Looking at the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Films of All Time list that came out in 1998, most films are super old. For example, ‘Citizen Kane’ (1941) ranked at #1, ‘Casablanca’ (1942) ranked at #2, ‘The Godfather’ (1972) ranked at #3, ‘Gone With the Wind’ (1939) ranked at #4 and ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962) ranked at #5.
I loved ‘The Godfather’ but fell asleep in ‘Casablanca’ and ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. However, I agree with ‘Gone With the Wind’ being up there, especially seeing that it is the highest-grossing movie of all time, adjusted for inflation. I also need to see ‘Citizen Kane’ before making any judgments on it, but I tend to like modern movies more than most movie critics.
Out of the entire top 100, only 8 came out after 1985, the year that I was born:
- Schindler’s List (1993) — #9
- The Silence of the Lambs (1991) — #65
- Forrest Gump (1994) — #71
- Dances with Wolves (1990) — #75
- Platoon (1986) — #83
- Fargo (1996) — #84
- Goodfellas (1990) — #94
- Pulp Fiction (1994) — #95
None of these movies made my top 20 countdown either, so clearly, the movie critics and I don’t always see eye to eye.
In 2008, the AFI came out with their 10th-anniversary list, and ‘Raging Bull’ (1980) and ‘Singing in the Rain (1952) had replaced ‘Gone With the Wind’ and ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ in the top 5. The top 100 choices were still predominantly old movies, with only 14 movies released after 1985:
- Schindler’s List — #8
- The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) — #50
- Unforgiven (1992) — #68
- Saving Private Ryan (1998) — #71
- The Shawshank Redemption (1994) — #72
- The Silence of the Lambs — #74
- Forrest Gump — #76
- Titanic (1997) — #83
- Platoon — #86
- The Sixth Sense (1999) — #89
- Goodfellas — #92
- Pulp Fiction — #94
- Do the Right Thing (1989) — #96
- Toy Story (1995) — #99
There were two movies from my top 20 countdown in the list, which makes me feel a little better. Interestingly, ‘Fargo’ and ‘Dances With Wolves’ became less admired over time and dropped out of the list. On the other hand, ‘Unforgiven’, ‘The Shawshank Redemption, ‘Titanic’, ‘Do the Right Thing’ and ‘Toy Story’ became more admired since 1998 and made the 10th-anniversary list after missing the first countdown. I hope they come out with another list in 2018 to mark the 20th anniversary and look forward to seeing what they include.
After seeing a movie these days, I get interested in knowing what movie critics thought of the movie. Rotten tomatoes is a great website that accumulates all of the professional movie critics reviews on a particular movie and gives an aggregate score out of 100% based on how many reviews are positive for the film. Here are the Tomatometer ratings for numbers 20 through to 11 in my top 20 movies of my lifetime countdown:
#20 — The Conjuring (2013) — 86%
#19 — The Castle (1999) — 88%
#18 — Midnight in Paris (2011) — 93%
#17 — Groundhog Day (1993) — 96%
#16 — Donnie Darko (2001) — 86%
#15 — Before Sunrise (1995) — 100%
#14 — The Truman Show (1998) — 94%
#13 — The Sixth Sense (1999) — 85%
#12 — Inglourious Basterds (2009) — 89%
#11 — Good Will Hunting (1997) — 97%
To qualify for this countdown, I need to have seen the movie, enjoyed it, and found that it had an emotional impact on me somehow. Here is my top 10, with their IMDb star rating and their rotten tomatoes Tomatometer score:
# 10 — Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) — IMDb star rating: 8.3/10, rotten tomatoes Tomatometer = 93%
The tagline for the movie says it all: “You can erase someone from your mind. But, getting them out of your heart is another story.” A strange but touching movie about a couple who keep going to a memory clinic to try and erase the memories of someone they love in the hope that they can move forward with their lives. However, without even knowing why, something keeps bringing them back together. Seeing that Jim Carrey now has 2 movies in my top 20, it seems that he should have played serious roles more often.
# 9 — Requiem for a Dream (2000) — IMDb star rating: 8.4/10, rotten tomatoes Tomatometer = 78%
I feel like this should be shown to anyone who thinks that drugs are cool, especially teenagers. I haven’t spoken to anyone who has watched this movie and hasn’t had a strong visceral reaction to it, either positive or negative. It may be why it has the lowest Tomatometer score out of any movie on my countdown. The director Darren Aronofsky achieved more critical acclaim for his 2010 movie ‘Black Swan’, which was also quite unsettling to watch, but this one had more of an impact on me.
# 8 — The Lion King (1994) — IMDb star rating: 8.5/10, rotten tomatoes Tomatometer = 92%
Drawing inspiration from William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, I was obsessed with ‘The Lion King’ when I was younger, and it first came out. The story and the music were amazing, and I bought the soundtrack on CD and the movie on VHS as soon as they were released. It’s heartbreaking, uplifting and hilarious, and my favourite Disney cartoon of all time.
# 7 — Back to the Future (1985) — IMDb star rating: 8.5/10, rotten tomatoes Tomatometer = 96%
A movie that nearly wasn’t made. When the writer and director first sent the script of ‘Back to the Future’ around to the Hollywood studios, nobody wanted to touch it. The studios knocked it back about 50 times, and it wasn’t until the director had success with another movie that it was greenlit for production. A movie about a hero who befriends a weird old scientist who takes him back into the past where he has to evade his biological mother, who is crushing on him, seems like a weird premise for a movie. However, it became a massive box office hit with two sequels and a huge fan base even to this day. Time travel, when done well, is another truly magical aspect of going to the movies. Being able to learn about where you have come from and what your parents were like when younger is another really fascinating thing that we will never be able to see unless they captured it on video.
# 6 — The Usual Suspects (1995) — IMDb star rating: 8.6/10, rotten tomatoes Tomatometer = 88%
“The smartest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist”. A very clever movie by Bryan Singer and the best in his career, in my opinion, although some of his X-Men movies were good too. But, like ‘The Sixth Sense’, it also has a twist at the end that completely changes the viewing experience of the movie. Who is Keyser Söze? It would be best to watch to find out and then see it a second time to see what signs you missed.
# 5 — The Matrix (1999) — IMDb star rating: 8.7/10, rotten tomatoes Tomatometer = 87%
I remember the marketing campaign in Australia when it first came out — “What is the Matrix?” It gave nothing away about the movie and yet made me feel like I had to watch it or I would miss out. Once I saw it, it blew my mind. Probably the most original action movie that I have ever seen. It has been copied and emulated many times since, so it probably doesn’t seem groundbreaking these days, but the bullet-dodging and slow-motion sequences were amazing. I wish they didn’t bring out the sequels, as they took away some magic from the first movie. If you had a choice, would you take the red pill and be exposed to the truth, or would you take the blue pill and live in ignorant bliss?
# 4 — Inception (2010) — IMDb rating: 8.7/10, rotten tomatoes Tomatometer = 86%
Another very creative and inventive premise with great visual effects. I think Christopher Nolan is a great director, and he likes to get his audiences to think. The difference between reality and dreams is something that has come up a few times on this list. Still, Inception takes it to a whole new level, saying that we can implant an idea into the subconscious mind of someone else during their sleep to impact their behaviour when they are awake. The way that time is altered at the different levels of dreams is great. Also, the spinning top at the movie’s end leaves the interpretation of what happened wide open.
# 3 — Fight Club (1999) — IMDb star rating: 8.8/10, rotten tomatoes Tomatometer = 79%
David Fincher is another of my favourite directors. He has an especially great knack for turning good books into excellent films, including this, ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘Girl With a Dragon Tattoo’. The antisocial, antimaterialistic and anarchistic nature of this film really appealed to me at the time. It made me question what I thought I knew about what was important in this world. It didn’t make me want to start a fight club or punch anyone, but to live a life that was more autonomous and genuine. The surprise ending is almost as good as ‘The Sixth Sense’ and ‘The Usual Suspects’ too.
# 2 — The Dark Knight (2008) — IMDb star rating: 9.0/10, rotten tomatoes Tomatometer = 94%
This movie is epic in scale and is really all about Heath Ledger as the Joker. I was concerned that he wouldn’t size up to Jack Nicholson’s version, but he surpassed it in every way possible and stole the scene whenever he was on the screen. It is one of the greatest performances of all time, in my opinion, and he truly deserved the Oscar for the role, especially considering the toll that it seemed to take on his emotional and psychological well-being. It was annoying that the character of Rachel changed from Katie Holmes in ‘Batman Begins’ to Maggie Gyllenhaal. Apart from that, this is the greatest Batman movie of all time, and the car chase scene through the tunnel is also the best chase scene of all time.
# 1 — The Shawshank Redemption (1994) — IMDb star rating: 9.2/10, rotten tomatoes Tomatometer = 91%
The highest-rated movie of all time on IMDb and, therefore, well-deserving of the #1 movie on my list. Interestingly, this wasn’t a big hit when it first came out but continued to build an audience over time once released for home movie consumption. Morgan Freeman is always great in movies, especially when he plays the narrator, but this one is his best. The ending is exceptionally uplifting, too and would give hope to even the most cynical viewer out there.
Thanks for checking out my list. Do let me know if you agree or disagree with any of these titles in the comments section below or if you think another title should have made the countdown!
Dr Damon Ashworth