St Patrick’s Day is a wonderful time of year for drinkers, but for those that aren’t interested in heading down to the packed local bar and making terrible life decisions, maybe a better way to celebrate would be to watch some fantastic Irish movies?
While St. Paddy’s Day is over, you can keep that Irish pride going with these next entries. The following movies must feature Irish central characters, actors, or take place someplace in Ireland for the bulk of the film’s duration. The films can range from sweeping epics to goofy comedies, but they all must contain a strong sense of Irish cinema.
In that sense, here are the 15 Best Movies to Watch on St. Patrick’s Day.
15. Leprechaun (1993)
This 1993 comedy-horror starring a young Jennifer Aniston falls under the category of “so bad that it’s almost good.” When a man returns to the U.S. after stealing a pot of gold from a Leprechaun in Ireland, you know trouble is going to ensue. The Leprechaun follows the man to the States, and after being locked up in the basement for 10 years, the Irish creature, who is more a monster than jolly little fairy, is set free by the house’s new owners. Obviously a little peeved about being locked in a basement for a decade, the Leprechaun starts to kill and wreak havoc in search of his missing gold.
As a horror film, Leprechaun doesn’t really work. Warwick Davis is a commendable actor, and the makeup to make him look like a ghoulish creature from Ireland is spot on, but it’s not at all terrifying. Still, the film gained a notable cult following large enough to spawn various low-budget sequels, one in which the Leprechaun goes into space and two where the creature ventures into the “hood.” Innovative stuff.
14. In Bruges (2008)
One of the darker comedies in recent memory, In Bruges is a crime-drama that keeps the audience involved with crackling dialog and empathetic characters. Hitmen Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are forced to lie low in Bruges after Ray botches their last job. While Ken loves taking in the sights, Ray couldn’t be more bored, which leads him to form a romantic relationship with a woman. Ray starts to get a new appreciation for life, which is unfortunate, as Ken’s next assignment is to kill his partner and friend.
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, In Bruges is charming and disturbing all at the same time. While it technically takes place in Belgium, we’re giving it St. Paddy’s Day points for the hilarious hijinks of Irish leads Farrell and Gleeson. The pair’s chemistry is electric, with Gleeson’s contempt for sightseeing clashing with Farrell’s boredom and fascination with little people. It’s an unconventional pick for St. Patrick’s Day, though one you’re guaranteed to end up enjoying.
13. Once (2007)
Set in Dublin, Once is a touching film about the budding romance between two unnamed musicians. The man is an inspiring singer-songwriter who plays on the Dublin streets at night for money and works at his father’s vacuum repair shop by day. The woman is a pianist who does odd jobs with her family, but longs for something more. The two eventually meet and bond over their musical interests over a spontaneous jam session. They decide to collaborate on writing material and become inspired to create a demo. During this time they begin to form an emotional connection which they express through to one another through their songs.
This romance-turned-Broadway musical is refreshing and honest, filled with great performances and majestic tunes. The songs in the movie are beyond fantastic, and the film even won the 2008 Oscar for best Original Song with. “Falling Slowly.” Once perfectly captures the street life of Dublin and comes highly recommended this St. Patrick’s Day.
12. The Commitments (1991)
This 1991 comedy is witty, clever, and brutally honest concerning egotism and the social dangers it can lead to. Protagonist Jimmy Rabbitte is bored with all of the mundane music acts in Dublin, so he decides to start a band with soul and funk influences. He recruits a group of working class musicians, and with the help of seasoned trumpeter Joey Fagan, the group starts to work their way to the top of Ireland’s music scene. Their high is short lived however, as the various egos in the group threaten to collapse the band from the inside.
The Commitments is a rare movie that is side-splittingly funny at one moment, and then soul-crushingly heartbreaking the next. The various personalities in the band are constantly clashing over the spotlight which inevitably leads to turmoil and hardships. While the acting is solid, the real star of the movie is the music itself, which is actually played by the actors of the film. This movie is not just for anyone Irish, but for anyone who can identify with the destitutions that come along with being in a band.
11. Far and Away (1992)
This romance, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, is the classic example of an old-fashioned melodrama, complete with charming performances and astonishing visuals. Cruise and Kidman play Irish immigrants Joseph and Shannon, who come to America in 1893 in search of a better life. They begin to save money in hopes of one day owning their own land. Joseph becomes a bare knuckle boxer and despite some success, loses most of the pair’s money in a fight. Cold and starving, the two face poverty and various challenges as they fight through it and begin to fall in love with one another.
This Ron Howard-directed picture is not without its sappy moments, but they work as a whole, thanks to the charisma and charm of Cruise and Kidman. Far and Away might not be the most accurate portrayal of immigrant life, and it might not sport the most original screenplay, but it makes up for these idiocies with attractive visuals and heartfelt appeal.
10. The Boondock Saints (1999)
“It’s Saint Paddy’s Day, everyone’s Irish,” says the young
Daryl Dixon Norman Reedus in Troy Duffy’s twisted film rooted in faith and brutal violence. Reedus and Sean Patrick Flanery play the MacManus brothers, two poor Irish immigrants living in the crime infested city of Boston. After killing some mafia thugs in self-defense, the brothers get a taste for eliminating the dregs and scum of their city. They recruit their Italian Mafioso buddy Rocco to their cause, and the three start killing big name gangsters one by one. Right on their heels is a detective played by the wonderfully over-the-top Willem Dafoe, and with every step, he comes closer to catching them, though he also starts to understand and even support their actions.
This black comedy, which blends the stylings of Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, didn’t even get a theatrical run initially, but picked up an enormous cult following when it came out on DVD and video. Some people would tell you that the film is gratuitous, overly-violent and derivative, but that’s part of the appeal. If you’re not above shutting your brain off for a little while, The Boondock Saints is a fantastic action-comedy inspired by the likes of Death Wish and Pulp Fiction, and a great way to get into the Irish spirit.
9. The Quiet Man (1952)
John Ford won a Best Director Oscar for this 1952 classic that features romance, drama, comedy, and a little action for good measure. Frequent Ford collaborator John Wayne plays American boxer Sean Thornton, who decides to retire to the village in Ireland he was born in. Sean becomes smitten with a lovely but poor maiden, Mary Kate (Maureen O’Hara), and the two quickly fall in love. Problems inevitably arise however when Mary Kate’s brother Will forbids the two from marrying each other. Will challenges Sean to a fight, which Sean declines because of a dark chapter of his past. Of course this passive behavior doesn’t last, and the final act of the movie has Sean and Will duke it out in the middle of the village.
The Quiet Man feels like a Western set in Ireland, which isn’t surprising considering it’s directed by John Ford and stars John Wayne. Instead of the old west of course, the movie takes place in rural Ireland, which leads to some beautiful visuals of the highland countryside. The whole cast is fantastic, especially Wayne as the troubled boxer. The Quiet Man is a cinematic classic that shouldn’t be missed.
8. The Secret of Kells (2009)
Visually stunning and appealing to both children and adults, The Secret of Kells is a testament to the wonders of animation. Brendan (Evan McGuire) is a young boy who resides in a medieval outpost in Ireland which is under attack from Viking raids. The young boy comes across an ancient book that holds the key to secret powers. The book, however, is unfinished, and Brendan must journey into the nearby enchanted forest to conquer his fears and triumph over evil.
The film is based on the book of the same name, but has an identity unique and all its own. Striking enough is the fact that the entire movie is all hand drawn. In world where computer animation is becoming the new standard, The Secret of Kells’ old-school approach is refreshing and visually arresting. The drawings and character designs are especially unique and varied, creating a breathtakingly mystical world. It’s a must watch, not just for its Irish backdrop, but for its mesmerizing animation.
7. Gangs of New York
Of course Martin Scorsese’s ultra-violent tale of revenge, greed, redemption and pride made its way on our list. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the young Irishman Amsterdam Vallon, who sees his father murdered in a gang fight in New York. Years later, he returns to the city (circa 1863) to avenge his father’s death. The city is now run by gangs, the most powerful one headed by Bill “The Butcher” Cutting, who believes that immigrants, especially the Irish, shouldn’t be allowed in New York. Vallon attempts to create a gang of his own, full of soldiers with Irish lineage to challenge Bill “The Butcher” and his army.
While the movie might not be the most historically accurate thing you’ll see, it’s still a thrilling epic. Scorsese has solidified himself as a cinematic master, and this production was his passion project of New York’s blood-soaked past. It’s worth watching for Daniel Day-Lewis’ remarkably method performance of Bill “The Butcher” alone. A movie about Irish pride and identity, it’s a must watch for St. Paddy’s Day.
6. The Guard
John Michael McDonagh wrote and directed this 2011 crime-comedy about a confrontational Irish policeman forced to team up with an uptight F.B.I. agent to take down a drug smuggling ring. Brendan Gleeson plays the part of the western Ireland cop who has problems indulging in alcohol, drugs and prostitutes. After uncovering a murder, his precinct is visited by a FBI agent played by Don Cheadle, who thinks the crime is tied to four Irish drug traffickers. The two characters then decide to team up on the case with hilarious mishaps quickly following suit.
The Guard is what you would get if you took the Lethal Weapon movies and put officers Riggs and Murtaugh in west Ireland. The buddy-buddy shenanigans of actors Gleeson and Cheadle are well played here as mismatched cops, and the two have a good amount of chemistry on screen. Gleeson is especially convincing as the grouchy Irish cop with a sympathetic sense of humor. The Guard works as a fantastic comedy with clever situational humor about Irish culture.
This Sundance hit racked up 3 Academy Award Nominations this past year — Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Leading Actress and Best Picture. In possibly her best role to date, Saoirse Ronan plays Ellis Lacey, who leaves Ireland in the 1950s to journey to Brooklyn, New York. Initially homesick, Ellis eventually finds some comfort and happiness in the arms of an Italian immigrant. But after a family tragedy, Ellis travels back to Ireland and must decide which country truly has her heart.
Everything about this film can be praised, but the definitive highlight is Saoirse Ronan’s brilliant performance of Ellis. The actress is able to convey powerful emotions with subtle expressive facial movements that say a thousand words. Director John Crowley successfully transports you back to the early ’50s to weave this tale of romance and drama, which is a poignant,heartbreaking story of what life was like for an Irish immigrant at that time.
4. In the Name of the Father
Based on a true story but still integrating rich characterizations, In the Name of the Father is a superb film directed by Jim Sheridan and starring Daniel Day-Lewis. The actor plays Gerry Conlon, a small time thief that is falsely accused by the British police of an IRA bombing that killed several people in a London pub. When he and his friends are pressured by the police, they reluctantly admit to confessing to the crime. Conlon spends the next 15 years in prison while his father desperately tries to prove his innocence with the help of a British attorney.
Some elements of this true story have been overlooked or altered, as is often the case when transposing a factual tale to the realm of cinema. In the Name of the Father is still an impressive piece of movie-making with a great ensemble cast and almost flawless direction.
3. My Left Foot
Sheridan and Day-Lewis team up again in this 1989 drama also based on a true story. My Left Foot tells the remarkable tale of Christy Brown, a man who suffers from crippling cerebral palsy but learned to overcome his handicap to become an accomplished writer. The movie is told through flashbacks that chronicles Christy growing up with his poor Irish family and struggling with connecting with the outside world. With some determination and courage, Christy eventually learns to write and paint with his only functional limb, his left foot.
Daniel Day-Lewis earned himself his first of three Best Actor Oscars for encapsulating everything endearing about the human spirit in My Left Foot. His performance as Christy Brown is riveting, as he takes us on his life journey from struggling to write one word with a piece of chalk, to writing entire books of poetry. The is a fantastic Irish film about one disabled man in Dublin learning to overcome his hardships and going on to become one the most inspirational men on the planet.
2. The Departed
People love inspirational stories, but they also love ones about the underbelly of crime. Martin Scorsese’s 2006 thriller is about two Irish Massachusetts police officers that follow opposite sides of the law. Leo DiCaprio plays Billy Costigan, who is working undercover in the Irish mob to nail head boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Conversely, Matt Damon plays Colin Sullivan, who works with the state police but is also Costello’s informant, feeding the mob boss inside information. Both Costigan and Sullivan have the task of uncovering the identity of who the other “rat” is.
Scorsese won his first Best Director Oscar for The Departed, with many considering this to be among his best work. The film is a remarkable piece of fast-paced entertainment thanks to the direction by Scorsese and the wonderfully built ensemble cast including the three aforementioned stars, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga and Mark Wahlberg. A gritty take on the Irish mob of South Boston, The Departed is the rare sort of movie that’s as entertaining as it is infinitely watchable.
1. Michael Collins
Liam Neeson plays Michael Collins, the man who led the IRA against the United Kingdom in the 1920’s. Collins is consumed with the thought of an independent Ireland. After a string of disastrous defeats, he comes up with the tactic of assassinating Irish citizens who are working as informers for UK government. With a series of brutally violent attacks, Collins gains independence for his country, only to see it engulfed in a consequent civil war that he must deal with afterwards.
Michael Collins is a viciously realistic look at the non-conventional tactics and strategies of the Ireland freedom movement. It works in large part thanks to Liam Neeson’s brilliant performance as Collins, the conflicted leader of the revolution. Fantastic talents like the late Alan Rickman and the always lovely Julia Roberts also put in noteworthy performances. The cinematography of the film is flat-out gorgeous, perfectly capturing the look of tension and turmoil taking place in Ireland at the time. Michael Collins is a powerful biopic that effectively captures the Irish struggle for a free nation, and thusly is our top pick for St. Paddy’s Day movie watching.
Which of our picks is your favorite Irish film. Did we leave off any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below.