100 Must-See Films of the 20th Century
by Leonard Maltin
(part 2, ordered chronologically by decade)
All About Eve (1950)
138 minutes, D: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Brilliantly sophisticated (and cynical) look at life in and around the
theater, with a heaven-sent script by director Mankiewicz (based on
the story "The Wisdom of Eve" by Mary Orr). Davis is absolutely perfect
as an aging star who takes in an adoring fan (Baxter) and soon discovers
that the young woman is taking over her life. Witty dialogue to spare,
especially great when spoken by Sanders and Ritter. Six Oscars include
Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Supporting Actor (Sanders).
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
110 minutes, D: Billy Wilder
Legendary Hollywood black comedy about faded silent-film star Norma
Desmond (Swanson), living in the past with butler (von Stroheim), who
shelters hack screenwriter (Holden) as boyfriend. Bitter, funny, fascinating;
Gloria's tour de force. Three Oscars include Best Screenplay (Wilder,
Charles Brackett, D.M. Marshman, Jr.) and Score (Franz Waxman).
Rashomon (1950 - Japanese)
88 minutes, D: Akira Kurosawa
Kurosawa's first huge international success is superlative study of
truth and human nature; four people involved in a rape-murder tell varying
accounts of what happened. The film's very title has become part of
our language. Oscar winner as Best Foreign Film.
Strangers on a Train (1951)
101 minutes, D: Alfred Hitchcock
Walker gives his finest performance as psychopath involved with tennis
star Granger in "exchange murders." Lorne is unforgettable as doting
mother; so is merry-go-round climax. First-class Hitchcock, based on
a Patricia Highsmith novel and coscripted by Raymond Chandler.
Singin' In The Rain (1952)
102 minutes, D: Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
Perhaps the greatest movie musical of all time, fashioned by Betty Comdon
and Adolph Green from a catalogue of Arthur Freed-Nacio Herb Brown songs.
The setting is Hollywood during the transition to talkies, with Hagen
giving the performance of a lifetime as Kelly's silent screen costar,
whose voice could shatter glass. Kelly's title number, O'Connor's "Make
'Em Laugh," are just two highlights in a film packed with gems.
High Noon (1952)
84 minutes, D: Fred Zinnemann
On his wedding - and retirement - day, marshal Cooper learns that a
gunman is coming seeking revenge. Though he has good excuses for leaving,
he feels a responsibility to stay and face the gunman - but no one in
town is willing to help. The story appears to unfold in "real time,"
as the many on-screen clocks will verify. Legendary Western drama about
a crisis of conscience, written by Carl Foreman, underscored by Tex
Ritter's performance of Oscar-winning Dimitri Tiomkin-Ned Washington
song, "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'." Oscars also went to Cooper,
Tiomkin's score, and Elmo Williams' and Harry Gerstad's editing.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
103 minutes, D: Stanley Donen
Rollicking musical perfectly integrates song, dance, and story: Keel's
decision to get himself a wife (Powell) inspires his rowdy brothers
to follow suit. Tuneful Johnny Mercer-Gene DePaul score (with Oscar-winning
musical direction by Adolph Deutsch and Saul Chaplin), but it's Michael
Kidd's energetic dance numbers that really stand out, with rare screen
work by dancers Jacques D'Amboise and Marc Platt. The barn-raising sequence
is an absolute knockout. Screenplay by Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich,
and Dorothy Kingsley, from a Stephen Vincent Benet story.
On The Waterfront (1954)
108 minutes, D: Elia Kazan
Budd Schulberg's unflinching account of N.Y.C. harbor unions (suggested
by articles by Malcolm Johnson), with Brando unforgettable as misfit,
Steiger his crafty brother, Cobb his waterfront boss, and Saint the
girl he loves. That classic scene in the back of a taxicab is just as
moving as ever. Winner of eight Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actor
(Brando), Supporting Actress (Saint), Story and Screenplay, Cinematography
(Boris Kaufman), Art Direction-Set Decoration (Richard Day), and Editing
(Gene Milford). Leonard Bernstein's music is another major asset. Film
debuts of Saint, Martin Balsam, Fred Gwynne, and Pat Hingle.
The Seven Samurai (1954 - Japanese)
141 minutes, D: Akira Kurosawa
Classic film about 16th-century Japanese village which hires professional
warriors to fend off bandits. Kurosawa's "far-east Western" has served
as model for many films since, including American remake The Magnificent
Seven (a title once given this film for U.S. release).
The Searchers (1956)
119 minutes, D: John Ford
Superb Western saga of Wayne's relentless search for niece (Wood) kidnapped
by Indians, spanning many years. Color, scenery, photography all splendid,
with moving, insightful Frank Nugent script to match (based on Alan
LeMay's novel). And who could ever forget that final shot?
Paths of Glory (1957)
86 minutes, D: Stanley Kubrick
During WW1, French general Macready orders his men on a suicidal charge;
when they fail, he picks three soldiers to be tried and executed for
cowardice. Shattering study of the insanity of war has grown even more
profound with the years; stunningly acted and directed. Calder Willingham,
Jim Thompson, and Kubrick adapted Humphrey Cobb's novel - based on fact.
The Seventh Seal (1957 - Sweden)
96 minutes, D: Ingmar Bergman
Sydow, a disillusioned knight on his way back from the Crusades, tries
to solve the mysteries of life while playing chess game with Death,
who has offered him a short reprieve. Spellbinding, one-of-a-kind masterpiece
helped gain Bergman international acclaim.
128 minutes, D: Alfred Hitchcock
One of Hitchcock's most discussed films. Retired police detective Stewart,
who has a fear of heights, is hired by old school chum in San Francisco
to keep an eye on his wife (Novak), eventually falls in love with his
quarry...and that's just the beginning; to reveal more would be unthinkable.
Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor scripted, from the novel D'entre les
morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. Haunting, dream-like
thriller, with riveting Bernard Herrmann score to match; a genuinely
great motion picture that demands multiple viewings.
North By Northwest (1959)
136 minutes, D: Alfred Hitchcock
Quintessential Hitchcock comedy-thriller, with bewildered ad-man Grant
chased cross country by both spies (who think he's a double agent) and
the police (who think he's an assassin). One memorable scene after another,
including now-legendary crop-dusting and Mount Rushmore sequences; one
of the all-time great entertainments. Witty script by Ernest Lehman,
exciting score by Bernard Herrmann.
The 400 Blows (1959 - French)
99 minutes, D: Francois Truffaut
Captivating study of Parisian youth who turns to life of small-time
crime as a reaction to derelict parents. First of Truffaut's autobiographical
Antoine Doinel series.
Some Like It Hot (1959)
119 minutes, D: Billy Wilder
Legendary comedy by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond about two musicians who
witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and try to elude their pursuers
by joining an all-girl band heading for Miami. Sensational from start
to finish, with dazzling performances by Lemmon and Curtis, a memorably
comic turn by Monroe as Sugar Kane, and Oscar-winning costumes by Orry-Kelly.
Brown has film's now-classic closing line.
109 minutes, D: Alfred Hitchcock
The Master's most notorious film is still terrifying after all these
years, as larcenous Leigh picks the wrong place to spend a night: The
Bates Motel (12 cabins, 12 vacancies...and 12 showers), run by a peculiar
young man and his crochety old "mother." Hitchcock's murder set-pieces
are so potent, they can galvanize (and frighten) even a viewer who's
seen them before! Bernard Herrmann's legendary (and endlessly imitated)
score adds much to the excitement. Script by Joseph Stefano from the
Robert Bloch novel.
La Dolce Vita (1962 - Italian)
175 minutes, D: Federico Fellini
Lengthy trend-setting film, not as ambiguous as other Fellini works
- much more entertaining, with strong cast. Mastroianni stars as tabloid
reporter who sees his life in shallow Rome society as worthless but
can't change. Story and screenplay by Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, and Tullio
Pinelli, with Brunello Rondi. Piero Gherardi's costumes won an Oscar.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962 - British)
216 minutes, D: David Lean
Blockbuster biography of enigmatic adventurer T.E. Lawrence is that
rarity, an epic film that is also literate. Loses some momentum in the
second half, but still a knockout - especially in 1989 reissue version,
which restored many cuts made over the years (and made a few judicious
trims in the process). Still, the only way to really appreciate this
film is on a big screen. Screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson,
based on Lawrence's book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Seven Oscars
include Best Picture, Director, Cinematography (Freddie Young), Score
(Maurice Jarre), Editing, and Art Direction. O'Toole's first leading
role made him an instant star.
8 1/2 (1963 - Italian)
135 minutes, D: Federico Fellini
Fellini's unique, self-analytical movie casts Mastroianni as a filmmaker
trying to develop a new project, amid frequent visions and countless
subplots. A long, difficult, but fascinating film, overflowing with
creative and technical wizardry. Certainly one of the most intensely
personal statements ever made on celluloid. Screenplay by Fellini, Tullio
Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, and Brunello Rondi. Oscar winner for Costume
Design and as Best Foreign Language Film.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying... (1964 - British)
93 minutes, D: Stanley Kubrick
U.S. President must contend with the Russians and his own political
and military leaders when a fanatical general launches A-bomb attack
on U.S.S.R. Sellers plays the President, British captain, and mad inventor
of the Bomb in this brilliant black comedy, which seems better with
each passing year. Sellers' phone conversation with Soviet premier is
classic. Outstanding cast, incredible sets by Ken Adam.
Mary Poppins (1964)
140 minutes, D: Robert Stevenson
There's charm, wit, and movie magic to spare in Walt Disney's adaptation
of P.L. Travers's book about a "practically perfect" nanny who brings
profound change to the Banks family of London, circa 1910. Oscars went
to Richard and Robert Sherman for their tuneful score, the song "Chim-Chim-Cheree,"
the formidable Visual Effects team, Cotton Warburton for his editing,
and Andrews, in her film debut (though Van Dyke is equally good as Bert,
the whimsical jack of all trades). That's Jane Darwell, in her last
screen appearance, as the bird lady. A wonderful movie.
Blow-Up (1966 - British/Italian)
111 minutes, D: Michelangelo Antonioni
Writer-director Antonioni's hypnotic pop-culture parable of photographer
caught in passive lifestyle. Arresting provocative film, rich in color
symbolism, many-layered meanings. Music by Herbie Hancock.
The Graduate (1967)
105 minutes, D: Mike Nichols
Landmark film of the late 60s that's still just as poignant - and funny
- as ever. Hoffman, in his first major film role, plays ultra-naive
college grad who's seduced by a middle-aged woman, then falls in love
with her daughter. Perfect song score by Simon and Garfunkel. Script
by Buck Henry (who plays the desk clerk) and Calder Willingham from
Charles Webb's novel. Nichols won Best Director Oscar.
Bonnie And Clyde (1967)
111 minutes, D: Arthur Penn
Trend-setting film about unlikely heroes of 1930s bank-robbing team
has spawned many imitators but still leads the pack. Veering from comedy
to melodrama and social commentary, it remains vivid, stylish throughout.
When released, violent conclusion was extremely controversial. Screenplay
by David Newman and Robert Benton. Parsons and cinematographer Burnett
Guffey were Oscar winners. Wilder's first film.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968 - British)
139 minutes, D: Stanley Kubrick
A unique masterpiece, immensely influential; Kubrick starkly depicts
several encounters mankind has with never-glimpsed aliens, from the
dawn of Man four million years ago to the title year, when an alien
artifact is found on the Moon. An expedition tracking its radio signal
is launched to Jupiter, with mysterious, haunting results. A visual
feast, film also boasts distinction of having put Richard Strauss into
the Top 40 with "Also Sprach Zarathustra." Oscar-winning special effects.
Screenplay by Arthur C. Clarke and the director, from Clarke's The
The Wild Bunch (1969)
134 minutes, D: Sam Peckinpah
Peckinpah's best film won instant notoriety for its "beautiful" bloodletting,
but seems almost restrained alongside today's films. Aging outlaws with
their own code of ethics find themselves passe in 1913 and decide to
retire after one final haul. Acting, dialogue, direction, score, photography,
and especially editing are world class; an authentic American classic.
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
113 minutes, D: John Schlesinger
Emotionally shattering dramatization of James Leo Herlihy's novel was
rated X in 1969, but it's essentially an old-fashioned story with some
unusual modern twists: hayseed Voight comes to N.Y.C., becomes a free-lance
stud, and develops unusual and deep friendship with seedy Ratso Rizzo
(Hoffman). Seamiest side of N.Y.C. is backdrop for compelling, keen-eyed
character study that if anything looks better today than it did when
it came out. Won Best Picture, Director, Screenplay (Waldo Salt) Oscars.
Graphic effects by Pablo Ferro.
The Godfather (1972)
175 minutes, D: Francis Ford Coppola
The 1970s' answer to Gone With the Wind, from Mario Puzo's novel
on the violent life and times of Mafia patriarch Don Corleone (Brando).
Pulp fiction raised to the highest level; a film of epic proportions,
masterfully done, and set to Nino Rota's memorable music. Absolutely
irresistible. Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Actor (Brando),
and Screenplay (Coppola and Puzo). Followed by two sequels.
Mean Streets (1973)
110 minutes, D: Martin Scorsese
Masterpiece about small-time hood Keitel, irresponsible friend De Niro
and their knock-about cronies in N.Y.C.'s Little Italy. Technically
dazzling film put director Scorsese on the map and deservedly so.
The Godfather, Part II (1974)
200 minutes, D: Francis Ford Coppola
They said it couldn't be done, but cowriter-director Coppola made a
sequel that's just as compelling. This one contrasts the life of melancholy
"don" (Pacino) with early days of his father (De Niro) as an immigrant
in N.Y.C. Winner of six Oscars including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay
(Coppola, Mario Puzo), Supporting Actor (De Niro), Score (Nino Rota,
Carmine Coppola), Art Direction/Set Decoration (Dean Tavoularis, Angelo
Graham, George R. Nelson).
The Conversation (1974)
113 minutes, D: Francis Ford Coppola
Brilliant film about obsessive surveillance expert (Hackman) who makes
professional mistake of becoming involved in a case, and finds himself
entangled in murder and high-level power plays. Coppola's top-notch,
disturbing script makes larger statements about privacy and personal
responsibility. An unbilled Robert Duvall has a cameo. One of the best
films of the 1970s.
Blazing Saddles (1974)
93 minutes, D: Mel Brooks
Brooks's first hit movie is a riotous Western spoof, with Little an
unlikely sheriff, Korman as villainous Hedley Lamarr, and Kahn as a
Dietrich-like chanteuse. None of Brooks's later films have topped this
one for sheer belly laughs. Scripted by Brooks, Andrew Bergman, Richard
Pryor, Norman Steinberg, and Alan Uger; story by Bergman. Title song
sung by Frankie Laine.
124 minutes, D: Steven Spielberg
A rare case of a bubble-gum story (by Peter Benchley) scoring as a terrific
movie. The story: New England shore community is terrorized by shark
attacks; local cop (Scheider), ichthyologist (Dreyfuss) and salty shark
expert (Shaw) determine to kill the attacker. Hold on to your seats!
Screenplay by Benchley and Gottlieb. Three Oscars include John Williams'
now-classic score, Verna Fields' sensational editing. Benchley has cameo
as reporter on beach. Followed by three sequels.
159 minutes, D: Robert Altman
Altman's brilliant mosaic of American life as seen through 24 characters
involved in Nashville political rally. Full of cogent character studies,
comic and poignant vignettes, done in seemingly free-form style. Carradine's
song "I'm Easy" won an Oscar; Elliott Gould and Julie Christie appear
as themselves. Screenplay by Joan Tewkesbury.
Annie Hall (1977)
94 minutes, D: Woody Allen
Woody's best film, an autobiographical love story with incisive Allenisms
on romance, relationships, fame, N.Y.C. vs. L.A., and sundry other topics.
Warm, witty, intelligent Oscar winner for Best Picture, Actress, Direction,
Screenplay (Allen and Marshall Brickman). Look sharp and you'll spot
future stars Jeff Goldblum (at the L.A. party), Shelley Hack (on the
street), Beverly D'Angelo (on a TV monitor), and Sigourney Weaver (as
Woody's date seen in extreme long-shot near the end of the picture.)
Star Wars (1977)
121 minutes, D: Geroge Lucas
Elaborate, imaginative update of Flash Gordon incredibly became one
of the most popular films of all time. It's a hip homage to B-movie
ethics and heroism in the space age, as a callow youth (Hamill) becomes
an interplanetary hero with the help of some human and robot friends.
R2D2 and C-3PO steal the show. Won seven Oscars for various technical
achievements and John Williams' rousing score.
The Deer Hunter (1978)
183 minutes, D: Michael Cimino
Stunning film about young Pennsylvanian steelworkers, their lives before,
during, and after wartime duty in Vietnam. Long but not overlong, this
sensitive, painful, evocative work packs an emotional wallop. Story
by Cimino, Deric Washburn, Louis Garfinkle and Quinn Redeker; scripted
by Washburn. Five Oscars include Picture, Director, Supporting Actor
(Walken), Editing (Peter Zinner).
Apocalypse Now (1979)
150 minutes, D: Francis Ford Coppola
Coppola's controversial Vietnam war epic, based on Joseph Conrad's Heart
of Darkness. Special agent Sheen journeys upriver into Cambodia
with orders to find and kill errant officer Brando, leading him (and
viewer) on a mesmerizing odyssey of turbulent, often surreal encounters.
Unfortunately, film's conclusion - when he does find Brando - is cerebral
and murky. Still, a great movie experience most of the way, with staggering,
Oscar-winning photography by Vittorio Storaro.
Raging Bull (1980)
128 minutes, D: Martin Scorsese
Extraordinarily compelling look at prizefighter Jake La Motta, whose
leading opponent outside the ring was always himself. That such an unappealing
man could inspire so vivid a portrait is a tribute to the collaboration
of Scorsese, De Niro, and writers Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin. There's
not a false note in characterization or period detail. De Niro and editor
Thelma Schoonmaker won richly deserved Academy Awards.
E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
115 minutes, D: Steven Spielberg
A 10-year-old boy (Thomas) befriends a creature from another planet
that's been stranded on Earth. A warm, insightful story of childhood
innocence, frustration, courage, and love...with a remarkable "performance"
by E.T. An exhilarating experience for young and old alike. Screenplay
by Melissa Mathison. John Williams won an Oscar for his soaring score,
as did the sound and visual effects teams. Trivia note: Debra Winger
contributed to E.T.'s voice.
146 minutes, D: Martin Scorsese
A boy grows up in an Italian-American neighborhood of Brooklyn and dreams
of becoming part of the Mob. Fascinating look at the allure - and the
reality - of day-to-day life in a Mafia family, based on experiences
of Henry Hill (Liotta), who wound up in the Federal witness protection
program. The violence is (necessarily) harsh and off-putting, like the
film itself at times, but it's brilliantly realized by Scorsese and
cinematographer Michael Ballhaus. Major criticism: It goes on too long.
Bracco and Oscar winner Pesci stand out in an exceptional cast; that's
Scorsese's mother as Pesci's mom. Screenplay by the director and Nicholas
Pileggi, based on the latter's book Wiseguy.
Schindler's List (1993)
195 minutes, D: Steven Spielberg
Staggering adaptation of Thomas Keneally's best-seller about the real-life
Catholic war profiteer who initially flourished by sucking up to the
Nazis, but eventually went broke saving the lives of more than 1,000
Polish Jews by employing them in his factory, manufacturing crockery
for the German army. Filmed almost entirely on location in Poland, in
gritty b/w, but with a pace to match the most frenzied Spielberg works,
this looks and feels like nothing Hollywood has ever made before. The
three central characters rate - and receive - unforgettable performances:
Neeson, who's towering as Oskar Schindler; Kingsley, superb as his Jewish
accountant (and conscience); and Fiennes, who's frightening as the odious
Nazi commandant. Outstanding screenplay by Steven Zaillian and cinematography
by Janusz Kaminski. Spielberg's most intense and personal film to date.
Seven Oscars include Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Art
Direction, Cinematography, Editing, and Original Score (John Williams).
Pulp Fiction (1994)
154 minutes, D: Quentin Tarantino
Audacious, outrageous look at honor among lowlifes, told in a somewhat
radical style overlapping a handful of separate stories. Jackson and
Travolta are magnetic as a pair of hit men who have philosophical debates
on a regular basis; Willis is compelling as a crooked boxer whose plan
to take it on the lam hits a few detours. (In fact, there are no slackers
in this cast.) This voluble, violent, pumped-up movie isn't for every
taste - certainly not for the squeamish - but it's got more vitality
than almost any other film of 1994. Tarantino is featured onscreen
as Jimmie of Toluca Lake. Roger Avary gets co-story credit with Tarantino
(they won the Screenplay Oscar).
97 minutes, D: Joel Coen
The Coen Brothers put a unique spin on a murder case, layering their
story with droll observations about Minnesotans and winding up with
a totally disarming comedy! McDormand is terrific as an efficient (and
pregnant) police chief with multiple murders on her hands; Macy is equally
good as a two-bit schemer who tries to stay cool when he finds himself
way over his head in a quicksand of crime. Love that Muzak in the background!
Oscar winner for Best Screenplay (Joel and Ethan Coen) and Actress (McDormand).