The Fifty Best Movies of All Time
Movies have been around as a commercial medium for over one hundred years and to whittle down a century's worth of cinematic output into a fifty best list is no exercise in absoluteness. Nevertheless, here is a list of the fifty best narrative films of all time based on the criteria that each film has a distinct style, a measured impact on the history of the medium itself and perhaps most importantly – is resounding entertainment!
1. Citizen Kane (1941) – Every shot in this enthralling character study is so carefully constructed and so visually exciting that the film is simultaneously an exercise in the intellectual stimulation of cinema and a sumptuously entertaining piece of bravura filmmaking.
2. Rear Window (1954) – A riveting mystery that feeds on the fear that your neighbor might be a murderer, enabling the viewer to engage vicariously through the perverse enjoyment of its plausibility.
3. Day for Night (1973) – Truffaut’s fictional but self-reflexive account of the making of a movie is the greatest film ever made about filmmaking; an unashamed love letter to the medium itself that details the process for all its frustrations and all its glory.
4. Annie Hall (1977) – Woody Allen’s bittersweet rumination on the modern romance is one of the most formalistically experimental comedies of all time – and also one of the funniest.
5. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) – This thrilling western incorporates the myth of the cowboy, the effects of the civil war, gloriously expansive vistas, an unforgettable score and the tensest standoff ever captured on film.
6. Goodfellas (1990) – Scorsese’s rock star approach to depicting the mob isn’t afraid to embrace the allure of the forbidden lifestyle or to concede to the downfall and violent repercussions of such a path either.
7. The Third Man (1949) – Shadows and zithers engulf post-World War II Vienna in this thriller about black marketeering and murder that features the greatest character entrance in film history.
8. It Happened One Night (1934) – A depression era-produced romantic comedy with impeccable chemistry between its leads that helped develop the framework for both the screwball comedy and the road movie.
9. Rashomon (1950) – Kurosawa’s samurai masterpiece redefined storytelling and visualized the imperceptions of memory by presenting different points of view from the same event without a definitive truth.
10. Diabolique (1955) – A morbidly captivating mystery about a wife who plans to murder her philandering husband with the aid of his mistress that concludes in a horrifying and unexpected event.
11. Casablanca (1942) – The dialogue in Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Berman’s epic screen romance is as canonical as Shakespeare – chances are you’ve quoted from it without realizing it.
12. Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – The joyous backstage musical that foregrounds cinematic ingenuity, catchy music numbers and a dance routine featuring a mind-blowing amount of physical exertion.
13. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – A visually and aurally astounding experience that combines the styles of mainstream and experimental filmmaking more successfully than any other film in history.
14. Vertigo (1958) – A spellbinding tale about sexual obsession that continues to shock audiences with the mania of its protagonist’s determination to emulate the image of his deceased lover.
15. Nosferatu (1922) – F.W. Murnau’s terrifying silent film inspired by the Dracula story is the greatest monster movie of all time due to its ominous shadows, transgressions of space and the formidable monster itself.
16. Finding Nemo (2003) – Pixar’s spellbinding underwater fable about the resilience of family represents the exemplar of what could be achieved through animation at the time – the total immersion into a world beyond the reach of humans.
17. Night of the Hunter (1955) – A deranged ‘preacher’ stalks two children and $10,000 of missing money through the deep South in the most beautiful black and white film ever shot.
18. The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – The greatest sequel of all time furthered the mythology established by its predecessor through equal consideration of set pieces and character progression.
19. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – A devastating police procedural about the hunt for a serial killer that gave birth to the true incarnation of one of cinema’s most frightening villains: Hannibal Lector.
20. Battleship Potemkin (1925) – Eisenstein’s rousing dramatization of the Russian naval mutiny created the textbook example of how to edit a suspense scene through its Odessa Steps sequence featuring artillery, stampedes and a runaway baby carriage.
21. American Graffiti (1975) – A nostalgic look at the last night of high school (and by extension – adolescence) for a group of California teenagers and the opened and closed doors that await them as a result.
22. The Godfather (1972) – The gritty and graphically violent saga about the familial ties of the Mafia offers a look of unprecedented depth into the world of organized crime.
23. MASH (1970) – A groundbreaking political comedy that satirizes the absurdities of war without shying away from depicting its brutal realities as well.
24. Gone With the Wind (1939) – The tragic romance between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler that deserves a near-four hour running time is set against the backdrop of the Civil War and uses breakthroughs in Technicolor to beautifully photograph America’s heartland.
25. The Searchers (1956) – John Wayne challenges audiences by playing an obsessive and racist tracker hunting down the Indian tribe that kidnapped his niece in this classic western that ends with the most iconic final shot in cinematic history.
26. The Manchurian Candidate (1962) – A chilling cautionary tale about the ruthlessness of politics with an acute perception of the impact that television would play on the process in following years.
27. Don’t Look Now (1973) – Nicolas Roeg’s non-linear reworking of Daphne du Maurier’s short story is an unforgettable extended exercise in the terror of the foreboding.
28. Pierrot le Fou (1965) – An extremely entertaining lovers-on-the-run tale that combines the playful formal experimentalism of Goddard’s early work and the global concerns of his later work.
29. Psycho (1960) – The progenitor of the slasher film features an out-of-left-field plot development at the end of the first act and a discomfortingly open-ended resolution.
30. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) – John Huston’s tale of prospecting in the California mountains demonstrates a remarkable commitment to shooting on real locations and to an unflinching portrayal of the psychotic effects of gold fever
31. The Silence (1963) – An expressionistic and – as the title suggests – extremely quiet portrait of two sisters and their bouts of dejection and delirium during a stay at a bizarre hotel.
32. The Graduate (1967) – Mike Nichols’ boundary pushing affair between a disconcerted college grad and his girlfriend’s mother explicated the sex in the sex comedy with grace.
33. Out of the Past (1947) – The past comes back to haunt a former private eye in what is the pinnacle of US film noir thanks in large to its crackling dialogue and surprisingly extended flashback sequence.
34. Dancer in the Dark (2000) – This radical musical about a single mother slowly losing her sight is one of the most depressing films ever made but also supremely captivating as it revolutionizes the cinematic codes and expectations of the musical.
35. The Apartment (1960) – Billy Wilder’s very funny film with a disguised but existent dark underbelly comments on corporate America’s increasing disregard for sexual morals and business ethics.
36. Throne of Blood (1957) – Kurosawa’s adaptation of Macbeth is the greatest film translation of Shakespeare of all time in that it liberates the story from its theatrical trappings buts retains the grizzly soul, eerie atmosphere and political intrigue.
37. Badlands (1973) – The startling examination of a brutal outlaw and his awestruck young lover/partner in crime that concludes with one of the most unforgettable illustrations of the sociopathic mind ever captured on film.
38. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) – Spielberg rendered the supernatural natural by grounding his story about aliens – who approach Earth for intellectual means not destructive – by focusing on the personal experience of one man’s quest to and the toll it takes on his family.
39. Pulp Fiction (1994) – The acutely aware dialogue, intriguingly offbeat characters and heavily stylized presentation of a hip gangster underworld urges modern audiences to reinvest interest in the older films to which it constantly alludes.
40. On the Waterfront (1955) – The tale of a disillusioned longshoreman on the outskirts of Manhattan captures the inner rage of failed aspirations that come from the loss of youthful ambition.
41. Barry Lyndon (1975) – The exquisite visuals of Kubrick’s adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel creates a unique and uncanny effect somewhat akin to regarding paintings from the romanticism and listening to audio recordings of Victorian literature.
42. When Harry Met Sally… (1989) – The charming romantic comedy that addressed the timeless question of ‘can men and women just be friends?’ with fearless forthrightness and a precise mixture of the ribald and the tender.
43. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) – Vincente Minnelli’s wartime-produced appeal for a return to small town values serves as the blueprint for how to make both a musical and a melodrama.
44. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) – Milos Forman presents life in a mental hospital through the eyes of the charismatic hell raiser R.P. McMurphy with stark brutality and not sentimentality.
45. Easy Rider (1969) – The existential road movie that pioneered the use of source music in feature films and incorporated sun flares on the camera lens into the aesthetic of New American Cinema.
46. Brief Encounter (1945) – A realistic and reticent tearjerker about the impossibility of an extramarital affair between a neglected housewife and a compassionate doctor.
47. Beverly Hills Cop (1984) – The prime usage of the comic star vehicle formula with the most well balanced equation of action and comedy – both of which are often spring boarded by the social assumptions of race relations.
48. M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953) – Jacques Tati’s near-silent comedy of manners and pratfalls set at a holiday resort is as harmlessly jovial as it gets.
49. Shadows (1959) – John Cassavetes’ filmmaking debut about an impoverished trio of artists in New York City introduced America to independent filmmaking, African American social realism and a new approach to improvisatory acting.
50. The Long Goodbye (1973) – Robert Altman’s hilarious detective story takes a novel approach to literary adaptation by transplanting Raymond Chandler’s 1950s gumshoe, Philip Marlow, into the world of early 1970s cynicism and conspiracy.
Text courtesy of Stephen Snart.