It’s a big question: what are the best movies of all time? And it’s one with many answers – there are all kinds of reasons why the greatest films ever made endure in the way they do. They create unforgettable images, conjure overwhelming emotions, craft thrilling stories, and deliver characters who leap off the screen. There’s astonishing technical mastery that brings those stories to life, plots that twist and turn in all kinds of unexpected ways, performances that help us fall head-over-heels for people who don’t exist, and transcendent experiences that change our heads and hearts. The best films – from classic movies that have stood the test of time, to contemporary works that changed the game – offer heartwarming comfort, iconic scares, big laughs, and pulse-pounding suspense, becoming firm audience favourites and garnering critical acclaim.
In creating a list of the 100 best movies of all time, Empire asked readers to share their picks – a selection of movies that comfort, challenge, and pioneer. Films that blow your mind, help you see things from a new perspective, and that continue to shape cinema as we know it today. Films that make you feel something. Combining reader votes with critics’ choices from Team Empire, here we have it – read it in full below.
Looking for our list of The 100 Greatest TV Shows Of All Time? Read here.
100 Greatest Movies 2022
100) Reservoir Dogs
Quentin Tarantino's terrific twist on the heist-gone-wrong thriller 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.
99) Groundhog Day
Bill Murray at the height of his loveable (eventually) schmuck powers. Andie McDowell bringing the brains and the heart. And Harold Ramis (directing and co-writing with Danny Rubin) managing to find gold in the story of a man trapped in a time loop. It might not have been the first to tap this particular trope, but it's head and shoulders above the rest. Murray's snarktastic delivery makes the early going easy to laugh at, but as the movie finds deeper things to say about existence and morals, it never feels like a polemic.
98) Paddington 2
When the first Paddington was on the way, early trailers didn't look entirely promising. Yet co-writer/director Paul King delivered a truly wonderful film bursting with joy, imagination, kindness and just one or two hard stares. How was he going to follow that? Turns out, with more of the same, but also plenty of fresh pleasures. Paddington (bouncily voiced by Ben Whishaw) matches wits with washed-up actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant, chewing scenery like fine steak), being framed for theft and getting sent to prison. Like all great sequels, it works superbly as a double bill with the original.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet's beautifully whimsical Parisian rom-com succeeded not only because he found the perfect 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.
96) Brokeback Mountain
Ang Lee adapts Annie Proulx's short story (with Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana on script duty) with sensitivity, grace, and differing scope – the intimacy of the relationship between Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger's shepherds backed by beautiful mountain landscapes. The love between Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) is complicated by the mores of the time and their need to marry their respective girlfriends. It'll break your heart and offer hope all at the same time, and the film ended up scoring Best Adapted Screenplay, Music and Directing Oscars.
95) Donnie Darko
Richard Kelly's time-looping, sci-fi-horror-blending high-school movie is the very definition of a cult classic. It was a struggle to get made, it flopped on release, then found its crowd via word-of-mouth and a palpable sense that its creator really, you know, gets it. And let's not forget how goddamn funny it is, too.
94) Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
With Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Edgar Wright leaned all the way in to the things that make his directorial style so singular – excellent needle drops, a bold colour palette, whip-pans and whip-smart wit alike. Michael Cera is the put-upon protagonist, but it's Ramona's (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) seven deadly exes that set the screen alight, including Chris Evans and Brie Larson – before they were saving half the universe together. With masterful touches of magical realism and stunning shots that stick in the mind throughout, Scott Pilgrim is one of Wright's most memorable.
93) Portrait Of A Lady On Fire
Celine Sciamma's magnetic, masterful lesbian romance may be a recent addition to this list, but became an instant landmark of queer cinema upon its release. Starring Noumie Merlant as an 18th century painter and Aduele Haenel as her elusive subject, Portrait Of A Lady On Fire is a tale of an epic love developed in the quietest, most delicate way, formed in stolen moments and glances. Sciamma's carefully constructed script is matched by Claire Mathon's cinematography, each shot like a Renaissance painting brought to life. Pure poetry.
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.
If you're going to wrap up your tenure as one of the most loved superhero icons in fiction, it's hard to think of a better way than how Hugh Jackman – with James Mangold directing — punched out on the time clock of playing Wolverine. Set in a dark near-future world where an aging Logan is caring for a mentally unstable Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and getting mixed up yet again with some very dangerous people , Logan is a truly original superhero tale that is mournful without being morbid. It's so outside the established mold, in fact, it's honestly a wonder the film ever got made.
90) The Terminator
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 Arnold Schwarzenegger's Uzi-9mm-toting Terminator, if not an upgraded version of Halloween's Michael Myers?
89) No Country For Old Men
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.
James Cameron doesn't do things by halves. His movie about the 1912 sinking of the world's biggest cruise liner was the most expensive ever 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 of all time (in terms of both box office and Awards), and made him King Of The World.
87) The Exorcist
William Friedkin's 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.
86) Black Panther
After his standout introduction in Captain America: Civil War, 2018's Black Panther allowed us to properly meet Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa, and see his Wakandan kingdom in all its glory. Impeccably directed by Creed's Ryan Coogler, it's an Afrofuturistic vision oozing with cool, colourful regality, expressed through its Oscar-winning costume design, stunning set pieces and thrumming soundtrack. Soaring to billion dollar-plus box office takings, Black Panther's cultural impact cannot be understated – and after the tragic loss of Boseman in 2020, the film lives on as the defining role for a truly remarkable talent.
85) Shaun Of The Dead
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.
84) Lost In Translation
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.
83) Thor: Ragnarok
Marvel has cannily employed directors who have more usually made smaller, indie movies, handed them the keys to the giant machine that is their cinematic universe and (within reason) let them do their thing. Among the best to grasp that opportunity is Taika Waititi, who helped find Thor's true funny bone, a more effective weapon than Mjolnir. Ragnarok, which shakes up Thor's entire world (by, er, destroying it) is a hilarious take on a superhero story, full of action, while re-introducing Mark Ruffalo's Hulk in fantastic fashion and having us meet the likes of Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie and Jeff Goldblum's Grandmaster.
82) The Usual Suspects
While the line-up team-up is a great concept, director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie's super-twisted, uber-cool crime thriller attains true greatness through its supernatural-horror-style backdrop, conjuring a phantom menace "Keyser Soze" who terrifies even the most hardened criminal.
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 wolf-men, or vampires, or swampy fish-things. They could now look completely normal. They could be the guy sat right next to you, in fact...
80) L.A. Confidential
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 Ellroy's 'L.A. Quartet'. Its spot-on casting hardly hurt, including Russell Crowe as conscience-discovering bruiser Bud White and Guy Pearce as ramrod rookie Ed Exley.
79) E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial
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.
78) In The Mood For Love
Years before battling Shang-Chi in the MCU, Hong Kong acting legend Tony Leung was director Wong Kar-wai's greatest muse in gorgeous, simmering masterpieces like Chungking Express, Happy Together — and this remarkable romance, perhaps their greatest collaboration. Leung plays a journalist renting an apartment in 1960s Hong Kong; his neighbour, played by Maggie Cheung, appears as lonely and lost as he is. It soon emerges their spouses are having an affair, and a romance of stolen glances and intimate longing begins to emerge. Love stories are rarely as ravishingly beautiful (or deeply influential) as this.
77) Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi
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 dextrously flipped us between lightsabers, spaceships and a ferocious (albeit fuzzy) forest conflict.
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 these troubled times.
75) A Quiet Place
Take a simple concept (don't make a sound, or aliens will get you), a stellar cast (Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe) and a director with a laser-sharp vision (John Krasinski) and what do you get? As it turns out, one of the most innovative, refreshing, unbearably tense horror movies of the 21st century. From the second it starts, the imposed silence of A Quiet Place makes it a revelatory cinematic experience – as the Abbott family pad gently around their home, the store, the woods, you feel in your bones that one wrong step equals disaster. The (loudly) ticking time bomb of imminent childbirth sets the scene for a stellar scary finale, but it's the deeply endearing family dynamic that sets this apart.
For their follow up to the superb Shallow Grave, Danny Boyle (director), Andrew Macdonald (producer) and John Hodge (screenwriter) foolhardily elected to film the supposedly unfilmable: 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.
73) Mulholland Drive
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 20 years ago.
72) Rear Window
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.
A lot has been said about the opening to Pete Docter's Pixar masterpiece, and rightly so, wringing tears from the hardest of hearts with a wordless sequence set to Michael Giacchino's lovely, Oscar-winning score that charts the ups and downs of a couple's marriage. Yet while the majority of the film is more of a straight-ahead adventure tale (albeit one with a wacky bird and talking dogs), that doesn't make it any less satisfying. And let's be honest — the story of a man who uses balloons to float his house to a foreign land, accidentally picking up a young wilderness explorer scout as he does, feels perfectly Pixar.
70) Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
Having Phil Lord and Chris Miller's names on a movie is regularly the guarantee of something great, but the full team behind this animated marvel (in both upper- and lower-case senses of the word) is what makes it work. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman all added something as directors (with Rothman co-writing alongside Lord) and their animators whipped up a visually dynamic, exciting, and heartwarming adventure that literally spans multiverses before the MCU introduced it. Bringing Miles Morales to the screen was a masterstroke, and Shameik Moore's vocal work gives him buckets of charm.
69) Inglourious Basterds
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. As ever, though, QT's at his best in claustrophobic situations, with the tavern scene ramping up the tension to almost unbearable levels.
68) Lady Bird
With her directorial debut, the wry wit and emotional potency of Greta Gerwig's previous work came even sharper into focus – telling a beautifully nuanced coming-of-age story about mothers, daughters, and the hometowns you yearn to leave, only for them to be truly appreciated in the rear-view mirror. Saoirse Ronan is perfectly precocious as the not-always-likeable Christine 'Lady Bird' McPherson, experiencing fractured friendships, first fuckboys, and fateful fumbles in her final year of high school in 2003 Sacramento.
67) Singin' In The Rain
A joyous, vibrant Technicolor celebration of the movies, 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.
66) One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
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).
65) Seven Samurai
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.
64) La La Land
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?
63) Get Out
Even given the darker tones of a few Key And Peele sketches, no one could have predicted that Jordan Peele would place himself on track to become a modern master of horror. And it all started with this, the Oscar-winning kick-off to his film career in which Daniel Kaluuya's Chris meets his girlfriend Rose's (Allison Williams) parents and discovers some truly shocking secrets. White guilt, specific racism, slavery and more blend into a socially conscious terror tale that rings every note with pitch-perfect accuracy. You'll never look at a cup of tea the same way again.
62) Lawrence Of Arabia
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.
61) Pan's Labyrinth
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.
60) Hot Fuzz
Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick 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.
Adapted from Tarell Alvin's play In Moonlight, Black Boys Look Blue, Barry Jenkins' Oscar-winning drama is the kind of film that seeps under your skin and stays there. Tracking one man's life in three stages, and the love (and lack of it) that made him who he is, Moonlight evokes a sense of intimacy so palpable, the camera's gaze into the characters' eyes so intense, you can't bear to look away. Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris are impeccable in supporting roles, with Trevante Rhodes and Andre Holland delivering an unforgettable final act.
58) Guardians Of The Galaxy
Marvel took one of its biggest swings with this space-borne adventure, which featured the MCU's freakiest and least-known characters (a talking raccoon, 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.
57) Blade Runner 2049
Putting together the director of Arrival with a sci-fi franchise that – for box office performance reasons — hasn't been overexploited the way some others have, seemed like a no-brainer. It's actually a big brainer, with Denis Villeneuve dipping into Philip K. Dick's universe and constructing a sequel that not only doesn't embarrass Ridley Scott's original, but builds out that world, adding layers and texture while still feeling of a piece. Audiences still didn't exactly bite, but between Harrison Ford revisiting his iconic replicant hunter and Ryan Gosling grappling with his own identity, 2049 is a triumph of quiet character moments and glorious, sense-enveloping spectacle.
56) The Social Network
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.
55) Taxi Driver
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.
54) Saving Private Ryan
The sheer bludgeoning, blood-spilling, visceral power of its Omaha Beach, D-Day-landing opening act ensured that Steven 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.
53) Forrest Gump
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.
52) Point Break
"Ever fired your gun in the air and gone 'Ahhhh?'" PC Danny Butterman's well-placed reference in Hot Fuzz confirmed, if confirmation were ever needed, that Point Break is a fundamental pillar of '90s pop culture cool, and one of the most memorable action blockbusters ever made. In Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, we get two smouldering sides of the same anti-heroic coin; in W. Peter Iliff's screenplay, we get gems of dialogue like "The correct term is 'babes', sir"; and in Kathryn Bigelow's frenetic, confident direction, we get intense foot chases, fiery shoot-outs, epic surfing, and a spot of light skydiving. It shouldn't work: extreme sports, bank robberies and male bonding? But it does, every time.
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 J.K. Simmons' monstrous Fletcher: 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...
If Psycho was Hitchcock's big shocker, then Vertigo is 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.
49) Spirited Away
For a Western world raised on Disney movies, Spirited Away was a bracing change of pace – pure, uncut Studio Ghibli. Taking in bathhouses, spirits of Shinto folklore, and morality without clear-cut distinctions of good and evil, Hayao Miyazaki's major crossover hit is distinctly Japanese. It's the film that brought Studio Ghibli – and anime at large – to mainstream Western audiences, an influence increasingly felt in the likes of Moana and Frozen II.
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.
47) Do The Right Thing
Spike Lee had already caused a stir with his first two films – She's Gotta Have It and School Daze – but this was the one that changed everything, with Lee at full pelt, fully formed, in full command and full of fury. Over the longest, hottest summer's day in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy, already boiling tensions between the African-Americans on the block and the Italian-Americans running a pizzeria eventually peak, erupting into violence. It's an absolutely flawless, funny, frightening piece of work, rammed with soon-to-be iconography from start to finish. It hasn't dated a day.
46) Schindler's List
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 Krakow. Unless you're the kind of shallow person who only watches movies that are 'entertaining'. In which case, you're missing out.
45) The Big Lebowski
You've got to hand it to the Coen brothers. Not only did they make arguably the funniest movie of the '90s — 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.
44) It's A Wonderful Life
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 shown a mind-blowing parallel reality in which he never existed, Stewart was never 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.
43) There Will Be Blood
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.
42) 12 Angry Men
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.
41) The Silence Of The Lambs
Not only the first 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 screen time. Even so, it feels like Foster's movie more than anybody's: her vulnerable-but-steely Clarice Starling is defined by her ability, not her gender.
40) Citizen Kane
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.
Ridley Scott's comeback (after a bad run with 1492, White Squall and 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.
38) The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
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."
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.
36) Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
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.
35) The Shining
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 parenting.
34) The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers
Aside from Boromir, Aragorn and the small-town denizens of Bree, there's not a huge amount of human representation in The 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.
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.
32) The Thing
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 took the bones of Howard Hawks' 1951 The Thing From Another World and 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.
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.
Michael Mann's starry upgrade of his TV movie 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 meeting virtually fizzing with alpha-star electricity.
29) Apocalypse Now
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.
28) Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade
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.
27) The Lord Of The Rings The Return Of The King
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.
26) Die Hard
One man using only his wits and whatever he can extract from his environment. A gang of bad guys terrorising the locals. If Die Hard wasn'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.
25) Fight Club
After all the pre-release hype about how dark and brutal Fight Club was, 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.
24) Terminator 2 Judgment Day
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.
23) 2001: A Space Odyssey
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 bashed another ape-man with an old bone. Graceful, gorgeous, unwearied by time's passing. Rather like that monolith.
22) Avengers: Endgame
What does it take to dethrone James Cameron? A blockbuster of behemothic proportions. The weight of expectations on Endgame — the culmination of 11 years of interweaving stories, following up the greatest cinematic cliffhanger since The Empire Strikes Back — was immense, which only makes it more miraculous that the Russo Brothers (and writers Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeeley) delivered a thrilling, adventurous, emotional time-travelling trip through the entire MCU so far. The character pay-offs are just as staggering as the action — and when Steve Rogers finally proved worthy enough to lift Mjolnir, a stone-cold cultural moment was created.
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 with new cuts. After all, he got it perfectly right the first time around.
20) The Matrix
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.
Will Christopher Nolan ever 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.
Few award ceremony moments stick in the mind more than Parasite taking the Best Picture gong at the Oscars in 2020. It's no surprise that it made history as the first non-English language movie to do so – this South Korean genre-defying delight offers some of the biggest twists and expertly mounted tension in recent memory, with a family of excellent performances from Song Kang-ho, Park So-dam, Choi Woo-shik and more. Bitingly satirical, darkly comedic and made with unmatched precision, Parasite doesn't just overcome the 'one inch barrier' of subtitles, as referenced in director Bong Joon-ho's acceptance speech – it obliterates it entirely.
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.
16) Blade Runner
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.
15) Jurassic Park
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.
14) The Godfather Part II
Often cited as the greatest-ever sequel, 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.
13) Back To The Future
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.
12) Mad Max: Fury Road
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...Read Empire's review of Mad Max: Fury Road
11) Star Wars
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."
9) Raiders Of The Lost Ark
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.
8) Avengers: Infinity War
It was the biggest crossover event in cinematic history, and the biggest cliffhanger we never saw coming. After ten years and eighteen movies, Marvel took superhero filmmaking to a new level when they united all of Earth's mightiest heroes (and several more) against The Mad Titan himself – and incredibly, devastatingly, they lost. Infinity War crashed much-loved characters into each other's orbits, flitting between planets at breakneck speed as the Avengers desperately tried to stop Thanos from clicking his fingers and wiping out half the universe. Spectacular action, punch-the-air moments and big-scale battles are perfectly balanced, as all things should be, with hilarious interplays and aching emotion. Cinema doesn't get much bigger, or better, than this.
7) Pulp Fiction
If Reservoir Dogs was a blood-spattered calling card, Pulp Fiction saw 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 and yet felt utterly, invigoratingly fresh and new. We happy? Yeah, we happy.
Forty-five 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.
5) The Shawshank Redemption
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 has yet to top it.
4) The Dark Knight
Easily as influential on the genre as that other summer '08 comic-book movie, Iron Man, Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins 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...
3) The Godfather
Stanley Kubrick once described Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Mario Puzo's novel as the best film ever made – though having previously topped this list, this time it falls to bronze position. At once an art movie and a commercial blockbuster, The Godfather marked the dawn of the age of the mega-movie. An icon of the gangster genre, its imprinted in popular culture – "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes", the horse's head in the bed – but the first instalment of Brando's cotton-cheeked patriarch's fight for power is so much more than those moments. With performances, style and substance to savour, it's managed to both smash box office records and live on as a staple of cinematic canon.
2) Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
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 Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring
A wizard is never late. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he... well, you know the rest. It might have taken 20 years for Peter Jackson's plucky fantasy to clamber, Mount-Doom-style, to the very pinnacle of our greatest-movies pantheon. But here it is, brighter and more resplendent than ever.The Fellowship Of The Ring contains so much movie. Even at the halfway point, as the characters take a breather to bicker in Rivendell, you already feel sated, like you've experienced more thrills, more suspense, more jollity and ethereal beauty than a regular film could possibly muster up. But Jackson is only getting started. Onwards his adventure hustles, to the bravura dungeoneering of Khazad-dum, to the sinisterly serene glades of Lothlorien, to the final requiem for flawed Boromir amidst autumnal leaves. As Fellowship thrums to its conclusion, finally applying the brakes with a last swell of Howard Shore's heavenly score, you're left feeling euphoric, bereft and hopeful, all at the same time. The Two Towers has the coolest battle. The Return Of The King boasts the most batshit, operatic spectacle. But Fellowship remains the most perfect of the three, matching every genius action beat with a soul-stirring emotional one, as its Middle-earth-traversing gang swells in size in the first act, then dwindles in the third. This oddball suicide squad has so much warmth and wit, they're not just believable as friends of each other — they've come to feel like they're our pals too.An ornately detailed masterwork with a huge, pulsing heart, it's just the right film for our times — full of craft, conviction and a belief that trudging forward, step by step, in dark days is the bravest act of all. Its ultimate heroes aren't the strongest, or those with the best one-liners, but the ones who just keep going. And so Fellowship endures: a miracle of storytelling, a feat of filmmaking and still the gold standard for cinematic experiences. Right, now that's decided, who's up for second breakfast?
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