11 Citizen Kane
Citizen Kane ranked number one of Ebert’s list of the best movies of all time, and for good reason. In 1941, Orson Welles directed, produced, and stared in this epic classic about a wealthy media tycoon named Charles Foster Kane, whose dying word is “Rosebud”. The film retraces the man’s life, with a reporter attempting to figure out the meaning of the word. Through interviews and research, the reporter slowly pieces together a picture of who Kane really was.
The movie has all the hallmarks of great cinema: strong acting, interesting plot twists, and stylish cinematography, to name a few. Welles, who at the time was known primarily for his work as a radio producer, brings together a cast of relatively unknown actors to bring Kane’s story to life. By the time the audience learns what “Rosebud” actually means, they are drawn into the story and even feel sympathy for Kane.
10 A Streetcar Named Desire
A Streetcar Named Desire is a 1951 film based on the 1947 Broadway play of the same name by Tennessee Williams. When Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) is forced to move in with her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) and her husband Stanley (Marlon Brando) due to bankruptcy, tensions quickly mount within the new trio. Blanche hides that she is at risk of losing the family estate, while both her and Stella grow concerned about Stanley’s erratic behavior. Secrets come to surface about Blanche’s past, and each character is forced to decide how much of the lies they can live with.
When A Streetcar Named Desire came out, it was universally praised for its acting, plot, and ability to deal with difficult subjects. Both Brando and Leigh were nominated for Academy Awards for their roles in the categories of Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively. The movie also catapulted Brando to stardom, making him a Hollywood heartthrob and setting off his legendary career.
9 The Birds
Alfred Hitchcock is considered an auteur of horror cinema, and The Birds is one of his best films. When a wealthy woman named Melanie meets a man she likes in a San Francisco pet store, she accidentally insults him. To make amends she buys two love birds as a gift and eventually tracks down the man. Things go awry when the two birds start acting crazy, and soon more and more birds stalk and attack Melanie and her new love interest.
The Birds is driven by slow burning tension. It builds and builds until the characters can no longer escape the flocking animals. The movie works as a metaphor to explain that no matter how hard you try to escape, your past can catch up to you and haunt you in unexpected ways. It’s a frightening film that contained one of the best performances in Alfred Hitchcock’s movies.
8 2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick made some amazing films over the course of his career, with A Clockwork Orange, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and The Shining being a few of the most memorable. But anyone who considers themsevles a real cinephile must see 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s Kubrick’s epic masterpiece about a team of scientists tasked with investiaging a mysterious orb. The movie dives deeper into the history of the human race, attempting to the viewer how evolution has affacted humans and their behaviors towards each other.
There’s no denying 2001: A Space Odyssey is a bit of a challenging watch. At 141 minutes, it’s not easy to sit through the slow moving scenes where the plot doesn’t seem to be advancing. But those who make it are rewarded with amazing direction and cinematography. The movie was ahead of its time and became known as one of the first movies to popularize science fiction as a Hollywood genre worth exploring.
The Birds may have given a few people an irrational fear of birds, but Jaws definitely gave a lot of people a very real fear of swimming in the ocean. When a mammoth shark named Jaws terrorizes a beach, it’s up to police chief Martin Brody (Ray Schneider) to kill the creature and restore the public’s confidence in him. Unfortunately, Jaws is unlike any other shark. He carefully stalks his prey and avoids capture at every possible moment.
An unforgettable score and deeply terrifying shark attack scenes make Jaws a horror movie classic. At the time the film was released in 1975, nobody else had attempted to make a robotic shark for a movie. The mechanical shark broke down several times during shooting, frustrating director Steven Spielberg and the other crew members. In the end, the team persevered and made a memorable movie that every cinephile should watch.
It’s always fun to go back and watch some of the movies that made your favorite actors famous in the first place. For Sylvester Stallone, that movie is Rocky, released in 1971. Down-and-out boxer Rocky Ballboa (Stalone) works as a shifty loan shark and fights in his spare time for cash. He’s told by everybody that he doesn’t have a future in boxing and even his gym trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) doesn’t want to help him. But when Rocky earns the nickname “The Italian Stallion”, heaveyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) takes notice and wants to fight Rocky.
A story of courage, heart, and determination, Rocky quickly won over audiences and made Stallone a household name. Several sequels and spinoffs have been released since, including 2023’s Creed III. However, many cinephiles still consider Rocky to be the best Rocky & Creed movie ever.
5 Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
Many Star Wars fans would argue that all three films in the original trilogy are essential viewing, but Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope is the one that started it all. The movie introduced generations of moviegoers to Luke Skywalker, a hero living in a galaxy far, far away. In a universe run by the evil Galactic Empire, Luke and his team of Rebel Alliance fighters must band together and figure out what their enemies are up to. They soon discover the Empire is building a new weapon called the “Death Star”, a mother ship capable of taking out all the rebel’s forces.
Star Wars uses a classic good vs. evil story to continuously introduce audiences to new characters, worlds, and technologies. When the movie was released in 1977, its special effects were considered amazing and ahead of its time. The Star Wars franchise continues to push out new and exciting movies and TV shows content to this day, with shows like The Mandolorian and Obi-Wan Kenobi introducing new generations of fans to out of this world storylines.
4 Pulp Fiction
Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is an absolute classic of ’90s cinemas. It’s cool, sleek, stylish, and unafraid to tackle topics like drug use and violence. While Reservoir Dogs was Tarantino’s first major motion picture, Pulp Fiction is the one that broke through to the mainstream. Hitman Vinnie Vega (John Travolta) is asked to take his boss’ wife Mia (Uma Thurman) on a simple date filled with dinner, drinks, and dancing. Mia has other plans, and accidentally overdoses on what she thinks is cocaine but turns out to actually be heroin.
With gory scenes mixed with witty dialogue between Vega and his partner Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), Pulp Fiction is unlike any other film from the ’90s. Tarantino uses violence to tell his stories and this one has loads of it. Great acting from Travolta, Jackson, Thurman, Bruce Willis, and Christopher Walken make Pulp Fiction an absolute masterpiece every cinephile needs to see.
3 Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump is another great movie that came out in 1994. It stars Tom Hanks as the titular character, a simple man sitting on a park bench who is tells his life story to anyone who might listen. Even though Gump had a low IQ as a child, he was able to become a running star at university, join the military, and find the love of his life. Along the way, Gump meets a colorful cast of characters, including Lieutenant Dan Taylor, played perfectly by Gary Sinese.
Later on, Forrest Gump participates in anti-war rallies and meets the President of the United States at the time, John F. Kennedy. He overcomes his social anxieties and becomes a great man. Hanks performance of the character is astounding, earning him an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the Oscars. The movie also won the Oscar for Best Picture.
James Cameron’s Titanic is considered essential viewing for its excellent acting, sweeping cinematography, and groundbreaking special effects. When the largest, most magnificent ship ever made is about to take off, drifter Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) wins a ticket on it in a card game at the last minute. He soon meets Rose (Kate Winslet) a wealthy socialite who is upset about having to marry her controlling fiance Cal (Billy Zane).
As the ships sails, Jack and Rose fall in love and Rose struggles with her new-found feelings. She’s stuck in her relationship but feels comfort when she’s with Jack. The Titanic hits an iceberg and everything unravels as it goes down. Cal finds out about the affair and goes insane, leaving Rose and Jack to fend for themselves. Titanic recently hit theaters again and was the first re-release in 25 years to top the box office.
Avatar is another classic movie directed by James Cameron that every cinephile should watch. The year is 2154 and Earth’s natural resources are almost gone. Scientists discover a new planet called Pandora that can only be explored though the use of avatars due to its atmosphere. Former marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is asked to check out the planet and find out if the Na’vi living there are friends or foes.
Sully meets a Na’vi woman and falls in love with her. Soon, he doubts his allegiance to the Resource Devlopment Association (RDA) that sent him and wonders what their true motives were. Using unbelievable CGI and motion capture technology, Avatar became an instant hit with moviegoers when it was released in 2009. The movie’s special effects are unreal, and it contains a powerful message about preserving the Earth as well.