by Jason Koenigsberg
Back in 1998 to celebrate 100 years of motion pictures, the American Film Institute released its definitive list of the 100 greatest movies ever made. Obviously this list sparked some controversy but overall it satisfied the general public as well as most critics, and cinema buffs. Then about ten years later they released a more updated list to include more recent classics like Titanic (1997) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). I was devastated that Fargo (1996), number 84 on the original AFI list was booted off the top 100 and they added The Sixth Sense (1999) instead.
This new list from the BBC has caused some controversy because it largely ignores the Academy Awards Best Picture and Nominees. Only 12 Best Picture Winners are on their list and 60 of the 100 were not even nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. I think this is a strength and not a weakness of this list because it gives some recognition to truly great films that are not often included in the discussion of the best movies ever made but should be.
However, be warned some films on this list may be here simply to incite debate and controversy and not for their own merits. For example, Michael Cimino’s monumental flop Heaven’s Gate (1980) is listed on here and not his superior Vietnam epic The Deer Hunter (1978) a vastly superior film. Also as great as the recent best picture winner 12 Years a Slave (2013) was, even though it is about American history and its producers were American, it had a primarily British actors and a British director, so there may have been some political reasons why that ended up just making the list. Also, I noticed a slight bias on this list towards certain directors. Stanley Kubrick has a lot of his films on here and he was an American director who lived and worked in England. Alfred Hitchcock was a British director who lived and worked in Hollywood and also has a number of films on this list. Fortunately both Kubrick and Hitchcock are excellent directors, and their films on here are some of the greatest of all time, but it’s just something to think about.
Here is the complete BBC List of the 100 Greatest American Movies and my thoughts included for some of them.
100. Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)
99. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
98. Heaven’s Gate (Michael Cimino, 1980)
97. Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)
Usually in the top 10 on most of these lists, kind of shocking to see it this far back even though I kind of agree with its placement.
96. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
Yes! One of the best films of the new century and the best comic book movie ever made.
95. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)
The quintessential Marx Bros. movie. I’d have put it much higher.
94. 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002)
So glad this is on here. The best movie about NYC greatly wounded in the aftermath of 9/11. To this day the only honest depiction about the difficult healing process that people went through in the guise of a story about a drug dealers last day of freedom.
93. Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)
The first Scorsese classic and still one of his best.
92. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
91. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)
One of very few movies to make me cry.
90. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
Possibly the best war movie ever made. Captures the surreal quality of Vietnam better than anything else.
89. In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
88. West Side Story (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, 1961)
87. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
Another new classic that I think will only get better with time. Ten years from now, this movie will probably be closer to #50 on any greatest movies list.
86. The Lion King (Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, 1994)
85. Night of the Living Dead (George A Romero, 1968)
Finally some respect is given to the film that invented the modern zombie movie. An American horror classic and a very influential film with a unsettling ending. One of the first independent movies to make an impact on the public.
84. Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972)
Not a horror movie, but one of the very few films to genuinely scare me.
83. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)
82. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)
Of course! One of the most fun adventure films of all time. Such a great ride.
81. Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991)
80. Meet Me in St Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944)
79. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
78. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)
Spielberg’s masterpiece and only best picture winner, I’d have put it higher
77. Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939)
76. The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)
So glad this sequel is on here and finally getting some recognition as one of the best movies of all time.
75. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977)
74. Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994)
I know it has not aged well and people often rip on this movie, but I still love every minute of it.
73. Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
Such a great satire and it’s eerie how much of this script has come true in our society since it was made. May fit the phrase “ahead of its time” more than any other movie.
72. The Shanghai Gesture (Josef von Sternberg, 1941)
71. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)
Another comedy that has aged well. Like fine wine over 20 years later people are realizing the genius of this movie.
70. The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli, 1953)
69. Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982)
68. Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)
One of my personal favorite Hitchcock’s.
67. Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936)
66. Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)
65. The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman, 1983)
64. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)
63. Love Streams (John Cassavetes, 1984)
62. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
The ultimate haunted house movie. An epic horror film.
61. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
A great movie misunderstood when it was first released. This is proof that time can improve art .
60. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
The best movie made during the 1980’s. I can go on and on about how much I love David Lynch films and this one in particular.
59. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Miloš Forman, 1975)
Nicholson’s best performance, and that is saying a lot.
58. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)
57. Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen, 1989)
Excited to see this one here.
56. Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)
If movies were rated and ranked in terms of how fun they are, this would be #1.
55. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967)
Best coming of age movie ever made and a great time capsule of America in 1967.
54. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)
The best LA movie of all time and one of the best film noirs.
53. Grey Gardens (Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, 1975)
52. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)
A western way ahead of its time.
51. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)
Orson Welles’ other masterpiece that’s not about a newspaper magnates lost childhood.
50. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)
49. Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)
48. A Place in the Sun (George Stevens, 1951)
47. Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964)
Whoa! Not usually considered one of Hitchcock’s best but I always liked it.
46. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
It’s a wonderful movie in every way.
45. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962)
“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” That line is as much about America as any other spoken in film.
44. Sherlock Jr (Buster Keaton, 1924)
43. Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, 1948)
42. Dr Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
I once said you can learn more about The Cold War from watching this movie than just about any book or history class, and I stand by that statement.
41. Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)
40. Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943)
39. The Birth of a Nation (DW Griffith, 1915)
A disgraceful film but one cannot deny its importance in history. The first epic film because it was the first movie to get people to sit in the theaters for 3 hours.
38. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
40 years later it still thrills and is the first summer blockbuster movie.
37. Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959)
36. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)
Still one of the greatest movies ever made. Sublimely entertaining.
35. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)
The best film noir of all time.
34. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939)
Somewhere over the rainbow, no other movie can take you to another place quite like this one can.
33. The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
32. The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)
31. A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974)
30. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
AFI’s funniest film of all time and it is a great one.
29. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)
Scorsese and DeNiro both at their zenith.
28. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
Right where it belongs.
27. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
Surprised to see this on here. Usually the forgotten Kubrick classic.
26. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1978)
25. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
Another of the very few movies that made me weep. As funny as it is powerful.
24. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
23. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
The perfect romantic comedy.
22. Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1924)
21. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
Overjoyed to see this on here. I called it the best movie of the decade five years ago and I stand by that.
20. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
On its 25 anniversary my personal favorite film just keeps moving up higher and higher on these lists.
19. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
Another Scorsese/DeNiro masterpiece. Their best in my humble opinion other than #20.
18. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
17. The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925)
Usually this is ranked behind other Chaplin classics, but I’m happy to see it this high.
16. McCabe & Mrs Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)
15. The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946)
14. Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)
13. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
The original action movie.
12. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
One of the best mysteries ever put on film.
11. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)
10. The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
Still the best sequel of all time.
9. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
The greatest Golden Age studio film and one of the most subtle anti-war propaganda pictures.
8. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
The original slasher film and none have ever really come close to this.
7. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952)
Another movie that works as a time machine and as pure fun and escapism. It’s like therapy because no matter what, you feel better after you watch this movie.
6. Sunrise (FW Murnau, 1927)
5. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
I’d have switched this with ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ but they are both excellent movies.
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
Very happy to see this non-conventional science fiction epic this high on the list.
3. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
A movie that has aged very well with time. People forget it flopped and was shunned by critics when it first came out. Today it is often regarded as Hitchcock’s best and rightfully so.
2. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
Well duh! If it were any lower I would be upset.
1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
No matter what, this is always at the top of the AFI lists and it deserves to be on there and I am not surprised the BBC put this as #1, not a bold choice, but the right choice.
I know a lot of great films were left off this list but that is what the AFI’s Top 100 is for. I am glad some lesser known films received the recognition that they deserve, even at the expense of other older classics.