All-time must-see movies

Rating system

I employ a five-star system. A must-see movie is four stars or better. More details on my rating system

Flags and Remarks

Some movies are labelled with flags that indicate content which may be inappropriate for certain viewers. Flags are in the form of a letter followed by a number, such as A2. The letter indicates the nature of the potentially offensive content, and the number indicates the degree (1=minor, 2=moderate, 3=major). The letters are coded as follows: violence (V), nudity (N), strong language (L), adult situations (A), substance abuse (S), vulgarity/adult humor (H), mature themes (M), and graphic/scary/bloody imagery (I). All flags are based on my opinion, and are intended to serve as guidelines. Remarks indicate additional features of interest, such as the language (if not English), based on a true story (BOTS), director's cut (DC), etc.

Also on this page

Top 25 movies of all time
Top five lists
Best movies by year

Other Movie Sites

The top two movies sites I have found are AMG and IMDB. These sites are indispensible for the serious movie fan. For information on MPAA film ratings, see AMG or MPAA. An impressive collection of critics' lists can be found at Greatest Films. See also J's movie page, compiled by my main man and fellow movie lover, J Provine. And remember, if you disagree with my choices, by all means, make your own list.

Five Star Movies

Rating Year Title Genre Flags and Remarks
1968 2001: A Space Odyssey Science Fiction  
1986 Aliens Sci-Fi, Action, Suspense V2. Sequel to Alien.
2002 Attack of the Clones Galactic Thriller  
1989 Batman Action, Fantsay  
1991 Beauty & the Beast Fantasy, Fairly Tale Animated
1948 The Bicycle Thief Drama Italian
1980 Blues Brothers Comedy L1
1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai War V1
1969 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Western, Comedy L1, V1
1942 Casablanca Drama  
1958 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Drama  
1941 Citizen Kane Drama  
1974 The Conversation Psychological Thriller L1, A2
1967 Cool Hand Luke Drama, Comedy L1, A1
2000 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Adventure, Action Mandarin
2008 The Dark Knight Fantasy, Drama I3, M3, V3.
2012 The Dark Knight Rises Fantasy, Drama I3, M3, V3.
1995 Dead Man Walking Drama I2, M3, BOTS.
1989 Dead Poets Society Drama A1
1954 Diabolique Suspense French
1964 Dr. Strangelove War, Comedy, Satire H1, I1
1980 The Empire Strikes Back Space Adventure  
1940 Fantasia Fantasy, Musical Animated
2011 From Up on Poppy Hill Drama Animated
2003 Fog of War Pseudo-Documentary, Cold War I3
1987 Full Metal Jacket War V3, L3
1972 The Godfather Drama, Crime V2, M3
1974 The Godfather II Drama, Crime V2, M3
1939 Gone With the Wind Drama, Civil War  
1967 The Graduate Drama N1, A2
2013 Gravity Drama, Suspense M1, V1
2000 High Fidelity Urban Comedy, Drama A1, L3
1986 Hoosiers Sports Drama  
1961 The Hustler Drama A1
2004 The Incredibles Superhero, Action V1, Animated
2015 Inside Out Fantasy, Drama Animated
1946 It's a Wonderful Life Drama, Comedy  
1975 Jaws Horror, Suspense I2
1955 Lady & the Tramp Dog Film Animated
1997 Life is Beautiful Drama M3
1998 Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels Crime, Comedy V2, L3
1941 The Maltese Falcon Detective Film, Film Noir V1
1966 A Man For All Seasons Religious Drama M2
1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much Spy Thriller  
1962 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Western, Outlaw V1
1962 The Manchurian Candidate Cold War Psychological Thriller M1
2005 March of the Penguins Documentary  
1999 The Matrix Sci-Fi, Action V3, L1
1947 Miracle on 34th Street Children's Movie  
1942 Mrs. Miniver Drama, WWII M1
1988 My Neighbor Totoro Fantasy, Children's Movie Animated, Japanese
1944 National Velvet Children's Drama  
1984 Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind Fantasy Animated, Japanese
1977 A New Hope Extra-Terrestrial Epic  
1959 North by Northwest Suspense  
1954 On the Waterfront Drama, Crime V1
1980 Ordinary People Drama  
1923 Our Hospitality Comedy Silent.
1999 The Phantom Menace Interplanetary Drama  
1994 Il Postino Drama Italian
1987 Predator Action V3
1960 Psycho Suspense, Horror V2
1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark Adventure  
1980Raging BullDramaL3, M2 
2007 Ratatouille Adventure, Comedy Animated
1954 Rear Window Mystery, Thriller  
1983 Return of the Jedi Interstellar Saga  
2005 Revenge of the Sith Cosmic Fantasy M1
1998 Run Lola Run Action, Comedy, Techno German
1993 Schindler's List Historical Drama, War M3, N1, I2
1954 Seven Samurai Drama, Period Film V2, L1, Japanese
1994 The Shawshank Redemption Drama V1, A1
2001 Spirited Away Fantasy I1, Animated, Japanese
1973 The Sting Crime, Comedy, Drama L1, V1
1984 The Terminator Action, Sci-Fi V3,N1
1949 The Third Man Drama, Mystery V1
1986 Top Gun Drama, Action L1, A1
1995 Toy Story Drama Animated
1999Toy Story IIDramaAnimate
2010Toy Story IIIDramaAnimated
1939 The Wizard of Oz Fantasy  
1959 The Young Philadelphians Drama  

Four and a Half Star Movies

Rating Year Title Genre Flags and Remarks
2001 Amelie Comedy, Romance H2, N1. French
2009 Avatar Sci-Fi V2, I2
1942 Bambi Fantasy, Drama Animated.
2005 Batman Begins Fantasy V1
1998 The Big Lebowski Comedy N2, L3
1963 The Birds Suspense I2
1979 The Black Stallion Drama  
2002 Bowling for Columbine Pseudo-Documentary I3, L2
2005 Cars Drama, Action Animated
1963 Charade Romantic Mystery, Suspense I1
1981 Chariots of Fire Drama BOTS
1931 City Lights Drama Silent
1981 Das Boot War, Submarine Movie DC
1973 The Day of the Jackal Psychological Thriller, Hitman Movie V1, N1
1981 The Fox and the Hound Drama, Children's Movie Animated
1971 The French Connection Action, Detective Film  
1966 Gambit Heist  
1927 The General Comedy Silent
1939 Goodbye, Mr. Chips Drama  
2009 Gran Torino Drama L3, V3, M3
1950 Harvey Comedy  
2004 Hotel Rwanda Political Drama M2, I2.
2005 Howl's Moving Castle Fantasy Animated, Japanese
1963 Hud Western V1
1990 The Hunt for Red October Cold War Thriller, Submarine Movie V2
1989 Kiki's Delivery Service Fantasy Animated, Japanese.
2008 Kung Fu Panda Fantasy, Action Animated.
1961 Judgment at Nuremberg Drama  
1994 Laura Mystery
2004 Mystic River Drama V2, M3
2001 Nine Queens Crime Argentinian
2007 No Country for Old Men Crime, Suspense V2, I2
2000 O Brother, Where Art Thou? Comedy, Crime V1
1959 On the Beach Cold War, Disaster M3
2002 The Pianist Holocaust M3, V2, I3, L1
1964 The Pink Panther Comedy, Mystery  
2009 Ponyo Fantasy Animated
1997 Princess Mononoke Fantasy V1, I1, Animated, Japanese
1985 Ran Tragedy Japanese
1951 Rashoman Enigmatic Drama Japanese
1959 Rio Bravo Western  
1976 Rocky Drama A1
1948 Rope Psychological Thriller V1
1954 Sabrina Romance, Comedy  
1951 A Streetcar Named Desire Drama A1
1978 Superman Science Fiction, Action  
1980 Superman II Science Fiction, Action  
1991 Terminator 2: Judgment Day Action, Science Fiction V3
1934 The Thin Man Mystery  
1992 Unforgiven Western V3, M3
2009 Up Adventure Animated
1995 The Usual Suspects Suspense, Crime V3, L3
2008 WALL-E Fantasy Animated
1973The Way We WereDrama
2003 Whale Rider Drama  

Four Star Movies

Rating Year Title Genre Flags and Remarks
1992 Aladdin Fantasy Animated
1979 Alien Sci-Fi Thriller V2
1976 All the President's Men Political Drama M1, A1, L1. BOTS
1984 Amadeus Drama A1, L1
2008 Appaloosa Western V2
1995 Apollo 13 Historical Drama BOTS
1997 As Good As It Gets Romantic Comedy A1
1985 Back to the Future Adventure  
1987 Babette's Feast Drama M2
2002 The Bourne Identity Action, Spy Film V3, L2
1954 The Bridges at Toko-Ri War V1
1998 Buena Vista Social Club Documentary  
2006 Casino Royale Action, Spy Movie V2
1986 Castle in the Sky Fantasy Animated, Japanese.
1977 Close Encounters of the Third Kind Science Fiction  
1997 Contact Science Fiction V1, A1
2004 The Corporation Pseudo-Documentary  
1950 Cyrano de Bergerac Drama  
2010 Despicable Me Comedy, Family Movie
1954 Dial M for Murder Crime Thriller V1
1988 Die Hard Action Thriller V2
1962 Divorce - Italian Style Satire Italian
1996 The English Patient Drama, Romance V1, A2, I2
1982 E.T. The Extra Terrestrial Science Fiction  
2001 The Fellowship of the Ring Fantasy Adventure I2
1993 The Firm Crime Thriller A2
1998 Following Psychological Drama  
1984 Ghostbusters Comedy I1
1989 Glory Civil War I2, V2. BOTS
1940 The Great Dictator Political Satire  
1963 The Great Escape WWII, Prisoners of War V1,M1. BOTS
1966 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Western V2
1937 The Grand Illusion War French
1994 Hoop Dreams Documentary L2
1967 Hombre Western V1, M1
2008 Horton Hears a Who Fantasy Animated
2002 The Importance of Being Earnest Comedy  
1993 In the Name of the Father Political Drama M3, V3
1989 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Adventure I1
1960 Inherit the Wind Historical Drama, Religious BOTS
1999 The Iron Giant Children's Fantasy Animated
1994 The Iron Monkey Action, Kung-Fu In Mandarin
1986 Jean de Florette Drama, Foreign French
1993 Jurassic Park Science Fiction I2
1984 The Karate Kid Drama  
1956 The Killing Crime, Suspense V1
1979 Kramer vs. Kramer Drama M2
1997 L.A. Confidential Mystery, Drama, Crime L3, N2, V2, I1
1989 The Little Mermaid Fantasy Animated
1962 The Longest Day War V1
1981 Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior Action, Post-apocalyptic V3
1986 Manon of the Spring Drama, Foreign N2. Sequel to Jean de Florette.
2000 Memento Psychological Thriller V3
1927 Metropolis Science Fiction Silent, German
2005 Million Dollar Baby Drama, Boxing M1, V1
1974 Monty Python and the Holy Grail Comedy A1, H2
1939 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Drama  
1984 The Natural Drama, Baseball A1
1994 Nobody's Fool Drama N2, M1
1976 The Outlaw Josey Wales Western V3
2007PersepolisDramaForeign, Animated
1998 The Prince of Egypt Religous Epic Animated
1993 Philadelphia Drama M1, L2, A2
2010 Predators Sci-Fi, Action I2, V2
1988 Rain Man Drama L2, A2
1987 Raising Arizona Comedy L2
1940 Rebecca Mystery A1
1955 Rififi Crime, Heist French
1996 The Rock Action V2
1985 Rocky IV Sports V1
1987 Robocop Crime, Sci-Fi, Action V3
1998 Saving Private Ryan War V3. BOTS.
1949 The Setup Drama, Boxing V1
1956 Seven Men from Now Western V1
1993 Shadowlands Drama M1, BOTS
2003 Spellbound Documentary  
1965 The Spy Who Came In From the Cold Spy Film  
2004 Super-Size Me Pseudo-Documentary N1, L1
1999 Sweet and Lowdown Comedy, Satire S1,A1.
2003 Touching the Void Pseudo-Documentary  
1974 The Towering Inferno Action V1
2002 The Two Towers Fantasy Adventure I3
2005 Walk the Line Drama M1
1996 When We Were Kings Documentary, Boxing "Rumble in the Jungle"
2003 Winged Migration Documentary  

Top Twenty-five Movies of All Time

  1. Schindler's List
  2. The Godfather
  3. Star Wars, Episodes I-VI
  4. Seven Samurai
  5. The Godfather II
  6. Cool Hand Luke
  7. Casablanca
  8. Lady and the Tramp
  9. High Fidelity
  10. The Incredibles
  11. Life is Beautiful
  12. The Sting
  13. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
  14. Rear Window
  15. Predator
  16. Ordinary People
  17. The Bridge on the River Kwai
  18. Dr. Strangelove
  19. The Maltese Falcon
  20. The Dark Knight
  21. A Man for All Seasons
  22. Full Metal Jacket
  23. The Conversation
  24. The Wizard of Oz
  25. The Third Man

The next few . . .

  1. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
  2. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  3. The Manchurian Candidate
  4. The Graduate
  5. Ratatouille
  6. Beauty and the Beast
  7. Naussica of the Valley of Wind

Top Five Lists


  1. Predator
  2. Terminator 1-2
  3. The Matrix
  4. Iron Monkey
  5. Die Hard


  1. The Bridge on the River Kwai
  2. Full Metal Jacket
  3. Das Boot
  4. Glory
  5. The Bridges at Toko-Ri


  1. The Godfather
  2. Star Wars
  3. Seven Samarai
  4. Lord of the Rings
  5. Gone with the Wind

Cold War

  1. Dr. Strangelove
  2. The Manchurian Candidate
  3. Fog of War
  4. On the Beach
  5. The Hunt for Red October


  1. Dr. Strangelove
  2. The Pink Panther
  3. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
  4. High Fidelity
  5. Blues Brothers


  1. Seven Samurai
  2. Life is Beautiful
  3. The Bicycle Thief
  4. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  5. Diabolique

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

  1. Rear Window
  2. Psycho
  3. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
  4. North by Northwest
  5. Rope


  1. A Man for All Seasons
  2. Chariots of Fire
  3. The Prince of Egypt
  4. Babette's Feast
  5. Inherit the Wind


  1. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
  2. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  3. Rio Bravo
  4. Hud
  5. Unforgiven

Chase Scenes

  1. Ronin
  2. Blues Brothers
  3. The Bourne Identity
  4. Terminator 2
  5. The Rock


  1. Hoosiers
  2. When We Were Kings
  3. Hoop Dreams
  4. Chariots of Fire
  5. The Natural


  1. March of the Penguins
  2. Hoop Dreams
  3. Winged Migration
  4. When We Were Kings
  5. Spellbound


  1. Fog of War
  2. The Corporation
  3. Super Size Me
  4. Touching the Void
  5. Bowling for Columbine

Spy Movies

  1. The Third Man
  2. North by Northwest
  3. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
  4. The Spy Who Came In From the Cold
  5. 39 Steps

Starring Robert Redford

  1. The Sting
  2. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  3. The Way We Were
  4. The Natural
  5. Spy Game


  1. Star Wars movies
  2. Terminator 1-2
  3. WALL-E
  4. The Iron Giant
  5. Metropolis

Boxing Movies

  1. Raging Bull
  2. On the Waterfront
  3. When We Were Kings
  4. Rocky
  5. Million Dollar Baby


  1. Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi
  2. The Godfather II
  3. The Dark Knight/The Dark Knight Rises
  4. Toy Story II/III
  5. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Star Wars

  1. Return of the Jedi
  2. The Empire Strikes Back
  3. Revenge of the Sith
  4. Attack of the Clones
  5. A New Hope

Disney Animated Features (Non-Pixar)

  1. Lady and the Tramp
  2. Beauty and the Beast
  3. Fantasia
  4. Bambi
  5. Aladdin

Pixar Features

  1. The Incredibles
  2. Ratatouille
  3. Toy Story II
  4. Toy Story
  5. Inside Out

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

  1. Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind
  2. Spirited Away
  3. My Neighbor Totoro
  4. From Up On Poppy Hill
  5. Howl's Moving Castle
  6. Kiki's Delivery Service

Main Themes

  1. Gone with the Wind
  2. Star Wars Saga
  3. The Godfather
  4. Jaws
  5. Chariots of Fire

Instrumental Soundtracks

  1. The Conversation
  2. The Third Man
  3. Seven Samurai
  4. The Sting
  5. Star Wars Saga

Original Pop Soundtracks

  1. The Graduate
  2. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  3. Run Lola Run

Compiled Pop Soundtracks

  1. Blues Brothers
  2. American Graffiti
  3. Forest Gump
  4. The Big Chill
  5. Pulp Fiction

Based on a True Story (non-documentary)

  1. Schindler's List
  2. A Man for All Seasons
  3. Dead Man Walking
  4. Chariots of Fire
  5. Quiz Show

Directed by Stephen Spielberg

  1. Schindler's List
  2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  3. Jaws
  4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  5. Jurassic Park

Starring Paul Newman (my favorite actor)

  1. Cool Hand Luke
  2. The Sting
  3. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  4. The Young Philadelphians
  5. The Hustler

Comic Superhero Movies

  1. The Dark Knight Trilogy
  2. Batman
  3. Superman II
  4. X2: X-Men United
  5. Spiderman

Good Scary Movies (in order of scariness)

  1. The Exorcist
  2. Silence of the Lambs
  3. Alien(s)
  4. The Shining
  5. Psycho

Detective/PI movies

  1. The Maltese Falcon
  2. The Conversation
  3. Dial M for Murder
  4. Silence of the Lambs
  5. L.A. Confidential

Coen Brothers

  1. The Big Lebowski
  2. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  3. Raising Arizona
  4. No Country for Old Men
  5. Burn After Reading

Diminished by Violence/Graphic Imagery

  1. Silence of the Lambs
  2. Inglourious Basterds
  3. Pulp Fiction
  4. Braveheart
  5. Old Boy

Best by year

A || separates must-see from non-must-see-but-still-entertaining.

Rating System

I employ a five-star system, summarized by the table below: A must-see movie is four stars or better.

5.0 Engrossing, memorable, highly recommendable, and worth seeing several times. The best of the best.
4.5 Falls just short of one or more of the five-star criteria, but still an excellent movie.
4.0 One or more well-defined shortcomings, but still good enough to be mandatory viewing.
  3.5 Highly enjoyable but not quite essential.
  3.0 Entertaining and worth seeing once.
  2.5 Tolerable, some redeeming qualities, but ultimately unsatisfying.
  2.0 A mediocre, uninspiring movie.
  1.5 You spend the whole movie waiting for it to be over.
  1.0 Difficult to bear, possibly nauseating, horrendous. Avoid this movie at all costs.

One may also think in terms of the five-star system used by Netflix, which is essentially equivalent although less nuanced. Their system is: [5 = I loved it; 4 = I really liked it; 3 = I liked it; 2 = OK; 1 = I didn't like it].

I think of a must-see movie as follows: Suppose you have a friend who really likes movies, and who has the exact same tastes as you. He or she derives significant pleasure from viewing a high quality flick, although watching so-so or bad movies annoys them. A must-see movie is one that, soon after viewing it, you highly recommend to that friend.

My goal in rating movies is not to create an unbiased, objective ranking of the great films of history that any logical person could arrive at by applying a set of well-defined principles. I do not fashion myself a "film critic." This list is entirely biased and subjective, based on my personal opinions, which are in turn shaped by my life experiences, values, personality, and emotional tendencies. I do, however, follow certain guidelines, outlined above, that I believe most movie fans would agree characterize a must-see movie. For you to fully know how my personal opinions are manifested in the implementation of my ranking system, I could write a treatise on the world according to Clay, but I don't have time for that right now so you'll just have to see the movies and figure it out for yourself.

I generally do not give much weight to the opinions of professional movie critics, although this is difficult to avoid completely. I also give little weight to the historical importance of a movie. I give no weight to box-office success or Academy Awards (no Titanic here).

I do give weight to movies that have historical importance in my life. For example, Batman will always be a five star movie for me because I still vividly remember walking out of the theater in 1989, at age 14, and being more stoked than I'd ever been about having just seen a movie. Other movies on this list that evoke nostalgia include Top Gun, Ghostbusters, and The Karate Kid.

This page is maintained by Clay Scott. Please email me with comments or suggestions.

visits since January 2, 2002.