The Best Films From Each Decade (The Greats)

Best of DecadeS

Best of Decade(s) Mega List: Since movies this year have been, to put things kindly, underwhelming (its days like this I’m glad I’m not a real writer because there’s nothing worth writing about), and summer’s not going to be much better for the second year in a row (all nerds like me have to look forward is, what, Inception and Scott Pilgrim–okay, Predators too but don’t tell anyone I said that),  there really is no better time than now to look back. I began with just wanting to name my favorite films from the past decades of cinema leading up to the 2000-2009 but, of course, that turned into a longer, more bloated and memory testing endeavor. As objective as all this may be, not to mention arbitrary (does a film released in 1991 belong more to the 90s culture or 80s?), doing this still gives me a fantastic sense of the movies within their proper history setting which is often the best way to look at them because so many once-great films may not hold up well today but still should be given credit for the era they did come out in. But lists like this are organic and change/evolve/devolve/etc within the viewer perception. We should not be ashamed to admit that how we feel about a given film, or in this case a list of films, is not really “how we feel about them” but, rather, how we feel about them at a specific time. That being said a list like this is never final; with any luck it will grow along with the viewer.

Here’s the real reason I’m doing this list. Over the coming weeks/months I’m going to get my Double Zero decade list on but before I do that I wanted to, for my own sake (because at this point in my life who else would I be doing this for?), start with past before moving to the most recent past. Now that I’ve gotten this list foreplay out of the way I can get into the real fun stuff by diving into 00’s lists covering the “best” music, best songs, video games, books, anime and of course movies of our most recently past decade, thus finally being able to let the last ten years go by putting it to bed in the graveyard of “best of” lists. Maybe then I will be more inspired to write about current movies. The future may be now but I’m not quite ready to live in it, and who can blame me; have you been to the theater lately?

Pre 1920s

  1. A Trip to the Moon (George Meles)
  2. Broken Blossoms (Griffith)
  3. Caberia (Pastrone)
  4. Intolerance (Griffith)
  5. Les Vampires (Feuillade–the first vampire movie?)
  6. The Outlaw and His Wife (Sjöström)
  7. Take Your Pick of Lumiere Brother films
  8. Leaves from Satan’s Book (Dreyer)
  9. Fantomas (Feuillade)
  10. Birth of a Nation (Griffith)
  11. J’Accuse (Gance)
  12. The Circus (Chaplin)
  13. Oyster Princess (Lubitsch)

Random Thoughts: As important as Griffith’s role as the person that changed, but really invented, the film narrative and use of the frame as well as even establishing the rules of film pacing, what Meles did with the medium was actually greater or at the very least more lovable: he did all that the super literal Griffith did but added the essential ingredient of imagination to the mix. I should say that while I very much enjoy films made in this era, it’s almost not fair to call them “films” in the way we use the term today. It’s more like pre or proto film which is not to dismiss the work of  this crucial era but, rather, to allow it to exist as its own art form and not be compared to films that have the advantage of building on a previous conventions. Should we compare the aesthetic quality of cave paintings to Rembrandt? Hell no, even though both can be amazing in their own way. I have friends who hate when I say that but I find that separating this era really allows these films to understood better.

1920s



  1. The Last Laugh (FW Murnau)
  2. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer)
  3. Metropolis (Lang)
  4. Sunrise (Murnau)
  5. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene)
  6. Nosferatu (Murnau)
  7. Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein)
  8. Un Chien Andalou (Bunuel/Dali)
  9. The Crowd (Vidor)
  10. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov)
  11. Sherlock Jr. (Keaton)
  12. Nanook of the North (Flaherty)
  13. Dr. Mabuse (Lang)
  14. Der Golum (Wegener)
  15. Faust (Murnau)
  16. Strike (Eisenstein)
  17. The Marked Ones (Dreyer)
  18. October (Eisenstein)
  19. Napoleon (Gance)
  20. Häxan (Christensen)


Top Filmmakers of the 20s Era: FW Murnau, Eisenstein
Performance of the decade: Maria Falconetti
in The Passion of Joan of Arc. Easily the best close-up performer in the history of cinema! Also, Keaton in The General because it goes far, far beyond just acting.
Most Overrated Film:
Chaplin’s The Kid. Also, The Jazz Singer
Random Thoughts: The dismissively titled “seventh art” took everything that worked from the earliest greats and added its own polish and professionalism. The silent film was absolutely perfected in this era which was, of course, on the cusp of so much change. But I take a certain comfort in this decade’s output as it cuts through the BS of so many films after. There ‘s an innocence and wonder that the 30s contained that just kinda went away. More than anything these films are a joy to look at; a simplistic way of putting it but is there any better way to describe the rapid visual poetry of Potemkin, the stark close-ups of Dreyer’s Joan of Arc and endlessly cool looking comic set-ups of just about any Keaton film? While comedies and science fiction came into their own Murnau, in particular, took film to the next level with his flawless titles Last Laugh (he moved the camera and broke the fourth wall before anybody), Sunrise, Faust and Nosferatu, none of which are like the other, all of which are perfect. Amazingly, Murnau works account for almost half this list! Dude Rocks

1930s



  1. M (Fritz Lang)
  2. Modern Times (Chaplin)
  3. Zero for Conduct (Vigo)
  4. The Rules of the Game (Renoir)
  5. Alexander Nevinski (Eisenstein)
  6. King Kong (Cooper)
  7. Angels with Dirty Faces (Curtiz)
  8. Frankenstein/The Bride of Frankenstein (Whale)
  9. City Lights (Chaplin)
  10. Stagecoach (Ford)
  11. Fury (Lang)
  12. The Thin Man (Van Dyke)
  13. The 39 Steps (Hitchcock)
  14. Greed (Stroheim)
  15. Bringing Up Baby (Hawks)
  16. Freaks (Browning)
  17. The Blue Angel (Sternberg)
  18. Pepe le Moko (Duvivier)
  19. Snow White (Disney)
  20. Gunga Din (Stevens)
  21. Lost Horizon (Capra)

Top Filmmakers of the 20s Era: Chaplin and Fritz Lang
Performance of the Decade
: Chaplin in Modern Times. Peter Lorre in M.
Most Overrated Films: Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and
The Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup. Not a fan of Capra/not a fan of (in Sean Connery voice…) the Marx brothers. I’m a huge dick because of this apparently.

Random Thoughts: Also known as the awkward decade. A transitional era in every way, but that’s what makes its films so unique. When else could something like M have been released? Who needs sound when you have a figure like Chaplin taking cinema to its most exuberant heights. While sound certainly is preferred by almost anybody, this new technology kind of ruined a lot of the films of the period.  Hollywood and elsewhere didn’t quite know what to do with it but that’s also what made some of the films of the era so exciting.

1940s

 

  1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles)
    Citizen Kane (Welles)
    Citizen Kane (Welles)
    …more Citizen Kane (Welles)
  2. His Girl Friday (Hawks)
  3. Stray Dog (Kurosawa)
  4. Bicycle Thieves (DeSica)
  5. Double Indemnity (Wilder)
  6. The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles)
  7. The Woman in the Window (Lang)
  8. Shadow of a Doubt (Hichcock)
  9. Kind Hearts and Coronets (Hammer)
  10. The Treasure of Sierra Madre (Huston)
  11. Rebecca (Hitchcock)
  12. Sullivan’s Travels (Sturges)
  13. The Third Man (Reed)
  14. Fantasia (Disney)
  15. Out of the Past (Tourneur)
  16. Rope (Hitchcock)
  17. The Red Shoes (P&P)
  18. Late Spring (Ozu)
  19. Beauty and the Beast (Cocteau)
  20. Naked City (Dassin)
  21. Laura (Preminger)
  22. Lady from Shanghai (Welles)
  23. Key Largo (Huston)
  24. The Great Dictator (Chaplin)
  25. Red River (Hawks)
  26. Casablanca (Curtiz)
  27. Notorious (Hitchcck)
  28. The Big Sleep (Hawks)
  29. Detour (Ulmer)
  30. The Stranger (Welles)
  31. Pursued (Walsh)
  32. Meshes in the Afternoon (Deren)
  33. White Heat (Walsh)
  34. Mildred Pierce (Curtiz)
  35. Lifeboat (Hitchcock)
  36. Gilda (Vidor)
  37. The Razor’s Edge (Goulding)
  38. Ball of Fire (Hawks)
  39. The Postman Always Rings Twice (Garnett)
  40. Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Barton)
  41. The Lost Weekend (Wilder)
  42. The Philadelphia Story (Cukor)
  43. Dumbo (Sharpsteen)
  44. The Lady Eve (Sturges)
  45. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Mankiewicz)
  46. Gentleman’s Agreement (Kazan)
  47. The Wolfman (Waggner)
  48. Miracle on 34th Street (Seaton)
  49. The Ox-Bow Incident (Wellman)
  50. Palm Beach Story (Sturges)


Top Filmmakers of the 40s Era:
Orson Welles and
Howard Hawks.
And you got to give it up to Preston Sturges flawlessly prolific 1940s run that includes classics like Unfaithfully Yours, Miracle at Morgan’s Creek, Lady Eve, Christmas In July, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (that odd Harold Loyd sequel to The Freshman), Palm Beach Story and, oh nothing, just Sullivan’s Travels. 13 films in 8 years. 13!!!! There is no filmmaker in the past or present that could ever match that run. Sturges put so much into his work during these ten short years that, when he tapped out after 1948, nobody could really blame the guy.
Performance of the decade: Joseph Cotton in Citizen Kane/Magnificent Ambersons/Shadow of a Doubt. Cotton is one of my all time favorite actors and it’s sad how little respect he gets these days or even at the time. His partner in crime is of course Orson Welles and his role in Citizen Kane is every bit as towering as Welles the director. And how about Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets? Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity proved that nobody reads Wilder dialogue better than Freddy Mac which is no easy task–sorry Jack Lemon, you’re good too.
Most Overrated Films: Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life (no hate mail please).

Random Thoughts: The best decade for not just comedies but film in general? As much as I love the run the late 90s had, Yes, there’s no question that this was the true golden age of film. More than that this was the period when films became FILMS. American, European and Asian films all blossomed with such astounding growth and aesthetic maturity that, to watch the films from today’s time, is sobering to see how little the fundamentals have changed since the 40s. Only 2001 in the 60s, Pulp Fiction in the 90s and a few noteworthy art films have changed the core paradigm of what cinema is in any way worth noting. This is also the decade that genres sorted themselves out and established rules they still use to this day: dramas, comedies, noir and realism all came into their own as distinct modes of storytelling/filmmaking. I can never say enough good things about this era.

1950s


 

  1. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock)
  2. Rashomon (Kurosawa)
  3. Mr. Arkadin (Welles)
  4. Sunset Boulevard (Wilder)
  5. Singing in the Rain (Kelly/Doen)
  6. Night of the Hunger (Laughton)
  7. In a Lonely Place (Ray)
  8. Touch of Evil (Welles)
  9. High Noon (Zinnemann)
  10. Godzilla (Honda)
  11. The 400 Blows (Truffaut)
  12. The Big Heat (Fritz Lang)
  13. A Place in the Sun (Stevens)
  14. The Ten Commandments (De Mille)
  15. Pickup on South Street (Fuller)
  16. Rear Window (Hitchcock)
  17. Eyes Without a Face (Franju)
  18. Gun Crazy (Lewis)
  19. North by Northwest (Hitchcock)
  20. The Caine Mutiny (Dmytryk)
  21. Bridge on the River Kwai (Lean)
  22. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Siegel)
  23. The Seventh Seal (Bergman)
  24. Kiss Me Deadly (Aldrich)
  25. The Hidden Fortress (Kurosawa)
  26. Leave her to Heaven (Stahl)
  27. Umberto D (DeSica)
  28. The Trouble with Harry (Hichcock)
  29. Orpheus (Cocteau)
  30. Hiroshma Mon Amour (Resnais)
  31. All About Eve (Mankiewicz)
  32. The African Queen (Huston)
  33. Shadows (Cassavetes)
  34. Winchester ’73 (Mann)
  35. La Strada (Fellini)
  36. Tokyo Story (Ozu)
  37. Written in the Wind (Sirk)
  38. Rififi (Dassin)
  39. Wild Strawberries (Bergman)
  40. Some Like it Hot (Wilder)
  41. Paths of Glory (Kubrick)
  42. Strangers on a Train (Hitchcock)
  43. A Face in the Crowd (Kazin)
  44. The River (Renoir)
  45. Sansho the Baliff (Mizoguchi)
  46. The World of Apu (Ray)
  47. Breathless (Godard)
  48. The Searchers (Ford)
  49. Dark City (Dieterie)
  50. Written on the Wind (Sirk)

Top Filmmakers of the 50s Era: Hitchcock and Wilder.
Performance of the decade:
Toshirô Mifune in Rashomon. Humphrey Bogart gave his best performance in In a Lonely Place.
Most Overrated Films: I love Hawks but Rio Bravo is grotesquely overrated (count me on team High Noon). Rey’s Rebel Without a Caus
always strikes nothing but false notes; every time I watch it is painful. I’m also not a fan of 90% of Kazan’s blockheaded work, On the Waterfront is so blunt and preachy I literally can’t sit through it any more (and I’ve seen it twice). And I can’t forget Giant. And though it’s not by any means bad, I will never understand how Seven Samauri became people favorite Kurosawa film.
Random Thoughts: Clearly, the 50s belonged to Hitchcock. And thank the movie gods for that too because, despite color kicking ass, this period of time saw movies at their most safe and bland. Not Hitch, though, whose films added bite and intensity and proved single handedly how the movies could capture (and twist) our emotions.

1960s

 

  1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick)
  2. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Leoni)
  3. High and Low (Kurosawa)
  4. Planet of the Apes (Schaffner)
  5. Becket (Glenville)
  6. Underworld USA (Fuller)
  7. The Shop on Main Street (Kadar and Klos)
  8. (Fellini)
  9. Night of the Living Dead (Romero)
  10. Woman in the Dunes (Teshigahara)
  11. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Hill)
  12. Yojimbo/Sanjuro (Kurosawa)
  13. For a Few Dollars More (Leoni)
  14. Once Upon a Time in the West (Leoni)
  15. The Graduate (Nichols)
  16. I Am Cuba (Kalatozishvili)
  17. Lolita (Kubrick)Contempt (Godard)
  18. Z (Garvas)
  19. Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick)
  20. Rosemary’s Baby (Polanski)
  21. Closley Watched Trains (Menzel)
  22. Take the Money and Run (Allen)
  23. Zulu (Enfield)
  24. Point Blank (Boorman)
  25. Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky)
  26. La Dolce Vita (Fellini)
  27. A Man for All Seasons (Zinnemann)
  28. Lawrence of Arabia (Lean)
  29. Cleo from 5 to 7 (Varda)
  30. From Russia With Love (Young)
  31. Shock Corridor (Fuller)
  32. La Jetée (Marker)
  33. Psycho (Hitchcock)
  34. Belle de Jour (Bunuel)
  35. The Trial (Welles)
  36. Persona (Bergman)
  37. Playtime (Tati)
  38. The Producers (Brooks)
  39. Manchurnian Canidate (Frankenheimer)
  40. Quartermass and the Pitt (Baker)
  41. Satyricon (Fellini)
  42. Hour of the Wolf (Bergman)
  43. The Wild Bunch (Peckinpah)
  44. Blow-Up (Antonoioni)
  45. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (Aldrich)
  46. If… (Anderson)
  47. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (Ford)
  48. The Apartment
  49. Peeping Tom (Powell)
  50. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg – (Demy)


Top Filmmakers of the 60s Era: Kubrick and Leoni
Performance of the decade:
Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Peter O’Tool in Beckett. Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove and Lolita. Anthony Perkins in Psycho. Cliff Robertson in Underworld USA.
Most Overrated Films:
Lots. Easy Rider, Bonnie and Clyde, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Tom Jones, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Charade.
Random Thoughts: The 60s means something different to so many people. For some its the European Renaissance. For most its the birth of New Hollywood (ushered in with Bonnie and Clyde). For me… it’s Kubrick, Clint, and Apes. While I prefer the classic (30-40s) and modern (90s-00s) era to the 60s-80s looking at this list makes it hard to deny that this decade had a good run.

1970s

 

  1. The Duellists and Alien (both by Ridley Scott and no I can’t choose just one)
  2. The Man Who Would Be King (Huston)
  3. Barry Lyndon (Kubrick)
  4. Jaws (tried to keep Spielberg off the list but… it’s Jaws!)
  5. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Peckinpah)
  6. The Conversation (also tried to keep all Coppola off the list but, damn, this movie is perfect!)
  7. Carnal Knowledge (Nichols)
  8. Aguirre Wrath of God  (Herzog)
  9. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Gilliam/Jones)
  10. Walkabout (Roeg)
  11. Phantom of the Paradise (De Palma)
  12. Rolling Thunder (Flynn, written by Schrader)
  13. I, Claudius (miniseries, Wise)
  14. Network (Lumet)
  15. Eraser Head (Lynch)
  16. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Herzog)
  17. The Passenger (Antonioni)
  18. The Fury (De Palma)
  19. Real Life (A Brooks)
  20. A Boy and His Dog (Jones)
  21. Amarcord (Fellini)
  22. Love and Death (Allen)
  23. Hardcore (Schrader)
  24. The Castle of Cagliostro (Miyazaki)
  25. Silent Running (Trumbull)
  26. Traveling Players (Angelopulos)
  27. Chinatown (Polanski)
  28. The Obscure Object of Desire (Bunuel)
  29. Red Beard (Kurosawa)
  30. Solaris (Tarkovsky)
  31. Fat City (Huston) “Did I get knocked out?” “No! You won!”
  32. Star Wars (Lucas)
  33. Manhattan (Allen)
  34. A Clockwork Orange (overrated but still amazing, Kubrick)
  35. Picnic at Hanging Rock (Weir)
  36. Being There (Ashby)
  37. Day for Night (Truffaut)
  38. Taxi Driver (Scorsese)
  39. Time After Time (Meyer)
  40. The Spy Who Loved Me (Gilbert)
  41. The Godfather II (Coppola)
  42. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman)
  43. Phantasm (Coscarelli)
  44. Pale Rider (Eastwood)
  45. Halloween (Carpenter)
  46. The Yakuza (Pollack)
  47. Zardoz (Boorman) “Zardoz is pleased.”
  48. Assault on Precinct 13 (Carpenter)
  49. Two Lane Blacktop (Hellman)
  50. The Last Wave (Weir)
  51. Apocalypse Now (Coppola)


Top Filmmakers of the 70s Era: Woody Allen. The rest were all high or something during these years.  
Performance of the Decade: Sigourney Weaver in Alien. William Holden and Ned Betty in Network. Michael Caine and Sean Connery in The Man Who Would Be King. Jack Nicholson was the straightest (and best) he’s ever been in The Passenger and Carnal Knowledge. Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver. And I’ve never seen a performance quite like the one Susan Tyrrell in Huston’s Fat city. People should study what she does in that movie.
Most Overrated Films: The Godfather (“the best film ever” or a slightly above average mob movie hijacked/ruined by Brando, the most overrated actor of all time???), The Deer Hunter, Rocky, Coco’s Nest, The Sting and, as non best picture winners go American Graffiti, Nashville, Mean Streets and 1900.

Random Thoughts: You can have your Coppolas and Scorseses because Ridley Scott made the best two best  films of this era and I don’t care what culture-hogging baby boomers say to the contrary. Woody Allen pretty much made the rest. This was an odd and ugly decade in terms of aesthetics. Even some of the “best” films like Holy Grail and Jaws look foggy and dull. A part of me wishes that 70s and 80s films were made in glorious black and white because at least they would hold up better. Though no color filter could make the hair and glasses of the time look better. This of course is a personal opinion that not many share (because, again, baby boomers have convinced everyone that their generation is the best ever, for all time, the end) and to defuse being called an idiot I’m not saying the “classics” of this era aren’t classics on par with the greats of any other decade… only that there does seem to be more overrated titles that people won’t shut up about. What’s funny is that I didn’t even realize that until looking at all the notable works to come out in this much (too) celebrated period of cinema. On a bit of a controversial note (as if saying the 70s is overrated isn’t) I’m choosing The Duellists as the top film over Scott’s own seminal late 70’s masterwork Alien. It is one of the most rare and rewarding and unseen gems that the cinema has to offer and  more similar to Kubrick’s equally brilliant Barry Lyndon than people realize. See it!

The Top 100 Films of the 1980s

  1. Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen)
  2. Brazil (Gilliam)
  3. Die Hard (McTiernan)
  4. Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior (Miller)
  5. They Live (Carpenter)
  6. Evil Dead 2 (Raimi)
  7. Aliens (Cameron)
  8. The Empire Strikes Back (Lucas, I mean Kirshner)
  9. Blade Runner (Scott)
  10. Amadeus (Forman)
  11. Ran (Kurosawa)
  12. Predator (McTiernan)
  13. Raiders of the Lost Arc (Spielberg–argh, made the list again)
  14. Adventures of Barron Munchausen (Gillian)
  15. The Decalogue (Kieslowski)
  16. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (Schrader)
  17. My Dinner With Andre (Malle)
  18. The Thing (Carpenter)
  19. Fanny and Alexander (Bergman)
  20. Body Double (De Palma)
  21. Conan the Barbarian (Millius)
  22. Day of the Dead (Romero)
  23. Zelig (Allen)
  24. Down By Law (Jarmusch)
  25. Return of the Jedi (Marquand)
  26. The Big Blue (Besson)
  27. Re-animator (Gordon)
  28. Stalker (Tarkovsky)
  29. Akira (Okomo)
  30. Spaceballs (Brooks)
  31. Lethal Weapon 2 (Donner)
  32. Ferris Buller’s Day Off (Hughes)
  33. My Beautiful Launderet (Frears)
  34. My Neighbor Totoro (Miyazaki)
  35. Fitzcarraldo and Burden of Dreams (Herzog/Blank)
  36. Purple Rose of Cairo (Allen)
  37. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (Burton)
  38. Hanna and Her Sisters (Allen)
  39. Videodrome (Cronenberg)
  40. Beetlejuice (Burton)
  41. The Last Temptation of Christ (Scorsese)
  42. Back to the Future part II (Zemeckis)
  43. After Hours (Scorsese)
  44. Robocop (Verhoeven)
  45. Blow Out (De Palma)
  46. House of Games (Mamet)
  47. Landscape In The Mist (Angelopulos)
  48. Broadcast News (Brooks)
  49. Blue Velvet (Lynch)
  50. Dead Calm (Noyce)
  51. Dead Ringers (Cronenberg)
  52. Escape from New York (Carpenter)
  53. A Fish Called Wanda (Crichton)
  54. The Untouchables (DePalma)
  55. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Zemeckis)
  56. Stardust Memories (Allen)
  57. The Right Stuff (Kauffman)
  58. Ghotbusters (Reitman)
  59. Down and Out in Beverly Hills (Mazursky)
  60. Angel Heart (Parker)
  61. This is Spinal Tap (Reiner)
  62. The Name of the Rose (Annaud)
  63. Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (Kurosawa)
  64. Sex, Lies and Videotape (Soderbergh)
  65. Better off Dead (Holland)
  66. Radio Days (Allen)
  67. The Falls (Greenaway)
  68. Mephisto (Szabo)
  69. Dressed to Kill (De Palma)
  70. A Zed & Two Naughts (Peter Greenaway)
  71. A Passage to India (Lean)
  72. Night of the Comet (Eberhradt)
  73. Labyrinth (Henson)
  74. Never Ending Story (Petersen)
  75. Tapeheads (Fishman)
  76. Legend (Scott)
  77. Do the Right Thing (Lee)
  78. Monsiur Hire (Leconte)
  79. the first half of Full Metal Jacket (Kubrick)
  80. Repo Man (Cox)
  81. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Almodovar)
  82. Highlander (Mulcahy)
  83. Das Boot (Petrsen)
  84. Romancing the Stone (Zemeckis)
  85. Body Heat (Kasdan)
  86. Big Trouble in Little China (Carpenter)
  87. The Terminator (Cameron)
  88. The Bounty (Donaldson)
  89. The Quiet Earth (Murphy)
  90. Bloodsport (Arnold)
  91. Henry V (Branagh)
  92. Meet the Feebles (Jackson)
  93. Driving Miss Daisy (Beresford)
  94. The Little Mermaid (Clements)
  95. Salvador (Stone)
  96. Princess Bride (Reiner)
  97. Gates of Heaven (Morris)
  98. Mona Lisa (Jordan)
  99. The Abyss (Cameron)
  100. 2010: The Year We Make Contact (Hyams)
  101. Young Sherlock Holmes (Livingston)
  102. Explorers (Dante)
  103. Alien Nation (Baker)
  104. Hellraiser (Barker)

Top Filmmakers of the 80s Era: Woody Allen
Performance of the Decade: Because it’s an action movie
Bruce Willis gave the best performance in the decade in a little terrorist killing movie called Die Hard. At first that sounds out of place but, watch it again and study what Willis does here. Willis gives the kind of performance people find easy to overlook but he defined the everyman action her, adding equal parts humor, humanity and ass kicking to John McClane. The combo of Hulce/Abraham in Amadeus created one of the most vivid and tangled relationships in history (I’m a sucker for movie characters who love and hate each other to a point of obsession; see also, my placement of The Duallests). Jeremy Irons and his twin Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers. And for the second decade in a row Sigourney Weaver brought heart and soul to the hard core action movie Aliens, proving, along with Willis, that action movies can be about so much more than action. Also amazing:
Kurt Russell in The Thing and Escape from New York, Michael Douglas in Wall Street and Romancing the Stone, Tim Curry in Legend (so cool, so evil), Harrison Ford in Blade Runner and Empire, Harry Dean Stanton in Repo Man. And Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead 2 because no actor went through as much hell and came out so charming.
Most Overrated Films: Scarface, the worst film ever made made by one of the best directors ever born. Also, Spielberg’s beloved E.T. is a rank, annoying, shrill, gooey, sentimental, stupid sci-fi feel good movie staring a dumb looking alien with a heart of, what, light bulbs? It’s what I hate about movies in general. People my age love it, and hate me for not. Also, despite seeing this movie four times, I’m still not and might not ever be as down with Ragging Bull as other film lovers seem to be. Perhaps it will grow on me like Blue Velvet, a film I really didn’t care for until the third viewing when I approached it as more of a self aware mystery suburban noir and was able to loved it from this new perspective. Honestly, though, a lot of 80s movies are overrated. When it comes to the 80s we are all in some way blinded by nostalgia.

Random Thoughts: The the most schizophrenic and aesthetically jacked up (and not always in a bad way) decade of cinema, the decade I was born in (coincidence?), was thankfully balanced by the timeless bravado of Woody Allen’s filmmaking, foreign films, sci-fi, horror, b-movies and great John Carpenter flicks. While Allen is more known for his 70s output, I found the mature, Bergman-ish Allen of the 80s to have hit his stride. I am grateful to Allen for cutting through the excessive style of the time (big hair, ugly glasses, neon) because, in America, his films actually hold up beyond the time period which is not something a lot of American 80s “classics” could say. At the same time, though, I don’t think any decade in history had more purely fun films at the top of the list–Hollywood wasn’t quite Hollywood till the 80s kicked in. I mean, in what other decade would a film like Die Hard or Predator or They Live top any sort of list? None. The 80s are an enigma, I love the era as much as I hate it.

The Top 150+ films of the 1990s

  1. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarentino)
  2. Topsy-Turvy (Leigh) “Thank…yoooou…veeeeery…much.”
  3. Magnolia (Anderson)
  4. Fight Club (David Fincher)
  5. JFK (Stone)
  6. Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick)
  7. Deconstructing Harry (Allen)
  8. Heat (Mann)
  9. A Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami)
  10. Babe (Miller/Noonan)
  11. Out of Sight (Soderbergh)
  12. Hamlet (Branagh)
  13. The Game (Fincher)
  14. Strange Days (Bigelow)
  15. The Remains of the Day (Merchant)
  16. Nixon (Stone)
  17. Being John Malkovich (Jonze)
  18. Naked Lunch (Cronenberg)
  19. Dark City (Proyas)
  20. Boogie Nights (Anderson)
  21. Starship Troopers (Verhoeven)
  22. Contact (Zemeckis)
  23. Barton Fink (Coen bros)
  24. The Insider (Mann)
  25. Three Colors Trilogy (Kieslowski)
  26. The Limey (Soderbergh)
  27. The Ninth Gate (Polanski)
  28. Demon Night (Dickerson)
  29. Red Rock West (Dahl)
  30. The Thin Red Line (Malick)
  31. Kiki’s Delivery Service (Miyazaki)
  32. Delicatessen (Jeunet)
  33. The Fisher King (Gilliam)
  34. Hearts of Darkness (Bahr)
  35. Unforgiven (Eastwood)
  36. Sweet and Lowdown (Allen)
  37. Dead Again (Branagh)
  38. The Big Lebowski (Coen brothers)
  39. Dracula (Coppola)
  40. Clockers (Lee)
  41. Naked (Leigh)
  42. Aladdin (Clements and Musker)
  43. The Zero Effect (Kasdan)
  44. Total Recall (Verhoeven)
  45. The Shawshank Redemption (see, I can like sentimental–Darabont)
  46. Ulysses Gaze (Angelopoulos)
  47. The Stolen Children (Amelio)
  48. Natural Born Killers (Stone)
  49. Chungking Express (Kar-Wai)
  50. Three Kings (Russell)
  51. The Player (Altman)
  52. The Talented Mr. Ripley (Minghella)
  53. The Arrival (Twohy)
  54. After Dark, My Sweet (Foley)
  55. Bullets Over Broadway (Allen)
  56. Man Bites Dog (Belvaus)
  57. Crash (Cronenberg)
  58. Jacob’s Ladder (Lyne)
  59. Jerry and Tom (Rubniuk)
  60. Quick Change (Bill Murry. Yes, Bill Murry directed it)
  61. Smoke (Wang)
  62. White Hunter Black Heart (Eastwood)
  63. Rushmore (Anderson)
  64. Groundhog Day (Ramis)
  65. Twin Peaks Movie Pilot (Lynch)
  66. Waterworld (Reynolds/Costner)
  67. Wallace & Gromit: The Wrong Trousers (Park)
  68. The Hunt for Red October (McTiernan)
  69. As Good as it Gets (Brooks)
  70. Memoirs of an Invisible Man (Carpenter)
  71. The Cook, The Thief (Greenaway)
  72. Secrets and Lies (Leigh)
  73. Princess Mononoke (Miyazaki)
  74. Grosse Point Blank (Armitage)
  75. Close-Up (Kiarostami)
  76. Taylor of Panama (Borman)
  77. Looking for Richard (Pacino)
  78. Leon: The Professional (Besson)
  79. The Truman Show (Weir)
  80. Get Shorty (Sonnenfeld)
  81. Before Sunrise (Linklater)
  82. Reversal of Fortuine (Schroder)
  83. The City of Lost Children (Jeunet)
  84. Kingpin (Farelly bros)
  85. L.A. Confidential (Hanson)
  86. Jackie Brown (Tarantino)
  87. Miller’s Crossing (Coen Bros)
  88. Buffalo ’66 (Gallo)
  89. The Assignment (Duguay)
  90. Flirting with Disaster (Russell)
  91. The Last Boyscout (Tony Scott)
  92. Fresh (Yakin)
  93. The Long Kiss Goodnight (Harlin)
  94. Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino)
  95. Escape from L.A. (Carpenter)
  96. Toy Story (Lassiter)
  97. Ghost Dog (Jarmush)
  98. Alien: Resurrection (Jeunet)
  99. Breaking the Waves (von Trier)
  100. Until the End of the World (Wenders)
  101. Exotica (Egoyan)
  102. Harley Davidson and the Marbrol Man (Wincer)
  103. Tremors (Underwood)
  104. Screamers (Duguay)
  105. Hudson Hawk (Lehmann)
  106. Goldeneye (Campbell)
  107. In the Mouth of Madness (Carpenter)
  108. Short Cuts (Altman)
  109. Snake Eyes (De Palma)
  110. Fearless (Weir)
  111. Blade (Norrington)
  112. The Red Violin (Girard)
  113. Mission: Impossible (De Palma)
  114. Jesus’ Son (Maclean)
  115. Mystery Science Theater 3000 the Movie (Mallon)
  116. Diggstown (Ritchie)
  117. Tombstone (Costamos)
  118. The Usual Suspects (Singer)
  119. Hurlyburly (Drazan)
  120. Night Falls on Manhattan (Lumet)
  121. Ghost in the Shell (Oshii)
  122. The Last Seduction (Dahl)
  123. Waiting for Guffman (Guest)
  124. Underground (Kusturica)
  125. Fargo (Coen Brothers)
  126. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (Radomski)
  127. Se7en (Fincher)
  128. GATTACA (Niccol)
  129. Die Hard With a Vengeance (McTiernan)
  130. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Selick)
  131. The Road to Wellville (Parker)
  132. Homicide (Mamet)
  133. Malcolm X (Lee)
  134. Fallen Angels (Kar Wai)
  135. Holy Smoke (Campion)
  136. Sneakers (Robinson)
  137. True Lies (Cameron)
  138. The Thirteenth Floor (Rusnak)
  139. Happy Together (Kar Wai)
  140. Judge Dredd (shaddapp, it’s underrated)
  141. The Matrix (Wachowski bros)
  142. The Last Action Hero (McTiernan) “Look!… Elephant.”
  143. The English Patient (Minghella)
  144. The Rock (Bay, yes Michael Bay–he was bound to make at least one good movie)
  145. Schindler’s List (Spielberg)
  146. Farewell My Concubine (Kaige)
  147. 187 (Reynolds)
  148. The Age of Innocence (Scorsese)
  149. Tommy Boy (Segal)
  150. The Ice Storm (Lee)
  151. Austin Powers (Roach)
  152. Face/Off (Woo)
  153. Vampires (Carpenter)
  154. Cronos (Del Toro)
  155. Lord of Illusions (Barker)
  156. Godzilla 2000 (Okawara)
  157. Trainspotting (Boyle)
  158. The Lion King (Allers/Minkoff)

 

254. Titanic (Cameron)

 

341. American Beauty (Mendes)

 

801. Goodfellas (Scorsese)

Top Filmmakers of the 90s Era: QT did not just make films in the nineties, he defined the nineties. Also Oliver Stone went deep in his modernist experimental period in the 90s, destroying Hollywood conventions and getting people talking, really talking, about films. He opened up new forms of cinematic communication through yet people held that against him. I don’t know how such a forward, free thinking filmmaker can be marginalized by audiences and the institution itself. Such a shame. Then there’s David Fincher, a filmmaker that reinventing darkness in modern cinema (Se7en, The Game, and Fight Club), something that had not been done since noir’s black and white heyday. 
Performance of the Decade:
Topping the list is Samantha Morton as a mute in love with a non-stop talker in Woody Allen Sweet and Lowdown–whatever acting may be, Morton figured it out and did so without the need to utter a single word of dialogue. Garry Oldman in Dracula. Tom Cruse in Magnolia. Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction. David Thewlis in Naked. Phillip Baker Hall in Anderson’s Hard Eight. JT Walsh, RIP for his body of character actor work in the 90s. Ron Liebman gave the most underrated performance of the decade in Night Fall on Manhattan, a performance that could teach Al Pacino a thing or two about good over reaction as opposed to, uhhhhhh, Al Pacino acting. Elias Koteas in Crash.
Most Overrated Films: My ten picks for overrated/bad 90s films reads like most people’s favorites but here it goes…

1. Forrest Gump (Zemeckis)–I don’t like preachy films and I don’t like sentimental films that go for easy heart tugs–this film is both. I also never understood the overwhelming respect these films earned…
2. Life is Beautiful (That babbling idiot that nobody remembers)
3. Romeo + Juliet (Luhrman)

4.
Wild at Heart (Lynch)
5.
Run Lola Run (Twyker)
6. Batman Returns (Burton)–F-Tim Burton
7.
Braveheart (Gibson)
8. Casino (Scorsese)
9. Jurassic Park (Spielberg)
10. Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg, second half only) 
11. Dances with Wolves (Costner)
12. Mrs Doubtfire (Columbus)

Random Thoughts: Full disclosure: I’m a 90s boy. The 90s is the decade of the auteur. This era gave birth to Tarentino, Fincher, Soderbergh, both Andersons (Wes and PT), Linklater (to a lesser degree), John Dalh and a few more. Could you name half as many from this last decade?
Tarentino’s Pulp Fiction is an achievement beyond what most people realize. No film changed the style and rules of the medium more than Citizen Kane. Fact. But no film since Kane came close to doing so again until Pulp came along. The film changed the medium through storytelling devices, through its use of postmodern homages and, most notably, through writing. Characters never talked like that before, but always talk like that after Pulp. It’s one of the best films ever made but, on a personal note, its also my personal favorite. The other personal favorite (the only film that might actually surpass Pulp) is Mike Leigh’s Topsy Turvy, a good movie by most people’s standards, the best by mine. I can’t quite explain its allure, either. I’m not even a Gilbert and Sullivan fan but I am a Leigh fan and the (funny/dramatic/realistic/staged) tone he and his cast achieve is achievement of such morbidly beautiful harmony. Topsy-Turvy puts a smile on my face, it makes me happy to be alive, it makes me love movies. Through making this list I also was delighted to see how Kurosawa managed to make decade defining masterworks in the 1940s (Stray Dog), the 1950s (Rashomon), the 1960s (High and Low), 80s (Ran), and, yes, even in the 90s! His “Dreams” never get enough credit. For some reason Kurosawa seemed to sleep his way through the entire decade of the 70s but in his defense 1975’s Dersu Uzala is really high on my Netflix queue so maybe that will become an exception to this odd dry spell (was this around the time he attempted suicide? because that could explain it). The only other director that comes close (and is still going!) to bridging more than half a century of cinema is Woody Allen who’s impressive output began in
60s, eased into the 70s, reached its peek in the 80s, made a come-back in the 90s and of course continued all that good stuff into 2000s as well. Good god, man, how is that possible?! Even if you’re not a fan you have to respect that.

2000s???
So far I have the best films of the decade nailed down, just not the order. Now I can work on that. Until that happens in a few weeks, who knows, maybe something that I haven’t seen yet will make the list.

Directors With the Most Appearances On the List

  1. I put 12 Woody Allen films on the list! Best director ever or am I just a weird fanboy?
  2. Akira Kurosawa scored no less than 9 films.
  3. John Carpenter also with 9… holy crap, that’s more than…
  4. Alfred Hitchcock made no less than 8 films but that number could have easily been more.
  5. Stanley Kubrick made the list 8 times. Given how non prolific this director is that’s impressive.
  6. Orson Wells 7 of his films made the list. Amazing considering how few films he made. Or should I say: was allowed to make.
  7. Brian DePalma made the list 7 times. Even his “bad” films like Snake Eyes are great! Like Carpenter, De Palma is one of the unsung masters of the medium.
  8. Howard Hawks has 5 films on this list. Gotta respect Haws (despite my feelings toward Rio Bravo).
  9. FW Murnau made the list 4 times. 4 times in a single decade! That sets the single decade record.
  10. John Huston, the most underrated well known studio director of all time has 5 on the list and that’s not enough.
  11. Ridley Scott with 4 on the list.
  12. David Cronenberg, one of the all time greats with that magic number 4.
  13. Hayo Miyazaki with 4 on the list.
  14. Peter Weir, out of nowhere, with 4.
  15. Robert Zemeckis, a director I didn’t even know I liked (and am still not quite sure), managed to get 4 on the list. He can now be forgiven for making Forrest Gump.
  16. Tarkovsky with 3. but only because I haven’t seen The Mirror yet and can’t find Nostalghia, like, anywhere.
  17. Quentin Tarantino has 3 films but that was just from the 90s. One happened to be the best of the decade. If I factor in his shockingly consistent 00s run that number would be bumped up to 7. By 2020 he may be tied with Woody Allen.

8 thoughts on “The Best Films From Each Decade (The Greats)”

  1. Hi!

    I’m a high school English teacher, and in developing a sort of fantasy curriculum for a film studies elective I plan to propose to my principal, I wandered over to your site. First of all WOW! Thanks for all your thoughtful reviews and lists. I’ve got your blog bookmarked, and if I do get the go-ahead to teach a class, I know I’ll be revisiting here heaps! I’m a more amateur film enthusiast than you are, and you’ve definitely given me plenty of homework to do.

    The way I would structure the class would leave time to show one full-length feature per decade. (On top of that we’d also view and discuss other significant scenes, clips of performances, etc. from each era.) Since you like making lists, I wonder if the next time you get bored, you might offer me any suggestions of the best film from each decade to teach to high-schoolers. What I’m considering in my selection:

    1. Importance of the film. Is it a good representation of film-making of the era? Did it reinvent the rules in any way? What does it say about audiences of the time? How much does it leave for us to discuss and think about?

    2. Challenging, yet appealing to high-schoolers, not just me.

    3. Universally appealing. Doesn’t put either all the girls or all the boys to sleep.

    4. These are mature upper-classmen who will have permission from parents, but is it appropriate to show in school? Rated R isn’t necessarily inappropriate, but excessive language, violence, sex might be.

    5. Mainly at the end of everything, I don’t want my students to be little film experts, but to want to CONTINUE to learn and appreciate films over the course of their lives. I don’t want to overwhelm or intimidate, but challenge and engage.

    So, I’m taking a lot from your “top of the decades” list here. But if you have one specific suggestion as the best film for high schools from each decade, I would lap it up!! 🙂 Thanks so much, and keep doing what you’re doing!

    1. Thanks for your input. I wish I had a class like that in High School.

      For the 10s and 20s I would find some sort of montage clips of the best silent films. Something that moves fast and gets the point across. If I had to show one from early cinema it would be The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari for both it’s flawless silent movie technique and it’s place in history as German made, post WWI pre WWII filmmaking (Kracauer’s seminal historiography “From Caligari to Hitler” would be a great reference point). It’s also still very enjoyable.
      30s Lang’s M would be a good choice. So would Chaplin and Keaton (even Harold Loyd) films. The later two really lend themselves to clips. Set pieces like Chaplin turned into an assembly line or Keaton on the train in The General are instantly enjoyable and so purely visual that it could hold the attention of viewers of any age.
      40s of course Welles. You can never see Citizen Kane enough (god knows I have) but teens are bored by it (I’ll never understand why). My suggestion here would be to either show Kane in its entirety or perhaps as a primer show them Roger Eberts commentary on the Kane DVD. It’s one of the most insightful commentaries ever recorded. Great for educational purposes because he deconstructs the entire movie! No joke, it’s like 2 years of film school in 2 hours.
      50s Hitchcock. Anything by Hitchcock. I would also select or at least mention a foreign film from the era to show how both American and European/Asian cinema flourished in different ways in this era. As for which Hitchcock I would pick Rear Window even though Vertigo is my personal favorite. The reason is that Window is the kind of film that grabs your attention all the way and uses a lot of key cinematic techniques including but certainly not limited to voyeurism (we too are voyeurs).
      60s and 70s This is where my taste diverge a bit from the norm. It can’t hurt to pick something from new Hollywood and note that when it comes to film this era is when the medium redefined itself out of necessity (to avoid stagnation). New directors and ideas emerged. I personally would go with something by Kubrick (2001), Kurosawa (anything), Fellini (8 1/2), Leoni (The Good, The Bad…) or Sam Fuller because these filmmakers and their films hold up so very very well by today’s standard are are potentially a great point of entry for younger viewers. Most teachers however just pop in Bonny and Clyde and/or Godfather and call it a day.
      80s Very tricky. There are so many different ways to go here. Political (Platoon etc.) and foreign films like Z make sense but I would pick something that highlights how movies shifted to a full on commercial paradigm. Since they have not really changed much since it would be interesting to show when this all began and more importantly, why it all began. Die Hard, Aliens, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Empire Strikes Back etc. are all good examples of early blockbusters that also happened to be good movies. Many (film nerds) would even argue that films like these have not been improved upon in terms of storytelling, character development, pacing (not too fast, not too slow) and just about everything else except for special effects and hair styles of course. Since many teens have seen the modern counterparts (Indiana Jones 4, Star Wars Episode I-III) the discussion could potentially be interesting.
      90s As for this era you have to show or, if it’s too graphic, at least talk about Pulp Fiction. There’s no way around that. I also feel that JFK deserves a special mention in terms of its revolutionary style and approach to history and it’s brilliant commentary on the death of truth in the modern era (also: the modernism of Stone vs the postmodernism of Tarentino). There’s also Fight Club which, like it or not, has emerged as the most relevant film of the era and I don’t see anything from the 90s overtaking it. More young people talk about and watch Fight Club than any other 90s film and I love how that drives people crazy.

      Just as important as any of the above though is the attempt to place the 00s in some sort of cultural/aesthetic context. There is no agreed upon consensus for this period so it could be a lot of fun trying to figure it out for yourself. What films do we select? What patterns keep coming up? Who are the “great directors” of this era (hint: there are very few new auteurs for some reason)? Also, how much time is needed to really evaluate the era in a fair way? Lots of very good questions that have no answer.

      I hope that answered your question. Probably not. At any rate I really dig where you’re coming from. My feeling is that media, cinema, video games etc. are such a big part of our lives but are woefully undervalued and understudied at the High School level. I don’t know why. We’re surrounded by images yet nobody wants us to be able to “read” them or think critically about what we’re absorbing. As great and as important as literature is, it’s basically Latin to media’s English.

    1. Your, pardon, YOU’RE right about that. I totally agree but, uhhhhhh, here’s a tip. If your, pardon, YOU’RE going to call someone a fucking idiot you might want to get the grammar right. My grammar sucks as well though so I guess were, pardon, WE’RE both fucking idiots.

      This might help…

      “Even though you’re and your sound the same, they mean two very different things. You’re is actually a contraction of “you are,” as in “You’re cute.” Contractions like this are especially common in spoken English by fucking idiots.”

  2. Man I don’t know what you have against Scorsese but you should probably get over it and realize that he is one of the best directors of all time.

  3. You have great movies listed, but how can you possibly deny Godfather, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas from your lists? I can see you’re not too crazy about Scorsese/Coppola but I feel The Godfather had just as big of an impact on film history as Citizen Kane. Plus.. Shawshank>Pulp Fiction.

  4. Three words: dog day afternoon. Totally agree with the rest of your sentiments but you also missed off true romance, and showed a picture of dark city, but it doesn’t appear on your list. Is it just me or do out and out comedies just not work anymore. It’s like there’s a guy sat beside me going, laugh, go on that’s funny, laugh, look I’m laughing.

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