AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies


I admit it. I’m a sucker for lists and I’m a sucker for clip packages (yeah, I even like the ones on the Oscars), so it was probably inevitable I’d end up watching the 10th Anniversary Edition of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies. I know, lists like this don’t really mean anything and it’s easy to quibble with who made it (Titanic?!) and who was left off (Fargo!!), but the important thing is that a list like this is a celebration of movies. It’s a reminder of why we love them.

As far as the show itself, my favorite bits were Sydney Lumet appreciating the “I’m Spartacus” scene from Spartacus, Laurence Fishburne talking about the significance of “The slap heard around the world” from In the Heat of the Night, Dustin Hoffman choking up over how he approached his role in Tootsie, Steven Spielberg on how It’s a Wonderful Life so beautifully illustrates the impact one person has on so many and Jack Lemmon choking up over City Lights. Notice a trend there? Yeah, I like the way movies affect us…even people who make them for a living.

So anyway, rather than just list all the movies, I thought it might be interesting to do a little comparison with the list they did in 1998.


The new Top 10 (with the previous rank in parentheses):
1 (1) Citizen Kane (1941)
2 (3) The Godfather (1972)
3 (2) Casablanca (1942)
4 (24) Raging Bull (1980)
5 (10) Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
6 (4) Gone With the Wind (1939)
7 (5) Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
8 (9) Schindler’s List (1993)
9 (61) Vertigo (1958)
10 (6) The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Raging Bull and Vertigo are two worthy additions to the top 10, but that means two films had to go.

Falling out of the top 10:
17 (7) The Graduate (1967)
19 (8) On the Waterfront (1954)

There are 23 film new to the Top 100:
18 The General (1927)
49 Intolerance (1916)
50 Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
59 Nashville (1975)
61 Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
63 Cabaret (1972)
67 Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
71 Saving Private Ryan (1998)
72 The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
75 In the Heat of the Night (1967)
77 All the President’s Men (1976)
81 Spartacus (1960)
82 Sunrise (1927)
83 Titanic (1997)
85 A Night at the Opera (1935)
87 12 Angry Men (1957)
89 The Sixth Sense (1999)
90 Swing Time (1936)
91 Sophie’s Choice (1982)
95 The Last Picture Show (1971)
96 Do the Right Thing (1989)
97 Blade Runner (1982)
99 Toy Story (1995)

And 23 that got booted:
(39) Doctor Zhivago (1965)
(44) The Birth of a Nation (1915)
(52) From Here to Eternity (1953)
(53) Amadeus (1984)
(54) All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
(57) The Third Man (1949)
(58) Fantasia (1940)
(59) Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
(63) Stagecoach (1939)
(64) Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
(67) The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
(68) An American in Paris (1951)
(73) Wuthering Heights (1939)
(75) Dances With Wolves (1990)
(82) Giant (1956)
(84) Fargo (1996)
(86) Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
(87) Frankenstein (1931)
(89) Patton (1970)
(90) The Jazz Singer (1927)
(91) My Fair Lady (1964)
(92) A Place in the Sun (1951)
(99) Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1967)

Interesting to see that Intolerance replaced the more controversial Birth of a Nation. Of the films that were added, I’m most happy to see The General, Nashville, Cabaret, All the President’s Men, Sunrise, Do the Right Thing and Toy Story. Of the films that got booted, the only ones I miss are The Third Man, Stage Coach, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Manchurian Candidate and Fargo.

Biggest dropper: The African Queen (1951) from 17 to 65
Biggest gainer: The Searchers (1956) from 96 to 12
No change: 1 Citizen Kane (1941), 32 The Godfather Part II (1974), 37 The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Directors with the most films on the list:
5 Steven Spielberg
4 Alfred Hitchcock
4 Stanley Kubrick
4 Billy Wilder
3 Frank Capra
3 Charles Chaplin
3 Francis Ford Coppola
3 John Huston
3 Martin Scorsese

Spielberg lost Close Encounters but gained Saving Private Ryan to remain at 5. Kubrick added Spartacus to jump from 3 to 4.

Movies released since the last list:
50 Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
71 Saving Private Ryan (1998)
83 Titanic (1997)
89 The Sixth Sense (1999)

Titanic may have been released at the time of the last list but it would’ve been too recent for consideration

Movies by decade
(previous totals in parentheses)
1910s 1 (1)
1920s 3 (2)
1930s 12 (15)
1940s 11 (12)
1950s 16 (20)
1960s 17 (18)
1970s 20 (18)
1980s 8 (6)
1990s 11 (8)
2000s 1 (0)


13 thoughts on “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies

  1. More rambling from a dedicated reader:

    John Huston is an American Master that too few of my generation seem to give a damn about. African Queen should have remained higher.

    Close Encounter is better and, yes, tougher than Saving Private Ryan.

    Time to get real and risky and boot Citizen Kane. It’s a wonderful movie, but its not, imho, the best ever made. I even prefer certain Welles to it (Touch of Evil, maybe Magnificent Ambersons, the Welles co-starred The Third Man.) I also prefer Godfather Part 2 to Citizen Kane, and they are remarkably similar in theme.

    The Sixth Sense inclusion seems like a ridiculous bid for hiptitude (THIS is the film you choose from 1999? Does anyone still watch it?)

    Most of these, as usual, are too GOOD for you, this should be called the Top 100 Civics Lessons. Want something modern? Pick Alexander Payne’s Sideways (Payne out-Sturges Preston Sturges in my opinion anyway.) Want Preston Sturges? Pick The Lady Eve, which is much more pleasurable than the preachy, dopey Sullivan’s Travels.

    Nice to see Toy Story, a wonderful film. Nice to see Vertigo, even though the AFI seems to be the last to realize just how great that movie is.

  2. I won’t even go into why it’s wrong that Speilberg has more movies in this list than any other American director. He’s talented and all but come on.

    And I won’t rant on how wrong it is that Titanic, The Sixth Sense, and Fellowship of the Ring booted more deserving films. If you want to appear relevant to the masses that wouldn’t know Alfred Hitchcock from Brian DePalma, then pick recent films with a little more heft than frigging Titanic.

    Christ, The Big Lewbowski has more artistic merit and a bigger following than Titanic.

    OK, so I kind of did what I said I wouldn’t with Titanic there.

    I’m kind of shocked that Close Encounters and Stagecoach fell off this list to make room for some these others. Spartacus? Seems an odd choice.

  3. The movie from 1997 to put on this list would be Boogie Nights, but that won’t happen until 50 years from now, when Anderson will be respected and it will be safe to annoit it.

    So I propose a movie from 1997 that satifies everyone, our taste for good movies and their taste for good taste: L.A. Confidential.

  4. I don’t know what their methodology for picking is (though I suppose I could look it up), but the AFI seems to straddle a fine line you both touched on: a line between scholarly and popular. Citizen Kane would be the scholarly choice and Titanic would be the popular extreme.

    As dumb as these lists are, for the most part I think they do an OK. Putting movies in any kind of order is a pretty fruitless activity, but it gets people thinking and talking about movies and that’s never a bad thing.

    For the most part, I think it’s an improved list. They added more good stuff than they took off.

    Boogie Nights or LA Confidential would’ve been great choices.

  5. I would agree that Boogie Nights is a stronger choice than Titanic or Sixth Sense and that LA Confidential is also a better choice and a film that fits the criteria by which most of the 90’s era films seem to have been picked from: strong critical and box office reception, popular with a wide audience, and potential long-term audience popularity.

    Sadly, I’m having a hard time coming up with other late 90’s films to include on such a list but then again, it’s hard to put movies so fairly recent into context with films that have proven themselves relevant and worthwhile over time.

    I guess it’s also important to define the criteria of this list. Is it most the 100 most relevant films, the 100 most popular films, the 100 most critically acclaimed box office successes?

    I’m having a hard time with Schindler’s List in that Top Ten. As good as it is, I just don’t think it’s as important or as a strong as other movies on the list. Heck, if you wanted a more modern “classic” to include in your Top Ten, then I would vote for Goodfellas, Silence of the Lambs, or Unforgiven before I would include Schindler’s List.

  6. Schindler I expect gets the nod because it’s the most ‘important’ film from our most celebrated (for better or for worse) director. Spielberg will always be The Beatles and Scorsese will always be The Rolling Stones. I’m just glad to see Raging Bull (Scorsese’s Beggar’s Banquet) in the top 10.

  7. I downloaded the ballot and the list from AFI and was quickly glancing through it. I’d love to know the reasoning behind how movies were selected for the ballot. For instance, Blue Velvet is on there but Mulholland Drive isn’t. Mystic River is on there but Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima aren’t.

    I’d also love to see a list of the people that received this ballot and a list of those that voted.

    The ballot includes 400 movies with the option for five write-in votes. They also list a criteria for how the movies were selected.

    All very interesting. It would be curious to tally the number of films selected for the ballot for each major director with multiple picks versus how many of those movies made it onto the list itself.

  8. So is it your understanding that some mysterious team of experts picked the original 400 and then left it up to a vote of a larger but equally mysterious group of experts?

    I suppose I could just look myself…

  9. I assume as much, but then again I learned long ago that assuming makes an ass out of you and me. Who knows? They didn’t really spell that process out and some of their choices seem a might bit odd or arcane, so it’s anyone’s guess.

  10. Here’s the criteria from Wikipedia:
    *Feature-length: Narrative format typically over 60 minutes in length.
    *American film: English language, with significant creative and/or financial production elements from the United States.
    *Critical Recognition: Formal commendation in print, television, and digital media.
    *Major Award Winner: Recognition from competitive events including awards from peer groups, critics, guilds and major film festivals.
    *Popularity Over Time: This includes success at the box office, television and cable airings, and DVD/VHS sales and rentals.
    *Historical Significance: A film’s mark on the history of the moving image through visionary narrative devices, technical innovation or other groundbreaking achievements.
    *Cultural Impact: A film’s mark on American society in matters of style and substance.

  11. AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE MOVIE BUFF POLL AS OF 6/23/07 – TOP 100 (vote totals on their website but not yet compiled)

    Brokeback Mountain topped the poll, probably due to the still unbelievable Oscar loss. Regardless of one’s personal opinion, it should have been on the AFI 100 based not just on the poll below, but on the AFI criteria – most Best Picture/Director awards ever for a single year (despite the Oscar loss – in fact, that was virtually the only thing it lost!), huge cultural impact, top box office story of 2005 per, etc. Anyway, here is the list:

    1. Brokeback Mountain – 124
    2. The Godfather – 76
    3. Gone with the Wind – 44
    4. Star Wars – 43.
    5. Casablanca – 42
    6. The Shawshank Redemption – 42
    7. Lord of the Rings Trilogy – 34 [note: Return of the King – 11]
    8. Titanic – 34
    9. To Kill a Mockingbird – 21
    10. Citizen Kane – 20
    11. The Sound of Music – 20
    12. The Empire Strikes Back – 20
    13. It’s a Wonderful Life – 19
    14. Lawrence of Arabia – 17
    15. American Beauty – 17
    16. 2001: A Space Odyssey – 16
    17. Schindler’s List – 16
    18. The Godfather II – 15
    19. Raiders of the Lost Ark – 15
    20. Pulp Fiction – 15
    21. Doctor Zhivago – 15
    22. Goodfellas – 13
    23. Vertigo – 12
    24. The Third Man – 11
    25. The Best Years of Our Lives – 10
    25. On the Waterfront – 10
    25. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – 10
    25. Fight Club – 10
    25. Jaws – 10
    30. The Graduate – 9
    30. Singin’ in the Rain – 9
    30. The Quiet Man – 9
    30. Memento – 9
    30. The Color Purple – 9
    35. Sunset Boulevard – 8
    35. All About Eve – 8
    35. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – 8
    35. Rocky – 8
    35. The Princess Bride – 8
    35. Gladiator – 8
    35. Braveheart – 8
    35. Back to the Future – 8
    43. Chinatown – 7
    43. Raging Bull – 7
    43. A Clockwork Orange – 7
    43. Fargo – 7
    43. Blade Runner – 7
    43. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – 7
    43. Moulin Rouge – 7
    43. Forrest Gump – 7

    51 – 59 [6 votes each]
    Almost Famous, Amadeus, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Deer Hunter, Patton, Psycho, Some Like It Hot, Taxi Driver, The Wild Bunch

    60-66 [5 votes each]
    Annie Hall, E.T., The Green Mile, Out of Africa, Rear Window, The Searchers, The Sting

    67-90 [4 votes each]
    The Adventures of Robin Hood, Aliens, Ben-Hur, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Crash, Dances with Wolves, The Exorcist, A Few Good Men, Field of Dreams, Good Will Hunting, Heat, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, King Kong, LA Confidential, Magnolia, The Matrix, Requiem for a Dream, The Right Stuff, Roman Holiday, Saving Private Ryan, Scarface, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Ten Commandments, The Usual Suspects

    91-122 [3 votes each]
    First 10: “Official” Selections for Top 100:
    American Graffiti, City Lights, The General, The Grapes of Wrath, Network,
    North By Northwest, Notorious, Shane, Silence of the Lambs,
    Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

    Next 22: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Airplane, Apollo 13, Becket, The Big Lebowski, The Breakfast Club, The English Patient, Full Metal Jacket,Funny Farm, Ghostbusters, Gunga Din, Inherit the Wind, Local Hero, Mary Poppins, Million Dollar Baby, Mulholland Drive, Philadelphia, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Shining, Splendor in the Grass, Superman

    INELIGIBLE [2006]
    The Departed – 18
    V for Vendetta – 7

    High Vote-getters among non American (or British) Films
    Spirited Away – 7
    The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – 5
    4 apiece: Once Upon a Time in the West, Passion of the Christ, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
    2 apiece: City of God, Ikiru, Life is Beautiful, The Motorcycle Diaries,
    The Passion of Joan of Arc, The Pianist

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