Here at Screen Rant, we like making lists. We've got lists about the best action movies, about movie sidekicks, about how many Goosebumps monsters were featured in the latest trailer. One list that almost every movie fan likes to make, however, is a list of the best movies ever made - whether they're personal favorites, or just films that have stood the test of time and been collectively ranked as the 'greats'.
The BBC recently made its own foray into this never-ending debate with a list of the 100 best American films, according to a poll of 62 film critics from around the world. The critics included academics, bloggers, newspaper reviewers and everyone in between, and the list was calculated using a points system where every critic picked the 10 American films that they thought were best.
In order to qualify as an American film, a title simply had to have been produced by an American studio or funded from an American source - the nationality of the director and the filming locations didn't matter. The result is a list that is, unsurprisingly, pretty conventional. Citizen Kane grabbed the #1 spot, The Godfather took #2 and Vertigo was at #3;. Orson Welles, Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick and John Ford each had a film in the top 5. There were, however, a few surprises. Check out the full list below.
The 100 Best American Films
100. Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)99. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)98. Heaven’s Gate (Michael Cimino, 1980)97. Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)96. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)95. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)94. 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002)93. Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)92. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)91. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)90. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)89. In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)88. West Side Story (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, 1961)87. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)86. The Lion King (Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, 1994)85. Night of the Living Dead (George A Romero, 1968)84. Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972)83. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)82. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)81. Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991)80. Meet Me in St Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944)79. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)78. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)77. Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939)76. The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)75. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977)74. Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994)73. Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)72. The Shanghai Gesture (Josef von Sternberg, 1941)71. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)70. The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli, 1953)69. Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982)68. Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)67. Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936)66. Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)65. The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman, 1983)64. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)63. Love Streams (John Cassavetes, 1984)62. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)61. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)60. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)59. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Miloš Forman, 1975)58. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)57. Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen, 1989)56. Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)55. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967)54. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)53. Grey Gardens (Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, 1975)52. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)51. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)50. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)49. Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)48. A Place in the Sun (George Stevens, 1951)47. Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964)46. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)45. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962)44. Sherlock Jr (Buster Keaton, 1924)43. Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, 1948)42. Dr Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)41. Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)40. Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943)39. The Birth of a Nation (DW Griffith, 1915)38. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)37. Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959)36. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)35. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)34. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939)33. The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)32. The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)31. A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974)30. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)29. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)28. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)27. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)26. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1978)25. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)24. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)23. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)22. Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1924)21. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)20. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)19. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)18. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)17. The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925)16. McCabe & Mrs Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)15. The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946)14. Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)13. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)12. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)11. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)10. The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)9. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)8. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)7. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952)6. Sunrise (FW Murnau, 1927)5. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)3. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)2. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
Best Overall Directors
There were quite a few directors whose name appeared multiple times on the list, but only six who had four or more films declared among the best of all time. Here are the top American directors, in order of the number of films they had on the list and the average ranking of those films.
1) Alfred Hitchock (Notorious at #68, Marnie at #47, North by Northwest at#13, Psycho at #8, Vertigo at #3)
2) Stanley Kubrick (The Shining at #62, Eyes Wide Shut at #61, Dr Strangelove at #42, Barry Lyndon at #27, 2001: A Space Oddysey at #4)
3) Billy Wilder (Ace in the Hole at #100, Sunset Boulevard at #54, Double Indemnity at #35, Some Like It Hot at #30, The Apartment at #24)
4) Steven Spielberg (ET: The Extra-Terrestrial at #91, Raiders of the Lost Ark at #82, Schindler's List at #78, Close Encounters of the Third Kind at #74, Jaws at #38)
5) Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now at #90, The Conversation at #33, The Godfather Part II at #10, The Godfather at #2)
6) Martin Scorsese (Mean Streets at #93, Raging Bull at #29, Goodfellas at #20, Taxi Driver at #19) 40.25
Best Overall Decade
According to this poll, the quality of American films over time takes the form of a rough bell curve, with the industry peaking in the 1970s. The low number of entries from the early decades of film can be attributed to the fact that there simply weren't as many films being made back then, but the 2000s obviously don't have that excuse.
This doesn't, of course, prove that American studios produced objectively better films in the 1940s, '50s and '70s, and that most of the releases from this century have been trash. It takes many years for a film to enter the public consciousness as being classically 'great', and often the test of time is a better measure of worth than initial reviews. Many film critics also come from an academic background, so the type of films that they would have studied as landmark entries in American cinematic history would have been classics like Citizen Kane and The Godfather, rather than whatever was showing in the theaters at the time.
It's also likely that nostalgia played a role in the poll results; films which critics saw in their formative years no doubt made more of an impact than films that they saw after a couple of decades of watching and writing about movies for a living. Critics who grew up in the '70s may naturally be compelled to vote for Star Wars, but in another twenty or thirty years the kids of today might be voting Guardians of the Galaxy into a similar poll.
Here's how the selection of films breaks down by decade.
1) 1970s (21%)
2) 1940s (15% - average rank #42)
3) 1950s (15% - average rank #47)
4) 1980s (13%)
5) 1960s (10%)
6) 1990s (8%)
7) 1930s (7%)
8) 1920s (4%)
9) 2000s (4%)
10) 2010s (2%)
11) 1910s (1%)
No doubt just about everyone can think of a favorite American film that didn't make this list, but perhaps the most woefully under-represented category is animated films. The Lion King makes an appearance at #86 and... that's it. This might have something to do with the fact that most of the titles on the list are 'grown-up' films, and family movies in general don't seem to have impressed the critics. Still, it's surprising that no other Walt Disney Animation classics made the list, and Pixar didn't make a single appearance.
There were a few notable directors of American movies who didn't make the list - James Cameron, David Cronenberg, and Wes Anderson among them. Ridley Scott made the list just once, for Thelma and Louise.
Films that didn't make the list include The Shawshank Redemption, King Kong and Midnight Cowboy. None of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies are featured. The only female directors on the list were Maya Deren, who co-directed Meshes of the Afternoon, and Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, who co-directed Grey Gardens. The only comic book movie was The Dark Knight, at #96.
What do you think of this list? Did the critics get it right, or are there great American movies that should be on the list and aren't?