Tom Hanks may have been the biggest star on the planet when he starred in Saving Private Ryan, but Steven Spielberg’s masterful war drama does not rest solely on Hanks’ shoulders. The two-time Oscar winner was only one part of the eight-man team that embarked on the mission to save James Francis Ryan – and they all gave the performance of a lifetime.
Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, and Jeremy Davies made up the group of soldiers, with each bringing a unique personality trait to make the team interesting to watch. Mellish and Caparzo felt like they were lifelong friends thanks to the comradery between Goldberg and Diesel. Sizemore made Sgt. Horvath a tough-as-nails leader – the perfect second-in-command for the rock that was Hanks’ Cpt. Miller. Burns’ Reiben wasn’t afraid to ask the tough questions that lived in the back of our minds and Davies provided a gateway for viewers to experience the unspeakable horrors of war through the eyes of an inexperienced, afraid corporal. All of the main characters had something about them that was relatable, making it easy for the audience to care about all of them.
Matt Damon – who played the titular Ryan – also deserves his fair share of praise. While he doesn’t show up until the final third of the movie, his character is arguably the most important one. The audience had to feel that Ryan was worth saving; that he deserved to go home. Through stories of girls falling off the ugly tree to his admirable decision to stay and fight, Damon’s Ryan was a morally sound everyman and viewers were able to see themselves as the private. Hanks was the only one to get an Oscar nomination, but the entire ensemble was award-worthy.
The first two films in the Alien franchise are considered to be all-time classics in the sci-fi genre. Both feature killer ensembles, but we’re giving James Cameron’s 1986 sequel the edge due to the entertaining addition of the space marines, which helped differentiate Aliens from the original by giving the movie an action vibe that contrasted with the slow-burn horror of Alien.
Similar to Saving Private Ryan, the actors portraying the marines gave each character a unique trait that made them all memorable. Michael Biehn’s Hicks was the fearless leader who was always in control. Hudson, portrayed by Bill Paxton, provided the film with a source of comic relief (“Game over, man! Game over!”) and also tapped into our basic fears of being hunted by the aliens. Other characters like Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) and Drake (Mark Rolston) went on to become favorites by being the hard-nosed, courageous heroes we all aspire to be. Even the non-marine members of the group stood out, as Paul Reiser’s Burke gave the movie a slimy human villain and Lance Henricksen’s Bishop changed our perception of androids by being a good-natured ally.
Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley needs no introduction at this point. The actress was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her performance, in which she combined feelings of frustration, fear, bravery, and love to craft one of cinema’s greatest female heroes. Carrie Henn, who played Newt, also did a fine job. Never seeming out of place in the movie’s setting, Newt’s relationship with Ripley provided Aliens with much-needed heart and soul.
Star Trek (2009)
The original Star Trek crew that starred William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and company is a famous ensemble in its own right, as they were the ones who originally gave us iconic characters like Captain Kirk and Spock. However, the cast that JJ Abrams assembled for his reboot of the property had a monumental challenge ahead of them, being asked to refresh the franchise while honoring what came before. For that reason, the new Enterprise crew makes our list.
Under the intense scrutiny of die-hard fans and casual moviegoers alike, the potential for the movie to have actors doing impressions of the original cast was very high. However, when the film was released, it became clear that Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and the others had made the characters their own. Whether it was Pine nailing the brash bravado that Kirk is known for, or fan-favorite Karl Urban mastering the cantankerous humor necessary to portray Bones, the casting was one of the strongest aspects of the hit film. Most importantly, they were all able to honor the spirit of The Original Series and never looked out of place.
The movie is by and large a showcase for the younger Enterprise crew, but Eric Bana also deserves to be mentioned for his performance as Nero. While the villain is universally accepted as one of the movie’s shortcomings, Bana was able to make the most of the underutilized character, giving audiences a sympathetic (but also threatening) enemy that was easy to understand. Because of the brilliant casting decisions, Abrams was able to introduce a new generation to Star Trek and gave Paramount a go-to tentpole franchise.