What are the best movies of all time? Depends on who you ask, of course. We’ve got our own ideas, ranging from the best movies out right now, to all-time Academy Award-winning classics. But in a fascinating experiment, we’ve decided to ask only actors—including such luminaries as Juliette Binoche, Andy Serkis, Bill Hader and Nick Kroll—for their favorites. After receiving dozens of ballots from working professionals and compiling their votes, we present a distinctly performance-centric top-100 list, filled with great picks. Dive in and let us know where you differ.
Edited by Joshua Rothkopf, produced by Vivienne van Vliet. Written by Dave Calhoun, Cath Clarke, David Ehrlich, Tom Huddleston and Joshua Rothkopf.
100 best movies as chosen by actors
Director: Sydney Pollack
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Bill Murray
A struggling actor (Hoffman) secretly cross-dresses as a woman to land a role in a daytime soap opera—and gets too good at the deception.
“Who doesn't want to see Dustin Hoffman in a dress talking with a southern accent?”—Nick Kroll
“The game-changing cinematic cross-dressing performance—and a more important movie, from both a craft and sensibility perspective, than most people make it.”—BD Wong
Time Out says: “The tone is quick-witted and appealing, with some of the smartest dialogue this side of Billy Wilder, and a wonderfully sure-footed performance from Jessica Lange.”
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Cast: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan
The stately, Oscar-winning Mafia epic revived Marlon Brando's career and made a star of Al Pacino.
“The richness of the world that Francis Ford Coppola creates, and the stillness of Al Pacino’s performance—I almost luxuriate in these things because the feeling is so intense.”—George MacKay
Time Out says: “An everyday story of Mafia folk, incorporating a severed horse's head in the bed and a number of heartwarming family occasions, as well as pointers on how not to behave in your local trattoria (i.e., blasting the brains of your co-diners all over their fettuccini).”
Director: John Cassavetes
Cast: Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk, Fred Draper
Gena Rowlands gives one of the most emotionally charged performances in the history of cinema as a housewife experiencing a nervous breakdown. Peter Falk costars as the husband driving her around the fabled bend.
“Gena Rowlands made such an impact on me. She is one my great influences.”—Betty Buckley
“This is one of the most incredible performances I have ever seen. Gena Rowlands makes me physically tense while watching her downward spiral but not in a way that she blocks you out. You can see every fleeting thought and feeling flicker across her face and body. Unbelievable.”—Kyle Soller
Time Out says: “Rowlands unfortunately overdoes the manic psychosis at times, but Falk is persuasively insane as the husband, and the result is an astonishing, compulsive film, directed with a crackling energy.”
Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Cast: Philippe Noiret, Enzo Cannavale, Antonella Attili
A warm, romantic story about an elderly Italian projectionist’s friendship with a young boy.
“I seriously wonder if the people who dismiss this film have ears. Cinema Paradiso is mainly a delivery device for Ennio Morricone’s most profoundly emotional score—and there’s a lot of competition for that title. Overall, it’s a pure an expression of movie love as I have ever seen.”—Joshua Rothkopf, New York film editor
Time Out says: “The film retains its wide-eyed charm, pitched halfway between unrestrained romanticism and unknowing kitsch. It’s never exactly been fashionable to like Cinema Paradiso, and time won’t have done much to soften the sneers of dissenters. But the advantage of brazen sentimentality is that it gives the film very little to lose.”
Director: Robert Mulligan
Cast: Gregory Peck, John Megna, Frank Overton
This adaptation of Harper Lee’s landmark novel features Gregory Peck as an Alabama lawyer who defies prejudice by defending a young black man accused of rape.
“It’s my favorite book, and they didn’t fuck it up. ‘Stand up, your father is passing’—the line still makes me weep. It’s a masterclass in how it is always better to do what is right than what is popular.”—Emma Kennedy
Time Out says: “It looks like a storybook of the Old South, with dappled sunlight and woodwormy porches, and Peck is everyone’s favorite uncle.”
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall
With this grand, sweeping sequel, Coppola cuts between Mafia don Vito Corleone’s youth in Sicily (and later, New York City) and the fallout from his death decades later.
“There’s the taut, simmering intensity of Al Pacino; there’s the warm, swaggering charisma of Robert De Niro; and there’s Robert Duvall’s masterfully understated performance. I mean, it’s The Godfather—what can I say?”—Riz Ahmed
Time Out says: “This is quite simply one of the saddest movies ever made, a tale of loss, grief and absolute loneliness, an unflinching stare into the darkest moral abyss.”
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton
Woody Allen is Alvy Singer, a New York comic trying to understand what went wrong during his bumpy love affair with the complex, winning Annie (Keaton).
"When I think of this film, I think of two scenes: first, Diane Keaton and Woody Allen's characters struggling to cook lobsters; second, Woody's Alvy going for Easter lunch with Annie's relatives and us seeing how they all see him as a rabbi. The rapport between Woody and Diane is electric. The film now feels like a blueprint for so many that came later on—and not just Woody's own."—Dave Calhoun, Global film editor, Time Out
Time Out says: “This is the link between Woody Allen’s ‘earlier, funnier’ stuff and more probing works like Interiors and Manhattan. Would that we all could build such masterful bridges.”
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds
Anderson’s sprawling tale about a genuinely “gifted” porn star (Mark Wahlberg) is where the director’s talent for big-picture storytelling first made itself apparent. It also wins the contest for the best prosthetic-cock cameo of the past few decades, hands down.
“Punch Drunk Love is probably my favorite of Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies, but this is the one I think best marries his ambition, technical perfection and sheer verve. One of America’s all-time greatest filmmakers hit it out of the park at essentially his first at-bat.”—Zoe Kazan
“His films are where you dream of being as an actor.”—Patrick Kennedy
Time Out says: “What stiffens this unashamedly exhibitionist movie’s muscles are its beautifully judged performances, from Burt Reynolds’ stand-out as porn-king auteur/father figure, to Julianne Moore’s superb cokehead survivor-star and William H. Macy’s humiliated cuckold, right down to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s gut-wrenching gay crew member.”
Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Cast: Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring, Moira Shearer
A heady, dazzling tale of a dancer (Shearer) caught between the demands of love and work.
“Pretty much perfect in every way. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger were masters, and this film about the heights and depths of creativity makes full use of their talents.”—Zoe Kazan
“Completely unique and compelling.”—Anne-Marie Duff
Time Out says: “Blending impressionist art and expressionist film; blurring the barriers between theater and cinema, body and camera, reality and dream; drawing equally on the avant-garde and the classical; the centerpiece ballet is a sequence of sheer, reckless transcendence.”
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd
Yes, as a matter of fact, we are talkin’ to you. Robert De Niro stars as a psychotic cabbie alongside Jodie Foster, who plays a pubescent prostitute, in this classic set in seedy ’70s Gotham.
“I first saw this when I was in fifth grade at a sleepover and it completely changed my life. For me it’s the best directed and acted film of all time. If you want to learn how to act on film, all you have to do is watch Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver.”—Bill Hader
Time Out says: “Right from the opening credits, as we spy a cab emerging from steam and the eyes of Travis Bickle (De Niro) reflected in his rear-view mirror, we know we’re in someone’s personal hell.”