In the Mood for Love
"In the Mood for Love"

The 100 best movies of all time

Silent classics, noirs, space operas and everything in between: Somehow we managed to rank the best movies of all time

Phil de SemlyenJoshua Rothkopf
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What makes a great movie? We could try to come up with some rubric for determining if a film deserves to be considered one of the best ever. But the truth is that it’s all subjective, and one person’s Citizen Kane is another’s Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, or vice versa. (Hey, it’s possible.) Everybody’s personal canon is different. It’s by individual taste, experiences and that intangible feeling that comes when a piece of art embeds itself in your heart. In other words, you know an all-time classic when you see it.

One thing to consider, though? Rewatchability. The best movies truly do age like wine, and even the oldest films on this list will seem as fresh watched today as the day they first premiered. That’s why repertory cinemas play such a crucial role in film appreciation – seeing a movie on the big screen, decades or even a century after its initial release, is a significant means of differentiating the greatest from the merely great. And so, once you finish perusing our selection of the greatest films ever made, consider seeking them out at one of the world’s legendary cinemas, whether it’s the New Beverly in Los Angeles, Le Champo in Paris or Prince Charles Cinema in central London. You won’t regret it.

Recommended:

🔥 The best films of 2024 (so far)
🏆 The 100 greatest horror films ever made
📺 The 100 greatest ever TV shows you need to binge
🤣 The best comedy movies of all time

Best movies of all time

  • Film
  • Science fiction
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

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.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
  • Film
  • Thrillers

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.

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  • Film
  • Drama
Citizen Kane (1941)
Citizen Kane (1941)

At this point, Orson Welles’ epochal masterpiece exists in the same sphere as ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, ‘The Great Gatsby’ and any other piece of art referred to as an ‘epochal masterpiece’ so pervasively that younger generations increasingly feel the need to poke holes in its greatness. But here’s the thing about Citizen Kane: it’s still pretty damn great, and might be more relevant now than it has ever been – after all, power-hungry tycoons with populist leanings have sort of been in the news lately. If it’s harder to recognise its stylistic and narrative innovations, that’s only because they’re now part of the common language of cinema. But it still has the capacity to dazzle modern audiences, whether through Gregg Toland’s otherworldly cinematography or its engrossing story of the American Dream in freefall.

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Matthew Singer
Film writer and editor
  • Film
Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

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.

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  • Film
  • Action and adventure
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

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.

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Ian Freer
Film journalist and author
  • Film
La Dolce Vita (1960)
La Dolce Vita (1960)

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.

🇮🇹 The 50 greatest Italian films of all time.

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  • Film
  • Action and adventure
Seven Samurai (1954)
Seven Samurai (1954)

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.

🇯🇵 The 55 greatest Japanese films ever made

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Ian Freer
Film journalist and author
  • Film
  • Drama

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.

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  • Film
  • Drama
There Will Be Blood (2007)
There Will Be Blood (2007)

On the road to becoming the most significant filmmaker of the last 20 years, Paul Thomas Anderson transformed from a Scorsesian chronicler of debauched LA. 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.

  • Film
  • Comedy

MGM’s glorious epitaph to cinema’s silent era remains the purest kind of serotonin rush. Its trio of dancers—rubber-faced 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.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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  • Film
  • Thrillers

‘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.

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Matthew Singer
Film writer and editor
  • Film
  • Thrillers
North by Northwest (1959)
North by Northwest (1959)

Identifying Hitchcock’s most ‘Hitchcockian’ film is largely a matter of personal preference, but North By Northwest best encapsulates his particular ability to appeal to mass audiences, critics and cineastes – all in the same moment. It’s also his most compulsively watchable, a caper that is at once suave, sexy, genuinely suspenseful and frequently, joyfully ridiculous. Cary Grant cranks the Cary Grantness to 11 as Roger Thornhill, a New York ad man mistaken for a spy and pursued across America by a shady cabal, sending him scurrying through cornfields, scaling Mount Rushmore and flirting royally with femme fatale Eva Marie Saint. It ends with a juvenile visual pun, involving a train entering a tunnel, which in the context of the time period plays like Hitch sticking a thumb in the eye of the prudish studio system. In other words, it really might be his defining film – certainly, it’s his most fun.    

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Matthew Singer
Film writer and editor
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  • Film
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Mulholland Drive (2001)

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

  • Film
Bicycle Thieves (1948)
Bicycle Thieves (1948)

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.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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  • Film
  • Action and adventure
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight (2008)

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.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
  • Film
  • Comedy
City Lights (1931)
City Lights (1931)

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, reluctant 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.

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  • Film
Grand Illusion (1937)
Grand Illusion (1937)

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 World War I, 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.

🪖 The 16 best World War I movies of all time

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
  • Film
His Girl Friday (1940)
His Girl Friday (1940)

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.

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  • Film
The Red Shoes (1948)
The Red Shoes (1948)

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.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
  • Film

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.

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  • Film
  • Drama
Beau Travail (1999)
Beau Travail (1999)

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’.

  • Film
  • Action and adventure
The Searchers (1956)
The Searchers (1956)

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.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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  • Film
Persona (1966)
Persona (1966)

Back when David Lynch was still saving up money to buy his first camera, Ingmar Bergman was figuring out how to transmit the vagaries of the subconscious mind to the screen. Persona is a nightmare in the dreamiest and most confounding sense. In terms of plot, it involves two women, one an actress suffering from an unknown affliction (Liv Ullmann), the other her live-in nurse (Bibi Andersson), who retreat to an isolated seaside cabin in order to treat the latter’s disorder and who possibly, maybe start fusing into the same person. But whatever linear narrative exists is consistently upended by seemingly random images – a dead lamb, a crucifixion, a flash of a sudden erect penis – and meta-cinematic references, including a shot of cinematographer Sven Nykvist filming the movie itself. Critics have been dissecting its meaning ever since. But Persona doesn’t exist simply as a challenge to film scholars. If you give up any hope of literal understanding and give yourself over to it, you’ll experience a sense of unease few movies before, and hardly since, have managed to achieve. 

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Matthew Singer
Film writer and editor
  • Film
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Do the Right Thing (1989)

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.

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  • Film
Rashomon (1950)
Rashomon (1950)

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.

  • Film
The Rules of the Game (1939)
The Rules of the Game (1939)

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.

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  • Film
Jaws (1975)
Jaws (1975)

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. 

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Matthew Singer
Film writer and editor
  • Film
Double Indemnity (1944)
Double Indemnity (1944)

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.

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  • Film
  • Drama

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.

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Ian Freer
Film journalist and author
  • Film
  • Science fiction
Star Wars (1977)
Star Wars (1977)

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.

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  • Film
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

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.

  • Film
  • Action and adventure
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

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.

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  • Film
  • Science fiction
Alien (1979)
Alien (1979)

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.

  • Film
  • Drama
Tokyo Story (1951)
Tokyo Story (1951)

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.

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Ian Freer
Film journalist and author
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  • Film
  • Drama

Quentin Tarantino’s second feature still feels like an explosion of everything we thought we knew about film. A gangster flick where the gangsters chat about cheeseburgers? Where the narrative is like a smashed jigsaw puzzle put back together out of order? With the guy from Look Who’s Talking as a slick-talking hitman? That can make money, win Oscars and spin off so many imitators it’s practically a genre unto itself? It just took an over-caffeinated ex-video store clerk with the right amount of chutzpah to make it happen. When the aliens pick over our decimated planet and discover a VHS copy among the rubble, they’ll agree that John Travolta was the perfect casting choice, Samuel L Jackson is the baddest motherfucker on the planet, and the true contents of the briefcase really don’t matter. 

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Matthew Singer
Film writer and editor
  • Film
  • Fantasy
The Truman Show (1998)
The Truman Show (1998)

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. 

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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  • Film
  • Drama

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.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
  • Film
Psycho (1960)
Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock had made a few scary movies earlier in his career, but Psycho was something completely different – not just for his personal oeuvre, or the horror genre, but movies in general. It invented the modern slasher flick. It anticipated the moral ambiguity that would become de rigueur in the New Hollywood of the ‘70s. It upturned the established rules of narrative, killing off the supposed heroine midway through, in unprecedentedly shocking fashion. Sure, there are other filmmakers who can claim to have covered some of that ground first; Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, in fact, arrived a few months earlier and hit on many of the same themes. The difference with Hitch is he knew how to transmit new ideas to the widest possible audience. He didn’t just break the rules – he rewrote the manual. And horror directors are still reading from it today. —Matthew Singer

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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.

  • Film
Andrei Rublev (1966)
Andrei Rublev (1966)

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.

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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.

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  • Thrillers
Chinatown (1974)
Chinatown (1974)

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.

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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.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
  • Film
  • Drama

Sofia Coppola’s second film feels like one of cinema’s great romances, despite nothing traditionally romantic happening in it. Bill Murray is a washed-up American actor reduced to shooting ads for Japanese whisky in Tokyo while his marriage grows cold back home. One jetlagged night in the hotel bar, he meets a young newlywed (Scarlett Johansson) already growing disillusioned with her own marriage. They bond over their shared alienation, have some drinks and spend one eventful evening out on the town, singing karaoke. Then they part, presumably forever. And yet, the film communicates more about the power of human connection than just about any other whirlwind dalliance you’ve seen in a capital-R movie romance. That’s thanks to Murray and Johansson’s subtle, sad-but-hopeful performances, but also Coppola’s framing of Tokyo as a gauzy, neon-lit dreamscape. If you’ve ever felt lonely, it’s impossible to resist. 

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Matthew Singer
Film writer and editor
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Taxi Driver (1976)
Taxi Driver (1976)

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.

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  • Animation
Spirited Away (2001)
Spirited Away (2001)

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

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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.

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Ian Freer
Film journalist and author
  • Film
Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Battleship Potemkin (1925)

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.

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Dave Calhoun
Chief Content Officer, North America & UK
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Modern Times (1936)
Modern Times (1936)

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-revelant satire on technological advancement.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
  • Film

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.

 

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Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

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.

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M (1931)
M (1931)

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.

 

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  • Science fiction
Blade Runner (1982)
Blade Runner (1982)

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.

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The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)

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

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Rome, Open City (1945)
Rome, Open City (1945)

Few film movements can boast the hit rate of Italian neorealism, a post-World War II 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.

🇮🇹 The greatest Italian films ever made

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
  • Film
Nosferatu (1922)
Nosferatu (1922)

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 FW Murnau’s haunting images of a crepuscular world set the chilling standard for generations of cinematic nightmares.

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  • Comedy

Should a movie whose primary function is to make fun of other movies be allowed inclusion on a list of the greatest movies of all time? When it’s as deliriously anarchic, sublimely silly and just plain hilarious as Airplane!, well, surely it should. In their first true feature, directors David and Jerry Zucker, along with partner Jim Abrahams, take aim at the disaster movies that were all the rage at the multiplex in the 1970s, and machine-gun jokes at the screen at such a pace that it requires multiple screenings just to catch them all. The context of the spoof is somewhat lost to time, and its progeny isn’t exactly illustrious – although the first Naked Gun is a classic in its own right – but that’s only helped the movie stand on its own as a truly transcendent laugh riot.

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Matthew Singer
Film writer and editor
  • Film
  • Action and adventure
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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.

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Apocalypse Now (1979)
Apocalypse Now (1979)

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?

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Ian Freer
Film journalist and author
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Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Brokeback Mountain (2005)

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.

 

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Duck Soup (1933)
Duck Soup (1933)

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.

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In 1997, a group of no-name actors went into the Maryland backwoods with some handheld cameras, a loose script and a budget that wouldn’t cover the catering on most of the other films on this list, and emerged with a blockbuster. For years, though, The Blair Witch Project was discussed as a triumph of marketing more than anything else. It was pushed by an ad campaign that played coy with the veracity of the allegedly ‘found footage’: did an amateur documentary crew really disappear in the woods while investigating a local myth? Twenty-plus years and an oversaturation of lesser imitators later, it’s easier to appreciate Blair Witch as a master class of low-budget cinema. Honestly, if there’s a scarier scene in the last two decades than when those children’s hands imprint on the crew’s tent in the middle of night, it surely cost a hell of a lot more to make. 

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Matthew Singer
Film writer and editor
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All the President’s Men (1976)
All the President’s Men (1976)

Vanishingly few movies get journalism right, and even fewer manage to convey the obsessiveness, the anxious frustration and the exhilaration of chasing a big story. Alan J Pakula’s movie about two reporters chasing the biggest story in American political history nails every beat. The achievement is especially remarkable considering that Nixon had resigned from office not even two years prior. But that nearness lends the film a living energy. Even with its unspoilable ending, Pakula and screenwriter William Goldman still managed to build an uncommonly nervy thriller that never digresses from the central narrative. No, you won’t get much of an idea of who Woodward and Bernstein (played with typical ’70s naturalism by Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford) are apart from their work. Instead, you just see the work – and in this case, that’s more than enough. 

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Matthew Singer
Film writer and editor
  • Film
The Apu trilogy (1955, 1956, 1959)
The Apu trilogy (1955, 1956, 1959)

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.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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The General (1926)
The General (1926)

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.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
  • Film
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

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.

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  • Horror
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

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.

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Come and See (1985)
Come and See (1985)

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.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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  • Thrillers
Heat (1995)
Heat (1995)

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.

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  • Horror
The Shining (1980)
The Shining (1980)

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 

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  • Animation
Toy Story (1995)
Toy Story (1995)

With its debut feature, Pixar changed the game for major animated films. Emotional, exciting and funny as heck – and definitely not just for kids – the introduction to the world of Woody the Cowboy and Buzz Lightyear tells a fairly simple story, of how these two tiny rivals (voiced by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen) went from frenemies to friend-in-mes, but touches on themes of growing up and letting go that would mature as the series progressed. Some of the CGI looks dated, but every character, from the big names to the supporting comic relief, came fully realised. Four films later, we know them as intimately as some of our own flesh-and-blood buddies.  

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Matthew Singer
Film writer and editor
  • Film
Killer of Sheep (1977)
Killer of Sheep (1977)

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.

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Ian Freer
Film journalist and author
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A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
A Woman Under the Influence (1974)

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.

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  • Comedy
Annie Hall (1977)
Annie Hall (1977)

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.

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Some Like It Hot (1959)
Some Like It Hot (1959)

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.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
  • Film
  • Science fiction

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.

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Ian Freer
Film journalist and author
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The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)

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.

 

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
  • Film
  • Comedy
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

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.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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It Happened One Night (1934)
It Happened One Night (1934)

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.

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  • Action and adventure

Let’s get this out of the way: Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Deal with it. Another, less controversial statement about John McTiernan’s blockbuster: it’s the platonic ideal of an action movie, and Bruce Willis as wiseass New York cop John McClane is the coolest action hero of all-time. The sequels would stretch the limits of his charisma by getting bigger and stupider, but the original hits the perfect amount of big and brash, as McClane attempts to thwart the plans of a European terrorist group that’s seized an LA high-rise and taken his wife hostage. And McClane has the ideal foil in Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, who might also be the best action movie villain of all-time: an erudite pseudo-revolutionary who makes it clear that he reads Forbes and doesn’t much care for garrulous American cowboys.

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Matthew Singer
Film writer and editor
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Is it sacrilege to declare that the best-looking film set in Paris was shot by a couple of Italians? Bernardo Bertolucci and his cinematographer Vittorio Storaro bathe the French capital – as well as the neoclassical edifices of Mussolini’s Rome – in cool blues and shards of light as sharp as the knives wielded against the left-wing professor that Jean-Louis Trintignant’s fascist assassin, Clerici, is ordered to kill. Given a murkier, darker ending than Alberto Moravia’s source novel, it’s an electrifying thriller full of shadowy figures, sex and betrayal. But it’s as a highly charged political screed where its real power lies. A weak, cynical man with repressed desires, Clerici is powerless to resist the violent orthodoxy of fascism. The poisonous allure of authoritarianism has never been so chilling – or stylishly – rendered as this.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
  • Film
The Thing (1982)
The Thing (1982)

Neither audiences nor critics were ready for John Carpenter’s remake of 1951’s The Thing from Another World, and who could blame them? Its special effects were next level, but even if you appreciated Rob Bottin’s innovative gore, there was a lingering sense that they overshadowed the rest of the film. Decades on, it’s easier to see all the other things that make The Thing not just Carpenter’s masterpiece but one of the greatest achievements in horror: the snowbound claustrophobia; the overwhelming paranoia; Ennio Morricone’s pulsating synth score; the terrific ensemble cast. And yes, the effects remain eye-popping and stomach-turning – in the end, though, it’s the final, quiet image, of two men locking eyes, unsure if the other is actually a human being at all, that lodges deepest in your memory.

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Matthew Singer
Film writer and editor
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Daughters of the Dust (1991)
Daughters of the Dust (1991)

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.

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  • Drama

What could movies still have to tell us about the Holocaust in the 2020s? In director Jonathan Glazer’s view, the better question is: what can the Holocaust tell us about ourselves – and the world right now? A lot, it seems, though many of us probably don’t want to hear it. In his depiction of the Nazi Höss family living in domestic idyll a stone’s throw from Auschwitz, Glazer dismantles the notion that the perpetrators of mankind’s greatest atrocity were a historical aberration; they could be anyone, so ordinary is their home life, which means they could be all of us. What is abnormal are the sensorial details on the film’s edges: the glimpses of a smoking chimney just beyond the family garden; the horrific sound design, an incessant white noise of gunshots, whirring machinery, and not-so-distant screams; the dreamlike scenes of a young girl hiding food for prisoners at night, shot using infrared cameras. It’s a chilling mood piece few are likely to bear revisiting, but that everyone should experience.

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Matthew Singer
Film writer and editor
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Barry Lyndon (1975)
Barry Lyndon (1975)

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.

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Raging Bull (1980)
Raging Bull (1980)

Martin Scorsese’s hallucinogenic biography of the tenacious boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) is a bold mash-up of neorealist grit and hyperstylised, 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.

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Seven (1995)
Seven (1995)

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. 

  • Film
  • Action and adventure
Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)
Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)

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.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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  • Film
  • Drama
The Battle of Algiers (1966)
The Battle of Algiers (1966)

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.

  • Film
No Country for Old Men (2007)
No Country for Old Men (2007)

Cormac McCarthy and the Coen brothers are a match made in the driest, most violent corner of heaven. The filmmaking duo’s fixation with choice, chance and fate reaches its apex with their adaptation of the late author’s 2005 novel – which began life as a screenplay – an existentialist neo-Western that still functions as a gripping piece of entertainment. A hunter in a West Texas border town circa 1980 stumbles upon the aftermath of a botched drug deal in the desert, decides to take off with a satchel full of money, pursued by both a relentless hitman (Javier Bardem) and an exhausted sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones). An otherworldly sense of mystery hangs over the entire film, while Roger Deakins’ cinematography makes its dusty trailer towns feel like the edge of the Earth. It’s the Coens’ most frightening movie, thanks to Bardem’s psychopathic Anton Chigurh. Behind that pageboy haircut, he gives one of the great villain performances of all time.

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Matthew Singer
Film writer and editor
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  • Film
  • Comedy
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)

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.

  • Film
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

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.

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  • Film
Paths of Glory (1957)
Paths of Glory (1957)

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.

  • Film
Secrets & Lies (1996)
Secrets & Lies (1996)

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.

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  • Film
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

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 JJ Hunsecker, a towering, corrupt newspaper columnist. The dialogue is snappy and delicious; the morals are as empty as Times Square at dawn.

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Dave Calhoun
Chief Content Officer, North America & UK
  • Film
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

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.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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  • Film
  • Drama
Nashville (1975)
Nashville (1975)

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 US cinema’s most exciting period, and Nashville – broadened by its admirable scope and freewheeling energy – is emblematic of that creativity.

  • Film
  • Drama
Don’t Look Now (1973)
Don’t Look Now (1973)

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.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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  • Film
  • Thrillers
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Arthur Penn’s game-changing heist movie 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.

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Dave Calhoun
Chief Content Officer, North America & UK
  • Film
  • Horror
Get Out (2017)
Get Out (2017)

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.

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