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Movies are a brilliant way to teleport yourself into a different story where you have a different life in a different place with a whole lot of different people and out of the millions of movies out there, this list has picked out a little bit of everything so by the time you’re 40 you can say you know a little something about everything from the cult classics to the rom-coms. I have to say there are so many movies that could’ve made my list as I’m sure you’ve all seen many great ones you’d recommend, but still, it might be worth giving this smoothie of genres and decades a watch too if they sound like your cup of tea (or your bucket of popcorn!)
I’m starting with this cult classic because it’s an absolute favorite. The story revolves around an unnamed protagonist who in an attempt to overcome his struggles with masculinity and consumerism, starts a fight club “as a radical form of psychotherapy”. This movie is best watched without any spoilers, so don’t go around looking it up. Just watch it. Seriously.
Who hasn’t heard of The Godfather. This film revolves around the outbreak of a gang war set in the late 1940’s that took place in NYC. The Godfather has been widely regarded as one of the “greatest films in world cinema” and as one of the most influential. If that’s not enough to sell it to you, I don’t know what will.
Seems to be a recurring theme with movies based on novels. Starring the marvelous Tom Hanks, the story shows the naïve Forrest Gump’s life throughout several decades, who witnesses and even takes part in some of the most memorable events of the late 20th century. It’s such a light-hearted film but might make you feel a lot of things. In conclusion, it’s definitely a must-watch.
This Quentin Tarantino comedy crime masterpiece is a classic. With its ironic mix of violence and humor and lots of pop culture references this movie was nominated for 7 Oscars. Starring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman, Pulp Fiction connects the story lines of LA mobsters, fringe players, small-time criminals and the mysterious briefcase. This movie could be broken down and analysed forever but the best way to get into all those interesting analytical discussions, is to give it a watch.
A classics list would be incomplete without Hitchcock. Once again based on a novel, this film is about Marion Crane, a secretary who ends up at a motel after embezzling money from an employer and the motel’s disturbed owner manager. It has been said to have “set a new level of acceptability for violence, deviant behavior and sexuality in American films” and the US Library of Congress said it was “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” Convinced?
Banker Andy Dufresne is convicted of a double murder even though he continues to proclaim his innocence. He’s then sentenced to a life time in Shawshank State Prison where he meets “Red” and faces the ugly realities of prison life. Think a little Orange Is The New Black? Or maybe not! If you’ve liked American History X, City of God or Trainspotting then this is definitely your type.
Along the vibes of The Truman Show and a little American Beauty, this movie is one of Nicholson’s best. McMurphy escapes prison by pleading insanity and when sent to a ward for the mentally unstable, he both endures and witnesses the abuse and degradation of the Nurse Ratched and of course, the nurse must be taken down. Great plot line and also – surprise, surprise! – based on a book.
One of my absolute favorites. You have Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet at one of their finest moments playing the intriguing Joel and Clementine. This is also another that is best watched without any spoilers but the gist of it is that Clementine applies to undergo a procedure to erase Joel from her memories but the experience in itself allows them to truly understand what they had in the first place. Filled with beautiful quotes and really intriguing moments, this one is a top recommendation for the indie film lovers out there.
I was wondering whether I should add a new film to the list or not but this list would be incomplete without Her. In a world where artificially intelligent operating systems have become accessible to everyone and are designed to have a conscious, Theodore finds himself developing a very unlikely relationship with his OS, Samantha. This film truly touches on our dependency when it comes to technology and what our possible dystopia/utopia could look like. Very thought provoking.
This one is a true classic. With the brilliant Kevin Spacy as Lester Burnham, a depressed suburban father struggling with a mid-life crisis, American Beauty truly explores the life of suburban America from the housewife archetype to the American dream with just the perfect amount of nostalgic vibes for the modern viewer.
Following the invasion of Normandy, two brothers lay dead while in New Guinea a third brother has been killed fighting the Japanese. After the Army General Staff learns that a fourth brothers missing in the French countryside, a rescue mission is sent to find the young soldier and return him home. This mission to “Save Private Ryan” is a thrilling, although intensely graphic journey.
Full Metal Jacket, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is a war film about the dehumanization of U.S. recruits in the Vietnam War both in the brutal boot camps to the streets in Hue. Focused on the Tet Offensive, this film is a great look back into history with all its grim bits left in.
Following the theme of the Vietnam War, Platoon is the first film of a trilogy of Vietnam War films by Oliver Stone and is based on Stone’s own experiences as a U.S. infantryman in contrast with John Wayne’s vision of the war as portrayed in The Green Berets. It’s also the first Hollywood film to be written and directed by a veteran of the war in Vietnam.
300 is an American fantasy action film based on the 1998 comic series of the same name by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, which is a retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae. The plot is about King Leonidas who leads 300 Spartans into battle against the Persian Xerxes. Definitely a classic and one that I have watched one too many times.
The first time I watched this movie was for History class and when I got home I decided to watch the full thing and boy was I not disappointed. Schindler’s List is considered an “epic historical drama film” directed and co-produced by the legendary Spielbrg. The story is based on the life of Oskar Schindler who was a German businessman who saved more than a thousand Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.
This English-language French thriller film is about Mathilda, a 12-year-old girl played by a young – and brilliant – Natalie Portman, who is taken in by a mob hit man after her family is murdered. The film revolves around the formation of an unusual relationship between Mathilda and the hit man as she becomes his protégée making it a very interesting watch.
Another Quentin Tarantino creation. The movie follows “The Bride”, a former member of an assassination team who seeks revenge on her ex-colleagues who massacred members of her wedding party and tried to kill her along with them. If you like a little crazy, go for it.
Who hasn’t heard of The Lord of the Rings? Set in Middle-earth, the Dark Lord Sauron is seeking the One Ring which has found its way to the hobbit Frodo. The film was highly acclaimed to be “an achievement in the fantasy film genre and has continued to feature on critics’ lists of the greatest fantasy films ever made. If you’ve been hesitant about watching the series or just want to know what the heck the buzz is about, then I suggest you just dive in.
I refuse to turn 40 without getting the millions of Matrix references and I bet you do too. For all of you curious to know what the buzz is about, The Matrix is set in a dystopian future in which reality is actually simulated (and called “The Matrix”) created by these sentient machines to subdue the human population while their bodies’ heat is used as an energy source. Pretty morbid huh?
Another recent one I thought I might as well add to keep the time periods of the list diverse. Directed by Bryan Singer, Days of Future Past is the seventh installment of the X-Men film series and the sequel to both X-Men: First Class and X-Men: The Last Stand. If superhero films are your thing and you’re all for Marvel, then go watch it now!
Memento is a psychological thriller about Leonard Shelby who suffers of anterograde amnesia which damages his ability to store new memories and has developed a system for recollection using hand-written notes, tattoos and Polaroid photos. This one requires a little attention, so it’s not the film to multi-task doing something else while watching because it’s more than what it seems.
This list would be incomplete without BATMAN. This is for you DC lovers. The film is the sequel to Batman Begins and there’s not much to say about this except the fact that it is the home of one of Heath Ledger’s best performances ever. So watch it whether superheroes are your jam or not because I guarantee you Heath Ledger will make it worth your time.
Alfred Hitchcock is back once again. The film revolves around former police detective John Ferguson who is forced into early retirement because an incident has caused him to develop acrophobia, which is the extreme fear of heights, and vertigo, which is a sensation of false, rotational movement. It’s also the first film to utilize the dolly zoom, an in-camera effect that distorts perspective to create disorientation which is now often referred to as “the Vertigo effect” after the movie!
A little warning about this film is don’t watch it if you’re scared of clowns. I know this from personal experience. This is a satirical horror film about five friends who go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods where they “discover the truth behind the cabin.” Trust me, the film will sell itself better than I ever will. Being satirical and having lots of thought put into the consideration of the details it’s an intriguing watch if you pay attention.
This list cannot be complete without Leonardo DiCaprio who stars as U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels who is investigating the disappearance of a murderess who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane and finds himself in one roller coaster of a journey leading him to doubt everything from his memory, his partner and even his own sanity. Brilliant movie.
Another one based on a book, this film is a lighthearted watch about a British woman who decides to keep a personal diary in order to improve her health, her job and her love life. It’s such a relatable story and will definitely motivate you to get your New Year’s Resolutions together and start your own Diary!
Cher Horowitz is the Queen Bee of high school in Beverly Hills but not in a “Mean Girls” way more in a witty, charming and intelligent way. Cher Horowitz taught me never to settle for anything less than what I deserve and the entire film just discusses aspects of teenage life that most people sugarcoat or just think are too trivial to even talk about. Also, their fashion is on point therefore Clueless holds a special place in my heart.
To most, this is immediately seen as a cliche, but if the viewers were to look deeper into the characters and how they’re presented to us, (500) Days of Summer becomes a whole lot more interesting. Summer played by the perfect-for-this-role Zooey Deschanel doesn’t believe in love but is also very difficult to draw any conclusions from as she’s only seen through Tom’s eyes who is insanely infatuated with her that he refuses to believe she might not be the girl he’s destined for.
Did you know that this film was adapted from William Shakespeare’s play “The Taming of the Shrew”? Well now you know! This film handles the ridiculous cliches of high school so expertly making it so believable and the cast is fabulous with the one and only Heath Ledger rising above the rest.
Directed by Woody Allen and starring Allen as Alvy Singer, who is trying to figure out the reasons for the failure of his relationship with Annie, played by Diane Keaton who actually had the role written specifically for her. The film discusses love, sexuality and Jewish identity which I feel is a great film to end this list with as it has a more serious approach despite being part of the usually trivialized rom com genre.
Silent classics, noir, space operas and everything in between: Somehow we managed to rank the best movies of all time
All lists are made to start arguments, but a list of the greatest movies of all time is particularly loaded. No other art form has evolved so drastically over the last century and a half. Sure, kids these days may prefer Harry Styles to The Beatles, but a good song is always going to be a good song – a great melody never ages, and a hot beat stays hot forever. But is it possible for modern audiences to see Citizen Kane the same way audiences in the 1940s did? Can Hitchcock still be considered the master of suspense after decades of directors stealing his tricks? It’s barely been 14 years since The Dark Knight and there’s a whole generation that likely considers Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman old hat.
Ranking the best films ever made clearly isn’t easy. But that wasn’t going to stop us from trying. On this ever-evolving list, you’ll find box-office blockbusters to cult classics; comedies, both romantic and ridiculous; horror flicks to crime capers. It spans over a hundred years and multiple countries. And even with all that ground covered, it’s sure not to please every reader. You might get angry. But hey, that’s what lists are for, right? Just don’t yell too loudly, please.
Written by Abbey Bender, Dave Calhoun, Phil de Semlyen, Bilge Ebiri, Ian Freer, Stephen Garrett, Tomris Laffly, Joshua Rothkopf, Anna Smith and Matthew Singer
🏆 The most deserving Oscar winners of all-time
😬 The best thriller films of all-time
🤣 The best funny films of all-time
🌏 The best foreign films of all-time
The greatest film ever made began with the meeting of two brilliant minds: Stanley Kubrick and sci-fi seer Arthur C Clarke. ‘I understand he’s a nut who lives in a tree in India somewhere,’ noted Kubrick when Clarke’s name came up – along with those of Isaac Asimov, Robert A Heinlein and Ray Bradbury – as a possible writer for his planned sci-fi epic. Clarke was actually living in Ceylon (not in India, or a tree), but the pair met, hit it off, and forged a story of technological progress and disaster (hello, HAL) that’s steeped in humanity, in all its brilliance, weakness, courage and mad ambition. An audience of stoners, wowed by its eye-candy Star Gate sequence and pioneering visuals, adopted it as a pet movie. Were it not for them, 2001 might have faded into obscurity, but it’s hard to imagine it would have stayed there. Kubrick’s frighteningly clinical vision of the future – AI and all – still feels prophetic, more than 50 years on.—Phil de Semlyen
From the wise guys of Goodfellas to The Sopranos, all crime dynasties that came after The Godfather are descendants of the Corleones: Francis Ford Coppola’s magnum opus is the ultimate patriarch of the Mafia genre. A monumental opening line (“I believe in America”) sets the operatic Mario Puzo adaptation in motion, before Coppola’s epic morphs into a chilling dismantling of the American dream. The corruption-soaked story follows a powerful immigrant family grappling with the paradoxical values of reign and religion; those moral contradictions are crystallized in a legendary baptism sequence, superbly edited in parallel to the murdering of four rivaling dons. With countless iconic details—a horse’s severed head, Marlon Brando’s wheezy voice, Nino Rota’s catchy waltz—The Godfather’s authority lives on.—Tomris Laffly
Back in the headlines thanks to David Fincher’s brilliantly acerbic making-of drama Mank, Citizen Kane always finds a way to renew itself for a new generation of film lovers. For newbies, the journey of its bulldozer of a protagonist – played with inexhaustible force by actor-director-wunderkind Orson Welles – from unloved child to thrusting entrepreneur to press baron to populist feels entirely au courant (in unconnected news, Donald Trump came out as a superfan). You can bathe in the film’s groundbreaking techniques, like Gregg Toland’s deep-focus photography, or the limitless self-confidence of its staging and its investigation of American capitalism. But it’s also just a damn good story that you definitely don’t need to be a hardened cineaste to enjoy.—Phil de Semlyen
Long considered a feminist masterpiece, Chantal Akerman’s quietly ruinous portrait of a widow’s daily routine—her chores slowly yielding to a sense of pent-up frustration—should take its rightful place on any all-time list. This is not merely a niche film, but a window onto a universal condition, depicted in a concentrated structuralist style. More hypnotic than you may realize, Akerman’s uninterrupted takes turn the simple acts of dredging veal or cleaning the bathtub into subtle critiques of moviemaking itself. (Pointedly, we never see the sex work Jeanne schedules in her bedroom to make ends meet.) Lulling us into her routine, Akerman and actor Delphine Seyrig create an extraordinary sense of sympathy rarely matched by other movies. Jeanne Dielman represents a total commitment to a woman’s life, hour by hour, minute by minute. And it even has a twist ending.—Joshua Rothkopf
Starting with a dissolve from the Paramount logo and ending in a warehouse inspired by Citizen Kane, Raiders of the Lost Ark celebrates what movies can do more joyously than any other film. Intricately designed as a tribute to the craft, Steven Spielberg’s funnest blockbuster has it all: rolling boulders, a barroom brawl, a sparky heroine (Karen Allen) who can hold her liquor and lose her temper, a treacherous monkey, a champagne-drinking villain (Paul Freeman), snakes (“Why did it have to be snakes?”), cinema’s greatest truck chase and a barnstorming supernatural finale where heads explode. And it’s all topped off by Harrison Ford’s pitch-perfect Indiana Jones, a model of reluctant but resourceful heroism (look at his face when he shoots that swordsman). In short, it’s cinematic perfection.—Ian Freer
Made in the middle of Italy’s boom years, Federico Fellini’s runaway box-office hit came to define heated glamour and celebrity culture for the entire planet. It also made Marcello Mastroianni a star; here, he plays a gossip journalist caught up in the frenzied, freewheeling world of Roman nightlife. Ironically, the movie’s portrayal of this milieu as vapid and soul-corrodingly hedonistic appears to have passed many viewers by. Perhaps that’s because Fellini films everything with so much cinematic verve and wit that it’s often hard not to get caught up in the delirious happenings onscreen. So much of how we view fame still dates back to this film; it even gave us the word paparazzi.—Bilge Ebiri
It’s the easiest 207 minutes of cinema you’ll ever sit through. On the simplest of frameworks—a poor farming community pools its resources to hire samurai to protect them from the brutal bandits who steal its harvest—Akira Kurosawa mounts a finely drawn epic, by turns absorbing, funny and exciting. Of course the action sequences stir the blood—the final showdown in the rain is unforgettable—but this is really a study in human strengths and foibles. Toshiro Mifune is superb as the half-crazed self-styled samurai, but it’s Takashi Shimura’s Yoda-like leader who gives the film its emotional center. Since replayed in the Wild West (The Magnificent Seven), in space (Battle Beyond the Stars) and even with animated insects (A Bug’s Life), the original still reigns supreme.—Ian Freer
Can a film really be an instant classic? Anyone who watched In The Mood for Love when it was released in 2000 may have said yes. The second this love story opens, you sense you are in the hands of a master. Wong Kar-wai guides us through the narrow streets and stairs of ’60s Hong Kong and into the lives of two neighbors (Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung) who discover their spouses are having an affair. As they imagine—and partly reenact—how their partners might be behaving, they fall for each other while remaining determined to respect their wedding vows. Loaded with longing, the film benefits from no less than three cinematographers, who together create an intense sense of intimacy, while the faultless performances shiver with sexual tension. This is cinema.—Anna Smith
On the road to becoming the most significant filmmaker of the last 20 years, Paul Thomas Anderson transformed from a Scorsesian chronicler of debauched L.A. life into a hard-nosed investigator of the American confidence man. The pivotal point was There Will Be Blood, an epic about a certain kind of hustler—the oil baron and prospector. Daniel Plainview is, in the final analysis, an ultra-scary Daniel Day-Lewis who will drink your milkshake. Scored by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood (himself emerging as a major composer), Anderson’s mournful epic is the true heir to Chinatown’s bone-deep cynicism. As Phantom Thread makes clear, Anderson hasn’t lost his sense of humor, not by a long shot. But there once was a moment when he needed to get serious, and this is it.—Joshua Rothkopf
Forget The Artist—sorry Uggie—and relish instead the sheer, serotonin-enhancing verve of MGM’s glorious epitaph to cinema’s silent era. Its trio of dancers—rubber-faced (and heeled) Donald O’Connor, sparkling newcomer Debbie Reynolds and co-director and headline act Gene Kelly—are a triple threat, nailing the stellar songs, intricate and physically demanding dance routines and selling all the comic beats with consummate skill. But kudos also belongs to Betty Comden and Adolph Green, whose effervescent screenplay provides the beat for the spectacle to move to, and Jessica Hagen, whose often-overlooked turn as croaky silent star Lina Lamont is the movie’s funny-sad counterpoint. Not forgetting co-director Stanley Donen, who was always happy to let his stars take the credit but deserves an equal share for a musical that never puts a foot wrong.–Phil de Semlyen
‘As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.’ Ray Liotta’s opening line is the crime movie equivalent of ‘Once upon a time…’, and what follows is Martin Scorsese’s version of a fairy tale – the story of a starry-eyed Brooklyn kid who realises his boyhood dream and still comes out a schnook in the end. Based on the true life of mobster Henry Hill, Goodfellas was born in the shadow of The Godfather, but as the years go on, the question of which is more influential becomes mostly a matter of generation. Certainly, the former is more easily rewatchable, owing to its breakneck pacing – its two and a half hours (and three decades) just whiz by. And for a movie about violent career criminals, it’s also strangely relatable. Where Coppola went inside the walls of organised crime’s one percent, Scorsese’s gangsters are more blue collar. And as it turns out, working for the mafia isn’t much different than any other job – you spend 30 years busting your hump to climb the ladder, only to end up face down on a bloody carpet in some tacky house in the burbs. — Matthew Singer
There’s no other thriller as elegant, light-touched and sexy as Hitchcock’s silken caper. Cary Grant’s suavely hollow adman Roger O. Thornhill (“What does the O. stand for?” “Nothing.”) is Don Draper with a sense of humor, which he sorely needs when he contracts a bad case of Wrong Man–itis. The set pieces, the villains, Eva Marie Saint’s femme fatale, Saul Bass’s credits, Bernard Herrmann’s musical cues—somehow the film manages to be even more than the sum of its glorious parts. Oh, and somewhere in there, Thornhill even manages to find his soul.—Phil de Semlyen
Not many movies are known equally for a genuinely erotic lesbian sex scene and a heart-stopping jump scare involving some kind of terrifying trash witch. Then again, this is David Lynch we’re talking about: the man’s entire career is dedicated to doing things most other filmmakers wouldn’t even consider. But Mulholland Drive is where the phrase ‘Lynchian’ earned its definition. What appears, at first, to be a relatively straightforward noir about a gorgeous amnesiac (Laura Harring) trying to piece together the mystery of her own identity plunges, in its third act, into a hallucinatory dream world, effectively undoing everything that came before. The hairpin turn frustrated some critics, who apparently anticipated a movie that would explain itself in the end. Fans knew better – and for those willing to accept the movie as an experience, rather than a riddle to be solved, it’s a gift that reveals new pleasures (and nightmares) with each viewing. —Matthew Singer
Vittorio de Sica’s Neorealist masterpiece is set in a world where owning a bicycle is the key to working, but it could just as easily be set in one where the absence of car, or affordable childcare, or a home, or a social security number are insurmountable barriers in the constant slog to put food on the table. That’s what makes simultaneously it a film for postwar Italy and modern-day anywhere-at-all. That’s what makes it such a powerful, enduring landmark in humanist cinema. You can feel it in virtually every social drama you care to mention, from Ken Loach to Kelly Reichardt.—Phil de Semlyen
There’s a new Batman in Gotham, in the shadowy form of Matt Reeves’s The Batman – and this is the bar it has to clear. The middle entry in Christopher Nolan’s Bat-trilogy is an almost flawless case study of how to do a sophisticated superhero epic for modern audiences – and the ‘almost’ is only because the final act refreshingly tries to cram in almost too many ideas, much moral arithmetic. Heath Ledger’s Joker, meanwhile, redefines big-screen villainy: It’s not enough to be sinister, you need a party trick now too.—Phil de Semlyen
Charlie Chaplin’s total vision remains awe-inspiring: He wrote, directed, produced, edited and starred in his own movies, which he also scored with an orchestra. And when those cameras were rolling, they captured a self-made icon with a global audience. Still, City Lights was something else. Chaplin, reticent to give up the visual techniques he’d mastered, insisted on making his new comedy a silent film even as viewers were growing thirsty for sound. As ever, the star had the last laugh: Not only was the film a huge commercial success, it also ended on the most heartbreaking close-up in cinema history—the peak of the reaction shot (since cribbed by movies from La Strada to The Purple Rose of Cairo), no dialogue required.—Joshua Rothkopf
There’s never a bad time to revisit one of Jean Renoir’s great masterpieces (along with The Rules of the Game), but this current era of populists, nationalists and shouty rabble-rousers feels like a particularly good one. Set in a German POW camp during WWI, the film lays bare the fault lines of class and nationality among a group of French prisoners and their German captors and comes to the conclusion that all that really matters is man’s nobility toward his fellow man.—Phil de Semlyen
Calling this one the peak of screwball comedy may be too limiting: Among the many topflight movies directed by journeyman filmmaker Howard Hawks, His Girl Friday is his most romantic and most verbose (the constant banter feels like foreplay). Though the laconic Hawks would downplay his own proto-feminism throughout his life, the film is also his most liberated; strong women who had jobs and ran with newshounds were simply what he wanted to see. Most wonderfully, this comedy best celebrates the rule of wit: He—or, more often, she—with the sharpest tongue wins. If you love words, you’ll love this movie.—Joshua Rothkopf
You could stick nearly every Powell and Pressburger film on this list; such was the dynamic duo’s stellar output. But for our money—and that of superfan Martin Scorsese—this dazzling ballet-set romance is first among equals. It’s a perfect expression of artists’ drive to create, set in a lush Technicolor world shot by the great Jack Cardiff. Scorsese describes it as “the movie that plays in my heart.” We’ll take two seats at the back.—Phil de Semlyen
A sexy Freudian mind-bender that’s often considered Alfred Hitchcock’s finest triumph, Vertigo is pitched in a world of existential obsession and cunning doubles. Shape-shifting her way through Edith Head’s transformational costumes, Kim Novak haunts in two roles: Madeleine Elster and Judy Barton, both objects of desire for James Stewart’s curious ex-cop. Completing this vivid psychodrama is Bernard Herrmann’s alarmingly duplicitous score, which twists its way to a towering finale.—Tomris Laffly
Increasingly a giant of world cinema, France’s Claire Denis continues to confound expectations, making movies in sync with her own offbeat rhythms and thematic preoccupations (colonialism, power, repressed attraction). This one, her celebrated breakout, is something of a spin on Herman Melville’s Billy Budd—but that’s like calling Jaws something of a spin on Moby-Dick. The genius is in Denis’s technique, manifesting itself in images of shattering emotional precision: sinewy silhouettes of soldiers, abstract tests of will in the desert and, most ravishingly, the euphoria of breaking into dance, courtesy of a loose-limbed Denis Lavant and Corona’s ‘Rhythm of the Night’.—Joshua Rothkopf
Showing some personal growth as well as filmmaking craft, John Ford makes some amends for his appearance in DW Griffith’s virulently racist The Birth of a Nation with this landmark western. It’s a story of hatred slowing giving way to compassion that strips away the toxic myths of the old frontier via the swaggering but broken-down figure of Ethan Edwards (John Wayne). Edwards is no white-hatted Shane type, but an embittered war veteran who hunts his own niece (Natalie Wood) with the intention of killing her for the crime of have been assimilated with the Comanche. The shot of Edwards framed in that doorway is one of the most famous – and most mimicked – in cinema.—Phil de Semlyen
Ingmar Bergman’s psychologically raw output has the potency to turn mere film fans into raging addicts; Persona is the hard stuff, a double-sided psychodrama that somehow feels like it was shot last weekend with two of Ingy’s coolest friends (Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann, both revelatory). For its intimacy and economy alone, the film feels like a preview of the scrappy decade to come. Bergman, recovering from a serious bout of pneumonia, wrote the script in the hospital, grappling with a crisis of purpose that he turned into art of the highest caliber.—Joshua Rothkopf
Spike Lee’s bitterly funny, ultimately tragic fresco of a Brooklyn neighborhood during one sweltering summer day was hugely controversial at the time: Critics dinged Lee for his depiction of an uprising in the wake of a police killing. The movie has lost none of its relevance or power; if anything, it’s gained some. But the filmmaking is what makes this a classic, particularly the energy, wit and style with which Lee presents this microcosm and the social forces at play inside it.—Bilge Ebiri
It’s no exaggeration to say that Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon redefined cinematic storytelling. With its shifting, unreliable narrative structure—in which four people give differing accounts of a murder—the film is remarkably daring and serves as a reminder of how form itself can beguile us. Flashbacks have never been so thrillingly deployed; nearly 70 years after its release, filmmakers are still trying to catch up to its achievements.—Abbey Bender
Jean Renoir cemented his virtuosity with this pitch-perfect study of social-strata eruptions among the ditzy, idle rich, about to be blown sideways by WWII. Affairs among aristocrats and servants alike bloom during a weeklong hunting trip at a country manor, where the only crime is to trade frivolity with sincerity. Renoir captures his sparklingly astute ensemble cast with fluid, deep-focus camera movements, innovations that inspired directors from Orson Welles to Robert Altman.—Stephen Garrett
Steven Spielberg’s immortal blockbuster doesn’t need political prescience to stay relevant: it’s a movie about a big-ass shark eating people. Thanks in large part to the film itself, that’s one irrational fear the public is never letting go of. Over the last two years, though, whenever some elected official has argued against mask mandates and said it’s time to reopen schools, it’s been hard not to think about Mayor Vaughn in his goofy anchor-print suit telling the citizens of Amity Island that it’s safe to go back in the water. And that element – along with the masterful pacing, the get-you-every-time jump scares and that banger of a third act – is what really makes Jaws forever frightening: sharks are scary, but greed and incompetence are far more likely to get you. — Matthew Singer
The deliciously dark, stylish genre of film noir simply wouldn’t exist without Double Indemnity. This one truly has it all: flashbacks, murder, shadows and cigarettes galore, and, of course, a devious femme fatale (Barbara Stanwyck). As one of the great directors of Hollywood’s golden age, Billy Wilder excelled across a variety of cinematic types, but this hard-boiled gem is his most influential work.—Abbey Bender
The first in a five-film autobiographical series, Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows is the story of Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud)—stuck in an unhappy home life but finding solace in goofing off, smoking and hanging with his friends—and it’s cinema’s greatest evocation of a troubled childhood. Plus, it’s the perfect primer to get kids into subtitled movies.—Ian Freer
Popcorn pictures hit hyperdrive after George Lucas unveiled his intergalactic Western, an intoxicating gee-whiz space opera with dollops of Joseph Campbell–style mythologizing that obliterated the moral complexities of 1970s Hollywood. This postmodern movie-brat pastiche references a virtual syllabus of genre classics, from Metropolis and Triumph of the Will to Kurosawa’s samurai actioners, Flash Gordon serials and WWII thrillers like The Dam Busters. Luke Skywalker’s quest to rescue a princess instantly elevated B-movie bliss to billion-dollar-franchise sagas.—Stephen Garrett
Carl Theodor Dreyer’s classic tale of the trial of Joan of Arc is somehow both austere and maximalist. The director shows restraint with setting and scope; the film focuses largely on the back-and-forth between Joan and her inquisitors. But the intense close-ups give free reign to Maria Falconetti’s marvelously expressive turn as the doomed Maid of Orleans. Made at the close of the silent era, it set new standards in screen acting.—Bilge Ebiri
The ultimate cult film, Leone’s spaghetti Western is set in a civilizing America—though mostly shot in Rome and Spain—but the real location is an abstract frontier of old versus new, of larger-than-life heroes fading into memory. It’s a triumph of buried political commentary and purest epic cinema. Henry Fonda’s icy stare, composer Ennio Morricone’s twangy guitars of doom and the monumental Charles Bronson as the last gunfighter (“an ancient race…”) are just three reasons of a million to saddle up.—Joshua Rothkopf
If all it did was to launch a franchise centered on Sigourney Weaver’s fierce survivor (still among the toughest action heroines of cinema), Ridley Scott’s claustrophobic, deliberately paced sci-fi-horror classic would still be cemented in the film canon. But Alien claims masterpiece status with its subversive gender politics (this is a movie that impregnates men), its shocking chestburster centerpiece and industrial designer H.R. Giger’s strangely elegant double-jawed creature, a nightmarish vision of hostility—and one of cinema’s most unforgettable pieces of pure craft.—Tomris Laffly
Simply spun, Yasujiro Ozu’s domestic drama is small but perfectly formed. Chishu Ryu and Chieko Higashiyama are dignified and moving as parents who visit their children and grandchildren, only to be neglected. Delicately played, beautifully shot (often with the camera hovering just off the ground), Ozu’s masterpiece is the family movie given grandeur and intimacy. If you loved last year’s Shoplifters, you’ll love this.—Ian Freer
What’s the best part of Pulp Fiction? The twist contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s? Bruce Willis versus the Gimp? Jules’s Ezekiel 25:17 monologue? Quentin Tarantino’s film earns curiosity with its grabby movie moments but claims all-time status with its spellbinding achronological plotting, insanely quotable dialogue and a proper understanding of the metric system. Pulp Fiction marked its generation as deeply as did Star Wars before it; it’s a flourish of ’90s indie attitude that still feels fresh despite a legion of chatty imitators.—Ian Freer
The late ’90s spawned two prescient satires of reality TV, back when it was still in its pre-epidemic phase: the underrated EDtv and, this, Peter Weir’s profound statement on the way the media has its claws in us. In some ways a kinder, gentler version of Network, The Truman Show is a TV parable in which a meek hero (Jim Carrey) wins back his life. It can also be considered an angrier film, slamming both the controlling TV networks (represented by Ed Harris’s messiahlike Christof) and us, the viewing public, for making a game show of other people’s lives.—Phil de Semlyen
Notions of masculinity, conflicted sexuality and tribal identity (or lack of it) boil beneath the surface of David Lean’s historical epic like magma. They seeps through the cracks of its depiction of iconoclastic Edwardian nomad and Arab leader T E Lawrence (Peter O’Toole), locating its huge set pieces within the megalomaniac compass of its hero and lending depth to its intimate moments when the cost of all is laid bare. Amid its sweeping Arabian landscapes, famously captured by cinematographer Freddie Young’s cameras, it’s the interior landscape of Lawrence himself that this great biopic maps out so memorably.—Phil de Semlyen
Fun fact: Psycho is the first film to ever depict a toilet flushing. Happily, Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller broke new ground in other ways, too, from offing its heroine within the first third to diving deeper into a crazed mind (bravo, Anthony Perkins) than Hollywood had yet managed before. Forget the shower shenanigans, the end is creepy AF.—Ian Freer
Japanese cinema has produced no shortage of heavy hitters, but director Kenji Mizoguchi may deserve prime of place. He was able to turn out impeccable ghost stories (Ugetsu) and backstage dramas (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums), but his greatest trait was a deep, unshakable empathy for women, beaten down by the patriarchy but heartbreaking in their suffering. These women are central to Sansho the Bailiff, a feudal tale of familial dissolution that will wreck you. Make no apologies for your tears; everyone else will be crying, too.—Joshua Rothkopf
Mournful, challenging and mesmerizing, Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic portrait of the life and times of one of Russia’s most famous medieval icon painters foregrounds qualities such as landscape and mood over story and character. Ultimately, it’s the tale of a man’s attempt to overcome his crisis of faith in a world that seems to have an endless supply of violence and strife—and it’s a remarkable testament to the persistence of artists working under oppressive regimes.—Bilge Ebiri
The melancholy of Michel Legrand’s glorious score washes over viewers’ hearts from the first moment of Jacques Demy’s nontraditional, sung-through musical. One of the most romantic films ever made about the pains and purity of first love, the immaculately styled The Umbrellas of Cherbourg challenged the lighter Hollywood musicals of the era (like The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady) and launched the sensational Catherine Deneuve into international stardom. Later, it would be a major influence on La La Land.—Tomris Laffly
Director Roman Polanski and screenwriter Robert Towne took a modestly sleazy noir setup and turned it into a meditation on the horrors of American history and rapacious capitalism. The film also sports a perfect cast, with a top-of-his-game Jack Nicholson as a cynical private eye, an impossibly alluring Faye Dunaway as the femme fatale with a past so dark her final revelation still shocks, and the legendary John Huston as the monstrous millionaire at the heart of it all.—Bilge Ebiri
Not just any film gets homaged by Bill and Ted. But Ingmar Bergman’s great treatise on mortality isn’t just any film. Despite becoming somehow synonymous with “difficult art-house statement,” it’s not all weighty themes, plague-strewn landscapes and chess games with the Grim Reaper. As Max von Sydow’s medieval knight travels the land witnessing the apocalypse, loads of life-affirming moments lighten the load. Of course, it’s a work of profound philosophical thought, too, so you’ll feel brainier for having seen it.—Phil de Semlyen
Worlds collide in Sofia Coppola’s pitch-perfect tale of a movie star (Bill Murray) and a newlywed (Scarlett Johansson) in Tokyo. Coppola approaches each of her characters with a warmth and sensitivity that exudes from the screen—and ensures that “Brass in Pocket” will remain a karaoke favorite around the world (pink wig optional). Why has the film endured so vividly in viewers’ hearts? Maybe because it captures those gloriously melancholic moments we’ve all experienced that seem to be gone in a flash, yet linger forever.—Anna Smith
A time capsule of a vanished New York and a portrait of twisted masculinity that still stings, Taxi Driver stands at the peak of the vital, gritty auteur-driven filmmaking that defined 1970s New Hollywood. Martin Scorsese’s vision of vigilantism is filled with an uncomfortable ambience, and Paul Schrader’s screenplay probes philosophical depths that are brought to vicious life by Robert De Niro’s unforgettable performance.—Abbey Bender
The jewel in Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli’s crown, Spirited Away is a glorious bedtime story filled with soot sprites, monsters and phantasms—it’s a movie with the power to coax out the inner child in the most grown-up and jaded among us. A spin on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (with the same invitation to follow your imagination), Spirited Away has been ushering audiences into its dream world for almost two decades and seems only to grow in stature each year, a tribute to its hand-drawn artistry. Trivia time: It remains Japan’s highest-grossing film ever, just ahead of Titanic.—Anna Smith
The first no-budget horror movie to become a bona-fide calling card for its director, George A. Romero’s seminal frightfest begins with a single zombie in a graveyard and builds to an undead army attacking a secluded house. Most modern horror clichés start here. But nothing betters it for style, mordant wit, racial and political undertow, and scaring the bejesus out of you, all some 50 years before Us.—Ian Freer
This rousing Russian silent film was conceived in the heat of Soviet propaganda and commissioned by the still-young Communist government to salute an event from 20 years earlier. It tells of a sailors’ revolt that morphs into a full-blown workers’ uprising in the city of Odessa; the movie is most famous for one breathtaking sequence—much copied and parodied since—of a baby carriage tumbling down a huge flight of steps. But Battleship Potemkin is full of powerful images and heady ideas, and director Sergei Eisenstein is rightly considered one of the pioneers of early film language, with his influence felt through the decades.—Dave Calhoun
The only Charlie Chaplin movie to see the Little Tramp go on a massive cocaine binge, this relentlessly inventive silent classic hardly needs the added kick. The gags come almost as fast as you can process them, with the typically pinpoint Chaplin slapstick conjured here from scenarios that seem purpose-built to end in disaster. The sight of Chaplin literally feeding himself into a massive machine offers a still-germane satire on technological advancement.—Phil de Semlyen
Film critic Jean-Luc Godard’s seismic directing debut is a bravado deconstruction of the gangster picture that also reinvented moviemaking itself. It features Cubistic jump cuts, restless handheld camerawork, location shoots, eccentric pacing (the 24-minute centerpiece is two lovers talking in a bedroom), and self-conscious asides about painting, poetry, pop culture, literature and film. A sexy fling between petty thief Jean-Paul Belmondo and Sorbonne-bound gamine Jean Seberg morphs into an oddly touching, existential meditation. It’s pulp fiction, but alchemically profound.—Stephen Garrett
So much of Stanley Kubrick’s genius was conceptual, and this one asks his most audacious question: What if the world came to an end—and it was hilarious? Nuclear annihilation was a subject in which Kubrick immersed himself, reading virtually every unclassified text. His conclusion was grim: There would be no winning. Via darkest comedy (the only way into the subject) and an unhinged Peter Sellers playing three separate parts, Kubrick made his point.—Joshua Rothkopf
One of those epochal films—there’s only a handful—that sits on the divide between silent cinema and the sound era but taps into the virtues of both, Fritz Lang’s serial-killer thriller burns with deep-etched visual darkness while perking ears with its whistled “In the Hall of the Mountain King” (performed by a purse-lipped Lang himself; his star, Peter Lorre, couldn’t whistle). The movie’s theme is vigilance: We must protect our children, but who will protect society from itself? M is like a sonar listening to a pre-Nazi Germany on the cusp of shedding its humanity.—Joshua Rothkopf
Set in (eek!) 2019, Ridley Scott’s vision of a dystopian future is one of the most stylish sci-fi films of all time. With a noir-inspired aesthetic and a haunting synth score by Vangelis (a massive influence on Prince), Blade Runner is iconic not just for its era-defining look, but also for its deeper philosophical examination of what it means to be human. Many have tried to imitate the film’s uncanny vibe, but these rain-slicked streets and seedy vistas possess a singular menace.—Abbey Bender
The creative fecundity of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, dead from an overdose at age 37 after completing more than 40 features, deserves enshrinement by a new generation. This film is arguably his sharpest and most psychologically complex; inarguably, it’s his bitchiest. There is so much to love in Fassbinder’s shag-carpeted showdown, which goes beyond the spectacle of two dueling fashionistas into a profound exploration of aging and obsolescence.—Joshua Rothkopf
Few film movements can boast the hit rate of Italian neorealism, a post-WWII wave dedicated to working-class struggle that seems to comprise only masterpieces. Robert Rossellini was responsible for a few of them, including Germany Year Zero and this earlier drama of repression and resistance, which boasts not one but two of the most memorable death scenes in all of cinema.—Phil de Semlyen
Brace for the land of phantoms and the call of the Bird of Death: One of the earliest (though unauthorized) adaptations of Dracula is still the most terrifying. Max Schreck’s insectlike performance as the bloodthirsty Count Orlok is just as transfixing and repulsive as it was almost a century ago. German Expressionist director F.W. Murnau’s haunting images of a crepuscular world set the chilling standard for generations of cinematic nightmares.—Stephen Garrett
With about 6,500 zingers to choose from, everyone has their favorite Airplane! gag. Directors David and Jerry Zucker and their partner in extreme silliness, Jim Abrahams, truly threw the kitchen sink at this dizzying spoof of the ’70s disaster movies that were all the rage at the time. Onscreen comedy, in turn, was modernized for what would be its most transforming decade. Our favorite joke? “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines.”—Phil de Semlyen
Hypnotic, bewitching, thought-provoking, disturbing, horrifying: However you react to it, you won’t forget Jonathan Glazer’s startling adaptation of Michel Faber’s woman-who-fell-to-earth novel. Using her celebrity in a radical way, Scarlett Johansson is perfectly cast as an alien in human form who roams Glasgow trying to pick up men in her van. It was shot guerrilla-style on the streets of the Scottish city, so look out for the footage of genuinely baffled passersby.—Anna Smith
Both a sequel and a reboot, the fourth entry in director George Miller’s series of post-apocalyptic gearhead epics fuses death-defying stunts with modern special effects to give us one of the all-time-great action movies. This one is a nonstop barrage of chases, each more spectacularly elaborate and nightmarish than the last—but it’s all combined with Miller’s surreal, poetic sensibility, which sends it into the realm of art.—Bilge Ebiri
Francis Ford Coppola’s evergreen Vietnam War classic proves war is swell, as assassin Martin Sheen heads upriver to kill renegade colonel Marlon Brando. En route, there’s surfing, a thrilling helicopter raid, napalm smelling, tigers and Playboy bunnies, until Sheen steps off the boat and into a different zone of madness—or is it genius? Who knows at this point?—Ian Freer
Forget what the Oscars crowned as the Best Picture of 2005: Ang Lee’s tragic gay romance is the nominee that stands the test of time. Anchored by Rodrigo Prieto’s swoonworthy cinematography and a wistful Heath Ledger (whose performance toppled societal perceptions of masculinity), Brokeback Mountain is a milestone in LGBTQ art-house cinema. It reimagined the Western genre and became a part of the zeitgeist.—Tomris Laffly
Biting political satires don’t have to be long and complicated: This 68-minute masterpiece is perfectly pithy, exposing the absurdities of international politics with swift wit and spot-on slapstick. Often regarded as the funniest of the Marx Brothers’ oeuvre, the film is also—sadly—timeless, as its portrayal of a war-mongering dictatorship remains relevant to this day.—Anna Smith
An unlikely pick? Not when you consider the low-budget sensation in a larger context. Many films emerge from Sundance with a deafening buzz; how do you explain a $250 million global box-office gross? Credit a revolutionary internet campaign, spooky and immersive, that’s now a tactic in every publicist’s playbook. And let’s not forget the movie itself, which kicked off the “found-footage” trend. Even more prophetically, The Blair Witch Project is about a generation that can’t stop filming itself, even when lost in the woods—it’s ground zero for selfie horror.—Joshua Rothkopf
With the ink barely wet on Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation, director Alan J. Pakula, actor-producer Robert Redford and screenwriter William Goldman created a hot-off-the-presses docudrama about the Watergate break-in that crackles with live-wire tension. This is nose-to-the-grindstone investigative work in an analog world—think rotary phones, electric typewriters, handwritten notes on legal pads, red-pen edits and Xerox copiers—and a master class in making movie dialogue absolutely riveting. It’s an essential touchstone for every political thriller since.—Stephen Garrett
We’re cheating by including all three films (Pather Panchali, Aparajito and The World of Apu), but really, how do you separate the installments of Satyajit Ray’s magnificent coming-of-age trilogy? The Bengali great follows young Apu (Apurba Kumar Roy) from boyhood to adult life via schooling and a move from his remote village to the big city, as well as loves and losses. Some of the most intimate Indian cinema ever captured, it’s also completely relatable, whether you hail from Kolkata, Kansas or Camden Town.—Phil de Semlyen
Boy meets train. Boy loses train. Boy chases Union forces who stole train, wins back train and fires off in the opposite direction. It may not sound like your average love story, but that’s exactly what Buster Keaton’s deadpan and death-defying silent comedy is: a majestic demonstration of trick photography, balletic courage and comic timing, all underpinned by genuine heart. Trust us, it’s loco-motional.—Phil de Semlyen
There are countless movies about romantic relationships, yet few explore the subject more creatively than Michel Gondry’s breakthrough, scripted by Charlie Kaufman (who was then becoming a household name with Being John Malkovich and Adaptation). The sci-fi–inflected tale of two halves of a broken-up couple going through a memory-erasing procedure takes many surprising, poignant turns; the film’s impeccably executed combination of authentically quirky imagery and philosophical inquiry has become a signpost of modern independent cinema.—Abbey Bender
The title is still a killer piece of marketing, suggesting something much gorier than what you get. That’s not to say Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece doesn’t deliver. A grungy vision of horror captured during a palpably sweaty and stenchy Texas summer, the film has taken its rightful place as a definitive parable of Nixonian class warfare, eat-or-be-eaten social envy and the essentially unknowable nature of some unlucky parts of the world.—Joshua Rothkopf
As unsparing as cinema gets, the influence of Elem Klimov’s sui generis war movie transcends the genre in a way that not even Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan can match. At its heart it’s a coming-of-age story that follows a young Belarusian boy (Aleksei Kravchenko) through unspeakable horror as Nazi death squads visit an apocalypse on his region. Alongside its historical truths, the film’s grammar and visual language—there are passages that play like an ultra-violent acid trip—are what truly elevates it. Like an Hieronymus Bosch masterpiece, the images here can never be unseen.—Phil de Semlyen
Writer-director Michael Mann’s heist masterpiece put two of our greatest actors, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, together onscreen for the first time—one as a stoic master criminal, the other as the obsessive cop determined to bring him down. In weaving their stories together, Mann presents dueling but equally weighted perspectives, with our allegiance as viewers constantly shifting. The last word on cops-and-robbers movies, it’s suffused with a magic that crime thrillers try to recapture to this day.—Bilge Ebiri
Our list doesn’t lack for Stanley Kubrick movies (nor should it). Still, it’s shocking to remember that The Shining—so redolent of the director’s pet themes of mazelike obsession and the banality of evil—was once considered a minor work. It’s since come to represent the most concentrated blast of Kubrick’s total command; he’s the god of the film, Steadicam-ing around corners and making the audience notice that he was born to redefine horror. Even if we can’t roll with the crackpot fan theories about how Kubrick allegedly faked the Apollo moon landing, we’ll readily admit that this film contains cosmic multitudes.—Joshua Rothkopf
The one that got Pixar’s (Luxo) ball rolling and still an absolute high-water mark for CG animation, Toy Story reinvented what a family movie could be. On the surface, it’s a simple story about a couple of miniature rivals sizing each other up (Woody was originally going to be a whole mess meaner), before falling into peril at the hands of next-door pyrotechnics genius Sid. But it’s also about jealousy, power dynamics and our relationships with our own childhoods. With it, Pixar took storytelling to infinity and far, far beyond.—Phil de Semlyen
Shot on 16-millimeter film in sketchy light, Charles Burnett’s UCLA graduate thesis film stitches together seemingly mundane vignettes to form a compelling mosaic of late-’70s African-American life. A landmark of independent black cinema, it’s set to a great soundtrack ranging from blues and classical to Paul Robeson. Poetic, compassionate, angry, ironic: All human life is present here.—Ian Freer
There’s a tendency in these greatest-of-all-time exercises to prioritize the director, the camerawork or the screenplay. But respect must be paid to the performer, too: In a decade of brilliant acting, no turn was quite as galvanizing as the one given by Gena Rowlands in this stunning peek into a fraying mind. A fluky Los Angeles housewife and mother who’s constantly being told to calm down, Rowlands’s Mabel is the apotheosis of John Cassavetes’s improvisatory cinema; our concern for her never flags as she teeters through excruciating scenes of breakdown and regrouping.—Joshua Rothkopf
Quotable, endearing and bursting with creative moments, Annie Hall is one of the most revolutionary of romantic comedies. This quintessential New York movie turned countless viewers on to the joys of verbose dialogue (and experimentation in menswear for women), and has long been lauded for both its accessibility and its poignancy, a balance that few movies have since achieved so memorably.—Abbey Bender
Clocking it at number 15 on our list of the 100 Greatest Comedies Ever Made, Billy Wilder’s classic gangster farce plays like Scarface on helium. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon make one of cinema’s most delightful double acts as a couple of musicians on the run from the Mob, but Marilyn Monroe steals the picture as the coquettish, breathy and entirely loveable Sugar. Nobody’s perfect but this movie gets pretty darn close.—Phil de Semlyen
Hugely expensive for its time, Metropolis is Blade Runner, The Terminator and Star Wars all rolled into one (not to mention 50 years prior). Fritz Lang’s silent vision of a totalitarian society still astounds through its stunning cityscapes, groundbreaking special effects and a bewitchingly evil robot (Brigitte Helm). It’s science fiction at its most ambitious and breathtaking—the not-so-modest beginnings of onscreen genre seriousness.—Ian Freer
The accepted wisdom is that the noir era really kicked off during the hard-bitten post-WWII years, which makes John Huston’s adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s detective novel a real trailblazer. It’s a template for the swathe of noir flicks that would follow, offering up a jaded-but-noble gumshoe in Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade, a femme fatale (Mary Astor), a couple of shifty villains (Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre) and a labyrinthine plot that drags you around by the nose. If the movie were any more hard-boiled, you’d crack your teeth on it.—Phil de Semlyen
Exploding drummers, amps that go to 11, tiny Stonehenges, “Dobly”: This spoof rock documentary—rockumentary, if you must—is monumentally influential on cinema, cringe comedy and, possibly, the music industry itself. (There’s not a band out there without at least one Spinal Tap moment to its name.) Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer are comic royalty, and we can only genuflect in their presence; shortly after this film, Guest kicked off his own directorial brand of humor, directly inspired by Rob Reiner’s heavy-metal satire.—Phil de Semlyen
If only Hollywood made ’em like they used to: crackling romantic comedies that conquered the Oscars. Frank Capra’s hilarious hate-at-first-sight love story is still one of the fastest movies ever made. Claudette Colbert’s spoiled heiress and Clark Gable’s opportunistic reporter hit the road and bicker their way toward a happily-ever-after ending, class barriers be damned. Not only did this smart and suggestively sexy pre-Code screwball shape every rom-com that followed, it still has a leg up on most of them.—Tomris Laffly
The perfect action movie? It’s hard to think of one better than this tower-block spectacular—nor one more imitated. There’s since been “Die Hard on a boat” (Under Siege), “Die Hard in a hockey arena” (Sudden Death) and even “Die Hard in a private school” (1997’s Masterminds). None, though, is fit to tie the laces on John McClane’s quickly discarded shoes. The stunts are awesome, the dialogue is endlessly quotable, and Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman are a white-hat–black-hat duo straight out of a classic Western.—Phil de Semlyen
In Mussolini’s Italy, a repressed homosexual (Jean-Louis Trintignant) joins the Fascist party in order to blend in and hide his true self. Part psychoanalysis session, part colorful genre fantasia, director Bernardo Bertolucci’s enormously influential drama journeys through different styles and aesthetics. As much as Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane did with the films of the ’20s, ’30s, and early ’40s, The Conformist offers a powerful compendium of cinematic techniques from the eras preceding it.—Bilge Ebiri
Let John Carpenter’s real masterpiece—the one that horror mavens bow down to—take its place in the pantheon. A passion project that got clobbered by audiences and critics alike, The Thing was, in fact, that rarest of remakes: one that improves upon its source. Carpenter’s widescreen elegance and spooky synth minimalism (here furthered by composer Ennio Morricone) found a new counterpoint in some of the most disgusting practical special effects ever sprung on a paying audience. But the film’s ice-cold paranoia, uncut and pharma-grade, has been its most lasting legacy: a template of perfection for all since.—Joshua Rothkopf
Writer-director Julie Dash should have become an Ava DuVernay-level success after her poetic feature debut, an achievement of otherworldly beauty. The first film made by an African-American woman to receive theatrical distribution, Daughters of the Dust is permeated with pride, history and matriarchal wisdom. Set in 1902, it follows the Gullah, descendents of slaves living off the coast of South Carolina, who painfully reckon with their fading traditions. Singularly ahead of its time, Daughters mourns the enduring tragedy of enslavement. Its tranquil strength later found an echo in Beyoncé’s Lemonade.—Tomris Laffly
Back in 1975, Stanley Kubrick’s somber adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel about a young Irishman’s journey from lovestruck exile to cynical grifter in 18th-century Europe seemed out of step with the gritty, intense output of contemporary cinema. Years later, it’s considered by many to be Kubrick’s masterpiece, and its deliberate, highly aestheticized approach has influenced everybody from Ridley Scott to Yorgos Lanthimos.—Bilge Ebiri
Martin Scorsese’s hallucinogenic biography of the tenacious boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) is a bold mash-up of neorealist grit and hyperstylized, gossamer beauty. Put on the gloves and LaMotta is in his element; take them off and he’s an insecure sociopath consumed by sexual jealousy. De Niro’s monstrous portrayal is miraculously empathetic, but what’s truly revolutionary is Scorsese’s technique: Like a modern-day Verdi, the Italian-American auteur elevates the profane to the operatic.—Stephen Garrett
David Fincher is the most signature director of his era: a crafter of iconic music videos and decade-defining dramas like Zodiac and The Social Network. But his transition to Hollywood was rocky; it was a town that barely understood him. The turning point was Seven, the first time that Fincher’s fearsome vision arrived uncut. Stylistically, the dark movie (shot by an inspired Darius Khondji, working with a silver-nitrate-retention process) has proven more durable than even The Silence of the Lambs, but it’s that meme-able sucker punch of an ending that still rattles audiences.—Joshua Rothkopf
Ever-overshadowed by the Herculean feat that was Fitzcarraldo, Werner Herzog’s other exploration of male vainglory in the remotest parts of South America applies another coolly obversational lens to the malignant madness of out-of-control obsession. It’s colder, greedier here: Klaus Kinski’s conquistador craves gold, not culture. Featuring a river journey, a haunting, synthy Popul Voh score and a bunch of taunting monkeys, it’s Herzog’s Apocalypse Now.—Phil de Semlyen
Political thrillers still owe a debt to Gillo Pontecorvo’s ever-timely tour de force. Recounting the Algerian uprising against French colonial occupiers in the 1950s, The Battle of Algiers boldly examines terrorism, racism and even torture as a means of intelligence-gathering. Screened at the Pentagon for its topical significance during the early phases of the Iraq War, Algiers has its rebellious legacy vested in numerous politically charged epics, from Z to Steven Spielberg’s Munich.—Tomris Laffly
Pedro Almodóvar broke into the mainstream with this gloriously colorful ensemble comedy, an entry point for many into a style of smart, sexually liberated European cinema. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown offers juicy roles for a range of Spain’s finest female actors (plus a charmingly baby-faced Antonio Banderas) and consistently delights with its creative choices in costuming and interior design. The combination of screwball dynamics and the garishness of the 1980s is perfectly calibrated and fun.—Abbey Bender
Shot over 12 years with a cast of actors that ages before our eyes, Richard Linklater’s modern-day coming-of-age classic is a peerless artistic gamble, comparable only to Michael Apted’s Up series and Francois Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel films. Still, Boyhood’s astonishing compactness catches you off guard like no other movie. Adorned by Linklater’s signature effortless rhythms, the film bottles the fleeting spirit of time, maturing into a reflective meditation on life’s ordinary moments.—Tomris Laffly
Movies have always been a gateway into radical art; Hollywood may have made them sleek and accessible, but experimentation was there from the start. Luis Buñuel counts among the top rank of dreamers to ever grace the field of filmmaking. Without him, there’s no David Lynch, no Wong Kar-wai—even Alfred Hitchcock was a fan. Of Buñuel’s many seismic features (don’t skip his slicin’-up-eyeballs short, “Un Chien Andalou”), begin with this radical satire of class warfare, which sums up everything he did well. It even won him an unlikely Oscar.—Joshua Rothkopf
An antiwar movie, a courtroom thriller, an upstairs-downstairs study of social status, a religious critique, an absurdist satire and, finally, a heartbreakingly futile plea for compassion in the face of destruction, Stanley Kubrick’s humanist masterpiece dissects all the delusional facets of the male psyche. Battlegrounds abound—psychological, emotional, physical—making the bleakly entrenched soldiers of 1916, and the officers who confuse folly for fame, still feel painfully relevant.—Stephen Garrett
Actors are the lifeblood of director Mike Leigh’s famous process, a much-discussed method of workshopping, character exploration, group improvisation and collaborative writing. It can often be months before the camera rolls. The results have been consistently exquisite over the years, funneled into period musical-comedies (Topsy-Turvy) and brutal contemporary dramas (Naked) alike. We recommend Leigh’s critical breakthrough, featuring nervy turns by Brenda Blethyn and Timothy Spall, as the perfect place to begin your deep dive.—Joshua Rothkopf
This smoky, jazzy noir from director Alexander Mackendrick (The Ladykillers) is one of the great movies about power, influence and print journalism at its midcentury height. It’s a seedy, intoxicating tale that unfolds in Manhattan’s backroom bar booths, and it features brain-searing performances from Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco, a bottom-feeding gossip monger, and Burt Lancaster as J.J. Hunsecker, a towering, corrupt newspaper columnist. The dialogue is snappy and delicious; the morals are as empty as Times Square at dawn—Dave Calhoun
This German Expressionist masterpiece came out in 1920, a long time before the invention of the spoiler warning. We only hope that audience members instinctively knew not to give away cinema’s first ever twist ending and ruin the sting of this fractured horror-fable for their pals. Director Robert Wiene conjured up something truly dark and lingering from its shadows: You can feel Dr. Caligari’s influence in everything from Tim Burton’s movies to Shutter Island.—Phil de Semlyen
This multilayered epic of country music, politics and relationships is Robert Altman’s signature achievement. With its overlapping dialogue and roving camera, Nashville created an earthy, idiosyncratic panorama of American life, featuring many of the most memorable actors of the decade. The 1970s were U.S. cinema’s most exciting period, and Nashville—broadened by its admirable scope and freewheeling energy—is emblematic of that creativity.—Abbey Bender
Nicolas Roeg influenced and inspired a generation of filmmakers, from Danny Boyle to Steven Soderbergh – and here’s why. Roeg shrouds Daphne du Maurier’s short story in an icy chill, seeding the idea of supernatural forces at play in a wintry Venice through sheer filmmaking craft and the power of his editing. He finds a deep humanity in the horror, too, with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland’s grieving parents reconnecting and drifting apart like flotsam on some invisible tide. His masterpiece, Don’t Look Now remains a primal cry of grief that shakes you to the core.—Phil de Semlyen
Arthur Penn’s game-changing action film was made in the same spirit of the revisionist Westerns of the ’60s and ’70s—irreverent, fun, morally all over the place, and unafraid of blood and bullets. The movie takes us back to the 1930s during the legendary crime spree of lovers Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty), careening around Depression-era America and robbing it blind. Why did this film resonate so well at the end of its decade? With the Vietnam War, inner-city rioting and Nixon on the rise, all bets were off. Add the swoony pair of Beatty and Dunaway, and you’ve got a classic on your hands: a revolution in period dress.—Dave Calhoun
Watch this space: Jordan Peele’s newly minted horror classic is sure to rise in the rankings. Taking cues from grand master George A. Romero and his counterculture-defining Night of the Living Dead, Peele infused white liberal guilt with a scary racial subtext; the “sunken place” is precisely the kind of metaphor that only horror movies can exploit to the fullest. During its theatrical run—which stretched into a summer that also saw the white-supremacist Charlottesville rally—Get Out felt like the only movie speaking to a deepening divide.—Joshua Rothkopf