AFI Top 100 Movies – In 1998 and again in 2007, the American Film Insitute (AFI) asked over 1,500 movie professionals including directors, screenwriters, producers, actors, cinematographers, and movie critics to choose from 400 nominated films to compile a list of the top 100 films of all time. Of course, the list is highly subjective, taking into account each voter’s personal preferences, individual biases, and own movie ranking criteria for what constitutes a great film.
Citizen Kane, the 1941 film directed by and starring then wunderkind Orson Wells as newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane, was ranked the number one movie on both the 1998 and 2007 lists. The Godfather (1972), Casablanca (1942), Raging Bull (1980), Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Gone with the Wind (1939), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Schindler’s List (1993), Vertigo (1958), and The Wizard of Oz (1939) round out the top ten.
Few can dispute the selection of Citizen Kane at the top of both lists. Probably no movie has been more written about, analyzed and dissected by film students for its masterful editing, film and production techniques, storyline, writing, acting — all of the elements which make for a triumphant cinematic achievement. In fact, when the AFI surveyed college film professors on which movie they used most often in their classes, Citizen Kane was the overwhelming selection, with twice the number of votes as the second most popular film, Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin.
Certainly there are hundreds of great films which deserved to make the top 100 list. But glaringly absent from this ranking are such all-time classics as The Third Man (1949), Wuthering Heights (1939), The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), Rebecca (1940), The Quiet Man (1952), Captain’s Courageous (1937), Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), Grand Hotel (1932), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Mrs. Miniver (1942), and All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) to name a few of the hundreds of movies which, in this movie fan’s opinion, deserved to make the list. The fact is, many “best of” lists are disproportionately skewed toward more recent people, places and things, whether they’re ranking athletes, songs, or movies. There is a natural human tendency to value most highly that which you have watched most recently. So, the great movie list seems to under-represent classic Hollywood movies, particularly those in black and white.
And for those movies which the American Film Insitute has determined comprise the one hundred best, the relative ranking of these films seems out of wack. For example, Tootsie (1982) is an amusing comedy in the cross-dressing tradition of Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot (1959), but without the comedic brilliance. But to rank Tootsie as the sixty-ninth greatest movie ever made, ahead of such genius works as Stanley Kubrick’s brilliantly demented A Clockwork Orange (1971), Steven Spielberg’s riveting war drama Saving Private Ryan (1998), Robert Zemeckis’ comedic masterpiece Forrest Gump (1994), William Wyler’s timeless biblical epic Ben-Hur (1959), William Friedkin’s tour-de-force The French Connection (1971), and the Marx’ Brothers’ fantastically farsical Night at the Opera (1935), seems off base.
Of course, Tootsie‘s undeservedly high AFI ranking pales beside such dramatic miscarriages of movie justice as Shakespeare in Love beating out Saving Private Ryan for the best picture Oscar in 1998. Which of these two films is more timeless? Which of these two films will be viewed, analyzed, and still poignantly impactful 50 years from now?
And Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf (1966) at number 67? I know Elizabeth Taylor won one of her two best actress Oscars for her performance, and call me an ignoramus, but I found the film’s vicious bickering and non-stop brawling to be an exhausting movie experience. The same with Robert Altman’s interminable Nashville coming in at number 59. The 1975 film, which profiles a disparate group of characters tangentially related to the music industry against the backdrop of a presidential campaign, is 159 minutes long, and you feel every minute of it. A more exciting film, but also a head-scratcher for why it breaks the top one hundred, is Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). The futuristic detective story, with Harrison Ford as replicant-hunting cop Deckard in 2019 Los Angeles, is an important work in transitioning the science fiction genre from the video game splashiness of Star Wars (1977) to the bleak realism characterized by films such as The Terminator (1984). But is it among the hundred best movies ever made? I don’t think so. And Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) among the top 100 movies ever made? While the film is compelling social commentary, it would not be difficult to name 100 better movies.
Clearly, the love of movies and what constitutes a great film is highly subjective, depending in large part on what strikes the appropriate emotional chord based on the viewer’s personal sensitivities, dreams and life experiences. A scene that elicits pensive reflection and tears in one viewer may inspire snickers in another. But this is part of the emotional appeal of the cinema. We all can compile our personal top 100 favorite films, and I can say with 100% certainty, no two lists will be the same.
Since 2001, Hulu has had exclusive streaming rights to The Criterion Collection, with over 800 Criterion films available on Hulu Plus. The Criterion Collection, favored by film historians and movie afficionados, assembles the greatest films from all genres from around the world and releases them in the highest quality prints, with abundant supplemental features such as expert commentaries and special directors cuts. Filmmakers whose work is included in The Criterion collection include Ingmar Bergman, Bernardo Bertolucci, Federico Fellini, and Francois Truffaut.
Four films ranked in the AFI top 100 are currently available on Hulu Plus through its relationship with The Criterion Collection. Fans of great comedy, film history, and brilliant cinematic entertainment will enjoy Hollywood icon Charlie Chaplin in his three greatest films, City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), and The Gold Rush (1925), all available on Hulu Plus. City Lights, which is ranked number 11 on the AFI’s top 100 film list, was rated as the best romantic comedy of all time in the AFI’s 2008 ranking of that genre. Few moments in film are as heart-wrenching as the final scene when the formerly blind girl recognizes that her benefactor is none other than the Little Tramp. City Lights is a must see.