Hollywood sure has come a long way from the silent films era to the Golden Age, right up to the era of visual effects and superheroes. Despite the generation gaps and the difference in cinematic styles, which has only improved with the passage of time, we have to look back and recognize the masterpieces and the artists who got us here. They paved the way for the rest of us to get to where we are today.
From Charlie Chaplin to Marlon Brando to Leonardo DiCaprio, there are movies that have stood the test of time, and are appreciated by worldwide audiences, young or old. And if you’re a newly-minted movie buff who wants to go through a journey of Hollywood, this is the place for you! Here’s our pick of the 100 most iconic/essential Hollywood movies of all time. Take a look-see and update your watch list.
1. The Kid (1921)
The Kid is one of the silent era’s finest additions, relying on actions and body language rather than dialogues. It was also Charlie Chaplin’s first full-length feature as a director.
2. Safety Last! (1923)
Even today, Safety Last! remains one of the great silent romantic comedies of that era. That clock tower scene remains one of the defining images of silent film.
3. The General (1926)
Buster Keaton is one of the Kings of Silent Cinema. The OG stuntman. The General will always be his defining movie.
4. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
This movie is a silent classic that deals with the rediscovery of eternal love and the short-lived existence of betrayal.
5. City Lights (1931)
The final scene of this movie is pure acting mastery. City Lights is a landmark movie of its time.
6. Frankenstein (1931)
“IT’S ALIVE!” One of the most iconic scenes in the history of cinema.
7. Scarface (1932)
“Say hello to my little friend.” Yeah, that’s not this one. Al Pacino‘s 1983 film is a remake of this Howard Hughes-produced Great Depression-era masterpiece.
8. Duck Soup (1933)
Duck Soup is, undoubtedly, Marx Brothers’ finest film. This piece of comedy gold proved to be an inspiration for many filmmakers throughout the years.
9. It Happened One Night (1934)
It Happened One Night was the first film to bag Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. Certain elements and scenes of the film are referenced in other movies even today.
10. Gone with the Wind (1939)
The amount of iconic scenes and dialogues that can be taken from this almost 4-hour long movie is endless. “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
11. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
This is probably the greatest musical in American cinema history. Uses Technicolour to full effect.
12. The Great Dictator (1940)
In a time when the world is on the brink of one of the most horrifying wars in this history, Charlie Chaplin’s hilarious satire calls for the world to unite under the banner of peace. His last speech will remain one of the greatest speeches in cinema.
13. Citizen Kane (1941)
“Rosebud.” Orson Welles‘ Citizen Kane chronicling the life and times of business tycoon Charles Foster Kane is an-all time classic. No amount of adjectives can describe how good this movie is.
14. Casablanca (1942)
Casablanca is one of those evergreen classics which never, ever gets old. Simply amazing. “Of All The Gin Joints In All The Towns In All The World, She Walks Into Mine.”
15. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
This James Stewart-starrer is the ultimate Christmas movie. That’s all you need to know.
16. All About Eve (1950)
Bette Davis vs Anne Baxter in one of the most iconic showdowns in cinema. Ali v Foreman ain’t got nothing on this.
17. Sunset Blvd. (1950)
One of film noir’s finest. “No one leaves a star. That’s what makes one a star.”
18. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
One of Marlon Brando’s greatest performances. Hollywood saw the rise of one of it’s greatest actors through this movie.
19. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Now don’t tell me *that* song with *that* scene isn’t playing in your head when you see this title. That scene in itself is one of Hollywood’s most iconic images.
20. High Noon (1952)
A Western that inspired a plethora of other Westerns. The ending scene spawned a number of other movies. Brilliant.
21. Rear Window (1954)
A suspense thriller all done from the comforting view of an apartment and a telescope. Alfred Hitchcock‘s on it. Still one of the best thrillers in cinema.
22. On the Waterfront (1954)
Marlon Brando’s meteoritic rise to the top of Hollywood only grew, as he pushed the barriers of acting to their limits, setting the precedent for future generations to emulate him. No one’s ever managed to surpass the great man till date.
23. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
James Dean became a cultural icon with Rebel Without a Cause. It was the first time someone tried to portray the life of a teenager and the moral gaps between generations, especially with parents and children.
24. 12 Angry Men (1957)
This courtroom drama is shot mostly in a single room. No camera tricks, no set pieces. Just 12 fantastic performances and a fantastic script. A timeless classic.
25. Vertigo (1958)
No words can describe how incredibly good this film is. And it’s also a surprise that Vertigo turned out to be one of Alfred Hitchcock’s biggest bombs. The man’s light years ahead of his time.
26. Some Like It Hot (1959)
A Marilyn Monroe classic. It gathered some controversy by portraying ‘taboo’ elements like homosexuality and cross-dressing. Today, however, it is regarded as one of the greatest films of the Golden Age.
27. Ben-Hur (1959)
Ben-Hur had the largest budget of any movie at that time. It won a record 11 Academy Awards back then. And we still can’t forget the epic chariot sequence.
28. Psycho (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock abandoned his refined and polished tone to make a grittier, creepier film, made in black and white. I’m not ashamed to say this. Okay, I am a little bit. I cover my ears every time the secretary is stabbed to death in *that* shower scene with that screeching score, which has been used WAY too many times since.
29. The Apartment (1960)
A very warm romantic comedy that is filled with humour and sadness alike. An old-fashioned charm coupled with brilliant slice-of-life storytelling makes this movie an eternal classic.
30. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
Judgment at Nuremberg was a fine reconstruction of the Nazi trials that took place after the fall of Adolf Hitler.
31. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Lawrence of Arabia is THE OG adventure film. It spawned the creation of future adventure franchises, like Star Wars, Indiana Jones and so on.
32. To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
Based on the classic Harper Lee book, Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch offers us crucial lessons about racial prejudices and the horrors that emanate from them.
33. The Great Escape (1963)
Steve McQueen doesn’t get any better than in this WWII epic. That motorcycle chase is a sequence for the ages.
34. Dr Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
A Cold War satire that proves relevant even today. Comedy still holds strong and in quick succession. Peter Sellers is an absolute joy to watch.
35. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
This movie turned two of the most notorious criminals in the 1930s into cultural icons. Regarded as one of the first films of the New Hollywood era.
36. The Graduate (1967)
Dustin Hoffman at his dynamic best in a milestone cinema. The Graduate is a coming-of-age film. A coming-of-age in the 60s. Finally catching up to the generation.
37. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
In the Heat of the Night is a brilliant take on prejudice, morals and manners in a small town in Mississippi. The film won 5 Academy Awards, including Best Film and Best Actor.
38. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Kubrick has made some of the finest films in history, but only 2001 could take the honour of being called his magnum opus. It’s surprising when you think about the mixed reviews it got when it released, but it only goes to show how far ahead of its time the movie was. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a piece of visual and intellectual brilliance. It is the defining achievement of one of the greatest directors of all time.
39. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
One of the first films to feature themes like Devil worship, occultism and so on, Roman Polanski’s horror film still gives viewers chills to this day.
40. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Spaghetti Westerns became popular in the 1960s mainly through Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy. This movie, starring Henry Fonda, after Clint Eastwood declined an offer to play the lead role, is probably Leone’s best work.
41. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
The iconic duo of Paul Newman and Robert Redford is the Western of Westerns and the bromance movie of bromance movies. The ending scene where they go all out, guns a-blazing, is as most of the items on this list are. Iconic.
42. The Wild Bunch (1969)
As evidenced by the name, The Wild Bunch was famous (and controversial) for its portrayal of graphic violence and the portrayal of crude men attempting to survive by any available means. An epic Western.
43. McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971)
With the masterful direction of Robert Altman, this story is one of the finest Westerns ever made.
44. The Godfather (1972)
“I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse.” I mean, come on, does there really need to be an explanation for this one? The greatest film ever made. Period.
45. The Exorcist (1973)
The greatest and most disturbing horror film ever made. Or, at least, the most disturbing I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t, watch it. “THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU!”
46. The Godfather: Part II (1974)
I liked the sequel more than the first movie. Sue me. Both are incredible films.
47. Chinatown (1974)
The film noir of film noirs, Chinatown brings out the classic noir films of the 30s and 40s, and who better than Jack Nicholson to play the lead role in, arguably, one of the best films in the history of cinema.
48. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Another Jack Nicholson movie. This movie is a touching demonstration of humanity in a mental hospital. Ol’ Jack absolutely knocks it out of the park with this one.
49. Jaws (1975)
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Jaws was one of the first ‘summer blockbuster’ films and was the making of Steven Spielberg.
50. All the President’s Men (1976)
Based on the book that exposed one of the biggest scandals in world history, The Watergate Scandal, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as the two investigative reporters that made the world aware of the activities undertaken by the American Government behind their backs.
51. Rocky (1976)
The film that saw the rise of Sylvester Stallone and the birth of one of the greatest characters in cinematic history, Rocky Balboa. Yo Adrian, it doesn’t get much more iconic than this.
52. Taxi Driver (1976)
Robert De Niro‘s greatest performance in his storied career, as he defines the psychological angst of a disturbed individual, and lets it all out in a fit of rage. Truly one of the great performances in cinema.
53. Annie Hall (1977)
Woody Allen’s best movie by far, Annie Hall is a hilarious romantic comedy. Diane Keaton redefined 70s fashion with her outfit in the film.
54. Star Wars (1977)
“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…….”. Today, that opening text gives us chills. George Lucas’ Star Wars gave birth to one of the greatest franchises in cinematic history.
55. Alien (1979)
Ridley Scott’s Alien practically invented everything good in space horror films, and all future movies in the genre based their ideas off this landmark film.
56. Apocalypse Now (1979)
Probably the greatest war film of all time. Nobody will ever forget the helicopter invasion with The Ride of the Valkyries playing in the background.
57. The Shining (1980)
The number of iconic moments this movie has is endless. Each scene in The Shining seems to have its own iconic status, notably the elevator scene, the twins, the maze. And Room 237. *shudders*
58. Raging Bull (1980)
Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver has some competition to take the top spot as Robert De Niro’s greatest performance: Jake LaMotta from Raging Bull. It may be a sports movie, but it’s not about boxing. It’s a story of Jake LaMotta‘s battles outside the ring.
59. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982)
Even today, with more complex scripts and better visual effects, E.T. still has the power to make you bawl. A story of a unique friendship that hasn’t diminished over time.
60. Blade Runner (1982)
On its initial release, it didn’t get the acclaim it has today. It had its best version when Ridley Scott released his Director’s Cut in 1999. One of the great sci-fi movies in cinema history.
61. Scarface (1983)
“Say hello to my little friend!” Like the original, the remake was also critically acclaimed, and was given a Cuban twist. One of Al Pacino’s most famous characters.
62. The Terminator (1984)
James Cameron is a master of the sci-fi genre. ‘The Terminator’ is one of his finest additions. I mean, who hasn’t done an imitation of Arnold Schwarzenegger going “I’ll be back.”
63. Amadeus (1984)
A fictionalized biopic of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it is one of the only movies to feature two nominations for the Best Actor Oscar. F. Murray Abraham won for his role as Antonio Salieri.
64. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Known for his work in spaghetti westerns, ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ is a 4-hour long masterpiece by Sergio Leone, on the lives of two men, spanning from the late 1910s all the way to 1968. An epic in every sense of the word.
65. Back to the Future (1985)
The adventures of Marty and Doc Brown still live on today. Back to the Future will always remain a personal favourite of mine. You just can’t get tired of it.
66. Aliens (1986)
The sequel to James Cameron’s Alien stands as one of the best sequels in Hollywood.
67. Die Hard (1988)
‘Die Hard’ saw the rise of one of Hollywood’s greatest action heroes, John McClane, as well as the portrayal of one of the genre’s greatest villains, Hans Gruber. Yippie-ki-yay.
68. Goodfellas (1990)
“As far as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” Man, what a great movie.
69. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Anthony Hopkins plays Hannibal Lecter in one of the greatest psychological thrillers ever made. Best when eating liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.
70. JFK (1991)
A drama which tries to solve one of the greatest mysteries in human history: who was actually behind the murder of John F. Kennedy? Kevin Costner is absolutely spellbinding in this movie.
71. Terminator II: The Judgment Day (1991)
The sequel was better than the first movie. That’s my honest-to-God opinion. This movie raised the bar for both the sci-fi and the action genres. And it also gave us Arnold’s iconic, “Hasta la vista, baby.”
72. Unforgiven (1992)
Clint Eastwood’s last Western was one of his finest. He dedicated the film to his former directors and mentors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel. ‘Unforgiven’ earned Eastwood a Best Director Academy Award as well as a Best Actor nomination.
73. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
‘Reservoir Dogs’ is one of the greatest independent films ever made. It also introduced the world to one of the finest directors of his generation. Quentin Tarantino.
74. Jurassic Park (1993)
‘Jurassic World’ was fun and all, but Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster was the one that changed the game.
75. Schindler’s List (1993)
Spielberg’s second movie of the year was another masterpiece, which told the tale of a German industrialist saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes give fantastic performances.
76. The Lion King (1994)
Who can forget ‘The Lion King’? Ever since then, there have been plenty of exceptional animated movies, but none of them will have the effect that this one left on us.
77. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Ah, 1994 was a golden age for cinema. ‘Pulp Fiction’ was the next film Quentin Tarantino directed. I can’t seem to come up with anything that’ll even remotely signify the importance of this film in popular culture.
78. Forrest Gump (1994)
“Mama said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” What we got here is a gem of 1990s cinema and Tom Hanks‘ finest performance.
79. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
And thus began the endless Morgan Freeman voiceover impressions. “Get busy living or get busy dying.” Those are words I will take to my grave.
80. Toy Story (1995)
And thus began Pixar’s dominance in animated cinema. It also gave birth to some of the most important characters in animation, Buzz Lightyear and Woody.
81. Se7en (1995)
Layered with intelligently constructed symbolisms, top class acting and Fincher cinematography, it leaves you almost on the floor, waiting nervously for the end. ‘Se7en’ is most particularly famous for that shock ending as well as the dialogue which so many of us use so hilariously for inappropriate events: “WHAT’S IN THE BOOOOOOX?”
82. Heat (1995)
Apart from being a top-notch heist film, ‘Heat’ is iconic for bringing together two of Hollywood’s greatest actors in an iconic showdown scene, where both actors ad-lib their way in one of Hollywood’s most geek-out scenes.
83. Fargo (1996)
The TV show might be brilliant, but you just can’t replicate the 1996 movie directed by The Coen Brothers. ‘Fargo’ was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, winning two.
84. The Big Lebowski (1998)
Another Coen Brothers’ masterpiece, tales of The Dude, the White Russians and the rug, will forever live on.
85. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Another Spielberg masterpiece, this is the best war film ever made. That opening battle sequence will remain one of the finest scenes in all of cinema.
86. Magnolia (1999)
28-year-old Paul Thomas Anderson shows maturity beyond his years with masterful writing and direction of this sublime drama starring Tom Cruise and Julianne Moore.
87. Fight Club (1999)
Probably the most iconic movie, and definitely the most popular in David Fincher‘s filmography, this is one of the most rebellious, audacious film of the last two decades.
88. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Stanley Kubrick‘s last film proved that he wasn’t cold or emotionally unattached in his portrayal of his films. This erotic drama uses all of his signature styles, as Kubrick goes out with a bang.
89. The Matrix (1999)
Before John Wick, there was Neo. The first of Keanu Reeves’ iconic action films, ‘The Matrix’ was unlike anything we had ever seen at the time. It still holds up two decades later.
90. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
A beautiful trainwreck of a movie. And not in a bad way. The gut-punch is so real. The heartbreak so well communicated. The performances by the cast amplify the movie’s tone as well.
91. Memento (2000)
‘Memento’ was Christopher Nolan‘s big break. It propelled him to the forefront of Hollywood mainstream with its unprecedented success. The film cemented Nolan as one of the best upcoming directors of that time.
92. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001, ’02, ’03)
To this day, with the growing popularity of fantasy and sci-fi movies, there doesn’t seem to be a movie quite like ‘LoTR.’ That series was a pure heart. This was a set of movies that never should’ve worked in the first place. But they did. In a world of meticulously planned cinematic universes, LoTR will have a special place in the annals of cinema.
93. Mulholland Drive (2001)
A neo-noir mystery that doesn’t make sense. But it’s absolutely brilliant.
94. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
A beautiful and ultimately frustrating film on the longing between two men and their desires to be together. Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger knock it out of the park.
95. There Will be Blood (2007)
“I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!” Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis are an unstoppable pair in one of the best movies of that decade.
96. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
The beautiful performances by Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck and others are what propels this deep and distinct western into the Hollywood Hall of Fame.
97. No Country for Old Men (2007)
Violent, gripping, blood-soaked, the Coen Brothers do it again in this modern-day Western. It also contains the usual Coen Brothers’ black humour.
98. The Dark Knight (2008)
I don’t need to tell you about Heath Ledger’s performance here, but hell, I’ll do it again. Ledger gave us the best portrayal of the character to date, as well as one of the greatest cinematic performances of all time. Period. Apart from Ledger’s borderline psychotic performance, everything else about this movie was just about perfect, from action sequences to the progressive narrative.
99. Avatar (2009)
The highest-grossing film of all time, even today. The script, the acting and most notably, the visuals (which were extraordinary for a 2009 film) were all of the highest quality. Let’s see whether it can hold on to that top spot.
100. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
The movie is called ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, but it’s more Furiosa (Charlize Theron) than Max (Tom Hardy). There’s minimal dialogue in the movie, and that’s perfectly alright with me. The only additional dialogue this movie required was the praise it generated when it came out. Find out which other action movies made it to our best action movies of the 21st century list.
There it is! The 100 best Hollywood movies you can’t afford to miss. How many of these have you seen? What are your favourites?
List by Arun Kumar, writing by Aditya Sarma
(Additional writing by Deepjyoti Roy)