Advertise here with Carbon Ads

This site is made possible by member support. ❤️

Big thanks to Arcustech for hosting the site and offering amazing tech support.

When you buy through links on, I may earn an affiliate commission. Thanks for supporting the site! home of fine hypertext products since 1998.

🍔  💀  📸  😭  🕳️  🤠  🎬  🥔

Watch these movies, then we can talk

Film critic Jim Emerson recently compiled a list of 102 movies that you should see before you can consider yourself movie literate:

…they [are] the movies you just kind of figure everybody ought to have seen in order to have any sort of informed discussion about movies. They’re the common cultural currency of our time, the basic cinematic texts that everyone should know, at minimum, to be somewhat “movie-literate.”

I’ve reproduced Emerson’s list here and marked with an asterisk those that I’ve seen.

* 2001: A Space Odyssey
* The 400 Blows
8 1/2
Aguirre, the Wrath of God
* Alien
All About Eve
* Annie Hall
* Apocalypse Now
* Bambi
The Battleship Potemkin
The Best Years of Our Lives
The Big Red One
The Bicycle Thief
The Big Sleep
* Blade Runner
* Blue Velvet
Bonnie and Clyde
Bringing Up Baby
* Casablanca
Un Chien Andalou
Children of Paradise / Les Enfants du Paradis
* Chinatown
* Citizen Kane
* A Clockwork Orange
* The Crying Game
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Days of Heaven
* Dirty Harry
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
* Do the Right Thing
La Dolce Vita
Double Indemnity
* Dr. Strangelove
Duck Soup
* E.T. — The Extra-Terrestrial
Easy Rider
* The Empire Strikes Back
The Exorcist
* Fargo
* Fight Club
The General
* The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II
* Gone With the Wind
* GoodFellas
* The Graduate
* A Hard Day’s Night
It’s a Gift
* It’s a Wonderful Life
The Lady Eve
Lawrence of Arabia
Mad Max 2 / The Road Warrior
The Maltese Falcon
* The Manchurian Candidate
Modern Times
* Monty Python and the Holy Grail
The Night of the Hunter
Night of the Living Dead
* North by Northwest
* Nosferatu
* On the Waterfront
Once Upon a Time in the West
Out of the Past
Pink Flamingos
* Pulp Fiction
* Rear Window
Rebel Without a Cause
Red River
The Rules of the Game
* Scarface
The Scarlet Empress
* Schindler’s List
The Searchers
* The Seven Samurai
Singin’ in the Rain
Some Like It Hot
A Star Is Born
A Streetcar Named Desire
Sunset Boulevard
* Taxi Driver
The Third Man
Tokyo Story
* Touch of Evil
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Trouble in Paradise
* West Side Story
The Wild Bunch
* The Wizard of Oz

That’s 40 out of 102. My pre-1970 movie knowledge is just plain pathetic, but I’ve seen all six movies on the list made since 1990 (and 5 out of 7 of the 80s movies). And I think I’ve seen Bambi (when I was a kid), but I marked it as seen even though I’m not completely sure. As for what’s missing from the list, I’m not even going to go there given my poor showing. There are some hardcore movie fans reading this…anyone seen them all?

Reader comments

DonnyApr 26, 2006 at 12:11PM

You will thoroughly enjoy:

The Best Years of Our Lives

Don't wait!

AbhishekApr 26, 2006 at 12:14PM

That's quite a list...

OverwormApr 26, 2006 at 12:17PM

Seen them all? I haven't heard of some of them!

SwitchApr 26, 2006 at 12:20PM

You've never seen Jaws? Pick up the DVD :) The list is fun, I've seen a bunch of them, not all of them. Why is Mad Max 2 on there? The original is way more fun.

WayneApr 26, 2006 at 12:31PM

I've seen everything except: Bringing Up Baby, The Best Years of Our Lives, Duck Soup, It's a Gift. The last two I've never heard of.

You've never seen 8 1/2, that I can understand, though the Criterion DVD is too good not to see asap. Jaws, seems impossible not to see on tv at some point. But Vertigo?! Highly suggest the Hitchcock "Masterpiece Collection" box set.

MoiraApr 26, 2006 at 12:34PM

You MUST see Some Like It Hot. One of the best movies ever which still holds up today. Not a false note in the entire flick.

dobbsApr 26, 2006 at 12:35PM

I've seen them all and own about 75% of 'em.

Wayne, you've never heard of The Wizard of Oz? WTF? Or the Wild Bunch?

SpiceeeApr 26, 2006 at 12:38PM

C'mon, The Exorcist?! Dude, you must have been making an effort to avoid it! :)

I never considered myself a connoisseur but I think I've pretty much seen them all (and own quite a few on DVD, heh!)

markApr 26, 2006 at 12:40PM

It's hard to fathom that I cannot be a literate film viewer unless I see Mad Max2/The Road Warrior. Mad Max, sure, but Road Warrior? Well, these list are an exercise in subjectivity. Oddly enough, I have never seen E.T.

dobbsApr 26, 2006 at 12:41PM

And those of you who enjoy these kinds of lists, this book is a must and includes a short essay on each film.

GeoffreyApr 26, 2006 at 12:42PM

Rashamon is essential.

ShaneApr 26, 2006 at 12:55PM

It's really embarrassing how few of these movies I've seen.

mikeApr 26, 2006 at 12:57PM

I'd suggest you see M— 1931 serial killer/film noir by Fritz Lang that raises some profound questions about society that are still quite relevant today. Takes a couple of viewings for it to fully sink in.

AelfricApr 26, 2006 at 12:57PM

Which version of Rashomon?

WayneApr 26, 2006 at 12:58PM

Dobbs: the last two of the five I haven't seen - Duck Soup, It's a Gift.

jkottkeApr 26, 2006 at 12:59PM

Emerson addresses some of the feedback he got because of this list on his blog, but doesn't specifically address the puzzling Mad Max 2 inclusion. One emailer urged him to make a list that had the courage to admit that The Truman Show is better than Dr. which Emerson replied, "you've got to be kidding".

Mark BernsteinApr 26, 2006 at 12:59PM

It's WILD to see other people's gaps. I mean, how can anyone have seen 90-odd films on this list and still have missed DUCK SOUP (surely the best of the Marx Brothers) and Bringing Up Baby?

StevenApr 26, 2006 at 1:04PM

I love lists like this b'c they always awake in me my inner OCD nutcase, who wants nothing more than to watch them all in the order they are presented. Plus it brings a little order to my queue.

Kevan EmmottApr 26, 2006 at 1:07PM

Any modern corporate worker MUST have Office Space in their common vernacular. One might argue in certain circles that Napoleon Dynamite is approaching that level of common knowledge as well. I'm strictly going on pervasiveness and daily reference as opposed to cinematic brilliance.

DaveApr 26, 2006 at 1:08PM

Thats quite the list of films. I have quite a few to rent or buy.

Dan WolfgangApr 26, 2006 at 1:09PM

I have to wonder why Dr. Strangelove always makes these lists.

I've seen it a few times, and more or less like it. But I never got the whole "biting satire" that I'm told it is. Talking to several who are old enough to have lived through the early '60's, I'm told it's a great satirical commentary on the time. I'm simply too young to get it.

I guess needing a fair bit of background is helpful to fully enjoy any movie, but at some point I hope some of these list-makers begin to realize that younger movie-watchers are simply going to be unable to relate to their choice because of their age.

kellanApr 26, 2006 at 1:12PM

Someone compiled these into a list on LoB: Jim Emerson's "101 Movies You Must See Before You Die". Easier to then maintaining your "I've seen" list by hand.

YahmdallahApr 26, 2006 at 1:12PM

I did the same thing to both Emerson's list and the Guardian's list, if you're interested.

Though I added about 48 more to the list and complained about some that shouldn't be there.

PhilipApr 26, 2006 at 1:15PM

Wow, I knew I was a movie nerd but now -- yeesh! There's only 17 on that list that I'm NOT ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN I've seen. I guess I'm movie literate then? I must say that it's a decent list of films with a healthy variety in mood, scope, era, and culture.

jasonApr 26, 2006 at 1:17PM

how could you have not seen, Jaws?

Steve FelixApr 26, 2006 at 1:24PM

I've seen about 82 of them. I think a more vital conversation about movies could be had with someone who knew other fine arts rather than had seen most of these, though. And certain of these titles need to be retired to make room for recent films. (Say, Toy Story, or Being John Malkovich, or Chungking Express.)

R J KeefeApr 26, 2006 at 1:28PM

What a strong list. I'm pretty much like dobbs, although there are one or two that I haven't seen. But I have to echo Wayne and urge you to drop everything for Vertigo. There are lots of other important titles on the list that I hope you'll get to, but the Hitchcock is in a class by itsself.

extra88Apr 26, 2006 at 1:30PM

I made the extra88 list of movies, I've seen 86 of them. College survey courses in film help a lot but I've seen plenty on my own, I'd guess at least half of my 86.

A few I'd say are films you see only so that you can be more literate, like Un Chien Andalou. Unless you come to it from the fine art direction, I don't know why you'd choose to watch it. At least there aren't any out-and-out experimental films on the list like stuff by Stan Brakhage.

Alexandre RocheApr 26, 2006 at 1:33PM

I third Vertigo. One of my favourites... The cinematography and light is unreal.. the use of music too. Some of the shots by the Golden Gate Bridge look like carefully composed paintings if you freeze the frame.

Jaws... Jason... come on.

crazymonkApr 26, 2006 at 1:38PM

I've seen 57 or 58 -- can't remember if I saw Dirty Harry or not.

You should see The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie -- like you, Bunuel was obsessed with dining, but he was also a great surrealist. In one of his films (not TDCotB), people defecate socially but they eat alone, locked in small rooms.

One commenter on my blog mentioned the lack of female and minority representation on this list. I think that speaks to the 100 year history of cinema more than anything else, but it's worth noting

GaryApr 26, 2006 at 1:39PM

Where is "The Shawshank Redemption"? Surely it should be on everyone's must see list.

crazymonkApr 26, 2006 at 1:41PM

Also, Lawrence of Arabia is an amazing movie. You should wait until you can see it on the big screen, projected in 70mm, preferably.

djApr 26, 2006 at 1:51PM

My only beef with this list is the exclusion of Rushmore. I'm curious as to why Aguirre seems to have the most of legs of all the Herzog films.

Spoon BoyApr 26, 2006 at 1:57PM

Add "The Matrix" to that list. Then we'll talk. :)

jean zApr 26, 2006 at 2:11PM

i wonder why he left out class of 1984

dobbsApr 26, 2006 at 2:15PM

Where is "The Shawshank Redemption"? Surely it should be on everyone's must see list.

You've got to be kidding. Ick.

I'd add

Mulholland Drive
Wages of Fear
Thin Red Line
and I'd take off Annie Hall and replace it with Mahattan

Small PaulApr 26, 2006 at 2:16PM

Some Like It Hot is my grandma's favourite movie. I liked it a lot too.

Now, I wonder when one can claim to have seen Metropolis. I rented the DVD from Amazon. It was kinda cool. But a fair bit of the film was missing from it, as I believe there are no complete prints in existence. So. How much do we need to have seen?

@Dan Wolfgang: "Dr. Strangelove... I'm simply too young to get it."

Come now. When Peter Sellers as the English RAF officer is talking to Jack D. Ripper, and is just realising he's mental, look at that shot of Jack, slightly from below, and look at his eyes glinting. Then look at a few pictures of George W. Bush from the same angle. There's something of a resemblance to the xenophobic, paranoid madman starting World War III.

And the American soldier's response to the RAF officer when he suggests he shoot the drinks machine to get change: "if you don't get the President of the United States on that phone... You're gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola company."

It's prescient, still relevant, and just darn funny.

Mike KonczewskiApr 26, 2006 at 2:28PM

I've got 60, but I'm embarrassed by the ones I didn't see. Can't believe I've not gotten around to The 400 Blows, All About Eve, and The Maltese Falcon (no excuse for missing that one!).

Where are the Laurel and Hardy films? No "Sons of the Desert"? "Frankenstein", but not "Dracula"? "Discreet Charm of the Bourgeosie", but not "The Exterminating Angel"? That's the problem with lists; they are inherently self-defeating, and self-limiting.

Steve FelixApr 26, 2006 at 2:29PM

My list of essentials would probably be less than 20, but Dr. Strangelove would be on it. Timeless humor. It's even got the Dadaist elements that kids today like so much. (Aqua Teen Hunger Force, etc.)

DApr 26, 2006 at 2:43PM

Jokes. A list like this, presented as "you need to see all these in order to talk about film properly", is pretty useless without some kind of context for the films. Looks like he chose a lot of films that were hugely influential and were subsequently widely copied. The end result is that if you watch, say, Rashomon, Breathless, Battleship Potemkin or even Strangelove without understanding their historical significance, you will be extremely underwhelmed since most of their innovations are now commonplace.

Also, there's something of a film school bias in the list, and I'd question the usefulness of this whole approach for anyone who isn't a film prof or critic. That is, I can think of many, many TV shows that have had more of an influence on film history - let alone culture in general - than The Crying Game or (I hate to say it) Repulsion or Days of Heaven. I guess that's kind of a weird point, but I get the feeling that in ten years, we will see no practical difference between TV and film.

Not that these aren't all good movies, of course, but that wasn't the stated point of the list.

mithrasApr 26, 2006 at 2:54PM

There are a lot of American movies on that list!

Clint PidlubnyApr 26, 2006 at 2:59PM

Cinema Paradiso is a great one. I remember enjoying it as a teen and then loving it when it was released a couple years back.

JamesApr 26, 2006 at 2:59PM

I've seen 63. You can see Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead for free at It's a great film, a brilliant combination of horror and social commentary, although apparently it was unintentional casting a black leading man.

Chirag ShahApr 26, 2006 at 3:00PM

Not bragging, but 62 for me.

EddieApr 26, 2006 at 3:01PM

You should also check out Paper Moon with Ryan and Tatum O'Neil.

ThanApr 26, 2006 at 3:06PM

My vote's in for Duck Soup. Classic.

MartinApr 26, 2006 at 3:22PM

I've seen 86 of them. I must say, the list is good but it's a little random. Several of the ones on my not-seen list I haven't seen because I suspect they're not very good (A Star is Born, for instance) or else got the point without seeing it (Easy Rider, Dirty Harry)

One can overdo the Americo-centric quality of the list -- that's basically fine -- but there shouldn't be at least one Chinese movie? One Cassavetes movie? How about a Kieslowski movie? Almodovar? In that sense it's a very rearguard list. Too many westerns, too many clever noirs. Not enough variety for a "talk knowledgably" kind of list.

As an aside, I think the value of Strangelove today lies mainly in its wonderful dialogue -- if you pretend the movie is a radio narrative and experienced it with your eyes closed, you'd still get tons out of it. It's a satire not so much about the Cold War, but about America -- and the accents tell the story as much as the visuals. You can't say that about Truman Show, even though it's a good movie.

TrevorApr 26, 2006 at 3:35PM

On reflection, this list is almost laughable. Try having a conversation with the average Joe by only watching the movies on this list. I don't think it'd last long... especially with my friends where 80's classics reign. :)

I guess it's a generational thing.

PhilApr 26, 2006 at 3:38PM

As for the Mad Max series, my list would have Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome before either of the first two (which I also like). I couldn't agree more with Ebert's review from 1985. Everything about its world is so well thought out and constructed. It's a fascinating, fun movie that I wholeheartedly, unironically recommend!

dobbsApr 26, 2006 at 3:44PM

Several of the ones on my not-seen list I haven't seen because I suspect they're not very good (A Star is Born, for instance) or else got the point without seeing it

I assume the list is referring to the '54 version of A Star is Born, which is definitely worth watching. As for getting "the point" of Easy Rider or Dirty Harry or others without having seen them... the statement makes me think you're missing the point of watching movies in the first place. I've seen Easy Rider probably a dozen times. Its "point" isn't the point. It's a movie, not an essay.

r. vacaApr 26, 2006 at 3:50PM


I dont consider myself a movie person -really only rarely get out to the movies or rent a DVD - but...I've seen almost every movie on this list. In fact this list overlaps greatly with a list of the ONLY movies I've ever seen.

Now I know I'm strange. My favorite movie is Fellini's 8 1/2 (one of only 5 movies I own) and Ive memorized most of it - all the rewatchings have been an attempt to quell my amazement at such a perfect film. Bergman's Persona - my 2nd favorite - has so much hidden depth, such psychological beauty - and its essentially the monologue of a nurse.

Ben BApr 26, 2006 at 3:52PM

Interesting list. I've seen about the same number as you have.

I'm a little disappointed that "Network" isn't on the list though.

MartinApr 26, 2006 at 3:54PM

Dobbs, I've seen 86 of these movies, you don't have to talk me into the pleasures of watching movies. If those movies don't seem worth my time as much as something else does, who are you to argue? Sheesh. Are you going to argue that Star is Born is more worth my while than a typical movie by Kieslowski or Zhang Yimou? If you can't make that argument, then leave it be.

J. AwsApr 26, 2006 at 4:31PM

"We're gonna need a bigger list."

tj hookerApr 26, 2006 at 4:37PM

81 out of 102. A low B. I'm happy.

ThetafarmApr 26, 2006 at 4:48PM

I used to think that Jaws was the only movie that has been seen by EVERYONE in America. I was wrong. Box office totals aside, when you include TV, it has to be one of the most viewed pieces of media in human history.

The Grapes of Wrath is also a must see.

RoJoApr 26, 2006 at 4:49PM

If your pre-1970 knowledge is as lacking as you say it is, are you sure you've seen Scarface? The one on the list is the 1930's Howard Hawkes version.

SaraApr 26, 2006 at 4:49PM

32% Dissapointingly low. Especially since I'm in my senior year as a film major. However, despite my apparent lack of film literacy I feel the need to add my 2 cents.

Of the movies you listed that you haven't seen and I have; there are three that stand out as films, not that you have to see, but films that you should see.

The Bicylce Thief
Easy Rider

I would include a few documentaries on the list as well since many have had lasting imprints on cinematic history, deep cultural significance and/or stunning/brilliant/amazing use of the medium.

The Thin Blue Line
A Time for Burning

I agree with some of the other comments that many of the movies on this list require at least some knowledge (before or after viewing) of their historical significance.

meApr 26, 2006 at 5:12PM

No Jaws...!...? For some reason that makes me lol :-)

Diane EnseyApr 26, 2006 at 5:14PM

EVERYONE should be required to watch The Day the Earth Stood Still. It gives me chills everytime I watch it - especially at the end. Dr. Strangelove is another must. Both these movies transcend the decades in which they were created.

viperteqApr 26, 2006 at 5:20PM

I wonder which version of the Manchurian Candidate he feels should be seen: The original version made in the 60's or the Denzel Washington remake. Both were equally well done IMHO.

extra88Apr 26, 2006 at 5:28PM

Sara: 32% doesn't sound that low for a senior film major since I assume it's a "practical" degree as opposed to film history. 32% is amazing for a 21-22yr. old! Plus in school, you're probably not going to watch many comedies or musicals and a lot of course options are probably narrow but deep, like an "auteur" class or a genre class.

The lack of a documentary on the list is a good catch. The cross-pollenation and blurring between documentaries and fictional films is important.

AtticusApr 26, 2006 at 6:22PM

I was eliminated after the very first one. How sad am I?

Dan BrunoApr 26, 2006 at 6:53PM

I've only seen 15.

I know.

Mike BApr 26, 2006 at 8:07PM

Rushmore (seconded)
Rosemary's Baby
Sans Soleil
Hiroshima Mon Amour
Badlands instead of Days of Heaven
Yi Yi
Barton Fink instead of Fargo

This list is just a big list of things you should have already seen in order to 'get' other things. Like people who have only seen 15 of these movies couldn't possibly actually enjoy the Simpsons. Except maybe the falling down and Homer choking Bart parts.

dobbsApr 26, 2006 at 8:53PM

Martin, those movies don't seem worth my time as much as something else does is not the same thing as not watching something because "[I] got the point without seeing it". Watch or avoid whatever you wish, of course, but, believe it or not, you're allowed to watch Kieslowski and A Star is Born (unless it's the Streisand version, in which case it's forbidden).

randomApr 26, 2006 at 10:16PM

extra88, no, 32% is pretty bad. I'm not a film major and I've seen 55 of them.

"Un Chien Andalou" is only 15 minutes long, so you can grab a torrent for some quick and easy film literacy. (And the soundtrack is fantastic.) Then again, "Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat" is on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? list of 1000 Greatest Films, and that's only 45 seconds long -- really quick and easy film literacy...

Gaijin BikerApr 26, 2006 at 11:06PM

I've seen 43 of 'em. I can't recommend Tokyo Story highly enough.

unclefreddieApr 27, 2006 at 12:49AM

"fast times at ridgemont high" needs to be on that list.

Kip IngramApr 27, 2006 at 12:50AM

All I have to say is how could you have failed to see "Jaws"?

MaldororApr 27, 2006 at 1:00AM

I've seen almost all of them all except The Schindler's List and a few others. I cannot watch propaganda anymore, of any kind. Not as long as they will treat the palestinians as they were treated during WWII. They've become the Goliath in the story and they should be ashamed of it.

Apart from that...nice list.

>> Aguirre, the Wrath of God
Include here almost ALL movies from Werner Herzog. He's one of the most amazing movie directors of the late 20th century. And Klaus Kinski was a genious.

>> La Dolce Vita
Marcello Mastronianni was an exceptionnal actor. Such an attitude, such a way to walk, talk, smoke. We rarely see a combination of such style in modern actors.

>> Frankenstein
And Young Frankenstein is also a must :)

>> Mad Max 2 / The Road Warrior
Should not be on the list. I can think of 100 better movies than this one.???

>> The Maltese Falcon
Amazing script. A movie at a time when Hollywood was still hiring real writers to write scripts.

>> Modern Times
Kottke, if you haven't seen this movie, you could have lied to us, it would have been better. Now I'll reconsider coming back to this blog :)

>> The Rules of the Game
That movie by Jean Renoir is still subversive now. Imagine back in 1939. Which makes me think...any movie by Henri-Georges Clouzot should be on the list. Simply masterpieces.

Neil M.Apr 27, 2006 at 1:45AM

I will tell you what is sad, Jason...

I have only seen about 55 of the movies listed, and I am an editor of a major movie review blog. But then again, I believe I too come from just a different generation of moviegoer; who is less concerned with A Street Car Named Desire and more concerned with the next Richard Linklater spectacle.

The sad part is that we have lost sight of the older classics, such as Easy Rider or Citizen Kane. The good part is that we are creating our own generation of great films...

Chris LloydApr 27, 2006 at 3:22AM

Surely, at the risk of sounding too mainstream, shoudn't the Matrix be on there? It represented a great shift in moviemaking (for better or for worse) and was one of the first pop. films to include a blatent philosophical interpretation. Also Grave of the Fireflies would add some anime to the list. Maybe Donnie Darko too, to freshen up the list.

I always think that Spike Lee is over rated. Sure "Do the right thing" had some interesting camera angles evey 20 mins. and it was also a realistic depiction of the social climate at the time, but gosh! The film is so disjointed and non-sensical. Characters are poorly introduced, and then seem to have split personalities, and in the end we can't really emphathise with the hero. I haven't seen Inside Man but I hope that is better... I think with some money and creative structure Spike Lee has the potential to make a decent flick...

Gaijin BikerApr 27, 2006 at 4:48AM

Maldoror, if the Israelis treated the Palestinians the way the Nazis treated the Jews, the Palestinians would have all been dead a long, long time ago.

Reine LarssonApr 27, 2006 at 6:51AM

Even though I often consider myself a movie person, I only counted to 64 of them. As with all personal lists, there are a few surprises. Dirty Harry anyone?

Martin AlejandroApr 27, 2006 at 7:04AM

Don't shoot Emerson the list maker, just don't take him too seriously. Dubious assumptions mar his ruling criterion-- "you just kind of figure everybody ought to have seen in order to have any sort of informed discussion about movies. They're the common cultural currency of our time..." Blazes! It's the tone of a low-level flack at the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith .

My compressed response: You can see all the flicks on Emerson's list and other essential-flick lists. But by itself, that exercise does not necessarily build up the cinematic vocabulary Emerson prescribes. And meager exposure to his canon does not necessarily devalue one's "common cultural currency". I've had illuminating discussions about specific movies with illiterates whose film-seeing experience was limited to the three-reelers itinerant empresarios exhibited in their Inquisition-era Latin American towns... and lethally boring chats with pontifical Emersons.

Can one have an "informed" discussion about movies( in the abstract ) with a critic whose list leaves out so many "basic texts" that have truly enriched the language of film---for instance, Terry Gillian's "Brazil", Woody Allen's "Manhattan", Chris Marker's "La Jetée", "Rome, Open City" , "The Red Shoes", "The Life of Brian", "Naked"--and includes too many insignificant flicks(though a few are enjoyable, they hardly deepen one's knowledge of movies)? Sure, and I'd take the opportunity to present Emerson with a list of films any self-respecting critic ought to see before making empty general statements about "movie literacy" and "basic cinematic texts that everyone should know". .

turbowombatApr 27, 2006 at 8:32AM

not to jump on the woulda-shoulda bandwagon, but as far as the qualifications of this are concerned -- genre-defining, paradigm-shifting film with a paramount contribution to the language of cinema -- I have to add The Battle of Algiers.

no_oneApr 27, 2006 at 9:09AM

Anyone see City of God??

brice cheddarnApr 27, 2006 at 9:23AM

great only at 39. i guess i have some work to do.

i would add:

Full Metal Jacket
Good Will Hunting

m.e.pageApr 27, 2006 at 9:40AM

Notably missing: Pi, Eraserhead, and City of the Lost Children

MikeApr 27, 2006 at 10:08AM

Where is Ugetsu? HaraKiri? or even Throne of Blood? Bambi as the only animated feature, instead of something like My Neighbor Totoro? No War and Peace (the russian version)? Quo Vadis needs to be included just for the performances of the supporting characters. Braveheart? I've seen at least 56 of these, hard to remember all the old noirs and screwball comedies.

gezortenplotzApr 27, 2006 at 10:09AM

Repulsion by Roman Polanski is without a doubt the scariest movie I've ever seen. It's a story about two sisters who live in an apartment and one sister is turning into a homicidal psychotic. Polanski takes you through her blossoming psychosis -- the apartment settles and cracks naturally form in the plaster, but her psychosis has these cracks following her around the apartment. The path of her psychosis leads her to slice & dice any man that comes to the door.

I saw this one in college and when I left the theater, I had to lie down in the grass to get a grip on reality.

As for the list, I'd have to add Amadeus.

MikeApr 27, 2006 at 10:25AM

For that matter, where is Dreyer's Joan of Arc? You've got to be kidding. Barbarians.....

AlexApr 27, 2006 at 11:45AM

Un Chien Andalou is only about 16 minutes long and is available online.. there's absolutely no excuse to not have seen it:

Neil M.Apr 27, 2006 at 1:19PM

I guess it begs the question:

How much do far older movies really matter these days?

I would say that we look at those films within periods or styles (i.e. Noir), rather than impactful on their own. When you look at the mainstream films of today, the references to anything made pre-1970 are so subtle that the average film buff would overlook them.

BelgandApr 27, 2006 at 2:34PM

It's pretty easy to avoid seeing Jaws. I'm 24 and only managed to get around to watching it a few years ago. Quite frankly it bored the hell out of me. Not that I'm some sort of ADD idiot who can't appreciate anything that isn't run at double-speed and completely hollow, it just didn't resonate with me for some reason.

That said I disagree quite a bit with this list. Sure, a great deal of it is composed on canonical films, but it misses out on a good number of other films for lesser ones and it often has films that I have consciously avoided.

Clerks, Rushmore, The Usual Suspects, Boogie Nights, El Mariachi, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Edward Scissorhands, Videodrome and Brazil to the list. They are all important wokrs that inform the current discussion of film. They are also some of the most iconic works by relevant modern directors. I mean, seriously, omitting Brazil is just idiotic. While not essential I'd like to add In The Mood For Love as well, but it's not as necessary, Wong Kar Wai just really deserves a spot on the list. I'd also probably swap Once Upon a Time in the West with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Both are good, but the latter is more relevant to being "film literate".

For the record I've seen 43 out of the list, though in my defense I have at least 4 of the unseen films on my TiVo right now waiting to be watched and many of the others are on my "to see" list.

BelgandApr 27, 2006 at 2:41PM

Thinking a bit more on this, though I frequently disagree with it for a variety of reasons, the top 250 on IMDb might actually be a better guide. It's certainly far more populist and has a stronger slant towards crowd-pleasing films whereas this list tends a bit further towards historically/artistically important. Combining the two might get you most of the way towards where you want to go.

Joseph W.Apr 27, 2006 at 2:43PM

Easier for me to list the ones I haven't seen.

All About Eve
The Battleship Potemkin
The Best Years of Our Lives
The Big Red One
Bringing Up Baby
Un Chien Andalou
Children of Paradise / Les Enfants du Paradis
Days of Heaven
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Double Indemnity
The Exorcist
The General
It's a Gift
The Lady Eve
Modern Times
Out of the Past
Pink Flamingos
Red River
The Scarlet Empress
Some Like It Hot
A Star Is Born
Tokyo Story
Trouble in Paradise

Jeremy DunckApr 27, 2006 at 2:57PM

What an embarrassment of riches we enjoy.

MaldororApr 27, 2006 at 3:08PM

Gaijin, the technique is different, more pernicious. They are dying, slowly, but surely. Hopelessness can kill an entire nation.

PatApr 27, 2006 at 4:19PM

Reactions like "oh, I am somehow incomplete because I haven't seen these films" strike me as downright bizarre. The number of films you check off this list indicate how much your tastes coincide with the list's author's.

I'm not saying it's interesting or fun to write and share lists like this, I'm just saying I find it weird that to conclude that not having seen a particular film makes one an illiterate or unrefined or anything else.

P.S., I liked Solaris.

The remake.

John KaneApr 27, 2006 at 5:26PM

Jason, see Vertigo now!! IMHO, the best Hitchcock film.

kyleApr 27, 2006 at 7:01PM

No Brando fan can do without watching A Streetcar Named Desire. How can one legitimately include "STELLA!" in his/her vocabulary having never seen the source?

K.C. LoApr 27, 2006 at 11:02PM

Stop everything and go see:

Singing in the Rain
Some Like it Hot
Modern Times
Tokyo Story
Lawrence of Arabia
The Wild Bunch

You are a lucky fellow with all those treasures ahead of you

MarkDMApr 27, 2006 at 11:39PM

I'm a bit surprised that "This is Spinal Tap" isn't on the list, and that nobody in here has mentioned it. Besides being one of the funniest movies I've seen, it's given us part of our cultural language ("These go to eleven") and does a brilliant job of skewering pretentious documentarians and over-the-top dinosaur rockers.

FWIW, I've seen 50 or so from the list.

Bert EalzeyApr 28, 2006 at 12:58AM

Mostly american'd be pretty movie-illiterate in the rest of the world.

OyvindApr 28, 2006 at 4:56AM

67. But the whole point of the list was movies that "…you just kind of figure everybody ought to have seen in order to have any sort of informed discussion about movies. They’re the common cultural currency of our time, the basic cinematic texts that everyone should know, at minimum, to be somewhat “movie-literate.”

Not your favourite movies, or most popular etc.

Belgand writes: "Clerks, Rushmore, The Usual Suspects, Boogie Nights, El Mariachi, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Edward Scissorhands, Videodrome and Brazil to the list."

Boogie Nights? El Mariachi? In what way to they define common cultural currency?

Candy MinxApr 28, 2006 at 8:00AM

Loved this list, I am a list freak. Agree with the concept of a movie list that is a reference base for talking about film. Maybe its not so important that you "like" or "dislike" them as having seen them is a currency for study? I've seen most of these movies a few times. But, that is because I am a movie geek and make short films...I am not surprised that participants here haven't seen all of them. I like all the other suggestions that people offered up as other good movies. Like Clerks, Rushmore....I think this list is meant more as a reference and starting off point.

LIke...what paintings should you have seen in person to have a dialogue about art history? Or art making? Do you actually have to see the painting in person, or is hearing and looking at it in a book enough to follow the discussion?

Um, I've seen all of the movies on list except for 4 so I have some "homework".

Cheers, thanks for the list it was fun to read,

JohnApr 28, 2006 at 1:28PM

Can you really count The Manchurian Candidate? I think that the Frank Sinatra version is being identified here. Both are great movies, but the original is well worth watching.

BTW, contratulations! The wedding looked like a terrific time.

Ian AdamsApr 28, 2006 at 7:26PM

Really? You've never seen The Day the Earth Stood Still? I'll bet the "Klaatu verata nicto" line in Army of Darkness probably wasn't as funny for you. The Day the Earth Stood Still is actually one of my favourite movies of all time, and definitely withstands the test of time. One of Robert Wise's best films.

I think I'll have to do up one of these lists myself...

JoergApr 29, 2006 at 9:15AM

What about Punch Drunk Love?

Negative99Apr 29, 2006 at 7:54PM

I certainly hope none has seen them all.

If anyone has seen them all they need to seriously think about either investing in a good pork rind and buttered popcorn hedge fund, or maybe taking some stock in the MPAA's retained litigation firms.

If anyone's seen them all they should jonestly consider hiring a model to pose for their pictures in MySpace, as their own pictures will doubtless reveal either the hours of living room trance-myopia or the ravage long-term effects of cinema Lemonhead syndrome (i.e. flab).

If anyone has seen them all then should any of their family members care (and if they still recognize said subject) a good intervention might be in order. Perhaps bring a girl into the room and ask the subject if he knows what that is? No... start with simple questions... like what year is it? Who is on the 1$ dollar bill? Where are you know? If he says "Blockbuster" then do him the honor of tossing his sad carcus into a woodchipper... donating the bio-nutritious detritus to a local plant farm... maybe the one that landscapes Blockbuster.

OlafApr 30, 2006 at 12:24PM

One movie should be on the list that best described the state of our generation (x) ever: The Breakfast Club. Everyone wanted to be Bender but found oneself more being Andrew or Brian. It's the Rebel without a cause of the 80s. I have seen it at least 30 times in German in English and I would argue you can't understand the 80s and Generation X without John Hughes masterpiece.

abbyMay 01, 2006 at 2:07PM

Wizard of Oz is an amazing movie. its a mix of fantasy and beliveing in something

Robert NaplesMay 01, 2006 at 11:22PM

Pretty good list. I have 69 of the 102. I won't argue which ones should come off his list but will suggest he missed at least these:
Amadeus (1984)
American Beauty (1999)
Apartment, The (1960)
Ben-Hur (1959)
Bridge on the River Kwai, The (1957)
Conversation, The (1974)
Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Forrest Gump (1994)
Gandhi (1982)
Gladiator (2000)
Grapes of Wrath, The (1940)
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
It Happened One Night (1934)
L.A. Confidential (1997)
Lost Weekend, The (1945)
Man for All Seasons, A (1966)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
Platoon (1986)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Silence of the Lambs, The (1991)
Unforgiven (1992)

You might want to visit the movie lists I have on my blog, RFNAPLES Space at

Robert NaplesMay 01, 2006 at 11:39PM

Again I have 69 0f the 102. Here are the best on his list:
All About Eve (1950)
Annie Hall (1977)
Best Years of Our Lives, The (1946)
Blue Velvet (1986)
Chinatown (1974)
Citizen Kane (1941)
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Exorcist, The (1973)
Fargo (1996)
Godfather, The (1972)
Gone with the Wind (1939)
Goodfellas (1990)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Nashville (1975)
On the Waterfront (1954)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Schindler's List (1993)
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The (1948)
West Side Story (1961)

You might want to visit the movie lists of 849 great titles I have on my blog, RFNAPLES Space at

Bill WeyeMay 02, 2006 at 11:11AM

It seems that the original Emerson list is incomplete in its completeness. While he tries to include movies spanning many directors and countries, it seems like he doesn't include any movies from India, the country that produces more movies than any other (including those crappy Bollywood films).

bradMay 03, 2006 at 8:06AM

You can download a number of these movies from as they have passed into the public domain. (I'll struggle to restrain myself from further comment.)

The Battleship Potemkin Chien Andalou
?The General
It *should* be there, but I can't find it now
?Night of the Living Dead

Generally, Mpeg2 versions are available for each, ie. good quality. However, you may want to check whether you can play Mpeg2 movies before downloading, as many are greater than 1GB.

bradMay 03, 2006 at 8:11AM

Sorry, don't know what went wrong there - please just ignore any and all question marks.

karlMay 07, 2006 at 5:19PM

The one glaring ommision IMHO is "Ikiru" by Akira Kurosawa, wonderful film, as long as you can get over the subtitles, and the mono soundtrack. It's worth watching with the commentry to get some perspective on the cultureal context. I see that you have seen the Seven Samurai, so I would guess you would be up for this as well.

Paul LivingstoneMay 09, 2006 at 10:12AM

I just cannot believe you've never seen Jaws. Astonishing.

Keith DemkoMay 09, 2006 at 5:01PM

His is indeed a great list to get started ... of the one's you haven't seen, I would most highly recommend "Breathless" .. with Jean Paul Belmondo at his coolest and funniest, it's just a perfect little movie

xenoarMay 11, 2006 at 7:22PM

Oh yes, movies from the 60` are my favorite. Breathless ( orig. À bout de souffle "1960") is a must :-)

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.