One of my goals writing about movies and discussing them on The Movie Breakdown is to champion movies that my readers or listeners may not have ever seen or heard about. I also want to celebrate the long history of cinema and spotlight some older movies that had a huge impact on the evolution of motion pictures. But this journey trying to inform my readers and listeners is also just as informative and educational for me as I discover movies I may have missed over the years.
I must admit that I definitely have many movie blindspots especially when it comes to movies from the silent era, major international movies and many significant movies from the 30's to 50s. If I am honest, there is probably even some major independent movies that have come out since I've started professionally reviewing movies in 2012 that I still haven't tracked down. My goal is to continue to discover movies as I expand my own film literacy.
Collider recently created a list called the '100 Essential Movies Every Serious Film Fan Should See', and like every movie list ever, it is very subjective. I also think it is a good primer for a movie buff that wants to grow their knowledge of motion pictures. As someone who has seen a lot of movies but also knows I have some glaring blindspots, I thought it might be fun to go through the list with some quick thoughts on the picks of essential movies.
The other great thing about lists is it gives me a nice map of things that I can review over the year. This is going to be the year that I really beef up my written reviews, and I'd like to look at classic movies along with the new releases.
1. . . 2. . . 3 Here we go!
Oh wait, I should note they composed the list alphabetically rather than ranked by importance.
8 1/2 (1963): We kick off with a big glaring blindspot movie. I must confess that I haven't seen any Federico Fellini movies despite being held-up as one of the all-time legends of cinema. I also need to track down Amarcord, La Dolce Vita and La Strada, but I know this picture has been on many critic's greatest of all-time lists.
The 400 Blows (1959): You know another beloved and critically acclaimed director that I haven't seen any of his work? Francois Truffaut. This is considered his classic movie and I really need to see it.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): Stanley Kubrick is another director where I would say his entire filmography is essential viewing especially Dr. Strangelove, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and A Clockwork Orange. He was great at taking genre movies and elevating them to prestige pictures, and this particular movie tackles what was considered a campy genre at the time like sci-fi then made it is this surreal and deep philosophical exploration.
Airplane! (1980): One of the greatest parody movies of all-time and the template of how this subgenre should be done.
Alien (1979): Easily one of the most influential creature features of all-time where we see a version of this film with its claustrophobia and monster slowly killing off the crew formula used often even 40 plus years later. It was also the picture that established Ridley Scott as one of the great directors to watch.
All About My Mother (1999): This is without a doubt my biggest blindspot movie on this list as I am not even familiar with this 1999 movie directed by Pedro Almodovar. I also confess that I need to see his other acclaimed pictures like Pain and Glory and Volver.
All that Jazz (1979): The late 1970s saw musicals make a comeback in the mainstream and they did it by being more contemporary and exploring harder-edged themes than the past classics. I'd consider this one an important one to see how the genre evolved. I really need to review this.
Amadeus (1984): Milos Forman is another whose filmography is full of classic cinema with other must watches like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Man on the Moon and Hair. This sweeping and ambitious story about musical legend Mozart shows the type of movie that big studios rarely make anymore in the high budget period piece adult drama. Forman showed that a great biopic can break out of the formula and do something unforgettable.
The Apartment (1960): Billy Wilder is another director where you could point to his entire filmography as essential viewing. He has major stand-outs like Some Like It Hot, The Seven Year Itch and Sunset Boulevard, but that is just scratching the surface of his impact and influence on cinema. The Apartment is not only one of the most influential comedies and concepts ever, but it also proved that comedies are more than just about making an audience laugh -- which it does really well. I need to review this one.
Apocalypse Now (1979): The Vietnam War impacted America and society in many ways, but it was a huge influence on a lot of movies of the 1970s and '80s. This is easily one of the most important of what could be deemed anti-war pictures.
The Avengers (2012): My plan is to review every MCU picture in order of theatrical release (I don't really get going in 'timeline' order). Considering how this was the movie that truly launched the concept of cinematic universe and became the magical golden goose that all studios chased, I'd agree this movie is essential from a historical perspective. My guess is that I'll also like it even more on my first rewatch (yep. I am pretty sure I never revisited this after first enjoying it in theatres and reviewing it for Collective Publishing).
Back to the Future (1985): I've declared it the perfect movie. It is an all-time favourite. I plan to revisit it 350 more times in my life and will write about it often. If you haven't seen it, then you need to watch this movie now.
Battleship Potemkin (1925): Silent era movies have only started becoming easier to access with the rise of streaming service and places like the Criterion Channel. In the last few years, I've tried seeking out important movies from that time like Metropolis and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. So, the challenge of accessing Silent Era movies is my excuse of why I haven't yet seen what is held-up as one of the most importance and influential movies in cinematic history.
A Better Tomorrow (1986): Shame. Most of my John Woo knowledge comes from his North American directed movies, so this is another that I need to track down for a first-time watch.
A Birth of a Nation (1915): I totally understand this movie being essential from a technical aspect as it is one of the most influential for its techniques and it was the first real blockbuster. But it also paints the Ku Klux Klan as heroes and its story is a racist piece of shit. I would never expect anyone to have to endure this in order to appreciate the techniques that revolutionized filmmaking and after the last four years, I don't know if I can ever push myself to watch this three hours of hot garbage propaganda.
Blazing Saddles (1974): Mel Brooks at his best and a true comedy classic.
Blowup (1966): The Michelangelo Antonioni picture is one of the reasons for the end of the infamous Production Code that ruled Hollywood for a few decades, Yes, it is yet another older movie that I desperately need to watch.
Blue Velvet (1986): This is not David Lynch's most accessible movie because that would probably be Elephant Man. It is a picture that has the familiar beats and narrative of a thriller with a story you can follow while still demonstrating why 'Lynchian' is a real adjective to describe a movie.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935): Largely accepted as the best of the classic Universal monster movies and deserves to be in the conversation for one of the all-time best sequels.
Brokeback Mountain (2005): Easily one of the movies that can make the 'Robbed of the Best Picture Oscar' list as it proven to endure and age better than Crash. A sweeping love story that looks at homophobia and challenges of having a love considered forbidden. No matter your stance on the social issues it explores, I think most would consider this powerful filmmaking that tackles many important themes and ideas beyond homosexuality.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920): A silent era classic that I've seen and its technical innovations and story-turns prove that it ages remarkably well.
Casablanca (1942): A sweeping romance that proves when in a masters' hands that the genre can appeal to any demographic as this one is also an adventure, drama and thriller. You can see legends in top form like director Michael Curtiz and the stars Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart.
Chinatown (1974): I get this may be a hard movie to watch considering the subject matter and it was directed by Roman Polanski. Despite Polanski maybe failing as a human, he is a terrific filmmaker. This is an immersive and weaving crime noir with memorable performances. He also created the equally classic Rosemary's Baby.
Citizen Kane (1941): Considered the greatest movie ever made, so yeah, if you call yourself a film fan then you need to see it. I'd also say Orson Welles is another filmmaker who has a filmography that is essential.
Cleo 5 to 7 (1962): Was delving into this list my fatal mistake as I expose that I may not be the film expert I play on TV? I have very little experience with French New Wave, and I need to see this movie from Agnes Varda who I confess that I am not familiar.
Clueless (1995): Amy Heckerling has created two coming-of-age high school classics that are about two very different economic classes of teens with this 1990s hit and her break-out 1980s classic, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It is light, funny and charming, and sometimes that is enough to make a movie essential, but Heckerling also has a lot to say about the teenage experience as well.
Creature of the Black Lagoon (1954): This one made the list more for its legendary creature design rather than where it may stand amongst monster movies.
The Dark Knight (2008): A game changer when it comes to what you can do with a comic book movie and opened the door for grittier storytelling at a blockbuster level like with Logan or Joker. Like Airplane!, most of the movies it influenced really missed the mark but that just proves great movies can inspire but be hard to imitate.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951): During the era of campy sci-fi, this was an alien invasion movie that was very entertaining and had amazing special effects for the time, but also a very powerful message that hits home without overwhelming the storytelling.
Days of Heaven (1978): Terrence Malik is a renowned filmmaker who has always been able to stick with his vision and make his kind of movies. Badlands would be the essential picture from his filmography for me, but he has several movies that show the power of visual storytelling and composition. I must confess that I've never seen this one either, so it makes the need to see list.
Die Hard (1988): The best action movie ever. One of my most rewatched movies ever and one that I definitely plan on writing about more.
Do the Right Thing (1989): A movie that was powerful and important when it was releases but is even more so today. Spike Lee has directed many essential movies including Malcolm X, BlacKKKlansman and 25th Hour, but this movie is one of the all-time best.
Double Indemnity (1944): This is the second appearance of director Billy Wilder, and while he is known better for comedies, this one is a classic crime noir that would go on to influence many other beloved pictures from this genre. If you've never enjoyed classic crime noirs from the era when it was hot and popular, then you need to treat yourself with this one.
Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964): It is another classic from Stanley Kubrick and one of the most biting looks at the Cold War, but also one of the most thoughtful yet funniest movies ever. This is one of my all-tie favourites.
Drunken Master (1978): Yet another confession, I have not seen much early Jackie Chan and this is one that I must watch and review.
Duck Soup (1933): You can't go through life without watching a Marx brothers' comedy.
E.T, the Extra-Terrestrial (1982): One of my favourite movies as a kid and it has actually gotten better with age. Steven Spielberg has crafted many classics but this is one of his all-time best. Everyone needs to see this one at least once in their life. I've seen it many more times than that.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980): I'd say the entire trilogy is essential, but this one loads up high drama and Shakespeare-like storytelling meshed with sweeping space adventure to make it something different than most blockbusters.
Enter the Dragon (1973): Bruce Lee is a legend and this proves that a martial arts action picture can also be high art.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): It is a mind trip and you won't be surprised to find out Charlie Kauffman wrote the screenplay, but through all its eccentricities, what it says about love, relationship and self is profound.
The Evil Dead (1981): I would have picked the sequel since it is basically this movie done again but much more insane and a better mix of comedy with gory horror. I'd say this is still a landmark movie since it gave us an important filmmaker like Sam Raimi and a great example of what can be done on a low budget if you are innovative and creative.
Fantasia (1940): Like the MCU, my plan is to review every Disney animated theatrical release, though this is even more ambitious as they have over hundred of them now. This one is held up as something special and unique, and to be honest. I am not sure if I've ever seen it straight from the beginning to the end.
Fargo (1996): If I ever create a list of my all-time favourite movies, this will rank very high. Coen brothers are those type of filmmakers where their whole filmography can again be deemed essential, but this is their best movie, which is impressive when they've helmed classics in Inside Llewyn Davis, No Country for Old Men and True Grit. This is a definite movie I need to do a deep dive review.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982): I am huge fan of John Hughes movies, but this may be the ultimate coming-of-age teen movie to represent growing up in the 1980s. A perfect example of how to be fun comedy that tackles some serious dramatic moments that will connect with teens and adults.
The General (1926): Did I mention how there are several silent era classics that I know that I need to track down?
Get Out (2017): I've been asked a few times what would be a good 'gateway horror' movie for those that haven't liked the genre but want to try it out. Jordan Peele's masterpiece is a great one because it has all the elements of a great horror movie and is genuinely a terrifying ride, but it also is a crowd-pleaser and had a fun sense of humour.
The Godfather (1972): Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece and easily one of the greatest movies ever made. I obviously need to do an in-depth review of this one too.
Gone with the Wind (1939): There is no denying the movie is problematic in its depiction of slavery, but it is still one of the great examples of a sweeping, epic romantic drama.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966): The interesting thing is this Sergio Leone classic wasn't a critical hit upon release because there was a stigma against Spaghetti Westerns, but now it is considered among the Western classics that has turned out to have influenced movies from countless genres.
Goodfellas (1990): Ready for me to say it again? Martin Scorsese's entire filmography can be considered essential, but this is without a doubt one of the most influential movies ever as there are countless gangster or gritty dramas that were clearly crafted trying to be the next version of this movie. Many of them missed the point of what Scorsese was really trying to say about the criminal life. This is another one that ranks very high on my all-time favourite movies.
The Great Dictator (1940): If you make an essential movie list then you need to include a Charlie Chaplin movie considering he was a mega star. This is also a movie that shows the power of comedy and parody as a way to tackle major current issues. This movie was made when Nazi Germany was still in power, and this was obviously an attack on that evil regime.
His Girl Friday (1940): The screwball comedy was once one of the most popular subgenres but now is a lost art. It is important for a serious film fan to see all the types of genres and witness why some were once so beloved. This is one of the best screwball comedies and is iconic for its fast paced and witty dialogue.
In the Mood for Love (2000): We have now smacked right into another movie that I haven't seen and I also know almost nothing about. I will have to add this heartbreaking romance on the must watch list.
Jaws (1975): Another Spielberg movie that must be categorized as one of the most influential movies ever but none of its imitator (or sequels) came close to capturing the magic and nailing what made it a classic the first time.
Jurassic Park (1993): Did you know my mom has never seen this movie? Some things in life are just so baffling.
The Killer (1989): John Woo and Chun Yun-fat were a power duo when it came to Hong Kong action movies, and this is one that is considered to be the template for the deadly assassin with a heart of gold actioner that became very popular in the 1990s. I must confess once again to never seeing this movie. . . yet.
King Kong (1933): It really is one of the best monster movies ever considering it is more than just about the big special effects even if they were amazing at the time. It is another all-time favourite even though I must warn that the depiction of the natives is very dated.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962): Emily once asked me why this movie was considered a classic, so there may be a chance you find the movie long and dry, but that fits because it is set in a desert. It still stands as one of the true sweeping epics and it has some cinematography and technical innovations that would inspire and influence some of the grandest blockbusters that followed. It also has some of the most powerhouse performances and demonstrates why stars like Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness and Omar Sharif are held up as greats.
A League of their Own (1992): Speaking of my wife, Emily, she would very much agree with this movie's inclusion on the list, as it is one of her all-time favourites.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings (2001): I saw the trilogy again with Everett and it is a demonstration of how to pull off a grand, sweeping adventure with a literary flair.
The Matrix (1999): This list is stuffed with movies that drastically influenced cinema but also often proved that the imitators could never fully recapture that magic. This is exactly that kind of movie.
Menace II Society (1993): When it comes to hard-edged '90s urban dramas, Boyz N the Hood was always the must-see movies for me and the one I consider a classic. I don't have many memories of this movies, but now that it is on this list, I realize I need to revisit it.
Metropolis (1927): An absolutely visual spectacle that shows the amazing innovations that were necessary for special effects during a time that was way before CGI. This is one of the movies that shows that the Silent Era knew how to make grand epics. One of the most important early films in the sci-fi genre.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975): One of the most quoted movies ever and the jokes still hold up today, which you can't say about lot of once popular comedies.
Moonlight (2016): A historic film as the first LGBTQ and all black cast movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Of course, it is also the winner that will be known for that infamous snafu where La La Land won for a few minutes first. It is much more than all that and needs to be seen for the powerful direction by Barry Jenkins who creates a sumptuous and immersive coming-of-age tale.
Network (1976): Say it with me, Sidney Lumet's entire filmography could be deemed essential, because he was a legend with some real classics like 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico. This movie proves it is essential because its message was important in 1976 but it has become more relevant today in its takedown of media.
Night of the Living Dead (1968): George Romero's version of zombies is still the basis for countless shows, movies and video games. He created one of the most popular versions of a monster ever. He also shows the importance of subtle insertion of political and social issues into horror.
Nosferatu (1922): This silent era classic shows how creativity and ambition can overcome the lack of rights to an established story, as instead of Dracula we get Count Orlock who will go down as one of the most iconic monster designs. This movie created vampires as ferocious and dangerous monsters rather than something sexy and alluring.
Princess Bride (1987): This is right in the middle of Rob Reiner's golden period as a director as he was nailing a fresh take on various genres with memorable movies like mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, coming-of-age Stand By Me, romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally, and psychological thriller Misery. This is his take on the fantasy adventure and it captured the genre perfectly while being its own distinct thing when everyone else was being Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian clones.
Pulp Fiction (1994): Quentin Tarantino's classic defined the style and structure for so many independent movies for the rest of the '90s and you could argue the influences are still felt today. This is another that ranks very high on my yet to be written all-time favourite movies.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): One of the defining movies of my childhood and without any doubt one of the movies that crafted the formula and style that every studio has followed for the big sweeping adventure blockbuster. And yes, another movie that ranks very high as an all-time favourite, and I've had the great pleasure of showing it to Everett who loves it.
Rashomon (1950): Akira Kurosawa is one of the most influential directors ever and has created many movies that shaped how stories were told and some of the most popular movies ever can credit their inspiration to Kurosawa movies. This one is a must watch for any movie fan but you also must watch Seven Samurai, High and Low, Ikiru, Thrown of Blood, Ran and Kagemushu.
Rear Window (1954): Alfred Hitchcock was the master of the high-concept thriller and this was one of his most original with a concept that has been imitated often. If you want to know how to construct a thriller then other Hitchcock masterpieces like North by Northwest, Rope and Vertigo.
Roman Holiday (1953): Audrey Hepburn was a national treasure and this is a romantic comedy that really set the mold for many other classics of the genre.
Scream (1996): The movie that breathed new life into the dying slasher subgenre and brought meta-storytelling to the mainstream as a common device going forward. Along with Get Out. I'd say the sense of humour and likable characters makes this another accessible entry point for horror.
The Searchers (1958): John Ford is a celebrated and iconic director, and this is one of the most acclaimed and praised Westerns during a time the genre was still hot.
Seven Samurai (1954): A legendary action adventure that has inspired almost any 'get the group together to take down the evil' action movies. This is an all-time classic adventures.
The Shining (1980): Stephen King has gone on record as not liking the movie since it deviates quite a bit from his novel, but Stanley Kubrick makes a fascinating and surreal exploration into the descent of madness. As its own thing, it is one of the best horror movies and another that shows the genre can exceed its reputation from some.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991): Jonathan Demme is another director that I really encourage checking out most of his filmography, because he has an amazing visual flair but also always knew how to dig into humanity with his movies. I want to make it clear right now that this is definitely a horror movie, even if non-horror fans try to make it something else. It provides all the proper scares and has amazing atmosphere, but it stands out because it really makes you care and attach to Jodie Foster's Clarice Starling.
Singin' in the Rain (1952): It is fascinating watching a 60 year old plus movie that is a period piece film, as this is a musical that explores the end of the Silent Era. If your hesitant about musicals then this is a bright and energetic entry point, and can show you why it was at one time a blockbuster genre. It has often been on many all-time best movie lists.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937): This is the movie that launched animation from shorts you see before the main attraction to being a full-length feature. This was such a bold move that this movie was pegged 'Disney's Folly' because everyone felt it was misguided to try to make an animate movie since the idea was they were for kids and no way could they keep their attention for that length. Considering some of the highest grossing movies of each year are animated movies, I'd say Walt Disney got the last laugh with this one. I'll be reviewing this soon as I go through each Disney animated theatrical release ever.
The Social Network (2010): Director David Fincher turns a biopic about the guy who gave us Facebook into an atmospheric and immersive drama that plays like a thriller. Another movie that would make my mysterious best of all time list.
Some Like It Hot (1959): A classic farce with a brilliant premise that inspired so many filmmakers with their own gender bender comedies to mixed results. This is one of the all-time best comedies, and again, Billy Wilder is a must-watch director.
Spirited Away (2001): Hayao Miyazaki is considered an animation legend and was a co-founder of the acclaimed Studio Ghibli. One of the most critically acclaimed and beloved of his anime features is this one, and I must confess that I haven't seen it. Anime is one area where I have many glaring gaps, and this is one that I will need to track down and review.
Star Wars (1977): My favourite movie of all-time and something deeply embedded into my childhood. It also was one of the key movies that launched big blockbuster filmmaking.
Sunset Boulevard (1950): Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood and this is one of the best. One of the classic stories of the rise and destructive fall of a star.
Superman (1978): Star Wars kicked off blockbuster filmmaking but this got the tentpole train rolling, and shows that using known characters can be box office goal. It was one of the first superhero movies ever, and it has a charm, optimism and campiness that most modern comic book movies would avoid. This is a great feel-good adventure, and still one of the best of this subgenre.
Suspiria (1977): Dario Argento is a legendary horror filmmaker that I will confess is not going to be for everyone with his in-your-face gore and style-over-substance filmmaking. He creates unforgettable pictures and the visual style is so strong that the basic plots are elevated. This is one of the iconic horror movies.
Tangerine (2015): This made my best of 2015 list and the movie is still burrowed into my brain today. Sean Baker is a filmmaker who has established himself as someone who tells stories about the characters and people that are often ignored or often even despised. The hook was likely a story about trans sex workers filmed on an iPhone, but the character-driven story will hit you at the core.
Taxi Driver (1976): I don't know what is Martin Scorsese's best picture. This one has to rank really high and another of his movies that is saying a lot more than what is shown on the screen. Scorsese has always been a master of immersing the viewer into the life of unredeemable characters and being bold enough to make us see a damaged life without softening things. The movie is dripping with style and great cinematographer that adds to the narrative and further dunks us into the madness of Travis Bickle player fantastically by Robert De Niro.
The Thing (1982): John Carpenter is one of the all-time greatest genre directors. I'd also say that you must watch Halloween, Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China. There are some great practical creature effects that are still creepy today, but the scariest stuff is the quiet and subtle moments as the crew slowly mistrusts each other. Another of my all-time favourites.
This is Spinal Tap (1984): One of the first and still the best mockumentary movies.
Top Hat (1935): Welcome to yet another blindspot movie, and I admit that I have seen very little of the Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dance and music features.
Toy Story (1995): Most times saying 'revolutionized' is pure hyperbole, but not in this case when this movie and Pixar changed the way animated features are created but also really started making people realize animation is not just for kids. I will be reviewing this one eventually but there are about fifty Disney animated movies before I'd get to this one.
Unforgiven (1992): It is a classic Western during a time that most deemed the genre dead. Another all-time favourite movie for me, and I think it plays with the idea of reality versus legend.
Vertigo (1958): The love for Alfred Hitchcock's thriller masterpiece has grown over the decades as it has now replaced Citizen Kane as the greatest movie ever made on some lists. Another movie that I will really need to review and dig deep into.
Videodrome ((1983): David Cronenberg is known as the master of body horror, but I think, he is even better at using horror as a way to explore deeper social themes. He has several other must-see movies like The Fly, Dead Zone and Dead Ringers. This one is a very creepy and scary movie that also stands up even better today because it is looking at the dangers and addiction that comes from video media.
When Harry Met Sally. . . (1989): It is a romantic comedy that has wit and a slather of cynicism that means it appeals to more than fans of the genre. It is a definite classic and the breakout movie for star Meg Ryan and screenwriter Nora Ephron.
The Wizard of Oz (1939): A movie that still looks gorgeous even 70 plus years later and is one of the classic family musical adventures. It is the ultimate feel-good movie and one that has become better with time. Everyone needs to see this charming movie at least once, but you'll probably see it often.
Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001): Wow, I finally made it to the end of this list. This felt like a really good idea until I started realizing how much work it really would be leaving comments for 100 movies. So much for a quick throwaway post for the day. Anyway, we end with yet another blindspot movie but helmed by a very well-known and acclaimed director in Alfonso Cuaron. I will need to track this down, and one also really needs to watch Children of Men, Gravity and Roma.