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Best movies to second screen

Deciding how much you want to commit to a movie will invariably affect what you actually decide to put on. Challenging foreign or indie movies can be immensely rewarding, but they often require your full attention. The same is true of some larger movies that are incredibly complex — like basically any movie Christopher Nolan has ever made.

Sometimes, though, you know you’re looking for a movie that you can put on while you do some work, scroll through your phone, or play some video games. In those cases, you’re more likely to gravitate toward something that feels familiar, even if it might be new to you. These are the ideal movies for that kind of experience, whether you’re looking for something thrilling or funny to pass the time.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
92 %
Genre Adventure, Fantasy, Action
Stars Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen
Directed by Peter Jackson
If you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings franchise a million times but feel like a rewatch is in order in light of The Rings of Power, turning any of the movies in the original trilogy on in the background is never a bad idea. For fans of the franchise, the beats in all of these movies, and in Fellowship of the Ring in particular, are likely to be deeply familiar. They’re an ideal form of comfort food for any occasion where you’re playing video games, scrolling through your phone, or doing some light work.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Official Trailer #1 - (2001) HD

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Terminator 2: Judgment Day
75 %
Genre Action, Thriller, Science Fiction
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong
Directed by James Cameron
The first Terminator sequel is one of the best sequels ever made, but it’s the clarity of the script and the action that makes this movie ideal for second screening is that, even if you’ve never seen it, you likely know many of the movie’s most crucial moments. Plenty of great action movies from this era are endlessly rewatchable, but Terminator 2 offers us a story about a ragtag band on the run, and gives Arnold Schwarzenegger a chance to show off his range as more than just a monotonic villain.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

Ferris Bueller's Day Off
61 %
Genre Comedy
Stars Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara
Directed by John Hughes
A great movie to second screen is typically built in large part on great sequences, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is no different. The movie, which follows a teenager and his two friends as they go on elaborate adventures instead of going to school, That remarkably simple conceit allows for plenty of fun, but it also gives Ferris’s friend Cameron a chance to learn a valuable lesson about what really matters in life. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is funny and sweet, and it’s an ideal movie to set a good vibe even while you do something else.
FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF | Official Trailer | Paramount Movies

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
63 %
Genre Comedy
Stars Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd
Directed by Adam McKay
The plot of Anchorman really isn’t all that important, which is why it’s such an ideal movie to second screen. If you’re looking for something that you won’t have to pay too much attention to, but will still make you laugh consistently, then you really can’t do much better than Anchorman. Will Ferrell and the rest of the ensemble cast all improvise beautifully here, and almost all of the jokes land, whether you know what’s going on or not. Anchorman is a perfect second-screen experience whether you’ve seen it before or not.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy - Trailer

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Fast Times at Ridgemont High
61 %
Genre Comedy
Stars Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold
Directed by Amy Heckerling
A loose cross-section of stories about the lives of the students at a fictional California high school, Fast Times is an ideal hang out movie. On top of a killer soundtrack, Fast Times also features a slew of young performers who would go on to be major stars. What makes Fast Times so ideal as a second screen experience is that every scene feels like its own story, and while there are some throughlines in the plot, it’s really a teen movie that offers a slice of what the life of a typical high schooler was in the early 1980s.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High Official Trailer #1 - Eric Stoltz Movie (1982) HD

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Shaun of the Dead
76 %
Genre Horror, Comedy
Stars Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield
Directed by Edgar Wright
Almost every one of Edgar Wright’s movies would work for a list like this, but Shaun of the Dead is perhaps the platonic ideal. It’s a zombie movie that feels remarkably linear and is often hilarious. There are certainly plenty of filmmaking flourishes that you might miss if your eyes aren’t glued to the screen, but plenty of the jokes will still land, and Shaun of the Dead will keep you chuckling to yourself whether you’re scrolling through your phone or trying to get some work done.
Shaun of the Dead Official Trailer #1 - Simon Pegg Movie (2004) HD

Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away
96 %
Genre Animation, Family, Fantasy
Stars Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Hayao Miyazaki is one of the greatest filmmakers to ever do it, and if you’re hoping for something both beautiful and meaningful to put on in the background, you can’t do better than Spirited Away. The movie, which follows a young girl who is whisked away to a magical alternate dimension, doesn’t have a hugely logical plot flow. Instead, it’s a series of sequences that are each as astounding as the last, and when combined together, prove to be an overwhelming and emotional experience.
Spirited Away - Official Trailer

Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park
68 %
Genre Adventure, Science Fiction
Stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg can make basically any kind of movie, but Jurassic Park may be his ultimate blockbuster. The movie’s story, which follows a group of scientists and children who wind up having to fend for their lives after they come up against reanimated dinosaurs, is wonderfully paced and as tight as a drum. Few directors are good enough to make something this pure and fun, but Jurassic Park is exactly that. It’s the kind of movie you can turn on no matter what you’re doing, and you’ll find plenty to enjoy.
Jurassic Park (1993) Theatrical Trailer

Elf (2003)

64 %
Genre Comedy, Family, Fantasy
Stars Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart
Directed by Jon Favreau
If you’re looking for something to put on to get into the holiday spirit, then Elf may be your best bet. It’s the kind of movie most people have seen 100 times, but even if you’ve never seen it, the easy comedy and cheerful vibes are almost guaranteed to put you in a good mood. If you’re eagerly awaiting the coming of the holidays, Elf will get you those last few weeks of work, or whatever else you want to do, without commanding too much of your attention.
Elf (2003) Official Trailer #1 - Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel Christmas Movie HD

The Matrix (1999)

The Matrix
73 %
Genre Action, Science Fiction
Stars Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss
Directed by Lilly Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Thanks to the fact that it’s been pretty thoroughly engrained in the popular culture in the more than 20 years since it was released, The Matrix is an ideal background watch. You’re not going to get all the details in every fight sequence, but the broader details of the plot are pretty easy to follow. Even if you feel like you have the whole movie memorized, there are plenty of moments in The Matrix that still thrill. Bullet-time will never not be cool, even if it’s been parodied ad infinitum.
The Matrix (1999) Official Trailer #1 - Sci-Fi Action Movie

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance writer based in upstate New York focused on movies and TV.
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