Movies are an art form, and like any work of art, they are appreciated, critiqued, beloved, and hated by the many people who see them. Someone may watch a film and walk away offended and angry while another may weep in joy at what they saw. It’s subjective, like most works of art.
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That’s usually true, but then there are those films that are almost universally beloved. Granted, there’s always someone who hated Citizen Kane, but there are millions more who loved it. This list breaks down ten different genres to highlight the greatest movie of each one presented in no particular order.
Doubtless, many will agree and disagree, so sound off in the comments with your favorites.
10 Comedy—Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Comedy is one of the most subjective genres out there because what’s funny to some people is either idiotic or offensive to others. That being said, some things are objectively funny, and the sub-genre that seems to get the most chuckles out of an audience is slapstick. Still, slapstick is often the lowest form of comedy. Satire would be its opposite, as it tends to tap into a more intellectual concept of what makes something funny, and there aren’t a lot of movies that do this well. The film that does it better than any other is Stanley Kubrick’s Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
The movie is as silly as Monthy Python while being as deadly serious as Patton. Being able to make nuclear war funny is no easy task, but when you take an actor like George C. Scott and tell him to do everything over-the-top, throw in a horrific situation leading to nuclear annihilation, and get Peter Sellers to play three separate characters; you’ve got comedy gold on your hands. Sellers’ performance alone qualifies Dr. Strangelove as an immortal comedy, and while Monty Python certainly deserves mention, Kubrick’s Strangelove is arguably the greatest comedy ever made.
9 Drama—Citizen Kane (1941)
It was mentioned in the intro, so you knew Citizen Kane was bound to show up somewhere on this list. Citizen Kane was a movie that shocked a lot of people, but not for the reasons you might think. People were shocked at how incredibly good the movie was, as Orson Welles, produced, co-wrote, starred, and had final cut. The man had never directed a movie before this one came out, so it wasn’t a guarantee that it would be a hit. That being said, he was heavily courted by RKO to do anything for the studio, and his contract stipulated that he be allowed to direct two pictures.
His first was arguably his greatest cinematic achievement on a number of levels. Citizen Kane tells the story of Charles Foster Kane, a wealthy industrialist who dies with one word on his lips, “Rosebud.” The film continues with an attempt to determine what his dying word meant. Interestingly, the movie many critics identify as the best ever made was a box office failure. It didn’t recover its costs and became somewhat obscure. It achieved more success in 1956 following a French review, which led to a revival.
8 Science-Fiction—E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
It doesn’t have any of the amazing CGI you’ll find in a modern sci-fi movie, but that’s what makes E.T. something special. Like most movies from the early ‘80s, filmmakers had to rely on puppeteering, and it says something about how well E.T. was made that seeing him hurting in the film’s third act can elicit a tear from even the hardest of hearts. The movie is one pretty much everyone has seen at least once in their life, and some of the scenes are so iconic, they’ve managed to completely permeate the zeitgeist in ways few movies could ever hope to emulate.
A story about a boy and an alien who become friends and far more is a story that somehow resonates, and it’s one everyone can enjoy. The adventure of riding your bike away from the bad guys is something kids, and adults can identify with, but when E.T. levitates them into the sky, the story becomes magical. There are tons of fantastic Sci-Fi films, many of which have the word “Star” in the title, but the thing about E.T. that gets it the top spot is that it’s loved by everyone who watches it. That can’t be said of all science-fiction movies, as many of them have niche audiences, whereas E.T. does not.
7 Romance—Casablanca (1942)
For those people who think Casablanca is overplayed as the top romance film, it may be time to go back and watch it once more. The movie is an immortal classic. It’s one of the most quotable films ever made, and it came out nearly eighty years ago. Casablanca is about a love story that hasn’t a chance in hell of working out, and only one of the two people in love acknowledges that fact. The war is tearing up all of Europe and North Africa, but in the midst of it all, a cynical American ex-pat runs a bar and pines over the woman he fell in love with during a brief, yet memorable tryst in Paris.
The story is so well developed and nuanced; it’s easily a contender for being one of the best movies ever made. Other movies were vying for this position, including An Affair to Remember, Titanic, Brokeback Mountain, and even Ghost battled it out for this spot. Still, in the end, it’s always going to be Casablanca. Making this choice was difficult, but if Casablanca didn’t make it to the top, I’d regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of my life.
6 Horror—Psycho (1960)
Like every other genre of film, horror has a ton of subgenres to choose from. There are slasher flicks, psychological suspense movies, and even great occult movies like The Omen or The Exorcist. Ultimately, the best horror has to offer goes to a film that helped define the genre as one that could instill a sense of fear in the audience while making it seem as if the villain could be anyone. What Anthony Perkins managed to do with Norman Bates was to offer up a realistic villain who could honestly be your next-door neighbor, or the person sitting next to you on a bus.
Sure, he was crazy — he dressed up as his dead mother, who sat mummified in his home, but that point aside, he was a charismatic and attractive young man. He was a bit awkward and seemed utterly harmless. So harmless, you might feel safe taking a shower, even if it’s the last thing you do! Psycho was brilliantly written, directed, and acted. Even the camera work was some of the best seen in a movie up to that point in time, and it’s easy to see why Psycho is considered one of the greatest suspense horror movies ever made.
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5 Action—Seven Samurai (1954)
There’s a saying that imitation is the highest form of flattery. If that’s true in filmmaking, Akira Kurasawa’s immortal classic, Seven Samurai is one of the most flattered movies ever made, as its story has been adapted into so many films, it’s ridiculous. If you’ve seen Kurasawa’s work, you know him to be one of the greatest directors of all time. He put everything he had into his movies, and his work went on to inspire the likes of Kubrick, Scorsese, Tarantino, Lucas, Spielberg, and more. His films were epic stories filled with originality and beautiful settings that ring true with the saying that “every frame is a painting.”
Seven Samurai is a story you’ve likely seen before, even if you’ve never seen the movie. A village is terrorized by bandits and hires on seven r?nin to protect them. It’s the plot of The Magnificent Seven, the Three Amigos, and A Bug’s Life, and it influenced Hollywood filmmakers for decades. There are plenty of great action movies out there, and while the top spot could have gone to a more commercially appealing movie released relatively recently, it’s difficult to pass this movie by as one of the greatest stories ever put to film.
4 Adventure—Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
Often, action and adventure are thrown together into a single genre, but some movies need to be separated into their own genre. Adventure is a genre with a lot of options. War movies could fall within adventure, but so could a western or even science-fiction. Ultimately, a great adventure movie features exactly that: a great adventure, and there’s nobody better at going on an adventure than Indiana Jones. In his first film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jones goes on a globe-spanning adventure filled with Nazis and Jewish archaeological history to find the Ark of the Covenant.
Throughout the film, this college professor fights against a plethora of enemies, he swims to a submarine, which thankfully didn’t submerge with him on top, and he dug through the clues to find an artifact of such great importance, it was coveted by anyone and everyone who knew of its existence. The movie began one of the most successful adventure franchises in history, and while most of those films are fantastic, the very first Indiana Jones movie takes the lead as the greatest adventure movie ever made.
3 Fantasy—The Wizard Of Oz (1939)
The greatest fantasy movie of all time nearly went to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but looking back at all of the incredible fantasy films from throughout film history, the immortal classic, The Wizard of Oz takes the top spot. Like some of the contenders in Sci-Fi, some fantasy movies don’t appeal to a broad audience. There are people out there who don’t like hobbits, elves, or anything related to Dungeons & Dragons. Other fantasy movies that could have taken a top spot are those featuring muppets like Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal.
The Wizard of Oz is one of those movies everyone sits down to watch sooner or later. Most see it when they’re kids, but all that means is that when those people grow up and have kids of their own, the movie comes back out to entertain a new generation while the parents watch Dorothy and her pals with nostalgia. The story elements aren’t complicated, the musical numbers are memorable, and the characters are the kind we remember fondly years after watching the movie. The Wizard of Oz is a timeless classic, and despite being more than 80 years old, it remains the greatest fantasy film ever made.
2 Musical—Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
Musicals are an interesting genre of film, as they often don’t work well. What does well in a live theater doesn’t always transfer onto the silver screen, and as a result, some people absolutely love musicals while other folks routinely hate them. Despite this, there have been numerous musical films, which have gone on to win a ton of awards, as they have beautiful songs, exceptional characters, and at the end of the day, a good movie is a good movie whether people are singing spontaneously or not.
The choice for the greatest musical landed on Singin’ In The Rain, but it just as nearly went to the Sound of Music. Both films are grand epics, which beautifully showcase incredible songs belted out by some of the most talented people in the industry. Ultimately, Singin’ in the Rain stole the show simply because it features some amazing performances in a lighthearted story. The competition features a darker story, and it’s hard to watch Singin’ in the Rain and not feel joyous while the other movie tends to lead the audience in other directions.
1 Animation—Toy Story (1995)
Animated films can encompass any genre, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a single movie capable of taking a top spot as the greatest animated film of all time. Animation has been a medium for feature films since the release of 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and since then, there have been thousands of incredible animated titles. There are many to choose from, but the movie that is universally beloved by children and adults alike would have to be 1995’s, Toy Story.
There are plenty of movies that could take the top spot here. Movies like The Last Unicorn, The Iron Giant, The Secret of NIMH, or any of hundreds more, but Toy Story did something most animated films failed to do before it; it perfectly bridged the gap between adults and children. By featuring all of the toys parents played with when they were kids, the movie managed to appeal to the kid in all of us. Children loved it while parents waxed nostalgic about their long lost Speak-n-Spell and Slinky. The movie is a masterpiece, and while the sequels are amazing, the original stands as the greatest animated film ever made.
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