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Best black and white films of all time

  • Best black and white films of all time

    Thanks to ongoing advancements in technology and resolution, modern films are more colorful than ever before. Yet there’s something to be said for movies shot in black and white. For proof, look no further than Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma,” which just took home two Golden Globes for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director. Based on Cuarón’s own childhood experiences, the movie uses black and white to consciously evoke mood, history, and memory. It also lends the work a heightened sense of intimacy, suggesting that black and white movies are often more personal than their colorful counterparts.

    Of course, Cuarón is merely the last in a long line of directors to employ black and white for aesthetic purposes. In fact, one could even argue that his decision was partly inspired by the works of numerous Italian and French auteurs before him, who likewise used black and white to convey a range of moods and ideas. Along similar lines, plenty of Old Hollywood directors still opted for black and white even when Technicolor was taking the industry by storm. That’s not to mention the early days of cinema, when black and white movies were omnipresent.

    To determine the best black and white films of all time, Stacker dug into IMDb's broad database, which yielded a list spanning genres, decades, and nationalities. To qualify, each film had to be primarily in black and white, meaning color films with black and white sequences were not included. However, black and white films with sparse color sequences (e.g. “Schindler’s List”) were included. Each film also needed at least 10,000 votes to make the list. In the case of a rating tie, the movie with more votes ranked higher. Counting down from #100, here are the best black and white films of all time.  

    ALSO: 100 best films of the 21st century, according to critics

  • #100. Out of the Past (1947)

    IMDb user rating: 8.1
    Votes: 28,265
    Director(s): Jacques Tourneur
    Featuring: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming
    Runtime: 97 min.

    Daniel Mainwaring (writing as Geoffrey Homes) adapted his own novel into this classic film noir. It stars Robert Mitchum as a private eye turned small-town gas station owner, who plunges back into the dangerous world he left behind. The film was remade in 1984 as “Against All Odds” with Jeff Bridges and James Woods.  

  • #99. The Hidden Fortress (1958)

    IMDb user rating: 8.1
    Votes: 28,959
    Director(s): Akira Kurosawa
    Featuring: Toshirô Mifune, Misa Uehara, Minoru Chiaki, Kamatari Fujiwara
    Runtime: 126 min.

    Japanese director Akira Kurosawa was behind some of international cinema's most iconic black and white films, including this one from 1958. It follows two scheming peasants as they escort a man and a woman into hostile territory in pursuit of gold. Combining dry wit and thrilling action, the film was a major influence on George Lucas' “Star Wars.”

  • #98. La Grande Illusion (1937)

    IMDb user rating: 8.1
    Votes: 30,527
    Director(s): Jean Renoir
    Featuring: Jean Gabin, Dita Parlo, Pierre Fresnay, Erich von Stroheim
    Runtime: 113 min.

    Considered a forebearer to modern escape films, this gripping drama follows two French soldiers as they try to break out of a German P.O.W. camp during WWI. Like a number of Jean Renoir films, it comes bolstered by terrific performances, expert pacing, visual finesse, and thematic undercurrents. According to critic Roger Ebert, “La Grande Illusion” is less about war than it is about “the collapse of the old order of European civilization.”

  • #97. Brief Encounter (1945)

    IMDb user rating: 8.1
    Votes: 30,950
    Director(s): David Lean
    Featuring: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway, Joyce Carey
    Runtime: 86 min.

    As the man behind “Lawrence of Arabia,” director David Lean was no stranger to sweeping color. However, this romantic drama from 1945 proves he was just as adept shooting in black and white. It centers on the doomed love affair between a housewife and a doctor, who convene every Thursday at a railway station cafe.  

  • #96. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

    IMDb user rating: 8.1
    Votes: 31,298
    Director(s): Robert Hamer
    Featuring: Dennis Price, Alec Guinness, Valerie Hobson, Joan Greenwood
    Runtime: 106 min.

    Long before he tackled the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Sir Alec Guinness played multiple members of the same family in this comedic thriller. Taking a classic premise to extremes, the film follows a poor man (Dennis Price) as he attempts to murder eight of his distant relatives. Should the man succeed, he will be next in line to inherit the title of Duke of Chalfont.

  • #95. Paper Moon (1973)

    IMDb user rating: 8.1
    Votes: 36,832
    Director(s): Peter Bogdanovich
    Featuring: Ryan O'Neal, Tatum O'Neal, Madeline Kahn, John Hillerman
    Runtime: 102 min.

    Using black and white to evoke the atmosphere of the Great Depression, director Peter Bogdanovich brought this award-winning comedic drama to life. The film chronicles the misadventures of traveling grifter Moses Pray (Ryan O'Neal), who sells overpriced Bibles to unwitting marks. When a young girl (Tatum O'Neal) who may or may not be his daughter insists on tagging along, the two form an unlikely partnership.  

  • #94. The Last Picture Show (1971)

    IMDb user rating: 8.1
    Votes: 36,846
    Director(s): Peter Bogdanovich
    Featuring: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Ben Johnson
    Runtime: 118 min.

    According to legend, it was filmmaker Orson Welles who suggested that Peter Bogdanovich shoot this iconic drama in black and white. Set in an impoverished West Texas town circa 1951, the movie explores the lives of high schoolers as they grapple with their bleak futures. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards, taking home two.

  • #93. The Nights of Cabiria (1957)

    IMDb user rating: 8.1
    Votes: 37,559
    Director(s): Federico Fellini
    Featuring: Giulietta Masina, François Périer, Franca Marzi, Dorian Gray
    Runtime: 110 min.

    This prime slice of Italian neorealism comes to viewers from master filmmaker Federico Fellini. It stars Fellini's wife and muse Giulietta Masina as a young prostitute who searches for romance and happiness in the streets of Roma. What she finds instead is a cruel world filled with greed and duplicity, though the movie does end on a somewhat uplifting note.

  • #92. Throne of Blood (1957)

    IMDb user rating: 8.1
    Votes: 38,827
    Director(s): Akira Kurosawa
    Featuring: Toshirô Mifune, Minoru Chiaki, Isuzu Yamada, Takashi Shimura
    Runtime: 110 min.

    Setting Shakespeare's “Macbeth” in feudal Japan, this Kurosawa film follows a warrior and his ambitious wife as they plot to usurp the throne in Spider Web Castle. The movie blends elements of Japanese Noh drama with traditional Western themes, and endures as one of the most acclaimed Shakespeare adaptations ever committed to celluloid. 


  • #91. Roma (2018)

    IMDb user rating: 8.1
    Votes: 42,099
    Director(s): Alfonso Cuarón
    Featuring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta
    Runtime: 135 min.

    Alfonso Cuarón's critical darling was originally shot in color, then edited during post-production, resulting in a distinctive black and white palette. The film takes place in Mexico City in the early 1970s, and centers on the trials and tribulations of a maid as she works for an upper middle class family.