The 100 best British films: critics

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Explore the top ten British films of all our guest contributors

Linked title denotes top 100 placing

Nick Bradshaw, web editor, Sight and Sound

Most of these choices strike a balance between films I consider great as films and those I consider great portraits of Britishness.

Roger Clarke, critic and writer

Robbie Collin, critic, News of the World

1. Laputa: Castle In The Sky (Miyazaki, 1986)

This Studio Ghibli animation set in a fantastical version of Wales is the most delightful reimagining of the British landscape in world cinema. The image of the robot in the garden is director Hayao Miyazaki’s crowning achievement.

2. The Wicker Man (Hardy, 1973)

The philosopher Noel Carroll praises horror cinema for its ability to reveal ‘that which is impossible and unknown… that which violates our conceptual schema.’ There is no film, British or otherwise, that achieves this end more vividly than ‘The Wicker Man’, and you also get to see Britt Ekland’s breasts.

3. Slumdog Millionaire (Boyle, 2008)

Based on a book by an Indian author, co-directed by the Indian filmmaker Loveleen Tandan, shot entirely on location in India with a largely Indian cast and funded, for the most part, by an American studio. But it won eight Oscars, so fuck it, it’s one of ours.

4. A Chump at Oxford (Goulding, 1940)

This tremendous feature from Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy may have been scripted and shot entirely in California, but its tweedy English setting, and the fact that it stars the greatest screen comedian this country has yet produced, more than qualify it for a place on this list.

5. 28 Days Later… (Boyle, 2002)

Single-handedly reinvigorated the entire horror genre. And it contains one of the greatest London-set cinema sequences ever filmed.

6. The Wrong Trousers (Park, 1993)

If a British animation more perfect than ‘The Wrong Trousers’ has ever been made, then I can’t think of it.

7. Romeo + Juliet (Luhrmann, 1996)

From the dazzling production design to the note-perfect casting, this is a film custom-tooled to give anyone growing up in the 1990s something to obsess over, which I duly did. Shame the screenwriter never got round to a sequel.

8. Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy, 2010)

An outstanding feature-length prank that grows richer and more hilarious with every viewing.

9. Robbie (Dunkley, 1979)

A public information film, narrated by Peter Purves, about the perils of crossing railway lines. Robbie was still being screened in Edinburgh classrooms in the early 1990s and its hapless star was the first ‘famous’ person I had ever seen who shared my name. I remember my friends and I howling with delight when Robbie’s name appeared on the title card and also whenever it came up in Purves’s stern narration, which was often. It is the purest form of joy I have ever felt because of a film. Unfortunately the implications of Robbie’s grisly fate (he was never able to play football again) were lost on me, as I had little interest in sport.

10. Santa Claus: The Movie (Szwarc, 1985)

A terrible piece of filmmaking in all respects, Santa Claus: The Movie was made at Pinewood Studios over four ill-starred months in late 1984 and features one of Dudley Moore’s many worst performances. But this is a list of favourite British films, not best British films, and I watch it every December. So there you have it.

Mark Cousins, writer and filmmaker

I can’t do ten! So I’ve done 12. So sorry!

Gareth Evans, writer and programmer

Charles Gant, film editor, Heat

Ryan Gilbey, critic, New Statesman

In alphabetical order:

Jamie Graham, deputy editor, Total Film

I’m somewhat sad to say it’s a largely traditional list (with, perhaps, one or two mild surprises), but I couldn’t quite bring myself to jettison cornerstone titles in favour of ‘fresher’ films – much as I covet the brio they would bring.

David Gritten, critic, The Telegraph

In no particular order:

The Third Man (Reed, 1949)

A flawless jewel of a film, with a brilliant Graham Greene screenplay, memorable performances and a shooting style that captures the light and pitch-black darkness of a corrupt post-war Vienna.

Listen to Britain (Jennings, 1942)

No plot, no narrative or spoken dialogue – but this mostly musical evocation of a nation at war by Humphrey Jennings is movingly, sometimes heartbreakingly, eloquent.

Brighton Rock (1947)

Greene again on top form in this seedy ‘entertainment’ about British gangland, overlaid with Catholic guilt, filmed in noirish style, but with restraint.

Don’t Look Now (Roeg, 1973)

Edging out the admittedly cooler ‘Performance’ (Cammell and Roeg, 1970), here is Nicolas Roeg on top form, blending themes of grief, betrayal and eroticism in an unforgettably menacing Venice setting.

Trainspotting (Boyle, 1996)

A deeply influential departure from British film tradition – jolting, amoral and adrenalin-fuelled. Brilliantly scripted and directed, its opening scenes almost literally grab audiences by the lapels.

Kes (Loach, 1969)

It remains Ken Loach’s most successful attempt to balance an entertaining, amusing narrative with moving, deeply-felt social themes.

A Matter of Life and Death (Powell and Pressburger, 1946)

This post-war fantasia about a pilot facing his mortality is superbly executed. Despite huge subsequent advances in CGI effects, the stairway to heaven retains its power to enchant.

Kind Hearts and Coronets (Hamer, 1949)

The best and darkest of all Ealing comedies, notable for Alec Guinness’s virtuoso portray of eight murder victims. Delicious.

Lawrence of Arabia (Lean, 1962)

David Lean is unfashionable these days, but this sprawling, dazzlingly filmed epic did justice to its enigmatic hero. This is cinema that deliberately sets out to overwhelm.

The Red Shoes (Powell and Pressburger, 1948)

Powell and Pressburger again, in a film that epitomises their collaboration: a playful, giddy, story in vivid colours about the importance of art and creativity. It leaves the senses reeling.

Mike Goodridge, editor, Screen International

That’s a hard job – I had to go for only one Powell and Pressburger which was tough I think I can settle on these as the final ten:

Larushka Ivan-Zadeh, critic, The Metro

Leaving out my more ‘classic’ faves – (Brazil (Gilliam, 1985) / The Third Man (Reed, 1949) / Great Expectations (Lean, 1946) / Distant Voices, Still Lives (Davies, 1988) / Don’t Look Now (Roeg, 1973) / Withnail and I (Robinson, 1987) / A Matter of Life And Death (Powell and Pressburger, 1946)) – in the assumption they'll make the final list, my top ten, purely personal British films would be:

NB I would include ‘In Bruges’ in my list, but assume that's not allowed because it's Irish. Also ‘The Shining’ – does that count as British? And I’d also put in a shout out for ‘Shaun of the Dead’.

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Dave Calhoun, Film editor
Dave Calhoun, Film editor

Steve - Your contribution above is much appreciated. In defining exactly what and who constituted 'the industry', we had to draw the line somewhere. Some may say that critics aren't part of the industry either, but I would have thought that most academics wouldn't want to consider themselves or be considered as such. Thanks Dave Dave

Prof. Steve Chibnall
Prof. Steve Chibnall

You never bothered to ask the world's only Professor of British Cinema (I guess academics can't be relied on to make a judgement), and I am astonished by some of the films that are missing from the list: nothing by Ken Russell, Slumdog Millionaire, Ghandi, Atonement, Lean's Oliver Twist etc. Anyway, for what it's worth, here's my 10: 1. Black Narcissus 2. The Third Man 3. Peeping Tom 4. Get Carter 5. Atonement 6. The Red Shoes 7. Zulu 8. Performance 9. Clockwork Orange 10. The Wicker Man (the better of the original double bill with your #1 film!)