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Film Critics Say These Are the Best Movies of All Time

Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter follows the story of a married woman who pursues an unusual affair with a complete stranger she met at the train station. 

Director: David Lean
Released November 13, 1945
Metacritic Rating: 92
AFI Ranking: --

What Makes It Great: "This movie was conceived in a place and time when self-sacrifice for the sake of marriage made unchallenged moral sense. Nowadays, we have a new narrative piety which demands that, whatever secrets are routinely kept in real life, marital infidelity in the movies must always be discovered, and sobering life lessons learned. Not in 1945. Merely to have had these feelings, and then to have renounced them, confers upon Alec and Laura a romantic, and even tragic, grandeur." --Peter Bradshaw, Critic

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The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker

The film follows an Iraq War Explosive Ordnance Disposal team who are targeted by insurgents and shows their psychological reactions to the stress of combat. 

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Released: June 26, 2009
Metacritic Rating: 95
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: "The Hurt Locker is a full-throttle body shock of a movie. It gets inside you like a virus, puts your nerves in a blender, and twists your guts into a Gordian knot." --Scott Foundas, critic

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My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady

The musical classic stars Sir Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins whose task is to transform a Cockney working-class girl—Eliza Doolittle played by Audrey Hepburn—into a presentable member of high society.

Director: George Cukor
Released: December 25, 1964
Metacritic Rating: 95
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “Few genres of films are as magical as musicals, and few musicals are as intelligent and lively as My Fair Lady. It's a classic not because a group of stuffy film experts have labeled it as such, but because it has been, and always will be, a pure joy to experience.”  --James Berardinelli, critic.

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The Bride of Frankenstein

The Bride of Frankenstein

In this sequel to Frankenstein, Henry Frankenstein fall victim to his nemesis Dr. Pretorius and constructs a mate for his monster. 

Director: James Whale
Released: May 6, 1935
Metacritic Rating: 95
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “Whale's erudite genius brings it all together. He sculpts every nuance of self-parody, social satire, horror, humour, wit and whimsy into a dazzling whole, keeping every one of his fantastical plates spinning until the tragic, inevitable finale.”  --Simon Braund, critic

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Toy Story

Toy Story

An animated feature that takes place in a world where anthropomorphic toys come to life when humans are not present. The plot focuses on the relationship between an old-fashioned pull-string cowboy doll named Woody and an astronaut action figure, Buzz Lightyear.

Director: John Lasseter
Released: November 22, 1995
Metacritic Rating: 95
AFI Ranking: 99
 

What Makes it Great: “With “instant classic” written all over it, the first full-length feature entirely composed of computer-generated animation, is a visually astounding, wildly inventive winner.”  --Michael Rechtshaffen, critic

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Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

Animated feature Beauty and the Beast focuses on the relationship between the Beast, a prince who is magically transformed into a monster as punishment for his arrogance, and Belle, a young woman imprisoned in his castle.

Director: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
Released: November 22, 1991
Metacritic Rating: 95
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “With its strong characters and lively storytelling, animated or not, this deserves this place alongside the cinema greats. Humor also played a major part in the film’s success - visual gags for the kids and sly asides for the adults were another Disney first.”  --Emma Cochrane, critic

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Spirited Away

Spirited Away

Spirited Away tells the story of Chihiro Ogino, a 10-year-old girl who, while moving to a new neighborhood, enters the world of Kami- spirits of Japanese Shinto folklore.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Released: September 20, 2002
Metacritic Rating: 96
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: A young girl, Chihiro, becomes trapped in a strange new world of spirits. When her parents undergo a mysterious transformation, she must call upon the courage she never knew she had to free herself and return her family to the outside world.

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Fantasia

Fantasia

It consists of eight animated segments set to pieces of classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski, seven of which are performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Director: Ben Sharpsteen, Bill Roberts, David Hand, Ford Beebe Jr., Hamilton Luske, James Algar, Jim Handley, Norman Ferguson, Paul Satterfield, Samuel Armstrong, T. Hee and Wilfred Jackson
Released: November 13, 1940
Metacritic Rating: 96
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “Fantasia is caviar to the general, ambrosia and nectar for the intelligentsia. It makes no compromises; it is the noblest experiment of a wizard in his bright field of artistry and creativeness.” --Edwin Schallert, critic

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Gravity

Gravity

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as American astronauts who are stranded in space after the mid-orbit destruction of their space shuttle and attempt to return to Earth.

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Released: October 4, 2013
Metacritic Rating: 96
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “At once the most realistic and beautifully choreographed film ever set in space, Gravity is a thrillingly realized survival story spiked with interludes of breath-catching tension and startling surprise.”  --Todd McCarthy, critic

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The Lady Eve

The Lady Eve

The film is based on a story by Monckton Hoffe about a mismatched couple who meet on board an ocean liner.

Director: Preston Sturges
Released: March 21, 1941
Metacritic Rating: 96
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great:” If I were asked to name the single scene in all of romantic comedy that was sexiest and funniest at the same time, I would advise beginning at six seconds past the 20-minute mark”.  --Roger Ebert, critic

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Mean Streets

Mean Streets

A slice of street life in Little Italy among lower echelon Mafiosos, unbalanced punks, and petty criminals. A small-time hood gets in over his head with a vicious loan shark. In an attempt to free himself from the dangers of his debt, he gets help from a friend who is also involved in criminal activities.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Released: October 14, 1973
Metacritic Rating: 96
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “No matter how bleak the milieu, no matter how heartbreaking the narrative, some films are so thoroughly, beautifully realized they have a kind of tonic effect that has no relation to the subject matter.”  --Vincent Canby, critic

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The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath

Based on John Steinbeck’s novel,  John Ford’s adaptation of a poor Midwest family forced off their land is gripping. They travel to California, suffering the misfortunes of the homeless in the Great Depression.

Director: John Ford
Released: March 15, 1940
Metacritic Rating: 96
AFI Ranking: 23
 

What Makes it Great: It evokes the harshness of the Great Depression and arouses sympathy for the struggles of migrant farmworkers. The book came to be regarded as an American classic.

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Parasite

Parasite

Parasite depicts the intersection of a poor family living in a squalid basement with members of a wealthy family living in a mansion in Seoul. Made with subtitles, it was the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Director: Joon-ho Bong
Released: October 11, 2019
Metacritic Rating: 96
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “Parasite is the best film I’ve seen so far this year, is about two families of four at opposite ends of the economic spectrum, and how the one on the lower end systematically takes over the lives of the other.”  --G. Allen Johnson, critic

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Ratatouille

Ratatouille

Despite his sensational sniffer and sophisticated palate, Remy's dreams of becoming a chef seem hopeless due to one small detail--he's a rat! Through a twist of fate, he ends up in the world-famous restaurant of his late hero, Auguste Gusteau. 

Director: Brad Bird
Released: June 29, 2007
Metacritic Rating: 96
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “A nearly flawless piece of popular art, as well as one of the most persuasive portraits of an artist ever committed to film. It provides the kind of deep, transporting pleasure, at once simple and sophisticated, that movies at their best have always promised.”  --A. O. Scott

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Nashville

Nashville

Over the course of a few hectic days, numerous interrelated people prepare for a political convention as secrets and lies are surfaced and revealed.

Director: Robert Altman
Released: June 11, 1975
Metacritic Rating: 96
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “It's a dazzling, emblematic portrait of America in 1975, both trapped in amber yet still vitally alive.”  --Philip French, critic.

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12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave

In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man living in upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.

Director: Steve McQueen
Released: October 18, 2013
Metacritic Rating:  96
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “The genius of this movie is its insistence on banal evil, and on terror, that seeped into souls, bound bodies and reaped an enduring, terrible price.”  --Manohla Dargis, critic

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The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon

A private detective (Humphrey Bogart) takes on a case that involves him with three eccentric criminals, a gorgeous liar, and their quest for a priceless statuette.

Director: John Huston
Released: October 18, 1941
Metacritic Rating: 96
AFI Ranking: 31
 

What Makes it Great: “This is one of the best examples of actionful and suspenseful melodramatic story telling in cinematic form.”  --Variety Staff

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Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary's Baby

A horror movie featuring Mia Farrow as a woman who becomes mysteriously pregnant and experiences paranoia over the safety of her unborn child begins to control her life.

Director: Roman Polanski
Released: June 12, 1968
Metacritic Rating: 96
AFI Ranking: 
 

What Makes it Great: “Several exhilarating milestones are achieved in Rosemary's Baby, an excellent film version of Ira Levin's diabolical chiller novel.”  --Variety staff

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Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea

A depressed uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy's father dies.

Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Released: November 18, 2016
Metacritic Rating: 96
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “Despite his draw to tragic subjects, Lonergan holds onto a sharp, dark, Irish sense of humor, and a feel for the absurd that comes out at the most unexpected times.”  --Stephen Whitty

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12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men

A behind-closed-doors look at the American legal system. This iconic film stars Henry Fonda as the dissenting member on a jury ready to convict a teenager charged with murdering his father.

Director: Sidney Lumet
Released: April 1, 1957
Metacritic Rating: 96
AFI Ranking: 87
 

What Makes it Great: “A taut, absorbing and compelling drama that reaches far beyond the close confines of the jury room setting.”  --A. H. Weller, critic

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The Shop Around the Corner

The Shop Around the Corner

Two employees at a gift shop can barely stand each other, without realizing that they are falling in love through the post as each other's anonymous pen pal.

Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Released: January 12, 1940
Metacritic Rating: 96
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “Close to perfection--one of the most beautifully acted and paced romantic comedies ever made in this country.”  --Pauline Kael, critic

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Dumbo

Dumbo

Ridiculed because of his enormous ears, a young circus elephant is assisted by a mouse to achieve his full potential.

Director: Ben Sharpsteen, Bill Roberts, Jack Kinney, John Elliotte, Norman Ferguson, Samuel Armstrong and Wilfred Jackson
Released: October 31, 1941
Metacritic Rating: 96
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “Though it ultimately provides sweet redemption, Dumbo plunges its hero pretty close to the heart of darkness.”  --Keith Phipps, critic

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American Graffiti

American Graffiti

A couple of high school grads spend one final night cruising the strip with their buddies before they go off to college.

Director: George Lucas
Released: August 11, 1973
Metacritic Rating: 97
AFI Ranking: 62
 

What Makes it Great: “This superb and singular film catches not only the charm and tribal energy of the teen-age 1950s but also the listlessness and the resignation that underscored it all like an incessant bass line in one of the rock-'n'-roll songs of the period.”  --Jay Cocks, critic.

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A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire

Disturbed Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) moves in with her sister in New Orleans and is tormented by her brutish brother-in-law (Marlon Brando) while her reality crumbles around her.

Director: Elia Kazan
Released: September 19, 1951
Metacritic Rating: 97
AFI Ranking: 47
 

What Makes it Great: “You could make a good case that no performance had more influence on modern film acting styles than Brando's work as Stanley Kowalski, Tennessee Williams' rough, smelly, sexually charged hero”.  --Roger Ebert, Critic

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Psycho

Psycho

A Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer's client, goes on the run, and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Released: September 8, 1960
Metacritic Rating: 97
AFI Ranking: 14
 

What Makes it Great: “Psycho remains a demanding and disturbing movie; it conveys the thrill felt by a murderer as well as his torment, and it shows the proximity of sex—and of restrictive sexual morality—to violence.”  --Richard Brody, critic.

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Gone with the Wind

Gone with the Wind

A Southern belle struggles with the devastation of the Civil War and Reconstruction, based on the book written by Margaret Mitchell.

Director: George Cukor, Sam Wood, Victor Fleming
Released: January 17, 1940
Metacritic Rating: 97
AFI Ranking: 6
 

What Makes it Great: This classic won 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It was one of the truly great films destined for record-breaking box office business everywhere. 

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Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove

An insane general triggers a path to nuclear holocaust that a war room full of politicians and generals frantically tries to stop.

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Released: January 29, 1964
Metacritic Rating: 97
AFI Ranking: 39
 

What Makes it Great: “Remains funnier than almost any comedy made in this generation. And since we are, once again, embarked in global warfare, it’s as timely as it’s ever been”.  --David Bianculli, critic.

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The Third Man

The Third Man

Pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, Harry Lime.

Director: Carol Reed
Released: September 3, 1949
Metacritic Rating: 97
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “The thing about Carol Reed's 1949 The Third Man was that no matter how many times I saw it over the years its magic never failed. Its sophisticated, world-weary glamour never lost its allure.”  --David Ansen, critic

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My Left Foot

My Left Foot

Daniel Day-Lewis gives an acting masterclass in the true story of cerebral palsied Christy Brown, who overcame his illness and poverty to become an accomplished artist, poet and writer.

Director: Jim Sheridan
Released: March 30, 1990
Metacritic Rating: 97
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “My Left Foot celebrates the nurturing, healing power of the family unit while avoiding every cliche about the disabled.”  --Gene Siskel, critic

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The Wild Bunch

The Wild Bunch

An aging group of outlaws look for one last big score as the "traditional" American West is disappearing around them.

Director: Sam Peckinpah
Released: June 18, 1969
Metacritic Rating: 97
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “The hard action, bracing wit and mournful grace of Peckinpah’s cowboy classic shames every new movie around. It’s a towering achievement that grows more riveting and resonant with the years.”  --Peter Travers, critic

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All About Eve

All About Eve

An ingenue insinuates herself into the company of an established but aging stage actress and her circle of theater friends.

Director: Joseph Mankiewicz
Released: October 27, 1950
Metacritic Rating: 98
AFI Ranking: 28
 

What Makes it Great: “All About Eve possesses one of the best screenplays ever to grace the silver screen. It also has one of the best performances by an actress in the history of Hollywood features." --James Berardinelli, critic

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Hoop Dreams

Hoop Dreams

Two inner-city Chicago boys with hopes of becoming professional basketball players struggle to become college players.

Director: Steve James
Released: October 14, 1994
Metacritic Rating: 98
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “Hoop Dreams is without peer among sports-oriented documentaries to the extent that it's about people before it's about athletic feats.”  --Jay Carr, critic

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North by Northwest

North by Northwest

A hapless New York advertising executive is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies and is pursued across the country while he looks for a way to survive.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Released: August 6, 1959
Metacritic Rating: 98
AFI Ranking: 55
 

What Makes it Great: “As though North by Northwest boasts some of Hitchcock’s most ambitious and memorable set pieces it is also one his most terrifically funny, playful moving pictures, cutting just the right line between suspense and belly laughs”.  --Matthew Anderson

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Some Like It Hot

Some Like It Hot

When two male musicians witness a mob hit, they flee the state in an all-female band disguised as women but further complications set in.

Director: Billy Wilder
Released: March 29, 1959
Metacritic Rating: 98
AFI Ranking: 22
 

What Makes it Great: “If Billy Wilder achieved nothing else in his entire career, he would still rank as one of the great masters of cinema for pulling off this comic tour de force.”  --Marjorie Baumgarten, reviewer

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Pan's Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth

Following a bloody civil war, young Ofelia enters a world of unimaginable cruelty when she moves in with her new stepfather, a tyrannical military officer.

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Released: December 29, 2006
Metacritic Rating: 98
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “Like any great myth, Pan’s Labyrinth encodes its messages through displays of magic. And like any good fairy tale, it is also embroidered with threads of death and loss.”  --Lisa Schwartzbaum, critic

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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Fred Dobbs and Bob Curtin, two Americans searching for work in Mexico, convince an old prospector to help them mine for gold in the Sierra Madre mountains.

Director: John Huston
Released: January 24, 1948
Metacritic Rating: 98
AFI Ranking: 38
 

What Makes it Great: “One of the strongest of all American movies...The picture is emotionally memorable, though - it has a powerful cumulative effect; when it's over you know you've seen something.”  --Pauline Kael, critic.

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The Lady Vanishes

The Lady Vanishes

While traveling in continental Europe, a rich young playgirl realizes that an elderly lady seems to have disappeared from the train.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Released: November 1, 1938
Metacritic Rating: 98
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “It's typical Hitchcock: taut, morbid, stylish, and determined to confound expectations all the way up to the final shot.”  --Tasha Robinson, reviewer

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Touch of Evil

Touch of Evil

This film stars Orson Welles as Hank Quinlan, a crooked police chief who frames a Mexican youth as part of an intricate criminal plot. 

Director: Orson Welles
Released: February 1, 1958
Metacritic Rating: 99
AFI Ranking: -
 

“A This film noir portrait of corruption and morally compromised obsessions is the greatest B movie ever made.”  --Jay Carr, Boston Globe

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Pinocchio

Pinocchio

Disney’s adaptation featuring a living puppet, with the help of a cricket as his conscience, who must prove himself worthy to become a real boy.

Director: Ben Sharpsteen and Bill Roberts and Hamilton Luske and Jack Kinney and Norman Ferguson and T. Hee and Wilfred Jackson
Released: February 23, 1940
Metacritic Rating: 99
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “It still is the best thing Mr. Disney has done and therefore the best cartoon ever made.”  --Frank S. Nugent, critic

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Intolerance

Intolerance

The story of a poor young woman, separated by prejudice from her husband and baby, is interwoven with tales of intolerance from throughout history.

Director: D. W. Griffith
Released: September 5, 1916 
Metacritic Rating: 99
AFI Ranking: 49
 

What Makes it Great: “Critical opinion of Intolerance's worth has been divided for nearly a century, with Griffith variously being hailed as a visionary and a Victorian middlebrow with a predilection for kitsch and old-fashioned morality.”  --David Parkinson, critic

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Moonlight

Moonlight

The tender, heartbreaking story of a young man’s struggle to find himself, told across three defining chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love, while grappling with his own sexuality.

Director: Barry Jenkins
Released: October 21, 2016
Metacritic Rating: 99
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “Moonlight takes the pain of growing up and turns it into hardened scars and private caresses. This film is, without a doubt, the reason we go to the movies: to understand, to come closer, to ache, hopefully with another.”  --Joshua Rothkopf

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City Lights

City Lights

The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) struggles to help a blind flower girl he has fallen in love with.

Director: Charles Chaplin
Released: March 7, 1931
Metacritic Rating: 99
AFI Ranking: 11
 

What Makes it Great: “The closing shot of Charlie Chaplin's face in City Lights, his heart breaking: the highest form of screen acting, the most effective tear extraction exercises the medium has yet to offer.”  --Michael Phillips, critic

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Singin' in the Rain

Singin' in the Rain

A silent film production company and cast make a difficult transition to sound.

Director: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
Released: April 11, 1952
Metacritic Rating: 99
AFI Ranking: 5
 

What Makes it Great: “Singin' in the Rain is considered by many people to be among the best Hollywood musicals of all time. For those who have seen the movie, the reason for this is not difficult to understand. Watching Singin' in the Rain is an exuberant, magical experience – a journey deep into the heart of feel-good territory.”  --James Berardinelli, critic

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Notorious

Notorious

A woman is asked to spy on a group of Nazi friends in South America. How far will she have to go to ingratiate herself with them?

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Released: September 6, 1946
Metacritic Rating:  100
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: “Notorious is a masterclass of suspense, romance and technical craft. Featuring two of the most classic screen presences in Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, their on-screen chemistry plays into Hitch’s thematic obsession with desire.” --Alasdair Bayman, critic 

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Vertigo

Vertigo

Vertigo creates a dizzying web of mistaken identity, passion and murder after an acrophobic detective rescues a mysterious blonde from the bay.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Released: May 28, 1958
Metacritic Rating: 100
AFI Ranking: 9
 

What Makes it Great: "Vertigo, the greatest sexual suspense drama ever made, has come to be regarded by many Hitchcock admirers as his most accomplished film. It is certainly his most forlorn, and easily his most mesmerizing.”  --Peter Stack

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Boyhood

Boyhood

The life of Mason, from early childhood to his arrival at college.

Director: Richard Linkletter
Released: July 11, 2014
Metacritic Rating: 100
AFI Ranking: -
 

What Makes it Great: Filmed over 12 years with the same cast, Richard Linklater's Boyhood is a groundbreaking story of growing up as seen through the eyes of a child named Mason, who literally grows up on screen before our eyes.

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Casablanca

Casablanca

A cynical expatriate American cafe owner struggles to decide whether or not to help his former lover and her fugitive husband escape the Nazis in French Morocco.

Director: Michael Curtiz
Released: January 23, 1943
Metacritic Rating: 100 
AFI Ranking: 3
 

What Makes it Great: “The actors are both so perfectly cast, and create such a palpable level of romantic tension, that it's impossible to envision anyone else in their parts (and inconceivable to consider that they possibly weren't the producer's first choices).” --James Berardinelli, critic 

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Rear Window

Rear Window

A wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Released: September 1, 1954
Metacritic Rating: 100 
AFI Ranking: 48
 

What Makes it Great: “This level of danger and suspense is so far elevated above the cheap thrills of the modern slasher films that Rear Window, intended as entertainment in 1954, is now revealed as art.”  --Roger Ebert, critic

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The Godfather

The Godfather

An organized crime dynasty's aging patriarch transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.

Director: Frances Ford Coppola
Released: March 11, 1972
Metacritic Rating: 100
AFI Ranking: 2
 

What Makes it Great: Director Coppola paints a chilling portrait of the Sicilian clan's rise and near fall from power in America, masterfully balancing the story between the Corleone's family life and the ugly crime business in which they are engaged.

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Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane

Following the death of publishing tycoon Charles Foster Kane, reporters scramble to uncover the meaning of his final utterance, "Rosebud".

Director: Orson Welles
Released September 4, 1941
Metacritic Rating: 100
AFI Ranking: 1
 

What makes it great: “There is hardly a shot in Orson Welles’ towering achievement that doesn’t employ some sort of ingenious trick involving the camera, editing, sound, staging or production design.”  --Josh Larsen, critic

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