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111 Monumental movies from film history and why you need to see them

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By: Jacob Osborn
Miramax

111 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 miss out on a number of 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” or “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 111 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 “WALLE” 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 111 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

David W. Griffith Corp.

The Birth of a Nation (1915)

- Director: D. W. Griffith
- IMDb user rating: 6.6
- Votes: 20,488
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 195 min

Despite some explicitly racist overtones, D. W. Griffith's Civil War saga was nevertheless the most advanced movie of its time. A spectacle in every conceivable sense, it scored massive box office numbers and more or less created the concept of cinematic realism. See the movie for an early example of epic filmmaking, but don't invest an ounce of credence into its revisionist perspective or blatant bigotry.

Decla-Bioscop AG

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.”

Goskino

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.

Buster Keaton Productions

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.

Universum Film (UFA)

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.

Socit gnrale des films

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, Rene Jeanne Falconetti brings martyr Joan of Arc to life by way of a famously expressive performance.

Charles Chaplin Productions

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.

Walt Disney Productions

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.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

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.

Nouvelles ditions de Films (NEF)

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.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

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.

RKO Radio Pictures

Citizen Kane (1941)

- Director: Orson Welles
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Votes: 365,220
- Metascore: 100
- Runtime: 119 min

Orson Welles' semi-fictional biopic was a commercial flop upon its initial release, but has since become one of the most idolized films of all time. Virtually every aspect of the movie—from the unconventional narrative to the thrilling camera-work—represents a cinematic milestone of some sort. No film education is complete without a viewing of this masterpiece.

Warner Bros.

Casablanca (1942)

- Director: Michael Curtiz
- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Votes: 478,669
- Metascore: 100
- Runtime: 102 min

This timeless romantic drama starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman fires on all conceivable cylinders. While the performances and direction are top-notch, it's the screenplay that endures as a pinnacle of craftsmanship. Lines like “we'll always have Paris” and “here's looking at you, kid” are just two among many that have since entered the American lexicon.

Warner Bros.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

- Director: John Huston
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Votes: 103,819
- Metascore: 98
- Runtime: 126 min

Six years after “Casablanca,” Bogart played Fred C. Dobbs in John Huston's pitch-perfect parable about greed and mistrust among men. With help from a grizzled prospector (Walter Huston), Dobbs and Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) search for gold in the Sierra Madre Mountains. A critical darling then and now, the film has a rare 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Archers

The Red Shoes (1948)

- Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Votes: 24,671
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 134 min

This British Oscar-winner came from the production team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, collectively known as The Archers. Blending a full range of moods and styles, it's considered to be one of the best-looking films ever made. At the heart of the story is a talented ballerina named Victoria 'Vicky' Page (Moira Shearer), who must choose between the man she loves and the demands of her career.

Produzioni De Sica (PDS)

Bicycle Thieves (1948)

- Director: Vittorio De Sica
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Votes: 128,642
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 89 min

Vittorio De Sica's post-WWII drama is arguably the best-known work to emerge from the Italian neorealist movement. It chronicles the exploits of a downtrodden Roman and his son. True to the movement's broader paradigms, De Sica employed untrained actors and shot primarily on location. Prepare for a visceral experience like no other and keep some tissues close by.

London Film Productions

The Third Man (1949)

- Director: Carol Reed
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Votes: 145,631
- Metascore: 97
- Runtime: 93 min

This quintessential film noir follows a pulp writer (Joseph Cotten) to postwar Vienna, where he looks into the death of his friend (Orson Welles). As his probe deepens, the writer finds himself embroiled in a grave conspiracy. Director Carol Reed's deft use of sinister music and moody lighting cultivates a sense of constant danger.

Daiei Motion Picture Company

Rashomon (1950)

- Director: Akira Kurosawa
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Votes: 136,035
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 88 min

Any modern film with an unreliable narrator or multiple perspectives owes a debt of gratitude to Akira Kurosawa's psychological thriller. It's a movie so impactful that there's an entire concept named after it, better known as the Rashomon Effect. This was also one of the major films to introduce Japanese cinema to the world at large.

Paramount Pictures

Sunset Blvd. (1950)

- Director: Billy Wilder
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Votes: 180,617
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 110 min

From legendary director Billy Wilder comes this noir-ish classic, about fading show biz stardom and its impact on the human soul. The movie's opening scene—in which a narrator (William Holden) speaks over his own dead body—paves the way for a twisted tale of jealousy and ambition. Gloria Swanson's turn as delusional actress Norma Desmond is one for the ages.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Singin' in the Rain (1952)

- Directors: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Votes: 198,260
- Metascore: 99
- Runtime: 103 min

One of the greatest musicals ever made is also one of the funniest, thanks to a brilliant script and range of hilarious characters. Set during the tail end of the silent era, it finds a production company struggling to adapt to the talkie format. One doesn't need a love of Hollywood musicals to appreciate this exceptional work.

Shchiku Eiga

Tokyo Story (1953)

- Director: Yasujir Ozu
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Votes: 44,112
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 136 min

When Sight & Sound polled 358 directors on their favorite films of all time, this subtle Japanese drama came out at #1. Delivered in a poignant and minimalist style, it examines the effect of modernity on various members within the same family. In the age of social media and constant distraction, the movie's themes of interpersonal drift still strike a prescient chord.

Toho Company

Seven Samurai (1954)

- Director: Akira Kurosawa
- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 285,646
- Metascore: 98
- Runtime: 207 min

Before the legion of remakes and adaptations, there was Akira Kurosawa's original adventure drama. When a small village comes under attack from ruthless bandits, the local farmers hire seven rogue samurais to protect them. Japan's third-highest grossing film in 1954, it later became the biggest-selling DVD ever released by BFI.

Horizon Pictures

On the Waterfront (1954)

- Director: Elia Kazan
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Votes: 129,271
- Metascore: 91
- Runtime: 108 min

Elia Kazan's low-budget drama won eight Academy Awards, including one for Marlon Brando in a surprise upset. It centers on ex-prize fighter Terry Malloy (Brando), who takes a job as a longshoreman and speaks out against corrupt union bosses. Brando's gripping performance and the film's palpable themes of injustice are just two among numerous reasons to see it.

Daiei Studios

Sansho the Bailiff (1954)

- Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Votes: 12,617
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 124 min

Ripped straight out of ancient folklore, Kenji Mizoguchi's masterpiece presents a harrowing tale of suffering and perseverance. Set in feudal Japan, it follows a once-prosperous governor into exile and his family into slavery. The film comprises slow fades and sweeping long shots and goes straight to the core of human emotions.

Government of West Bengal

Pather Panchali (1955)

- Director: Satyajit Ray
- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Votes: 19,360
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 125 min

Satyajit Ray's low-budget debut kicked off what would later become known as the “Apu Trilogy.” Inspired by Italian neorealism, Ray invoked a naturalist aesthetic in his depiction of rural Bengali life. It marked the emergence of a completely new voice in Indian cinema.

C.V. Whitney Pictures

The Searchers (1956)

- Director: John Ford
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Votes: 73,327
- Metascore: 94
- Runtime: 119 min

John Ford and John Wayne collaborated on a slew of classic Westerns, and this one might very well be their best. It stars Wayne as a racist Civil War veteran, who embarks on an obsessive quest to locate his kidnapped niece (Natalie Wood). Infused with an unmistakable sense of darkness and ambiguity, the film redefined Western genre archetypes.

Orion-Nova Productions

12 Angry Men (1957)

- Director: Sidney Lumet
- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Votes: 599,064
- Metascore: 96
- Runtime: 96 min

This famous drama takes place almost entirely inside the jury room, where 12 men must decide the fate of a suspected murderer. Just when it seems like a verdict of guilty has been reached, Juror 8 (Henry Fonda) casts doubt on the prosecution's case. Strong acting and excellent writing move the story forward at the pace of a taut thriller.

Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions

Vertigo (1958)

- Director: Alfred Hitchcock
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Votes: 322,350
- Metascore: 100
- Runtime: 128 min

Time has been kind to Hitchcock's “Vertigo,” which initially opened in 1958 to mixed reviews and middling box office numbers. Subsequently reappraised, it now holds the #1 spot on Sight & Sound's list of The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time. Anchored by Jimmy Stewart's perfectly frayed performance, the movie unravels mysteries and obsessions against a backdrop of lush cinematography and haunting music.

Ashton Productions

Some Like It Hot (1959)

- Director: Billy Wilder
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Votes: 221,948
- Metascore: 97
- Runtime: 121 min

Billy Wilder's screwball comedy follows two musicians (Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon) as they dress up as women after witnessing a mob hit. A critical and commercial hit right out of the gate, it sees Marilyn Monroe delivering some of the best comic timing of her career. Films from “Tootsie” to “Sister Act” would later take cues from this beloved movie.

Les Films du Carrosse

The 400 Blows (1959)

- Director: Franois Truffaut
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Votes: 92,631
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 99 min

Film critic turned filmmaker Franois Truffaut helped launch the French New Wave movement with this influential work. The film was inspired by the director's own childhood experiences, and it chronicles the dangerous misadventures of a young outcast. The result was a new form of cinematic language, in which the personal touch can be felt in every frame.

Socit Nouvelle de Cinmatographie (SNC)

Breathless (1960)

- Director: Jean-Luc Godard
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Votes: 64,804
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 90 min

Godard's debut is a stunning example of French New Wave cinema, and it oozes with absolute coolness and aplomb. What opens as an off-beat crime caper becomes an absurdist romantic comedy, marching squarely to the beat of its own drum. By breaking the mold of its Hollywood influences, “Breathless” kicked open the doors of possibility.

Cino del Duca

L'Avventura (1960)

- Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Votes: 23,015
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 144 min

Now more than ever, Michelangelo Antonioni's enigmatic drama resonates with poignant relevancy. Exploring romance through a strictly modern lens, its themes of alienation and selfishness practically anticipate the current era. Martin Scorsese—who ranks the film among his top 10—describes it as being “about people in spiritual distress.”

Cocinor

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

- Director: Alain Resnais
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Votes: 18,028
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 94 min

Another classic from the French New Wave, this surrealist fever dream blends past and present to dizzying effect. It takes place at an opulent chateau where a sharp-dressed man insists that he and a beautiful woman have met before. A lingering backdrop of pipe organ music lends the film a phantasmagoric vibe, which might very well be the point.

Cin Tamaris

Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)

- Director: Agns Varda
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Votes: 12,510
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 90 min

This groundbreaking gem from Agns Varda unfolds more or less in real time and centers on a pop singer named Cleo (Corinne Marchand). As she awaits the results of a biopsy, Cleo's entire outlook on life is affected by the very fact that she might have cancer. In his 2012 review, Roger Ebert refers to Varda as the “very soul” of the French New Wave before describing the film as “startlingly modern.”

Horizon Pictures (II)

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

- Director: David Lean
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Votes: 243,881
- Metascore: 100
- Runtime: 216 min

Steven Spielberg credits “Lawrence of Arabia” as being one of his biggest influences, and it's easy to see why. With the movie's heroic characters, sweeping visual style, and epic action sequences, it laid the groundwork for a bevy of subsequent blockbusters. On AFI's list of the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, this one lands at #5.

Cineriz

8 (1963)

- Director: Federico Fellini
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Votes: 99,639
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 138 min

Italy's Federico Fellini was already a master of the medium by the time he unleashed this influential work, which is one of the most seminal films about filmmaking. Blending autobiography and fantasy in a whirlwind of style, it chronicles the exploits of on-screen counterpart Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni). On the heels of near-unanimous acclaim, it won Oscars for Best Costume Design and Best Foreign Language film.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)

- Director: Stanley Kramer
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Votes: 34,742
- Metascore: 59
- Runtime: 205 min

Greedy strangers square off over a hidden fortune in this slapstick satire from Stanley Kramer. It might not be the first ensemble comedy in film history, but it's certainly among the most quintessential. Bringing the zany antics and timeless zingers to life is a supremely talented cast, which includes Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Jonathan Winters, and others.

American International Pictures (AIP)

Persona (1966)

- Director: Ingmar Bergman
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Votes: 87,505
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 83 min

Sweden's Ingmar Bergman crafted such a diverse and trailblazing oeuvre that he's practically a genre unto himself. 1966's “Persona” exhibits the director's surrealist side, opening on a stream of symbolism before segueing into a twisted tale about identity. Fans of mind-bending movies like “Mulholland Dr.” should check this one out ASAP.

Filmi Domirev

Black Girl (1966)

- Director: Ousmane Sembne
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Votes: 2,629
- Metascore: 72
- Runtime: 65 min

The full-length debut from African filmmaker Ousmane Sembne examines systemic racial oppression in the modern world. When a young Senegalese woman goes to work for a wealthy French family, she finds herself a prisoner in their small apartment. Beyond the purposefully simple veneer is a core thesis that the slave era might be over, but its brutal mindset remains.

Argos Films

Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

- Director: Robert Bresson
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Votes: 15,369
- Metascore: 100
- Runtime: 95 min

Robert Bresson's gut-wrenching masterpiece might be about the life of a donkey, but don't mistake it for family fare. On the contrary, it's a harrowing treatise on powerlessness and torture in a cruel and indifferent world. See it along with 1967's “Mouchette,” a companion piece that grapples with similar themes.

Produzioni Europee Associate (PEA)

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

- Director: Sergio Leone
- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 626,404
- Metascore: 90
- Runtime: 178 min

A new kind of Western was born when Sergio Leone introduced audiences to his beloved “Dollars Trilogy.” Replete with operatic violence and gritty characters, each entry upended the patriotic norms of the John Wayne era. This third and final installment pits the so-called “Man With No Name” (Clint Eastwood) against two fellow bounty hunters over a fortune in buried gold.

Frederick Wiseman

Titicut Follies (1967)

- Director: Frederick Wiseman
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Votes: 3,586
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 84 min

Frederick Wiseman strives for objectivity, preferring instead to let his subjects speak for themselves. His prolific career began with this acclaimed documentary, which takes viewers behind the walls of the Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane. Revealing the brutal conditions therein, it was the first film in America to be banned for reasons other than obscenity or national security.

Lawrence Turman

The Graduate (1967)

- Director: Mike Nichols
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Votes: 238,356
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 106 min

This epochal comedy-drama encapsulated shifting generational trends and cinematic ones alike. It stars Dustin Hoffman as a disaffected college graduate, who gets romantically involved with both an older woman (Anne Bancroft) and her daughter (Katharine Ross). The film's massive success provided further indication that the tides had indeed changed.

Image Ten

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

- Director: George A. Romero
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Votes: 105,356
- Metascore: 89
- Runtime: 96 min

The word “zombie” is never uttered in George A. Romero's horror classic, but that didn't stop it from birthing the zombie genre. With their flesh-eating appetites and drone-like behaviors, Romero's “ghouls” represented an entirely new kind of monster. Over 50 years later, this low-budget milestone continues to loom large on screens big and small.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

- Director: Stanley Kubrick
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Votes: 545,092
- Metascore: 82
- Runtime: 149 min

The modern sci-fi genre basically begins with Kubrick's mind-blowing masterpiece, which offers a striking vision of mankind's journey into space. Putting realist effects and heady themes to a classical score, it foresaw the future with an impressive degree of intuitive accuracy. Plus, it basically invented the iPad.

Pando Company Inc.

Easy Rider (1969)

- Director: Dennis Hopper
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Votes: 89,103
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 95 min

If movies like “The Graduate” and “Bonnie and Clyde” opened the door to a new kind of American cinema, “Easy Rider” fulfilled the transition. Directed by and starring Dennis Hopper, it sends two drug-dealing hippie bikers on an odyssey across the country. Released just as the 1960s dream was coming to a close, it ends on a fitfully shocking note.

Neoplanta Film

WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971)

- Director: Duan Makavejev
- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Votes: 4,133
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 84 min

Underpinned by the theories of controversial psychologist Wilhelm Reich, this art-house favorite uses sexual exploration as a means of political dissent. Part documentary and part fantasy, it sparked a veritable uproar in director Duan Makavejev's home country of Yugoslavia. In turn, the Czech New Wave film was summarily banned and its creator exiled.

Mosfilm

Solaris (1972)

- Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Votes: 69,935
- Metascore: 90
- Runtime: 167 min

Master auteur Andrei Tarkovsky was a humanist at heart, whose cinematic language remains utterly distinct. With this 1972 magnum opus, he infused the sci-fi genre with his poetic sensibilities for the first of two times. Based on Stanisaw Lem's best-selling novel of the same name, the film pits a psychologist against a mysterious alien force.

Paramount Pictures

The Godfather (1972)

- Director: Francis Ford Coppola
- IMDb user rating: 9.2
- Votes: 1,447,453
- Metascore: 100
- Runtime: 175 min

Coppola's “The Godfather” is more than a monumental movie—it has ascended to the status of prominent historical artifact. In its telling of the Corleone crime family saga, the film encapsulates themes of loyalty and power to ageless effect. Stanley Kubrick himself used to suggest that this was “possibly the greatest movie ever made and certainly the best cast.”

Greenwich Film Productions

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

- Director: Luis Buuel
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Votes: 33,780
- Metascore: 93
- Runtime: 102 min

Blending satire and surrealism, Luis Buuel's absurdist comedy follows a group of upper-class companions from one thwarted get-together to the next. As a series of inexplicable events prevents each guest from finishing his or her meal, the threshold between reality and fantasy collapses. Purposefully ambiguous, the movie skewers bourgeoisie society by getting almost literally under its skin.

Werner Herzog Filmproduktion

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)

- Director: Werner Herzog
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Votes: 46,747
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 95 min

Herzog's historical drama is a predecessor to Coppola's “Apocalypse Now,” and it follows Don Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) and his expedition on a search for El Dorado. As they journey through a hostile Amazonian jungle, Aguirre stages a mutiny and loses his grip on reality. Largely devoid of dialogue, the film delivers a stark exploration of greed and insanity.

ABKCO Films

The Holy Mountain (1973)

- Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Votes: 31,725
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 114 min

On the heels of trippy cult Western “El Topo”—also known as the first midnight movie—Jodorowsky cranked the weirdness dial all the way up. As various figures ascend a mystical mountain, they encounter grotesque violence and a range of jarring hallucinations. Lovers of completely bizarre and virtually inaccessible movies will find much to relish.

Elas Querejeta Producciones Cinematogrficas S.L.

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

- Director: Vctor Erice
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Votes: 15,088
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 98 min

This arresting drama is hailed as one of the greatest Spanish movies ever made, It takes place on the heels of the Spanish Civil War. After seeing “Frankenstein” for the first time, a young girl named Ana (Ana Torrent) cultivates a vivid fantasy world. While socio-political themes hover in the background, it's ultimately a story of unbridled childhood imagination.

Warner Bros.

Blazing Saddles (1974)

- Director: Mel Brooks
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Votes: 116,301
- Metascore: 73
- Runtime: 93 min

A newly appointed black Sheriff (Cleavon Little) overcomes a range of obstacles in this send-up of Hollywood Westerns. Purposefully overloaded with racial slurs and other anachronisms, it broke $100 million at the box office. In Mel Brooks’ own words, “Blazing Saddles” would never get made today. 

Paradise Films

Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

- Director: Chantal Akerman
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Votes: 5,786
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 201 min

Rarely does experimental filmmaking seem as mundane as it does here, but that's the point. As a lonely widow performs household chores and turns the occasional trick, her every action is underscored by a perennial sense of discontent. Chantal Akerman's minimalist influence can be seen in the works of Gus Van Sant and Todd Haynes, among others.

Paramount Pictures

Nashville (1975)

- Director: Robert Altman
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Votes: 21,143
- Metascore: 96
- Runtime: 160 min

This sprawling tour de force features an ensemble of major talent and brings the Nashville music scene to life by way of interconnected narratives. Despite the loose and occasionally playful vibe, it packs a decade's worth of American culture into its 160-minute runtime. Director Robert Altman's knack for coalescing various characters and stories is on full display.

Universal Pictures

Jaws (1975)

- Director: Steven Spielberg
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Votes: 512,243
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 124 min

Released on the heels of a famously troubled shoot, Spielberg's second theatrical film defied convention by opening nationwide. The formula paid off in spades, setting a template for the summer blockbuster. Multiple sequels would follow, as would a newfound awareness of franchise potential.

Columbia Pictures

Taxi Driver (1976)

- Director: Martin Scorsese
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Votes: 639,703
- Metascore: 94
- Runtime: 114 min

Director Martin Scorsese is no stranger to monumental films, including this one from 1975. Starring Robert De Niro in one of his most iconic roles, it paints a dark and subversive portrait of New York City and the inhabitants therein. A defining moment in the New Hollywood (AKA American New Wave) era, “Taxi Driver” cemented Scorsese's status as a modern master.

Seda Spettacoli

Suspiria (1977)

- Director: Dario Argento
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Votes: 68,617
- Metascore: 79
- Runtime: 92 min

Long before the recent remake, there came this original classic from horror legend Dario Argento. When an American ballerina joins a prestigious European dance academy, she finds herself amid a deadly nightmare. Gory effects and a bone-chilling score drive home the gothic vibe.

American Film Institute (AFI)

Eraserhead (1977)

- Director: David Lynch
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Votes: 90,882
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 89 min

David Lynch's theatrical debut, presented in back and white, is an industrial symphony of impeccable weirdness. After a series of midnight screenings, the film gradually developed a loyal cult following. Lynch himself has remained at the forefront of surrealist cinema and TV ever since.

Jack Rollins & Charles H. Joffe Productions

Annie Hall (1977)

- Director: Woody Allen
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Votes: 237,056
- Metascore: 92
- Runtime: 93 min

Coming off a string of screwball comedies, Woody Allen pivoted to groundbreaking effect. With its iconic performances and stylistic devices, “Annie Hall” basically gave birth to the modern romantic comedy. It won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Milestone Film

Killer of Sheep (1978)

- Director: Charles Burnett
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Votes: 5,494
- Metascore: 95
- Runtime: 80 min

Made as a thesis project for UCLA's film school, this episodic tale follows a slaughterhouse worker through a maze of duties and temptations. It also provides a striking and utterly humane glimpse into the African-American experience. Due to issues with music rights, the film was secretly passed around among cinephiles before its official release in 2007.

Albatros Filmproduktion

The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978)

- Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Votes: 10,936
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 120 min

Rainer Werner Fassbinder died young at 37, but before that, he created some of Germany's most celebrated and important films. Among them is this 1978 drama, about a post-WWII widow who reinvents herself as the sadistic mistress to a wealthy industrialist. The director's biggest international success, it's a provocative character study and pointed metaphor rolled into one.

Zoetrope Studios

Apocalypse Now (1979)

- Director: Francis Ford Coppola
- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Votes: 551,208
- Metascore: 94
- Runtime: 147 min

From the first scene to the last, Coppola's Vietnam War drama imparts with its own special breed of sheer madness. Loosely based on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, it sends U.S. Army Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) into Cambodia on a dangerous mission. As jaw-dropping as the movie might be, its harrowing production is just as legendary.

Twentieth Century Fox

Alien (1979)

- Director: Ridley Scott
- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Votes: 717,402
- Metascore: 89
- Runtime: 117 min

At the crossroads between “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Thing From Another World” is Ridley Scott's sci-fi horror epic. The art design and special effects set a milestone to which a slew of subsequent films aspired but rarely achieved. Ingrained in the collective consciousness is a scene that brought new meaning to the term “stomach-churning.”

Lucasfilm

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

- Director: Irvin Kershner
- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 1,056,617
- Metascore: 82
- Runtime: 124 min

George Lucas and his team invented new modes of moviemaking with the first “Star Wars” film, and the second one was no less innovative. Championed among fans and critics alike, “The Empire Strikes Back” pushed story and spectacle into new terrain. No list of monumental movies is complete without this franchise.

Warner Bros.

The Shining (1980)

- Director: Stanley Kubrick
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Votes: 785,727
- Metascore: 66
- Runtime: 146 min

“The Shining” reinterprets Stephen King (to the author's own chagrin) as only Kubrick can, and it wraps layers of mystery and terror within its slow burn. Somewhat maligned upon its debut, the work is now regarded as a horror masterpiece. Recent films like “The Babadook” or “Hereditary” arguably wouldn't exist without it.

Cinema 77

Blow Out (1981)

- Director: Brian De Palma
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Votes: 37,606
- Metascore: 85
- Runtime: 108 min

Self-appointed Hitchcock protg Brian De Palma adopted a European influence for this overlooked thriller, taking direct inspiration from Michelangelo Antonioni's “Blow-Up.” When an audio technician (John Travolta) accidentally records a deadly car crash, he gets embroiled in a political conspiracy. Not only is this one of the best movies about the process of filmmaking, but it's among the few to use sound itself as a central character.

AMLF

Amadeus (1984)

- Director: Milos Forman
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Votes: 338,596
- Metascore: 88
- Runtime: 160 min

Despite its numerous inaccuracies, Milos Forman's Oscar-winning biopic makes for a profound examination of genius, legacy, and jealousy. Tom Hulce plays famous composer Amadeus Mozart, whose natural gifts conceal a downright juvenile temperament. Telling Mozart's story is rival composer Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), a man of strict discipline and mediocre talent.

Argos Films

Paris, Texas (1984)

- Director: Wim Wenders
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Votes: 75,165
- Metascore: 78
- Runtime: 145 min

Returning from the abyss, an aimless drifter (Harry Dean Stanton) reconnects with those he left behind. So goes this understated drama from Wim Wenders, which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Legendary playwright Sam Shepard co-wrote the screenplay.

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

Shoah (1985)

- Director: Claude Lanzmann
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Votes: 7,614
- Metascore: 99
- Runtime: 566 min

“Shoah” is considered one of the most important documentaries (if not films) ever made, and it doesn't waste a single minute of its nine-hour-plus runtime. Comprising various interviews, it retells the story of the Holocaust from all sides of the fence. What results is a perennial reminder that the past might give way to the present, but it never dies.

Belarusfilm

Come and See (1985)

- Director: Elem Klimov
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Votes: 43,846
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 142 min

For those who prefer war films of the unsparing variety, this Russian masterwork will duly suffice. Set during WWII, it follows a young boy into battle during the Nazi invasion of Soviet Byelorussia. Filmed in the late 1970s and released only after receiving government approval, it went on to win the Grand Prix at the 1985 Moscow Film Festival.

Golden Way Films Ltd.

Police Story (1985)

- Directors: Jackie Chan, Chi-Hwa Chen
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Votes: 24,808
- Metascore: 78
- Runtime: 100 min

Jackie Chan co-wrote, co-directed, and stars in this epic adventure, which kicked off a popular franchise. In addition to thrilling action scenes and elaborate stunts, the movie also features plenty of Chan's trademark sight gags. On Time Out's list of The 101 Best Action Movies Ever Made, this one lands at #4.

Embassy International Pictures

Brazil (1985)

- Director: Terry Gilliam
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Votes: 175,763
- Metascore: 88
- Runtime: 132 min

Putting his signature twist on Orwell's “1984,” Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam delivered this sci-fi comedy thriller. Set in a retro-futuristic world, it sends a lowly bureaucrat (Jonathan Pryce) on the run from government agents. Dystopian nightmares are never as fun as they are here, and rarely as relevant.

American Playhouse

The Thin Blue Line (1988)

- Director: Errol Morris
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Votes: 19,862
- Metascore: 79
- Runtime: 101 min

Billed as "the first movie mystery to actually solve a murder," this legendary documentary examines the wrongful conviction of Randall Adams. The film blends dramatic reenactments with real-life interviews and a haunting score and dismantles eyewitness testimony and other supposed pieces of evidence. The current wave of true crime storytelling might very well start here.

Akira Committee Company Ltd.

Akira (1988)

- Director: Katsuhiro tomo
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Votes: 140,742
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 124 min

With rumors of a remake swirling, now is the perfect time to revisit this cyberpunk anime thriller. Set in post-WWIII Neo-Tokyo, it sees a motorcycle gang member unleashing the full wrath of his newfound psychic powers. A breakthrough for its era, “Akira” turned the Western world on to the power and potential of adult animation.

40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks

Do the Right Thing (1989)

- Director: Spike Lee
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Votes: 75,260
- Metascore: 91
- Runtime: 120 min

One of Spike Lee's earliest joints is also one of his best, providing timely analysis of racial tension in a Brooklyn neighborhood. Jumping from one perspective to the next, the story gradually builds toward an explosion of violence. It's a movie both of its time and ahead of its time, which established Lee as a major voice in modern cinema.

Kanun parvaresh fekri

Close-Up (1990)

- Director: Abbas Kiarostami
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Votes: 12,607
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 98 min

Not only is this gripping drama based on a true story, but Abbas Kiarostami cast real-life participants and included actual trial footage from the event. It centers on Hossain Sabzian, who impersonated Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf when convincing a family to star in his latest project. As if imitating its own subject, the movie blurs the line between reality and entertainment at every turn.

CiBy 2000

The Piano (1993)

- Director: Jane Campion
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Votes: 73,228
- Metascore: 89
- Runtime: 121 min

Jane Campion's historical drama takes place in 1850s New Zealand and grapples with themes of repressed sexuality and forbidden desire. Against a dreary seaside landscape, a mute bride (Holly Hunter) searches for her missing piano. It paves the way for a ritualistic love affair, which unravels at a slow but intoxicating pace.

Universal Pictures/Amblin Entertainment

Schindler's List (1993)

- Director: Steven Spielberg
- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Votes: 1,093,630
- Metascore: 93
- Runtime: 195 min

Inspired by the true story of Oskar Schindler, Steven Spielberg turned in his most mature and unexpected effort to date. Eschewing common Hollywood devices, it recreates the horrors of the Holocaust with uncompromising authenticity. This seven-time Oscar winner might very well be the most important black-and-white film of the modern era.

MK2 Productions

Three Colors: Red (1994)

- Director: Krzysztof Kielowski
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Votes: 80,574
- Metascore: 100
- Runtime: 99 min

Poland's Krzysztof Kielowski capped off his coveted Three Colors trilogy with a tale about privacy invasion and buried secrets. Irne Jacob stars as a model named Valentine, who discovers that her neighbor has been eavesdropping on other people's conversations. Combining romance, mystery, and comedy, the film's prescient themes make it ripe for a modern-day remake.

Miramax

Pulp Fiction (1994)

- Director: Quentin Tarantino
- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Votes: 1,648,768
- Metascore: 94
- Runtime: 154 min

“Pulp Fiction” landed in theaters and tapped directly into the zeitgeist to become a cultural cornerstone overnight. Everything from the atypical structure to the iconic characters to the hip dialogue to the killer soundtrack is like a jolt of pure personality. Watch it for the first time or watch it again because this one never gets old.

New Line Cinema

Hoop Dreams (1994)

- Director: Steve James
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Votes: 22,351
- Metascore: 98
- Runtime: 170 min

This acclaimed documentary follows two high school basketball players as they tackle various obstacles in their pursuit of an NBA career. Through each of their respective struggles, a harrowing snapshot of inner-city Chicago is revealed. Prepare to run the full gamut of human emotions over the course of its 170-minute runtime.

Kdansha

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

- Director: Mamoru Oshii
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Votes: 115,749
- Metascore: 76
- Runtime: 83 min

Adapted from a manga series of the same name, this anime thriller puts a cyborg policewoman and her partner on the trail of a dangerous hacker. It takes place in the year 2029 when cyborgs are common, and human brains can log onto the internet. The story might have seemed far-fetched in 1995, but today, not so much.

PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

Fargo (1996)

- Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Votes: 563,541
- Metascore: 85
- Runtime: 98 min

The Coen brothers created a new form of dark comedy with this idiosyncratic crime drama, which defies description and convention alike. After (falsely) purporting to be “based on a true story,” it navigates a hunky dory maze of murder and betrayal. An FX TV show keeps the formula alive with surprisingly effective panache.

Twentieth Century Fox

Titanic (1997)

- Director: James Cameron
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Votes: 959,965
- Metascore: 75
- Runtime: 194 min

Like “Gone With the Wind” before it, James Cameron's historical epic completely took the world by storm. Putting his gargantuan (for the time) budget to use, Cameron recreated features of the original ship with painstaking precision. Between the record-breaking box office numbers and 11 Oscars, “Titanic” was every bit as monumental as its reputation suggests.

S.M. Films

Beau travail (1999)

- Director: Claire Denis
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Votes: 7,048
- Metascore: 91
- Runtime: 92 min

Claire Denis reinterpreted Melville's “Billy Budd” as a poetic war drama and delivered one of the most stylistically and topically important films of the last 20 years. An absolute benchmark in queer cinema, it explores jealousy and desire among military men at a French Foreign Legion outpost. “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins has cited Denis as a direct source of inspiration.

El Deseo

All About My Mother (1999)

- Director: Pedro Almodvar
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Votes: 81,007
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 101 min

Pedro Almodvar's brilliant comedy-drama has only become more relevant with time, centering on a single mother named Manuela (Cecilia Roth). When her son dies in a tragic accident, Manuela embarks on a quest to find his transgender second mother. What follows is an unforgettable journey through a world of wonderful characters, many of whom are ignored or maligned by mainstream society.

13 Productions

Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)

- Directors: Bla Tarr, gnes Hranitzky
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Votes: 11,231
- Metascore: 92
- Runtime: 145 min

Presented in high-contrast black and white, this cinma vrit-style nightmare unfolds over the course of just 39 shots. Beneath the story of a small town and a stuffed whale is a haunting meditation on political ideology and group hysteria. To fall under the movie's spell is to “drift in a non-temporal state,” according to Roger Ebert.

1+2 Seisaku Iinkai

Yi Yi (2000)

- Director: Edward Yang
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Votes: 17,183
- Metascore: 93
- Runtime: 173 min

Edward Yang chronicles one year in the life of a middle-class Taipei family in this near-three-hour masterpiece. Structured and paced to perfection, it channels various topics through the struggles and stories of each fully realized character. The viewer doesn't so much watch the film as much as he or she is swallowed whole by its novelistic scope.

Paradis Films

In the Mood for Love (2000)

- Director: Wong Kar-wai
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Votes: 106,274
- Metascore: 85
- Runtime: 98 min

This romantic drama set in 1960s Hong Kong explores the doomed love affair between two neighboring spouses. Bringing the story to life is Wong Kar-wai's lush visual palette and deft use of music. The film is part of an informal love-themed quadrilogy, which will culminate in 2020 with “Blossoms.”

Zentropa Entertainments

Dancer in the Dark (2000)

- Director: Lars von Trier
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Votes: 93,951
- Metascore: 61
- Runtime: 140 min

Filmmaker Lars von Trier excels at making divisive works, and this experimental musical is no exception. Borrowing a number of tenants from the ascetic Dogme 95 movement—which Von Trier himself helped established—it's filmed largely in the handheld style. Bjrk stars as a Czechoslovakian immigrant named Selma, whose hopes of fulfilling the American dream are crushed with brutal indifference.

Les Films Alain Sarde

Mulholland Drive (2001)

- Director: David Lynch
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Votes: 291,717
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 147 min

Combining his surrealist sensibilities with a well of cinematic influences, David Lynch turned in his most accomplished and compelling work. Set in modern-day Hollywood (AKA the city of dreams), it follows two women down a veritable rabbit hole of mystery and desire. According to a BBC poll, this is the best film of the 21st century.

Studio Ghibli

Spirited Away (2001)

- Directors: Hayao Miyazaki, Kirk Wise
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Votes: 561,327
- Metascore: 96
- Runtime: 125 min

This timeless masterwork sends a young girl into a parallel world, where gods roam the skies, and humans are turned into beasts. Rendered in Hayao Miyazaki's stunning hand-drawn style, it consolidates a number of his fantastical fixations. The highest-grossing movie in Japan to date, it was also the first anime film to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

New Line Cinema

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

- Director: Peter Jackson
- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 1,516,507
- Metascore: 92
- Runtime: 178 min

The epic “Lord of the Rings” saga kicked off with this wildly successful installment, in which two hobbits named Frodo and Sam embark on a perilous journey. All the groundbreaking CGI effects and majestic set locations that would come to define the franchise make their debut here. By the time the sequels and prequels concluded, there were billions of dollars and countless awards to show for it.

Touchstone Pictures

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

- Director: Wes Anderson
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Votes: 246,487
- Metascore: 76
- Runtime: 110 min

On the heels of “Rushmore,” auteur Wes Anderson took his trademark style to new extremes with this veritable quirk-fest. Overflowing with choice tunes and unforgettable characters, it centers on the eccentric members of a dysfunctional family. Included in the legendary ensemble cast are Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Alec Baldwin, and others.

HBO Films

Elephant (2003)

- Director: Gus Van Sant
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Votes: 80,705
- Metascore: 70
- Runtime: 81 min

As a Steadicam drifts through the various classrooms and hallways of a suburban high school, something sinister lurks just below the surface. Inspired by the Columbine massacre, Gus Van Sant's drama generates profound meaning out of the mundane. What seemed potentially tactless at the time of its release is tragically necessary in retrospect.

Focus Features

Lost in Translation (2003)

- Director: Sofia Coppola
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Votes: 375,336
- Metascore: 89
- Runtime: 102 min

Sofia Coppola showed potential with 1999's “The Virgin Suicides,” but no one was quite prepared for the critical and commercial success of this 2003 follow-up. When a fading movie star (Bill Murray) visits Tokyo on business, he and a young woman (Scarlett Johansson) forge an unlikely bond. Featuring lush cinematography and an excellent soundtrack, it paints a portrait of loneliness against an exotic urban backdrop.

Focus Features

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

- Director: Michel Gondry
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Votes: 828,263
- Metascore: 89
- Runtime: 108 min

Director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman teamed up for this offbeat romantic comedy, in which two former lovers erase one another from their respective memories. Due to its clever blend of sci-fi and psychology, the film has only gained traction with time. In fact, there might soon come a day where it's no longer the stuff of science fiction.

Warner Independent Pictures (WIP)

Before Sunset (2004)

- Director: Richard Linklater
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Votes: 209,003
- Metascore: 90
- Runtime: 80 min

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) reconnect after nine years in this subtly profound comedy-drama, the second installment in Richard Linklater's beloved Before Trilogy. Like both its predecessor and successor, the film uses the art of conversation as a gateway into various philosophical musings. Delpy and Hawke co-wrote the screenplay which was nominated for an Academy Award.

Focus Features

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

- Director: Ang Lee
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Votes: 300,233
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 134 min

Ang Lee's breakthrough film portraying irrepressible love hasn't lost an ounce of its dramatic luster, and it still stands as a milestone for queer cinema. Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger turn in top-notch performances as two sheep-herding cowboys, who engage in a forbidden romance. It snagged the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival and won three Academy Awards.

Universal Pictures

Children of Men (2006)

- Director: Alfonso Cuarn
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Votes: 430,739
- Metascore: 84
- Runtime: 109 min

Adapting a novel from P. D. James, director Alfonso Cuarn offers a bleak vision of future society. Stricken with an infertility crisis, human civilization has devolved into a state of perpetual chaos. One man's effort to bring a pregnant woman to safety slowly builds toward an epic climax which must be seen to be believed.

Estudios Picasso

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

- Director: Guillermo del Toro
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Votes: 573,902
- Metascore: 98
- Runtime: 118 min

Coming off of Hollywood action flicks like “Blade II” and “Hellboy,” Guillermo del Toro returned to his Spanish-speaking roots. The result was this thrilling fantasy film, in which a young girl ventures into a mystical netherworld. It's intended as a companion piece to 2001's “The Devil's Backbone,” a film that likewise takes place in historical Spain.

Mobra Films

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)

- Director: Cristian Mungiu
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Votes: 52,196
- Metascore: 97
- Runtime: 113 min

Time is truly of the essence in this harrowing Romanian drama, which opens on the image of a ticking clock. It takes place in 1987 when abortions were deemed illegal by an oppressive ruling party. Winner of the prestigious Palme d'Or, it moves at the pace of a breakneck thriller without resorting to a single moment of violence.

Paramount Vantage

There Will Be Blood (2007)

- Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Votes: 465,118
- Metascore: 93
- Runtime: 158 min

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis in one of his most iconic roles, Paul Thomas Anderson's historical drama depicts the rise of an ambitious oilman Daniel Plainview. Gripping performances and Jonny Greenwood's chilling score coalesce to form a perennial atmosphere of looming dread. For Anderson—whose previous works included “Punch Drunk Love” and “Boogie Nights”—it represented a stark and surprising evolution.

Walt Disney Pictures

WALLE (2008)

- Director: Andrew Stanton
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Votes: 910,732
- Metascore: 95
- Runtime: 98 min

One of the best-grossing movies of 2008 was far from the average Pixar fare, featuring almost no dialogue in its first half. “WALLE” also helped popularize concepts of environmentalism as a cause for global concern, giving it all the more relevance. Set on a garbage-filled planet, it seeks hope through the efforts of a lovable robot.

Warner Bros.

The Dark Knight (2008)

- Director: Christopher Nolan
- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Votes: 2,074,457
- Metascore: 84
- Runtime: 152 min

The superhero film to which nearly all others aspire, this beloved blockbuster pits Christian Bale's Batman against Heath Ledger's iconic Joker. Striking a grim and serious tone, it goes well beyond its comic book foundations to become the stuff of pure cinema. As such, it sits at #4 on IMDb's list of the 250 Top-Rated Movies.

Asghar Farhadi Productions

A Separation (2011)

- Director: Asghar Farhadi
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Votes: 198,433
- Metascore: 95
- Runtime: 123 min

Asghar Farhadi's gripping drama provides a window into Iranian society by way of a crumbling marriage. As a husband and wife struggle to make hard decisions, broader themes of conviction and loyalty are brought into the fold. A bona fide critical darling, it won Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.

Zeynofilm

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011)

- Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Votes: 34,823
- Metascore: 82
- Runtime: 157 min

Walking the line between police procedural and art-house drama, this Turkish film co-won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. As investigators and their suspect search for a buried body, various secrets come to light. At the heart of the film is a treatise on the meaning of truth itself.

Cottonwood Pictures

The Tree of Life (2011)

- Director: Terrence Malick
- IMDb user rating: 6.8
- Votes: 156,559
- Metascore: 85
- Runtime: 139 min

Part family saga and part metaphysical detour, Terrence Malick's critically acclaimed drama goes back as far as the big bang. Snaking its way up to 1956, the movie follows a young boy as he comes of age in Waco, Texas. Like so much of Malick's work, this one delivers lush cinematography and a constant air of transcendent mystery.

A24

Moonlight (2016)

- Director: Barry Jenkins
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Votes: 229,382
- Metascore: 99
- Runtime: 111 min

This modern milestone broken into three parts chronicles an African-American gay man's journey to self-discovery. Culling from a variety of influences (some of which are featured on this very list), Barry Jenkins imparts with a singular aesthetic and intriguing character study. Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers dubbed it a “game-changer,” and he wasn't wrong.

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