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The 100 best movies of all time

Silent classics, noir, space operas and everything in between: Somehow we managed to rank the best movies of all time

2001: A Space Odyssey
2001: A Space Odyssey
By Joshua Rothkopf, Phil de Semlyen and Time Out contributors |

Everyone has their favorites—that's why any debate over what makes the best movies of all time can take hours (or, in our cases, a lifetime). Can there ever be one list to rule them all? A canon, as we critics like to call it, updated with today's game changers, that would glance upon all tastes, all genres, all countries, all eras, balancing impact with importance, brains with heart? The challenge was daunting. We just couldn't resist. Our list includes some of the most recognized action, feminist and foreign films. Please let us know how wrong we got it.

Written by Abbey Bender, Dave Calhoun, Phil de Semlyen, Bilge Ebiri, Ian Freer, Stephen Garrett, Tomris Laffly, Joshua Rothkopf and Anna Smith 

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Best movies of all time

2001: A Space Odyssey
Movies, Science fiction

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

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

The Godfather
Movies, Thriller

The Godfather (1972)

From the wise guys of Goodfellas to The Sopranos, all crime dynasties that came after The Godfather are descendants of the Corleones: Francis Ford Coppola’s magnum opus is the ultimate patriarch of the Mafia genre. A monumental opening line (“I believe in America”) sets the operatic Mario Puzo adaptation in motion, before Coppola’s epic morphs into a chilling dismantling of the American dream. The corruption-soaked story follows a powerful immigrant family grappling with the paradoxical values of reign and religion; those moral contradictions are crystallized in a legendary baptism sequence, superbly edited in parallel to the murdering of four rivaling dons. With countless iconic details—a horse’s severed head, Marlon Brando’s wheezy voice, Nino Rota’s catchy waltz—The Godfather’s authority lives on.—Tomris Laffly

Citizen Kane
Movies, Drama

Citizen Kane (1941)

Maybe you’ve heard of this one? Orson Welles’s iconic film, made when he was just 25, forever altered the language of cinema and set the auteur on a long path of fiercely iconoclastic work (and the Hollywood misunderstandings that unfortunately came with it). Citizen Kane’s story of a wealthy man’s rise and fall is forever relevant, and the techniques Welles used to tell it are still unparalleled nearly 80 years later. As director, producer, cowriter and star, Welles cemented his status as an innovator. His performance, taking us through the stages of a troubled mogul’s life—with the help of some shockingly convincing age makeup—is unforgettable, and the film’s themes of greed, power and memory are masterfully presented.—Abbey Bender

Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Long considered a feminist masterpiece, Chantal Akerman’s quietly ruinous portrait of a widow’s daily routine—her chores slowly yielding to a sense of pent-up frustration—should take its rightful place on any all-time list. This is not merely a niche film, but a window onto a universal condition, depicted in a concentrated structuralist style. More hypnotic than you may realize, Akerman’s uninterrupted takes turn the simple acts of dredging veal or cleaning the bathtub into subtle critiques of moviemaking itself. (Pointedly, we never see the sex work Jeanne schedules in her bedroom to make ends meet.) Lulling us into her routine, Akerman and actor Delphine Seyrig create an extraordinary sense of sympathy rarely matched by other movies. Jeanne Dielman represents a total commitment to a woman’s life, hour by hour, minute by minute. And it even has a twist ending.—Joshua Rothkopf

Raiders of the Lost Ark
Movies, Action and adventure

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Starting with a dissolve from the Paramount logo and ending in a warehouse inspired by Citizen Kane, Raiders of the Lost Ark celebrates what movies can do more joyously than any other film. Intricately designed as a tribute to the craft, Steven Spielberg’s funnest blockbuster has it all: rolling boulders, a barroom brawl, a sparky heroine (Karen Allen) who can hold her liquor and lose her temper, a treacherous monkey, a champagne-drinking villain (Paul Freeman), snakes (“Why did it have to be snakes?”), cinema’s greatest truck chase and a barnstorming supernatural finale where heads explode. And it’s all topped off by Harrison Ford’s pitch-perfect Indiana Jones, a model of reluctant but resourceful heroism (look at his face when he shoots that swordsman). In short, it’s cinematic perfection.—Ian Freer

La Dolce Vita

La Dolce Vita (1960)

Made in the middle of Italy’s boom years, Federico Fellini’s runaway box-office hit came to define heated glamour and celebrity culture for the entire planet. It also made Marcello Mastroianni a star; here, he plays a gossip journalist caught up in the frenzied, freewheeling world of Roman nightlife. Ironically, the movie’s portrayal of this milieu as vapid and soul-corrodingly hedonistic appears to have passed many viewers by. Perhaps that’s because Fellini films everything with so much cinematic verve and wit that it’s often hard not to get caught up in the delirious happenings onscreen. So much of how we view fame still dates back to this film; it even gave us the word paparazzi.—Bilge Ebiri

Seven Samurai
Movies, Action and adventure

Seven Samurai (1954)

It’s the easiest 207 minutes of cinema you’ll ever sit through. On the simplest of frameworks—a poor farming community pools its resources to hire samurai to protect them from the brutal bandits who steal its harvest—Akira Kurosawa mounts a finely drawn epic, by turns absorbing, funny and exciting. Of course the action sequences stir the blood—the final showdown in the rain is unforgettable—but this is really a study in human strengths and foibles. Toshiro Mifune is superb as the half-crazed self-styled samurai, but it’s Takashi Shimura’s Yoda-like leader who gives the film its emotional center. Since replayed in the Wild West (The Magnificent Seven), in space (Battle Beyond the Stars) and even with animated insects (A Bug’s Life), the original still reigns supreme.—Ian Freer

In the Mood for Love
Movies, Drama

In the Mood for Love (2000)

Can a film really be an instant classic? Anyone who watched In The Mood for Love when it was released in 2000 may have said yes. The second this love story opens, you sense you are in the hands of a master. Wong Kar-wai guides us through the narrow streets and stairs of ’60s Hong Kong and into the lives of two neighbors (Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung) who discover their spouses are having an affair. As they imagine—and partly reenact—how their partners might be behaving, they fall for each other while remaining determined to respect their wedding vows. Loaded with longing, the film benefits from no less than three cinematographers, who together create an intense sense of intimacy, while the faultless performances shiver with sexual tension. This is cinema.—Anna Smith

There Will Be Blood
Movies, Drama

There Will Be Blood (2007)

On the road to becoming the most significant filmmaker of the last 20 years, Paul Thomas Anderson transformed from a Scorsesian chronicler of debauched L.A. life into a hard-nosed investigator of the American confidence man. The pivotal point was There Will Be Blood, an epic about a certain kind of hustler—the oil baron and prospector. Daniel Plainview is, in the final analysis, an ultra-scary Daniel Day-Lewis who will drink your milkshake. Scored by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood (himself emerging as a major composer), Anderson’s mournful epic is the true heir to Chinatown’s bone-deep cynicism. As Phantom Thread makes clear, Anderson hasn’t lost his sense of humor, not by a long shot. But there once was a moment when he needed to get serious, and this is it.—Joshua Rothkopf

Singin’ in the Rain
Movies, Comedy

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Pure joy suffuses this towering musical, the crown jewel of MGM’s “Freed Unit” assembly line and a Tinseltown celebration of the bumpy transition from silents to talkies. Codirector Stanley Donen perfectly showcases Betty Comden and Adolf Green’s delightful script. And never was a trio of triple threats more perfectly matched: Suave Gene Kelly, comic foil Donald O’Connor and fresh-faced teen Debbie Reynolds all act, sing and dance in unerring harmony. Plus, the songs! Almost all were recycled from other MGM movies, but here they dazzle with revivified purpose—especially the title track, which plays out as a drenched Kelly splashes and twirls through a downpour with unfettered glee. An exemplar of film as a collaborative art, it’s the happiest movie ever made.—Stephen Garrett

Movies, Thriller

Goodfellas (1990)

Has this one taken its place as Martin Scorsese’s peak achievement yet? We think so (and not just because we can’t turn it off whenever we catch it midstream on TV). The revolution triggered by Goodfellas is only now becoming apparent: Without it, you don’t have The Sopranos, the golden age of television or the Reservoir Dogs diner scene. By turning his more somber preoccupations with male insecurity into comedy, Scorsese punctured through to a new register: one of coked-up social commentary on a distinctly American rise and fall. The romance of the mob lifestyle—the food, the nightclubs, the cheating, the violence—made for a glittering surface; underneath it was jail, abandonment and living one’s life like a schnook in the witness-protection program.—Joshua Rothkopf

North by Northwest, Mad Men
Movies, Thriller

North by Northwest (1959)

There’s no other thriller as elegant, light-touched and sexy as Hitchcock’s silken caper. Cary Grant’s suavely hollow adman Roger O. Thornhill (“What does the O. stand for?” “Nothing.”) is Don Draper with a sense of humor, which he sorely needs when he contracts a bad case of Wrong Man–itis. The set pieces, the villains, Eva Marie Saint’s femme fatale, Saul Bass’s credits, Bernard Herrmann’s musical cues—somehow the film manages to be even more than the sum of its glorious parts. Oh, and somewhere in there, Thornhill even manages to find his soul.—Phil de Semlyen

Mulholland Drive
Movies, Action and adventure

Mulholland Drive (2001)

You could watch Mulholland Drive, undoubtedly one of the greatest films of a new century, a hundred times and still get something different out of it with each revisit. David Lynch’s glamorous nightmare of Los Angeles is dense with mystery, terror and uncanny sexiness—themes that had long been a constant of the auteur’s work, but which here reached their lurid apotheosis.—Abbey Bender

Bicycle Thieves
Movies, Drama

Bicycle Thieves (1948)

The pinnacle of Italian Neorealism, Vittorio de Sica’s postwar masterwork exemplifies the movement’s socioeconomic concerns, maneuvering its stylistic conventions with heartbreaking poignancy. An unyielding critique of capitalism through the story of an everyman’s losing battle to safeguard a hard-earned job and preserve his dignity in the eyes of his son, Bicycle Thieves continues to inform the most humanist works of our time, from Winter’s Bone to Shoplifters.—Tomris Laffly

The Dark Knight
Movies, Action and adventure

The Dark Knight (2008)

Christopher Nolan’s brooding, expansive Batman sequel fuses the comic-book flick with the crime epic, and delivers something truly special: a pop spectacle with passages of surprisingly potent despair. The film’s runaway box-office success, along with its critical acclaim, made it a phenomenon that reshaped Hollywood. There’s a reason why superhero movies are taken so seriously nowadays—even by the Oscars—and this is basically it.—Bilge Ebiri

City Lights
Movies, Comedy

City Lights (1931)

Charlie Chaplin’s total vision remains awe-inspiring: He wrote, directed, produced, edited and starred in his own movies, which he also scored with an orchestra. And when those cameras were rolling, they captured a self-made icon with a global audience. Still, City Lights was something else. Chaplin, reticent to give up the visual techniques he’d mastered, insisted on making his new comedy a silent film even as viewers were growing thirsty for sound. As ever, the star had the last laugh: Not only was the film a huge commercial success, it also ended on the most heartbreaking close-up in cinema history—the peak of the reaction shot (since cribbed by movies from La Strada to The Purple Rose of Cairo), no dialogue required.—Joshua Rothkopf

Grand Illusion
Movies, Drama

Grand Illusion (1937)

There’s never a bad time to revisit one of Jean Renoir’s great masterpieces (along with The Rules of the Game), but this current era of populists, nationalists and shouty rabble-rousers feels like a particularly good one. Set in a German POW camp during WWI, the film lays bare the fault lines of class and nationality among a group of French prisoners and their German captors and comes to the conclusion that all that really matters is man’s nobility toward his fellow man.—Phil de Semlyen

His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday (1940)

Calling this one the peak of screwball comedy may be too limiting: Among the many topflight movies directed by journeyman filmmaker Howard Hawks, His Girl Friday is his most romantic and most verbose (the constant banter feels like foreplay). Though the laconic Hawks would downplay his own proto-feminism throughout his life, the film is also his most liberated; strong women who had jobs and ran with newshounds were simply what he wanted to see. Most wonderfully, this comedy best celebrates the rule of wit: He—or, more often, she—with the sharpest tongue wins. If you love words, you’ll love this movie.—Joshua Rothkopf

The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes (1948)

You could stick nearly every Powell and Pressburger film on this list; such was the dynamic duo’s stellar output. But for our money—and that of superfan Martin Scorsese—this dazzling ballet-set romance is first among equals. It's a perfect expression of artists’ drive to create, set in a lush Technicolor world shot by the great Jack Cardiff. Scorsese describes it as “the movie that plays in my heart.” We’ll take two seats at the back.—Phil de Semlyen


Vertigo (1958)

A sexy Freudian mind-bender that’s often considered Alfred Hitchcock’s finest triumph, Vertigo is pitched in a world of existential obsession and cunning doubles. Shape-shifting her way through Edith Head’s transformational costumes, Kim Novak haunts in two roles: Madeleine Elster and Judy Barton, both objects of desire for James Stewart’s curious ex-cop. Completing this vivid psychodrama is Bernard Herrmann’s alarmingly duplicitous score, which twists its way to a towering finale.—Tomris Laffly

Beau Travail
Movies, Drama

Beau Travail (1999)

Increasingly a giant of world cinema, France’s Claire Denis continues to confound expectations, making movies in sync with her own offbeat rhythms and thematic preoccupations (colonialism, power, repressed attraction). This one, her celebrated breakout, is something of a spin on Herman Melville’s Billy Budd—but that’s like calling Jaws something of a spin on Moby-Dick. The genius is in Denis’s technique, manifesting itself in images of shattering emotional precision: sinewy silhouettes of soldiers, abstract tests of will in the desert and, most ravishingly, the euphoria of breaking into dance, courtesy of a loose-limbed Denis Lavant and Corona’s “Rhythm of the Night.”—Joshua Rothkopf

The Searchers
Movies, Action and adventure

The Searchers (1956)

John Ford’s searing Western casts John Wayne as Ethan Edwards, a pathological racist and, yet, the enduring template for today’s modern antihero. Wayne’s bitterly wayward ex–Confederate soldier heads a five-year hunt for niece Debbie, captured at age nine by the Comanche. A rescue mission? More like an assassination, since he can’t abide a relative forced to live among the natives. Compassion struggles against oblivion on a new frontier where mixed ancestry is unavoidable and prejudice is unending.—Stephen Garrett


Persona (1966)

Ingmar Bergman’s psychologically raw output has the potency to turn mere film fans into raging addicts; Persona is the hard stuff, a double-sided psychodrama that somehow feels like it was shot last weekend with two of Ingy’s coolest friends (Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann, both revelatory). For its intimacy and economy alone, the film feels like a preview of the scrappy decade to come. Bergman, recovering from a serious bout of pneumonia, wrote the script in the hospital, grappling with a crisis of purpose that he turned into art of the highest caliber.—Joshua Rothkopf

Do the Right Thing
Movies, Comedy

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Spike Lee’s bitterly funny, ultimately tragic fresco of a Brooklyn neighborhood during one sweltering summer day was hugely controversial at the time: Critics dinged Lee for his depiction of an uprising in the wake of a police killing. The movie has lost none of its relevance or power; if anything, it’s gained some. But the filmmaking is what makes this a classic, particularly the energy, wit and style with which Lee presents this microcosm and the social forces at play inside it.—Bilge Ebiri

Movies, Drama

Rashomon (1950)

It’s no exaggeration to say that Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon redefined cinematic storytelling. With its shifting, unreliable narrative structure—in which four people give differing accounts of a murder—the film is remarkably daring and serves as a reminder of how form itself can beguile us. Flashbacks have never been so thrillingly deployed; nearly 70 years after its release, filmmakers are still trying to catch up to its achievements.—Abbey Bender

The Rules of the Game

The Rules of the Game (1939)

Jean Renoir cemented his virtuosity with this pitch-perfect study of social-strata eruptions among the ditzy, idle rich, about to be blown sideways by WWII. Affairs among aristocrats and servants alike bloom during a weeklong hunting trip at a country manor, where the only crime is to trade frivolity with sincerity. Renoir captures his sparklingly astute ensemble cast with fluid, deep-focus camera movements, innovations that inspired directors from Orson Welles to Robert Altman.—Stephen Garrett


Jaws (1975)

Rightly considered one of the most focused and suspenseful movies ever made, Steven Spielberg’s tale of a shark terrorizing a beach town remains effective more than four decades later. Jaws may have set the reputation of those gray-finned creatures back a few centuries, but it took the popular movie thriller to another level, demonstrating that B-movie material could be executed with masterly skill. Spielberg proved that less is more when it comes to crafting a feeling of dread, barely even showing us the beast that went on to haunt a whole generation.—Dave Calhoun

Double Indemnity
Movies, Thriller

Double Indemnity (1944)

The deliciously dark, stylish genre of film noir simply wouldn’t exist without Double Indemnity. This one truly has it all: flashbacks, murder, shadows and cigarettes galore, and, of course, a devious femme fatale (Barbara Stanwyck). As one of the great directors of Hollywood’s golden age, Billy Wilder excelled across a variety of cinematic types, but this hard-boiled gem is his most influential work.—Abbey Bender

The 400 Blows
Movies, Drama

The 400 Blows (1959)

The first in a five-film autobiographical series, Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows is the story of Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud)—stuck in an unhappy home life but finding solace in goofing off, smoking and hanging with his friends—and it’s cinema’s greatest evocation of a troubled childhood. Plus, it’s the perfect primer to get kids into subtitled movies.—Ian Freer

Star Wars
Movies, Science fiction

Star Wars (1977)

Popcorn pictures hit hyperdrive after George Lucas unveiled his intergalactic Western, an intoxicating gee-whiz space opera with dollops of Joseph Campbell–style mythologizing that obliterated the moral complexities of 1970s Hollywood. This postmodern movie-brat pastiche references a virtual syllabus of genre classics, from Metropolis and Triumph of the Will to Kurosawa’s samurai actioners, Flash Gordon serials and WWII thrillers like The Dam Busters. Luke Skywalker’s quest to rescue a princess instantly elevated B-movie bliss to billion-dollar-franchise sagas.—Stephen Garrett

The Passion of Joan of Arc
Movies, Drama

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Carl Theodor Dreyer’s classic tale of the trial of Joan of Arc is somehow both austere and maximalist. The director shows restraint with setting and scope; the film focuses largely on the back-and-forth between Joan and her inquisitors. But the intense close-ups give free reign to Maria Falconetti’s marvelously expressive turn as the doomed Maid of Orleans. Made at the close of the silent era, it set new standards in screen acting.—Bilge Ebiri

Once Upon a Time in the West
Movies, Action and adventure

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

There’s no Quentin Tarantino without Sergio Leone; even QT himself would admit as much. But you have to wonder if 50 years from now, Pulp Fiction will still feel as vital as this staggeringly emotional piece of postmodern mythmaking. The ultimate cult film, Leone’s spaghetti Western is set in a civilizing America—though mostly shot in Rome and Spain—but the real location is an abstract frontier of old versus new, of larger-than-life heroes fading into memory. Leone’s “two big eyes” close-ups and Ennio Morricone’s lush orchestral score are still influential.—Joshua Rothkopf

Movies, Science fiction

Alien (1979)

If all it did was to launch a franchise centered on Sigourney Weaver’s fierce survivor (still among the toughest action heroines of cinema), Ridley Scott’s claustrophobic, deliberately paced sci-fi-horror classic would still be cemented in the film canon. But Alien claims masterpiece status with its subversive gender politics (this is a movie that impregnates men), its shocking chestburster centerpiece and industrial designer H.R. Giger’s strangely elegant double-jawed creature, a nightmarish vision of hostility—and one of cinema’s most unforgettable pieces of pure craft.—Tomris Laffly

Tokyo Story
Movies, Drama

Tokyo Story (1951)

Simply spun, Yasujiro Ozu’s domestic drama is small but perfectly formed. Chishu Ryu and Chieko Higashiyama are dignified and moving as parents who visit their children and grandchildren, only to be neglected. Delicately played, beautifully shot (often with the camera hovering just off the ground), Ozu’s masterpiece is the family movie given grandeur and intimacy. If you loved last year’s Shoplifters, you’ll love this.—Ian Freer

Pulp Fiction
Movies, Drama

Pulp Fiction (1994)

What’s the best part of Pulp Fiction? The twist contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s? Bruce Willis versus the Gimp? Jules’s Ezekiel 25:17 monologue? Quentin Tarantino’s film earns curiosity with its grabby movie moments but claims all-time status with its spellbinding achronological plotting, insanely quotable dialogue and a proper understanding of the metric system. Pulp Fiction marked its generation as deeply as did Star Wars before it; it’s a flourish of ’90s indie attitude that still feels fresh despite a legion of chatty imitators.—Ian Freer

The Truman Show
Movies, Fantasy

The Truman Show (1998)

The late ’90s spawned two prescient satires of reality TV, back when it was still in its pre-epidemic phase: the underrated EDtv and, this, Peter Weir’s profound statement on the way the media has its claws in us. In some ways a kinder, gentler version of Network, The Truman Show is a TV parable in which a meek hero (Jim Carrey) wins back his life. It can also be considered an angrier film, slamming both the controlling TV networks (represented by Ed Harris’s messiahlike Christof) and us, the viewing public, for making a game show of other people’s lives.—Phil de Semlyen

Lawrence of Arabia
Movies, Drama

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

“Nothing is written,” spits the stubborn T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole), silencing naysayers after having single-handedly crossed deadly desert terrain. Hubris shapes history, and vice versa, in David Lean’s masterpiece of masculine megalomania: a diptych showing the rise and fall of a willowy Englishman and his visceral, almost atavistic infatuation with the Middle East. Biopics were connect-the-dots affairs until Lean welded psychological nuance into the image, projecting his subject’s inner life onto a landscape of epic, tragic grandeur.—Stephen Garrett


Psycho (1960)

Fun fact: Psycho is the first film to ever depict a toilet flushing. Happily, Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller broke new ground in other ways, too, from offing its heroine within the first third to diving deeper into a crazed mind (bravo, Anthony Perkins) than Hollywood had yet managed before. Forget the shower shenanigans, the end is creepy AF.—Ian Freer

Sansho the Bailiff
Movies, Drama

Sansho the Bailiff (1954)

Japanese cinema has produced no shortage of heavy hitters, but director Kenji Mizoguchi may deserve prime of place. He was able to turn out impeccable ghost stories (Ugetsu) and backstage dramas (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums), but his greatest trait was a deep, unshakable empathy for women, beaten down by the patriarchy but heartbreaking in their suffering. These women are central to Sansho the Bailiff, a feudal tale of familial dissolution that will wreck you. Make no apologies for your tears; everyone else will be crying, too.—Joshua Rothkopf

Andrei Rublev
Movies, Drama

Andrei Rublev (1966)

Mournful, challenging and mesmerizing, Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic portrait of the life and times of one of Russia’s most famous medieval icon painters foregrounds qualities such as landscape and mood over story and character. Ultimately, it’s the tale of a man’s attempt to overcome his crisis of faith in a world that seems to have an endless supply of violence and strife—and it’s a remarkable testament to the persistence of artists working under oppressive regimes.—Bilge Ebiri

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Movies, Drama

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

The melancholy of Michel Legrand’s glorious score washes over viewers’ hearts from the first moment of Jacques Demy’s nontraditional, sung-through musical. One of the most romantic films ever made about the pains and purity of first love, the immaculately styled The Umbrellas of Cherbourg challenged the lighter Hollywood musicals of the era (like The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady) and launched the sensational Catherine Deneuve into international stardom. Later, it would be a major influence on La La Land.Tomris Laffly

Movies, Thriller

Chinatown (1974)

Director Roman Polanski and screenwriter Robert Towne took a modestly sleazy noir setup and turned it into a meditation on the horrors of American history and rapacious capitalism. The film also sports a perfect cast, with a top-of-his-game Jack Nicholson as a cynical private eye, an impossibly alluring Faye Dunaway as the femme fatale with a past so dark her final revelation still shocks, and the legendary John Huston as the monstrous millionaire at the heart of it all.—Bilge Ebiri

The Seventh Seal

The Seventh Seal (1957)

Not just any film gets homaged by Bill and Ted. But Ingmar Bergman’s great treatise on mortality isn’t just any film. Despite becoming somehow synonymous with “difficult art-house statement,” it’s not all weighty themes, plague-strewn landscapes and chess games with the Grim Reaper. As Max von Sydow’s medieval knight travels the land witnessing the apocalypse, loads of life-affirming moments lighten the load. Of course, it’s a work of profound philosophical thought, too, so you’ll feel brainier for having seen it.—Phil de Semlyen

Romantic film: Lost in Translation
Movies, Comedy

Lost in Translation (2003)

Worlds collide in Sofia Coppola's pitch-perfect tale of a movie star (Bill Murray) and a newlywed (Scarlett Johansson) in Tokyo. Coppola approaches each of her characters with a warmth and sensitivity that exudes from the screen—and ensures that “Brass in Pocket” will remain a karaoke favorite around the world (pink wig optional). Why has the film endured so vividly in viewers’ hearts? Maybe because it captures those gloriously melancholic moments we’ve all experienced that seem to be gone in a flash, yet linger forever.—Anna Smith

Taxi Driver
Movies, Drama

Taxi Driver (1976)

A time capsule of a vanished New York and a portrait of twisted masculinity that still stings, Taxi Driver stands at the peak of the vital, gritty auteur-driven filmmaking that defined 1970s New Hollywood. Martin Scorsese’s vision of vigilantism is filled with an uncomfortable ambience, and Paul Schrader’s screenplay probes philosophical depths that are brought to vicious life by Robert De Niro’s unforgettable performance.—Abbey Bender

Spirited Away
Movies, Animation

Spirited Away (2001)

The jewel in Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli’s crown, Spirited Away is a glorious bedtime story filled with soot sprites, monsters and phantasms—it’s a movie with the power to coax out the inner child in the most grown-up and jaded among us. A spin on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (with the same invitation to follow your imagination), Spirited Away has been ushering audiences into its dream world for almost two decades and seems only to grow in stature each year, a tribute to its hand-drawn artistry. Trivia time: It remains Japan’s highest-grossing film ever, just ahead of Titanic.—Anna Smith

Night of the Living Dead
Movies, Horror

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

The first no-budget horror movie to become a bona-fide calling card for its director, George A. Romero’s seminal frightfest begins with a single zombie in a graveyard and builds to an undead army attacking a secluded house. Most modern horror clichés start here. But nothing betters it for style, mordant wit, racial and political undertow, and scaring the bejesus out of you, all some 50 years before Us.—Ian Freer

Battleship Potemkin

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

This rousing Russian silent film was conceived in the heat of Soviet propaganda and commissioned by the still-young Communist government to salute an event from 20 years earlier. It tells of a sailors’ revolt that morphs into a full-blown workers’ uprising in the city of Odessa; the movie is most famous for one breathtaking sequence—much copied and parodied since—of a baby carriage tumbling down a huge flight of steps. But Battleship Potemkin is full of powerful images and heady ideas, and director Sergei Eisenstein is rightly considered one of the pioneers of early film language, with his influence felt through the decades.—Dave Calhoun

Modern Times
Movies, Drama

Modern Times (1936)

The only Charlie Chaplin movie to see the Little Tramp go on a massive cocaine binge, this relentlessly inventive silent classic hardly needs the added kick. The gags come almost as fast as you can process them, with the typically pinpoint Chaplin slapstick conjured here from scenarios that seem purpose-built to end in disaster. The sight of Chaplin literally feeding himself into a massive machine offers a still-germane satire on technological advancement.—Phil de Semlyen


Breathless (1960)

Film critic Jean-Luc Godard’s seismic directing debut is a bravado deconstruction of the gangster picture that also reinvented moviemaking itself. It features Cubistic jump cuts, restless handheld camerawork, location shoots, eccentric pacing (the 24-minute centerpiece is two lovers talking in a bedroom), and self-conscious asides about painting, poetry, pop culture, literature and film. A sexy fling between petty thief Jean-Paul Belmondo and Sorbonne-bound gamine Jean Seberg morphs into an oddly touching, existential meditation. It’s pulp fiction, but alchemically profound.—Stephen Garrett

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Movies, Drama

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

So much of Stanley Kubrick’s genius was conceptual, and this one asks his most audacious question: What if the world came to an end—and it was hilarious? Nuclear annihilation was a subject in which Kubrick immersed himself, reading virtually every unclassified text. His conclusion was grim: There would be no winning. Via darkest comedy (the only way into the subject) and an unhinged Peter Sellers playing three separate parts, Kubrick made his point.—Joshua Rothkopf

Movies, Drama

M (1931)

One of those epochal films—there’s only a handful—that sits on the divide between silent cinema and the sound era but taps into the virtues of both, Fritz Lang’s serial-killer thriller burns with deep-etched visual darkness while perking ears with its whistled “In the Hall of the Mountain King” (performed by a purse-lipped Lang himself; his star, Peter Lorre, couldn’t whistle). The movie’s theme is vigilance: We must protect our children, but who will protect society from itself? M is like a sonar listening to a pre-Nazi Germany on the cusp of shedding its humanity.—Joshua Rothkopf

Blade Runner
Movies, Science fiction

Blade Runner

Set in (eek!) 2019, Ridley Scott’s vision of a dystopian future is one of the most stylish sci-fi films of all time. With a noir-inspired aesthetic and a haunting synth score by Vangelis (a massive influence on Prince), Blade Runner is iconic not just for its era-defining look, but also for its deeper philosophical examination of what it means to be human. Many have tried to imitate the film’s uncanny vibe, but these rain-slicked streets and seedy vistas possess a singular menace.—Abbey Bender

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)

The creative fecundity of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, dead from an overdose at age 37 after completing more than 40 features, deserves enshrinement by a new generation. This film is arguably his sharpest and most psychologically complex; inarguably, it’s his bitchiest. There is so much to love in Fassbinder’s shag-carpeted showdown, which goes beyond the spectacle of two dueling fashionistas into a profound exploration of aging and obsolescence.—Joshua Rothkopf

Rome, Open City
Movies, Drama

Rome, Open City (1945)

Few film movements can boast the hit rate of Italian neorealism, a post-WWII wave dedicated to working-class struggle that seems to comprise only masterpieces. Robert Rossellini was responsible for a few of them, including Germany Year Zero and this earlier drama of repression and resistance, which boasts not one but two of the most memorable death scenes in all of cinema.—Phil de Semlyen

Movies, Horror

Nosferatu (1922)

Brace for the land of phantoms and the call of the Bird of Death: One of the earliest (though unauthorized) adaptations of Dracula is still the most terrifying. Max Schreck’s insectlike performance as the bloodthirsty Count Orlok is just as transfixing and repulsive as it was almost a century ago. German Expressionist director F.W. Murnau’s haunting images of a crepuscular world set the chilling standard for generations of cinematic nightmares.—Stephen Garrett

Movies, Comedy

Airplane! (1980)

With about 6,500 zingers to choose from, everyone has their favorite Airplane! gag. Directors David and Jerry Zucker and their partner in extreme silliness, Jim Abrahams, truly threw the kitchen sink at this dizzying spoof of the ’70s disaster movies that were all the rage at the time. Onscreen comedy, in turn, was modernized for what would be its most transforming decade. Our favorite joke? “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines.”—Phil de Semlyen

Under the Skin
Movies, Drama

Under the Skin (2013)

Hypnotic, bewitching, thought-provoking, disturbing, horrifying: However you react to it, you won't forget Jonathan Glazer's startling adaptation of Michel Faber's woman-who-fell-to-earth novel. Using her celebrity in a radical way, Scarlett Johansson is perfectly cast as an alien in human form who roams Glasgow trying to pick up men in her van. It was shot guerrilla-style on the streets of the Scottish city, so look out for the footage of genuinely baffled passersby.—Anna Smith

Mad Max: Fury Road
Movies, Action and adventure

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Both a sequel and a reboot, the fourth entry in director George Miller’s series of post-apocalyptic gearhead epics fuses death-defying stunts with modern special effects to give us one of the all-time-great action movies. This one is a nonstop barrage of chases, each more spectacularly elaborate and nightmarish than the last—but it’s all combined with Miller’s surreal, poetic sensibility, which sends it into the realm of art.—Bilge Ebiri

Apocalypse Now
Movies, Drama

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Francis Ford Coppola’s evergreen Vietnam War classic proves war is swell, as assassin Martin Sheen heads upriver to kill renegade colonel Marlon Brando. En route, there’s surfing, a thrilling helicopter raid, napalm smelling, tigers and Playboy bunnies, until Sheen steps off the boat and into a different zone of madness—or is it genius? Who knows at this point?—Ian Freer

Brokeback Mountain
Movies, Drama

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Forget what the Oscars crowned as the Best Picture of 2005: Ang Lee’s tragic gay romance is the nominee that stands the test of time. Anchored by Rodrigo Prieto’s swoonworthy cinematography and a wistful Heath Ledger (whose performance toppled societal perceptions of masculinity), Brokeback Mountain is a milestone in LGBTQ art-house cinema. It reimagined the Western genre and became a part of the zeitgeist.—Tomris Laffly

Duck Soup
Movies, Comedy

Duck Soup (1933)

Biting political satires don't have to be long and complicated: This 68-minute masterpiece is perfectly pithy, exposing the absurdities of international politics with swift wit and spot-on slapstick. Often regarded as the funniest of the Marx Brothers’ oeuvre, the film is also—sadly—timeless, as its portrayal of a war-mongering dictatorship remains relevant to this day.—Anna Smith

The Blair Witch Project
Movies, Horror

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

An unlikely pick? Not when you consider the low-budget sensation in a larger context. Many films emerge from Sundance with a deafening buzz; how do you explain a $250 million global box-office gross? Credit a revolutionary internet campaign, spooky and immersive, that’s now a tactic in every publicist’s playbook. And let’s not forget the movie itself, which kicked off the “found-footage” trend. Even more prophetically, The Blair Witch Project is about a generation that can’t stop filming itself, even when lost in the woods—it’s ground zero for selfie horror.—Joshua Rothkopf

All the President’s Men
Movies, Drama

All the President’s Men (1976)

With the ink barely wet on Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation, director Alan J. Pakula, actor-producer Robert Redford and screenwriter William Goldman created a hot-off-the-presses docudrama about the Watergate break-in that crackles with live-wire tension. This is nose-to-the-grindstone investigative work in an analog world—think rotary phones, electric typewriters, handwritten notes on legal pads, red-pen edits and Xerox copiers—and a master class in making movie dialogue absolutely riveting. It’s an essential touchstone for every political thriller since.—Stephen Garrett

The Apu trilogy
Movies, Drama

The Apu trilogy (1955, 1956, 1959)

We’re cheating by including all three films (Pather Panchali, Aparajito and The World of Apu), but really, how do you separate the installments of Satyajit Ray’s magnificent coming-of-age trilogy? The Bengali great follows young Apu (Apurba Kumar Roy) from boyhood to adult life via schooling and a move from his remote village to the big city, as well as loves and losses. Some of the most intimate Indian cinema ever captured, it’s also completely relatable, whether you hail from Kolkata, Kansas or Camden Town.—Phil de Semlyen

The General
Movies, Comedy

The General (1926)

Boy meets train. Boy loses train. Boy chases Union forces who stole train, wins back train and fires off in the opposite direction. It may not sound like your average love story, but that’s exactly what Buster Keaton’s deadpan and death-defying silent comedy is: a majestic demonstration of trick photography, balletic courage and comic timing, all underpinned by genuine heart. Trust us, it’s loco-motional.—Phil de Semlyen

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

There are countless movies about romantic relationships, yet few explore the subject more creatively than Michel Gondry’s breakthrough, scripted by Charlie Kaufman (who was then becoming a household name with Being John Malkovich and Adaptation). The sci-fi–inflected tale of two halves of a broken-up couple going through a memory-erasing procedure takes many surprising, poignant turns; the film’s impeccably executed combination of authentically quirky imagery and philosophical inquiry has become a signpost of modern independent cinema.—Abbey Bender

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Movies, Horror

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The title is still a killer piece of marketing, suggesting something much gorier than what you get. That’s not to say Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece doesn’t deliver. A grungy vision of horror captured during a palpably sweaty and stenchy Texas summer, the film has taken its rightful place as a definitive parable of Nixonian class warfare, eat-or-be-eaten social envy and the essentially unknowable nature of some unlucky parts of the world.—Joshua Rothkopf

Come and See
Movies, Drama

Come and See (1985)

Forget Saving Private Ryan. If you’re looking for the hardest-hitting depiction of war, Elem Klimov’s astounding film is where to go. Whereas Steven Spielberg opts for a vérité approach, the Russian director leans into the idea of war as a form of collective madness—a kind of ultraviolent acid trip that fills the frame with hellish visions. That’s doubly true for his central character, a fresh-faced Belarusian partisan, who is so broken by what he witnesses, he ages in real time.—Phil de Semlyen

Movies, Thriller

Heat (1995)

Writer-director Michael Mann’s heist masterpiece put two of our greatest actors, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, together onscreen for the first time—one as a stoic master criminal, the other as the obsessive cop determined to bring him down. In weaving their stories together, Mann presents dueling but equally weighted perspectives, with our allegiance as viewers constantly shifting. The last word on cops-and-robbers movies, it’s suffused with a magic that crime thrillers try to recapture to this day.—Bilge Ebiri

The Shining
Movies, Horror

The Shining (1980)

Our list doesn’t lack for Stanley Kubrick movies (nor should it). Still, it’s shocking to remember that The Shining—so redolent of the director’s pet themes of mazelike obsession and the banality of evil—was once considered a minor work. It’s since come to represent the most concentrated blast of Kubrick’s total command; he’s the god of the film, Steadicam-ing around corners and making the audience notice that he was born to redefine horror. Even if we can’t roll with the crackpot fan theories about how Kubrick allegedly faked the Apollo moon landing, we’ll readily admit that this film contains cosmic multitudes.—Joshua Rothkopf

Toy Story
Movies, Animation

Toy Story (1995)

The one that got Pixar’s (Luxo) ball rolling and still an absolute high-water mark for CG animation, Toy Story reinvented what a family movie could be. On the surface, it’s a simple story about a couple of miniature rivals sizing each other up (Woody was originally going to be a whole mess meaner), before falling into peril at the hands of next-door pyrotechnics genius Sid. But it’s also about jealousy, power dynamics and our relationships with our own childhoods. With it, Pixar took storytelling to infinity and far, far beyond.—Phil de Semlyen

Killer of Sheep

Killer of Sheep (1977)

Shot on 16-millimeter film in sketchy light, Charles Burnett’s UCLA graduate thesis film stitches together seemingly mundane vignettes to form a compelling mosaic of late-’70s African-American life. A landmark of independent black cinema, it’s set to a great soundtrack ranging from blues and classical to Paul Robeson. Poetic, compassionate, angry, ironic: All human life is present here.—Ian Freer

A Woman Under the Influence

A Woman Under the Influence (1974)

There’s a tendency in these greatest-of-all-time exercises to prioritize the director, the camerawork or the screenplay. But respect must be paid to the performer, too: In a decade of brilliant acting, no turn was quite as galvanizing as the one given by Gena Rowlands in this stunning peek into a fraying mind. A fluky Los Angeles housewife and mother who’s constantly being told to calm down, Rowlands’s Mabel is the apotheosis of John Cassavetes’s improvisatory cinema; our concern for her never flags as she teeters through excruciating scenes of breakdown and regrouping.—Joshua Rothkopf

Annie Hall
Movies, Comedy

Annie Hall (1977)

Quotable, endearing and bursting with creative moments, Annie Hall is one of the most revolutionary of romantic comedies. This quintessential New York movie turned countless viewers on to the joys of verbose dialogue (and experimentation in menswear for women), and has long been lauded for both its accessibility and its poignancy, a balance that few movies have since achieved so memorably.—Abbey Bender

Some Like It Hot
Movies, Comedy

Some Like It Hot (1959)

A joy from start to finish, Billy Wilder’s Prohibition-era–set comedy has heart, humor, cross-dressing, Marilyn Monroe and the finest closing line in the history of cinema. It was also monumentally subversive, sneaking in a clutch of racy moments under the nose of Hollywood’s moralistic Hays Code and all but neutering it in the process. The cast was very much in on the joke: Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are having a whale of a time in drag, while Monroe offers a typically beguiling mix of innocence and mischief.—Anna Smith

Movies, Science fiction

Metropolis (1927)

Hugely expensive for its time, Metropolis is Blade Runner, The Terminator and Star Wars all rolled into one (not to mention 50 years prior). Fritz Lang’s silent vision of a totalitarian society still astounds through its stunning cityscapes, groundbreaking special effects and a bewitchingly evil robot (Brigitte Helm). It’s science fiction at its most ambitious and breathtaking—the not-so-modest beginnings of onscreen genre seriousness.—Ian Freer

The Maltese Falcon
Movies, Drama

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The accepted wisdom is that the noir era really kicked off during the hard-bitten post-WWII years, which makes John Huston’s adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's detective novel a real trailblazer. It’s a template for the swathe of noir flicks that would follow, offering up a jaded-but-noble gumshoe in Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade, a femme fatale (Mary Astor), a couple of shifty villains (Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre) and a labyrinthine plot that drags you around by the nose. If the movie were any more hard-boiled, you’d crack your teeth on it.—Phil de Semlyen

This Is Spinal Tap
Movies, Comedy

This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

Exploding drummers, amps that go to 11, tiny Stonehenges, “Dobly”: This spoof rock documentary—rockumentary, if you must—is monumentally influential on cinema, cringe comedy and, possibly, the music industry itself. (There’s not a band out there without at least one Spinal Tap moment to its name.) Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer are comic royalty, and we can only genuflect in their presence; shortly after this film, Guest kicked off his own directorial brand of humor, directly inspired by Rob Reiner’s heavy-metal satire.—Phil de Semlyen

It Happened One Night
Movies, Comedy

It Happened One Night (1934)

If only Hollywood made ’em like they used to: crackling romantic comedies that conquered the Oscars. Frank Capra’s hilarious hate-at-first-sight love story is still one of the fastest movies ever made. Claudette Colbert’s spoiled heiress and Clark Gable’s opportunistic reporter hit the road and bicker their way toward a happily-ever-after ending, class barriers be damned. Not only did this smart and suggestively sexy pre-Code screwball shape every rom-com that followed, it still has a leg up on most of them.—Tomris Laffly

Die Hard
Movies, Action and adventure

Die Hard (1988)

The perfect action movie? It’s hard to think of one better than this tower-block spectacular—nor one more imitated. There’s since been “Die Hard on a boat” (Under Siege), “Die Hard in a hockey arena” (Sudden Death) and even “Die Hard in a private school” (1997’s Masterminds). None, though, is fit to tie the laces on John McClane’s quickly discarded shoes. The stunts are awesome, the dialogue is endlessly quotable, and Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman are a white-hat–black-hat duo straight out of a classic Western.—Phil de Semlyen

The Conformist

The Conformist (1970)

In Mussolini’s Italy, a repressed homosexual (Jean-Louis Trintignant) joins the Fascist party in order to blend in and hide his true self. Part psychoanalysis session, part colorful genre fantasia, director Bernardo Bertolucci’s enormously influential drama journeys through different styles and aesthetics. As much as Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane did with the films of the ’20s, ’30s, and early ’40s, The Conformist offers a powerful compendium of cinematic techniques from the eras preceding it.—Bilge Ebiri

The Thing

The Thing (1982)

Let John Carpenter’s real masterpiece—the one that horror mavens bow down to—take its place in the pantheon. A passion project that got clobbered by audiences and critics alike, The Thing was, in fact, that rarest of remakes: one that improves upon its source. Carpenter’s widescreen elegance and spooky synth minimalism (here furthered by composer Ennio Morricone) found a new counterpoint in some of the most disgusting practical special effects ever sprung on a paying audience. But the film’s ice-cold paranoia, uncut and pharma-grade, has been its most lasting legacy: a template of perfection for all since.—Joshua Rothkopf

Daughters of the Dust

Daughters of the Dust (1991)

Writer-director Julie Dash should have become an Ava DuVernay–level success after her poetic feature debut, an achievement of otherworldly beauty. The first film made by an African-American woman to receive theatrical distribution, Daughters of the Dust is permeated with pride, history and matriarchal wisdom. Set in 1902, it follows the Gullah, descendents of slaves living off the coast of South Carolina, who painfully reckon with their fading traditions. Singularly ahead of its time, Daughters mourns the enduring tragedy of enslavement. Its tranquil strength later found an echo in Beyoncé’s Lemonade.—Tomris Laffly

Barry Lyndon
Movies, Drama

Barry Lyndon (1975)

Back in 1975, Stanley Kubrick’s somber adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel about a young Irishman’s journey from lovestruck exile to cynical grifter in 18th-century Europe seemed out of step with the gritty, intense output of contemporary cinema. Years later, it’s considered by many to be Kubrick’s masterpiece, and its deliberate, highly aestheticized approach has influenced everybody from Ridley Scott to Yorgos Lanthimos.—Bilge Ebiri

Raging Bull
Movies, Drama

Raging Bull (1980)

Martin Scorsese’s hallucinogenic biography of the tenacious boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) is a bold mash-up of neorealist grit and hyperstylized, gossamer beauty. Put on the gloves and LaMotta is in his element; take them off and he’s an insecure sociopath consumed by sexual jealousy. De Niro’s monstrous portrayal is miraculously empathetic, but what’s truly revolutionary is Scorsese’s technique: Like a modern-day Verdi, the Italian-American auteur elevates the profane to the operatic.—Stephen Garrett

Movies, Action and adventure

Seven (1995)

David Fincher is the most signature director of his era: a crafter of iconic music videos and decade-defining dramas like Zodiac and The Social Network. But his transition to Hollywood was rocky; it was a town that barely understood him. The turning point was Seven, the first time that Fincher’s fearsome vision arrived uncut. Stylistically, the dark movie (shot by an inspired Darius Khondji, working with a silver-nitrate-retention process) has proven more durable than even The Silence of the Lambs, but it’s that meme-able sucker punch of an ending that still rattles audiences.—Joshua Rothkopf

Aguirre, the Wrath of God
Movies, Action and adventure

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)

No one could lob a monkey like Klaus Kinski, as he demonstrates at the end of Werner Herzog’s conquistador epic. His Spanish soldier, Don Lope de Aguirre, finds himself with only these furry friends for company, his dreams of finding the mythical El Dorado in tatters. So, what does he do? He picks one up, examines it and nonchalantly chucks it away. It’s a surreal moment that encapsulates this strange and mighty river movie, about a man so lost in his own obsession, he can no longer process the world around him.—Phil de Semlyen

The Battle of Algiers
Movies, Drama

The Battle of Algiers (1966)

Political thrillers still owe a debt to Gillo Pontecorvo’s ever-timely tour de force. Recounting the Algerian uprising against French colonial occupiers in the 1950s, The Battle of Algiers boldly examines terrorism, racism and even torture as a means of intelligence-gathering. Screened at the Pentagon for its topical significance during the early phases of the Iraq War, Algiers has its rebellious legacy vested in numerous politically charged epics, from Z to Steven Spielberg’s Munich.—Tomris Laffly

Movies, Comedy

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)

Pedro Almodóvar broke into the mainstream with this gloriously colorful ensemble comedy, an entry point for many into a style of smart, sexually liberated European cinema. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown offers juicy roles for a range of Spain’s finest female actors (plus a charmingly baby-faced Antonio Banderas) and consistently delights with its creative choices in costuming and interior design. The combination of screwball dynamics and the garishness of the 1980s is perfectly calibrated and fun.—Abbey Bender

Movies, Drama

Boyhood (2014)

Shot over 12 years with a cast of actors that ages before our eyes, Richard Linklater’s modern-day coming-of-age classic is a peerless artistic gamble, comparable only to Michael Apted’s Up series and Francois Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel films. Still, Boyhood’s astonishing compactness catches you off guard like no other movie. Adorned by Linklater’s signature effortless rhythms, the film bottles the fleeting spirit of time, maturing into a reflective meditation on life’s ordinary moments.—Tomris Laffly

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

Movies have always been a gateway into radical art; Hollywood may have made them sleek and accessible, but experimentation was there from the start. Luis Buñuel counts among the top rank of dreamers to ever grace the field of filmmaking. Without him, there’s no David Lynch, no Wong Kar-wai—even Alfred Hitchcock was a fan. Of Buñuel’s many seismic features (don’t skip his slicin’-up-eyeballs short, “Un Chien Andalou”), begin with this radical satire of class warfare, which sums up everything he did well. It even won him an unlikely Oscar.—Joshua Rothkopf

Paths of Glory

Paths of Glory (1957)

An antiwar movie, a courtroom thriller, an upstairs-downstairs study of social status, a religious critique, an absurdist satire and, finally, a heartbreakingly futile plea for compassion in the face of destruction, Stanley Kubrick’s humanist masterpiece dissects all the delusional facets of the male psyche. Battlegrounds abound—psychological, emotional, physical—making the bleakly entrenched soldiers of 1916, and the officers who confuse folly for fame, still feel painfully relevant.—Stephen Garrett

Secrets & Lies
Movies, Drama

Secrets & Lies (1996)

Actors are the lifeblood of director Mike Leigh’s famous process, a much-discussed method of workshopping, character exploration, group improvisation and collaborative writing. It can often be months before the camera rolls. The results have been consistently exquisite over the years, funneled into period musical-comedies (Topsy-Turvy) and brutal contemporary dramas (Naked) alike. We recommend Leigh’s critical breakthrough, featuring nervy turns by Brenda Blethyn and Timothy Spall, as the perfect place to begin your deep dive.—Joshua Rothkopf

Sweet Smell of Success

Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

This smoky, jazzy noir from director Alexander Mackendrick (The Ladykillers) is one of the great movies about power, influence and print journalism at its midcentury height. It’s a seedy, intoxicating tale that unfolds in Manhattan’s backroom bar booths, and it features brain-searing performances from Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco, a bottom-feeding gossip monger, and Burt Lancaster as J.J. Hunsecker, a towering, corrupt newspaper columnist. The dialogue is snappy and delicious; the morals are as empty as Times Square at dawn—Dave Calhoun

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Movies, Drama

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

This German Expressionist masterpiece came out in 1920, a long time before the invention of the spoiler warning. We only hope that audience members instinctively knew not to give away cinema’s first ever twist ending and ruin the sting of this fractured horror-fable for their pals. Director Robert Wiene conjured up something truly dark and lingering from its shadows: You can feel Dr. Caligari’s influence in everything from Tim Burton’s movies to Shutter Island.—Phil de Semlyen

Movies, Drama

Nashville (1975)

This multilayered epic of country music, politics and relationships is Robert Altman’s signature achievement. With its overlapping dialogue and roving camera, Nashville created an earthy, idiosyncratic panorama of American life, featuring many of the most memorable actors of the decade. The 1970s were U.S. cinema’s most exciting period, and Nashville—broadened by its admirable scope and freewheeling energy—is emblematic of that creativity.—Abbey Bender

Don’t Look Now
Movies, Drama

Don’t Look Now (1973)

Nicolas Roeg lays claim to being one of the most influential British directors to have ever picked up a viewfinder, and this elliptical take on a Daphne du Maurier yarn is the main reason for it. There’s the famously real-looking Julie Christie–Donald Sutherland sex scene (they didn’t do it, honest), the shocking ending and the eerie way the film did for Venice what The Shining did for ski resorts. But Roeg’s real genius was for inhabiting his films with guttural emotions. Don’t Look Now is a primal cry of grief that shakes you to your core.—Phil de Semlyen

Bonnie and Clyde
Movies, Thriller

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Arthur Penn’s game-changing action film was made in the same spirit of the revisionist Westerns of the ’60s and ’70s—irreverent, fun, morally all over the place, and unafraid of blood and bullets. The movie takes us back to the 1930s during the legendary crime spree of lovers Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty), careening around Depression-era America and robbing it blind. Why did this film resonate so well at the end of its decade? With the Vietnam War, inner-city rioting and Nixon on the rise, all bets were off. Add the swoony pair of Beatty and Dunaway, and you’ve got a classic on your hands: a revolution in period dress.—Dave Calhoun

Get Out
Movies, Horror

Get Out (2017)

Watch this space: Jordan Peele’s newly minted horror classic is sure to rise in the rankings. Taking cues from grand master George A. Romero and his counterculture-defining Night of the Living Dead, Peele infused white liberal guilt with a scary racial subtext; the “sunken place” is precisely the kind of metaphor that only horror movies can exploit to the fullest. During its theatrical run—which stretched into a summer that also saw the white-supremacist Charlottesville rally—Get Out felt like the only movie speaking to a deepening divide.—Joshua Rothkopf

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