Film lovers enjoy watching a major star carry a film on his/her back, but when directors assemble several talented actors for their cast, it only raises the level of excitement. One of the oldest tricks in Hollywood’s book is to get an ensemble of A-listers to split screen time with one another, and studios use the opportunity to market the film as a must-see event. Of course, there are several instances where throwing a bigger cast up on the screen doesn’t lead to a better film, but some filmmakers have found a way to use an ensemble cast that delivers both commercially and critically.

George Clooney’s newest directorial outing, The Monuments Men, is the latest film to attempt this. Starring Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, and Cate Blanchett (among others), it has received plenty of attention for the impressive collection of actors featured in a World War II film. While there’s some question about the overall quality of the final product (early reviews have been mixed up to this point), there’s no denying that the cast should help make The Monuments Men watchable. With the film hitting theaters this week, we started thinking about our favorite ensemble casts in film.

The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed blockbuster sequel is a Batman movie by name, but the Caped Crusader shares the spotlight with several characters during its run time. After using Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne to carry Batman Begins, Nolan peeled back some of the other layers in Gotham City, giving supporting characters like the Joker and Harvey Dent a chance to be co-leads in this gritty crime tale. The trilogy as a whole was impeccably cast, but we’re singling out the middle chapter because it – more than the other two installments – was dependent on all the actors involved.

The late Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his turn as the Joker, and he unquestioningly gave audiences one of the most chilling and terrifying villains in recent memory. His greatness overshadowed the career-best work done by Aaron Eckhart, who underwent a Shakespearean arc – living long enough to see him go from idealistic hero to psychopathic villain. The actor used his qualities to make Dent a charismatic politician in the mold of JFK and convincingly went dark when he transformed into the grief-stricken Two-Face. The Joker (rightfully so) received much of the publicity, but both of Batman’s rogues were essential to the story.

Franchise staples including Bale, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman were also as reliable as ever. Bale used his chameleon-like method acting to transform into a determined hero, while using his humanistic side to fill out Wayne’s character (see: the scene where he mourns the loss of Rachel). Freeman and Caine provided much-needed moments of levity, and the latter rounded Alfred into something more than just a side character. Maggie Gyllenhaal – who took over for Katie Holmes – slid into the role of Rachel Dawes, improving upon the version in the first film (at least, in this writer’s opinion) by portraying the assistant D.A. as a confident, proactive professional. We’d be remiss to not mention Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, who infused Gotham’s honest cop with a strong sense of moral righteousness.

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