Phew, this is going to be a big one.

It’s taken me a LONG time to complete both of these bucket list items – I finished the AFI top 100 in 2020, and for various reasons I wanted to do this post combined, which meant a delay in posting this… but I’ve done it. 18 years later (no joke).

Read on to see why I did it, how I did it, what I thought of both goals (isn’t hindsight great?), and what I learnt from doing this…

(Titles appearing in both lists are in bold)

AFI Top 100

1) Citizen Kane 26) Mr Smith Goes To Washington51) West Side Story76) Forrest Gump
2) The Godfather 27) High Noon52) Taxi Driver77) All the President’s Men
3) Casablanca 28) All About Eve53) The Deer Hunter78) Modern Times
4) Raging Bull 29) Double Indemnity54) M*A*S*H79) The Wild Bunch
5) Singin’ In The Rain 30) Apocalypse Now55) North by Northwest80) The Apartment
6) Gone With The Wind31) The Maltese Falcon56) Jaws81) Spartacus
7) Lawrence of Arabia 32) The Godfather Part II57) Rocky82) Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
8) Schindler’s List 33) One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest58) The Gold Rush83) Titanic
9) Vertigo 34) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs59) Nashville84) Easy Rider
10) The Wizard of Oz 35) Annie Hall60) Duck Soup85) A Night at the Opera
11) City Lights 36) The Bridge on the River Kwai61) Sullivan’s Travels86) Platoon
12) The Searchers37) The Best Years of Our Lives62) American Graffiti87) 12 Angry Men
13) Star Wars38) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre63) Cabaret88) Bringing Up Baby
14) Psycho 39) Dr Strangelove64) Network89) The Sixth Sense
15) 2001: A Space Odyssey40) The Sound of Music65) The African Queen90) Swing Time
16) Sunset Blvd.41) King Kong66) Raiders of the Lost Ark91) Sophie’s Choice
17) The Graduate42) Bonnie and Clyde67) Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?92) Goodfellas
18) The General43) Midnight Cowboy68) Unforgiven93) The French Connection
19) On the Waterfront44) The Philadelphia Story69) Tootsie94) Pulp Fiction
20) It’s A Wonderful Life45) Shane70) A Clockwork Orange95) The Last Picture Show
21) Chinatown46) It Happened One Night71) Saving Private Ryan96) Do the Right Thing
22) Some Like It Hot47) A Streetcar Named Desire72) The Shawshank Redemption97) Blade Runner
23) The Grapes of Wrath48) Rear Window73) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid98) Yankee Doodle Dandy
24) ET: The Extra-Terrestrial49) Intolerance74) The Silence of the Lambs99) Toy Story
25) To Kill A Mockingbird50) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring75) In the Heat of the Night100) Ben-Hur

iMDB top 250 (as of December 2022*)

1) The Shawshank Redemption51) Alien101) Amelie151) Kill Bill Vol. 1201) Mary and Max
2) The Godfather52) City Lights102) A Clockwork Orange152) No Country for Old Men202) How to Train Your Dragon
3) The Dark Knight53) Apocalypse Now103) The Apartment153) Finding Nemo203) Monsters, Inc.
4) The Godfather Part II54) Memento104) Ikiru154) The Thing204) The Big Lebowski
5) 12 Angry Men55) Raiders of the Lost Ark105) Double Indemnity155) The Elephant Man205) Jaws
6) Schindler’s List56) Django Unchained106) Full Metal Jacket156) Chinatown206) Dead Poets Society
7) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King57) WALL-E107) Hamilton157) Raging Bull207) The Passion of Joan of Arc
8) Pulp Fiction58) The Lives of Others108) Scarface158) V for Vendetta208) Tokyo Story
9) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring59) Sunset Blvd.109) To Kill A Mockingbird159) Gone with the Wind209) Hotel Rwanda
10) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly60) Paths of Glory110) The Sting160) Inside Out210) Le Mans ’66
11) Forrest Gump61) The Shining111) Incendies161) Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels211) Rocky
12) Fight Club62) The Great Dictator112) Up162) Dial M for Murder212) Platoon
13) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers63) Avengers: Infinity War113) Heat163) The Secret in their Eyes213) Spotlight
14) Inception64) Witness for the Prosecution114) Taxi Driver164) Howl’s Moving Castle214) The Terminator
15) Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back65) Aliens115) A Seperation165) The Bridge on the River Kwai215) Stand by Me
16) The Matrix66) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse116) Metropolis166) Three Billboards216) Ratatouille
17) Goodfellas67) American Beauty117) L.A. Confidential167) Trainspotting217) Logan
18) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest68) Dr Strangelove118) Die Hard168) Warrior218) Rush
19) Seven69) The Dark Knight Rises119) Snatch169) Fargo219) Pather Panchali
20) Seven Samurai70) Oldboy120) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade170) Prisoners220) Network
21) It’s a Wonderful Life71) Amadeus121) Bicycle Thieves171) Gran Torino221) Into the Wild
22) The Silence of the Lambs72) Inglourious Basterds122) Like Stars on Earth172) My Neighbour Totoro222) The Wizard of Oz
23) City of God73) Joker123) 1917173) Catch Me If You Can223) Before Sunset
24) Saving Private Ryan74) Coco124) Downfall174) Million Dollar Baby224) Groundhog Day
25) Life is Beautiful75) Toy Story125) For A Few Dollars More175) Children of Heaven225) The Best Years of Our Lives
26) Interstellar76) Braveheart126) Dangal176) Blade Runner226) The Exorcist
27) The Green Mile77) Das Boot127) Batman Begins177) The Gold Rush227) To Be or Not to Be
28) Star Wars78) Avengers: Endgame128) The Kid178) On the Waterfront228) The Incredibles
29) Terminator 2: Judgment Day79) Princess Mononoke129) Some Like It Hot179) Before Sunrise229) The Battle of Algiers
30) Back to the Future80) Once Upon A Time In America130) The Father180) 12 Years A Slave230) Jai Bhim
31) Spirited Away81) Good Will Hunting131) All About Eve181) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2231) Hachi: A Dog’s Tale
32) Psycho82) Your Name132) Green Book182) Ben-Hur232) La Haine
33) The Pianist83) Top Gun: Maverick133) The Wolf of Wall Street183) Wild Strawberries233) My Father and My Son
34) Parasite84) Requiem for a Dream134) Judgment at Nuremberg184) Gone Girl234) Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
35) Leon85) 3 Idiots135) Ran185) The Third Man235) The Grapes of Wrath
36) The Lion King86) Singin’ in the Rain136) Casino186) The General236) Rebecca
37) Gladiator87) Toy Story 3137) Pan’s Labyrinth187) The Grand Budapest Hotel237) Amores perros
38) American History X88) High and Low138) Unforgiven188) Klaus238) Cool Hand Luke
39) The Departed89) Star Wars: Return of the Jedi139) There Will Be Blood189) The Deer Hunter239) The 400 Blows
40) The Usual Suspects90) Capernaum140) The Truman Show190) In the Name of the Father240) The Handmaiden
41) The Prestige91) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind141) The Sixth Sense191) The Wages of Fear241) The Sound of Music
42) Whiplash92) 2001: A Space Odyssey142) A Beautiful Mind192) Barry Lyndon242) It Happened One Night
43) Casablanca93) Reservoir Dogs143) Shutter Island193) Hacksaw Ridge243) Persona
44) Harakiri94) The Hunt144) Yojimbo194) Sherlock Jr.244) Life of Brian
45) Grave of the Fireflies95) Come and See145) Monty Python and the Holy Grail195) Mr Smith Goes to Washington245) Derzu Uzala
46) Untouchable96) Citizen Kane146) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre196) Memories of Murder246) The Iron Giant
47) Modern Times97) M147) Spider-Man: No Way Home197) Wild Tales247) Aladdin
48) Once Upon A Time In The West98) Lawrence of Arabia148) Jurassic Park198) The Seventh Seal248) The Help
49) Rear Window99) North by Northwest149) The Great Escape199) Mad Max: Fury Road249) Everything Everywhere All At Once
50) Cinema Paradiso100) Vertigo150) Rashomon200: Room250) Gandhi

Why I Did It

I’ve always loved a film. Who hasn’t? Settling down to watch the stars of the screen act out a story, taking you away from your reality – sometimes helping you think through your reality in part. I think that, in the English-language West, we have a tendency to stick to what we know when it comes to film – and more often than not, we’re swayed by new Hollywood releases. This is all well and good, until you realise that “moving images” have been around since 1888, and that there are genuinely thousands of lost films that had the ability to teach us about society, movies, and how we got to this point. On top of that, we’ve definitely gotten better at recognising and appreciating foreign cinema**, but there are still so many films that I genuinely wouldn’t have even considered watching before I started this project. So that’s why I did it. Expand my knowledge of film, but also to open my eyes to other forms, eras and genres of film that I haven’t necessarily gravitated towards in the past. Plus, it’s always fun to be able to pick up on references in other media (looking at you, Matt Groening)!

** nb: the AFI list only considers American films, and the iMDb list contains some non-English films but in my opinion not enough.

5 Films I loved

  • All The President’s Men – “An epic biographical political mystery drama-thriller film about the Watergate scandal that brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon”
  • Cinema Paradiso – “A film centering on the friendship between a young boy and an aging projectionist who works at the titular movie theatre”
  • Fargo – “A black comedy crime film centred on kidnapping, ransoms and homicides in a small Minnesota town”
  • Tokyo Story – “A Japanese drama about an aging couple who travel to Tokyo to visit their grown children”.
  • The African Queen – “A film about British missionaries in East Africa and their wartime adventures with a Canadian mechanic on a small steamboat”

5 Films I struggled to watch

  • Anything directed by Ingmar Bergman (I’m so sorry, Sweden)
  • Duck Soup – “A pre-Code musical black comedy film from the Marx Brothers, centred on the mythical country of Freedonia”
  • Spirited Away – “A Japanese animated fantasy film about a girl who enters the world of Kami (spirits of Japanese Shinto folklore)”
  • Everything Everywhere All At Once – “An absurdist comedy-drama film, centred on a Chinese-American immigrant who must connect with parallel universe versions of herself to prevent a powerful being from destroying the multiverse”
  • The Maltese Falcon – “A film noir following a private detective and his dealings with three adventurers competing to obtain a jewel-encrusted falcon statuette”

5 Films that I wasn’t expecting to love but did

  • Modern Times – “A part-talkie satirical romantic black comedy film by Charlie Chaplin, in which the Little Tramp struggles to survive in the modern, industrialised world”
  • The French Connection – “A crime action thriller film about two NYPD detectives in pursuit of a wealthy French heroin smuggler”
  • Unforgiven – “A revisionist Western film, telling the story of an aging outlaw and killer who takes on one more job”
  • Metropolis – “A 1927 German expressionist science-fiction drama film, set in a futuristic urban dystopia with a wide social class disparity”
  • The Sting – “A caper film focusing on two professional grifters who set out to con a mob boss in 1930s Chicago”

3 Things I learnt:

  • Foreign films are vastly underrated/underrepresented in Western media channels. Netflix has done a fantastic job at evening the playing field and making foreign titles more accessible, but there are so many gems out there that most Western audiences wouldn’t be exposed to without actively searching for them. Don’t get me wrong, there are films that just do not cross cultural divides, but those still teach us a lot about the culture and how we understand them (or don’t, as the case may be). I feel awful for saying it, but part of the reason I struggled with ‘Spirited Away’ is because the cultural nuances just did not resonate with me. It would be like if I showed a Japanese audience some of the British cultural references I grew up with – it just would not be understood in the way it’s meant to be, but these films still teach us a lot about the culture, and, in my opinion, still need to be shown/publicised more.
  • Humour has vastly changed in the past 100 years. This is a pretty obvious one – society has vastly changed in the past 10 years, let alone 100 – but the benchmarks of entertainment are almost completely different to where they were in 1922. What 1920s audiences considered ‘hilarious’ at the time may barely raise a smile for modern audiences now. This was seen most drastically in the Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin films I watched – there was so much slapstick and physical comedy that seems to have died down in 21st century comedy films. In a similar way, I really struggled to watch the Marx Brothers films because I just simply did not find them funny. Similarly, humour got a lot more gritty throughout the years – which, again, goes along with the social changes that have happened in this time.
  • There are way more movie references that are copied/borrowed/stolen than we think. Even in some of the newer films (Marvel does an excellent job of borrowing movie references), you can see nods to other films on the list, which creates a bit of a movie Inception (check the ref!). It’s truly wild, and makes me appreciate seeing the source material so much more – I found myself getting visibly excited whenever I saw an original reference!

How I did it:

  • Amazon Prime (both free and paid-for films)
  • Disney Plus
  • Netflix
  • Youtube (especially for older films where copyrights were expired – particularly useful for 1920s/1930s films)
  • Some DVDs – although these were restricted for environmental impact.

Would I do it again?

iMDb: Yes – I found it a really good comprehensive list of “famous films” that touched on a range of genres, cultures and languages – and if you’re brand new to movies, it would give you a really great baseline knowledge.

AFI Top 100: No. Honestly, I know it’s the American Film Institute, but I found it too American-focused (duh). Great if you want to understand the history of Hollywood, but if you want a more general knowledge of film, I’d do the iMDb top 250. Or commit 18 years of your life to doing both, like me!

Any questions on these ridiculous goals, just shout – but for now, I’m off to watch some mindless drivel and not think about the intellectual complexities of cinema for a bit 🙂

R xx

* please note: as the iMDB top 250 is generated by the public based on votes, this list is as it looks in December 2022. It will change and adapt over time.

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