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110 monumental movies from film history and why you need to see them

  • 110 monumental movies from film history and why you need to see them

    The basic understanding of history's most monumental films is commonly founded on misguided precepts of Hollywood exceptionalism. As such, American audiences often miss out on historically significant works—if not entire subgenres and movements. Sure, most modern moviegoers are familiar with agreed-upon classics like “Citizen Kane” and “Schindler's List,” but what about “Werckmeister Harmonies,” “Beau Travail,” or “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie?”

    Along similar lines, movements like Italian Neorealism and French New Wave have been fundamental to the development of cinema, yet they remain relegated to college film courses and independent theater revivals. By and large, mainstream audiences are barely aware they exist. Meanwhile, to ignore these movements is to ignore some of the most important and influential films of the past century.

    Today, that all changes. Touching down on every corner of film history, Stacker presents 110 monumental movies and why you need to see them. The priority in making this list was to create a holistic collection of significant films throughout history, meaning blockbuster epics and art-house favorites alike. Numerous academic sources were reviewed, as were a full slate of directors, genres/subgenres, decades, countries, trends, technical achievements, themes, narrative devices, and more.

    For certain directors, genres, and decades, there were all too many titles that qualified for inclusion. It begs the question: How does one choose only one or two Spielberg, Hitchcock, Kurosawa, or Kubrick films? To answer that question, Stacker considered the list in its entirety. For example, “Goodfellas” was left off because both Martin Scorsese and movies like “The Godfather” were already included. “Toy Story” was excluded because “WALL·E” was not. Plus, there were only so many slots available, when in reality a list of history's most monumental films could easily top out at 200 or even 300.

    Listed in chronological order, here are 110 monumental movies you need to see and why you need to see them. Each one represents both a powerful statement of originality and a specific moment in film history. Some are box-office smash hits while others retain loyal cult followings. None is to be ignored.

    You may also like: Mistakes from the 50 best movies of all time

  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

    - Director: Robert Wiene
    - IMDb user rating: 8.1
    - Votes: 49,984
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 67 min

    This heralded silent film brims with bizarre visuals and is considered the most quintessential example of German expressionism. Its themes of madness and mayhem are reinforced by over-stylized set pieces and creepy characters. According to critic Roger Ebert, the movie's uniquely twisted world-building helped make it the “first true horror film.”

  • Battleship Potemkin (1925)

    - Director: Sergei M. Eisenstein
    - IMDb user rating: 8.0
    - Votes: 48,321
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 66 min

    Sergei Eisenstein's second full-length film centers on a real-life event from 1905 when the sailors on Battleship Potemkin revolted against their superiors. The director's radical use of montage and quick-cut editing techniques was way ahead of its time. Putting those techniques on full display is the famous Odessa Steps sequence, which influenced contemporary filmmakers and future ones alike.

  • The General (1926)

    - Directors: Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton
    - IMDb user rating: 8.2
    - Votes: 72,042
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 67 min

    Silent film legend Buster Keaton co-wrote, co-directed, and stars in one of the era's biggest blockbusters. Set during the Civil War, it follows an engineer (Keaton) as he chases down a runaway train. The action culminates with one of the most impressive and expensive stunts in early film history.

  • Metropolis (1927)

    - Director: Fritz Lang
    - IMDb user rating: 8.3
    - Votes: 145,057
    - Metascore: 98
    - Runtime: 153 min

    Loaded with prescient themes and elaborate set pieces, Fritz Lang's sci-fi epic was the most expensive movie of its time. It takes place in the future, where the wealth gap is quite literally divided between upper and lower terrains. While something of a flop upon its initial release, the film has since become known as a groundbreaking masterpiece.

  • The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

    - Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
    - IMDb user rating: 8.1
    - Votes: 40,941
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 114 min

    Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer and his team created one of early cinema's most expensive sets, only to fill the screen with close-ups of human faces. His unparalleled emphasis on intimacy would prove seminal in its own right, lending the work a distinctive painterly aesthetic. Representing her lone film role, Renée Jeanne Falconetti brings martyr Joan of Arc to life by way of a famously expressive performance.

  • City Lights (1931)

    - Director: Charles Chaplin
    - IMDb user rating: 8.5
    - Votes: 148,619
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 87 min

    Released three years into the talkie era, this silent hold-out pays a masterful tribute to the art of pantomime. In hopes of earning money and wooing a blind flower girl, The Tramp resorts to various physical extremes. For those who've never seen Charlie Chaplin in action, this makes for an ideal place to start.

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

    - Directors: William Cottrell, David Hand, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Ben Sharpsteen
    - IMDb user rating: 7.6
    - Votes: 165,072
    - Metascore: 95
    - Runtime: 83 min

    The animated genre can trace its roots to this epoch-making Disney film, in which Snow White enlists the help of seven idiosyncratic dwarves. Going way over budget, Walt Disney and his team invented the multiplane camera just for the project. Animation has come a long way in the time since, and yet this exquisitely rendered classic is still a must-see for people of all ages.

  • The Women (1939)

    - Director: George Cukor
    - IMDb user rating: 8.0
    - Votes: 11,536
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 133 min

    This acclaimed comedy-drama put nearly all of Hollywood's biggest female stars in one place. It explores the various romantic entanglements of its main characters and was one among numerous films to earn Goerge Cukor his reputation as being a “woman's director.” See it for brilliant performances from Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Joan Fontaine, and others.

  • The Rules of the Game (1939)

    - Director: Jean Renoir
    - IMDb user rating: 8.1
    - Votes: 24,367
    - Metascore: data not available
    - Runtime: 110 min

    Jean Renoir's once-controversial comedy of errors is frequently touted as the greatest movie ever made. This thinly veiled critique of the French aristocracy takes place at a lavish chateau where elitists and their servants partake in a variety of soul-revealing games. Renoir's expert use of deep focus photography and fluid camera movement injects a pristine and graceful veneer.

  • Gone with the Wind (1939)

    - Directors: Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Sam Wood
    - IMDb user rating: 8.2
    - Votes: 264,930
    - Metascore: 97
    - Runtime: 238 min

    Words like “monumental” can hardly do justice to this sprawling masterwork, which remains the highest-grossing film of all time (when adjusted for inflation). Spanning the American Civil War and Reconstructionist periods, it follows Southern belle Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) as she grapples with a range of personal conflicts. Winner of eight Academy Awards, “Gone With the Wind” is as beloved as a movie can get.