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10 best IMAX movies ever, ranked

Bank Heist (Joker) | The Dark Knight [IMAX]

Not too long ago, IMAX movies were seemingly reserved for documentary and nature films at museums and science centers with giant dome movie screens that dwarfed anything available in local theaters. But in the last two decades, filmmakers have gravitated towards using IMAX cameras for even greater images, while moviegoers have shifted to watching mainstream releases in IMAX theaters around the world.

Last month, Dune: Part Two hit theaters, and the critical consensus of the sequel is that it’s best enjoyed on the biggest screens possible. Before you make plans to see the hit sci-fi sequel in IMAX for the second or fifth time, we’re taking a look back at the 10 best IMAX movies ever.

10: Tron: Legacy (2010)

 Olivia Wilde and Garrett Hedlund in Tron: Legacy.
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Unlike many of the films on this list, Tron: Legacy was not filmed with IMAX cameras. But it was converted into an IMAX release, and the visuals of the Grid really lend themselves well to the larger format. Despite the disappointing box office returns of Legacy, director Joseph Kosinski established himself as a top filmmaker. His experience with this movie surely helped guide him on his later films, including Oblivion and Top Gun: Maverick.

Legacy is a sequel to the original Tron from 1982. Garrett Hedlund plays Sam Flynn, the son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who disappeared into the Grid decades earlier. After unexpectedly following his father into the living computer world that he created, Sam encounters Quorra (Olivia Wilde, director of Don’t Worry Darling), a sentient isomorphic algorithm. Sam also discovers that Clu (Bridges), an evil duplicate of his father, has taken over the Grid and transformed it in his image.

Watch Tron: Legacy on Disney+.

9. Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

Jake Sully in "Avatar: The Way of Water."
20th Century Studios / 20th Century Studios

The original Avatar was shown in IMAX during its initial 2009 release, but James Cameron went several steps further with the sequel. Avatar: The Way of Water was filmed entirely with IMAX cameras. That made a huge difference when creating a larger canvas for the visuals of Pandora and the expanded scope of the story. One of the reasons why The Way of Water earned $2.320 billion worldwide is that audiences flocked to see it in both IMAX and 3D.

Avatar: The Way of Water picks up a few years after the original, as Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) start a family, including their adoptive daughter, Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), who is more than an ordinary Na’vi or an avatar. When humanity reinvades Pandora, Jake discovers that the armed forces are led by an avatar clone of his old nemesis, Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang). To protect his family, Jake relocates them from the forest and joins a water tribe of Na’vi.

Watch Avatar: The Way of Water on Disney+.

8. Dunkirk (2017)

A scene from Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk.
Warner Bros. Pictures

You’re going to see Christopher Nolan‘s name come up a lot on this list, and that’s because few filmmakers have so thoroughly embraced IMAX as he has. Nolan’s World War II epic, Dunkirk, was filmed almost entirely in IMAX. In addition to using IMAX cameras to film vintage aircraft and boats, Nolan was also the first theatrical director to utilize handheld IMAX cameras in a mainstream movie.

Dunkirk is based on the true story of what could have been the premature end of World War II. After British and French forces lost the Battle of France, they were pinned down on the shores of Dunkirk by the enemy. It took an extraordinary effort, including British civilian ships, to rescue the troops and allow them to fight another day.

Watch Dunkirk on Peacock.

7. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Black Panther, Captain America, and Black Widow from Avengers: Infinity War.
Marvel Studios

Almost every superhero movie gets an IMAX release, but Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel, Avengers: Endgame, have the distinction of being the first major studio movies to be entirely filmed with IMAX digital cameras. Anthony and Joe Russo not only had a larger canvas to fill the screen, they also had the narrative momentum of almost every previous Marvel Studios film to date leading to this crossover event.

Several parts of this movie seem like they were designed to make the audience cheer, especially when Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and the Guardians of the Galaxy show up. But this story belongs to Thanos (Josh Brolin), and his triumph gave the film a truly shocking cliffhanger.

Watch Avengers: Infinity War on Disney+.

6: Gravity (2013)

Sandra Bullock floating in space in Gravity.
Warner Bros. Pictures

Alfonso Cuarón won an Oscar for Best Director, thanks in no small part to his brilliantly executed use of the IMAX format. Sandra Bullock isn’t actually floating above the Earth during this movie, but Cuarón specifically decided to film Gravity like a documentary so that audiences could buy the illusion of space.

Bullock spends most of the movie onscreen by herself because her character, Ryan Stone, is the only survivor after her space shuttle is destroyed in orbit. And without that ship, Ryan’s chances of survival or rescue are slim to none.

Watch Gravity on Netflix.

5. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Jeremy Renner and Robert Downey Jr. in Avengers: Endgame.
Marvel Studios

How do you top the sheer spectacle of Avengers: Infinity War? For Avengers: Endgame, the Russo brothers started small as the team was forced to deal with their devastating defeat in the previous film. They also had to dwell on their personal losses as well. With three hours of screen time to play with, there was enough room for those character beats before the Avengers literally dived back into their earlier films for a time heist.

Both Infinity War and Endgame are available to stream on Disney+ in the IMAX ratio. The two films are pretty close in terms of quality, but Endgame gets the edge with its more crowd-pleasing moments and an epic battle between an army of Avengers and Thanos’ forces.

Watch Avengers: Endgame on Disney+.

4. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

The cast of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.
Paramount Pictures

The Mission: Impossible movies have been so successful that it’s easy to forget that the franchise was essentially done after Mission: Impossible III in 2006. It took another five years before The Incredibles director Brad Bird made his live-action directorial debut with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. That film revitalized the franchise. And for his first time in the big chair, Bird insisted on using IMAX cameras for key parts of the movie, including a sequence where Tom Cruise climbs the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, on location in Dubai.

Ghost Protocol finds Cruise’s Ethan Hunt in hot water with both the American government and the Russians after he’s blamed for a terrorist attack in Moscow. That’s why Ethan and his entire IMF team, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), and Jane Carter (Paula Patton), have to go rogue to clear their names and save the day.

Watch Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol on Paramount+.

3. The Dark Knight (2008)

Batman standing among wreckage in The Dark Knight
Warner Bros., 2008 / Warner Bros. Pictures

Nolan’s IMAX journey began in The Dark Knight, which was also the first big Hollywood production to utilize IMAX cameras. Only a few of the film’s sequences were filmed in IMAX, including the opening bank robbery and the thrilling detour to Hong Kong which proved that “Batman has no jurisdiction.” He goes where he wants to go.

The third film, The Dark Knight Rises, featured more IMAX camera work than The Dark Knight. But The Dark Knight earns its place on this list for being one of the all-time great superhero movies, if not the greatest. Batman (Christian Bale) finally met his match in The Joker (Heath Ledger), and the bar was set high for all future cinematic trips to Gotham City.

Watch The Dark Knight on Max.

2. Interstellar (2014)

Matthew McConaughey as Cooper in his astronaut suit looking to the distance in Interstellar.
Paramount Pictures

Nolan significantly ramped up his use of IMAX cameras for Interstellar, his first real venture into science fiction. Space has rarely seemed larger than in this movie or more foreboding. Additionally, Nolan’s preference for practical effects and sets made both the space shuttle interiors and exterior planet shots seem more real.

Matthew McConaughey plays Joseph Cooper, a former NASA pilot who is recruited to join Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) and others on a long-term mission in space to find a new home for humanity before Earth becomes unlivable. The price for that journey is that Cooper misses the lives of his children, including his now adult daughter, Murph (Jessica Chastain), who in turn has to figure out a way to get humanity off-world. Late in this film, there’s a sequence where Cooper’s emotional turmoil is joined with spectacular visuals as the solution presents itself.

Watch Interstellar on Paramount+.

1. Oppenheimer (2023)

Cillian Murphy stares through a small window at an atomic blast, his face illuminated by light.
Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer Universal Pictures

It wasn’t a surprise that Oppenheimer won the Oscar for Best Picture as it was a critical hit and a surprising success at the box office, the latter was driven by the collective need to see it in IMAX. Nolan’s latest film once again extensively uses IMAX cameras. Unlike The Dark Knight, Dunkirk, or Interstellar, the story isn’t driven by action or effects. Instead, it’s about the race to build the atomic bomb, as well as more intimate dramatic scenes like senate confirmation and security hearings that don’t often make for riveting viewing. In this film, they are.

Nolan used black-and-white IMAX film during a few sequences in Oppenheimer, which doesn’t unfold in a typically linear fashion. Instead, the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) is shown before, during, and after his part in The Manhattan Project, as well as flash forwards to a disastrous security hearing that was meant to destroy his reputation. Meanwhile, a separate part of the narrative belongs to Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.) as he pays the price for his efforts to strike back at Oppenheimer. It’s a fantastic movie from start to finish and also the pinnacle of IMAX filmmaking to date.

Watch Oppenheimer on Peacock.

Editors' Recommendations

Blair Marnell
Blair Marnell has been an entertainment journalist for over 15 years. His bylines have appeared in Wizard Magazine, Geek…
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