Top 50 World's Best & Popular Movies Of All Time
|World's Best Movies Of All Time - Photo: KnowInsiders|
A movie, also called a film or motion picture, is a work of visual art used to communicate stories, ideas, or artistic beauty through the use of moving images accompanied by sound. This list includes the top movies of all time, which may include award winners, critical darlings, box office hits, pop culture phenomena, and historically significant classics.
Whether you’re a highly cine-literate film enthusiast or a casual fan, these are the movies everyone should see at least once. For this list, narrative features from all genres and around the world are fair game: We’ve included essential dramas, comedies, family and kids movies, thrillers, action, horror, fantasy, sci-fi and more. We’re showcasing timeless old classics and new favorites, Hollywood pictures and foreign fare. In ranking these movies, we’re taking into account their artistic merits, how well they’ve aged and re-watchability. This list does not include documentaries.
Top 50 best and popular movies of all time
50. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Originally shot as a network TV pilot, David Lynch‘s widely acclaimed surrealist Los Angeles nightmare morphed into a Universal Pictures feature late in life, which opened the door for graphic violence, strong language and nudity. Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring star as women entangled in a Hollywood mystery. Sexy, terrifying and funny, Mulholland Dr. is one of the best movies of this century so far, a labyrinthine career high for a master of experimentation.
49. Rear Window (1954)
|- Director: Alfred Hitchcock |
- Stacker score: 95.8
- Metascore: 100
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Runtime: 112 minutes
In addition to striking the perfect balance of intrigue and suspense, this 1954 Hitchcock film endures through its perennial relatability. After all, who hasn't wondered what his or her neighbor might be up to behind closed doors? In “Rear Window,” the answer is potentially murder. Or is a wheelchair-bound James Stewart simply letting his paranoia get the best of him? To say anything more is to spoil the fun of watching this classic for the first time.
48. The Graduate (1967)
Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) seduced international audiences, making Mike Nichols‘ dramedy about a college grad (Dustin Hoffman) who flings with an older woman—and then falls for her daughter (Katharine Ross)–the highest-selling film of its year. The Graduate (and Bonnie and Clyde) lost Best Picture to Oliver! —but Nichols won a Best Director Oscar.
47. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
|- Director: Ang Lee |
- Stacker score: 89.6
- Metascore: 94
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 120 minutes
Ang Lee returned to his Taiwanese roots to direct this Mandarin Chinese martial arts masterpiece, which follows two 19th-century warriors as they pursue a missing sword. One of the top-grossing foreign-language films of all time, it helped pave the way for a string of highbrow martial arts-themed movies. A far less successful sequel debuted on Netflix in 2016.
The ultimate wuxia film is a tragic action romance that electrified audiences worldwide. Roger Ebert called Ang Lee‘s 19th century Qing Dynasty-set opus “the most exhilarating martial arts film I’ve ever seen.”
A great actress with striking athletic abilities, Michelle Yeoh plays the lover of warrior Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) who takes charge to retrieve his Green Sword of Destiny when it is stolen by the governor’s daughter Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi) who has fallen from grace.
Like other wuxia films, Crouching Tiger is poetic and spiritual, largely about honor and integrity. About two-thirds of the way through the picture, Yu She Lien and Jen Yu face off. The actresses did their own stunt work, and the only CGI was used to remove wires for the gravity-defying bits. It’s perfectly possible this is the best duel in film history.
46. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
An essential epic from David Lean (who previously directed essential Dickens films Great Expectations and Oliver Twist) Lawrence of Arabia. Winner of seven Oscars including Best Picture. Peter O’Toole is best remembered for his Oscar-winning work here, as First World War hero T.E. Lawrence. Arguably his second-most iconic role is now his stunning voice work in Ratatouille, as deceptively austere food critic Anton Ego.
45. Rocky (1976)
Few “overnight sensations” in Hollywood history—if any—have ever risen to the top as quickly as Sylvester Stallone, whose script about an aspiring boxer falling in love with a painfully shy girl shot the down-on-his luck actor to international fame and Oscar gold. He also starred in the drama directed by John G. Avildsen, an inspiring sports picture full of raw, schmaltz-free emotion that always knocks us out.
44. The Dark Knight (2008)
Best known for a towering Heath Ledger performance that gave the film an air of myth months before it was released, Nolan’s aggressive expansion of the Batman saga was one of the most thrilling crime sagas since Heat, critically revered as it became the fourth film to gross a $1 billion worldwide, forever altering the way audiences and movie studios would look at the superhero film. The Dark Knight‘s head-scratching exclusion from the Best Picture race was a key factor in a major rule changeup the following year. It’s perfectly possible this is the most influential movie of the century so far.
43. The Sound of Music (1965)
Robert Wise‘s musical epic—at one time the highest-grossing movie ever—remains a favorite of families everywhere—for many, an annual tradition. Julie Andrews is filmgoers’ favorite rebel, Christopher Plummer the widower with a broken wing, who eventually succumbs to her charms. This widescreen wonder’s heartbeat and most haunting moment is their duet, “Something Good.”
42. Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986)
Instead of picking a side in the age-old debate of which is better, we’re just recognizing that both motion pictures are immortal, for damn good reason.
Ridley Scott‘s original sci-fi horror masterpiece is one of the most effective haunted house movies ever made–only, the house is a spaceship. Most monster movies stop being scary and suspenseful as soon as we see the monster. This cannot be said about the utterly horrific Xenomorph in Alien. After the infamous dinner scene (maybe the most notorious death scene in horror history) we finally see Xeno in all of its glory… and, well, to quote Newsweek film critic Jack Kroll in 1979, the creature scares “the peanuts right out of your M&M’s.” The grotesque and disturbingly sexualized creature design by H.R. Giger has been ripped off ever since.
Sigourney Weaver was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award (all but unheard of for science fiction, action and horror) for the latter film, and it’s one of the most widely loved screen performances ever. Her powerful work and James Cameron’s technical wizardry elevate what could have been a mindless shoot ’em up into a dazzling gut-punch about maternal instincts and true strength.
41. Forrest Gump (1994)
Slow-witted but generous of heart, Tom Hanks‘ titular hero captured the hearts of audiences worldwide. Robert Zemeckis‘ profoundly American epic—also sees the filmmaker at the top of his oft-formidable game. In telling the story of a good man who traverses the U.S. over several decades, suffers loss, falls in love and never gives up, the innovator uses special effects (that still, frankly, wow) without ever upstaging the plot or people.
|Photo Kalzn Tech|
Forrest Gump is often overlooked because of many of the great movies that came out the same year such as the previously mentioned masterpiece Shawshank Redemption, another brilliant masterpiece Pulp Fiction, one of the best Disney films ever created in Lion King, one of the best Keanu Reeves movies in Speed, and more (also because it won the Best Picture which is fine with me this is all subjective). This does not take away from the fact that this is one of the best movies of the 1990s and likely all time. This movie is simply breathtaking, from the acting, the dialogue, the cinematography, the basically everything. This film is one of only a few to almost make me cry, a really emotional movie with a really exceptional story. I really like movies, I've seen hundreds of them, maybe thousands. I can say that I understand some of the placements on the list, although this list says "best" movies of all time people are choosing movies that are their "favorite" or some of the more "popular" movies. I find it really weird that movies like Despicable Me, SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, Big Hero 6, and other popular movies of that caliber appear in the top 100. These movies are for kids and kids movies USUALLY aren't "masterpieces," and I say usually because movies like Wall-E and Lion King exist. According to the placements on the list, we are really comparing kid movies to cinematic masterpieces such as Citizen Kane, Lord Of The Rings, and 12 Angry Men.
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40. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Steve McQueen‘s masterful horrific, universally acclaimed period piece from the memoirs renders many—well, most, previous film depictions of slavery unwatchable. 12 Years a Slave won the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress (an unforgettable Lupita Nyong’o). Five years later, McQueen followed 12 Years a Slave with the wildly underrated Widows, a pop crime masterpiece starring Viola Davis and Liam Neeson.
39. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
A watershed moment for Hollywood and pop culture at large, Ang Lee’s tragic Western won best film and best director honors in nearly every corner of the awards circuit, including the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, the PGA Awards, the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards and the Independent Spirit Awards. Brokeback Mountain received eight nods at the 78th Academy Awards, winning in three categories including Best Director. Its surprise Best Picture loss to Paul Haggis‘s Crash is widely considered one of the biggest upsets in Academy history, if not the biggest.
38. Finding Nemo (2003)
Films in the top tier of Pixar’s canon are so uniformly astonishing—quietly revolutionary—that choosing which is the best is totally daunting. As much in its screenwriting as in its groundbreaking underwater visuals, Finding Nemo is a masterpiece. Laugh-out-loud funny with an abundance of pathos, the underwater adventure is all about the woes of helicopter parenting, the inevitability of risk and even danger. In fact, this may be the greatest movie about parenting.
|- Directors: Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich |
- Stacker score: 89.1
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 100 minutes
Given Pixar's masterful grip on storytelling and computer animation alike, it's no surprise that the studio dominates when it comes to the best films of the 21st century. One of their most celebrated efforts is this 2003 adventure, in which a clownfish named Marlin navigates a perilous undersea terrain to find his missing son, Nemo.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”
37. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Robert Mulligan‘s adaptation of Harper Lee‘s 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winner is one of few films based on a masterpiece to do the source material justice, and To Kill a Mockingbird is even more relevant and vital over a half-century later. Gregory Peck is iconic as Atticus Finch, Maycomb, Alabama town lawyer who defends an innocent man with dignity in the face of prejudice. Lee and others who knew Peck has said the role gave the actor a chance to play himself. “When he played himself, he touched the world,” the author wrote in the liner notes of the first DVD release.
36. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
A transporting low fantasy set in war-torn 1944 Spain, Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the most critically acclaimed pictures of this century so far (Ebert added it to his “Great Movies” anthology), but in an upset, it lost a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar to Germany’s The Lives of Others.
35. Some Like it Hot (1959)
|Photo Criterion Collection|
In this 1959 comedy, two male musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) dress up as women and join an all-women band, as they simultaneously evade murderous mobsters. Still adjusting to their new personas, the men befriend singer and ukulele-player Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, played by Marilyn Monroe. While Monroe's performance is nowadays the stuff of legend, she was reportedly difficult to work with during the shoot, frequently showing up late and forgetting her lines.
34. The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Envelope-pushing horror pictures that ruined illustrious careers, only to be revered years later, is a key theme in classic American film. Case in point: previously respected actor Charles Laughton‘s sole feature as director: a strange, expressionistic and poetic chase film about a twisted wolf in sheep’s clothing. Robert Mitchum is the very face of opportunistic evil, as menacing as any screen villain you’ll ever see, playing self-titled “Reverend” Harry Powell, who’s actually a serial killer hellbent on finding $10,000 a dead man hid inside his daughter’s doll. It’s clear to we the viewers, but not Powell’s zealot followers (including doomed bride Shelly Winters) that this is no man of God. Night of the Hunter is an unforgettable meditation on religion, darkness and light. Key images of death and threat haunt the memory, and silent film legend Lillian Gish is unforgettable as the face of maternalistic virtue and strength.
33. Gone With the Wind (1939)
Gone With the Wind swept the Oscars of what is considered the finest year of Hollywood film, and remains the highest-grossing movie ever if adjusting for inflation. Based on Margaret Mitchell‘s massive novel, Victor Fleming‘s historical romantic epic stars an iconic Vivien Leigh as the strong-willed daughter of a plantation owner struggling to survive in the Civil War and Reconstruction-era South. Clark Gable embodies Old Hollywood sex appeal as cynical philanderer Rhett Butler. Their love story is the stuff of film legend, and the sheer scope of Fleming and producer David O. Selznick‘s vision is still breathtaking. Unfortunately, the whitewashed, sanitized depiction of slavery makes the whole enterprise hard to stomach these days.
32. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
One of only three films in history to win the “Big Five” Oscars (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay), Miloš Forman‘s renowned, mega-gritty and bitterly funny drama set in a mental institution stars Jack Nicholson as a [maybe] unrepentant criminal faking insanity and Louise Fletcher as a steely, heartless and calculating nurse.
An eery, pitch-black and deeply disturbing film, Cuckoo’s Nest is a study of the institutional process. And broader than that, it’s an exploration of freedom, control and the human mind. It’s lost none of its edge more than four decades later.
Cuckoo’s Nest is based on the 1962 novel by Ken Kesey, which has been adapted multiple times for the stage. In 1993, the film was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
31. Frankenstein (1931)
It’s alive! Based on Mary Shelley‘s novel of man’s interference with nature, James Whale‘s Frankenstein was a landmark horror picture. Today, it’s easy to admire the film for its heart and its trendsetting artistry. In 1931, audiences were mostly just petrified with fear, even though the film was first released in a censored version, with many now-iconic moments removed. The 1935 sequel Bride of Frankenstein is perhaps even better: scarier, funnier, with more personality and shocks. Most importantly, there’s a tragic romance that just wasn’t meant to be.
30. Double Indemnity (1944)
It’s almost neck-and-neck with The Maltese Falcon, but we’re giving this the edge as the essential noir.
This is one of a handful of the finest crime movies in history, the first Hollywood studio film about murderers; groundbreaking stuff that was utterly shocking in 1944. It’s still a disturbing watch. It’s also fun and funny. And sleazy. Barbara Stanwyck is one of the film’s most manipulative and iconic villains, a femme fatale who ropes an insurance salesman (Fred MacMurray) into a killing. AFI named Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson the eighth greatest villain ever.
When Hitchcock saw Double Indemnity, he declared the two most important words in motion pictures were “Billy” and “Wilder.”
29. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
AKA Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Kubrick’s cold war farce is a high-water mark for film comedy. With non-stop laughs and pointed satire, virtuoso Peter Sellers‘ three most enduring performances and extraordinary set design from Ken Adams (the war room is a marvel of the atmosphere), Dr. Strangelove feels thoroughly modern right now.
Roger Ebert’s longtime At the Movies co-host, critic Gene Siskel went on record to cite this as his all-time favorite movie.
28. Fargo (1996)
You betcha this is he best black comedy thriller hybrid in cinema history. Now tied with Daniel Day-Lewis as the most decorated living film star in the eyes of the Academy Awards, Frances McDormand delivered a heroine for the ages in Marge Gunderson, a good-natured cop investigating a series of senseless, grisly and moronic crimes in the frozen American North. Fargo is trenchantly funny, strange and thrilling.
27. Chinatown (1974)
|Photo Movie and TV Blog|
Smoky, erotic and dangerous, the artwork for Roman Polanski‘s detective story teases a modern, darker take on the classic noir. Chinatown is considered one of the finest mystery films to this day, and Robert Towne‘s Oscar-winning script is timeless. A bitter fight between writer and director transpired over the ending (there was some hope on the page). The director’s vision won out; the despairing final moments are among the most famous in film.
26. 12 Angry Men (1957)
Uniformly astounding performances from an ensemble cast, a great script and ingenious camera work make this close-quarters showdown the greatest courtroom drama in history. Elsewhere unforgettable as a hapless romantic in The Lady Eve and as an aging retiree in On Golden Pond, Henry Fonda‘s most iconic role is quietly heroic, patient, justice-seeking Juror 8. Sidney Lumet‘s film of Reginald Rose‘s play delivers a timeless and universal message about the value of human life.
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25. The Exorcist (1973)
William Friedkin’s Georgetown-set supernatural thriller centered on a teen girl in the grips of demonic possession, adapted from William Peter Blatty‘s novel, traumatized an entire generation. Amidst numerous accounts of theatergoers fainting, vomiting and walking out (even miscarriages and heart attacks are on record), The Exorcist possessed the box office, still one of the highest-grossing pictures ever when adjusting for inflation.
The message of The Exorcist is simple and deep: God exists. The Devil exists. Deal with it. This is broad strokes and heady themes; it’s also a small-scale story about an ordinary mother fighting for her daughter’s life, stunningly performed by Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair. Evil nearly wins in The Exorcist, only undone by a selfless act.
Much better in its original theatrical cut than the sloppy 2000 “version you’ve never seen” (oh, what a difference a few edits can make), this is the first horror film ever to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. Roger Ebert said, “If movies are, among other things, opportunities for escapism, then The Exorcist is one of the most powerful ever made.”
24. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Critically acclaimed and nominated for seven Oscars, Frank Darabont‘s adaptation of a King novella was a commercial disappointment in 1994, no match for the pop culture phenomena of Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction. The popularity of The Shawshank Redemption has only grown, and it’s currently IMDb’s top-rated movie of all time.
It’s rare enough to see a big-screen story about the friendship between men, and the bond between Andy (Tim Robbins) and Red (Morgan Freeman) is extra weighty and rich because it begins in such a dark place (within prison walls), ultimately filling them with a good thing called hope, driving them to better days. Shawshank is unflinching—then it rewards us with one of the most triumphant, hard-earned happy endings we’ve ever seen.
23. Apocalypse Now (1979)
Francis Ford Coppola‘s hyper-ambitious Vietnam War epic with a boat ride into hell (loosely based on Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness) surpasses even Platoon and Full Metal Jacket as the greatest film ever made on the subject. One of Hollywood history’s most infamously troubled, nightmarishly chaotic productions resulted in an untouchable classic that goes against the grain, and never leaves the psyche.
Putting a surrealist spin on a classic Joseph Conrad novel, this 1979 film takes place during the Vietnam War and sends Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen) into the deepest regions of the Cambodian jungle. His mission? To find and assassinate a crazed coloel named Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who's become the overlord to a jungle tribe. To get the film made, director Francis Ford Coppola put up several million dollars of his own money and underwent all sorts of medical trauma during the shoot. The effort paid off, as the movie endures as a genuine masterpiece. Decades after its initial release, Coppola rolled out an expanded version, also known as “Apocalypse Now Redux.”
22. Jaws (1975)
Spielberg’s film of Peter Benchley‘s New England-set killer shark book overcame a rocky production to become the inaugural summer blockbuster, the first film ever to gross $100 million in North America. A deliberately paced marvel of character-rich suspense, Jaws won three Oscars and was nominated for Best Picture, though Spielberg wasn’t nominated for Best Director.
Jaws is yet another horror series that went downhill in a hurry. 1978’s Jaws 2 is a mediocre rehash; Jaws 3D and Jaws: The Revenge are astonishingly bad.
21. All About Eve (1950)
Right up there with Casablanca, this is among the finest screenplays in history: hyper-literate, savagely funny, sparkling with wit and pathos. Bette Davis gives the performance of her incomparable career as Margo Channing, a 40-year-old theater star grappling with ageism and a hyper-ambitious younger starlet (Anne Baxter) waiting in the wings. Nominated for the same record number of Oscars (14 in total) as Titanic and La La Land, particularly stunning because the closest thing to an action sequence is when Margo runs down a flight of stairs. Women call the shots and men take a backseat in a sparkling drama so absorbing and airtight you can hear a pin drop, all these decades later.
20. When Harry Met Sally (1989)
This is unequivocally the most eloved rom-com of the last half-century–perhaps ever. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan star in this modern classic about friends who test their theory that friends can’t have sex with each other, over several years. Written by Nora Ephron and directed by Rob Reiner, When Harry Met Sally was named the 23rd best American comedy ever by the American Film Institute; it’s the most loved romantic movie of its era. It all ends with an oft-quoted declaration of love moments before the clock strikes twelve.
19. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
|Photo Horror Film Fandom|
Jonathan Demme‘s classic psychological horror film based on the popular book by Thomas Harris stars Jodie Foster as FBI trainee Clarice Starling. As a serial killer sweeps the midwest, Starling seeks the help of incarcerated Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), resulting in a “quid pro quo” tête-à-tête that’s become Hollywood legend.The Silence of the Lambs is one of three movies in history to win the “Big Five” Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best [Adapted] Screenplay, Best Director). The American Film Institute named it the fifth most suspenseful movie in history in their “100 Years, 100 Thrills” list of cinema’s most heart-pounding movies. In their 2003 special, “100 Heroes and Villains,” Clarice Starling was named the sixth all-time greatest screen hero ever; Lecter was named cinema’s all-time most unforgettable villain.
18. Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Get ready for your closeup. William Holden and Gloria Swanson star in Billy Wilder’s chilly noir masterpiece about a struggling screenwriter and a washed-up actress. Sunset Boulevard is widely considered one of Hollywood’s greatest films about itself (if not the very best), among the first batch of films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
17. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
|Photo Hanoi Gravine|
The hard-won uplift and triumph of director Frank Capra’s fantasy drama haven’t lost a bit of its power over the decades. James Stewart gives his most iconic performance as George Bailey, a banker who discovers the value of his life thanks to a visit from his guardian angel. According to the American Film Institute, It’s a Wonderful Life is the most inspiring movie of all time.
16. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Restored and released over and over and met with differing interpretations for over half a century, showcasing the most famous jump-cut in editing history and Oscar-winning visual effects, Kubrick’s visionary space epic co-written with Arthur C. Clarke is arguably the ultimate science fiction film. The most memorable human performance isn’t human at all; it’s artificial intelligence HAL 9000 (voice of Douglas Rain).
|“Auditions are like a gamble. Most likely you won't get the part, but if you don't go, you'll never know if you could've got it.”—Interview Magazine (Courtesy United Artists)|
15. Raging Bull (1980)
Scorsese’s black-and-white big-screen take on one-time middleweight champion Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro) isn’t so much about punching (though the balletic fights are dazzling) as it is about male insecurities ideals, ego, rage, will, jealousy and fear. Criticized at the time for its violence, now unanimously hailed (it’s a violent movie because it’s about violent people), Raging Bull is a quintessential character study. This is perhaps the ultimate art house movie.
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14. Psycho (1960)
This is where modern horror begins. Hitchcock went to unprecedented lengths to convince American theater chains not to allow anyone into the theater once screenings of Psycho began, to keep a tight lid on the plot’s many twists and turns. Audiences played along, delighting in the experience (it’s a lot of fun to scream in a movie theater), and it became the most profitable black-and-white sound film ever made. A full 60 years later, Psycho is still shocking, nerve-frying even. An unnecessarily prolonged epilogue with too much expository dialogue has always stuck out like a sore thumb, but that’s not enough to detract from Psycho‘s permanent standing as an indispensable cultural landmark. It’s the granddaddy of shock cinema.
13. Moonlight (2016)
By the end of Moonlight‘s unforgettable three acts, we’ve witnessed nothing less than the birth and salvation of a human soul.
Defiantly eschewing sentimentality and hand-holding, director and screenwriter Barry Jenkins tells this story of light and love in seemingly hopeless circumstances with broad strokes, gritty reality and some of the most intoxicating audiovisual loveliness on record.
Moonlight won three Academy Awards, including a Best Picture victory in one of the biggest live-television blunders of all time.
12. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Stanley Donen‘s MGM musical spectacular is often cited as the best musical ever made. Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds and Jean Hagen star in a showbiz rom-com set at the industry-shaking dawn of the talkies. The final moments (“Stop that girl!”) are so swoon-worthy it’ll still make your heart leap.
11. City Lights (1931)
The magnum opus of Charlie Chaplin, cinema’s greatest clown, also humanist and steadfast romantic. The story of a Little Tramp (Chaplin) who falls for a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill) and endures a turbulent relationship with a drunken millionaire and countless other obstacles so that the apple of his eye may see.
According to the American Film Institute, this is the greatest romantic comedy ever made, and the 11th best American film of all time. Renowned, influential film critic James Agee called the film’s final scene “the greatest single piece of acting ever committed to celluloid.” There are some cinephiles out there who would argue in favor of “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” from Casablanca, but many firmly regard the final moments of City Lights as the best ending in movie history. Love is blind, you see.
10. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Pulp Fiction tells a pretty standard, run-of-the-mill crime story about a crime boss, his wife, and some hired guns. It’s the telling of it all that makes this one of the essential films of the 1990s, one of the ultimate movie experiences to get lost in.
Pulp Fiction is told in an extravagantly nonlinear fashion, but it’s hard to feel too disoriented when mostly we’re just thrilled by the hilarity and excitement of what’s playing out in front of us moment-to-moment. Quentin Tarantino’s trademark dialogue is never about moving the plot forward; it’s about immersing us in the realities of the characters. Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules has the most important arc, and in a roundabout kind of way, Pulp Fiction is a movie about redemption.
Pulp Fiction won Cannes’s coveted Palme d’Or, and Tarantino won his first screenwriting Oscar. A star was born.
9. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
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The one that started it all, the first animated feature in history, is one of the key American artistic triumphs of the 20th century. Walt Disney bet the farm on this musical fantasy, and a lot of people thought he was nuts to believe audiences would connect with hand-drawn creations for 80 minutes. Well, Snow White made grown men weep, and it became the highest-grossing film ever upon release (dethroned two years later by Gone With the Wind, still the all-time adjusted box-office champ).
In addition to Gothic notes and some visuals inspired by German Expressionism, Snow White features a big bad named one of the ten most unforgettable film villains by the American Film Institute: Snow White’s wicked stepmother, a scheming royal witch who will stop at nothing to destroy the lovable princess, purely out of vanity.
8. Titanic (1997)
These days, it seems like that nonsense backlash is dying: pure and simple, strong and true, Titanic is one of the most extraordinary, extraordinarily entertaining of all films, a bar-setting masterpiece of the craft.
In a highly publicized ordeal quite similar to the production of “Disney’s Folly,” James Cameron bet the farm on a meticulously detailed epic pitched as “Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic.” The budget was record-breaking, the production turbulent. It looked like Titanic would be a disaster movie in a cynical sense. Instead, it became an instant classic.
7. Star Wars (1977)
Like all the greatest phenomena, Star Wars came out of nowhere. Following the success of 1973’s American Graffiti, USC alum George Lucas switched gears and pieced together a fantasy space opera with wildly varied inspirations including 1950s sci-fi serials like Flash Gordon, Spaghetti Westerns and Akira Kurosawa samurai pictures like The Hidden Fortress.
Every movie studio except Fox passed on the unusual project, and though the troubled production made some fear a flop, Star Wars surpassed Jaws to become the highest-grossing film of all time, influencing every blockbuster in its wake.
- Director: George Lucas
- Stacker score: 91.7
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Runtime: 121 minutes
The biggest franchise in cinematic history started with this groundbreaking space epic, which introduced audiences to Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Vader. Inspired by everything from Kubrick's “2001: A Space Odyssey” to the works of philosopher Joseph Campbell, George Lucas unleashed a fully realized world and one that's still unfolding by way of new installments. Ultimately, this is a franchise so impactful that there might one day be an actual Millennium Falcon flying through space, if only because some genius “Star Wars” fan made it happen.
6. Schindler’s List (1993)
At once one of the most harrowing films you’ll ever see—and one of the most inspiring. Steven Spielberg’s period piece stars Liam Neeson as the titular real-life merchant-turned-wartime-hero. Schindler‘s List is an unflinching account of the horrors of the Holocaust, and a testament to the power of an individual to make positive change. The American Film Institute ranked Schindler’s List the third most inspiring picture ever, behind only It’s a Wonderful Life and To Kill a Mockingbird.
5. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Endearingly colorful characters vibrantly performed (how incredible is Judy Garland here?!), classic music including arguably the 20th century’s greatest song, timeless humor, thrills and tenderness make MGM and Victor Fleming‘s musical fantasy an enduring masterwork—one that just does not age.
The Library of Congress says this is the most-watched movie ever, and that isn’t surprising. It isn’t hyperbolic to say this is the best family film in history and the best fantasy film. Exciting, touching and big-hearted, The Wizard of Oz is the picture we most look forward to sharing with future generations.
4. The Godfather (1972)
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The most famous movie about organized crime remains the best. Francis Ford Coppola transformed Mario Puzo‘s pulpy page-turner is transformed into a sprawling, groundbreaking work of art and box-office leviathan. Upon repeat viewings (and let’s be real; we’ve seen this movie a billion times), Al Pacino‘s mesmerizing performance perhaps stands out the most. This saga with richly realized characters and its own code of ethics never fails to pull us in.
3. Citizen Kane (1941)
Appreciated in its time if not fully appraised, Orson Welles‘ loosely biographical drama about a media mogul’s rise holds up in every way. The audacious, fast-paced. revolutionary but never self-conscious or distracting filmmaking is at once theatrical and wholly cinematic, and modern. And the themes at the story’s core: power, greed, isolation—are always en vogue. Citizen Kane itself, on its own merits, is the mark of genius. Even more so taking into account that this was Welles’ first feature. He was 26.
2. Casablanca (1942)
As time goes by, Casablanca remains one of the most unanimously adored and celebrated movies ever. Not least among the reasons why is the adapted screenplay by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch, frequently touted as the smartest, most quotable script ever written. And there’s the romantic chemistry between Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. A big reason we all love this movie so much is how proud we are of the characters in the end. Rick and Ilsa prioritize the greater good, and put a human face on the sacrifices made during wartime, even those made off the battlefield. The Greatest Generation, indeed. Casablanca‘s messages about seeing things bigger than yourself and doing what’s right will always resonate with audiences. Never pass up an opportunity to re-watch one of the highest highs of Hollywood history.
1. Vertigo (1958)
These are the confessions of the greatest of all filmmakers, the Master himself. Beyond its incomparable artistic merits, Vertigo is the ultimate cinematic indictment of what we now call toxic masculinity.
Vertigo was a critical and commercial failure when it was released. This is Alfred Hitchcock’s most personal work, a complex statement on manhood and obsession, a staple of film school curriculums. From a purely technical standpoint, it’s as intoxicating a piece of pure cinema as any, thanks to Bernard Herrmann‘s stirring, hypnotizing score and Robert Burks‘ cinematography, which ingeniously uses color to add layers of meaning to the narrative.
Audiences in 1958 weren’t ready to embrace lovable good-guy James Stewart playing against type as a deeply troubled individual in the throes of despair, but he is brilliant here. Many critics of that time also complained that Kim Novak was too stiff, but as a victim of psychological torture who stifles her emotions in order to survive, she really is perfect, just like the rest of the film. Every 10 years, esteemed British film magazine Sight & Sound polls hundreds of critics for a list of the greatest films of all time. In 2012, for the first time in 50 years, Citizen Kane wasn’t ranked No. 1; Vertigo claimed its spot. It’s a work of genius, and it will continue to inspire, obsess filmmakers and audiences as long as the medium exists.
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