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 of all time
Director: Sidney Lumet
Cast: Al Pacino, John Cazale, Penelope Allen
A desperate, likable schmo (Pacino) tries to pull off a Brooklyn bank robbery in broad daylight and bites off more than he can chew.
“Brilliant and unexpected. Al Pacino and John Cazale give two beautiful performances in the kind of movie I always wanted to be in. Also, the late Sidney Lumet is a director I would have loved to work with.”—Freddie Fox
Time Out says: “A richly detailed, meandering portrait of an incompetent, anxiety-ridden, homosexual bank robber played with ferocious and self-destructive energy by Pacino.”
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci
In the 25 years since Scorsese’s rapturously entertaining gangster classic debuted, we’ve seen the release of The Sopranos, Pulp Fiction and Breaking Bad—all of which owe a debt to arguably the most influential film of the director’s career.
“If it is on, I have to watch it. The sheer epic scope of the passage of time noted by voiceover, music and stellar production design makes it a masterpiece in my eyes. There isn’t a false note to be found among the many sprawling performances by an utterly perfect ensemble.”—John Gallagher Jr.
Time Out says: “The movie places an unusual emphasis on verbiage: beautiful arias of profanity, neurotic scheming, paranoid delusions. It’s impossible to imagine a gab-happy filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino rising without Goodfellas.”
Director: Bruce Robinson
Cast: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths
A huge cult film in its native England, this acerbic comedy stars Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann as two unemployed actors in the late ’60s who embark on a disastrous holiday.
“Every line of dialogue is quotable gold. The first time I saw it I wanted to write down each word but was far too mesmerized. It’s as hilarious as it’s heartbreaking. I heard Bruce Robinson originally imagined the film as a novel, which makes sense given its sweeping literary tone. It plays out like a grand old classic.”—John Gallagher Jr
Time Out says: “Withnail only gets better with time. Yes, it’s funny, but it’s also tender and sad, from the arresting sound of Procol Harum’s ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ in the opening scene to its final, rainy farewell.”
Director: Ken Loach
Cast: David Bradley, Brian Glover, Freddie Fletcher
British filmmaker Loach is consistently named as a major influence by directors from around the world; this film is proof that all that praise is more than warranted. Loach’s unsentimental, affecting tale of the relationship between an impoverished boy and his pet falcon set the mold for every examination of working-class strife that would follow.
“You might have to watch this one with subtitles, the Yorkshire accents are so thick. But it’s worth it. A scene where a young boy explains to his class how he trains a kestrel is one of the truly transcendent moments in film. It’s beautiful.”—Bill Hader
Time Out says: “Kes is one of the most astute, engaged films about education and what it takes for kids to be excited about learning—or passionate about anything, whether in the classroom or roaming the fields with a feathered friend.”
Director: Victor Fleming
Cast: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger
The look on Judy Garland’s face when she first sees Oz. The cackle of the Wicked Witch of the West. The melody to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Ray Bolger’s wonderfully loose-limbed dance. Flying monkeys. You can’t improve on this one.
“This movie changed my life forever. I saw it for the first time when I was five years old, and even then I remember worshipping the Wicked Witch of the West. Margaret Hamilton just looked like she was having the most fun of anyone. And that’s the exact moment I knew what I wanted to do with my life.”—Kristen Johnson
Time Out says: “Like Chaplin’s The Kid or E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Wizard of Oz simply lays bare primal emotions. It exposes our childhood anxieties about abandonment and powerlessness and brings to light the tension between the repressive comforts of home and the liberating terrors of the unknown marking all our adult lives.”
Director: Elia Kazan
Cast: Marlon Brando, Karl Madden. Lee J. Cobb
Marlon Brando’s softheaded utterances, his angelic frown and darkening stare as Terry Malloy, dockworker and washed-up boxer, still burn out of the actor’s deep conviction 60 years on. A beautiful and important film.
“I know, I know, I'm biased. But what an amazing film that absolutely captures what was a sea change in American acting. Iconic for a reason.”—Zoe Kazan
Time Out says: “Superb performances (none more so than Brando as Terry Malloy, the ex-boxer unwittingly entangled in corrupt union politics), a memorably colorful script by Budd Schulberg, and a sure control of atmosphere make this account of Brando’s struggles against a gangster’s hold over the union powerful stuff.”
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
Stanley Kubrick presents horror at its most artful, as Jack Nicholson takes an off-season job as a caretaker at a snowed-in Colorado hotel, and brings his family along for the ride.
“Contemplating the sheer mastery that went into this film—from its Steadicam tracking shots to its overall glacial freeze—is almost too frightening to bear. I don’t need the movie to be some kind of hidden apology for faking the Apollo moon landing (as some conspirators have suggested) for it to work for me. Perfect to watch on a snowy day as the light slants sideways.”—Joshua Rothkopf, New York film editor
Time Out says: “All of Stanley Kubrick’s films demand to be seen on a big screen. They’re about people trapped in huge, indifferent machines gone wrong, from a heist plot to a spaceship.”
Director: Lars von Trier
Cast: Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgård, Katrin Cartlidge
Lars Von Trier’s earthy, Scotland-set melodrama, both strange and tragic, tells of a woman (Watson) whose dying oil-worker husband urges her to sleep with other men.
“The first time I saw this film, I thought my heart was going to burst. There was an immediacy to the filmmaking that I had never experienced before. I loved the chapter cards and the ’70s rock songs, and I was so completely swept up in that mad, sick, romantic, tragic story. Everyone in the film is fantastic, especially my all-time favorite actress Katrin Cartlidge, but Emily Watson is totally devastating. The performance has a transcendence to it, like she's channeling spirits. It is so intense and so real, and the camera is totally merged with her, and you're just feeling, almost physically, every second of this performance which swings from childlike naïveté to violent and complicated sexuality to absolute grief and despair. It's unbelievable.”—Melanie Lynskey
Time Out says: “It’s a remarkable achievement for all concerned, with Katrin Cartlidge, as Bess’s widowed sister-in-law, sharing the acting laurels with the radiant Emily Watson, and writer-director Lars von Trier building the emotional and dramatic intensity with consummate skill.”
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson
Remember when the term Tarantino-esque hadn’t quite cracked the lexicon yet? Then this triptych of tales happened. Surprisingly, the video-store-geek-turned-auteur’s criminal opus still feels fresh, despite the legion of god-awful clones it’s spawned. Accept no substitutes, and relive ’90s cinema glory daze one more time.
“I am drawn to filmmakers who are blessed enough to take the rules, respect them and flip them on their head—all the while maintaining an entertaining piece. Tarantino personifies that here.”—David Gyasi
Time Out says: “There’s plenty of sharp, sassy, profane dialogue, and there are plenty of acute, funny references to pop culture, though the talk sometimes delays the action, and the references sometimes seem self-consciously arch.”
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen
A Roman general fallen into slavery (Crowe) seeks to avenge the death of his family at the hands of an emperor’s corrupt son.
“I remember being so awed when I watched this. I was completely thrilled by the scale of the battle and the gladiator scenes, and I was lost in the darkness of Joaquin Phoenix's performance as Commodus.”—George MacKay
Time Out says: “The cast is strong (notably Connie Nielsen as Commodus's vacillating sister, and the late Oliver Reed, unusually endearing as a gladiator owner), the pacing lively and the sets, swordplay and catapults impressive.”