25 great films with huge ensemble casts

Published 7:00 pm Thursday, November 3, 2022


25 great films with huge ensemble casts

While the biggest names in a movie tend to score top billing, a film’s overall success often depends on the chemistry of the entire ensemble rather than just one or two stars. Can you imagine “The Breakfast Club” without Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, or Ally Sheedy? Would “When Harry Met Sally…” have been such a big hit without the duo of Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher cast alongside Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan?

One of the most prestigious awards recognizing the cast as a collective unit is the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Since the creation of this award in 1995, all but four winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture have been nominated for this SAG award first, and a dozen films have won both awards. The largest cast to win the SAG award for best ensemble is the 2001 film “Gosford Park,” boasting 20 credited actors.

Stacker researched and compiled data on films with at least seven major actors, ranging from A-listers in lead roles to veteran character actors in supporting roles. To be included in this list, films were required to have a minimum 6.5 IMDb user rating or a 75 Metascore and at least 2,500 votes on IMDb.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Keep reading to learn about 25 of the best films with large ensemble casts, listed in alphabetical order.

You may also like: 100 best fantasy movies of all time

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o in "12 Years a Slave"

New Regency Productions

12 Years a Slave (2013)

– Director: Steve McQueen
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Metascore: 96
– Runtime: 134 minutes

Although the film takes creative liberties, “12 Years a Slave” is adapted from the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup—a free man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, where he spent a dozen years forced to work on Louisiana plantations. The cast is composed of many celebrated actors including Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard, Sarah Paulson, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in the role of Northup. The film also introduced the world to the talents of Lupita Nyong’o, in an Oscar-winning debut film role. This historical drama won the Academy Award for Best Picture, making Steve McQueen the first Black filmmaker to direct a film that won the top prize at the Oscars.

Steve Buscemi, Jeff Bridges, and John Goodman in "The Big Lebowski"

Polygram Filmed Entertainment

The Big Lebowski (1998)

– Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Metascore: 71
– Runtime: 117 minutes

“The Big Lebowski”—written, directed, and produced by the Coen brothers—is a comedic tale of mistaken identity. Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) leads a laid-back life of bowling until he is confused for a millionaire with the same name and quickly becomes entangled in an absurd series of events. It only grossed $17.4 million domestically at the box office, but with a cast that includes Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Julianne Moore, it’s no surprise the film has gone on to become a cult classic.

Mark Wahlberg, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Melora Walters in "Boogie Nights"

New Line Cinema

Boogie Nights (1997)

– Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Metascore: 85
– Runtime: 155 minutes

Set in late-1970s Los Angeles, “Boogie Nights” chronicles the transformation of busboy Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) into adult film star Dirk Diggler. This character was inspired by real-life adult entertainer John Holmes, who was popular in the ’70s and ’80s. As Diggler is pulled deeper into the industry by his entrepreneurial director (Burt Reynolds) and co-stars (Heather Graham, Julianne Moore, and John C. Reilly), he must face the temptations of sex, drugs, money, and fame.

Spike Lee, Bernie Mac, Andre Braugher, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, and Steve White in "Get on the Bus"

Columbia Pictures

Get on the Bus (1996)

– Director: Spike Lee
– IMDb user rating: 6.9
– Metascore: 84
– Runtime: 120 minutes

Spike Lee debuted “Get on the Bus,” his fictional film about the Million Man March, exactly one year after the actual march was held in Washington D.C. Captured on 16 mm and video, the movie mimics a documentary following a group of Black men—played by actors like Andre Braugher, Ossie Davis, Charles S. Dutton, and Isaiah Washington—as they take a bus from Los Angeles to the nation’s capital for the march. The men’s differences are exposed as they cross the country, providing commentary on significant issues like racism and homophobia.

Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Tony Revolori, and Paul Schlase in "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Searchlight Pictures

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

– Director: Wes Anderson
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Metascore: 88
– Runtime: 99 minutes

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is an adventure-comedy about a peculiar concierge (Ralph Fiennes) who is framed for murder in the 1930s while working at an Eastern European resort. The movie features a large cast of well-known actors, many of whom have starred in other Wes Anderson films, including Adrien Brody, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and Tilda Swinton. Anderson had the entire ensemble live together in a small German hotel while filming. This unique approach to bonding paid off. The film won the 2015 Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical and took home four Oscars.

You may also like: 100 best international movies of all time

Robert De Niro and Val Kilmer in "Heat"

Warner Bros.

Heat (1995)

– Director: Michael Mann
– IMDb user rating: 8.3
– Metascore: 76
– Runtime: 170 minutes

Inspired by real-life criminal Neil McCauley, “Heat” began as a failed TV pilot, then aired as a made-for-TV movie in 1989 before finally making it to the big screen. The film is a smart showdown between McCauley (Robert DeNiro), a career thief hoping to pull off one last job, and Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), a Los Angeles detective hell-bent on catching the bad guy. The cast is rounded out by other major actors, including Ashley Judd, Val Kilmer, and Jon Voight.

Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, and Jack Rovello in "The Hours"

Paramount Pictures

The Hours (2002)

– Director: Stephen Daldry
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: 80
– Runtime: 110 minutes

Based on the 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Cunningham, “The Hours” examines the impact of Virginia Woolf’s 1925 classic “Mrs. Dalloway” on three generations of women during a day in each of their lives. The film is headlined by Nicole Kidman in an Oscar-winning turn as Woolf, Julianne Moore as an unhappy 1950s housewife, and Meryl Streep as a literary editor hosting a party for a friend with AIDS at the turn of the 21st century. These leading roles are supported by a sizable cast that includes Toni Collette, Claire Danes, Allison Janney, Jeff Daniels, and Ed Harris, to name a few.

Cate Blanchett in "I'm Not There"

Killer Films

I’m Not There (2007)

– Director: Todd Haynes
– IMDb user rating: 6.8
– Metascore: 73
– Runtime: 135 minutes

Six actors—Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw—each portray a version of singer-songwriter Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There.” This experimental biopic reflects various aspects of the iconic musician’s life through six different characters, none of which are actually Dylan himself; rather, they are symbolic representations of him at different points in time. Director Todd Haynes stated that his goal with the film was to “find a narrative and cinematic parallel to what Dylan did to popular music in his era.”

Joan Allen and Tobey Maguire in "The Ice Storm"

Searchlight Pictures

The Ice Storm (1997)

– Director: Ang Lee
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: 72
– Runtime: 112 minutes

Before “Brokeback Mountain” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” Ang Lee directed “The Ice Storm,” a suburban drama based on the 1994 novel by Rick Moody. The film explores the turmoil beneath the picture-perfect facades of two middle-class families in early 1970s Connecticut. An extensive ensemble cast carries the film—among them Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, and Sigourney Weaver—which won the 1997 award for Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival.

The cast of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" in a scene from the film

Casey Productions

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

– Director: Stanley Kramer
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: 59
– Runtime: 210 minutes

A car accident in the California desert sends a group of motorists racing to find a hidden fortune in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” As the dying driver of a crashed vehicle reveals where he stashed a large amount of stolen money, a group of bystanders takes off to see who can find the cash first. Filled with deliberately over-the-top comedic action, along with a roster of Hollywood legends like Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, and Spencer Tracy, it’s no surprise the film raked in $43.6 million in domestic sales—the equivalent of $422.9 million today.

You may also like: 100 greatest movie songs from 100 years of film

Kevin Costner, Wayne Knight, Gary Grubbs, Laurie Metcalf, Michael Rooker, and Jay O. Sanders in "JFK"

Warner Bros.

JFK (1991)

– Director: Oliver Stone
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Metascore: 72
– Runtime: 189 minutes

“JFK,” a political thriller about the cover-up of John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination, is based on not just one but two books: “Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy” by Jim Marrs (1989) and “On the Trail of the Assassins” by Jim Garrison (1988). Kevin Costner stars as Garrison, a New Orleans district attorney who charged Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones) with conspiracy to murder the president—a theory that contradicts the official Warren Commission investigation, which concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy. With an all-star ensemble including Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Gary Oldman, and Sissy Spacek, the fictional film stirred up such controversy that Congress passed an act to release sealed records about the assassination to the public 12 years earlier than planned.

The cast of "Knives Out" in a scene together


Knives Out (2019)

– Director: Rian Johnson
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Metascore: 82
– Runtime: 130 minutes

Characterized by The New York Times as “an energetic, showy take on a dusty Agatha Christie-style murder mystery,” “Knives Out” refreshes the old trope with a dash of dark comedy and a dazzling cast of characters. Private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is hired when crime writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead the morning after his 85th birthday. To figure out whodunnit, Blanc must investigate the troubled relationships among Thrombey’s eccentric family, including his children (Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon) and grandchildren (Chris Evans, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell).

Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, and Orlando Bloom in "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"

New Line Cinema

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

– Director: Peter Jackson
– IMDb user rating: 9.0
– Metascore: 94
– Runtime: 201 minutes

The battle between good and evil in Middle-earth comes to a close in “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” based on the fantasy works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) approach their destination with a plan to destroy the One Ring; meanwhile, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) leads his troops into battle with Sauron. The conclusion to this epic trilogy—which features a large ensemble including Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis, and Liv Tyler—made cinematic history in 2004 when it became the second film to ever gross over $1 billion worldwide.

Melinda Dillon in "Magnolia"

New Line Cinema

Magnolia (1999)

– Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Metascore: 77
– Runtime: 188 minutes

“Magnolia” takes place during a single day in the San Fernando Valley, where the paths of seemingly disparate characters intersect as they seek meaning in their lives. The lengthy drama features actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, and John C. Reilly, all of whom appeared in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film “Boogie Nights” two years earlier. One of the most memorable characters is motivational speaker Frank T.J. Mackey, a role based on real-life pickup artist Ross Jeffries that won Tom Cruise the 2000 Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor.

The cast of "Murder on the Orient Express" in a scene on a train

EMI Film Distributors

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

– Director: Sidney Lumet
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: 63
– Runtime: 128 minutes

Albert Finney plays detective Hercule Poirot—alongside a star-studded cast including Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, and Sean Connery—in the 1974 version of “Murder on the Orient Express.” In December 1935, a murder occurs aboard the luxurious Orient Express, and Poirot must solve it while the train is stuck in the snow following an avalanche. According to The Hollywood Reporter, reviews of this Agatha Christie adaptation were lukewarm until the numbers rolled in, showing nearly $36 million in domestic sales, the equivalent of $216.7 million today.

You may also like: Biggest box office bombs of all time

Ronee Blakley and Allen Garfield in "Nashville"

American Broadcasting Company (ABC)

Nashville (1975)

– Director: Robert Altman
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 96
– Runtime: 160 minutes

“Nashville,” a musical drama satirizing the American dream, spans five days in the “country music capital of the world,” leading up to a fundraising gala for a presidential candidate. The storyline follows an astonishing 24 major characters—played by the likes of Ned Beatty, Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall, and Lily Tomlin—as their lives intersect in interesting and unexpected ways. In 1992, the film was inducted into the National Film Registry, which chooses 25 movies each year to preserve.

Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, and Elliott Gould in "Ocean's Eleven"

Warner Bros.

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

– Director: Steven Soderbergh
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 74
– Runtime: 116 minutes

In a remake of the 1960s heist movie, the 2001 update of “Ocean’s Eleven” replaces Rat Pack members Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin with 21st-century A-listers George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt. Clooney leads the ensemble as Danny Ocean, who is released from prison and immediately begins planning his next job: to rob three Las Vegas casinos at the same time, aided by 10 skilled associates. With a budget of only $85 million, the large cast accepted lower salaries in order to get the movie off the ground, but they made up for it when the film generated over $450 million worldwide.

Quentin Tarantino, John Travolta, Rosanna Arquette, Eric Stoltz, and Bronagh Gallagher in "Pulp Fiction"


Pulp Fiction (1994)

– Director: Quentin Tarantino
– IMDb user rating: 8.9
– Metascore: 94
– Runtime: 154 minutes

By definition, pulp fiction is “a genre of racy, action-based stories published in cheaply printed magazines from around 1900 to the 1950s, mostly in the United States.” This vibe is exactly what Quentin Tarantino delivers in his breakthrough film “Pulp Fiction.” The stories of various characters are interwoven through multiple sequences of action and violence, including a pair of hitmen (Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta), a boxer (Bruce Willis), a mobster (Ving Rhames), and his wife (Uma Thurman). The film won the 1995 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

The cast of "The Royal Tenenbaums in a scene

Touchstone Pictures

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

– Director: Wes Anderson
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Metascore: 76
– Runtime: 110 minutes

The second Wes Anderson film on this list, “The Royal Tenenbaums,” is a comedy-drama about a family reuniting unexpectedly. Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) tries to reconcile with his wife (Anjelica Huston) and children (Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, and Luke Wilson) by calling everyone back together under the guise that he has stomach cancer. Hackman received a number of awards for his role as the patriarch of this family, including the 2002 Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical.

Lily Tomlin and Danny Darst in "Short Cuts"

Fine Line Features

Short Cuts (1993)

– Director: Robert Altman
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 79
– Runtime: 188 minutes

Similar to his film “Nashville,” Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts” follows a series of unique individuals through the ups and downs of their lives—except they live in Los Angeles this time, not Nashville. Based on the short stories of Raymond Carver, the film boasts 22 major characters whose paths intersect—played by Andie MacDowell, Julianne Moore, Tim Robbins, Lily Tomlin, and many other well-known actors. Much of Altman’s success is attributed to the flexibility he allowed while filming, encouraging his actors to improvise and even letting them write new scenes for their characters.

You may also like: Most widely watched but universally hated movies of all time

Michael Keaton, Brian d'Arcy James, Mark Ruffalo, John Slattery, and Rachel McAdams in "Spotlight"


Spotlight (2015)

– Director: Tom McCarthy
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Metascore: 93
– Runtime: 129 minutes

“Spotlight” recounts the true story of how The Boston Globe investigated and exposed child molestation, along with systemic efforts to cover up this abuse, within the Catholic Church in 2002. The Atlantic describes it as “a film about the methodical process of reporting, not the stirring heroism behind it,” emphasizing the importance of the journalistic work itself over praise for the investigative reporters who broke the story. Nonetheless, the casting of The Boston Globe staff is top-notch, featuring A-listers like Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, and Liev Schreiber.

George Clooney in "The Thin Red Line"

Fox 2000 Pictures

The Thin Red Line (1998)

– Director: Terrence Malick
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Metascore: 78
– Runtime: 170 minutes

The 1998 version of “The Thin Red Line” is the second film based on James Jones’ 1962 novel. Jim Caviezel plays a U.S. Army private who goes AWOL during World War II until his sergeant (Sean Penn) finds him, forcing him to return and train for the Battle of Guadalcanal against Imperial Japan. Although the list of cast members is long, Terrence Malick’s extensive edits significantly cut screen time for many actors: Adrien Brody’s role as a corporal was whittled down to almost nothing, and three hours of voice-over recorded by Billy Bob Thornton was removed from the film entirely.

Patricia Arquette and Christian Slater in "True Romance"

Morgan Creek Entertainment

True Romance (1993)

– Director: Tony Scott
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Metascore: 59
– Runtime: 119 minutes

Written by Quentin Tarantino, “True Romance” is the unexpectedly adventurous love story of a nerd named Clarence (Christian Slater) and a call girl named Alabama (Patricia Arquette). The pair quickly fall in love and get married, but things go awry when Clarence kills Alabama’s pimp and steals a suitcase full of cocaine, sending the newlyweds on the run from the mob. Although it only earned $12.3 million domestically with a budget of $12.5 million, the film’s long list of big Hollywood names—those like Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt, and Christopher Walken—helped it become a cult classic.

Marguerite Moreau and Michael Showalter in "Wet Hot American Summer"

Eureka Pictures

Wet Hot American Summer (2001)

– Director: David Wain
– IMDb user rating: 6.5
– Metascore: 42
– Runtime: 97 minutes

Based on the summer camp adventures of writers Michael Showalter and David Wain, “Wet Hot American Summer” parodies popular sex comedies of the 1980s like “Porky’s” and “Bachelor Party.” The film follows the antics of a group of camp counselors trying to make the most of their last day at summer camp in 1981. Despite bombing at the box office—the film was only released in two New York theaters, grossing a mere $295,206—it became a fan favorite thanks to performances by Elizabeth Banks, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, and Paul Rudd.

Joan Fontaine, Paulette Goddard, Mary Boland, Rosalind Russell, and Norma Shearer in "The Women"

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

The Women (1939)

– Director: George Cukor
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 133 minutes

Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, and Norma Shearer lead a cast made up entirely of women—135 of them, in fact!—in this classic comedy-drama. “The Women” is based on the 1936 play by Clare Boothe Luce about life and love among a group of Manhattan socialites as one of their own navigates the knowledge that her husband is having an affair.

You may also like: Sequels that outperformed the original at the box office