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100 Best Movies of All Time
To completely take the wind out of all of our sails, coming up with a perfect list of the 100 greatest movies of all time is… well, it’s impossible isn’t it? To get cerebral about it, when lists like this come together, half the fun is going through and seeing where (or even if) your favorite made the list. Taking in how your tastes and experiences line up with whomever wrote this monstrosity. With film being such an expansive and subjective form of art, there is hardly a wrong answer to what is and isn’t deserving of making a list like this.
But what’s special about this, our list of 100 great films, is that it speaks to this moment—this group of Esquire editors. We went through the lists made in the past and we collectively agreed… it didn’t represent who we are right now, in 2021, looking out our pandemic windows with our political anxiety and our TikTok pastas. So instead we changed it. Made it something reflective of us. When you peruse the pieces we write, the opinions we have, and the approaches we take, you can see the influence of the films on this list. Not to get too earnest, but pop culture has this way of permeating our senses and informing who we are as people. It’s the beauty of good writing and acting and direction. It’s easy to think, “A movie is just a movie!” but it isn’t, is it? We wouldn’t care what films are on this list if it were.
So bookmark this page and take the journey with us. Get spicy in the comments and tell us what we left off, but be careful! That might reveal as much about you as it does about us. In all seriousness, this list is meant to be a conversation: a celebration of the 100 films that we decided help define who we are as a publication and a staff and consumers of them talkie pictures that fill our nights. And hey, your opinion might just be a wake up call to us. Between 12 Angry Men and Parasite, we are willing to bet there’s a good movie we missed in the in between.
Oh, and for you documentary heads? Chill out. We see you and your penchant for real stories, so we put the best of those documentary films in a separate list. So come. Let’s go through the best 100 movies of all time.
Mad Max: Fury Road
In an era of CGI superheroes, George Miller reminded us how action movies ought to be made.
Best-written, best-acted, most beautiful film about the immigrant experience ever contemplated. It invented most modern clichés.
Too often, LGBTQ narratives are riddled with outright disaster, but Moonlight manages to examine the intersection of being a Black man from a difficult socioeconomic background, traversing the reality of being gay and closeted.
Fellini’s best film about a director who may or may not represent Fellini trying to make his best film.
Ang Lee’s film about two closeted cowboys who find and rekindle love on the ridge of a mountain was robbed the Best Picture Oscar, somehow losing to Crash.
The shark was a giant malfunctioning puppet with fake teeth, and it still scared the ever-loving shit out of you.
In the Heat of the Night
Never has a man been in a more wrong place at a more wrong time.
It is the superhero movie that launched the biggest Hollywood franchise of our lifetime.
Save the Tiger
The nominees for Best Actor, 1973: Brando, Nicholson, Redford, Pacino, Lemmon. And the Oscar goes to: Jack Lemmon.
12 Angry Men
All that is terrifying and wonderful about the phrase “a jury of your peers.”
Alfonso Cuarón’s evocative, black-and-white epic about a live-in housekeeper in Mexico City unspools an unforgettable story about class, family, and memory.
Because we’ve all had to carry a ship over a mountain once in our lives.
Aside from cementing Ava DuVernay as one of this century’s most important voices, Selma powerfully recounts the Selma to Montgomery marches—with the inimitable David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr.
Man at elevator: What are you supposed to be, some kind of a cosmonaut? Dr. Venkman: No, we’re exterminators. Somebody saw a cockroach up on twelve.
Days of Heaven
In Terrence Malick’s finest film, a story of love and murder unfolds in rural turn-of-the-century America, featuring painterly cinematography and a gloriously young Richard Gere.
A Civil War movie that not only holds up, but avoids what could have been a lazy white savior narrative.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Clint Eastwood throws on a poncho and is forged into an American icon on the Spanish plains. His theme music: the dark, jangling whistle of Ennio Morricone’s score.
The Great Escape
This movie created the 1960s. Why? Because it’s not about the Nazis; it’s about the Man.
The Three Colors Trilogy
Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski was tasked with creating a trilogy of films that embodied the colors of France’s national flag. What he made ended up somehow encompassing the totality of human experience.
Dawn of the Dead
You’ll never look at a shopping mall the same way again.
First half: a great chase. Second half: a thorough revenge.
A simple story about the need for careful planning. Happens to be Wes Anderson’s best movie. And Owen Wilson’s, too.
Because dialogue has never been better since movies added sound.
A painful examination of toxic masculinity and one of Scorsese and DeNiro’s finest films.
Bloodthirsty mimes, clown-faced baseballers, and bare-chested men in leather vests — kind of makes you miss the gritty days of New York City.
Perhaps one of the most groundbreaking science fiction films of all time, directors are still trying to recreate the tension and atmosphere of this Ridley Scott masterpiece.
Bridge on the River Kwai
When your enemy captures you and orders you to help him, how hard do you try? And other questions about pride, honor, valor, and cowardice.
The Lord of the Rings
Not since The Wizard of Oz has a movie—and we’ll put all three LOTR movies in this camp—transported audiences so entirely to another world of fantasy.
This movie had already been made a thousand times before Tarantino, and yet it was the first of its kind. Watch it again. You’ll still wince at all the same parts.
The Maltese Falcon
It remains the formula for mystery and suspense—a gripping thriller that shows the twisted bounds of human greed.
Christopher Nolan’s space-and-time-bending epic is just as good sober as it is when you’re stoned. Plus, the science checks out! Also, the cast. We’ll all thank Nolan for the heads up when we’re safely off of earth.
A very funny movie in which most of the main characters are psychopaths.
All Quiet on the Western Front
Kids. Killing one another for reasons they can’t understand and don’t want to.
The only country club we’d ever really want to belong to.
On the Waterfront
A working class uprising that feels as current today as it did in 1954.
A kindhearted and beautiful film about a little bear that says more about humanity than many other films about real people.
Olivia Colman might have bagged her first Oscar for playing a high maintenance queen with some serious temper tantrums, but it’s all three leading women’s (Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, and Colman) performances that bring this dark and bizarre period film to life.
In all its beauty and horror, Guillermo del Toro’s finest film (sorry Shape of Water) is a fairy tale that shows the fear and wonder of the childhood imagination.
Call Me By Your Name
The 2017 coming-of-age romantic drama directed by Luca Guadagnino and based on the 2007 novel of the same name by André Aciman is an emotional story of young love and heartbreak. Set in the lush Italian countryside, the gorgeously shot film forever changed the symbolic implication of a peach.
Studio Ghibli is a gentle force to be reckoned with, and Spirited Away is a shining example of the studio’s animation at its finest.
A film about love that is elegant, enchanting, brooding, and ominous.
City Lights is the ’stache at his finest. Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece (he produced, directed, wrote, and starred in City Lights) is a hilarious, beautiful tale of love and wonder, cementing Chaplin as the silent-film legend we know him as today.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Still the finest movie ever made about the ways in which greed corrupts the soul.
Yes, this is a movie musical, but it’s also a perfect balance of seduction, temptation, cynicism, and hopelessness. It redefined the form for an entire generation.
Some Like It Hot
Bold, hilarious, and groundbreaking—Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon star in one of the greatest comedies of all time.
All About Eve
A slick satire of the thespian ego, All About Eve remains the only film in history to receive four actress nominations—if only they all could have won.
A perfect example of the bafflingly stupid men who have the ability to destroy the earth.
There Will Be Blood
This profile of an evil, ruthless man with immense wealth, offers an excellent parallel to an era of Bezos and Zuckerberg.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
The most beautiful fight scenes ever put to film.
In the new age of Pixar, Disney has made moves to tell important stories that branch outside the white, nuclear family. In Coco, the studio manages to bring Día de Muertos to life (literally!) by following a boy whose love of music leads him into a precarious position with his family in the afterlife. If you’re not cry sobbing “Remember Me” by the end, you weren’t paying attention.
If you want a full understanding of the tao of Martin Scorsese, look back to the Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel-led Mean Streets—which is perfectly messy, bloody, and more than a little drunk.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
The story left untold of the bluest and gold corners of romance under imperfect circumstances. Two women beautifully centered around the delicate rules of falling in love.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more powerful revival of an iconic franchise than Creed. Director Ryan Coogler moves Rocky Balboa to the background and Adonis Creed to the front, for one of this century’s greatest sports movies. Cue the “Lord Knows” training montage.
Love & Basketball
Love & Basketball welds together two of film’s most feel-good genres—the romantic drama and the sports film. Monica and Quincy’s coming-of-ages— both separately and together—are still just as moving to watch, all these years later.
Grief manifests in some of the most unexplainable ways.
The brutal, unrelenting, and shocking realities of racism in the United States that need to be digested and remembered.
The mob film to end all mob films. Based on the evil crime syndicates that rule over Naples, Italy, you’ll never want to watch another mafia movie after seeing this one.
The Rules of the Game
It’s perhaps not the most well-known film, but Jean Renoir’s zany ensemble comedy actually established many of the rules of filmmaking that we have come to accept as industry standard today.
A village overrun with bandits. The seven warriors sworn to protect it. This 1954 film inspired Star Wars, so it goes without saying that it changed the whole damn world.
The Bicycle Thief
A devastating portrait of poverty–and love–in the face of a once-prosperous Rome that has since been blown apart by fascism.
Hiroshima Mon Amour
We may never again see such an elegant portrayal of love in cinema. This one just so happens to take place around the unspeakable destruction of World War II Japan.
The 400 Blows
It’s frequently cited as the #1 movie of all time, and for good reason–Francois Truffaut’s story of rebellious youth has resonated across generations.
Fritz Lang’s thriller about a serial killer on the loose was made in 1931, yet it still feels every bit as vivid and chilling as any crime movie today.
You might not expect a film about a pickpocket in France to be positively transcendent, yet Robert Bresson’s 1959 landmark may be one of the most spiritual movies ever made.
The Great Dictator
Chaplin. Hitler (or, Hynkel). An inflatable globe. The Great Dictator is said to be among the best satires ever put to screen. It also happens to be Chaplin’s first true talkie.
The Wizard of Oz
One of only two fantasy movies (along with Return of the King) to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Ever.
In 1994, Quentin Tarantino redefined the indie movie—and our concept of cinematic cool.
ET: The Extraterrestrial
The most beloved alien in movie history. Sorry to Xenomorph XX121.
The movies (we’ll lump them all together here) that changed the future.
If Beale Street Could Talk
It’s rare you get to see Black love so delightfully charming and natural—a film with nuances that lead with fascination and wonder.
At once the most ambitious disaster movie ever made and the most ambitious romantic drama ever made.
David Lynch arrived on the scene with Eraserhead in 1977 but he didn’t fully achieve his vision for his strange and beautiful way of storytelling until Blue Velvet, which he made 9 years later.
White Men Can’t Jump
Ron Shelton’s 1992 sports drama starts as a raucous buddy comedy and then ends up becoming a sharply insightful meditation on systemic racism and class prejudice.
The Hurt Locker
The finest film made about the Iraq war—one that shows the physical and mental toll of human brutality.
12 Years a Slave
Few films feel as thunderous and horrifying as this one. It exists as a monument to one of America’s darkest genocides.
Raiders of the Lost Arc
The music. The hat. The whip. The adventures. And, most importantly, Harrison Ford’s effortless charm.
Boyz in the Hood
John Singleton formed his legend in the unflinching Boyz n the Hood—which features one of the most devastating endings in cinema history.
An honest portrait of a young woman’s coming of age full of astonishing detail, heart, and sympathy for the challenges of adolescence.
The Social Network
A prophetic depiction of the cruel men who ushered in our social media era—one that hinted at the damage they’d wrought within a few short years.
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