Best of Lists

TCM Unveils Their List of Top 15 Most Influential Films of All-Time

How many of these 15 have you seen?

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has just released their official list of top 15 most influential classic films of all time, the latest element in the network's 15th anniversary celebration and the launching point for a new feature at TCM.com in which the network says it will post a fresh list of movie favorites each day (although it actually looks like it is only going to be a weekly feature). The feature will be called TCM Dailies and will usually highlight five films, with a constantly changing theme. The lists will run from serious to silly, such as TCM's favorite car-chase movies, best slap scenes and top sequels.

Perhaps the most unfortunate thing is that TCM will just be listing the films and not necessarily showing them. This would have been even bigger news had I been able to tell you the 15 films featured will be shown on TCM over the course of the next 15 days, but since they won't I have included Buy Now links so you can get yourself a copy along with the short commentary on each film as provided by TCM.

Of the 15 films listed I have seen 12 of them having not yet caught The Birth of a Nation, 42nd Street or John Ford's Stagecoach. However, I just happened to have watch Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless this past Saturday and rushed out to Barnes and Noble on Sunday afternoon to pick up my very own version. I am going to watch it one more time and do a little write-up on it for you guys -- it a matter of minutes it became an instant favorite I suggest everyone check out.

Other than that, of the other 12 movies I have seen I own many of them and will own a copy of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs once Disney releases the Blu-ray edition this coming October. Battleship Potemkin is one I plan on picking up and actually added to my Amazon cart while putting this piece together and I am going to wait on a new edition of Metropolis in hopes the newly found footage will soon make its way to a new DVD copy. It Happened One Night is another great film I hope to own for myself one day, but that too I am going to wait on until a better DVD edition is available.

In assembling the list, many films fell just short of making the cut. TCM looked at everything from silent pictures to modern movies. "There was only a little shouting involved in our debates," Charlie Tabesh, senior vice president of programming for TCM, said. "For example, we talked about including Pulp Fiction, a hugely influential independent film." TCM also considered choices like Goldfinger, a 1964 movie that helped cement James Bond as film franchise that has endured for nearly 50 years.

So, without further delay, here are TCM's 15 most influential classic films, listed in chronological order:

The Birth of a Nation (1915)
During a time when Europe seemed to have a monopoly on feature films, D.W. Griffith struck out to make an epic that would help define American cinema. The Birth of a Nation also became one of the greatest outrages in film history, introducing destructive stereotypes of black men and women and glorifying the Ku Klux Klan.
Battleship Potemkin (1925)
The "Odessa Steps" sequence in Battleship Potemkin may be the most influential scene in film history. Drawing on montages in The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, Sergei Eisenstein used mini-stories and repeated shots of specific characters and groups to humanize his story.
Metropolis (1927)
Arguably the most influential science fiction film ever made, Metropolis has inspired everything from video games to rock videos to comic books. The film's futuristic sets helped spread the popularity of art deco, while the gadget-filled lab of mad scientist Rotwang became a sci-fi staple.
42nd Street (1933)
Although musicals helped launch talkies, the genre was box office poison by 1933. Visionary producer Darryl F. Zanuck had the idea for a backstage story that would capture the effect of the Depression on hard-working chorus girls. He was smart enough to put Busby Berkeley in charge of the dance routines, and his geometric patterns and dazzling camera movements both revitalized musicals and saved Warner Bros. from bankruptcy.
It Happened One Night (1934)
The surprise success of It Happened One Night made Frank Capra one of the screen's top directors and provided the prototype for a decade of screwball comedies. Romantic comedies like When Harry Met Sally and The Sure Thing draw on the rapid banter, outrageous comic situations and sexy road trip of It Happened One Night. The movie even provided inspiration for one of the screen's most enduring characters, Bugs Bunny.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
"Disney's Folly" was the name most Hollywood insiders gave to the dream of producing the nation's first animated feature. But Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs didn't just look better than any previous Disney film. It looked better than most major studio productions. For better or worse, Snow White set U.S. animation in pursuit of a more realistic look for decades to come.
Gone with the Wind (1939)
If one film epitomizes the Hollywood blockbuster, it is Gone with the Wind. Scarlett O'Hara has inspired a legion fiery females caught in the sweep of history, most notably Kate Winslet in Titanic. For decades, filmmakers have drawn on David O. Selznick's work to create and sell romantic dreams writ large on the screen.
Stagecoach (1939)
John Ford's mixture of character depth and hard-riding action reminded audiences that the winning of the West was more than just popcorn fodder. Ford's work inspired Orson Welles, who screened the film 40 times while shooting Citizen Kane.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Working with a level of control rare in Hollywood, Orson Welles paved the way for director-centric cinema that has produced some of the screen's greatest achievements and worst excesses. By combining deep-focus photography, directional sound, overlapping dialogue and a fragmented narrative assembled from several different viewpoints, he created a film audiences experienced as they did the real world.
Bicycle Thieves (1947)
Director Vittorio De Sica was part of a movement to take cinema back to the streets. Shot on real locations with a factory worker in the leading role, Bicycle Thieves (also widely known as The Bicycle Thief) was among several post-war Italian films that provided an alternative to Hollywood's big-budget studio productions.
Rashomon (1950)
Akira Kurosawa's groundbreaking film put Japanese cinema on the international map. His editing techniques gave it a sensual power that attracted audiences to the emotionally charged story. Kurosawa transcended the challenges of a low budget and censorship to create a new cinematic world that would inspire filmmakers like George Lucas and Martin Scorsese.
The Searchers (1956)
Almost 20 years after revitalizing Westerns with Stagecoach, director John Ford pointed the genre in a new direction. The Searchers offers one of the screen's first attempts to depict racism underlying U.S.-native relations. Ford views the problem from both sides, showing how John Wayne's obsessed Indian hunter Ethan Edwards and the equally obsessed Comanche chief, Scar, have been shaped by violent acts of the past.
Breathless (1959)
With jarring cuts between scenes, jump cuts within them and long takes filled with dizzying camera movements, Breathless made the movies move as never before. Director Jean-Luc Godard created a cinema of reinvention, shooting as if the medium had only just popped into existence.
Psycho (1960)
Following big-budget productions like North by Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock found inspiration in a low-budget, black-and-white horror. Psycho re-defined the genre with major surprises, like killing star Janet Leigh a third of the way into the movie. The crazed-killer character became a horror film staple, leading to slasher flicks like Halloween and Friday the 13th.
Star Wars (1977)
With Star Wars, Hollywood discovered new markets for merchandising – not just toys, but novels, comics, television series and eventually video games. These constituted the "Star Wars Expanded Universe," which included a series of sequels unlike any ever seen. Lucas later re-titled the film Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

If you want more on each film listed, TCM has longer commentary right here.

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  • Anthony

    That's probably the best list about movies ever assembled.

  • jontuesday

    That is a pretty damn good list I have seen 7 of the 15

  • brain

    i guess they are going for older movies i would like to see a list of the most influential movies in the last 30 years

    • Joe

      Brian, as someone who conducts a film history course at a local university, I agree with you as far as newer pictures being influential. I would add to this list, "Jaws" and "The Godfather".

  • Scott

    @brain: I don't think you can make a list of the most influential modern movies because we don't know which ones they are. It's a much better idea to look at older movies because we can see their effect on film today.

  • Matt Poke

    A great list of which i have seen 10. I think it's pretty complete as far as benchmarks for movements and further explorations in cinema go. I would hesitate to add 'Jaws' which essentially gave birth to the summer 'event' movie and the modern era of Hollywood Blockbusters. One could argue though that the above are more artistically orientated rather than a business model.

    Also no horror films which i find interesting (Psycho is a thriller in my eyes). Maybe Nosferatu or Halloween?

  • JM

    I've seen 5 of the movies and have 5 of the others on my Must See list. I never add movies to my list based solely on Top 10/15/100/etc. lists. There's too many movies I want to see anyway, and a list like this only piques my interest. If I'm already interested in a movie, or if it's the tenth list to name a certain movie, then it might do something for me.

    But all in all, not a bad list.

  • Patricia

    As with all lists, this is a little artificial. For instance, the earliest movies were ALL influenctial in creating a new art form but not just in the USA. Read the description of the first film mentioned on this list, "During a time when Europe seemed to have a monopoly on feature films..." Yet none of them make the list. So typical.

    In my opinion, lists are an interesting expression, but not to be taken too seriously.

  • Helgi

    Any list that excludes Coppola´s The Godfather (1972) is not complete.

  • mikey silwer

    i have only seen 2 of tem,,,,i am ashamed,,,,bty snow white and star wars

  • CP

    Oooo, I've seen all fifteen. Do I win a prize?

  • Jim Coats

    I doubt even the great John Ford merits two entries when Howard Hawks can't even get one. The almost routine inclusion in these lists of the vastly over-rated "Star Wars" always mystifies me. Praise for omitting the equally over-rated "Godfather" series too.
    My nominations would have included "Bringing Up Baby", "Vertigo", "My Darling Clementine", "Fury", "Singing inThe Rain" and "A Matter of Life and Death".

  • steve foster

    What no King Kong or Wizard of Oz?

  • Central Ohio

    Maybe someone should give a shout out to John Cassavetes if you're talking about influential films. Maybe 'Shadows' or 'Faces' aren't pretty enough for Ted Turner's list but they sure as hell influenced a lot of great directors including Martin Scorsese.

  • Jakamoko

    How do you measure the influence of a film? What about 'The Day After' (1983)? It may have saved the world from a nuclear war. In any case it contributed to the end of the cold war, according to the testimony of Ronald Reagan.

    • Jef Weinberger

      According to Ronald Reagan, he also had nothing to do with Iran-Contra. The idea that this film contributed to the end of the Cold War is beyond absurd.

  • bohurupi

    Absolutely agree with Helgi...no Godafther...no list. There are couple of "relative craps" which could easily have been excluded. many of the influential movies are dropped out but it all depends on the mind set and outlook of who are making the list and based on what parameters. If you ask ten people, they will all come up with ten different kinds of list, where only one or two extraordinary films might find a common ground.

  • Dan R-K

    Unfortunately people are overlooking this is a list compiled of the most 'influential films in cinema' not in politics or a list of the best films ever made. It would be difficult to watch any film that doesn't draw influences from one of the films on this list, I would also suggest the inclusion of 'All Quiet on the Western Front'.

  • Mark

    I'm going to admit I'm not a film guru. I don't study film like some of the posters in here and I may seem a bit limited on my knowledge. However, here is my opinion:

    For a film to be influential, I believe the criteria should be inventing or creating a new unknown photography format (Citizen Kane) that takes film to a new level, or influential within it's own genre.

    It seems some on the list are influential within similar genres, such as drama or romance.

    For me, I'd be adding Nosferatu, King Kong, Wizard of Oz, and Angels with Dirty Faces or The Godfather.

    Nosferatu created it's own sub-genre...dracula / vampire movies, which are popular enough today to almost be a genre in itself. Nosferatu still stands as the standard for these dracula films.

    King Kong obviously took monster films to a new level, and Wizard of Oz was incredibly ahead of its time as a 'fantasy film', even though it wasn't really viewed that way at the time of it's release.

    I would have said The Godfather should be on this list, but I just recently saw 'Angels with Dirty Faces', and while I don't claim to know it's true influence, I would have to believe it was very influential to Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorcese as one of the original 'gangster films'. So, I would actually say both belong together as one entry on this list, as, like Dracula films, Ganster films are popular enough to be considered a genre all themselves.

  • dark41969

    when i think of influential moviez, i think of moviez that not only ignite imaginationz, but have an impact on the social consciounezz of society. when "do the right thing" came out it waz socially relevant 4 it's time (not that thingz r 2 much diff 2day, but the 80'z had alot of conflict & racial injustice) and influenced many black directorz ( john singleton,antoine fuqua,the hughez brotherz etc.).
    other notable mentionz: "apocalypse now","the GODfather"(many mob flickz use thiz az a prototype),"2001"(visually),"deliverance"(changed my opinion of burt renoldz & ned beatty az actorz),"king kong"(technically w/ the effectz).
    pluz, 2 moviez w/ john wayne & no humphrey bogart mention iz a total not!!!

  • Jef Weinberger

    Can't argue with the choices OR the critiques in the comments. This debate is endless, as it should be.

    My comment has to do with a name: "Bicycle Thieves".

    I've never heard of this film though I have heard of "The Bicycle Thief". I understand that the Italian "ladri" can be translated as "thief" or as "thieves" but, as I recall, the way it's translated in the actual film sub-title is "thief," not to mention the culprit in the film is a single thief, not two or more thieves. So I don't think we should take the liberty of re-translating which strikes me as a bit of elitist conceit.

    • aaa

      In italian "ladri" means thieves, plural. Singular would be "ladro". The correct title is Bycicle Thieves. When it was originally realeased in the USA the title was translated wrongly. There are two thieves in the film since in the end the main character also steals a bicycle.

  • Luka Mlinar

    Forbidden Planet is the father of modern science fiction. It should be here instead of Star Wars.

  • Random Movie Goer

    I don't really understand Breathless's reason of being on the list. Can someone explain it?