, Elit İşcan, Tuğba Sunguroğlu, İlayda Akdoğan, Nihal Koldaş, and Ayberk Pekcan

Groupthink: Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang is one of 2016’s best films so far, and much of that is due to its fresh-faced ensemble. The film follows five orphaned sisters in a small Turkish village, each of whom buck and contort against the puritanical values imposed upon them by previous generations. The story centers on the youngest and most impressionable sister, Lale, whose identity throughout the film is shaped by the relationships she’s formed and the behavior she witnesses in her sisters. As such, each are painted in rich, detailed strokes, and Lale shares intimacy and heartache with every single one of them. But there’s an electricity that exists among them whenever they’re all onscreen together, and Ergüven makes the most of those moments by capturing the fivesome in sumptuous tableaus awash in natural light and windswept beauty. –Randall Colburn

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15. Get on the Bus (1996)

get on the bus The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Charles Dutton, Andre Braugher, Hill Harper, Wendell Pierce, Bernie Mac, Harry Lennix, Isaiah Washington, Ozzie Davis, an uncredited Randy Quaid, and Richard Belzer

Groupthink: A bus full of African-American men en route to the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. transforms into an act of aggressive enlightenment. Lee’s Get on the Bus took a bunch of guys, all from different classes, age groups, and ideologies, and pit them at each other one discussion at a time only to swing the door wide open on the complicated state of being black in America. It’s a forgotten film with a dynamite cast that lingers for its red-blooded passion, prose, and personalities. Watching actors allow themselves to be this angry in such tight spaces is daring micro-cinema with larger-than-life themes and messages. Watching Ossie Davis school a young boy on what it was like in the ‘60s for a black man is profound stuff. Seeing Andre Braugher sit next to Hill Harper as they learn about one another is fascinating. And seeing a collection of grown men shout and sing “shabooya!” in unison as a way to get to know one another, well, beats “kumbaya.” –Blake Goble

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14. The Departed (2006)

the departed The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Anthony Anderson, and Alec Baldwin

Groupthink: Matt Damon is probably the only star of The Departed who feels entirely comfortable with the Boston accent, but Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson meet him pace-for-pace in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning ensemble crime drama. Nicholson tends to get the lion’s share of praise for his delightfully devilish turn as a mob boss, but Damon’s suppressed, conflicted, sort of bad guy might be the film’s secret emotional center. –Collin Brennan

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13. The Wild Bunch (1969)

wild bunch The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: William Holden, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson, and Warren Oates

Groupthink: Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 Western epic The Wild Bunch is best remembered for its brutal violence, the likes of which most audiences had never witnessed before in a major studio film. That violence is still very much a part of its legacy, but we should also remember that The Wild Bunch is first and foremost an ensemble film with one hell of a cast. William Holden delivers perhaps the best performance of his career as beleaguered gang leader Pike Bishop, while the rest of the outlaws — including Ernest Borgnine and Robert Ryan (whom Peckinpah cast after seeing him in The Dirty Dozen) — share in the bloody fun. –Collin Brennan

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12. Short Cuts (1993)

short cuts The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Lyle Lovett, Tom Waits, Andie McDowell, Buck Henry, Julianne Moore, Chris Penn, Robert Downey Jr., Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits, Matthew Modine, Anne Archer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Madeline Stowe, Lili Taylor, Tim Robbins, Frances McDormand, Fred Ward in a green wig, and Huey Lewis, without The News, urinating in a stream.

Groupthink: The cast is near uncountable in Altman’s epic poem. Folks are heard and seen en masse as Short Cuts, inspired by the works of Raymond Carver, covers the sprawl of personalities and types in modern L.A.. and Altman manages to tap into what feels like dozens of stories over a three-hour observation. Cops, doctors, musicians, artists, ingenues, waitresses, fishers, and a cavalcade of characters, just acting naturally. Short Cuts is all the pleasure of people-watching without the awkward anxiety of eye contact. Altman invites you to stare and knew exactly how to wait patiently for the best moments from his actors. –Blake Goble

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11. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

ocean's 11

Cast: Bernie Mac, Carl Reiner, Elliot Gould, Don Cheadle, Scott Caan, Andy Garcia, Julie Roberts, and some trio of pretty boys name Pitt, Damon, and Gorgeous George Clooney

Groupthink: Listen, the original Ocean’s Eleven from way, way back in 1960 is what happens when you get a bunch of drunken frat boys together to make a movie. Soderbergh’s 2001 remake is what happens when you get a bunch of talented, drunken frat boys together to make a movie. And what an exhilarating caper Soderbergh assembled, with a cast of handsome hoodwinkers robbing not one but three casinos at once. Everyone, from Reiner to Clooney gels and looks super cool here. –Blake Goble

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10. Dazed and Confused (1993)

dazed and confused The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Rory Cochrane, Sasha Jenson, Milla Jovovich, Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Michelle Burke, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Marissa Ribisi, Renée Zellweger, Shawn Andrews, Cole Hauser, Ben Affleck, Deena Martin, and Nicky Katt

Groupthink: God, where to begin? Richard Linklater’s raucous sophomore effort shines a light on every nook and cranny of a Texas high school in 1976. What makes this ensemble – packed to the gills with future legends like Ben Affleck, Renée Zellweger, Matthew McConaughey, and Parker Posey – so effective is how they so often shatter the supposed boundaries of high school social strata. Sure, cliques exist, but, like in real life, they’re rarely exclusive. Rory Cochrane’s Slater, for example, is as accepted among the jocks as he is the burnouts. And the nerdy trio of Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, and Marissa Ribisi may be shy, but they’re not bullied. One of the film’s greatest delights is watching how dynamics shift as characters like Affleck’s dickwad O’Banion or McConaughey’s lecherous Wooderson enter and exit cars and conversations. As with the aforementioned The Winner, this film isn’t defined by its protagonist (Jason London’s “Pink” Floyd) so much as anchored by it. –Randall Colburn

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09. The Hateful Eight (2015)

the hateful eight poster The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Bruce Dern

Groupthink: The Hateful Eight lives and dies (literally, because remember this is Quentin Tarantino) on the strength of its ensemble. Each of the characters in this film plays a certain “type,” though they’re all brought together by one thing: the apocalyptic, man-eat-man aftermath of America’s Civil War. Kurt Russell’s bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth would like to think he’s the one in control at Minnie’s Haberdashery, but it’s another bounty hunter — Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren — who’s really at the wheel. Tarantino gives every actor a piece of the spotlight, and they respond with either revelatory performances (Walton Goggins) or a glorious amount of ham (Tim Roth). –Collin Brennan

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08. How the West Was Won (1962)

How-the-West-was-won

Cast: Carroll Baker, Lee J. Cobb, Henry Fonda, Carolyn Jones, Karl Malden, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, Robert Preston, Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart, Eli Wallach, John Wayne, and Richard Widmark

Groupthink: If you’re noticing a theme here, you might be onto something: Westerns pretty much have the market cornered when it comes to ensemble films. And this 1962 Metrocolor epic is the granddaddy of them all. How the West Was Won features a ridiculously stacked all-star cast, and its division into distinct historical chapters ensures that the screen never feels too crowded. James Stewart as a mountain man, Henry Fonda as a handlebar-mustached buffalo hunter, and John Wayne as General Sherman? Lots of films pass for “epics” these days, but this one’s truly worthy of the name. –Collin Brennan

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07. The Magnificent Seven (1960)

magnificent seven poster The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Colburn, Charles Bronson, Horst Bucholz, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, and Eli Wallach

Groupthink: Cue the Aaron Copeland-esque music! Pop those pistols and hop on a horse! The Magnificent Seven is a-riding in! The Magnificent Seven is a blast, a brilliant proto-example of the teamwork formula (see: Dirty Dozen, Avengers, and so on). With its sly attitude, sensational music, and damn perfect cast, the classic Western is a perpetually game and good time in the Old West, and the leads, yeah, they’re pretty much as magnificent as the title brags. Now, it would be a mistake not to acknowledge Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, the birth and inspiration of the seven-man team of John Sturges’ cowboy classic. Samurai’s a perfect actioner, no question, but does it have Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen goofing on with one another while Eli Wallach pouts a-plenty? Magnificent Seven is beloved for that cast. –Blake Goble

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06. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Glengarry Glen Ross

Cast: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey, and Jonathan Pryce

Groupthink: David Mamet’s play was stacked enough with memorable characters when it premiered in 1983, and the Broadway production brimmed with marquee names like Joe Mantegna, Robert Prosky, and J. T. Walsh. But James Foley’s film adaptation ups the ante in almost every conceivable way, most notably with the Mamet-penned addition of Alec Baldwin’s Blake, who all but steals the movie with his endlessly quotable speech about sales, coffee, and brass balls. Everyone but Pacino and Pryce gathers together for that scene, and it’s one of the few times we get to see so many of the characters share the screen. This creates a pulverizing dynamic that the stage play lacks, especially once Ed Harris’ combustible Moss starts running his mouth (“You’re such a hero, you’re so rich, how come you’re coming down here wasting your time with such a bunch of bums?”). Much more than the play, which is primarily composed of individual scenes, the film itself is a true testament to ensemble filmmaking. –Randall Colburn

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05. Grand Hotel (1932)

Grand Hotel

Cast: Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Lionel Barrymore, John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, and Lewis Stone.

Groupthink: There’s classical old Hollywood casting right here. MGM pulled out all the stops in ’32. Edmund Goulding’s Best Picture winner, Grand Hotel, brought out the stars for his hot mess hotel drama set in Berlin as people’s curious lives and stories become entangled. There’s Greta Garbo, going full vampy seductress as a Russian ballerina in one room (she just vants to be alone!). In the other room, Joan Crawford is Wallace Beery’s stenographer who dreams of being an actress. And there are not one, but two whole Barrymores in this hotel, fussin’ and feudin’ for their own stories. Grand Hotel is a certain special vintage, it’s charismatic and colorful despite the black-and-white framing, and the film’s arguably one of the earliest examples of a film being better remembered for its cast than its content. –Blake Goble

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04. Boogie Nights (1997)

boogie nights The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, Ricky Jay, Robert Ridgely, Luis Guzmán, Nina Hartley, Melora Walters, and Alfred Molina

Groupthink: Paul Thomas Anderson’s films are almost all about family and fathers, but it’s only his early films (and perhaps his latest, Inherent Vice) that really embrace the kind of ensemble cast that lends itself to themes of created familial units. Where his other big ensemble film, Magnolia, emphasizes spiritual connections among the disparate and lonely, Boogie Nights brings its motley crew of social misfits together early on, then shows how much they flail when separated. The film never feels more vibrant than it does when we see Dirk bonding or creating with the likes of Julianne Moore’s lonely Amber, John C. Reilly’s vivacious Reed Rothchild, or Philip Seymour Hoffman’s closeted Scotty J, who just might be the standout character among so many colorful personalities. The ‘70s San Fernando porn industry lends itself to both light and darkness, and Anderson does a fine job of filling his world with a diverse range of performers, schemers, addicts, and corrupters that he never judges. As such, even the film’s most dastardly characters – Robert Ridgely’s Colonel or Thomas Jane’s Todd Parker – feel part of the larger unit, which is too pure of a thing to stay uncorrupted for long. –Randall Colburn

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03. 12 Angry Men (1957)

12 angry men The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: Martin Balsam, Ed Begley, Edward Binns, Lee J. Cobb, John Fiedler, Henry Fonda, Jack Klugman, E.G. Marshall, Joseph Sweeney, George Voskovec, Jack Warden, and Robert Webber

Groupthink: Special effects, visual gags, and other bits of cinematic trickery have no place in the universe of 12 Angry Men, a 1957 courthouse drama adapted from a teleplay of the same name. The actors — er, jurors — carry the day here, and the film owes every last shred of its tension and intensity to them. Martin Balsam presides over the backroom drama as the jury foreman, but as the first juror to vote “not guilty,” Henry Fonda is the film’s hero and conscience. –Collin Brennan

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02. It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

mad mad mad world The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: *deep breath* Spencer Tracy, Jonathan Winters, Edie Adams, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Dorothy Provine, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas, Jim Backus, Jimmy Durante, Peter Falk, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Paul Ford, and a cameo list a mile long, including but not limited to *another deep breath* Carl Reiner, Andy Devine, Buster Keaton, Jack Benny, Don Knotts, Jerry Lewis, Zasu Pitts, Norman Fell, and the 1960’s version of The Three Stooges with “Curly” Joe De Rita.

Groupthink: Wouldya look at the size of this cast?! It’s enormous, looney, why some might even call putting this many jokesters together … mad. Stanley Kramer’s epic masterpiece of oversized farce has endured in very large part because of its girth in casting. It’s the whole ham and bone. There’s always more, more, more, more here. Stanley Kramer finds the top, goes over it, then sets it ablaze before findings dozens of other tops. One minute you have Buddy Hackett and Mickey Rooney freaking out over a drunken Mr. Howl flying a plane; the next Ethel Merman is terrorizing Milton Berle as he should have been. In one scene, Sid Caesar is getting electrocuted in a hardware store basement; the next Jonathan Winters is tearing down a gas station all by himself. Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is a parade of stars in the supreme circus of comedy. It is one of the most lasting pieces of film humor defined by its excessive cast, and everybody gets a great moment. –Blake Goble

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01. Nashville (1975)

nashville film The 27 Best Film Ensembles: From Boogie Nights to Spring Breakers

Cast: David Arkin, Barbara Baxley, Ned Beatty, Karen Black, Ronee Blakley, Timothy Brown, Keith Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, Robert DoQui, Shelley Duvall, Allen Garfield, Henry Gibson, Scott Glenn, Jeff Goldblum, Barbara Harris, David Hayward, Michael Murphy, Allan F. Nicholls, Dave Peel, Cristina Raines, Bert Remsen, Lily Tomlin, Gwen Welles, and Keenan Wynn

Groupthink: In anyone else’s hands, Nashville might have proven to be a mess of impressive proportions. After all, this is a film with 24 distinct characters and a sticky web of storylines that weave and overlap as they work their way toward the climactic campaign rally of Replacement Party candidate Hal Phillip Walker. Only five years removed from his other landmark ensemble satire — 1970’s M*A*S*H — Robert Altman had the poise and the vision to bring this country-music epic to vivid life. Of course, he was helped by a knockout cast featuring Altman regular David Arkin, Lily Tomlin, Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall, and — oh, look! — a twentysomething Jeff Goldblum on a tricycle. This is the rare example of a film that benefits from its excess of actors and ambition. –Collin Brennan

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