Everyone has a different iteration of their own 10 greatest movies. Almost nobody has the exact same list, as it should be. So many amazing films that have impacted people with different personalities growing up in diverse parts of the world. I always say you’ve got to have some classics involved but also at minimum one personal pick in your top movies list. Plus choosing between the historic classics can be so hard to narrow down for a film nerd. However, when it comes to making a list of the greatest movies in the world, setting aside personal favorites and looking instead at impact for everyone that goes to the movies, there are a few films that have to be at the top regardless of whether you are a fan of the picture or not. Here is my Top 10 Historically Classic Live Action Movies of all time. These films are similar to great literary works by say Shakespeare or paintings created by Leonardo DaVinci and will be remembered for hundreds of years.
10. “The Searchers” (1956):
The combination of John Wayne and John Ford manifested multiple westerns considered classics to this day. That world of storytelling is timeless. John Wayne remains one of those larger than life figures of cinema. Myself, I cannot stand these movies. They are incredibly racist with how Native Americans are portrayed. They are often played by white guys and almost always serve as the faceless bad guys with no personality other than for the cowboys to shoot. I’m more of a Clint Eastwood style of western fan which has grey area being involved as opposed to basic Cowboys vs. Indians nonsense. Still, no denying the cultural impact John Wayne made both on cinema as well as popular culture. Many great filmmakers around the world credit their film knowledge in part to the work done by Ford and Wayne. From Kurosawa to Scorsese, people who know what they are doing collectively see something I am missing apparently. “The Searchers” is no doubt the duo’s most iconic piece. Plot is simple. John Wayne has to rescue his niece after she is kidnapped by the evil natives. That’s about it. Not sure what the appeal is. But hey, I don’t get why people love Elvis either so what do I know. Being totally objective, it is impossible not to include ‘The Duke’ himself on a list of the most classic films.
9. “Bicycle Thieves” (1948):
Similar to the French New Wave movement of the 60’s and 70’s, Italy had several amazing auteurs coming out after WWII. Post Mussolini fascism, filmmakers were able to make real movies without the pressure of government control. Federico Fellini was by far the biggest director internationally with multiple classics. Not far behind him was Vittorio de Sica, a director who came up with the most impactful movie to be produced during this new renaissance of storytelling. “Bicycle Thieves” spoke to people in a way never seen before. It championed the downtrodden. The story of a man struggling to put food on the table at all costs while trying to maintain his moral compass was something everyone trying to rebuild their lives in the 40’s could relate to. Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani) is an honest person raising his young boy Bruno. When his ability to earn a living is taken from him, a bicycle, the two scour the city in hopes of finding those responsible before Antonio loses his job. Acts of kindness are mixed in with bad luck and bad decisions, showcasing the greater idea of life’s struggles. “Bicycle Thieves” is the pinnacle of how to tell a captivating story about the everyman.
8. “Psycho” (1960):
Plenty of horror movies to decide on including here. There are the early Universal monster movies like “Frankenstein” to the audience shocking “The Exorcist” all the way up to recent classics such as “Get Out”. Horror is by far my least favorite genre, but there have been some classics that step above the stupidity that normally comes with the territory. The grandaddy of them all came from the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock. Hitch went for straight up scares with “Psycho”. It was unlike anything seen before in the theatre and influenced more than six decades of ridiculous slasher spook-fest’s trying to recreate this masterpiece. To this day everyone knows the classic shower scene complete with music that stabs you directly. Throw in the greatest twist ending in history and you’ve got a film that will still keep you up at night.
7. “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968):
“2001: A Space Odyssey” is the most ambitious and thought provoking movie ever made. No reason to argue because it is pretty much a well established fact. The great Stanley Kubrick made several classics, but “2001” had the biggest impact in the cinema world. This was like looking at the work of say an artist like Jackson Pollack for the first time. People did not understand it because it wasn’t a standard linear story. This film takes on the idea of questioning humanity and wondering what is our purpose in the universe. The bulk of the film has two astronauts fighting for survival against a computer program named ‘HAL’ that has gone off the deep end. But this film is so much more than that. The visuals are unbelievable, especially considering this was a decade before “Star Wars” hit the screen. “2001” goes from the dawn of man all the way to the evolution of a traveler becoming a celestial ‘Star Child’. This is heavy stuff and a rewarding experience to revisit and access as one goes through different phases in life.
6. “The Wizard of Oz” (1939):
Personally, I cannot stand this movie. It is so annoying from the moment the lollipop kids start singing that incessant song when Dorothy arrives in Oz. Margaret Hamilton as ‘The Wicked Witch of the West’ drives me towards covering my ears every time she screeches, especially the “I’m Melting!!!!” scene. The Wizard concept as a character is also ridiculous if you just think about it. In fact the only two things I like in this tale are Toto and the Flying Monkeys. But this is not my personal list, and there is no denying “The Wizard of Oz” has stood the test of time as one of the all time beloved pictures. One of the earliest of color movies with a budget, “Oz” captivated audiences with Judy Garland traveling down the Yellow Brick Road while accompanied by the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion. To this day it is always shown for the holidays, mainly during Thanksgiving. “Oz” somehow gives millions of elderly people a chance to feel like a kid again and continues to capture smiles of children generation after generation.
5. “Seven Samurai” (1954):
In American history cowboys have been romanticized for generations around the world. Across the Pacific Ocean the Japanese samurai are equally if not more beloved in storytelling history. The samurai live by a code of honor very similar to gangsters in that their word of honor is the core of what makes their integrity respectable. Akira Kurosawa is the greatest Japanese filmmaker of all time and his signature piece that took the world by storm was “Seven Samurai”. A simple story, seven different skilled warriors come together in order to protect a small village of farmers who are being consistently attacked by bandits that take what they want. Led by the wise Kambei (Takashi Shimura), this rag-tag group, each with a particular set of skills, commit to protect those unable to protect themselves. “Seven Samurai” is not the first to tell a story about choosing to fight for weaker people in need. However, it is the best example of that scenario in movie history.
4. “Casablanca” (1942):
“Casablanca” is the greatest miracle for any film production ever to accidentally stumble upon. Shooting was chaotic with multiple problems involving filming locations. Actors fell ill and the script was being written page by page in a hotel room on a daily basis. Despite the pitfalls that would typically add up to disaster, “Casablanca” became one of the greatest romance stories in history. Humphrey Bogart was the original bad boy heartthrob in Hollywood and his portrayal of bar owner Rick Blaine was the epitome of cool. Rick is always a step ahead, even when it comes to the Nazi regime occupying the country. His only weakness, the love of his life he lost back in Paris. The moment Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) walks back into his life unannounced Rick’s world is flipped upside down. The two still deeply love each other, but there are far bigger issues going on involving the French resistance versus Rick’s safe status with the German’s. So many great lines, and so incredible to know most of them were created on a whim. As a romantic myself, my favorite has got to be Rick lamenting Ilsa coming back into his life, saying; “OF ALL THE GIN JOINTS IN ALL THE WORLD. SHE WALKS INTO MINE.” Could not have said it better myself.
3. “Star Wars” (1977):
While Steven Spielberg started it in 1975, the summer blockbuster was truly created and cemented as a staple of the cinema going experience when George Lucas gave us “Star Wars”. No single movie created so many original characters that became icons known the world over for more than 40 years. Fun fact, “Star Wars” is the most seen movie in history. White gypsy-type dudes would travel around Africa and find rural villages full of people who had never seen a movie and show them this space opera in exchange for goods. Ask your parents or grandparents what it was like the moment they saw a giant Star Destroyer bursting onto the screen in the theatre. On top of the ahead of its time visuals, the cast was perfect. Luke, Leia, and Han were a trio that played off each other perfectly. The chosen one, the no-nonsense princess, and the cocky mercenary defied the standard squeaky clean hero’s. Plus you have the greatest bad guy ever in Darth Vader. With Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3PO, and Obi-Wan also along for the adventure to destroy the ominous Death Star the crew is multifaceted without being overly complicated. Another fun fact, the great Sir Alec Guinness did everything possible to refuse being in this movie because he thought it beneath his stature. He certainly ate his words once the finished product was released. Everyone has their favorite big budget adventure movie. None of those would be possible without “Star Wars”.
2. “Citizen Kane” (1941):
Moving pictures were invented in the final years of the 1800’s. In 1915 D.W. Griffith brought us the first epic movie, albeit a blatantly racist piece. Several important films were made in cinema’s first 40 years. But Orson Welles truly created the first piece that would recreate and solidify what movies were capable of with “Citizen Kane”. In a time when censorship was at its most oppressive, somehow a 27 year old first time director made a movie that was a blatant attack towards one of the richest men in the world (William Randolph Hurst) and the collection of other rich old white men that ran America however they wished. Kinda sounds like what is still happening today. The harsh reality that power corrupts all was not exactly a topic of conversation at the dinner table in 1941. Beyond the story line, visually Kane was also ahead of its time. Welles moved the camera in ways rarely seen before, particularly in such high volume. Sets were a combination of large scale decor combined with intimate bedroom scenes. My favorite is the iconic scene when Welles destroys his bedroom after his wife leaves him and keeps going despite suffering a deep cut in his hand as they could not afford to redress the set again. And to thing, such an epic tail starts with just one word; “ROSEBUD!”
1. “The Godfather” (1972):
“The Godfather” is the most complete movie in history. Every other film on this list will have a certain sect of people opposed to it. This film is the most bullet proof piece ever, pun intended. Listing off all of the perfect elements could take weeks. The obvious ones being amazing acting, beautiful cinematography, and an unbelievable screenplay. So many classic lines and scenes. The greatest piece of acting I have ever seen is when Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) sits down in the restaurant with a gun in his pocket knowing he is about to kill two people for the first time in his life. Totally silent while doing so. You see the transformation from being out of the family business to now on his way towards becoming the next godfather. That word ‘family’ is also the key to why “The Godfather” is unparalleled in its greatness. The gangster stuff is sexy, but in the end being loyal to the ones we love is something we all have regardless of ones situation. That is what makes this the classic of all classics.