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The Best Movies of All Time, Ranked


It’s impossible, right? Listing the greatest films ever made is a recipe for failure that subjects us to hostile comments, rolling eyes, and a whole lot of missed opportunities. A ‘Best Of’ list is a limiting and exclusionary enterprise by definition, fencing off an often arbitrary selection of titles at the expense of literally thousands of others. What is the point of this? Why subject ourselves to the abuse? Well, that’s just what we do. Anyone who loves art of any kind, who deals with it professionally, who chooses how to navigate it, or who makes opinions about it — all these people have a ‘Best Of’ list of some kind. What else do you call museum curation? What do you call your Blu-ray collection? What is a music playlist if not a ‘Best Of?’




We are all creating miniature ‘Best Of’ lists every day, whether it’s the specific selection of websites you visit or apps you use, the distinct brands you purchase, the same foods you seek out at grocery stores, or the restaurants you visit. We are curators of taste, all of us, and we collect and remember what we enjoy. A cinematic ‘Best Of’ list is not very different. It’s a collection of ‘great’ films that are easily enjoyable, endlessly enlightening, aesthetically exquisite, or emotionally significant.

The critic’s job, however, is to bridge the objective and the subjective, so that others can walk this bridge and access things they otherwise may never have. Of course, everything is subjective with art, so there are no right answers here (and most of the ludicrous comments below will complain about how these aren’t “the best” films of all time). That’s all well and good. It’s by definition.


However, there is something objective involved here. What makes something one of “the best” in its field, especially when there isn’t hard data to qualify it, as in sports? Well, in cinema, as in most art, it depends on a variety of factors. How important is the film to the culture at large? How much did it innovate and advance the medium? How influential has it been? Did it capture and reflect history in a wholly unique way? Does it express something about the human condition that practically nothing else has in the same way? Is it utterly perfect from all technical perspectives? Is it more entertaining and entrancing than any other two hours you could spend? Does it change the actual way in which you perceive the world? And still, we will miss so much, and you will not be satisfied. It’s just too much. But, as Samuel Beckett wrote, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”



50 All That Jazz (1979)

20th Century Studios

While the 1950s was likely the greatest decade for the movie musical (and several of them, such as The Band Wagon, Singin’ in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Bothers, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, could easily be included here or in a top 100), it was Bob Fosse’s pair of 1970s musicals, Cabaret and All That Jazz, which are arguably the two greatest of all time. The latter is one of the more artful, provocative, and haunting films of the ’70s, and just happens to have some of the best musical numbers in cinematic history.


A Gorgeous Classic

All That Jazz was the only film that Fosse wrote, choreographed, and directed, and it’s very purposeful. This is his damning, intimate autobiography told through hazy flashbacks, sudden jump cuts, allegorical figures, and bursts of brilliant music. The film focuses on an avatar for the legendary choreographer and director behind Chicago, Pal Joey, and many other classics, as he struggles with his health, his addictions, and his artistry. Featuring Roy Scheider’s greatest performance as the suave but damaged Fosse stand-in along with an incredible Jessica Lange as the Angel of Death, All That Jazz gets to the obsessive core of choreography and the reckless passion of an auteur. Stream All That Jazz on Tubi.

49 Lost in Translation (2003)


In Lost in Translation, Bill Murray gives one of his best performances (and certainly one that would define each subsequent performance of his) as an aging star who gets a sweet deal to do a whiskey ad in Tokyo. Meanwhile, Scarlett Johansson plays the new wife of a hotshot photographer who is stuck traipsing about the swanky hotel with nothing to do. The two meet and develop a fond spark of friendship over the course of a few days, finding a bit of solace in the midst of their existential ennui.

As Moving as It is Visually Captivating

Sofia Coppola’s second feature is yet another stylish, lonesome success. It takes the hazy, quietly humorous, but emotionally penetrating qualities of The Virgin Suicides and condenses them into a smaller, more successful story of two sad strangers in a giant neon town. Coppola captures modern Tokyo with an alien perspective, depicting its pretty hi-tech glow as if it’s a different planet, and the absolutely ethereal soundtrack and score from Brian Reitzell and My Bloody Valentine’s genius architect, Kevin Shields, combine to make a stylish but minimalist buddy dramedy of the highest order. The key to its greatness is just that, though — this is platonic and not sexual. If it were the latter, the film would still be a great aesthetic accomplishment, but have a more sinister edge. Rent Lost in Translation on Amazon Video.


48 The Thing (1982)

While most people may consider Halloween (or even the brilliant They Live) to be John Carpenter’s best film, there is something unforgettably unsettling and boundary-pushing about The Thing which keeps us coming back to it. Maybe it’s the astoundingly imaginative practical effects that follow a shape-shifting alien entity as it transforms from person to dog to person. Maybe it’s the ominous score from Carpenter and the great Ennio Morricone, or the perfect supporting cast of character actors like David Clennon and Wilford Brimley. Maybe it’s the face off between main stars Kurt Russell and Keith David. Or maybe it’s the fact that this one film has three of the most iconic scenes in horror history (the blood test, the transformation of dogs, and the defibrillator).


A Jarring Classic

Actually, almost every scene feels iconic in The Thing even today, thanks in no small part to the unique Antarctic setting, which serves as the perfect claustrophobic location for a body-snatching monster narrative. The film pushed body horror and tension to its mainstream extreme at the time, but it’s hardly been matched more than 40 years later. It’s also arguably the greatest remake of all time, loosely taken from the 1951 film written by Charles Lederer, Howard Hawks, and Ben Hecht from the John Campbell story “Who Goes There?” Rent The Thing on Amazon Video.

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47 His Girl Friday (1940)

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday
Columbia Pictures

His Girl Friday is the story of a divorced couple working at the same newspaper, with the ex-husband scheming to get back with his ex-wife, is a delightful, relentless, and timeless riot, and remains one of the first truly modern comedies. Howard Hawks was one of the best directors to capture sparkling dialogue, whether in comedies or great film noir (his The Big Sleep could possibly be swapped out here), and this film might be the greatest evidence of that.

Top-Tier Howard Hawks

Did we just mention Charles Lederer, Hawks, and Ben Hecht? Weirdly enough, those individuals responsible for 1951’s The Thing from Another World had teamed up several times for incredible films, with perhaps their most important and delightful being His Girl Friday. The loose adaptation of The Front Page reinvented the comedy thanks to its bold gender politics and extremely fast-talking wit. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell throw dialogue back and forth like they’re playing catch. Stream His Girl Friday on Prime Video.


46 The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The Silence of the Lambs is incredibly frightening if only for its realism. Nothing in the film (or the novel that inspired it) is too far-fetched compared to what happens in reality, which makes it scarier than most supernatural films. Jonathan Demme’s direction is suffocatingly tight, and the tense script has every perfect line of dialogue brought to life by comparably solid performances from Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Ted Levine, Anthony Heald, and Scott Glenn. The Silence of the Lambs can be an unbearable viewing experience… right when it wants to be.


One of the Thriller Genre’s Absolute Best

Demme has put more of his personality into other, almost equally brilliant films (Something Wild, Stop Making Sense, Rachel Getting Married), but it’s safe to say that no other Demme film has had everything and everyone working in tandem at their highest capacity. Foster and Hopkins are perfect, Howard Shore creates his most underrated score, Tak Fujimoto creates majesty and terror in even the most banal things, and Ted Tally’s script is a tight, efficient machine. It’s not the most original choice, but it’s hard to deny just how perfect and well-designed The Silence of the Lambs really is. Stream The Silence of the Lambs on DIRECTV.

45 Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)

Corinne Marchand as Cleo, touching her face
Athos Films


The endlessly endearing and inventive French filmmaker Agnès Varda had one of the greatest careers in film history (gorgeously packaged in a recent Criterion Collection box set), but it’s probably her second feature film, Cléo from 5 to 7, that’s her best. Granted, she spent six decades making incredible films, from masterpieces like Le Bonheur and Vagabond to iconoclastic and perfect little documentaries like The Gleaners and I and The Beaches of Agnès. So it seems a little reductive to choose only her second film here, but consider it an invitation to a broader filmography. It’s also just that good.

Perhaps Varda’s Very Best

In the French New Wave classic, Varda films everything in real time as a famous young singer awaits the results of a medical exam which could confirm that she has a serious kind of cancer. She spends her time reflecting on the past, going to a fortune-teller, listening and playing music, and contemplating the meaning and function of her existence in this tight, perfect little movie that has inspired filmmakers and women for 60 years. Stream Cléo from 5 to 7 on Max.


44 Hard Boiled (1992)

The action genre isn’t often celebrated in lists of the absolute greatest films ever made, but some of them deserve to be, certainly if John Woo’s name is attached. If anyone has brought pure balletic grace and visual poetry to action cinema, it’s Woo. While some may say the apotheosis of his style is on full display in The Killer (or even the eccentric and wonderful Face/Off), we like to think that there is no greater pure action film than Hard Boiled. Everything about it is perfect, from the charming performances, courtesy of two greats (Chow Yun-fat and Tony Leung), to the complicated plot, visual motifs, and stunning set piece that concludes the film.


Woo at the Top of his Game

Woo follows his usual themes of doubles and redemption in this story of a cranky police sergeant and a cop who’s been undercover for way too long who cross paths and take down a criminal empire. These two are wonderful characters with great chemistry, two antisocial men bound by an invisible morality, and Hard Boiled also has possibly Woo’s greatest villains as well, Johnny Wong and Mad Dog. Each shootout and action set piece is downright genius, leading to the massive shoot ’em up conclusion set inside a hospital as gunfire ricochets from floor to floor. It’s possibly the best final 30 minutes to any action movie in history. Rent Hard Boiled on Amazon Video.

43 Before Sunrise (1995)


Before Sunrise follows Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as the former convinces the latter to get off their train at Vienna and spend the day with him. They’re both entrancing and endlessly watchable here, co-writing the film with Linklater as they would on the two sequels. The most romantic and simple of the three, Before Sunrise aimlessly follows them throughout the European city as night falls, and lets us in on their conversation and burgeoning attraction. It’s extremely romantic, but also reflective of the very best of Gen X, and introduces us to two of the greatest characters in film history.


A Classic Individual Film and the Beginning of a Classic Trilogy

Richard Linklater has created what one may call a career of intellectual curiosity. From his early days (and one of the greatest indie films ever made, Slacker), Linklater has focused on the intelligence of outsiders, the philosophizers on the margins, those who see the brain as the sexiest human organ. His films are more dialogue-heavy than most great directors, but never boring or identical as a result. Perhaps the greatest example of this is the trailblazing romance film, Before Sunrise, which spawned one of the most beloved and possibly the smartest movie trilogy ever made. Rent Before Sunrise on Amazon Video.

42 The Red Shoes (1948)

Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes
General Film Distributors

The Red Shoes, which combines fantasy, romance, and drama in typical Powell and Pressburger fashion, focuses on the highly demanding world of ballet, and one particular ballerina who is forced to choose between her professional and her personal life, her art and her lover. Loosely adapted from the Hans Christian Andersen story, The Red Shoes is bursting with Technicolor glory, using every cinematic technique at Powell and Pressburger’s disposal to paint one of the most gorgeous films ever made.


A Visually Stunning Masterpiece

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger were titans of British cinema, two names that defined a generation of film in England. The Powell and Pressburger films of the ’40s and ’50s are some of the greatest ever made, and again, we could easily mention other films, such as the quaint and quiet gem I Know Where I’m Going!, the masterful thriller Peeping Tom, or the gorgeous religious classic, Black Narcissus. What a run of films! It’s The Red Shoes, though, that stuns and haunts in equal measure more than possibly any other.

Furthermore, the great cinematographer Jack Cardiff could go down in history for this one picture alone; even Martin Scorsese has called it the most beautiful color film ever made, alongside Jean Renoir’s The River. Along with its visual beauty, the film hits hard with its themes of obsession, the madness of creation, and the loneliness of perfection. Stream The Red Shoes on Max.


41 Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead

Release Date
September 2, 1978

Cast
David Emge , Ken Foree , Scott H. Reiniger , Gaylen Ross , David Crawford , David Early

Dawn of the Dead, of course, largely takes place in a shopping mall where characters from two key segments of the American system (the mainstream media and the militarized police) barricade themselves from the zombie apocalypse taking place outdoors. Dawn of the Dead is downright fun in its obvious bashing of mindless materialism and its exploration of pure post-apocalyptic hedonism, all within the bright pastels of 1970s mall culture. The conclusion is utterly harrowing, but few films merit the genuine fist-pumping excitement and relief of its ending.


A Fast-Paced Classic About Slow-Moving Creatures

It’s honestly a toss-up between Night of the Living Dead and George Romero’s perfect sequel, Dawn of the Dead. The former redefined horror movies and basically invented the modern zombie; its ending is a haunting reminder of the civil rights era, and its black-and-white photography is infinitely disturbing. But there is something more wicked in Dawn of the Dead. It’s nastier in its bright-red gore and bitter misanthropy; it’s funnier in its social commentary; it’s truly special in its setting and downright Marxist critique of bourgeois consumerism. It’s also, weirdly, a little more hopeful. Stream Dawn of the Dead on Netflix.

40 Umberto D (1952)

Carlo Battisti in Umberto D
Dear Film


Umberto D is a simple story — an old retired government worker with health issues is kicked out of his home and searches for his dog, the only real friend he has in the world. A film that will make you want to burn the earth down for humanity’s cruelty one minute, and hug strangers in the street the next, Umberto D is a devastating masterclass in empathy. Yes, Bicycle Thieves is often considered De Sica’s greatest achievement, and that’s a must-watch as well, but there’s a special place in cinephiles’ hearts for Umberto D.

A Moving and Special Masterpiece

One of the most heartbreaking and powerful films ever made, Vittorio De Sica’s Neo-Realist masterpiece, is a painful indictment against society and the way we’ve come to treat the poor, the elderly, and the lonely. At the same time, it’s De Sica’s extreme compassion and inimitable humanity that makes the film more than just a masterpiece of misery. Stream Umberto D on The Criterion Channel.


39 Out of the Past (1947)

Mitchum and Greer in Out of the Past sitting together outside
RKO Radio Pictures

Robert Mitchum, never better, plays a conflicted private investigator hired to hunt down a kingpin’s old flame, who stole a small fortune from him and escaped. They fall in love in Acapulco and scheme to trick and evade the kingpin, and you know it will end in tears. “Is there a way to win?” she asks. “There’s a way to lose more slowly,” he responds (in an exchange that would be echoed by David Simon in The Wire). There are no winners in Out of the Past, perhaps the greatest film noir ever made.


A Shining Example of the Noir Genre

It’s a tragic romance and crime drama that perfects every element of the genre — the cynical sucker of a gumshoe protagonist, the femme fatale, the cocky millionaire, the double cross. It all combines to perfection thanks to some of the most simmering and bitter dialogue to ever erupt from a film. Jacques Tourneur was a studio director who managed to turn most B-movies into timeless classics, and this is his finest work. This quick, hot, wicked little film is endlessly watchable and infinitely quotable. Rent Out of the Past on Amazon Video.

38 The Exorcist (1973)

William Friedkin’s masterpiece The Exorcist is so sublimely made that not even 50 years can detract from its impact. As far as the film’s technical aspects go, it’s flawless, with even Regan’s head turn having aged well. The score is phenomenal, the religious context is controversial, and the imagery is infamously boundary-pushing. But what helps the film work so much better than its many, many contemporary and current imitators is the cast.


One of Horror’s Top Films

Ellen Burstyn is phenomenal as Chris MacNeil, a mother struggling in a seemingly unwinnable war for her daughter’s soul. And, speaking of her daughter, Linda Blair’s performance as Regan earned just as many accolades as Burstyn. And for good reason; it’s because of them, as well as Jason Miller’s Father Karras and Max von Sydow’s brief performance as Father Merrin that the movie feels so organic, and timeless. Stream The Exorcist on Paramount+.

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37 Barton Fink (1991)


Several films from the Coen brothers could understandably be placed here, and it comes down to personal preference (a recurring theme here). The Big Lebowski, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Miller’s Crossing, or even A Simple Man could all feasibly be called some of the best movies of all time. It’s Barton Fink, though, which seems to be the most personal, daring, and greatest film the Coens have made. It’s also arguably the most mysterious. John Turturro gives his greatest performance as a playwright obsessed with the proverbial proletariat, wanting to write a play ‘for the people.’ Holed up in a creepy hotel, the writer slowly loses his mind.

One of the Coens’ Best…If Not the Very Best

Barton Fink is a dark allegory about the creative process, intellectualism, Marxism, Judaism, and bigotry that’s as funny as it is disturbing. It’s also a masterful anxiety dream, a comic nightmare, and a great American tale. Not to mention, it features the most menacing John Goodman performance you’ll ever see. Rent Barton Fink on Amazon Video.


36 Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
Fox Film Corporation

While he’s most known for the horror classic Nosferatu, the great F.W. Murnau made his best film in 1927 with Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. Using his immense skill at expressionistic atmosphere and emotional close-ups, Murnau brought on cinematographers Charles Rosher and Karl Struss to innovate film language in a way that set it apart from literature and the theater (as Eisenstein attempted something similar in the Soviet Union).

A Thematic Treasure Chest

The result is a powerful romantic drama with very little text and titles, relying on a purely cinematic medium to engage emotions and tell a story of marriage, adultery, guilt, and redemption. Suspenseful, sad, and sublime, Sunrise won the only ever Oscar for “Unique and Artistic Picture” at the very first Academy Awards. Stream Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans on Tubi.


35 The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover
Palace Pictures

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover follows a cruel gangster (a towering Michael Gambon) whose wife (Helen Mirren at her best) falls for a quiet lover of books, putting them in great danger. The film is ultimately a great metaphor for class warfare, but the main appeal is its mesmerizing style, which is unlike any other film in history (give or take other Greenaway productions).

A Delectable Delight

Peter Greenaway is one of the most underrated directors of all time, but if there is any gateway film to bring audiences into his perverse, darkly funny, and operatic world, it’s undeniably The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. Accompanied by Michael Nyman’s emotionally astounding score, and with color-coded cinematography by Sacha Vierny that ranks among the absolute best of all time, Greenaway’s disturbing but beautiful movie is pure aesthetic perfection. Currently unavailable to stream or rent.


34 8½ (1963)

Still from 8 1/2 by Federico Fellini
Columbia Pictures

8 1/2 is essentially a surreal story of writer’s block, following a director (played by the immaculate Marcello Mastroianni) who is trying to figure out his latest production. He often withdraws into reveries, which drifts the film into the surreal and sometimes disturbing, as gorgeous black and white cinematography manifests the director’s deepest desires and fears.


An Entrancing, Creative Story

Federico Fellini is yet another master filmmaker who could feasibly be included multiple times here. Juliet of the Spirits, La Strada, and, of course, La Dolce Vita could all be featured, but we think that is not just his most important film, but one of the best movies ever made. The film hit at the perfect time, when arthouse and international cinema were getting their due in the mainstream, and has become the Rosetta Stone for any filmmaker who wants to make a movie about movies or depict the narcissistic suffering of an artist or auteur. Stream 8 1/2 on Max.

33 Last Year at Marienbad (1962)

A Courtyard in Last
Cocinor

Last Year at Marienbad rocked the film world in 1962 when it premiered to divisive takes. Some labeled it a groundbreaking feat of pure cinema, while others mocked it as pretentious and incomprehensible drivel. While Alain Resnais’ masterpiece is certainly still polarizing (and has been the inspiration for many parodies), it’s also one of the poster children for arthouse cinema, and rightfully so.


An Elusive Experience

Unlike Resnais’ earlier films, Night and Fog (the greatest short film ever made) and Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year at Marienbad isn’t explicitly political (though the title may be a cryptic clue that it is). In fact, it isn’t explicitly anything. Instead, it’s a kind of semiotic game courtesy of the Nouveau Roman author Alain Robbe-Grillet, who wrote a nearly impenetrable script that operates like clockwork. A man and a woman meet at a lavish party hosted at a geographically harsh palace; they may know each other, or they may be pretending to. She may have a husband, and he may be dangerous. Nothing is for certain here, and even if you don’t engage in ebullient dialogue interpreting the film, it can simply be experienced as an aesthetically mysterious, precise, and mathematically perfect film that’s still unlike anything else. Stream Last Year at Marienbad on Kanopy.


32 The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Sergio Leone mastered a more international type of Western, sardonically dubbed ‘Spaghetti Westerns,’ and while he made several great films (including the masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West), it’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly that is probably his most famous film, and rightfully so. The gunslinging epic seems to transcend its place and time and its specific narrative to become a kind of archetypal paradigm for the modern, stylized Western.


More of a Best Western Than the Hotel Chain

Three sly men (the impeccable Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach) seek hidden Confederate gold in the West. Leone’s film is pure mythology and masculinity, stylized to perfection thanks to the legendary close-ups of cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli and the timeless score from Ennio Morricone. The film defines ‘cool’ in a way that still hasn’t diminished. Stream The Good, the Bad and the Ugly on Max.

31 Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Jeanne Dielman 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Release Date
May 14, 1975

Director
Chantal Akerman

The infamous Chantal Akerman film, Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, made a large group of people angry when it suddenly became the number one pick of the greatest films ever made in the 2022 Sight & Sound poll. It’s a controversial choice, but the film didn’t deserve the backlash (and arguably didn’t deserve the number one slot, either).


An Engrossing, Yet Controversial, Masterwork

It is a masterpiece though, one of several from Akerman (including News from Home and No Home Movie). The anti-epic, running 200 minutes but composed of very little substance other than a woman’s daily chores (and sudden turn to prostitution), is a mysterious, quietly angry study of domestication, consumerism, and modern soullessness. Delphine Seyrig gives a historic performance, tapping into the defeat of feminism and the banal misery of the capitalist condition; she is the key to Akerman’s film, which is more of a sad trance that casts a formalist spell upon any viewer willing to submit to its structure. Stream Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles on Max.



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