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There have been lists of favourite films or best films for what seems like forever, and ever since the American Film Institute put together their much ballyhooed list of the hundred greatest American movies, it's become something of a cliché.
The problem is that these lists, by definition, are not absolute. Just because the AFI decreed a particular hundred films the best ever made in America does not make them so, and just because I could argue about their choices doesn't make my choices right either. There is no correct list and never will be.
However, just because these lists can never be definitive doesn't mean that they are worthless. They have a valid and highly important purpose as starting points for cinematic explorers like me to work from. I may not know enough about the thirties or French cinema or silent films to know which titles I should be looking out for first, but I can use official lists as a basis for my explorations. I've been doing this for a while and I'm finding some of them very useful indeed.
There are sites online that dedicate themselves to collecting every single Top 100 list they can find, but that's not my purpose here. I'm not really interested in repetitive lists of the greatest films ever. I'm looking mostly for the greatest films in a given genre, of a given nationality or from a given era. I've found some of these lists and I'm reproducing them here on my site, complete with ratings as my wife and I work through them.
I'm always on the lookout for more of these lists. I'd love to find Top 100s dedicated to genres like film noir, martial arts, anime, spaghetti westerns or cult films; eras like the 1940s, the 1970s or the pre-codes; and nationalities like Japanese, Indian or Italian. If you know of a good Top 100 list that fits this sort of description, please let me know about it.
In the meantime, I hope you find these lists as useful as I'm finding them. Enjoy.
On this page I've provided descriptions of the lists I'm working from, with links back to their original pages, as far as I can locate. Following these are links to my copies of the lists at this site which include my ratings.
The granddaddy of these Top 100 lists is the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Movies list, compiled in 1998. The institute picked 400 classic movies from the first century of American cinema (1896-1996) and invited 1,500 film leaders to whittle it down to the final hundred.
The AFI list is a very safe one indeed and many people took it to task. Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote the best criticism I've found of it, entitled List-o-Mania or, How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love American Movies. The article also includes Rosenbaum's list of a hundred alternate movies that I've found fascinating to explore.
The success of the TV show that went along with the AFI's list has encouraged them to compile further lists, one per year. So far, they've produced 100 Years... 100 Laughs, 100 Years... 100 Thrills and 100 Years... 100 Passions that detail comedies, thrillers and romances respectively; as well as other lists that focus on heroes and villains, songs and movie quotes.
Following their American equivalent's lead, the British Film Institute put together their own list in 1999. The British Film Institute 100 focused on 'culturally British' features and it's a highly varied list that includes many films I saw as a kid in England.
The well respected English newspaper The Times put together a list of The 100 Best French Films, which no longer seems to be available on their website. Despite the title, this is designed to be more representative than definitive and on that front it seems to work. The Out of Range blog also reproduced the entire thing in a much easier to read version. Unfortunately it's not on their site any more either, but here's an archived version at the Internet Wayback Machine.
Thanks to reader Jan Baart, I now know that The 100 Most Important German Films was compiled back in 1994, three years before the AFI's list, to celebrate 100 years of German film. This list, available through the downloadable PDF of issue #54 of the Journal of Film Preservation, begins on page 41. This replaces the previous version of the list that I linked to, which was incomplete.
To celebrate a hundred years of Chinese cinema, the Hong Kong Film Awards put together a list of The Best 100 Chinese Motion Pictures. As if to attempt to balance the short German list, this Top 100 actually includes 103 films. It's heavily biased towards Hong Kong movies, which is fine by me as I'm a confirmed fan of Cantonese cinema.
I know of a list of great Australian films, which may well be entitled the Top 100 of the Centenary Poll, but I haven't yet found access to the February 1996 issue of Cinema Papers (#108) to find out. It doesn't seem to be online. If anyone has access to a copy please let me know. I'd also be very interested in other national lists, especially from Japan, Italy, Russia, Scandinavia, India and the developing world.
I've found a couple of good lists of foreign language films that don't concentrate on a particular nationality. The ForeignFilms.com website has a Top 100 Foreign Films list that covers a wide timespan all the way up to 2001. It also covers a lot of countries, including Taiwan, Brazil, Mexico, India and Yugoslavia.
Movieline magazine also put together a 100 Greatest Foreign Films list which is much more Euro-centric and with a lot less recent films. I can't find the list at Movieline's own website so I've linked to a reproduction at Tim Dirks's FilmSite instead.
The Silent Era website is a highly comprehensive guide to silent movies that is a must for anyone interested in such things. It includes a list of The Top 100 Silent Era Films, none of which are lost films but many of which are unfortunately still hard to find.
It would seem that The Home Theater Forum 100 Great Films of the 1930s was compiled by someone called Brian Lawrence and posted as a challenge to forum members. It's the key list I've been working from lately and the more thirties movies I watch the more I appreciate it. The link doesn't seem to work any more so I'm linking to an archived version at the Wayback Machine.
The Online Film Critics Society have compiled a few interesting lists, most especially The Top 100 Overlooked Films of the 1990s which is one of the best lists I've seen put together. Rather than just the films we have seen, this is a list of the best films we probably haven't.
The folks at Channel 4, the English television channel responsible for a good deal of the renaissance of British film during the 1990s, have put together a couple of genre lists. Their 100 Greatest War Films is a highly varied list and, possibly deliberately, seems to include almost every war there has ever been.
Another interesting Channel 4 list is 100 Greatest Musicals. This doesn't quite entirely reference films, as it has a few stage productions and a television episode included too, but as someone who still hates most musicals I'm finding it very interesting to find those I don't.
There are a few science fiction lists out there but the best I've found is that compiled by the Online Film Critics Society. It's called the Top 100 SciFi Films of the Past 100 Years and it's a lot more fair than the one created by DarkWeb.
DarkWeb's horror list is far better but you'll need to use the Wayback Machine to get to some of it, as they've inexplicably mangled the first half of it on their own site. Here's Part One and Part Two through the Wayback Machine and Part Three and Part Four at DarkWeb.
Another list from the Online Film Critics Society is their Top 100 Animated Features of All Time. This is very Disney friendly, but does also include some early innovators that predate Disney as well as some more recent anime.
Having grown up in Arizona, my wife has seen a lot more westerns than I have. I hope to catch on the right ones through a list compiled by Cowboys & Indians magazine and entitled The 100 Best Westerns Ever Made. Some are tv shows but most are films.
The MVIs are Most Valuable Indies, as listed by GreenCine. This is a list of the Top 100 American Indie Films, which become more and more important as time goes by. The more mainstream Hollywood sinks into mediocrity, the more it seems that underground American filmmakers take up the slack.
I found a list of great children's movies in a book, Children's Movies: A Critic's Guide to the Best Films Available on Video and DVD by Peter M Nichols and published by Times Books as part of The New York Times Essential Library.
While The 100 Movies That Shook the World isn't really a genre list, it doesn't particularly fit anywhere else either and it certainly deserves a mention. It was compiled by Premiere magazine and details what they called 'Rebel Cinema', movies created by innovative filmmakers that did things that had not been done before. I can't link to it directly because it only appeared in print, in their October 1998 issue, so I've linked instead to the page dedicated to it at Tim Dirks's FilmSite.
One genre I'm including here purely because it's so unique is the Conelrad 100: Atomic Film list. This includes only films with an atomic theme.
Just in case you're looking for many of the lists that I'm not, here are three sites that list a wide variety of them. Tim Dirks's FilmSite is a wonderful site that has far more than just lists of lists, but it has those too.
Strictly limited to lists are Aaron & Mark Caldwell's Top 100 Movie Lists and the movie section of Lists of Bests.
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