The Ultimate Film List – Introduction

Many years ago, I set out to watch all of the world’s greatest films. What set me off on this overly ambitious project? Mostly I was tired of people (read: my husband) making pop culture references that went over my head. I wanted to be able to speak that short hand language that only those who truly, really love and know film can speak fluently.

Choosing the Films

But where to start? How do you determine which films are worth your time? There have been thousands upon thousands of films released in the 100+ years of the film industry. Some discretion and narrowing must be done, because there is just not enough time to watch all films.
Bicycle Thieves (1948)


So I created a list of lists. I used prestigious award winners and “best of” lists from other reputable organizations that identified what they felt were the best films ever made. I tracked the ones I still had to watch, and sought them out using: the different classic film channels on TV (TCM, Fox Movie Channel, etc.); online streaming through Netflix, Hulu and other sources that showed public domain films; repertory theaters and schedules in my area; museum film screenings; and that dying former mecca for all cinephiles, my local video store. When I winnowed my list down, I added films from another list, always trying to keep what I was tracking (relatively) reasonable.

Lists Used

  • American Film Institute
    West Side Story (1961)
    • AFI Top 100
    • AFI 10th Anniversary Top 100 (there were a few different ones added)
    • AFI 100 Laughs
    • AFI 100 Thrills
    • AFI 100 Passions
    • AFI 100 Heroes & Villains
    • AFI 100 Cheers
    • AFI 25 Musicals
  • Time Magazine All-Time 100
  • Entertainment Weekly’s 100 Greatest (+ Runners Up)
  • BFI Top 100 British
    • Top 100 Critics List (2012)
    • Top 100 Directors List (2012)
  • Academy Awards (through 2017)
    • Best Picture
    • Best Director
    • Best Actor
    • Best Supporting Actor
    • Best Actress
    • Best Supporting Actress
    • Writing & Screenplays
    • Best Foreign Film
  • Movieline 100 Foreign Films
  • BAFTA Awards (through 2017)
    • Best Film
    • Best Film Not in English
    • Alexander Korda (British) Film
  • Guardian U.K. 1000 Movies to See Before You Die
  • Rolling Stone 100 Maverick Films
  • United States National Film Registry (through 2017)

Lists to Use in the Future

Once I get my current list of films to watch down to a few hundred or so, I’ll add the following lists to my “To Watch” list, and the Ultimate Film List.

The Legend of the List

Annie Hall (1977)

My project, and my ever-increasing list specifically, became a curiosity amongst friends and family. Sometimes I would just get a horrified, confused look when I explained what I was doing. But sometimes I would get challenged, and the person would request a copy of the list to compare how many of the films they’d seen (spoiler alert: I saw more).

For my husband’s 40th birthday, I included a printed out list of all of the films in a program booklet, aggregated by film, to count how many lists each film had appeared on (the idea being, the more recognition a film received across a wide range of lists, the better the film was). Over the years, others who have heard of the list have contacted me, asking if I could update it and send it to them as well.

Flaws of the List

Any list of lists, purporting to be a representation of the best films ever made, is only as good as the source lists used. And there are definite flaws with this “Ultimate” Film List.

First and foremost, it leans heavily toward American, and more broadly, English-language, films. By using the AFI lists, which explicitly limit themselves to American films, as well as the Academy Award winners, which implicitly limit themselves to American films, most, if not all of the films with the highest rankings are American. I’ve tried to mitigate this, and discover more foreign films by including foreign film categories from the BAFTA and Academy Awards, the Movieline list of top films, and in the future will use the Cannes Palme d’Or and Criterion Collection.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

Second, and related the first issue, many lists are repetitive. I’ve noticed after watching so many movies that people making lists of the 100 best films tend to repeat the same 100 films, almost by rote. There’s a little tweaking, here and there, but it’s mostly a cut and paste job with little originality or seeking films out of the highest echelon of wide acclaim.

Third, just because a film has been ranked often on lists, doesn’t make it one of the best films ever. But it usually will make it worth seeing, at least so you can use it to compare other films to it. There are many films that are highly ranked on my List, that are widely admired, that I just did not like (here’s looking at you, “The Godfather.”). And there are also films that have only come up once so far, that are some of my very favorite films (oh “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” you always make me cry like a baby at the end).

Next Up

I’ll be posting different subsets of the Ultimate Film List in several stages, because posting a spreadsheet of 2086 (!!) films to watch without any buildup will scare everyone away. Keep checking in the next few days to see how many of the films you’ve seen!

For now, I’m interested to hear if anyone knows of any excellent film lists not already posted above that I should consider adding. Especially looking to discover more non-English films!

Updated January 18, 2018 with new lists and film total