This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. Learn more

31 great films you can’t leave 2016 without seeing

Our pick of the year's finest on-screen action

31 great films you can’t leave 2016 without seeing

Your eyes. Are they heading into 2017 square enough?

If you’ve answered with a panicked “no!” then you’ve clearly had far better things to do over the past twelve months than slob-out in front of a screen. No, honestly, it’s fine pal. Well done for not being a lazy bastard. Well done for enjoying the ‘great’ outdoors with your running and your jumping and your frolicking. Well done for letting the release of some absolutely essential movie bangers pass you by.

Luckily for you, old Ray Mears over there, we’ve boiled down all the movies of the year to just the 31 real gotta-see-its. The must-watches. The do-not-let-the-year-end-without-seeing-thems. Just the good ones.

So tear the remaining pages from your 2016 diary. Screw ‘em up. Toss them over your shoulder. This is what the final days of your year should consist of…

1. Hell or High Water

Took you a while to get around to watching Sicario, didn’t it? And damn were you pleased when you finally settled in to indulge in all its nail-gnawing (and grusome) War On Drugs tension. Do yourself a favour: don’t leave this one – a western heist thriller penned by the same killing-it-right-now scriptwriter – as long. It follows two bros as they raise some serious dollar through less than legitimate means. And here’s a big friendly Heads Up for you: you’re not even ready for the level of emotional investment you’re about to sacrifice to it. – Chris Sayer, contributing writer

Released: 9 September

2. The Revenant

Like Sir David Attenborough, Leo’s character in The Revenant loves nature, knows nature, and simply refuses to fucking die. Despite being gored by a bear, left for dead by his campmates, and pretty much having to crawl through the snow all the way home with his guts leaking out, he just will not stop. The film itself is relentless, beautiful, and full of “JUST DIE ALREADY!” moments but as far as bravura film-making goes, this is it: masterfully shot and acted, DiCaprio deserved an Oscar for this one. – Sam Diss, senior writer

Released: 15 January 

3. The Jungle Book

If we’re being honest, really honest with ourselves now, we didn’t need our childhood Disney favourite to be given the modern update treatment. Nobody needed it. But it did give the world Christopher Walken singing, swinging and dancing to ‘I Wanna Be Like You’as a giant King Louie, so, y’know, it’s obviously one of the most important events of 2016. – CS

Released: 15 April

4. Green Room

They had us at ‘Patrick Stewart as a neo-Nazi skinhead’. Everything else - the all-out ultra-violence, the palpable claustrophobia, the inescapable feeling of doom for the young punk band trapped in Stewart’s bar after witnessing something they really shouldn’t have – was just the icing on the big, gory horror cake. – CS

Released: 13 May

5. Paterson

I love this film, but there’s no way of describing of it without making it sound wank and me a wanker. It’s about a poet and it features poetry, and there’s barely any plot at all, but trust me, it’s great. It’s my film of the year, and I’m not just saying that to be esoteric, but at the same time, if you’re impressed that I’ve picked a film about the worst artform where nothing much really happens at all, then thank you, and I’ll take it. It also stars Adam Driver as a bus driver. – Tristan Cross, staff writer

Released: 25 November

6. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Ricky: a young, doughy, rule-breaking, rock-throwing, spit-spitting “bad egg” foster kid. Hector: an aging, craggy, forest-dwelling, boar-slaying, perpetually irritated outdoorsman. Two of them, together, on the run, in the wilderness of New Zealand, and sparking a national manhunt. Couple that with Taika Waititi taking up the director seat, and you’re on a springboard teeting above a pool of comedy, action, adventure and jeopardy. Dive in, pal. The water’s real heart-warming. – CS

Released: 16 September

7. Captain America: Civil War

Also known as: That Big Giant Superhero Kick’n’Punch. – CS

Released: 26 April

8. Bone Tomahawk

For the love of God don’t watch this on a Saturday morning. Don’t wake up, realise you’re not required to leave the house until early afternoon so open your laptop, hit play on this, and suffer the same mental haunting I did. On a hangover I sat through the most upsettingly gruesome scene I’ve seen this year. Or ever. Probably ever. The gentle early morning is no time for those harrowing ninety seconds – the most literal of spikes right to the ribs of this epic western, about a group of Wild West gunslingers (including Kurt Russell and a moustache with a wingspan of an albatross) seeking to claw back a kidnapped damsel from a bunch of shrieking cave-dwelling mutants. Worth the years of psychological damage though, for sure. – CS

Released: 19 February

9. Sing Street

This is everything you imagined would happen when you picked up a guitar as a romantic 12-year-old; hoping, praying, that a weak-ish sing-songy voice and some okay strumming would be your ticket to first-time face kisses with the girl that sat behind you in maths class. Although, your tale ended in schoolwide embarrassment and turbo wedgies from James Whitley soundtracked with grunts by his jug-headed playground cronies, ‘Cosmo’ and his band end up far better off in this indie hit. – CS

Released: 20 May

10. Finding Dory

Yeah, it’s a carbon copy of the one with the little orange fish rocking the dicky flipper. The one that melted your cold steel heart and made you want to give your Old Man a big manly hug. But this new one’s upper-tier Pixar: reason enough to cough up 100 minutes of your post-roast Sunday sofa coma for it. – CS

Released: 29 July

11. The Clan

We’ve come an awful long way since Madonna butchered her way through EvitaIn the last few years Argentina has been associated with some truly hard-hitting drama: 2009's Oscar-winning The Secret in Their Eyes; Vulture, featuring a career-best turn from Ricardo Darin as the ambulance-chasing lawyer; Damián Szifron’s Wild Tales of last year; and this year we got The Clan. Based on the horrifying real life story of the Puccio family, whose members, led by patriarch Arquímedes, kidnapped and murdered wealthy Argentines for ransom in the early eighties, it’s got all the swagger of a Scorsese movie but the subtitles mean you get to feel dead cultural while you watch it. - Joe Ellison, online editor

Released: 16 September

12. Sausage Party

The ‘get a few tinnies and American Hots and stay in with the boys on a Friday night because how is payday still three weeks away’ film of the year. – CS

Released: 2 September

13. Anomalisa

Do you like depressing stop-mo movies about a sad sack writer having an incredibly gentle affair with a shy woman with a scar on a business trip in an especially bland hotel? Do you like unnervingly long and sincere cunnilingus scenes where two mopey pieces of clay get ready to fuck? Do you like Charlie Kaufman: spinner of minds, merchant of melancholia, writer of films to make you laugh-then-cry? Yes to all of those? Oh boy, is this right up your alley. – SD

Released: 11 March

14. Ouija: Origin of Evil

“Something is wrong with Doris!” says Doris’s sister in the trailer. Yeah, no kidding. Doris’s eyes are rolling back inside her head. Doris is writing stuff in Polish. Doris is chatting hot bollocks to the spirit world and crawling along walls. Doris has had her jammy little fingers all up in the Ouija board, hasn’t she? A prequel that’s waaay better than its predecessor, come on in and watch Doris get turbo creepy. – CS

Released: 1 October

15. The Handmaiden

How much Korean cinema inspired by Victorian crime literature did you suck up this year? Loads, probably. Hopefully this one featured – a transposition of a ye olde British detective novel onto 1930s-colonoial Korea and Japan by Chan-wook Park (he of Oldboy and Stoker director fame) resulting in a heavy whack of gothic erotica, gruesome horror, and stately home criminality. Or, fodder for some real Monday morning watercooler boasting. – CS

Released: 17 February

16. The Lobster

While it’s essentially two films - one markedly better than the other - the first half of divisive dramedy The Lobster is proper smack-in-the-chops cinema. It asks a question we’ve all asked - what animal would you like to be reincarnated as? - and spins it into a terrifying premise: either you find a soulmate or are doomed to devolution. Colin Farrell’s rarely been better and the laughs come thick and dark, slowly burning into a muddled conclusion that just about satisfies. But that first half… *kisses fingers like a fat Italian chef in a movie about fat Italian chefs who just make meatballs all day with CGI trolls or something* fantastico. – SD

Released: 16 October

17. Nocturnal Animals

Everyone wants to hate smug, suave, possible-sociopath polymath Tom Ford and for his films to be total dogshit, but Nocturnal Animals – his follow-up to the handsome, acclaimed A Single Man – part-psychological drama and part pulpy-thriller about a former lover who sends his ex a gripping novel to punish her was actually, infuriatingly, really excellent. – CS

Released: 4 November

18. The Hateful Eight

“It’s not Tarantino’s finest!” the snobs snorted. “It’s pretty much one big bloodbath with nothing else to really get your teeth sunk into!” they spat. And they were right. But there are too many redeeming factors in this wintry western to write it off – front and centre being Jennifer Jason Leigh’s twisted Daisy. And the gloriously juicy whodunnit bit over the poisoned coffee. And Kurt Russell’s gargantuan moustache again. And the part where every male viewer had to check his testicles were still in one piece and attached after that shot to the groin scene. And Bruce Dern’s outragousness. And Walter Goggins’ literally-the-most-made-for-westerns face ever. So yeah, all of that. Just watch it for all of that. – CS

Released: 8 January

19. Deadpool

I really didn’t want to see this. I knew I’d hate it. Knew it’d be just like all the other comic book films that I complain about without seeing because I don’t have to see them to complain about them. I’d already made some really unconvincing excuses as to why I couldn’t cough up £18 to go to the cinema and watch this with mates. And I’m an idiot because when the time finally came to resist no more, I loved every second: I laughed my little naysayer knackers off. I dreamed that in some alternate universe I’d just pulled up a barstool next to Ryan Reynolds and became best friends with him and we got matching tattoos and motorbikes and learned a secret handshake that only we knew and nobody else. All because I’m an idiot. – CS

Released: 10 February

20. Tale of Tales

Just like the fairy tales our big brothers sometimes told us when we couldn’t sleep – y’know, the ones with the faraway castles, kings on horseback, brave heroes, queens gorging on platefuls of bloody guts, dwarves spooning giant flea things, old lady sex and other dark and outlandishly bizarre stuff we had to bravely endure without yelling for Mum because if we did or started crying we were getting a dead arm for being such a big baby. – CS

Released: 17 June

21. American Honey

All hazy and sticky and sepia-toned, this crime-splattered, sun-kissed road trip movie is blinding enough to help you forget, for just a few hours, all about Shia LaBeouf’s cinema-sitting, paper bag-wearing, Just Do It-screaming shithouse antics and remember that he’s got the chutzpah to be a legitimately fantastic actor, too. – CS

Released: 14 October

22. Arrival

Pretend, if you will, that you’re an alien exploring this vapid galaxy when you happen upon Earth. Keen to check out the vantage points of this tiny bright blue rock, you fly down only to find it has no actual supreme emperor or overlord – just angry folk on different land masses shaking their fists at one another. What a bunch of jokers we are, and how nice of director Denis Villeneuve to flatly point it out. Arrival sees mankind sent into a flux when aliens land on earth and soon Amy Adams’ languages prof is drafted in by US bods to make first contact. Aside from holding a magnifying glass to mankind’s flaws, the film – quiet, eerie, wonderfully shot – also spins conventional storytelling on its head, but to say anymore would be telling... A notch above even the most cerebral sci-fi, it makes Inception look like ET. – JE

Released: 10 November

23. Doctor Strange

Boneysticks Clumbersnatch cartwheels into the Marvel universe to meet every other actor ever as a disgraced surgeon who retrains as a powerful sorcerer. He has, however, got quite an odd fringe situation going on and that attempt at fake facial hair is straight out the Smiffy’s packet, but the rest is marvelous. A refreshing bar-raiser for the superhero genre, with some seriously pretty and damn trippy CGI throughout. – CS

Released: 25 October

24. Don’t Breathe

With a premise this exciting – thieves break into a blind man’s home to rob him, only to find themselves trapped with said blind man, who is utterly badass with his heightened senses and gigantic arms – the only thing that could’ve let it down would’ve been the guys playing around with the directorial controls. Luckily, that place was filled by the creators of Evil Dead, so, yeah, no issues there. Strap in for 88 mins of utterly relentless terror and look over your shoulder for evil white-stick-wielding lads forevermore. – CS

Released: 9 September

25. The Nice Guys

Listen, poindexter: you don't need a PHD in biological science from Hollywood Hunk University to know Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe have chemistry. With the pair able to crack wise and skulls in equal measure, that’s a given. But even we weren’t prepared for the levels of bromance they’d share in The Nice Guys, the seventies throwback crime caper directed by Shane Black (of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and reinventing Robert Downey Jr. fame). Joining forces, Gosling's endearingly squeamish PI and Crowe's fist-happy enforcer quickly become each other’s destructive yin and yang, getting way over their heads in a Chinatown-lite conspiracy which you probably won’t remember, but you will enjoy the plentiful shooting, explosions, gags, and nice facial hair. – JE

Released: 3 June

26. The BFG

We get the feeling Rylance and Spielberg could do literally anything together, and it’d turn out to be brilliant. They’d open a restaurant that’d have Jay Rayner tearfully applauding over his coq au vin. They’d create a Christmas number one together that’d be so magical old Cliff Richard would hang up his sparkly tux in all-out resignation. They’d brew a beer together that not only makes you think you’re a better singer, dancer, chatter-upper and all-round handsomer coolboy, but actually make you all those things like actually in real life. Same with this. The story we all know, reeking of quality. Stinkin’ of the stuff. – CS

Released: 22 July

27. The Neon Demon

You’ve got to see a movie that triggered disgusted mid-film cinema walkouts, incited booing, and angry yelling at Cannes, and still revelled in five-star reviews from the likes of Little White Lies. This highly stylised and horrific tale from within the LA modelling industry had me sick and disorientated in places, shell-shocked and squirming in others, and laughing aloud that director Nicholas Winding Refn would even dare to stoop to the levels of depravity and undiluted grossness that he did. And I’ve been raving about it ever since. – CS

Released: 8 July

28. 10 Cloverfield Lane

You know when you wake up from a horrific car crash to find yourself trapped in an underground bunker with two strange men? This is just like that. The always-ace and increasingly-massive John Goodman is one of the men in this instance, and a really mean bastard in parts: proper “No John! No! What’s happened you to John?!” cruel. As for who’s lurking above ground? Well, let’s just say we’d rather stay subterranean and take our chances with The Big Man… – CS

Released: 18 March

29. Room

Be prepared to find yourself staring at the end credits as they roll past, lost in trying to get over what you’ve just watched. You’ve probably been hooked before on hearing those tragic news stories of people being kept in dungeons for years and having children in darkness and danger and thought you’d love this film in a twisted way. But its depiction of the reality of kidnap is so raw and Jacob Trembley is such a cracking little actor that you’ll only be released from the film’s grip at the very end. Then you’ll realise you’ve just watched pure trauma, albeit beautifully done, for almost two hours. It will shake you, you’ll cry, and at some point you’ll think about calling your mum to tell her you love her, which you definitely should do. – Emily Badiozzaman, contributing writer

Released: 15 January

30. I, Daniel Blake

An astonishing achievement, perhaps Loach’s most influential work since Cathy Come Home, which lead to the formation of homeless charity Shelter after it was broadcast in the sixties. I, Daniel Blake lays bare the systemic callousness of the Department for Work and Pensions and the punitive means by which those at the bottom of the ladder are not helped up, but rather pushed off completely, unless they can miraculously complete a series of arbitrary and nonsensical bureaucratic tasks. Devastating and tubthumping in equal measure. – TC

Released: 21 October

31. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

At its core, Rogue One is a story about clinging to hope in dire times and leaning into that hope even when certain doom is on the horizon, and since you will know by now that 2016 has largely been a total shitshow, you might find yourself nodding along and wondering if you, too, could save our doomed planet simply by hijacking some secret documents with friends. – Chris Mandle, features editor at ShortList Magazine (read his full review here).

Released: 15 December