The greatest film ever made began with the meeting of two brilliant minds: Stanley Kubrick and sci-fi seer Arthur C Clarke. ‘I understand he’s a nut who lives in a tree in India somewhere,’ noted Kubrick when Clarke’s name came up – along with those of Isaac Asimov, Robert A Heinlein and Ray Bradbury – as a possible writer for his planned sci-fi epic. Clarke was actually living in Ceylon (not in India, or a tree), but the pair met, hit it off, and forged a story of technological progress and disaster (hello, HAL) that’s steeped in humanity, in all its brilliance, weakness, courage and mad ambition. An audience of stoners, wowed by its eye-candy Star Gate sequence and pioneering visuals, adopted it as a pet movie. Were it not for them, 2001 might have faded into obscurity, but it’s hard to imagine it would have stayed there. Kubrick’s frighteningly clinical vision of the future – AI and all – still feels prophetic, more than 50 years on.—Phil de Semlyen
What makes a great movie? It’s a debate we’ll all still be having until we’re old and grey. Despite the best efforts of film sages down the decades – from Pauline Kael to the journos-turned-auteurs at Cahiers du Cinéma to that Marvel nerd you follow on Twitter – there’s no hard and fast rule for what’s worthy of a place on a list like this and what isn’t. For one thing, cultural shifts have a tendency to propel certain works up (or down) the canon. As influential as it was in pure filmmaking terms, you won’t find DW Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation taking pride of place among the following century of greats.
What you will find are representatives of every genre: from timeless thrillers like North by Northwest, to much-homaged westerns like The Searchers, to neorealist dramas, thinky sci-fis, space operas, war films, musicals and New Wave trailblazers. There’s even the odd superhero movie, horror film and comedy to celebrate – corners of cinema too often dismissed by cultural gatekeepers as a bit, well, low-brow. Not here, though. Not with This is Spinal Tap and Airplane!, John Carpenter and Jordan Peele all demanding inclusion. The only criteria we’re applying are: ‘Do they leave you shaken to the core or lifted to the heavens?’ and ‘Will they change your movie-watching life forever?’ The following 100 classics clear those high bars with ease.
Written by Abbey Bender, Dave Calhoun, Phil de Semlyen, Bilge Ebiri, Ian Freer, Stephen Garrett, Tomris Laffly, Joshua Rothkopf, Anna Smith and Matthew Singer