What you’re about to read may grind your movieloving gears, but we can’t apologise for it. Lists are made to start discussions, after all, and ranking the greatest movies of all-time can be a particularly hot-tempered debate. That’s how strongly people feel about their favourite comedies, horror flicks, heist movies and Swedish arthouse classics. Other artforms spark passionate debate, of course, but there’s something about cinema that really gets the most hardcore buffs going. It probably has something to do with how cinema shapes us. We may grow out of certain bands and songs, but a favourite movie retains a spot in your heart and memory for a lifetime, to the point that standout scenes and lines of dialogue become part of our personal histories – almost as if we’ve lived those scenes ourselves.
Obviously, coming up with a definitive list of the best films ever made is a daunting task. But we still had to do it, because talking – okay, arguing – over movies is as much a part of film culture as watching them. We’ve included everything from big-budget blockbusters to arthouse classics, romcoms and horror flicks, crime capers to eardrum-bursting action sagas. It spans over a hundred years and multiple countries. And even with all that ground covered, we’re sure someone is going to get mad over something we’ve either included or omitted. That’s alright, though. After all, that’s what lists are meant to do, right? So go ahead and yell at your computer.
To make this list, we divided all of Hollywood into the ten biggest genres: Action, Thriller, Horror, Drama, Superhero, Animated, Fantasy, Romance, Comedy, and Musical.
We’ll pick the greatest movies from each genre based on several aspects. How well did the critics acclaim it? How good is the film through the technical and narrative lens? Let’s get into the top 10 greatest Hollywood movies without further ado.
Drama: The Godfather
This masterpiece of a story by Mario Puzo, adapted for the big screen by director Francis Ford Coppola, is bound to be on the list. It went on to win three Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.
The Godfather follows no grand events and plotlines throughout the movie. It focuses on the shift of power in an organization between generations. It manages to capture the audience for its unconventional runtime. Especially rare.
His performance might be the best acting as a Mafia leader to date. The dark yet comforting cinematography and a saddening soundtrack leave a lasting impact on the audience. Its editing is no less fabulous. Marlon Brando won the Academy Award for his performance as Don Vito Corleone.
David Fincher’s masterpiece Se7en (1995) was and will be a cult classic. This movie would attract audiences for a multitude of reasons. Some for its psychological thriller plot. Some for its dark cinematography and even its portrayal of the seven deadly sins.
The movie starts with two detectives. One that believes he has seen everything and the other who isn’t ready for what he’s about to see. The dark set design of the house, the grotesque death, and the word “Gluttony” carved on the wall set the tone of Fincher’s direction from the get-go.
Along with captivating performances, haunting yet astoundingly dark cinematography, and Oscar-nominated editing is a treat for the audience.
Moreover, the minimalist but meaningful dialogues of the nihilistic Somerset and aggressive Mills provide the audience with both charisma and fluidity. After all, how can one forget the agony and pain of Mill’s “WHAT’S IN THE BOX?!”
Besides being a genuinely rounded movie, Se7en, apart from the film in the same genre, is its use of symbolism—incorporated in the movie through Dante’s Inferno, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
This literary addition makes the movie worthy of deeper analysis, captivating audiences.
Honorable Mentions in Thriller: Black Swan, Fight Club, Silence of the Lambs
Action: Terminator 2
Besides being a classic action blockbuster, Terminator 2 (1991) is a masterpiece in all aspects of an action film.
Unlike action-driven blockbusters, with little to no plot and substance, Terminator 2 provides captivating drama and second to none action sequences.
Throughout the movie, the audience realizes that the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), and John Connor (Edward Furlong) operate more in a familial way than as a team. This makes this action-packed treat a film for all ages.
To top it all off, director James Cameron’s mind-blowing use of CGI and visual effects makes Terminator 2 a state-of-art film in the genre. It has inspired countless sci-fi thrillers, including its sequels.
Staying true to the action genre of its era, along with masterfully incorporating science-fiction, Terminator 2 exceeds all expectations and leaves the viewers baffled.
Honorable Mentions in Action: The Matrix, Inception
Superhero: The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight doesn’t top the charts only as a comic book movie but as a thrilling action blockbuster. An enthralling crime drama and a heartbreaking tragedy.
Nolan’s superb direction makes this movie a redefining moment for superhero movies. Apart from its lack of comic book accuracy, The Dark Knight constructs an immersive crime-ridden Gotham City.
Along with a captivating arc for Batman and other characters. Throughout the movie, Nolan’s characters face moral and ethical dilemmas. Batman’s infamous retirement and Harvey Dent’s fateful fall to the dark side.
Christian Bale’s acting as both the caped crusader and the millionaire playboy prince of Gotham stays on the top of the list of many Batman fans.
Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent/Two-Face), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordan), and Michael Caine (Alfred) all gave a fantastic performance. However, one that stood and still stands unmatched was Heath Ledger’s terrific portrayal of the Joker.
Ledger’s terrifying acting as a psychopathic killer holds up as the best acting in a superhero movie and one of the best acting in all of cinema.
To top it all off, Nolan’s masterful use of visually pleasing cinematography, superb editing, and captivating dialogues makes this movie a complete package. And let’s not forget Hans Zimmer’s eerie yet immersive score that brings liveliness to the movie.
Honorable Mentions in Superhero: The Suicide Squad, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1
Fantasy: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
It would not be wrong to say that Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy truly captures the essence of Tolkien’s books. The Return of the King stands out as an epic fantasy film and gives this franchise a well-deserved farewell.
Jackson brings Middle Earth to life from its visually pleasing cinematography to its carefully developed sets and top-notch editing.
Tolkien was keen on nitty-gritty details, and Jackson stayed true to that. Jackson splendidly brought Minas Tirith, Osgiliath, Mordor, etc., to life in the most accurate way possible.
However, what sets The Return of the King apart from its prequels is its action as a final blow to the franchise. It has exceptionally awe-inspiring battle sequences with top-of-the-game choreographies, special effects, and soundtracks.
The first installment lacked this flair. Moreover, it provides a more linear and complete plot than the second installment, which left off in the middle of nowhere.
The Return of the King enthrallingly wraps off the journey of the fellowship. What was an end to the franchise served as the inspiration and beginning for all the fantasy movies to come.
Honorable Mentions in Fantasy: The Fellowship of the Ring, Harry Potter, and The Prisoner of Azkaban
Horror: The Shining
Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s arguably most notable literary work, The Shining, uses the psychological horror genre like never before.
Even though King calls the movie “a fancy car with no engine,” Kubrick’s “The Shining” redefines the horror genre while staying true to its traditional creepiness.
The movie tells a true story about cabin fever through the stay of Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson), his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) in the closed off for winters, Overlook Hotel.
The arguably awful color palette of the Overlook Hotel cast a spell of anxiety and unease over the audience.
Everything from editing to sound-mixing to cinematography adds to the movie’s tension. Kubrick masterfully portrays the madness of the plot.
Along with the dreadful impact isolation can have on a human being through his almost infuriating yet visually splendid shots.
However, what sets this movie apart from its predecessors and successors, is the otherworldly acting by the cast. Jack Nicholson, who King himself criticized, gave an oscar worthy, most unsettling performance as the psychopathic Jack Torrence.
Shelley Duvall’s absolute top-notch portrayal of an overprotective mother was a by-product of Kubrick’s mistreatment of her on set.
Besides that moral question of whether it was right or wrong, it can be said that The Shining wouldn’t be what it is without Duvall’s performance.
Honorable Mentions in Horror: The Exorcist, The Lighthouse, Hereditary
Comedy: Shaun of the Dead
Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead is one of the only comedy movies capable of having an emotional core. It doesn’t necessitate being self-deprecating towards itself, such as in The Big Lebowski.
Unlike most comedy movies that only aim at making the audience laugh, Shaun of the Dead focuses on the filmmaking aspects, along with arguably every gig being a killer.
The premise drives the narrative along perfectly, and the screenplay is just majestically paced.
The characters and the cast’s splendid acting bring a unique flair to the movie. The characters are very genuine, humane, and understandable. They’re never demeaned for who they are, and they’re not made fun of, rather have fun with.
Shaun of the Dead provides a new take on zombie movies. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s masterful writing makes the audience unaware of what to expect. Zombies are treated as an inconvenience in daily life than apocalyptics.
Honorable Mentions in Comedy: Dumb and Dumber, The Big Lebowski
Romance: The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind treads on the grounds that most romance movies don’t, in fact, arguably none. It’s an unforgettable psychological romance drama that thought-provokingly deals with the themes of rational vs. irrational and the brain vs. the heart.
Thanks to Charlie Kaufman, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has one of the best screenplays ever. The story follows the different stages of the relationship of Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet).
Like every other romance movie, they both meet, fall in love, and are happy. However, when the relationship starts to get rocky, Clementine gets all her memories of Joel erased instead of talking it out.
Joel realizes he wants to keep those memories during the procedure and loves Clementine nonetheless. As revenge, Joel does the same. After this, the movie truly starts.
The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a true example of Maze Cinema. A technique where the story repeatedly recoils on itself, confusing the audience with the chronological state of events. Kaufman’s implementation of this technique confuses the audience.
Joel’s constant fighting against the memory-erasing procedure gives this masterpiece its unique touch. This makes us feel the same anxiety as Jim Carrey’s character. A big chunk of the movie is in Joel’s mind.
Director Michael Gondry’s wisdom and nuance make this movie stand out further. Unlike most romantic films, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind doesn’t have colorful, aesthetic visuals but the complete opposite.
Gondry uses gray and dull palettes to give the movie a documentary-like feel and represent Joel’s memories presented to the audience in the form of a documentary.
Moreover, the genuinely forgettable dialogue of this movie is a deliberate decision. Eternal Sunshine’s forgettable visuals and dialogues, coupled with its unique themes and emotions, give the film a dream-like feel for the audience where you remember what it felt like but not what it was.
While many romance movies are good narratively, Eternal Sunshine uses the structuring of a sci-fi movie to create a film about reminiscence. It uses editing, cinematography, and worldbuilding to maintain its emotional core.
Honorable Mentions in Romance: When Harry met Sally, Titanic
Musical: West Side Story (1961)
West Side Story has crowned the best movie of 1961, and winning 10 Academy Awards speaks for itself. It’s important to realize that the portrayal of gang wars through a musical isn’t an easy task, especially 60 years ago.
This movie arguably is the best adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” even though it doesn’t stay true to the tragic ending. The Heroine, Maria, does threaten to kill herself but doesn’t. This moment would inspire the trend of happy endings in Hollywood.
This gem stands out on all technical levels. Its vibrant use of colors etches it in memory. The production design overall carries the movie’s mood from start to end. The camera work is remarkable. Editing lands the final blow with its fast pace.
However, this movie is genuinely a classic because of its songs and choreography. Songs of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim and state-of-art choreographies by Jerome Robbins make this film a sensation.
Honorable Mentions in Musical: Les Misérables, La La Land
Animated: Toy Story
Toy Story came out in 1995 and still manages to be engaging and effective after all those years, which is a testament to its grandiosity. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that it is one of the movies that revolutionized animated movies. It went on to inspire countless 3D animated movies for various reasons.
First of all, narratively, the movie has a solid standing. It introduces its characters early on and their needs, wants, and conflicts. Its wholesome humor doesn’t fail to immerse both children and adults.
Surprisingly, even the threats in the movie, even though faced by toys, feel like actual threats; and conflicts feel like real conflicts. Toy Story provides lasting lessons on jealousy, friendship, and acceptance.
Secondly, the use of 3D animation at that time was truly remarkable. Compared to today, when it was way harder to animate using this style, animators on Toy Story worked tirelessly, and it paid off.
The stunning camera movements, fantastic character design, and visually pleasing backgrounds make this movie a justified heartthrob. The scene where Buzz Lightyear jumps off the bed and performs various tricks is arguably one of the best-animated scenes.