15 Movies You Can’t Help But Watch On TV Whenever They’re On

15 Movies You Can’t Help But Watch On TV Whenever They’re On

Summary

  • Movies selected for TV need to be fun from the beginning and easily enjoyed in small chunks.
  • The best movies for TV have a dedicated cast and gripping action that keeps audiences engaged.
  • Cable TV frequently plays old favorites like “Jurassic Park” and “Home Alone” that have broad appeal and memorable moments.


TV channels tend to select the movies that they play from the same handful of old favorites, and some of them are great for multiple rewatches. Since the advent of streaming services, people have been watching movies on cable TV much less often, so the specific art of selecting movies for TV has waned. Not every great movie can succeed on TV, but when the right movie is on at the right time, people will drop everything they are doing to watch it.

Due to the nature of cable TV, the movies selected have to be fun from the very beginning. People are less likely to watch something that is overly long or something that deals with heavy themes on a whim. Viewers also need to be able to jump in and out of these movies at any time. Complex, cerebral plots are no good if people miss the first 20 minutes. The ideal movies for watching on TV can be viewed in small chunks and still be enjoyable, and the best ones will make people stop what they are doing until the end.


15 Point Break (1991)

An unorthodox heist thriller

15 Movies You Can’t Help But Watch On TV Whenever They’re On

Point Break tells the story of Johnny Utah, a former college football star working for the FBI who infiltrates a gang of surfers who have become prolific bank robbers. It should be a rather silly movie, and it is in some ways, but its pulsating action grips its audience and doesn’t let go. Selling the premise requires a dedicated cast on top form, and Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze and Gary Busey do not disappoint. It has become a cliché to say so, but nobody makes movies like Point Break anymore.

14 Grease (1978)

Uplifting retro musical

Sandy and Danny dancing at the school dance in Grease

Musicals are one of the best genres of movies to dip in and out of, because each song can be appreciated on its own without any context needed. The premise of Grease is relatively simple, so there’s even more room for retro charm and exuberant musical numbers. The story revolves around Danny and Sandy, two high school kids whose summer fling turns into something more, but there are plenty of fun adventures on the side, like Danny’s race in Greased Lightning and a frenzied hand jive contest.

13 Airplane! (1980)

A riotous comedy with a broad repertoire

Leslie Nielsen and Robert Hays with the autopilot in Airplane!

Audiences can drop into Grease at any time and be entertained by the music, and Airplane‘s rapid-fire jokes give it the same quality. The script packs an astonishing number of brilliant one-liners into less than 90 minutes, many of which could be transplanted into any movie and still be just as funny out of context. It’s a great parody of overblown disaster movies, and Leslie Nielsen is outstanding as the super-serious doctor on board the plane. Airplane can use sight gags, wordplay, slapstick, and much more to get a laugh, and its ratio of hits to misses is incredible.

12 Jurassic Park (1993)

Child-friendly horror and wondrous effects

Although it spawned a billion-dollar franchise, the original Jurassic Park remains the best dinosaur movie of all. The use of both computer-generated and practical effects to fill the park with dinosaurs gifts the movie both a grand scale and a hefty realism. Above all, what Jurassic Park does better than any of its sequels is that it establishes who the characters are early on, and forces them to make difficult decisions which reveal their deepest selves. It’s part horror, part sci-fi, and part action, but everything revolves around the characters.

11 Hot Fuzz (2007)

Cop comedy with a small town twist

Hot Fuzz Sergeant Angel and Danny chasing a swan on a field

After Shaun of the Dead parodied the horror genre, Edgar Wright’s Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy moved onto action thrillers with Hot Fuzz. Rather than following the typical buddy cop formula, Hot Fuzz features just one all-action badass, and it partners him with an inept oaf working small cases in a small town. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are both masters of physical comedy, but Edgar Wright’s camera movements and smash cuts tell a lot of the jokes as well.

10 Jumanji (1995)

A heartwarming story with a child’s sense of play

Alan (Robin Williams) with a scraggly beard and leaf cloak in Jumanji

Although there have been two reboot movies with a completely different cast, it’s the original movie starring Robin Williams which still gets played most often on TV. Instead of being sucked into a video game, the heroes in the original version play a board game, and this is indicative of the retro warmth that permeates the family adventure. Jumanji could easily have been set in a video game, piggybacking off the excitement of new technology, but it chose to mirror the types of games families gather around and play together, and the movie has the same broad appeal.

9 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1987)

Ultra stylish teen rebellion

Cameron, Sloane, and Ferris examining a painting in Ferris Bueller's Day Off

At its core, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a rejection of the societal pressures heaped onto young people. Ferris represents a generation who don’t want to conform to the standards set by their parents, their teachers, or the media. For one glorious day, Ferris and his friends decide to be free, and the consequences can wait until later. As Ferris leads an entire parade in a rendition of “Twist and Shout,” the movie refers back to the 1960s counterculture, suggesting the kids may have more in common with their parents than they think.

8 Mean Girls (2004)

Endlessly quotable teen comedy

Mean Girls is one of the quintessential 2000s teen comedies, with a dynamite script packed full of great one-liners. Regina George and the Plastics may be cast as the antagonists, but their swaggering self-confidence has made them unlikely fashion icons for a whole generation. The protagonist is Cady, played by Lindsay Lohan, who is a perfectly awkward fish-out-of-water in her new school. Her naivety allows Mean Girls to explore the absurd cliques of American high schools from a fresh perspective. The upcoming Mean Girls musical movie has a lot to live up to.

7 Mission: Impossible (1996)

A ticking clock thriller with big stunts

Tom Cruise in the Langley heist in Mission Impossible

Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise has gotten better and better, but the first movie is the one that gets played most frequently on cable TV. While its stunts may pale in comparison to the massive feats attempted by later movies, Mission: Impossible is still a taut spy thriller, brilliantly directed by Brian De Palma. Its Langley heist scene, with Ethan Hunt dropping into the vault on wires, is a miniature masterpiece of high-stakes, sweat-inducing cinema.

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6 Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy (2004)

A plethora of comedic talent turned loose on a risible premise

The cast of Anchorman getting ready to fight

Anchorman is a superb 90-minute comedy movie, endlessly quotable, wonderfully silly, and with one of the funniest fight scenes ever put on film.

Anchorman gives Will Ferrell a great script at the top of his game, but he’s not the only comedy star shining brightly. Steve Carell and Paul Rudd also have some great moments, and Christina Applegate’s performance makes her the perfect foil to the pompous Ron Burgundy. Anchorman is a superb 90-minute comedy movie, endlessly quotable, wonderfully silly, and with one of the funniest fight scenes ever put on film. It’s a satire of the American media, but by targeting small-time celebrities and fragile male egos, its reach extends beyond the newsroom.

5 The Wizard Of Oz (1939)

A timeless fable with heart, courage, and brains

The Scarecrow, Tinman, Dorothy, and Lion looking scared in The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz still gets played on TV, and it still hasn’t lost an ounce of its infectious charm. The colorful fairy tale about a girl swept away to a faraway land is one of the foundational works of American cinema, but to discuss its legacy would ignore its persistent ability to captivate audiences both young and old. It’s the kind of movie that everyone should watch at least once. It has an ethereal, immersive quality to its music and its gorgeous set design, and the characters have become archetypes for decades of children’s favorites.

4 Road House (1989)

Hard-hitting, bottle-smashing action

Dalton (Patrick Swayze) fights In Road House

Road House often tops the chart of the most frequently played movies on cable TV. It features Patrick Swayze as a bouncer at a rough roadside bar in Missouri, and much of the movie’s appeal is simply about watching him take his shirt off and beat the tar out of some troublemakers. Road House is not prestige cinema, but it is a ludicrous carnival of violence, and that is often more fun. The Road House remake, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, could struggle to recapture such chaotic physical comedy.

3 Home Alone (1990)

A childhood fantasy with exquisite slapstick

Every December, cable channels trot out the same beloved Christmas classics, and Home Alone is deserving of its place in the rotation. Home Alone is full of charming quotes, both funny and emotional. It’s a Christmas movie which preaches family values like many others, but this message is wrapped up in some excellent physical comedy, acted out by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. Home Alone can seem like a horror movie to older audiences, but it plays out the childhood fantasy of freedom.

2 The Princess Bride (1987)

A story about storytelling with irresistible warmth

It’s easy to get swept up in the tale of Westley’s heroic quest, forgetting that it’s just a bedtime story, and forgetting that it’s just a movie too.

The Princess Bride feels like a timeless fable, even though it’s based on a book from 1973. The adventure is replete with cozy delights, and the metafictional narrative about a grandfather reading a bedtime story draws attention to the transportive quality of myth. It’s easy to get swept up in the tale of Westley’s heroic quest, forgetting that it’s just a bedtime story, and forgetting that it’s just a movie too. The Princess Bride is also worth watching just for Andre the Giant’s clever self-referential character as a kindhearted colossus.

1 Ghostbusters (1984)

A paranormal adventure for all ages

Ghostbusters is that rare type of movie which can genuinely be enjoyed by both children and adults equally. It’s a story about friendship and triumphing over evil, but it’s mostly about busting ghosts with poppy, 1980s style. Some filmmakers with such a unique concept would create an over-serious paranormal investigation movie, but Ghostbusters instead assembles a brilliant comedy cast and lets loose for a fun adventure. It also has one of the best songs in any movie.

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