Monday, July 12, 2010

Greatest Movies Ever Made

I've always wanted to write a post about "the best movies ever made" because most people seem to think whatever their favorite or their friend's favorite is the country's favorite. The following nine films are all in what I'd consider part of the pantheon of Americans films based on the views on millions of Americans on what I consider the most representative polls. They are movies that seems to widely loved, at least within the U.S., and most of the across the world. Before I get started I want to mention two films that didn't make the cut because they are hard to judge: Gone with the Wind and Titanic.

Gone with the Wind may well have been the biggest box office hit of all time. I've read that the state of Georgia declared it's release a state holiday so everyone could attend, and some of the box office numbers suggest the average America saw the movie at least 5 times, which seems implausible to me as the film weighs in at nearly 4 hours. It was almost certainly the most hyped movie in history (even more than Episode I and The Empire Strikes Back). The New York Times review from 1939 starts with the premise that it has a claim to being the best film yet made and should be judged against that standard. As late as 1970 it was surely America's favorite movie.  Nevertheless, we can't tell how much people loved it because so many people who were adults in 1939 are dead today. It is certainly not the the favorite among Americans living today, but even among them would be just on the outside of the cut for this list.

Update: I was wrong. As of early 2008, Gone with the Wind was still Americans' favorite film

Titanic is similar. In 1998 it probably would have ranked as the "best movie ever made." It was the biggest box office hit since at least E.T. and it even captured the attention of the elites, winning an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards. But it's luster has worn off over time. It's average rating on Netflix is 3.8 but that may be a by product of having over 7 million ratings. (Ratings tend to decline with the number of voters because those who liked the film the most and were most likely to like it are the first to see and rate the film.)

Update: Casablanca should have made this list, easily as a classic.

Films history has yet to judge

1. Avatar (2009)
2. The Dark Knight (2008)
3. The Blind Side (2009) 

Avatar was a monster box office hit, on the scale of Titanic, E.T. and Star Wars. The Dark Knight was a milder hit, but still historically large. Both have 4.3's on Netflix and The Dark Knight is a favorite movie of over 1 million people on Facebook. The Dark Knight is also the only 2000s film in IMDb's top 10. The Blind Side was not a historic box office hit, but it has a special place on the list as possibly, among women, the "best movie ever made." It has a 4.4 on Netflix, which appears to driven primarily by female raters. Still, that rating may be inflated by the lack of people who absolutely hate the film or want to hate the film driving the rating down with 1s. I consider it the most likely to drop off this list in time. These are the only three movies that have an A average on Yahoo! Movies after tens of thousands of votes, but it's worth keeping in mind that Yahoo! is biased toward newer films. Indeed, their "newness" is what makes them hard to judge. In my opinion The Dark Knight will remain in the pantheon, the other's hold temporary positions while history judges them. (Of course, that may just be a by product of the fact that I personally think The Dark Knight is the best movie made in nearly 20 years. It's my 3rd favorite on this list.)

Other Recent Masterpieces

4. Return of the King (2003)

Return of the King has a 4.4 on Netflix and an A- average with over 200,000 votes on Yahoo! Movies, far and away the most for any movie. It was a major blockbuster in the U.S., but wasn't close to legendary like Avatar or The Dark Knight. It may have a stronger claim to being the greatest film in the English-speaking world with nearly 70% of ticket sales coming overseas than to being the best American film, especially when you consider the source material, cast, and director. But there is no denying Return of the King was easily, until The Dark Knight hit theaters, the film of the decade.

5. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

There's no movie more anamolous than The Shawshank Redemption in the movie pantheon. It was a hit with critics on it's release, but not enough to win oscars when competing against Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction. It wasn't much of a hit with theater goers either, raking in a paltry $25 million, far and away the weakest showing among legendary films. Yet it's IMDb's #1 movie and has been for some time. It's the only movie I know of on Netflix with a 4.6 rating, even after 4.38 million votes. It also has an A- on Yahoo! Movies, after over 97 thousand votes, more than both Star Wars and The Godfather suggesting the unprecedented ratings are not a fluke of sample size or demographic. It's incredibly puzzling how this movie had such a low box-office take and flew under the radar so much that, until a few years ago, I had no idea it was so popular. Yet it's undoubtedly true that Shawshank is one of the four serious contenders for best movie ever made.

The Classics

6. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Indiana Jone's first adventure is, by a small margin, the most popular and highest rated. It clocks in with a  4.4 on Netflix after nearly 4 million votes, which is an anomaly as other classics of the era tend to have fewer than 2.5 million. It also has an A- on Yahoo! and tends to show up on most lists up best action/adventure movie as #1. It's also IMDb's 20th best picture, yet was a box office smash, raking in more than The Dark Knight and a bit less than The Empire Strikes Back, but still a tier below behemoths like Star Wars. This is fitting, as, despite it's broad appeal, few would rank Raiders ahead of Star Wars on a list of best movies. It may be the 2nd best movie ever made, but it's almost certainly not the best, by any criteria. (For what it's worth, this is my 4th favorite on the list.)

7. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
8. Star Wars (1977)

These are listed together because they are both major contenders for greatest film, but it's not clear which is better. Empire is generally considered the best Star Wars movie, as I found from trawling the Internet looking for polls. Those polls are probably dominated by Star Wars fans, but to me this is all the more surprising as I always thought Jedi was the most popular among the obsessive and Empire just among the general public. I guess that's just my friends. Empire has a 4.4 on Netflix from over 2 million votes and ranks higher than Star Wars on IMDB's greatest movies list at #8 compared to #13. It was voted the best film ever in a number of polls, often along with Star Wars, including from Empire Magazine on multiple occasions, in a BBC/Channel 4 poll, and on Total Film. Star Wars, in addition to sharing the above accolates, ties Empire with a 4.4 on Netflix from over 2 million votes. It also bests Empire with an A- on Yahoo! vis a vis Empire's (shocking) B+. Empire was a massive blockbuster (top 10 all-time) but Star Wars was legendary, revivaled only by Avatar, E.T., and Titanic in the era of good bookkeeping. Including its re-release in 1978 makes Star Wars the biggest box-office hit of all-time. It's surely the most culturally significant film and the launching point for the biggest series of the films. (If you're dying to know my opinion, which you surely are, Star Wars is the best movie ever made, Jedi is 2nd or 3rd, and Empire is 4th.)

9. The Godfather (1972)

For a long time The Godfather was IMDb's #1 movie. Today it ranks 2nd. It has a 4.5 on Netflix from over 2.7 million votes and an A- on Yahoo! movies. The only movie that tends to best it in ratings is Shawshank, yet it was a far bigger hit on release and age may have depressed its ratings somewhat. It also has the accolades, not worth much in my opinion, of having won Best Picture and being near the top of AFI's best films list (#2 in the revised list). If the Star Wars saga is America's great fantasy story (what The Lord of the Rings is for the U.K.) then The Godfather is America's great tragedy (what the late Shakespearean tragedies are for England). When they look back in 100 years, they'll remember America's golden age by The Godfather and Star Wars. (I think it's mediocre.)

It's worth noting that The Godfather Part 2 may have made this list if it weren't so clear The Godfather is the better film. Likewise, the two other Lord of the Rings movies, both 4.4s, are clearly inferior to the part of the saga listed, but they deserve recognition. Other's that just missed the cut include E.T. for it's box office might and Schlindler's List for being on many top 10 lists and a Netflix 4.5 average, though from less than 2 million votes and a mere B+ on Yahoo! Movies, and Forrest Gump for universal acclaim despite never breaking into the top 5 in any major poll/survey/vote.

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