100. Stand By Me (1986)
Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Steven King’s novella The Body is a stirring, touching adventure film which knows the real world is exciting and scary enough just as it is. It’s also a coming-of-age movie which celebrates the intensity of childhood friendship, while gently mourning the transience of such bonds. Which is why, unlike its central character, it’ll never get old.
99. Raging Bull (1980)
Scorsese and De Niro have together made movies better than their boxing biopic, but it’s hard to argue that any of those movies feature a more jaw-dropping performance than De Niro’s here as self-destructive pugilist Jake La Motta. It also features some of cinema’s best-shot fights; hard to believe that before Scorsese, no director thought to put the camera inside the ring…
98. Amélie (2001)
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s beautifully whimsical Parisian rom-com succeeded not only because he found the perfect good-deed performing imp-girl lead in Audrey Tautou, but also because his numerous surreal touches truly gave a sense that there is always magic in the world around us — if we only know how to look for it.
97. Titanic (1997)
James Cameron doesn’t do things by halves, does he? His movie about the 1912 sinking of the world’s biggest cruise liner was the most expensive made, suffered a difficult, overrunning shoot, and was predicted to be a career-ending flop. But it turned out to be one of the most successful films ever made (in terms of both box office and Awards), and made him King Of The World. You couldn’t make it up, could you?
96. Good Will Hunting (1997)
Remember when young actor buddies Matt Damon and Ben Affleck won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay? Might seem odd now, but Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s heartfelt story of a friendship between a troubled maths genius (Damon) and his unconventional counsellor (Robin Williams, who also won an Oscar) deserved the accolade. What happened to those guys, anyway?…
95. Arrival (2016)
Denis Villeneuve’s empathic, perception-bending alien visitation drama is a delicately crafted modern rework of The Day The Earth Stood Still — except the extra-terrestrials are truly otherworldly and there’s the sky-high obstacle that is the language barrier. With its message that open-minded communication enables us to realise the things we have in common with those who appear vastly different, it feels like genuinely compulsive viewing for this troubled day and age.
94. Lost In Translation (2003)
Sofia Coppola’s second film is the ultimate jet lag movie, locating its central almost-romance between listless college grad Scarlett Johansson and life-worn actor Bill Murray amid the woozy, daydreamy bewilderment of being in a very foreign country and a very different time zone. And it’s exactly right that we still don’t know what he whispered to her at the end.
93. The Princess Bride (1987)
Rob Reiner and writer William Goldman’s affectionate pastiche of romantic fairy-tale stories. It doesn’t just include one of cinema’s greatest swordfights, or one of its most entertaining battle of wits, but it also has a doozy of a sickbed-storytelling framing device, during which narrator Peter Falk suffers interruptions from his grandson (Fred Savage), even pausing and rewinding the action.
92. The Terminator (1984)
It features time travel and a cyborg, with car chases and shoot-outs, but in James Cameron’s first proper movie (ie not featuring flying piranhas) it’s all packed around the blood-covered endoskeleton of a relentless-killer horror pic. After all, what is Schwarzenegger’s Uzi-9mm-toting Terminator, if not an upgraded version of Halloween‘s Michael Myers?
91. The Prestige (2006)
Christopher Nolan’s last ‘little’ movie concerned warring stage magicians (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale) in late 19th century London, but was less a period thriller than a stealth sci-fi. In some ways, it can also be seen as a metaphor for his film-making philosophy: keep the magic practical, don’t give away how you do your tricks, and stay well away from ‘real’ magic (ie CGI)…
90. No Country For Old Men (2007)
The Coen brothers’ Cormac McCarthy adaptation is a tension-ratcheting, 1980 Texas-set chase movie, which also thoughtfully considers the question: how can good people ever possibly deal with a world going to shit? It also revealed that Javier Bardem makes an awesome villain; ever since he played No Country’s cold-blooded assassin Anton Chigurh, Hollywood can’t stop making him the bad guy.
89. Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
Before its release, you might have been forgiven for thinking it would be Spaced: The Movie. But Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s first feature is genuinely stand-alone, a savvy blend of proper-funny comedy and seriously gruesome undead-horror which, funnily enough, played a big part in the zombie-movie resurgence we’re still enjoying now.
88. The Exorcist (1973)
William Friedkin’s ’70s horror masterwork — in which a 12-year-old girl is possessed by a demon — has a reputation as a shocker (in the good sense), with the pea-soup vomit, head-spin and crucifix abuse moments the most regularly cited. But the reason it chills so deeply is the way it sustains and builds its disquieting atmosphere so craftily and consistently throughout.
87. Predator (1987)
A pumped-up men-on-a-mission movie with an ingenious science-fiction tweak. When you’ve got the world’s baddest asses on the march (Arnold Schwarzenegger! Jesse Ventura! Bill Duke! Carl Weathers! Shane Black!?!), it’d be rude not to have them stalked by an intergalactic hunter with space-dreads and a shoulder-mounted laser cannon. “If it bleeds, we can kill it.” Never a truer word…
86. Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989)
You voted… wisely. There may only be 12 years’ difference between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery, but it’s hard to imagine two better actors to play a bickering father and son, off on a globetrotting, Nazi-bashing, mythical mystery tour. After all, you’ve got Spielberg/Lucas’ own version of James Bond… And the original Bond himself!
85. Léon (1994)
In some ways, Luc Besson’s first English-language movie is a spiritual spin-off: after all, isn’t Jean Reno’s eponymous hitman just Nikita’s Victor The Cleaner renamed and fleshed out? Of course, its greatest strength is in Natalie Portman, delivering a luminous, career-creating performance as vengeful 12-year-old Mathilda, whose relationship with the monosyllabic killer is truly affecting, and nimbly stays just on the right side of acceptable.
84. Rocky (1976)
John G. Avildsen’s boxing drama is the ne plus ultra of underdog sports movies. It not only proves that winning isn’t the most important thing (you gotta go the distance), but also enabled Sylvester Stallone to craft a character so convincing and emotionally absorbing, he’s still appearing in movies almost 40 years later.
83. True Romance (1993)
Tony Scott’s handling of Quentin Tarantino’s script came off like the cinematic equivalent of cocaine-flavoured bubble-gum: a bright, flavoursome confection that had an intoxicatingly violent kick. It also drew some tremendous big names to its supporting cast. Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Walken, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Val Kilmer, Dennis Hopper… Plus a pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini embroiled in brutal combat with Patricia Arquette. Just, wow.
82. Some Like It Hot (1959)
It says a lot about the magnitude of Billy Wilder’s talent that he took a reportedly awful shooting experience with a pill-addled Marilyn Monroe and turned it into a movie that features what is arguably her best performance, not to mention one of his own finest features. This cross-dressing caper also has what must be the greatest last line in history: “Well, nobody’s perfect”…
81. The Social Network (2010)
Or, I’m Gonna Git You Zuckerberg. Portrayed as an über-ruthless ultra-nerd by Jesse Eisenberg, it’s fair to say the Facebook founder came out of David Fincher’s social-media drama smelling less of roses than the stuff you grow them in. But it is great drama, expertly wrought by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who exploits the story’s central paradox (a guy who doesn’t get people makes a fortune getting people together online) to supremely juicy effect.
80. Spirited Away (2001)
Hayao Miyazaki’s most successful film (also the highest-grossing anime until Your Name came along last year) is truly a moving work of art, in both senses. Every frame bursts with vibrant detail and beautifully fantastical invention as young heroine Chihiro has to toil in a bath house for demons to return her piggy parents to human form. It’s a bit like Alice In Wonderland, but better.
79. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
The third Cap outing managed to be both intensely crowd-pleasing (with that whole airport battle, and the introduction of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man) and also daringly intelligent, placing its superheroes in a believable geopolitical context that raised a valid moral issue: who should be responsible for the deployment of such great power?
78. Oldboy (2003)
Park Chan-wook’s revenge drama does extremity with a capital Eeek. Torture through 15 years of solitary? Check. Hammer-wielding violence? Check. Incest? Check. Live octopus-eating? Check, check, chuck-up. But it never feels crowbarred-in. It’s all part of the deliciously dark and stylishly executed journey.
77. Toy Story (1995)
It may have kicked off the whole CG-animation revolution (for better or worse), but it’s not the once-novel visual medium which makes Pixar’s first feature one of cinema’s greatest treasures. The clue’s in the title: it’s a perfectly formed story, about friendship, love, fear of abandonment, workplace politics and self-identity. While its ability to make you laugh is undiminished.
76. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
The controversy surrounding Kubrick’s pop-art visualisation of Anthony Burgess’ dystopian mediation on violence and free will may have long-since subsided, but the film’s no less powerful. Especially that Singin’ In The Rain sequence, which remains one cinema’s most deeply upsetting.
75. Fargo (1996)
Joel and Ethan Coen’s snowy crime comedy is the best example of the ‘crap criminal’ subgenre, reminding us that wrongdoers are very rarely slick, professional types, and more usually people who are either inept or just winging it. But it has a very good heart, of course, in the form of Frances McDormand’s Marge, whose brightness remains undimmed by the horrors she witnesses.
74. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
David Lynch messes with Hollywood itself in a mystery tale that’s as twisted as the road it’s named after, while presenting Tinseltown as both Dream Factory and a realm of Nightmares. It also put Naomi Watts on the map; her audition scene remains as stunning as it was 16 years ago.
73. Seven Samurai (1954)
A film so good they remade it twice — as The Magnificent Seven, then as Battle Beyond The Stars. Or four times, arguably — if you count A Bug’s Life and the remake of The Magnificent Seven. You could also make the case that Avengers Assemble is a version, too. The point is this: Akira Kurosawa’s epic, 16th century-set drama about a motley gang of warriors uniting to save a village from bandits couldn’t be more influential. Cinema simply wouldn’t be the same without it.
72. Rear Window (1954)
Photographer LB Jeffries (James Stewart) is on sick leave, with a broken leg. He’s bored to tears, so he starts spying on his neighbours. Then he witnesses a murder. OR DOES HE? Alfred Hitchcock really knew how to take a corker of a premise and spin it into a peerless thriller (that’s why they called him The Master Of Suspense), but Rear Window also deserves praise for an astonishing set build: that entire Greenwich Village courtyard was constructed at Paramount Studios, complete with a drainage system that could handle all the rain.
71. Hot Fuzz (2007)
Wright, Pegg and Frost’s tribute to big American cop movies isn’t just a great fish-out-of-water comedy, sending high-achieving London policeman Nick Angel (Pegg) to the most boring place in the UK (or so it seems). It also manages to wring every last drip of funny out of executing spot-on bombastic, Bayhem-style action in a sleepy English small-town setting.
70. The Lion King (1994)
It’s the highest-ranking animated movie on this list, beating even Toy Story. Though we shouldn’t be too surprised — it’s remains one of Disney’s most beautifully rendered films, an epic tale of dynastic dastardy in the Animal Kingdom, with catchy songs and still one of the most distressing death scenes in a kids’ movie since… well… Bambi.
69. Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
A joyous, vibrant Technicolor celebration of Da Moofies that’s such an essential viewing experience there should perhaps be a law that it feature in every DVD and Blu-ray collection. It’s no mere Hollywood self-love exercise, though. As star Don Lockwood, Gene Kelly brings a sense of exasperation at the film industry’s diva-indulging daftness, making it a gentle piss-take, too.
68. Ghostbusters (1984)
As high-concept comedies go, Ghostbusters is positively stratospheric — a story of demonic incursion… with gags! And it manages to wring a fantastic supernatural adventure out of that concept, while never neglecting the opportunity to deliver a great laugh; or, on the flipside, ever allowing the zaniness to swallow up plot coherence. Ray Parker Jr was right. Bustin’ did indeed make us feel good.
67. Memento (2000)
Christopher Nolan made the world sit up and pay attention to him by crafting (with his brother Jonah) a revenge-fuelled crime thriller that dared to demand that its audience sit up and pay attention to its every last detail. It’s precision-engineered: apart from the carefully inserted Sammy Jankis subplot, every scene lasts as long as the span of damaged protagonist Leonard Shelby’s short-term memory, as well as running in reverse order. And. It. Works.
66. Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi (1983)
In this post-Phantom Menace world, the Ewoks don’t seem quite so egregious, do they? Endor’s teddy-bear guerillas might have got sneered at, but they shouldn’t blind us to Jedi’s assets: the explosive team-re-gathering opening; the crazily high-speed forest chase; and that marvellously edited three-way climactic battle that dexterously flipped us between lightsabers, spaceships and a ferocious (albeit fuzzy) forest conflict.
65. Avengers Assemble (2012)
With Marvel’s ‘Phase One’-concluding team-up movie, writer-director Joss Whedon not only pulled off a colossal character-juggling act, he also pushed the studio’s commercial success to a much higher level. It’s still one of the best-scripted Marvels, and we’ve yet to see a villain on more entertainingly nefarious form than Tom Hiddleston’s Loki was here.
64. L.A. Confidential (1997)
Twenty years on, and still nobody’s made a better James Ellroy adaptation than Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland’s boldly streamlined take on the heavy-plotted third novel in the Demon Dog’s L.A. Quartet. Its spot-on casting hardly hurt: Russell Crowe as conscience-discovering bruiser Bud White; Guy Pearce as ramrod rookie Ed Exley; and best of all, Kevin Spacey as the sleazy, sharp-suited “Trash Can” Jack Vincennes.
63. Donnie Darko (2001)
Richard Kelly’s time-looping, sci-fi-horror-blending high-school movie is the very definition of a cult movie. It was a struggle to get made, it flopped on release, then it found its crowd via word-of-mouth and a palpable sense that its creator, Richard Kelly, really, you know, gets it. And let’s not forget how goddamn funny it is, too; it gave us the immortal line, “Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion!”
62. La La Land (2016)
As much a technical marvel as it is an acting tour-de-force, Damien Chazelle’s Los Angeles love letter proved a ridiculously easy movie to fall in love with, even for those who may have grumbled that they weren’t really into musicals before sitting down to watch it. Go on, admit it: You’re still humming Another Day Of Sun, aren’t you?
61. Forrest Gump (1994)
Robert Zemeckis’ affable stroll through some of America’s most turbulent decades, as seen through the childlike eyes of the simple-but-successful Forrest — the role which earned Tom Hanks his second Oscar in two years. And it says a lot about the film’s emotional heft that it managed to win an Oscar itself, when it was in competition with both Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption…
60. American Beauty (1999)
After spending most of the ’90s lurking in dark places, Kevin Spacey was allowed by debut movie director Sam Mendes to unleash his inner Jack Lemmon as Lester Burnham: a man who turned his midlife crisis into a midlife resolution — even if his self-liberating antics would ultimately prove disastrous. It made Mendes’ movie career, changed Spacey’s and also got writer Alan Ball (Six Feet Under, True Blood) rolling.
59. E.T. — The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
With the “Amblin” style so regularly referenced these days (most successfully in the Duffer brothers’ Stranger Things), it’s worth reminding ourselves that it was never more perfectly encapsulated than in E.T.: a children’s adventure which carefully beds its supernatural elements in an utterly relatable everykid world, and tempers its cuter, more sentimental moments with a true sense of jeopardy.
58. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
From its Sergio Leone-riffing opening to its insanely OTT, history-rewriting finale, Tarantino’s World War II caper never once fails to surprise and entertain us. As ever, though, QT’s at his best in claustrophobic situations, with the tavern scene ramping up the tension to almost unbearable levels.
57. Whiplash (2014)
If Damien Chazelle’s semi-autobiographical drama taught us anything, it’s that jazz drumming is more hazardous to learn than base jumping. Especially when your mentor is the monstrous Fletcher (JK Simmons), a raging bully who makes army drill instructors look like Care Bears. Though, of course, you could always argue that Fletcher’s methods certainly got great results out of Miles Teller’s battered but triumphant Andrew…
56. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Tarantino’s terrific twist on the heist-gone-wrong thriller, which ricochets the zing and fizz of its dialogue around a gloriously intense single setting (for the most part) and centres the majority of its action around one long and incredibly bloody death scene. Oh, and by the way: Nice Guy Eddie was shot by Mr. White. Who fired twice. Case closed.
55. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Guillermo Del Toro’s fairy tale for grown-ups, as pull-no-punches brutal as it is gorgeously, baroquely fantastical. There’s an earthy, primal feel to his fairy-world here, alien and threatening rather than gasp-inducing and ‘magical’ — thanks in no small part to the truly cheese-dream nightmarish demon-things Del Toro conjures up, sans CGI, with the assistance of performer Doug Jones.
54. Vertigo (1958)
If Psycho (see next entry) was Hitchcock’s big shocker, then Vertigois the one that gets properly under your skin. With James Stewart’s detective stalking Kim Novak’s mysterious woman, witnessing her suicide, then becoming obsessed with her double, it’s certainly disturbing and most definitely (as the title suggests) disorientating. In the most artful and inventive way.
53. Psycho (1960)
The movie Universal originally didn’t want Hitchcock to make not only turned out to be a hands-down masterpiece but also effectively invented a genre: the psycho-killer slasher movie. No longer were movie monsters just big, hairy wolfmen, or vampires, or swampy fish-things. They could now look completely normal. They could be the guy sat right next to you, in fact…
52. Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)
This epic ballad of revenge, redemption and the painful rooting of civilisation in the Old West is peak Leone. Like The Good, The Bad And The Ugly it concerns three men — one mysterious (Charles Bronson), one seemingly amoral (Jason Robards Jr) and one evil (Henry Fonda, playing brilliantly against type) — but this time he gets to shoot it against the epic vistas of the real American West.
51. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Frank Capra’s Christmas fantasy was the movie that coaxed a war-battered James Stewart back to acting, and a good thing, too: as George Bailey, who’s mind-blowingly shown a parallel reality in which he never existed, Stewart’s never been more appealing. And he tempers any potential schmaltz, too, with a sense of underlying world-weariness — one that he no doubt brought back from the conflict in Europe.
50. Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)
If you only ever see one David Lean movie… Well, don’t. Watch as many as you can. But if you really insist on only seeing one David Lean movie, then make sure it’s Lawrence Of Arabia, the movie that put both the sweeping and the epic into sweeping epic with its breath-taking depiction of T.E. Lawrence’s (Peter O’Toole) Arab-uniting efforts against the German-allied Turks during World War I. It’s a different world to the one we’re in now, of course, but Lean’s mastery of expansive storytelling does much to smooth out any elements (such as Alec Guinness playing an Arab) that may rankle modern sensibilities.
49. Trainspotting (1996)
For their follow up to superb but now rather overlooked Shallow Grave, Danny Boyle (director), Andrew Macdonald (producer) and John Hodge (screenwriter) foolhardily elected to adapt a supposedly unadaptable novel: Irvine Welsh’s scrappy, episodic, multi-perspective novel about Edinburgh low-lives. The result couldn’t have been more triumphant: the cinematic incarnation of ‘Cool Britannia’ came with a kick-ass soundtrack, and despite some dark subject matter, came with a punch-the-air uplifting pay-off.
48. The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
Not only the first (and still only) horror to win a Best Picture Oscar, it’s also only the third movie to score in all four main categories: Picture, Director (the late, great Jonathan Demme), Actress (Jodie Foster) and Actor (Anthony Hopkins) — the latter managing that despite technically being a supporting performer, with a mere 25-ish minutes of screentime. Even so, it feels like Foster’s movie more than anybody’s: her vulnerable-but-steely Starling is defined by her ability, not her gender.
47. Interstellar (2014)
Christopher Nolan’s tribute to 2001 and The Right Stuff (with a little added The Black Hole) presents long-distance space travel as realistically as it’s possible to with the theoretical physics currently available. From the effects of gravity to the emotional implication of time dilation, it mixes science and sentiment to great effect. And it has a sarcastic robot, too.
46. Citizen Kane (1941)
Orson Welles’ game-changing fictional biopic, that managed to both launch his film career and ruin it at the same time (turns out it’s not a good idea to piss off powerful newspaper magnates by viciously satirising them to a mass audience). Not only did he use impressive new film-making techniques that make it feel like a movie far younger than its 76 years, but its power-corrupts story still resonates loudly. Now more than ever, in fact.
45. Drive (2011)
Somehow simultaneously glossy and gritty, Nicolas Winding Refn’s ’80s-infused vehicular noir was an easy movie to fall in love with — despite a few outbursts of spectacularly horrific violence. It was aided to no end by a toweringly charismatic central performance (with very few lines of dialogue spoken) from Ryan Gosling, who improbably rocked a silver, quilted silk jacket with a gold scorpion on the back. We all still want one.
44. Gladiator (2000)
Ridley Scott’s comeback (after a bad run with 1492, White Squalland G.I. Jane). Russell Crowe’s big Hollywood breakthrough. And, thanks to the scope of Scott’s visual ambition combined with a leap forward in CGI quality, the movie that showed the industry you could make colossal historical epics commercially viable once more. Yes, we were entertained.
43. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Ken Kesey’s era-defining novel was in good hands with screenwriters Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman, not to mention director Milos Forman — five Oscars were testament to that, including one for Jack Nicholson, who’s arguably never been better as a man destined to be chewed up by the unfeeling system (ditto Louise Fletcher, who represents that system in the form of Nurse Ratched). Also a great movie for face-spotting. Look out for Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Brad Dourif and Scatman Crothers.
42. There Will Be Blood (2007)
If America were a person, then oil man Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a vampire. (A milkshake-drinking vampire, if you feel like mixing our metaphor with his own.) Which is why it’s appropriate that Paul Thomas Anderson gives the film a bit of a horror-movie vibe throughout and Day-Lewis delivers such a deliciously monstrous performance — right up to the point where he spills literal blood in an empty mansion, haunted only by himself.
41. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)
Director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman deconstruct the relationship drama via a fantastic psycho-sci-fi device, as Jim Carrey’s Joel races through his own mind to reverse a process by which all his memories of his failed relationship with Kate Winslet’s Clementine are to be erased. Which is a brilliantly weird, round-the-houses way of reminding us that heartbreak should be valued as one of the things that makes us. Better to have loved and lost, and all that.
40. 12 Angry Men (1957)
Juries most often amount to little more than set dressing in courtroom dramas. But Sidney Lumet’s film finds all its drama outside the courtroom itself and inside a jury deliberation room packed with fantastic character actors, who are forced to re-examine a seemingly straightforward case by lone-voice juror Henry Fonda. It’s all about the value of looking at things differently, and a reminder that nothing is more important than great dialogue.
39. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
The sheer bludgeoning, blood-spilling, visceral power of its Omaha Beach, D-Day-landing opening act ensured that Spielberg’s fourth World War II movie set the standard for all future battle depictions. Its shaky-staccato-desaturated style (courtesy of Janusz Kaminski’s ingenious cinematography) — newsreel made cinema — has been oft-copied, but rarely bettered.
38. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
In which old dog George Miller taught Hollywood some new tricks. Stripping the chase movie down to its raw essentials (the plot is basically: run away… then run back again!), Miller expertly built the narrative through some of the most astonishing and gloriously operatic action scenes we’d seen in yonks. While also ensuring his female characters are the film’s strongest; Charlize Theron’s Furiosa and Immortan Joe’s ex-brides are inheriting a world “killed” by men…
37. John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)
Any argument about whether or not modern remakes can ever be better than the ‘classic’ originals should be ended pretty quickly by mentioning this movie. With the help of SFX genius Rob Bottin, John Carpenter crafted an intense, frosty sci-fi thriller featuring Hollywood’s ultimate movie monster: one that could be any of us at any time, before contorting into a genuine biological nightmare.
36. The Departed (2006)
And any argument about whether or not American remakes can ever be better than the foreign-language originals should be ended pretty quickly by mentioning this movie. Martin Scorsese’s Boston-based reinterpretation of Wai-Keung Lau and Alan Mak’s Hong Kong-set double-infiltrator crime drama is both respectful and unafraid to layer on extra detail. It’s also perfectly cast: DiCaprio and Damon as the facing-off moles, Nicholson as the Whitey Bulger-esque Mob boss and (arguably best of all), Mark Wahlberg as America’s sweariest cop.
35. The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick’s elegant adaptation of Stephen King’s haunted-hotel story — starring a wonderfully deranged Jack Nicholson — is often cited as The Scariest Horror Movie Ever Made (perhaps tied with The Exorcist), but it’s also the Least Suitable Movie To Watch On Father’s Day Ever. Unless you’re the kind of Dad who thinks obsessively typing the same sentence over and over then chasing after your wife and kid with an axe constitutes good fathering…
34. Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)
It’s official, then. The Marvel Studios movie most-beloved by Empirereaders is the one which featured the MCU’s freakiest and least-known characters (a talking racoon, a walking tree, a green assassin lady, a muscleman named after a Bond villain and Star-who!?), starred that schlubby fellah from Parks And Rec, and was directed by the guy who turned Michael Rooker into a giant slug-monster in Slither. Which is pretty cool, when you think about it.
33. Schindler’s List (1993)
Spielberg’s masterpiece, hands down. You might say the shark looks fakey in Jaws. You may wonder how Indy clung to the German sub in Raiders. But there’s no flaws to be found in his harrowing, (mostly) monochromatic depiction of Nazi persecution of the Jewish community in Kraków. Unless you’re the kind of shallow person who only watches movies that are ‘entertaining’. In which case, you’re missing out.
32. The Usual Suspects (1995)
Ninety-five’s other super-twisted, über-cool crime thriller starring Kevin Spacey (next to Seven — see entry 30). While the line-up team-up is a great concept, director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie’s movie attains true greatness through its supernatural-horror-style backdrop, conjuring a phantom menace — Keyser Soze — who terrifies even the most hardened criminal.
31. Taxi Driver (1976)
Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader’s gripping portrayal of a mentally crumbling Vietnam vet (Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle) who ultimately figures the only way to wash the crime-caked streets of New York is with a nice, big bloodbath. Everyone here’s at the top of their game: Scorsese, Schrader, De Niro, 14-year-old Jodie Foster and composer Bernard Herrmann. Yes, it’s still talkin’ to us.
30. Seven (1995)
Aka David Fincher’s second debut movie. What sounded like a daft, novelty serial-killer thriller turned out to be a deeply rattling proper-shocker, which had the guts to throw down its biggest narrative twist halfway through, as warped murderer-moralist John Doe gives himself up. A twist made all the more effective thanks to Kevin Spacey’s insistence he wasn’t billed until the end credits.
29. The Big Lebowski (1998)
You’ve got to hand it to the Coen brothers. Not only did they make the funniest movie of the ’90s (pretty much) — which has since spawned a genuine film cult — they also managed to construct a kidnap mystery in which the detective isn’t a detective and nobody was actually kidnapped. With bowling, marmots and a urine-stained rug.
28. Casablanca (1942)
When you’ve got such a clear-cut good-vs-evil scenario as World War II, it takes guts to put out a film which lets its (anti-) hero lurk for so long in a grey area of that conflict — while said War was still raging, no less. Of course, Rick (Humphrey Bogart) eventually does the right thing, but watching him make both the Resistance and the Nazis squirm right up to the final scene is truly joyous.
27. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966)
Sergio Leone sets three renegades against each other in a treasure hunt backdropped against the chaos and madness of the American Civil War. The result is the movie on his CV which best balances art and entertainment. Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef are great value as Blondie and Angel Eyes, but it’s Eli Wallach’s Tuco who steals this Wild West show: “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.”
26. Heat (1995)
Michael Mann’s starry upgrade of LA Takedown squeezed every last drop of icon-juice out of its heavyweight double-billing, bringing Pacino and De Niro together on screen, sharing scenes for the very first time. The trick was to only do it twice during the entire running time, with that first diner scene virtually fizzing with alpha-star electricity.
25. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Making Arnie’s T-800 a protector rather than killer for part two could have been a shark-jump moment for the Terminator series, but we’re talking about James Cameron here. So it paid off — especially as this Terminator was just as much a student in human behaviour (with John Connor his teacher) as guardian, with some darkly comical results (“he’ll live”). Is it really better than the original? In terms of scale and sheer, balls-out action spectacle, yes.
24. The Matrix (1999)
How two sibling indie film-makers with only a slick, sexy little crime film to their name (Bound) created their own blockbuster sci-fi franchise. And opened up Western audiences to the truth that kung-fu acrobatics are so much more fun than watching American or European muscle-men waving guns around. While also making everyone examine some fundamental philosophical questions about reality. Thanks to the Wachowskis, we all took the red pill, and we’ve never regretted it since.
23. The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Aside from Boromir, Aragorn and the small-town denizens of Bree, there’s not a huge amount of human representation in Fellowship Of The Ring. So one of the pleasures of The Two Towers is seeing Middle-earth truly open out after the arrival at Rohan, where the series takes on more of a sweeping, Nordic feel… Building up, of course, to Helm’s Deep, a ferocious action crescendo which features gratuitous scenes of dwarf-tossing.
22. Apocalypse Now (1979)
The film-maker go-to movie du jour. Gareth Edwards cited Coppola’s vivid and visceral jungle trek as a major influence on Rogue One; Jordan Vogt-Roberts drew from it extensively for Kong: Skull Island, and Matt Reeves sees War For The Planet Of The Apes as his own simian-related tribute. Hardly surprising; it’s both a visually rich war movie and also a powerfully resonant journey into the darkest recesses of the human soul.
21. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
You’ve voted it your favourite Kubrick movie, which makes sense to us. It is arguably his greatest gift to cinema, an infinitely ambitious vision of a space-faring future whose narrative centres on the most pivotal moment in human evolution since some ape-man first twatted another ape-man with an old bone. Graceful, gorgeous, unwearied by time’s passing. Rather like that monolith.
20. Die Hard (1988)
One man using only his wits and whatever he can extract from his environment. A gang of bad guys terrorising the locals. If Die Hardwasn’t set in a skyscraper during the 1980s, it could easily be a Western. A Western which, in the form of Bruce Willis, not only convinced the world a TV-comedy star could be an action-hero, but also gave us one of our most seethingly charismatic big-screen villain-players: Alan Rickman.
19. Jurassic Park (1993)
When dinosaurs first ruled the movie-Earth, they did so in a herky-jerky stop-motion manner that while charmingly effective, required a fair dose of disbelief-suspension. When Steven Spielberg brought them back on Isla Nublar, we felt for the first time they could be real, breathing animals (as opposed to monsters). And that’s as much thanks to Stan Winston’s astonishing animatronics work as to ILM’s groundbreaking CGI.
18. Inception (2010)
Is Christopher Nolan going to make a Bond movie? Well, with Inception he kind of already has. Except, instead of a British secret agent, we get a freelance corporate dream-thief. And the big climactic action sequence is so huge it takes up almost half the movie, and is actually three big action sequences temporally nested inside each other around a surreal, metaphysical-conflict core.
17. Fight Club (1999)
After all the pre-release hype about how dark and brutal Fight Clubwas, one of the most surprising things to discover on seeing it was just how funny it actually was. And just as well; if you weren’t laughing at Bob’s “bitch-tits” or Tyler Durden’s human-fat soap-making antics, it would be pretty hard to process David Fincher’s bravura take on Chuck Palahniuk’s tale of modern masculinity running insanely rampant.
16. The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (2003)
Anyone who bangs on about all those endings is missing the many joys of Peter Jackson’s Academy Award-laden trilogy-closer. It has some of the most colossal and entertaining battle scenes ever mounted; it has an awesome giant spider; it has that fantastic dramatic-ironic twist when Gollum saves the day through his own treachery; and it has that bit where Eowyn says, “I am no man”. Deserves. Every. Oscar.
15. Aliens (1986)
The genius of James Cameron’s self-penned Alien follow-up was to not try to top the original as one of the greatest ever horror movies. Instead, he transplanted the Alien (and, significantly, Ripley) to a different genre, and created one of the greatest ever action movies. That’s also a Vietnam metaphor. And also one of the most enduringly quotable films.
14. Alien (1979)
On the one hand, re-watching Ridley Scott’s deep-space monster-slasher (and it’s a movie which can handle as many re-watches as you can throw at it) makes you appreciate why he keeps coming back to that universe: it’s so intoxicatingly atmospheric and deeply compelling, it sticks to you like a parasite. On the other hand, it really does make you wonder why he feels the need to keep tinkering. After all, he got it perfectly right the first time around.
13. Blade Runner (1982)
Rain-lashed, noodle-bar-packed streets shrouded in perpetual night, with giant adverts and neon signs doing the job you’d usually expect of the sun itself… The not-too-distant future had never looked cooler than in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi gumshoe noir, and we’re not sure it ever will. At least until Blade Runner 2049, perhaps…
12. The Godfather Part II (1974)
Often cited as the greatest-ever sequel (though you’ve voted The Empire Strikes Back into that position here), TGPII, as no-one’s ever called it, is more accurately described as a seprequel. In a narrative masterstroke, it parallels Michael’s (Al Pacino) consolidation of power with the ascendance of his Dad, Vito (Robert De Niro); the triumph of one paving the way to the utter corruption of the other.
11. Back To The Future (1985)
Part science-fiction caper, part generational culture-clash movie, part weirdo family drama (in which the hero has to rescue his own existence after his mother falls in lust with him, eww), Back To The Future still manages to be timeless despite being so rooted in, well, time. And it might just have the best title of anything on this entire list.
10. The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001)
It may feature monsters, wizards and plucky little fellas with furry feet, but The Lord Of The Rings isn’t a fairy tale. Which is why Peter Jackson’s adaptation worked so well; from this note-perfect first instalment, it was treated exactly as Tolkien intended — as a historical epic which just happens to be set in an alternative world.
9. Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope (1977)
It’s nuts: we’re now as far, far away from the release of Star Warsas 1977 audiences were from Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. And yet George Lucas’ cocktail of fantasy, sci-fi, Western and World War II movie remains as culturally pervasive as ever. It’s so mythically potent, you sense in time it could become a bona-fide religion…
8. Jaws (1975)
Forty-two years young, and Spielberg’s breakthrough remains the touchstone for event-movie cinema. Not that any studio these days would dare put out a summer blockbuster that’s half monster-on-the-rampage disaster, half guys-bonding-on-a-fishing-trip adventure. Maybe that’s why it’s never been rebooted. Or just because it’s genuinely unsurpassable.
7. Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
In ’81, it must have sounded like the ultimate pitch: the creator of Star Wars teams up with the director of Jaws to make a rip-roaring, Bond-style adventure starring the guy who played Han Solo, in which the bad guys are the evillest ever (the Nazis) and the MacGuffin is a big, gold box which unleashes the power of God. It still sounds like the ultimate pitch.
6. GoodFellas (1990)
Where Coppola embroiled us in the politics of the Mafia elite, Martin Scorsese drew us into the treacherous but seductive world of the Mob’s foot soldiers. And its honesty was as impactful as its sudden outbursts of (usually Joe Pesci-instigated) violence. Not merely via Henry Hill’s (Ray Liotta) narrative, but also Karen’s (Lorraine Bracco) perspective: when Henry gives her a gun to hide, she admits, “It turned me on.”
5. Pulp Fiction (1994)
If Reservoir Dogs was a blood-spattered calling card, Pulp Fictionsaw Quentin Tarantino kick our front door off its hinges — and then get applauded for doing it with such goddamn panache. It wore its numerous influences on its sleeve (from The Great Train Robbery to Psycho via Kiss Me Deadly and Karate Kiba) and yet felt utterly, invigoratingly fresh and new. We happy? Yeah, we happy.
4. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
The warm, leathery embrace of Morgan Freeman’s narration… The reassuringly Gary Cooper-ish rumple of Tim Robbins’ face… Odd that a movie which features such harshness and tragedy should remain a feel-good perennial — even odder when you consider it was a box-office flop on release. Few directorial debuts are so deftly constructed; no surprise, then, that Frank Darabont’s yet to top it.
3. The Dark Knight (2008)
Easily as influential on the genre as that other summer ’08 comic-book movie, Iron Man, Christopher Nolan’s Batman sequel works wonders because he never saw it as a superhero film. It’s closer to a Michael Mann crime epic — except instead of Pacino and De Niro in a diner, you get a bloke dressed as a bat and a psychotic clown in a police interrogation room. With, er, Aaron Eckhart as Val Kilmer.
2. Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The original “this one’s darker” sequel, and by far the strongest of the saga. Not just because the baddies win (temporarily), or because it Force-slammed us with that twist (“No, I am your father”). Empire super-stardestroys thanks to the way it deepens the core relationships — none more effectively than Han and Leia’s. She loves him. He knows. And it still hurts.
1. The Godfather (1972)
Well, if Stanley Kubrick described it as “possibly the greatest movie ever made,” who is anyone else to argue? Francis Ford Coppola’s gangster-movie-redefining adaptation of Mario Puzo’s Mafia novel is the Empire Greatest Movies Poll No. 1 incumbent, and for a very good reason. It sits right at the juncture between ‘classic’ and ‘modern’ cinema; it feels respectably venerable, while at the same time vibrant and vital — not a dry, cinematic relic that you feel obliged to bow before, but a hot-blooded, living god that you embrace.