50 Movies for a Well-Rounded Film Fan

I love lists.

Maybe it’s a bit of an OCD thing, maybe it’s a boy thing, maybe it’s just a love for talking about things that can be listed. Whatever the reason, lists fascinate me.

They always have – one of my favorite things to do as a boy was to “pick teams,” where my friends (usually Chris Nolan, sometimes Shane Carpenter) and I would “draft” baseball players by position and then argue about who had the best team (because they were our favorite players, Chris always took Tim Raines first, and I took Rickey Henderson. Shane, even then, had spotty, at best, taste, often taking Gregg Jefferies first).

I realize now that was just a prelude to my eventual love of fantasy football (also helping: the fact that I dominate the league each year). So, anytime you can combine something I love (sports, pop culture) and a list, I’m on board.

A friend of mine recently wrote about the 100 living people every well-rounded person should know, and while I don’t completely agree with the list, I agree whole-heartedly with the concept of the list. It also caused me to go to my go-to movie talker-wither, one Cory Graham, to come up with a list of our own: 50 Movies for a Well-Rounded Film Fan.

Now, these aren’t the best 50 movies of all time, although many titles would certainly be in contention. No, these are the 50 films that anybody starting into the world of movie-watching would be smart to view.


Here’s a preview: The Dark Knight will be on this list.


Here’s another preview: Spider-Man 3 will not.

Of course, personal tastes always come into play, so to handle that, Cory and I each made a list of 50, then took the ones we both listed as the starting point. As expected, his list was a bit more artsy, while mine leaned toward the fartsy. We shared 22 titles (to be shown below), which left us with 28 spots to split. We each took 14 movies from our own list, and you’ll see our reasoning for including them below.

We encourage you to leave your thoughts in the comments section, including any movies you think we left out. Even better, make your own list of 50 and then we can all compare notes.

Have fun, enjoy and bring me some popcorn.

50 Movies for a Well-Rounded Film Fan

Shared list (in no particular order)
Citizen Kane
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Seven Samurai
Dr. Strangelove
2001
The Godfather
The Godfather Part II
Annie Hall
Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi
Raging Bull
GoodFellas
The Silence of the Lambs
Schindler’s List
Pulp Fiction
Fargo
Jaws
The Dark Knight
The Third Man
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Boyz N The Hood
Do the Right Thing
Jurassic Park
(Cory: I’m actually kind of surprised we both picked Jurassic Park. Kevin: I’m not, because it’s the best movie ever.)

It has dinosaurs tearing stuff up. How could it NOT be on this list?

Cory’s 14 (plus explanations)
8 ½: Fellini at his Fellini-est. It may not be my favorite Fellini picture, but the surrealism and technique displayed in 8 1/2 launched Fellini from the world of generation-defining storytelling into the rare air of truly legendary artists. His style and substance now reaching places film had yet dared to go, Fellini became a point of reference for an entire generation of filmmakers, from Spielberg to Scorsese.

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song: You can’t say enough about how important this film was, culturally. Melvin Van Peebles, wanting to create a film with a strong, black protagonist who defies the white authority, was turned down by every studio before choosing to self-finance the picture. As writer, producer, director, star and musical director, Van Peebles assembled a film that wasn’t just revolutionary in subject matter, but stylistically unlike anything mainstream film had ever seen. It ushered in an era of black filmmakers, stars and executives that changed the entire face of Hollywood for decades to come.

The 400 Blows: Truffaut’s masterpiece, defining the French New Wave and lighting a fire that revolutionized cinema worldwide. The film centers on misunderstood, rebellious Antoine Doniel, a Holden Caufield of a different time and place. The autobiographical nature of The 400 Blows shed light on the dark, shady world of juvenile services in France, and provided a gritty blueprint for the films to follow. The New Wave may have only grown stronger from this moment, but is impossible to realize without Truffaut’s flashpoint work.


A Clockwork Orange: Stanley Kubrick set out to create a dark, treacherous world of ultra-violence, succeeding with every frame and nearly killing Malcom McDowell in the process. The imagery put forth in A Clockwork Orange has become such an ingrained part of modern culture that its fingers have touched great works of film, television and music despite finding itself on countless “banned” lists. An important reflection on the culture of desensitization that affects modern society, A Clockwork Orange could stand on its own as a work of stunning visual art, even without a line of dialogue.

Wild At Heart: Weird, often uncomfortable and not necessarily the greatest film ever put together, Wild At Heart shows David Lynch playing with an entire toolbox of surreal, bizarre and unconventional tricks to tell a straightforward story of two outlaws in love. In scene after scene, Lynch pushes the characters (and viewers) deeper into a sense of madness, creating a world like our own, but jarringly separate from what we know. Like Oliver Stone’s masterpiece, Natural Born Killers, that followed, Wild At Heart pushes boundaries and grows stronger on repeated viewings.

Cooley High: Few films have explored the nature of life, family and friendship in 1970s black culture quite like Cooley High. From the highest highs, to the lowest lows, the film takes an unflinching look at life in the Cabrini Green housing project, exploring the day to day events of teenagers who experience the extreme highs and lows that swirl through the community. Memorable for moments of laugh-out-loud comedy, gut-wrenching drama and beautifully acted and shot, Cooley High is one of the true treasures of cinema, and best enjoyed with a group of friends … trust me. (Kevin’s note: “He’s going to break that breakfront.”)

This Is Spinal Tap: The “mockumentary” genre has become commonplace these days, with influence seen in countless film and television programming. However, this idea wasn’t quite as prevalent when Rob Reiner unleashed “This Is Spinal Tap” on the masses. From beginning to end, the film is non-stop hilarity, barely allowing the audience to catch its breath before breaking it over with the brilliant interplay between the characters. One of the strongest comedic ensemble performances ever caught on film, This Is Spinal Tap is devastatingly funny, and endlessly re-watchable.


Un Chien Andalou: Not always pretty, and not particularly fun, Un Chien Andalou is the fascinating silent film created by Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel and surrealist artist Salvador Dali. While not particularly linear in nature, Un Chien Andalou pushes Dali from the canvas into the world of film, pairing him with a kindred spirit in Bunuel. While the film’s most famous scene may involve an eyeball and a razor blade, the entire work is worth viewing, pondering and remembering.

The Rules of the Game: A biting satire of French social classes in the Pre-WWII era, The Rules of the Game is immensely watchable and wildly funny even by today’s standards. Controversial upon its release, the film broke into new territory, taking shots at the aristocracy in a way French filmmakers had long avoided. Crushing the stuffy, often dull nature of early French film, The Rules of the Game was Renoir’s masterpiece, setting the template for future filmmakers to blow the cinematic world to pieces in the coming decades.

Network: Arguably one of the most “ahead of its time” films ever released, Network tells a story of the decline of the media and the sensationalism of news that seems eerily prescient today. While required viewing for filmmakers, journalists and media critics, Network stands on its own as a great work of film, with one of the most memorable and arresting performances ever recorded, as Peter Finch leads us down prominent news man Howard Beale’s descent into both madness and self-awareness.

Birth of A Nation: I’m sorry. I’m genuinely sorry. I hate to include this, but someone had to say it. If you want a well-rounded view of film, you have to go back to where it began, and tragically this is it. The innovative use of cameras, the amazing departure from typical films of the day and the absolute revolution brought about by Birth of A Nation are unparalleled in cinematic history, despite it being one of the most deplorable, disgusting creations in the medium’s history. Like Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will decades later, Birth of A Nation must be recognized as one of the most important achievements in the history of film, even if the subject matter is cringe-inducing enough to spark justifiable anger in the viewer.

Menace II Society: Quite possibly the most underrated film of the 1990s, Menace II Society was an exploration into gang life in urban Los Angeles that pulled no punches and took no prisoners. While John Singleton’s classic, Boyz N The Hood, drew fanfare from critics and audiences worldwide, the Hughes Brothers’ lamentation on life in the hood was a darker, grittier, less appreciated exploration of life and family in turmoil. Straying from the traditional black and white roles of good and evil, Menace manages to blur the lines into a brutally realistic grey that hangs over the heads of the characters like a dark cloud.

The Seventh Seal: Nearly every film made after The Seventh Seal owes at least a little bit of itself to Bergman’s seminal work. The timeless story of a knight fending off death via a game of chess has been spoofed, praised, paid homage to and referenced in more subsequent films than one could count, and remains a classic inspiration to film students and amateurs worldwide.

City of God: City of God sneaks up on you. Initially, it grabs your attention, creeping along until it takes over your senses with a story as riveting as any ever put on film. You lose yourself in the characters, the stunning visuals, and a story from what seems like another world, that manages to be ultimately very relatable, before being shocked back into reality by an unexpected twist seconds before the credits roll. This film isn’t just a great work of the modern era, City of God deserves a place among the greatest films ever made, and may be the best damn movie I’ve ever seen.

See, I told you his was artsy. Now for the fartsy:

Kevin’s 14 (plus explanations)
Singing in the Rain

The Sound of Music: Rain and Music are musical masterpieces, with Rain being high upon my list of best movies ever made.

Die Hard: whenever a movie becomes shorthand for an entire genre, it must be seen; how many action movies were described as “Die Hard on/in a ____”?


Terminator 2: action, Arnold and groundbreaking special effects.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: Jack being his Jackiest best before becoming a caricature of Jack being Jack.

ET: No matter how old you are when you first saw it, it always, ALWAYS, makes you feel like you’re 7 years old.

Alien: science fiction? Yep. Horror? Yep. Influential? Definitely.

Some Like It Hot: Marilyn Monroe, and Jack Lemmon in drag make for a perfect comedy.

Lord of the Rings: in which Peter Jackson shows how to blend special effects, epic fantasy, storytelling and emotion.

Dirty Harry: every cop movie, seriously EVERY cop movie, wants to be Dirty Harry.

Toy Story: while not Pixar’s best movie, this one started a revolution.


The Blair Witch Project: not only is its influence still felt today, it’s still very scary.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: it paved the way for a new style of horror movie.

Psycho: Vertigo, Rear Window and North by Northwest are Hitchcock’s best, but Psycho is the one that continues to creep people out.

So, there you have it. A total of 50 films we feel should be at the start of anyone wanting to love the movies. The debate should continue below …

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8 thoughts on “50 Movies for a Well-Rounded Film Fan

  1. Here’s my 50 (not in any order – really, they’re all tied for first). No surprise, but mine tend to drift towards the fartsy, as well. I may have cheated a little bit by including series as one entry.

    1. Jaws
    2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
    3. Frankenstein (1931) & Dracula (1931). It would be difficult to oversestimate the effect these two films had on horror and fantasy cinema.
    4. Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi
    5. Boogie Nights. This is one of just a few films that I would describe as “exhilirating.” It remains my favorite movie.
    6. Heat. De Niro and Pacino in the perfect cops and robbers movie. By the way, check out Thief, Michael Mann’s first movie. I just watched it for the first time and you can definitely see Heat in there somewhere.
    7. The Departed. Scorsese at his energetic finest.
    8. Amadeus
    9. ET
    10. Munich. Vastly underrated Spielberg.
    11.Schindler’s List
    12. A Perfect World. Cleant Eastwood’s best film as a director. There. I said it. It’s even better than…
    13. Unforgiven. And Unforgiven is pretty damn great.
    14. The Dark Knight
    15. The Exorcist. The best horror movie from the best decade of filmmaking history. This is a must-own Blu-ray, BTW – the picture quality is almost shocking after a decades ofmuddy DVDs and VHS tapes.
    16. The Prestige. There are 2 perfect Christopher Nolan movies. You know are going to get technical mastery every time out. A brilliant plot and shining performances from Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, and Michael Caine take this one to the next level
    17. Inception. The other perfect Nolan movie. The top is still spinning.
    18. Moulin Rouge. I am normally not a fan of musicals. I love this one, though.
    19. The Fly (1986). You had to know I would include this here.
    20. Taxi Driver. In all honesty, I’m not sure how both of you managed to leave this one off your list.
    21. Raging Bull
    22. Alien
    23. Pulp Fiction
    24. Psycho
    25. The Wizard of Oz. You guys got some ‘splainin’ to do on this one.
    26. Apocalypse Now. For my money, the best war movie ever made.
    27. The Godfather I & II
    28. Lord of the Rings — the Extended Editions
    29. No Country for Old Men. It’s ahrd to pick a “best” movie by the Coen brothers, but this could well be it. One of the most eminently quotable movies of all time. Then again…
    30. Miller’s Crossing. “If you can’t trust a fix… what can you trust?” More Coens.
    31. A Clockwork Orange
    32. Citizen Kane
    33. Thor. My favorite of all the Marvel movies. And I love them all.
    34. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Still the champ: the most I have ever laughed in a theater.
    35. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
    36. Braveheart
    37. Fight Club
    38. The Thin Red Line
    39. Brotherhood of the Wolf. A French movie that starts out as horror and ends up as something so much more than that.
    40. Mulholland Drive. Don’t even try to figure it out. I’m not sure it’s even meant to be understood.
    41. King Kong (2005) Epic fantasy filmmaking at its finest, with a surprising romantic heart at the center. Every bit as underrated as the original is overrated.
    42. 12 Monkeys
    43. The Big Lebowski.
    44. Finding Nemo
    45. Adaptation
    46. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
    47. The Shawshank Redemption
    48. Pan’s Labyrinth
    49. Superman (1978)
    50. Natural Born Killers

  2. Aaron – I totally forgot about Miller’s Crossing and The Exorcist (Director’s Cut). That spider walk down the stairs sends shivers down my spine every time. Of course, those movies I listed were ones that popped off really quick. I might have to actually sit down and come up with 50 movies.

  3. I want to show respect for Event Horizon, Ran, A Perfect World, Taxi Driver and Lost in Translation. Some of those should have been on my list. Most of them should have been. Damn. This was harder than you’d think

    • Aaron, many of your movies are on my original 50 (especially Taxi Driver), but I ultimately went with ways to spread genres and styles. I was thinking more of “if an alien landed and wanted to experience 50 incredible films,” so I tried to mix and match. In doing so, several great titles get left out (including one of my personal top-five favorites, The Royal Tennenbaums).

      The great thing about this is being able to go through others’ lists to catch things I’ve not seen (or have seen and can’t recall much about it). I might start with Event Horizon.

  4. I thought about doing that, too, but in the end I just couldn’t list any movies that I didn’t love (such as anything by Woody Allen or Kurosawa).

  5. Late replying here, but I just experienced Mac and Me for the first time on Netflix streaming. My life is now complete. How did I miss this when it came out in 1988? One of the most beautifully horrible films I’ve ever seen and a definite on my movies list.

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