The American Film Institute Greatest 100 Films – Part I


The American Film Institute Greatest 100 Films – Part II


The American Film Institute has presented us with its list of the 100 Greatest American films of the last 100 years (although the actual spread in years was a lot shorter than that). The TV show was entertaining, though a bit on the politically correct side, in the opinion of most reviewers. If you love movies, you probably enjoyed the show. All those great stars and directors, talking so earnestly about their feelings as moviegoers. Hard to resist.

On a less emotional note, here are some interesting numbers:

Steven Spielberg ended up with more films on the list than any other director, with five. Hitchcock and Wilder were only one behind. Charlie Chaplin had three, but they were way down the list. Kubrick had three, but all were essentially British films with American financing. Victor Fleming was the only director with two top ten films, although he shared directing duties with three other uncredited talents for GWTW. John Huston and William Wyler each had three films and probably could have had at least two more apiece. Michael Curtiz was chosen for films #2 and #50, but none in between, despite a portfolio of 96 movies, many of them very special. Similarly, John Ford was recognized for two, but could easily have had two or three more. Woody had only one. Preston Sturges and Busby Berkley were no-shows.

Marlon Brando was the top ten champ among actors, being the only person with two. Interestingly, Robert Duvall appeared in six films (though not all in starring roles), beating out Jimmy Stewart and Robert De Niro by one. A whole bunch of others appeared in four, including Bogart, who should have had several more. (Believe it or not, Ward Bond had parts in seven of the movies! I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find others like that.) James Dean was represented by two-thirds of his films. Fred Astaire had none.

Katharine Hepburn had the most top 100 appearances among actresses, with four, while Natalie Wood, Diane Keaton and Faye Dunaway each had three. Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis had only one each. Nothing for Greta Garbo or Ginger Rogers. Not surprising, since, as Meryl Streep has pointed out, only four of the 100 movies had female protagonists, and one of those was a cartoon! She believes that women were under-represented among the voters. The AFI says she was given a ballot but didn’t turn it in. And so it goes…

In terms of genres, the list included eight musicals, eight westerns, eight science fiction/horror films, and between 12 and 16 comedies (depending on your definition, but that’s still not enough). The greatest year in film history, 1939, was represented by five films, with four each from 1951 and 1969. There were twenty films from the 50s. Thirteen were made after 1980. Make of all that what you will.

A number of online sources have taken a crack at the list from one perspective or another, including:

  • – The 10 best films of the Top 100.
  • Internet Movie Database Top 250 – Compare this ongoing poll with the AFI list; there are major differences. (Referred to as IMDb in the list below.)

My friend Tim Dirks, proprietor of the Greatest Films site, has done his own analysis of the show, which I recommend. The links to the movies on the list below will take you to the relevant page on his quite original site — unless the particular film isn’t listed there, in which case you’ll go to the Internet Movie Database page for that film. There are one or two others scattered about for good measure.

As for my own comments, you may know from reading the intro to my own list of 200 favorite films that I’m not a big fan of including recent films on such a list; they really need time to age properly. While I’m sure Schindler’s List will always be mentioned among the great films, I don’t think It’s a Wonderful Life deserved to be bumped to 11th by it. In my opinion, the dozen or so films from the 80s onward should have been left off the list in favor of more deserving older films, including some that appear on both my list of 200 and that of Tim Dirks, from Little Caesar and The Public Enemy in the 30s to The Postman Always Rings Twice and To Have and Have Not in the 40s, and The Asphalt Jungle andInvasion of the Body Snatchers in the 50s. Only three out of those six were even on the original list of 400 nominees, by the way.

However, if you are going to include recent films, where are all the great comedies of the past 20 years? I’m talking about Billy Crystal, Mel Brooks, Steve Martin, Monty Python, and the Saturday Night Live crew. Woody got one mention. Where’s A Christmas Story? Being There?Airplane? There are only a dozen true comedies here, and another 3-4 that are mostly funny. Out of 100? Maybe we need a separate comedies list. Oh, hey, I did one of those already!

The exclusion of many silent films and stars, including Buster Keaton in particular, bothers many people. And Chaplin and the Marx Brothers are certainly underrepresented. Only four silent films appear on the list. (Note: My personal list doesn’t contain any silent films, either, but I clearly indicate that it’s a list of my personal favorites, and not a solumn pronouncement about the first 100 years of the film industry. Keep that in mind when you’re writing nasty notes.)

One final observation and shameless plug: Considering all the WW I and II movies in the upper ranks of this list (one-quarter of the top 20), including Casablanca (#2), Lawrence of Arabia (#5), Schindler’s List (#9), The Bridge On the River Kwai (#13), and The African Queen (#17), I’m even more pleased with my World War II Films list!

Okay, here’s my take on the list. The films marked with an asterisk(*) are included on my own 200 Favorite Films list.

1. *Citizen Kane (1941)
Everybody’s “greatest movie of all time,” if not everybody’s personal favorite.
Buy this movie!

2. *Casablanca (1942)
One of the most perfect films ever made, with a wonderful cast and dozens of memorable lines. Could have been #1.
Buy this movie!

3. *The Godfather (1972)
A undeniable masterpiece, and an American saga, to boot. Like Star Wars, probably received extra votes because it was a three-parter.
Buy this movie!

4. *Gone With The Wind (1939)
The re-release will be huge; the film has legions of fans who are amazed that it wasn’t chosen #1.
Buy this movie!

5. *Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)
Undeniably a great film, but does the American financing alone make it an American film? Ranked 24th in the IMDb poll.
Buy this movie!

6. *The Wizard Of Oz (1939)
An institution. Could also have been #1.
Buy this movie!

7. *The Graduate (1967)
A pivotal film that articulated the concerns of the 60s and launched the career of one of the greatest actors of his generation.
Buy this movie!

8. *On The Waterfront (1954)
A good one, but there was some surprise about the fact that two Brando films made it into the top ten.
Buy this movie!

9. Schindler’s List (1993)
A masterpiece, but perhaps too recent to be considered a “classic” just yet.
Buy this movie!

10. Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
A wonderful musical, but is it the greatest musical of all time (considering that it’s the highest-ranked musical, not counting Wizard)? Where are all the great MGM musicals?
Buy this movie!

11. *It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
The quintessential American film just barely missed the top ten. The only one of my “guaranteed top ten” films that didn’t quite make it. (The others were Casablanca, Citizen Kane, GWTW, and Wizard of Oz.)
Buy this movie!

12. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
An ironic choice, considering the nature of this list, especially with such a high ranking. As far as I know, it’s the only movie on this list in which Buster Keaton actually appeared!
Buy this movie!

13. *The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)
One of the greatest WWII movies and one of Sir Alec’s greatest performances.
Buy this movie!

14. *Some Like It Hot (1959)
Great comedy, fantastic cast, but might there not have been other comedies that deserved this spot in the top twenty? Only The Graduateended up scoring higher. But it is Marilyn’s top-ranked film on the list, so that makes a difference.
Buy this movie!

15. *Star Wars (1977)
This always appears at or near the top of every “favorite movies” list I’ve ever seen, including a couple of polls I conducted myself. Fifteenth seems a bit low.
Buy this movie!

16. All About Eve (1950)
This excellent Bette Davis vehicle certainly deserves to be in the top twenty, especially considering it’s Bette’s only appearance on the list.
Buy this movie!

17. *The African Queen (1951)
Katharine Hepburn’s only appearance in the top twenty. Bogart’s second, and arguably one of his greatest roles.
Buy this movie!

18. *Psycho (1960)
Hitchcock probably deserved a little higher placement, but which film would you choose? Almost exactly the same ranking as the IMDb poll, but other Hitchcock films were higher on that list.
Buy this movie!

19. *Chinatown (1974)
Might have ranked higher if it had had a more popular director, but Nicholson is currently the most revered actor working, and Huston is no slouch, either.
Buy this movie!

20. *One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Nicholson scores two in a row, both in the top twenty, which makes up for his not getting a higher spot. Despite criticism from fans of the book and the play, it was still a powerful film, especially for the times. Ranked 7th in the IMDb poll.
Buy this movie!

21. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
You couldn’t put together a more American triumverate than writer Steinbeck, director Ford, and star Fonda. A rare film that tells the plain truth in an artistic manner.
Buy this movie!

22. *2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
It revolutionized the science fiction genre. It also “starred” one of the great villains in movie history, who wasn’t even human.
Buy this movie!

23. *The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Bogart was never better, and this film is still the greatest hardboiled detective story ever made, despite the lack of car chases and gunfights.
Buy this movie!

24. Raging Bull (1980)
This just makes my personal cutoff date for inclusion in the list, and the fact that it was shot in black and white doesn’t hurt, either.
Buy this movie!

25. *E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)
This is such a wonderful film that I was willing to waive the post-1980 rule at the time this was written. (It’s now been 20 years, and the film holds up just fine.)
Buy this movie!

26. *Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963)
I fully expected one of the greatest anti-war films ever made to show up in the top ten. It ranks 13th on the IMDb poll, and it’s on my own top ten list, as well.
Buy this movie!

27. *Bonnie And Clyde (1967)
Boy, was this movie a kick when it debuted! The death scene at the end is still amazing today.
Buy this movie!

28. Apocalypse Now (1979)
This film seems to get murkier and less believable as time goes on. Still a monumental achievement in filmmaking. The Redux version is longer, but fills in some of the holes.
Buy this movie!

29. *Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)
This Capra flick is certainly more popular today than it was at the time it was made. One of Jimmy Stewart’s greatest performances and an enduring story of one man’s triumph over the system.
Buy this movie!

30. *The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre (1948)
The greatest film ever made on the subject of greed. Bogart’s fourth appearance in the top 30.
Buy this movie!

31. *Annie Hall (1977)
Woody’s only film on the list. It’ll have to stand for his entire body of work, which is more consistently entertaining than almost any other current director you can name.
Buy this movie!

32. *The Godfather Part 2 (1974)
Is the first film really that much better than this one, or did it just come first?
Buy this movie!

33. *High Noon (1952)
I seem to remember that they did make a couple of other Westerns back in the 50s, but this is the one everybody seems to come up with first when asked for their favorite. It’s certainly one of mine, but shouldn’t it be higher on the list?.
Buy this movie!

Nos. 34-66

Nos. 67-100

Other classic movie checklists that you’ll enjoy.

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