May 25, 2016

The 100 Greatest American Films



America’s films are among its greatest exports. Since Thomas Edison’s innovations in the medium in the 1890s, the United States has consistently been a powerhouse in the development of cinema – from the massively popular entertainments of Hollywood to independent and avant-garde film. In recognition of the astounding influence of the US on what remains the most popular art-form worldwide, BBC Culture has polled 62 international film critics to determine the 100 greatest American films of all time.

This is a national film tradition that has influenced film-making worldwide, so we felt it was important, also, to get a global perspective on American film: the critics we polled live and work all over the world, from the United Kingdom and continental Europe to South America, Australia, India and the Middle East – and of course the United States as well. Previous film polls conducted by other publications or organisations either haven’t looked solely at American film or have drawn their poll contributors from within the US film industry, not necessarily relying just on the opinion of critics. Some of the critics we invited to participate are film reviewers at newspapers or magazines, others are broadcasters and some write books.


What defines an American film? For the purposes of this poll, it is any movie that received funding from a US source. The directors of these films did not have to be born in the United States – in fact, 32 films on the list were directed by film-makers born elsewhere – nor did the films even have to be shot in the US. Each critic who participated submitted a list of 10 films, with their pick for the greatest film receiving 10 points and their number 10 pick receiving one point. 

The points were added up to produce the final list. Critics were encouraged to submit lists of the 10 films they feel, on an emotional level, are the greatest in American cinema – not necessarily the most important, just the best. These are the results.

100. Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)
99. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
98. Heaven’s Gate (Michael Cimino, 1980)
97. Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)
96. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
95. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)
94. 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002)
93. Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)
92. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
91. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)
90. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
89. In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
88. West Side Story (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, 1961)
87. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
86. The Lion King (Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, 1994)
85. Night of the Living Dead (George A Romero, 1968)
84. Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972)
83. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)
82. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)
81. Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991)
80. Meet Me in St Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944)
79. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
78. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)
77. Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939)
76. The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)
75. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977)
74. Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994)
73. Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
72. The Shanghai Gesture (Josef von Sternberg, 1941)
71. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)
70. The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli, 1953)
69. Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982)
68. Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)
67. Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936)
66. Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)
65. The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman, 1983)
64. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)
63. Love Streams (John Cassavetes, 1984)
62. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
61. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
60. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
59. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Miloš Forman, 1975)
58. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)
57. Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen, 1989)
56. Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)
55. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967)
54. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)
53. Grey Gardens (Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, 1975)
52. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)
51. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)
50. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)
49. Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)
48. A Place in the Sun (George Stevens, 1951)
47. Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964)
46. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
45. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962)
44. Sherlock Jr (Buster Keaton, 1924)
43. Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, 1948)
42. Dr Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
41. Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)
40. Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943)
39. The Birth of a Nation (DW Griffith, 1915)
38. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
37. Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959)
36. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)
35. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)
34. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939)
33. The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
32. The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)
31. A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974)
30. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
29. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)
28. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
27. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
26. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1978)
25. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
24. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
23. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
22. Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1924)
21. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
20. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
19. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
18. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
17. The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925)
16. McCabe & Mrs Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)
15. The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946)
14. Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)
13. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
12. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
11. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)
10. The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
9. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
8. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
7. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952)
6. Sunrise (FW Murnau, 1927)
5. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
3. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
2. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)

With many thanks to BBC Culture


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