100 best movies of all time – KOLD

(Stacker) Audiences have been enraptured by cinema since 1895 when Auguste and Louis Lumière used a cinematograph machine to project moving images onto a screen.
Naturally, movies have come a long way since the early days of 50-second reels, resulting in a rich variety of styles — many of which are easily streamed right from home. Meanwhile, every cinematic era has put forth its respective slate of timeless masterpieces.
The best movies arguably represent the pinnacle of artistic achievement in the modern era and that makes them worth celebrating over and over again.
To explore the 100 best films of all time, Stacker analyzed IMDb ratings and Metascores to create a unique score equally weighting the two.
Only English-language movies released in the U.S. were considered for the list. Additionally, each movie needed at least 20,000 votes on IMDb, and if the movie didn’t have a Metascore, it was not included.
Why most movies age poorly while a choice few seem to get even better over time boils down to auteurism. The greater the creative stamp a filmmaker can put on their work, the better the chances are the work will appreciate over time.
A noticeable trend in the forthcoming list is that many of the movies don’t take place within their respective periods. Depicting the past or the future—or a separate world altogether—is often a safer bet than depicting the present reality.
Great films usually deliver the goods on multiple fronts. That means everything from the writing to the music to the acting is memorable, if not downright iconic. At the end of the day, of course, there is no one solitary answer as to what makes a great movie—just like there is no one type of great film.
Counting down from #100, here are the best movies of all time.
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This 1984 biopic chronicles the life of Amadeus Mozart, namely through the eyes of his bitter contemporary Antonio Salieri. Striving for authenticity, director Milos Forman shot the film using only natural light—arguably taking some cues from Stanley Kubrick, who did the same when making “Barry Lyndon.” Tom Hulce went above and beyond to prepare for his role as the famous composer, including practicing piano for four to five hours a day before filming began. The work paid off: “Amadeus” netted eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Kathryn Bigelow’s career hit a second stride with the release of her gripping Iraq War drama, “The Hurt Locker.” The film follows a bomb disposal team from one job to the next. Instead of traditional character development, the story coasts by on a wave of sustained and almost unbearable tension. It won six Academy Awards, making Bigelow the first woman in history to win for Best Director.
Director George Miller resurrected his classic “Mad Max” franchise in 2015, with Tom Hardy taking on the lead role, formerly played by Mel Gibson. However, most fans would argue it’s Charlize Theron’s Furiosa who steals the show in this dazzling adventure movie, which sees her and Mad Max escaping the clutches of an evil warlord. As one might expect, the explosive action goes down in a post-apocalyptic wasteland inhabited by all sorts of depraved humans. The film took home six of the 10 Academy Awards for which it was nominated.
A film that only gets more prescient with time, 1998′s “The Truman Show” takes place in a completely fabricated town where cameras lurk behind every corner and every citizen is an actor or actress. Every citizen, that is, except Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), the unwitting subject of a 24-hour reality show. As Truman catches on to the truth behind his existence, his cozy reality begins to collapse around him. Meanwhile, a megalomaniac named Christof (Ed Harris) pulls all the strings from above. Proving just how poignant the movie was and remains, a psychological condition known as the Truman Show Delusion is named for a delusion in which individuals believe they are being filmed and that the world around them is a set of sorts.
The film received three Oscar nominations, including for Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen.
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 its most celebrated efforts is this 2003 adventure, in which a clownfish named Marlin navigates a perilous undersea terrain to find his missing son, Nemo. Until “The Incredibles 2″ came along in 2018, this was Pixar’s highest worldwide grossing film to date. The animated flick was so successful it spawned a spin-off sequel, “Finding Dory,” in June 2016. A third installment, “Finding Marlin,” is slated for 2026.
This 1991 crime drama wasn’t the first to put Hannibal Lecter up on the big screen, but it was certainly the most impactful. Playing the iconic sadist to lizard-like perfection was actor Anthony Hopkins, who engages in a battle of wits with FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) as he helps her track down a serial killer named Buffalo Bill. The film was followed by a sequel, a prequel, a TV show, and even an 8-bit video game-style short film. What’s more, it is one of the few films to win five Academy Awards in all the major categories including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Charlie Chaplin bridged slapstick comedy with tender melancholy in “The Circus.” Chaplin’s role was as the “Little Tramp,” a drifter who gets hired as a clown when he accidentally runs into the middle of a circus performance while trying to evade police officers. As a clown, Little Tramp is only funny when he’s not trying to be and suffers from an ill-fated infatuation with a bareback rider. The movie won an Academy Award at the first presentation ceremony of the awards in 1929 for “Versatility and genius in writing, acting, directing, and producing.” In spite of this achievement, the process of filming was the worst in Chaplin’s career. He was in the process of divorcing Lita Grey as her lawyers dragged Chaplin’s name through the mud and sought to acquire his studio assets, forcing an eight-month pause in production.
“Stagecoach” goes down in history as the film featuring John Wayne in his breakthrough role as the Ringo Kid. The storyline follows a ragtag group of characters aboard the Overboard stagecoach en route from Arizona Territory to New Mexico while the threat of outlaws—or an Apache attack—waits around every bend. The film walked away with the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Thomas Mitchell and Best Music (Scoring).
Putting show business in its crosshairs, this scathing satire follows two scheming producers as they plot the biggest Broadway flop of all time. The name of that flop is “Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden” and it’s every bit as offensive as one might expect. Even so, the film is regarded as a cult classic today. And what’s more, the movie earned Brooks his sole Academy Award, for Best Original Screenplay.
Greta Gerwig’s sophomore directorial effort cemented her status as a veritable auteur, making her 2020 Oscars snub that much harder to swallow. Her take on Louisa May Alcott’s seminal novel is the last and arguably the best in a long line of big-screen adaptations. Actors Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen play the March sisters and lead a talented cast. At the British Academy Film Awards, however, the movie took home a win for Best Costume Design.
Set during the turn of the 20th century, “Days of Heaven” follows a romantic couple named Bill and Abby as they take up employment on a Texas farm where they pretend to be siblings. When it’s discovered that the landowner has feelings for Abby, the couple tries to exploit those feelings for personal gain. Featuring lush cinematography and sparse dialogue, the movie cemented director Terrence Malick’s status as a visual maestro, albeit one of an elusive nature. True to his mysterious persona, Malick went on a 20-year hiatus after this film was released. The film was chosen for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2007.
In this harrowing 1946 drama, three soldiers struggle to reintegrate into society after returning home from serving in World War II. “The Best Years of Our Lives” was directed by William Wyler, a former Air Force major whose previous war film, “Mrs. Miniver,” is held in similarly high regard. Despite the grim and depressing tone, “The Best Years of Our Lives” was the biggest box office success since 1939′s “Gone With the Wind.” The picture was also one of the first 25 films selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1989.
Julian Schnabel was best-known as an acclaimed painter before he transitioned into film, resulting in this French biographical drama. It tells the true story of magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffers from “locked-in syndrome.” Interweaving memory and reality, the movie glides along at its own unique and compelling pace. The movie was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Director and Best Film Editing.
“On the Waterfront” is a black and white crime drama starring Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy, a dockworker whose brother (Rod Steiger) works closely with their corrupted dockers’ union boss (Lee J. Cobb). Throughout the movie, pressure builds as Malloy seeks to find his own footing and voice—and stand up to the crooked overlord. The film won eight Oscars and four Golden Globes. Additionally, the movie was chosen for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1989.
In this 1967 drama, Paul Newman plays a laid-back inmate who routinely clashes with his overseers in a rural prison. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning George Kennedy the trophy for Best Supporting Actor. Ex-convict Donn Pearce authored the book upon which the film was based and co-wrote the screenplay. Despite his involvement, Pearce expressed disappointment in the finished product.
Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” remains one of his most groundbreaking achievements, namely for its unconventional style. Allen breaks the fourth wall, incorporates animation, reads minds, time jumps, and employs a variety of comedic devices, all while telling a relatively simple love story. Not only was the movie influential as a work of art, but the title character (played by Diane Keaton) became something of a fashion icon. The United States Library of Congress in 1992 selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry.
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. The film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Original Score. A far less successful sequel debuted on Netflix in 2016.
Adapted from James Ellroy’s brilliant pulp novel, this 1997 crime drama takes place in 1950s Los Angeles and follows three police officers as they investigate a horrific murder. As the probe deepens, the officers come up against a tide of corruption, the source of which hits closer to home than they ever could have imagined. Included in the star-studded cast are Russell Crowe, Kim Basinger, Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, and James Cromwell. The movie earned nine Academy Award nominations (including for Best Picture), winning two: Best Supporting Actress (Kim Basinger) and Best Adapted Screenplay.
One of Harvard’s most anti-social misfits (played by Jesse Eisenberg) goes on to create the world’s most influential social platform in this blockbuster drama. While the story is more or less based on fact, it’s impossible to ignore screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s imprint in virtually every scene. That’s not to mention David Fincher’s dark cinematic style and the iconic score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, both of which infuse the story with palpably sinister overtones. “The Social Network” earned eight nominations at the Academy Awards, including for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Jesse Eisenberg, bringing home three trophies at the ceremony.
Filmmaking duo the Coen brothers didn’t let the dense prose of Cormac McCarthy inhibit them from faithfully adapting “No Country for Old Men.” In the 2007 film, a man (Josh Brolin) comes upon $2 million in missing drug money and soon finds himself being hunted by a ruthless killer (Javier Bardem). For the most part, the movie stays true to the source material, while terrific performances bring every character even further to life. “No Country for Old Men” won four Oscars at the 80th Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
All the broken hearts out there can relate to this surrealist film from director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. It takes place in a society that seems quite similar to modern-day America, with perhaps a single exception: there’s a medical procedure that will erase ex-lovers from one’s memory. After Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) suffer a bad breakup, they decide to undergo the procedure, only to discover that love still finds a way. The beloved film took home the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and earned Winslet a Best Actress Oscar nomination.
Few adventure films have held up with the same panache as 1985′s “Back to the Future,” which delivers one iconic scene after another. Featuring a downright twisted premise, the movie follows young Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) as he journeys into the past, only to end up as the object of his future mother’s affection. Suddenly, Marty finds himself playing matchmaker between his two teenage parents, with his own existence hanging in the balance. Two sequels and an animated TV series followed. The cult classic ‘80s film was also adapted into a stage production in 2020 titled “Back to the Future: The Musical.”
“Nashville” brings together a group of people deeply embedded in Nashville’s gospel and country music scene through a series of unpredictable events in the lead-up to a political convention. The film received an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. In 1992, the film was chosen for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
Set in a withering West Texas town circa 1951, this brilliant drama from Peter Bogdanovich chronicles a group of high school students as they fool around, grapple with various emotions, and try to figure out what the future has in store. Winner of two Academy Awards, the film offers a bleak but utterly empathetic portrait of teenage life, and one that still resonates decades later. In 1990, Bogdanovich directed a follow-up, “Texasville,” to relatively little fanfare. The Library of Congress chose the film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1998.
This psychological thriller film noir from the master of suspense follows Charlie Newton (Teresa Wright) as she discovers her Uncle Charles (Joseph Cotten) is wanted for murder. Alfred Hitchcock, known for making cameos in his films, appears during minute 16 aboard a train to Santa Rosa, playing a game of bridge. Additionally, in 1991, the film was picked for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
Fearing its political premise—about a former prisoner-of-war soldier who’s brainwashed into becoming an assassin—was far too controversial, the upper echelon over at United Artists were initially reluctant to finance this harrowing thriller. In fact, it took a personal plea from President John F. Kennedy himself, on behalf of star Frank Sinatra, to get “The Manchurian Candidate” approved. Alas, the project went forward and resulted in one of the best films of all time. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress (Angela Lansbury) and Best Editing.
The influence of “The Searchers” on all cinema that came after it is felt throughout the Western genre and virtually every other genre as well, from sci-fi’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” to psychological thriller “Taxi Driver.” Set during the Texas-Indian Wars, the plot follows a Civil War veteran (John Wayne) as he spends years trying to find his kidnapped niece (Natalie Wood). In the years since “The Searchers” debuted, the problematic, racist views of its characters have been widely discussed by critics and fellow filmmakers. Quentin Tarantino famously said of John Ford, “I hate him,” and Roger Ebert asked rhetorically, “Is the film intended to endorse their attitudes, or to dramatize and regret them?”
“My Fair Lady” is a classic take on Bernard Shaw’s 1918 play “Pygmalion,” but certainly not the last. Other classic films about “project women” men try to shape into more acceptable members of society include “Pretty Woman,” “Educating Rita,” and, of course, “She’s All That.” While “My Fair Lady” features an unforgettable performance by Audrey Hepburn, the actress’ singing was dubbed over by soprano Marni Nixon. The movie went on to become the second highest-grossing film of 1964 and won eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
With an upcoming live-action remake in the works, now is the perfect time to revisit this original Disney classic. The studio’s second full-length animated effort, “Pinocchio” was something of a financial disappointment upon its initial debut. Even so, the movie was one of the earliest animated features to win a major Oscar, including Best Music, Original Score and Best Music, Original Song. Thanks to theatrical re-releases and home video rentals and sales, the film eventually grossed more than $100 million.
Alfonso Cuarón drew on his own experiences growing up to paint a stunning, emotional portrait of a family’s live-in housekeeper. “Roma” took home three Oscars and captured 10 of the 15 Ariel Awards (Mexico’s Academy Awards) it was nominated for. In America, the film made a groundbreaking impression, garnering a whopping 10 nominations for the 91st Academy Awards, winning three trophies.
Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy goes out on a high note—or does it?—with this 2013 film, which picks things up nine years after the events of “Before Sunset.” Now, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are living together as a married couple with two twin daughters, though cracks are starting to show in their relationship. Like its predecessors, the film retains a loose narrative and covers a spectrum of both philosophical and humanistic themes. The film earned a myriad of accolades from various organizations, including nominations at the Golden Globe Awards and Academy Awards.
Divided into three segments, this prescient drama follows young Chiron (Ashton Sanders) on his path to self-discovery. Brought to life with vivid color and precision, the story grapples with themes of poverty and identity. “Moonlight” won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Mahershala Ali made history as the first Muslim to win an acting Oscar.
Loosely inspired by his own experiences, Oliver Stone wrote and directed this award-winning Vietnam War film in which a young soldier named Chris (Charlie Sheen) encounters brutal conflict on every conceivable front. In addition to fighting a largely unseen enemy, Chris must also grapple with the ongoing showdown between two of his commanding officers. That’s not to mention the psychological battle Chris fights from within. The film was nominated for eight Oscars at the 59th Academy Awards, winning four including Best Picture and Best Director.
Modernizing the traditional musical, “La La Land” takes place in the city of dreams, and tells the story of two aspiring artists, one a musician (Ryan Gosling) and the other an actress (Emma Stone). Kicking the film off on a high note is a six-minute song-and-dance number that goes down in the middle of freeway traffic. Filming the scene took two days and involved stitching three consecutive shots together to create what appeared to be a single take. Among the movie’s 14 Academy Award nominations, Stone took home the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal in the film, and Damien Chazelle for Best Director, making him the youngest winner at 32.
Depicting the evacuation of Allied forces from the French seaport of Dunkirk, this 2017 war film throws viewers into the action during its opening scene and never lets up throughout the entire 106-minute runtime. Like most films based on true stories, this one came under fire for omitting key details of the actual event. However, one might argue Nolan was striving for an authentic sense of atmosphere over historical accuracy. To that end: mission accomplished. What’s more, the film, which was nominated for eight Academy Awards, took home trophies for Best Sound Editing, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound Mixing at the 2018 ceremony.
True to its name, the debut film from Damien Chazelle came at audiences hard and fast in 2014, earning heaps of acclaim and no shortage of awards. It tells the story of a jazz student named Andrew (Miles Teller) who endures physical and psychological torture under the tutelage of an abusive instructor (J. K. Simmons). To secure funding for the project, Chazelle first shot “Whiplash” as a short film, which won the Short Film Jury Award at Sundance. Needless to say, funding was quickly secured soon after. Against a production budget of $3.3 million, the film grossed $49 million.
Alfonso Cuarón and his team invented new technology to create “Gravity,” a 3D adventure about two astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) fighting for survival in space. Approximately 80% of the movie is the result of photo-realistic CG. It was a massive success both at the box office and during awards season. Among its accolades include seven Academy Awards and six BAFTA Awards.
The sparring between warrant officer Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the Alien spawned a franchise that’s included three sequels, two crossover films, and three prequels (“Alien: Awakening” is a long-gestating follow-up prequel). The otherworldly genesis tale—and all its associated hijinks—has all the ingredients for a riveting, sci-fi action saga. In 2002, the movie was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
Critics and audiences might be tepid on the recent live-action remake of “The Lion King,” but pretty much everyone loved the animated original. Set in the Pride Lands of Africa, it takes animal interplay to Shakespearean heights. The award-winning songs and score represent some of the best music ever committed to celluloid. The classic animated feature received two Academy Awards for its accomplishments in music as well as the Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Golden Globe Award.
Even decades after its release, “The Shawshank Redemption” still holds a top spot on IMDb’s list of Highest Rated Titles. Here on Stacker’s list, it doesn’t necessarily fare as well, but that’s not to say the film is anything short of spectacular. Based on a novella by Stephen King, it tells the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a banker convicted of his wife’s murder who grapples with decades of prison life starting in the mid-1940s. Helping him cope is a fellow inmate named Red (Morgan Freeman). In 2015, the United States Library of Congress chose the film for preservation in the National Film Registry.
All-stars Ernest Borgnine, William Holden, and Robert Ryan deliver stunning performances as outlaws past their prime in this timeless Western that was nominated for two Oscars. The film about men trying to contend with the ever-evolving world around them caused a stir for its raw depictions of survival and what was then considered gratuitous violence. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Original Score and Best Original Screenplay.
Walt Disney’s bold, psychedelic fantasy adventure “Fantasia” goes down in history as the wildest Disney film to date. The movie’s eight animated parts are set to a classical musical score conducted by Leopold Stokowski; the film utilized the work of more than 1,000 artists and techs to create more than 500 characters. In 1990, “Fantasia” was chosen for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
Laura Dern took home an Oscar for her role in this acclaimed Netflix drama, which chronicles the divorce between two show-business professionals (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson). Despite his own divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, director Noah Baumbach attests that the film isn’t autobiographical. Nevertheless, its most harrowing scenes feel like they’re ripped straight out of real life. “Marriage Story” received six nominations at the 92nd Academy Awards, seeing Dern win the honor for Best Supporting Actress.
Dramas don’t get much more somber than this one from acclaimed writer/director Kenneth Lonergan. In the film, a brooding handyman (Casey Affleck) is given guardianship over his 16-year-old nephew and thereby forced to confront some traumatic demons from his own past. Michelle Williams co-stars and turns in one of her finest performances. The film took home two Academy Awards, including one for Affleck, who took home Best Actor, as well as Best Original Screenplay.
Scorsese’s sprawling saga finds the director confronting themes of mortality and regret. In stark contrast to works like “Goodfellas” or “Casino,” it eschews over-stylization in favor of a meditative and occasionally depressing tone. Audiences are still divided as to whether the film’s expensive de-aging techniques worked to its benefit or detriment. The film earned a whopping 10 nominations at the Academy Awards, although it failed to take any home.
#55. Chinatown (1974)
This noir-ish thriller takes place in 1937 and centers on a private investigator J.J. “Jake” Gittes (Jack Nicholson), who gets embroiled in a vicious scheme involving Los Angeles’ water supply. Frequently pointed to as an absolute masterclass in filmmaking, the movie delivers taut writing, exceptional acting, and an ending that goes straight to the bone. Faye Dunaway and John Huston co-star. Despite garnering an impressive 11 Oscar nominations, the film only took home one, for Best Original Screenplay.
In this award-winning drama, Boston Globe reporters uncover a child abuse scandal involving the local Catholic Archdiocese. Not only is the film based on a true story, but a number of real-life Boston Globe journalists were on hand as consultants. Reportedly, Walter Robinson even said of his on-screen counterpart, “If Michael Keaton robbed a bank, the police would quickly have me in handcuffs.” The film received six Academy Award nominations, stealing away with Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.
Next to the “Star Wars” saga, Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (and the subsequent “Hobbit” prequels) endures as one of the most celebrated franchises of all time. In this 2002 installment, Frodo and Sam continue their journey to Mordor, in hopes of destroying an all-powerful ring. Joining them for the trip is a shifty creature named Gollum, who has plans of his own. The movie garnered six nominations at the 75th Academy Awards, winning for Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects.
More than just the gold standard of comic book adaptations, “The Dark Knight” holds the #4 spot on the list of IMDb’s Highest Rated Titles. As the second film in Christopher Nolan’s heralded “Dark Knight” trilogy, it sees Christian Bale returning as the caped crusader and squaring off against Heath Ledger’s Joker. According to legend, Ledger drew inspiration from bands like The Sex Pistols and movies like “A Clockwork Orange” while preparing for the role. Among its eight Oscar nominations, “The Dark Knight” took home the awards for Best Sound Editing and Best Supporting Actor (posthumously awarded to Ledger).
Otto Preminger’s epic courtroom drama follows lawyer Paul Biegler (James Stewart) as he tries to clear Army Lt. Manion (Ben Gazzara) for the murder of an innkeeper Manion’s wife (Lee Remick) said raped her. In 2012, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. The film is based on the 1958 book by the same name, written by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker (pen name: Robert Traver), which is a fictionalized account of the real-life trial.
Starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart, this 1940 classic takes place days before socialite Tracy Lord (Hepburn) is set to remarry a stuffed-shirt millionaire. Things seem to be running smoothly enough until Lord’s ex-husband (Grant) and a reporter (Stewart) enter the picture and respectively express feelings for her. What ensues is an Old Hollywood romantic comedy of the highest order. The film took home two of the six Academy Awards for which it was nominated, including James Stewart for Best Actor and Donald Ogden Stewart for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Director John Ford and actor John Wayne collaborated on several celebrated movies, including this one from 1962. In the film, a senator (James Stewart) returns to the town where he once famously shot a man named Liberty Valance. Or did he? As he recounts the tale, it’s revealed that a gunslinger named Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) might be the story’s true hero. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2007.
This 1946 classic might make for ideal holiday viewing, but the truth is there’s never a wrong time to watch it. Directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart, “It’s a Wonderful Life” shows a businessman (Stewart) what life would have been like had he never existed. To think, the movie itself wouldn’t exist had a frustrated writer named Philip Van Doren Stern not sent his rejected short story out as a Christmas card to all his friends and loved ones. The classic earned five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.
The live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” might have raked in a large sum at the box office, but it’s the 1991 animated version that holds up as a bona fide work of art. Released by Disney amid a major comeback, the film tells a tale as old as time. It’s about a young prince who’s doomed to exist as a beast unless he can earn the love of his captive and thereby reverse the spell. It’s a charming movie, provided one doesn’t think too hard about the somewhat disturbing implications. The film made history when it became the first animated film to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture at the 64th Academy Awards.
Loosely inspired by an Upton Sinclair novel, this Paul Thomas Anderson drama follows oilman Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he rises to power at the turn of the century. One of the few things getting in Plainview’s way is a local pastor named Eli, played brilliantly by Paul Dano. As the two figures clash repeatedly, the film itself becomes a gripping study of ambition and exploitation. The film took home two of the eight Oscars for which it was nominated, including Best Actor and Best Cinematography.
Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and the gang are back for the third installment in the “Toy Story” franchise. This time around, Andy is college-bound, and hence a little too old to play with toys. Following his negligence, the toys end up at a local daycare center, where the children are ruthless, and an evil bear named Lotso runs the show at night. Years after earning $1.067 billion worldwide, “Toy Story 3″ was followed by the 2019 sequel, “Toy Story 4,” which grossed $1.073 billion.
The story of Robin Hood has been adapted for the big screen multiple times since the dawn of cinema, but it’s this 1938 version that ranks as the best one, according to fans and critics alike. Famously starring Errol Flynn in the title role, the movie sees Robin Hood leading the resistance against an oppressive king. Not only was the film a massive success upon its initial release, but it raked in even more cash after being re-released in technicolor 10 years later. In 1995, the movie was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by John Steinbeck, this 1940 drama takes place in California’s Dust Bowl at the height of the Great Depression and chronicles the struggles of an impoverished family. In spite of its bleak themes, the movie was both a financial and critical success, winning two Academy Awards. Inspired by the film, famous folk singer Woody Guthrie penned his iconic song “The Ballad of Tom Joad.” Widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, the movie was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry in 1989.
A renowned play by Tennessee Williams leaped onto the big screen in 1951, with Elia Kazan helming, and Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh tackling the respective lead roles. In the film, a troubled woman named Blanche DuBois (Leigh) moves in with her sister Stella (Kim Hunter), only to find herself at odds with Stella’s brutish husband, Stanley (Brando). This is one of only two films in history to win three Academy Awards for acting. Additionally, the blockbuster, which banked in an estimated $4.25 million at the box office, also garnered Brando his fourth consecutive Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
From the acclaimed novel by Dashiell Hammett came this classic film noir, in which hard-boiled private eye Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) outmaneuvers cunning criminals and duplicitous dames while hunting for a priceless statuette. Warner Bros. released two previous versions in the years leading up to this celebrated film, one of them being a comedic misfire. Proving just how legendary this third version remains, a 45-pound prop statuette used in the film sold at auction in 2013 for a whopping $4 million. The Bogart starrer also earned three Academy Award nominations, including for Best Picture.
A true exercise in terror, this 1968 film stars Mia Farrow as Rosemary, a woman who goes to sleep one night and wakes up pregnant the next day. As many sinister events unfold around her, Rosemary realizes her feverish nightmare on the night in question wasn’t a nightmare after all and that she might be carrying the spawn of Satan himself. Making the creepy premise that much creepier is some haunting theme music from Krzysztof Komeda. In 2014, the cult horror classic was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
Representing yet another home run from Pixar, this 2015 animated feature primarily takes place within the mind of a young girl named Riley. After Riley’s family moves to a new city, she suffers a range of emotions, each personified by a specific character. As Riley seeks mental balance in her new surroundings, her emotions embark on a harrowing journey of epic proportion. Featured in the film are the voices of comedic talents like Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, and Lewis Black. The film became the seventh highest-grossing film of 2015, raking in $858.8 million worldwide.
In this animated flick from Pixar, an epicurean rat named Remy ends up inside the kitchen of a once-famous French restaurant, where he puts his culinary skills to work. Rather than risk exposure, Remy hides inside the hat of a bumbling kitchen employee named Alfredo Linguini and controls Linguini’s movements by pulling on his hair. Thanks to their teamwork, the French restaurant re-attains its status as a veritable dining destination. But will Remy and Linguini’s cuisine impress the harshest critic in France? Watch to find out. The Disney classic took home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 80th Academy Awards.
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. The film selected by the U.S. Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1989.
Billy Wilder’s classic rom-com follows the odd world of insurance worker C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon), who lets executives at his firm use his apartment for extramarital affairs as a means to move up in the company. All doesn’t go as planned when Baxter’s manager Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) brings home the elevator girl from work (Shirley MacLaine) for whom Baxter has feelings of his own. During filming, Wilder only gave MacLaine 40 pages of the script so she wouldn’t find out how the story ended. The film was nominated for 10 awards at the 33rd Academy Awards, winning five, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.
Based on the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup, this 2013 drama tells the true story of a free Black man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) from the north who’s abducted and sold into slavery down south. Over the following 12 years, Northup and his peers suffer unspeakable torment and abuse at the hands of a sadistic enslaver (Michael Fassbender). The gripping film won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Lupita Nyong’o also had her breakthrough performance in the period drama, winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
One of Martin Scorsese’s earliest masterpieces, this 1976 film follows a mentally unbalanced taxi driver named Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), whose pent up disgust with New York City slowly devolves into violence. Co-starring as a 12-year-old prostitute is Jodie Foster in one of her most challenging roles. According to legend, screenwriter Paul Schrader made numerous revisions to Foster’s character after meeting an underage prostitute in real life. In 1994, the film was chosen for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Few movies are more quotable or compulsively watchable than 1990′s “Goodfellas,” which chronicles the rise and fall of Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta), a criminal with close ties to the Italian-American mafia. Between the deft camerawork, the brilliant acting, the gripping violence, and the iconic soundtrack, the movie is quite simply a gift that keeps on giving, revealing new details with every viewing. A number of actors in the film would later appear in HBO’s hit show “The Sopranos,” and that’s no coincidence. After all, “The Sopranos” creator David Chase did once refer to “Goodfellas” as his Koran. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, earning Joe Pesci the award for Best Supporting Actor.
Featuring one of the most memorable battle scenes in movie history, “Saving Private Ryan” follows Capt. Miller (Tom Hanks) and his squad as they track down a paratrooper named Private Ryan (Matt Damon) before Ryan’s mother loses her last son to World War II. Director Steven Spielberg decided to helm the film as a tribute to his own father, who served in the U.S. Army and Signal Corps during WWII. The movie won five Academy Awards, including Best Director. In addition, in 2014, the film was also selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
In this 1944 film noir from Billy Wilder, an insurance salesman (Fred MacMurray) is lured into a murderous plot by a gorgeous femme fatale (Barbara Stanwyck). While accomplished mystery author Raymond Chandler helped write the screenplay and even has a secret cameo in the film, the movie itself is based on a book by James M. Cain. Another one of Cain’s novels, “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” featured a similar premise and was adapted twice for the big screen. Despite being nominated for seven Academy Awards, it didn’t win any.
#30. Gone with the Wind (1939)
Sagas don’t get much more sweeping than this four-hour epic from 1939. Based on Margaret Mitchell’s equally voluminous novel, “Gone with the Wind” depicts the ongoing struggles of an eccentric woman named Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), as she encounters hardship and romance during the Civil War and subsequent Reconstruction era. Meanwhile, getting the film made in the first place was its own sweeping saga. Specifically, the studio went through numerous directors, writers, and actors before arriving at the final product. The classic film walked away with 10 of the 13 awards for which it was nominated at the 12th Academy Awards.
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 colonel 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. The original was nominated for eight Academy Awards at the 52nd Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director (Coppola). What’s more, decades after its initial release, Coppola rolled out an expanded version, also known as “Apocalypse Now Redux.”
If the current era of computer animation kicked off with a single film, that film is 1995′s “Toy Story,” about a bunch of toys who spring to life when their owners aren’t looking. Firing on every cylinder, the movie immediately made Woody and Buzz Lightyear two household names. The film also made Pixar a veritable force to be reckoned with. In 2005, the U.S. Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Renowned film critic Pauline Kael called this 1955 thriller “one of the most frightening movies ever made.” While modern audiences might not necessarily agree, they can still find plenty to relish when watching “Night of the Hunter,” a truly off-kilter work that stars Robert Mitchum as crazed religious fanatic Harry Powell. Following the clues left behind by his former prison cellmate, Powell finagles his way into the life of a widow and her two children, taking every conceivable measure to find out where they’re hiding $10,000 in cash. Revered as one of the greatest films of all time, “The Night of the Hunter” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1992.
Indelible stars Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant shine bright in “Notorious,” a lauded Alfred Hitchcock film that centers on a government agent (Grant) who sends the daughter of a German war criminal (Bergman) to go undercover and spy on a group of Nazis in South America—one of whom had (and may still have) feelings for her. She agrees because of her feelings for the agent, setting off a visually stunning, high-stakes love story as only Hitchcock can do. Additionally, in 2006, the picture was chosen for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
The name Orson Welles might be most synonymous with 1941′s “Citizen Kane,” but this 1958 effort is similarly phenomenal. After opening with one of the most famous tracking shots in history, the film dives into the story of scandal, corruption, and murder in a small Mexican border town. Starring as Police Capt. Hank Quinlan is Welles himself, who later claimed this was the most fun he’d ever had making a picture. Among the film’s accolades, “Touch of Evil” would go on to receive the International Critics Prize.
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. “Some Like It Hot” earned six Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director, taking home Best Costume Design.
A film quite unlike any other, 2014′s “Boyhood” chronicles the life of its protagonist, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), over the course of 12 years. What truly distinguishes the work, however, is the fact that director Richard Linklater actually took 12 years to make it, meaning Mason’s development authentically unfolds before the viewer’s eyes. Like so many Linklater films, this one relies on the humanistic strength of its characters to get its point across, as opposed to adhering to a strict narrative. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke co-star. The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning Best Supporting Actress for Arquette.
Set in the distant (or not too distant) future, “WALL·E” represents one of Pixar’s most ambitious projects, and features virtually no dialogue for the first 20 minutes. It follows the adventures of its title character, a lovable robot who’s tasked with wading through garbage on an uninhabitable Earth. After boarding a spaceship, WALL·E discovers what humans have been up to since they destroyed the planet. And what is that, one might ask? Eating and watching TV, mostly. The beloved animated film took home a slew of notable awards, including the Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film, the Hugo Award for Best Long Form Dramatic Presentation, and the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
The ultimate exercise in greed-based paranoia, this 1948 film stars Humphrey Bogart as Fred Dobbs, a down-on-his-luck thief who uncovers a fortune in gold with the help of two men. Soon enough, Dobbs suspects the others are conspiring against him, with his subsequent actions eventually leading to his demise. The movie won three Academy Awards, including two for writer/director John Huston, and later provided the framework for a classic episode of “The Simpsons.” In 1990, the film was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
In this 1950 drama, an obsessive actress (Anne Baxter) climbs her way to the top of a theater company by ruthlessly manipulating her supposed idol (Bette Davis). Written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, “All About Eve” cynically—albeit accurately—portrays show business as a cruel and unforgiving industry, especially to actresses of a certain age. The film was nominated for 14 Academy Awards (winning six of them), which ties it with “Titanic” and “La La Land” for the most Oscar nominations in Hollywood history. “All About Eve” became one of the first 50 movies chosen for preservation in the U.S. Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.
Essential viewing among children of all ages, this 1939 film tells the story of Dorothy (Judy Garland), a farm girl who gets knocked out during a tornado and wakes up in the magical world of Oz. With the help of a lion, a scarecrow, and a tin man, Dorothy and her dog Toto search for the wonderful wizard in the hope he can send her home. Along the way, she famously incurs the wrath of a wicked witch. The picture was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, claiming trophies in two categories: Best Original Song and Best Original Score.
Continuing “The Godfather” saga to rapturous acclaim (and six Academy Awards), this 1974 sequel finds Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) squaring off against a sea of troubles while trying to expand and legitimize his empire. Also depicted is a young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro), who journeys to the United States from Italy in the early 1900s and ascends to power after murdering the local don. After De Niro won an Academy Award for his performance, he and Marlon Brando became the only two actors in history to win an Oscar for their portrayal of the same character. The sequel was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1993.
Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy kicked off in 2001 with this celebrated installment. After coming into possession of a powerful ring, a hobbit named Frodo (Elijah Wood) and his companions set out to destroy the relic before it ends up in the wrong hands. Hot on their tail is a range of murderous creatures, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on the all-powerful ring. At the 74th Academy Awards, the film was nominated for 13 awards, winning four: Best Cinematography, Best Makeup, Best Original Score and Best Visual Effects.
Some of the best films take a little time to catch on with audiences, eventually obtaining masterpiece status. Such was the case with 1957′s “Sweet Smell of Success,” which underperformed upon its initial release, but has since earned itself a very loyal following. Converging multiple genres such as drama and noir, the movie centers on an unscrupulous Broadway columnist named J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), who goes to great lengths to destroy his sister’s relationship with a jazz musician. The film spawned a musical, titled “Sweet Smell of Success: The Musical,” in 2002.
Charlie Chaplin reprised his role as The Tramp for this 1936 masterpiece, which stuck to silent-era traditions despite being made in the age of talkies. In the film, The Tramp struggles to make ends meet in a highly industrialized world, famously slithering his way through the gears of a machine during one of the era’s most epochal scenes. Chaplin was reportedly inspired to make the film after talking about machinery and technology with Mahatma Gandhi. “Modern Times” was one of the earliest films chosen by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1989.
No list of great films is complete without Alfred Hitchcock, and this 1959 thriller finds the famous director at the top of his game. The movie stars Cary Grant as a New York ad executive, who gets caught up in the world of international espionage after being mistaken for a notorious spy. What follows is an epic struggle for survival, which culminates with a deadly showdown on Mount Rushmore. Regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, “North by Northwest” garnered three Academy Award nominations.
Acclaimed director Stanley Kubrick enters the list with 1964′s “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” a movie that puts the “dark” in dark comedy. In the film, a series of miscommunications lead to a nuclear showdown between the world’s most powerful nations. As intentionally ridiculous the movie is, an early version of the script was even more so, with aliens watching the whole fiasco from space. The film garnered four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director.
Arguably the most celebrated musical of all time, “Singin’ in the Rain” takes place during the rise of talkies and finds the members of a production company struggling to adapt. Not only did Gene Kelly star, co-direct, and choreograph the film, but he performed a song-and-dance number with a temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Debbie Reynolds co-stars in her breakthrough role as Kathy Selden. In 1989, the movie became one of the first 25 films selected by the United States Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Far more than a heralded thriller, 1960′s “Psycho” paved the way for the modern slasher genre, and furthermore upended various mainstream conventions. In telling the story of a murderous hotel owner, Alfred Hitchcock relied on everything from quick cuts to gripping music to a shape-shifting narrative, thereby delivering a completely new cinematic experience. To this day, the famous shower scene is among the most important sequences in movie history. The film was also nominated for four Oscars, and won Janet Leigh the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Nothing is as it seems in “Vertigo,” an Alfred Hitchcock classic based on Boileau-Narcejac’s 1954 novel “D’entre les morts” (“From Among the Dead”). In the film, a former police detective (James Stewart) is hired to trail a friend’s wife (Kim Novak) who’s been acting strangely and may be at risk of harming herself. The otherwise mundane gig goes haywire as the P.I. becomes obsessed with the woman and Hitchcock shares his most revelatory, personal production of his career. The classic Hitchcock film was preserved in the U.S. National Film Registry in 1989.
Here’s a movie so great that when something else is likewise terrific, that thing is often referred to as the “Citizen Kane” of its respective arena. Accordingly, this 1941 film—which depicts the ambitious rise of newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles)—has only gotten better with age. It might no longer retain the #1 spot on lists of the greatest films, including this one, but ask the right cinephile, and they will likely assert “Citizen Kane” is still the best movie of them all. Despite garnering nine Academy Awards, the film only walked away with one, for Best Original Screenplay.
While Steven Spielberg was no stranger to serious fare by the early 1990s, he nevertheless caught audiences by surprise when he released this award-winning drama. It tells the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who ultimately saved 1,100 Jewish lives during the Holocaust. Spielberg forewent a salary when making the film, and donated the profits to a charitable foundation. The movie was nominated for twelve Academy Awards, winning seven, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
In the final installment of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the forces of good and evil do battle over the fate of Middle Earth, while Frodo reaches the last leg of his journey. Not only did the film earn over a billion dollars at the box office, but it won 11 Academy Awards out of 11 nominations, giving it the highest perfect score in Oscar history. It also tied with “Ben-Hur” and “Titanic” for the film with the most Oscar wins.
Quentin Tarantino’s second directorial effort arguably remains his most quintessential work. Interweaving three violent stories—while simultaneously paying homage to a host of influences—”Pulp Fiction” is quite simply the stuff that great cinema is made of. Speaking of influences, the hit film was happy to pay it forward, inspiring a wave of upcoming auteurs. In 2013, “Pulp Fiction” was chosen for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
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Sticking to his well-established roots, Chaplin released this primarily silent film three years into the talkie era. Rife with signature pantomime, it follows The Tramp (Chaplin) as he resorts to various extremes while trying to make a buck. It all paves the way for one of cinema’s most unforgettable final scenes, during which the story’s underlying pathos is laid bare. Hailed as being one of the greatest and most inspiring films, “City Lights” went on to be preserved in the United States National Film Registry in 1991.
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. The movie earned four Academy Award nominations, including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
This 1942 masterwork takes place in the Moroccan town of Casablanca, where jaded nightclub owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) helps refugees flee to America to evade Nazi capture. After Blaine’s former flame (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband show up seeking his help, he finds himself entering a world of trouble. Most cinephiles would argue “Casablanca” is the result of a perfect screenplay, yet when that very same screenplay was passed around under a different name in the 1980s, professional readers chastised it for having “too much dialog” and “not enough sex.” Nevertheless, the original script—and subsequent film—was about as close to perfect as a movie could get for its time. What’s more, the film claimed three of the eight Oscars for which it was nominated, including Best Director and Best Screenplay.
Snagging the #2 slot is this taut 1957 drama from Sidney Lumet, in which 12 (angry) jurors determine the fate of a suspected murderer. What starts as an open-and-shut case becomes something far more complex, as a lone holdout convinces the others that the defendant might not be guilty after all. As the debate unfolds, each juror’s own respective prejudices bubble to surface, with all the action taking place inside the jury room. In 2007, the film was chosen for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
Stanley Kubrick himself used to reluctantly theorize that “The Godfather” was the greatest movie ever made, and most audiences and critics agree. Chronicling the exploits of the Corleone crime family, this 1972 masterpiece delivers everything one could ask for in a film, fusing elements of drama, violence, and suspense to absolute perfection. Indeed, there’s virtually no aspect of “The Godfather” that doesn’t remain iconic to this day, hence its status as the best movie of all time. The film had a huge turnout at the 45th Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Best Actor (Marlon Brando), and Best Adapted Screenplay.
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