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

Why didn't we round up to 30? One answer: Triple Nine


    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


    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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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