America's 100 Greatest Thrillers
100 YEARS...100 THRILLS


by American Film Institute (AFI)




The American Film Institute in Los Angeles, California,, in mid-June 2001 made a definitive selection of the 100 greatest American "heart-pounding" and "adrenaline-inducing" films of all time, as determined by more than 1,800 actors, directors, screenwriters, historians, studio executives, critics, and others from the American film community, from 400 nominated films.

Note: The films that are marked with a yellow star are the films that "The Greatest Films" site has selected as the 100 Greatest Films

Facts (and Commentary) about the 100 Greatest Thrillers chosen:

  • Stanley Kubrick had five films on the list, including A Clockwork Orange (# 21), The Shining (# 29), 2001: A Space Odyssey (# 40), Spartacus (# 62) and Full Metal Jacket (# 95).

  • By decade, two films came from the '20s, five from the '30s, 10 from the '40s, 15 from the '50s, 21 from the '60s, 22 from the '70s, 14 from the '80s and 12 from the '90s.

  • Harrison Ford tied with Claude Rains as the actor with the most movies in the top 100, at four apiece. Ford appeared in Raiders of the Lost Ark (# 10), Star Wars (# 27), The Fugitive (# 33) and Blade Runner (# 74), while Rains appeared in Lawrence of Arabia (# 23), Casablanca (# 37), Notorious (# 38) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (# 100).

  • The 400 nominated films included those not normally associated with the thriller genre, such as comedies, action/adventure films, fantasy films, westerns, sports films, war films, and horror films (e.g., Ghostbusters (1984), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Hoosiers (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987), and The Karate Kid (1984)).

  • Some of the nominated and winning films could be considered less thrillers than gripping dramas, such as The Godfather (# 11), Lawrence of Arabia (# 23), Casablanca (# 37), and 12 Angry Men (# 88). Ben-Hur (# 49) has two suspenseful scenes - the sea galley battle and the famed chariot race, but most of the film cannot be considered thrilling. Westerns such as High Noon (# 20), The Wild Bunch (# 69), and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (# 54) seem slightly out of place on the list, as do the classic horror films. War films (The Great Escape (# 19)), and boxing films (Rocky (# 52) and Raging Bull (# 51)) may also have thrilling elements, but they are essentially dramas.

  • Where are the "adrenaline-inducing" components throughout Laura (# 73) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (# 86)?

  • Political thrillers, such as The Day of the Jackal (1973), The Parallax View (1974), Fail-Safe (1964), Seven Days in May (1964), Crimson Tide (1995), The Hunt for Red October (1990), and In the Line of Fire (1993), are conspicuously absent, as are the big-budget espionage thrillers of the 60s: The Train (1965), Von Ryan's Express (1965), Operation Crossbow (1965), and Where Eagles Dare (1969).

  • There's little representation for erotic thrillers, such as Angel Heart (1987), Basic Instinct (1992), Body Double (1984), Bound (1996), Don't Look Now (1973), Jagged Edge (1985), Klute (1971), No Way Out (1987), The Big Easy (1987), Sea of Love (1989), The Grifters (1990), The Last Seduction (1994), Wild Things (1998), etc.

  • Definitive thrillers missing from the final list of 100 are: Ernest B. Schoedsack's The Most Dangerous Game (1932), Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly (1955), Buster Keaton's The General (1927), George Stevens' Gunga Din (1939), John Huston's The African Queen (1951) and The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Fritz Lang's Fury (1936), Man Hunt (1941), and The Woman in the Window (1944), Robert Siodmak's The Spiral Staircase (1945), Anatole Litvak's Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), Raoul Walsh's White Heat (1949), Ted Tetzlaff's The Window (1949), Richard Fleischer's The Narrow Margin (1952), Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Ida Lupino's The Hitch-hiker (1953), Lewis Allen's Suddenly (1954), William Wyler's The Desperate Hours (1955), John Sturges' Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), Robert Aldrich's The Flight of the Phoenix (1966) and Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977), Coppola's The Conversation (1974), and Don Siegel's Charley Varrick (1973) and Escape From Alcatraz (1979).

  • Other notable "thriller" omissions: D.O.A. (1950), Call Northside 777 (1948), Night Moves (1975), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1985), Charade (1963), Play Misty for Me (1971), Se7en (1995), The Usual Suspects (1995), Natural Born Killers (1994), Dressed to Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981), Witness (1985), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Heat (1995), L.A. Confidential (1997), Hackers (1995), Red Rock West (1993), Black Sunday (1977), The Firm (1993), The Cell (2000), and Aliens (1986) (better for 'heart-pounding' effects than the original film). And Michael Mann's Manhunter (1986) is perhaps more gripping than The Silence of the Lambs (# 5).

  • Since the definitive action films Die Hard (# 39) and Speed (# 99) are included in the final list, why not others, such as Lethal Weapon (1987), Con Air (1997), The Rock (1996), Face/Off (1997), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), True Lies (1994), Airport (1970), The Towering Inferno (1974), Earthquake (1974), Air Force One (1997), Point of No Return (1993), and more.

  • Non U.S.-made, feature-length fiction films that would have been perfect for this list include: M (1931), The Wages of Fear (1952), Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938) and The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935), Point Blank (1967), Panic in the Streets (1950), Repulsion (1965), Peeping Tom (1960), Blow-up (1966), Mad Max 2 - aka The Road Warrior (1981), Rififi (1954), The Long Good Friday (1980), John Woo's The Killer (1989), and Run Lola, Run (1998).


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