Debating the greatest movies ever is a tradition that dates back decades and transcends all languages.
We’ve already told you about the highest-grossing movies ever made — but are those really the same as the best films? Naming something the “greatest” isn’t as easily quantifiable as looking at box-office returns, but we’ve rounded up Hollywood’s best work ever, using criteria like critical scores, awards, audience ratings, ticket sales and overall cultural impact.
Our list only includes English-language films, so don’t be upset if your favorite French art-house flick didn’t make the cut! Where did your favorite movie land? Take a look and find out.
‘Die Hard’ (1988)
An adventure made for adults, starring a hero everyone wishes could be there in their hour of need, “Die Hard” might just be the ultimate action film. It helped make Bruce Willis a household name and featured Alan Rickman’s most career-defining role until Harry Potter, playing one of the best villains in recent memory. Everyone has their own favorite quote from the fantastic script (my choice is “Now I know what a TV dinner feels like”), the thrills never stop and John McClane is infinitely more likable than most action heroes. In 2015, Entertainment Weekly praised “Die Hard” as the perfect Christmas movie.
‘The Princess Bride’ (1987)
Not including this ’80s gem on our list would be inconceivable. It literally has something for everyone, does everything well and has more imagination than almost any other movie in history. The cast is flawless, the script is loaded with memorable lines and moments, and it made the fantasy genre cool again. In 2018, Den of Geek declared it a perfect fantasy film.
‘Taxi Driver’ (1976)
Not only is “Taxi Driver” one of the darkest movies ever made, but it’s also one of the best. Director Martin Scorsese’s gritty look at the life of a disturbed cabbie in 1970s New York features one of the intense performances that put Robert De Niro on the map. More than 40 years after it stunned audiences with its bleak view of the world, “Taxi Driver” still packs a mighty punch. In a perfect review written in 2004, Roger Ebert wrote that “Taxi Driver” is “one of the best and most powerful of all films.”
‘The Dark Knight’ (2008)
A cultural juggernaut when it hit theaters in 2008, “The Dark Knight” might go down as the best sequel since “The Godfather Part II.” The Oscar-winning performance of the late Heath Ledger stole all the headlines but the intense work of Aaron Eckhart, Christian Bale and Gary Oldman only cemented its legacy. According to IMDb users, “The Dark Knight” is the greatest action film ever made.
The newest film on our list, “Moonlight” made history in 2016 as the first LGBTQ film and the first movie with an all-black cast to win best picture at the Oscars. It’s a stunning personal film about one man’s life and the dramatic impact that three key moments had on it. Complex named it the best movie ever made by a black director and Rotten Tomatoes declared it the second highest-rated best picture winner ever.
Pixar has long been hailed for making amazing animated movies, but the studio has never been more ambitious than it was with 2008’s “WALL-E.” This touching story follows a lonely trash-compacting robot who falls in love with a machine that’s much more advanced and destructive. Its script makes bold statements about obesity, environmental destruction and big business while also still being funny and a blast to behold. In 2009, Time named “WALL-E” the best movie of the 2000s.
Few movies are able to unite critics and mainstream audiences like “Titanic” did in 1997. Not only did this gorgeous romantic epic become the highest-grossing film in history for years following its release, but it also won 11 Oscars, a total that is unsurpassed in movie history. The computer-generated effects were groundbreaking for the time, ushering in a filmmaking style that would dominate for decades to come. Plus, that love story between young Leo and Kate is still one of the best in Hollywood history.
‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994)
Few popular movies are as unique as Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.” This film boasts one of the best ensemble casts ever put together and has dialogue that sounded unlike anything audiences had heard until that point. It mixes pitch-black comedy (“I shot Marvin in the face!”), tense thrills (“I gotta stab her?”) and utter terror (“Bring out the Gimp.”) seamlessly into something totally original. In 2014, Rolling Stone readers voted it the greatest movie of the ’90s.
‘This Is Spinal Tap’ (1984)
It’s tough to judge comedies in terms of how funny they are but “This Is Spinal Tap” might be the funniest film ever made. This cult classic made the mockumentary a staple style of comedies for decades to come. It tells the story of a fake British rock band in a way that’s so convincing you might actually think Spinal Tap was the real deal. People who are music buffs will get the most mileage out of “This Is Spinal Tap,” but anyone who can appreciate the sad realities of celebrity life will not stop laughing. In 2011, Time Out named it the best comedy film ever made.
‘The Shawshank Redemption’ (1994)
When “The Shawshank Redemption” came out in 1994, it did well enough with critics to earn a best picture nomination at the Oscars but couldn’t even crack the top 50 of the year’s box-office results. Still, this inspiring tale of a man’s survival in, and escape from, prison has become truly beloved in recent years. According to IMDb voters, it’s the greatest movie of all time with a 9.2 rating that’s only matched by “The Godfather.” The friendship shown between Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, as well as iconic quotes like “Get busy living or get busy dying,” make this an American classic.
‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (1981)
Debates will forever rage as to whether “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or “The Last Crusade” is the best Indiana Jones movie but, the fact is, the latter wouldn’t exist if the former hadn’t been so great. Arguably Harrison Ford’s most signature role, and containing some of composer John Williams’ best work, this may be director Steven Spielberg’s most fun movie. You’ve got a slick hero surviving ancient deathtraps and snake pits and you’ve got Nazi faces literally melting — what more could you want in a cinematic adventure?
Few movies have as many unforgettable images as Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” It’s nearly 60 years old, but this one is still more frightening than pretty much every other horror film that’s been made since it first stunned audiences. Anthony Perkins’ chilling performance as the charming killer Norman Bates and the shocking way the film kills off its main character early on are just a couple reasons why “Psycho” remains fresh to this day. In 2010, Britain’s The Guardian declared it the best horror film of all time.
‘Toy Story’ (1995)
Anyone who can remember seeing “Toy Story” when it first came out will never forget how astounding the animation looked at the time. Today, Pixar has made its original feature look like something drawn on Microsoft Paint, but “Toy Story” remains one of the greatest animated movies ever produced. Its story was funny, touching and exciting, and the voice performances of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, as well as its outstanding supporting cast, make it an all-time classic. The trilogy it spawned has grossed nearly $2 billion worldwide, with each entry outperforming the one that came before it.
‘Blade Runner’ (1982)
Few movies have maintained a strong cult following for as long as “Blade Runner.” This beautiful piece of science-fiction detective work is unforgettable, from its retro-futuristic visuals and electronic score to its understated performances and its deep musings on what it means to be human. The nature of Harrison Ford’s lead character is still debated more than 35 years after “Blade Runner” came out. A poll of experts from The Guardiandubbed it the greatest sci-fi movie ever made.
‘Do the Right Thing’ (1989)
The sad thing about Spike Lee’s intense “Do the Right Thing” is that, as WBUR wrote in 2017, its unflinching look at American racial divisions is always timely. Set in a sweltering Brooklyn summer, this film examines neighborhood tensions that boil over, with several key moments resembling tragic stories we constantly see in the news today. The visuals are unforgettable, including Rosie Perez’s dance over the opening credits and Lee’s use of symbolic colors — but its the script that hits hardest in this drama.
If you like the American tradition of summer blockbusters, you owe it to Steven Spielberg’s terrifying “Jaws.” This thrilling classic about a beach town that’s terrorized by a massive shark was the first movie to ever gross more than $100 million at the box office, and it was dubbed the original summer blockbuster by Guinness World Records. More than 40 years after it was released, “Jaws” is still one of the scariest films ever and provides a blueprint of how to make an effective monster movie.
‘It Happened One Night’ (1934)
Great films get major bonus points for pioneering things that remain popular decades after they came out — and that’s what “It Happened One Night” did for romantic comedies. In 2014, AV Club said that every rom-com made in the previous years ripped this film off. It starred Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert as seeming opposites who slowly fall for one another. Audiences and critics knew what they had at the time, with “It Happened One Night” doing well at the box office and winning five Oscars. If you love snuggling up with a romantic comedy, you probably owe something to this beloved classic.
‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’ (2001)
It doesn’t get much more epic than “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The three films combined to rake in about $3 billion worldwide in theaters and won 17 Oscars. But the biggest movie events of the 2000s wouldn’t have been nearly as massive if “The Fellowship of the Ring” hadn’t kicked off the trilogy in outstanding fashion. The visual effects were ambitious and cutting edge, the story was gripping and the characters were unforgettable. In 2010, Empire dubbed it the best movie trilogy ever made. It all started here.
‘Saving Private Ryan’ (1998)
The 20-minute sequence that shows American soldiers landing on Omaha Beach amid a storm of enemy fire near the opening of “Saving Private Ryan” is one of the most intense in film history. The film eases up a bit from there but never loses its grip on you for nearly three hours.
Director Steven Spielberg’s third movie on this list, this story of soldiers reluctantly rescuing one of their own during World War II is arguably his finest achievement. It also features possibly the best work of American treasure Tom Hanks. In 2009, a poll of movie lovers named “Saving Private Ryan” the greatest war movie ever made and it’s been said the film reignited interest in WWII history.
Bogart and Bergman. “As Time Goes By.” A list of memorable quotes that’s much taller than a hill of beans. All those things, beautiful black-and-white cinematography and a simmering romance set against the backdrop of World War II combine to make “Casablanca” one of the most perfect and enduring films in Hollywood history. Among screenwriters, its status is nothing short of legend. In 2006, the members of the Writers Guild of America named “Casablanca” the most well-written movie of all time.
‘The Lion King’ (1994)
In terms of American animation, it just doesn’t get better than “The Lion King.” Combine Shakespeare with a beautifully drawn African animal kingdom and a voice cast that rivals any animated movie ever made and you’ve got what we consider Disney’s crowning achievement. It remains beloved by critics and audiences, finishing its original run as the world’s highest-grossing movie in 1994 and one of the highest-grossing of all time at that point. In a poll of about 35,000 voters on Ranker, “The Lion King” was named the best animated film ever made.
‘The Thin Blue Line’ (1988)
No other movie on this list helped free an innocent man from death row except “The Thin Blue Line.” A landmark documentary, this one revolutionized the true-crime documentary genre that’s so popular today. In 1988, director Errol Morris’ film, which looked at the murder of a Dallas police officer and the man who had spent 12 years in prison after being convicted of it, basically invented the use of dramatic reenactments to help tell a crime story when video evidence doesn’t exist. “The Thin Blue Line” is still haunting, sleek and modern 30 years after it debuted.
The final scene, in which a shocking admission is heard, is still one of the most stunning moments in movie history. In 2007, the members of the International Documentary Association named “The Thin Blue Line” the second-greatest documentary ever produced.
‘Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope’ (1977)
It’s impossible to overestimate the impact this one has had on Hollywood since it hit theaters in 1977. Those big-budget, special-effects-driven summer blockbusters you love seeing every year? They probably wouldn’t exist without “A New Hope.” It was the highest-grossing movie ever for many years and now stands as the second highest-grossing movie in history when you adjust ticket prices for inflation.
Most Star Wars fans will tell you “Episode V” is better, but this legendary franchise wouldn’t even exist without “Episode IV.” The first film in the Star Wars saga made stars out of its cast of unknowns and turned characters with weird names like Darth Vader, R2-D2, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Han Solo into household names. Also, the music is so perfect it has basically become a cliché.
‘Gone With The Wind’ (1939)
Epic with a capital “E.” This nearly 80-year-old Hollywood landmark continues to be a favorite of critics and viewers, being voted the country’s favorite film as recently as 2014 in a Harris Poll. Why do people love it so much? The performances are perfect, the visuals are breathtaking, the romance is still smoldering and Scarlett O’Hara is a tough hero many women — and men — wish they were more like. When ticket prices are adjusted for inflation, it’s the highest-grossing movie in American box-office history, making nearly $2 billion.
Alfred Hitchcock made many movies that could be described as his masterpiece but “Vertigo” might deserve that mantle the most. The director’s fourth and final collaboration with the immortal Jimmy Stewart is as tense and dark as anything that’s been made in the 60 years since it premiered. In 2012, it did what many thought was impossible, surpassing “Citizen Kane” in Sight & Sound’s deeply respected critics poll of the greatest movies ever made.
‘Singin’ In The Rain’ (1952)
There have been a lot of great movies about Hollywood but none better than “Singin’ in the Rain.” This beloved musical has more energy, charm and wit than just about any other film ever made. Even people who don’t like musicals will sit through this one with a grin on their face. The lead performances of Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly — who performed that legendary musical number in the rain while running a fever — are as perfect as could be. In 2006, AFI named it the greatest movie musical ever made. We’ll second that.
‘The Wizard Of Oz’ (1939)
There are few moments in movie history as magical as the first time you see “The Wizard of Oz” change from dusty sepia tones to the most vibrant palette of colors you’ve ever seen. This fantasy epic is so ingrained in our culture that quotes like “I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” and “There’s no place like home,” as well as phrases like “the man behind the curtain,” have become staples of the English language. Nearly 80 years after its release, the characters from “The Wizard of Oz” are still common group Halloween costumes, showing how deep its waters still run.
In the entire history of Rotten Tomatoes, no movie has been better reviewed than “The Wizard of Oz.”
‘Back To The Future’ (1985)
A time-traveling DeLorean, an awesome soundtrack of tunes from the ’50s and ’80s, and the most motley pair of BFFs ever — what’s not to love about “Back to the Future”? Audiences loved it from the start, as “Back to the Future” was the highest-grossing movie of 1985 and spawned two sequels which are solid in their own right. Not only did this movie have an ingenious premise that made time travel accessible for viewers of all ages, but it also has some of the most memorable characters, quotes and visuals in film history.
“Back to the Future” has become a full-on cultural phenomenon for many good reasons. In 2016, Vox declared it the most perfect blockbuster ever produced. We can’t disagree.
‘The Godfather’ (1972)
Doing a list of the greatest movies and not including “The Godfather” is like writing about the greatest books and not including “The Great Gatsby.” This drama about an Italian-American family and how its involvement in organized crime ripples into the lives of its children became a cultural icon the moment it was released. It became the highest-grossing movie of 1972 and went on to win several Oscars, including best picture.
The moving and intense performances of Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, James Caan and virtually everyone in its large cast, as well as the cinematography and music, make “The Godfather” a joy to revisit to this day. In 2017, 20,000 readers of Empire magazine voted “The Godfather” the greatest movie ever made, and it is tied as the highest-rated movie ever from users of IMDb.
‘Citizen Kane’ (1941)
It may have come out nearly 80 years ago but “Citizen Kane” is still such a modern film that it proves just how ahead of its time it was. Orson Welles directed and starred in this American landmark, playing Charles Foster Kane, a man who rises from poverty to great wealth and power as a newspaper publisher. The movie begins with Kane’s death and moves backward from there, revealing the pivotal moments of his life and the sad truth behind his last word, “Rosebud.”
It’s been named the greatest movie ever made in countless lists, including AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Movies and Sight & Sound’s respected poll of top critics. From the non-linear storytelling to the cutting-edge makeup effects that showed Welles as Kane at various ages, to the inventive camera angles and the heartbreaking script — “Citizen Kane” deserves every bit of hyperbole that’s been heaped upon it.