AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies

America's 100 Greatest Movies
100 YEARS...100 MOVIES


The American Film Institute in Los Angeles, California in 1998 commemorated the extraordinary first 100 years of American movies by making a "definitive selection of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time, as determined by more than 1,500 leaders from the American film community."

A three-hour prime time entertainment special on CBS entitled "One Hundred Years...One Hundred Movies," aired on June 16, 1998, to celebrate, commemorate, and recognize the very best in American cinema's first 100 years, revealing America's Greatest 100 Films for the first time.

An AFI panel determined and compiled a preliminary movie-directory of the 400 Nominated Films (in an alphabetical and chronological listing) from which the greatest 100 American films were chosen. The 400 selected films were feature-length fictional movies produced between 1912 and 1996 "with the goal of amassing a capsule of the first 100 years of American cinema, across decades and across genres." Of the final 400, more than 75% were produced before 1980, though there were only about 20 silent films on the list. See the Judging Criteria for the selection process of the Top 100 films.

Newsweek Magazine A blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 prominent leaders ("a who's who of the movie business, from in front of and behind the camera, writers, producers and directors to historians, movie executives and critics") from the American film community reviewed the 400 films and selected the top 100 movies of all time. As AFI admitted, "the final selection, by its very nature, will be subjective...Critics and film buffs alike will take exception to the inclusion of one film and the exclusion of another -- even if the title 'One Hundred Years...One Hundred Movies' itself lays no claim to these films as the definitive 'best' or 'greatest.'"

In addition, Newsweek Magazine produced a commemorative issue looking at 100 years of Movies. Ten hour-long original specials on Turner Network Television (TNT) produced by Time Magazine film critic Richard Schickel and co-producer Mel Stuart provided a more in-depth look at the 100 films, with extensive footage from the movies and commentary from filmmakers. The specials were divided not by decade or even by genre, but into categories such as "Anti-Heroes," or "Monsters." Turner Classic Movies (TCM) also planned a cable film festival to present many of the 100 movies on the AFI list.

See AFI's 100 Greatest American Films - 1998 Original
See also AFI's 100 Greatest American Films - 10th Anniversary Edition (2007)

Commentary on Original 1998 List of 100 Greatest American Films

The American Film Institute's highly-touted, obvious selections for "America's Greatest Movies" are substantially sound, safe, respectable, and crowd-pleasing. (67 out of the 100 films listed as their greatest films are found in the 100 Greatest Films selected at this site. This number expands to 90 when the list of 200 Greatest Films at this site is used for comparison. This site later selected an additional group of 100 films to total 300 Greatest Films.) Yet any list that purports to be representative of the greatest American cinema in its first hundred years must be better balanced, more comprehensive, less distorted and spotty, less commercially-oriented, and less geared toward popular choices. Their list would have better been labeled the 100 Most Popular (or Culturally-Significant) American Films. Also, the ranking of films from 1 to 100 just begs for criticism. To limit the voting to 'film professionals' excluded those with a much better perspective on film history and cinematic art.

Some of the original 400 nominated films, pre-selected for the voters, were extremely dubious choices, including these (to name just a few): The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Cleopatra (1963), Love Story (1970), The Goodbye Girl (1977), Return Of The Secaucus 7 (1980), Risky Business (1983), Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), Fatal Attraction (1987), The Untouchables (1987), Batman (1989), Pretty Woman (1990), and Jurassic Park (1993). And quite a few genuine classics were NOT on the 400 finalists' list, including: Forbidden Planet (1956) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935), for example.

Their list basically snubbed the silent film era - with only four films on the list. Honored are three Charlie Chaplin silent comedies (at #74, #76, and #81) and The Birth of a Nation (1915). [The AFI also honored the 'first' talkie The Jazz Singer (1927), but the film is only notable and historically distinguished as the first feature film with talking segments.] Where are other silent classics, e.g., Buster Keaton's masterpiece The General (1927)? Their list ignores silent film dramas, leaving out D.W. Griffith's melodramatic Broken Blossoms (1919) and the ground-breaking epic Intolerance (1916), King Vidor's anti-war spectacle The Big Parade (1925), von Stroheim's monumental and ambitious Greed (1924), F.W. Murnau's beautiful Sunrise (1927), and a masterpiece of film-making - King Vidor's The Crowd (1928).

Other well-known, classic screwball comedies are missing, including Leo McCarey's The Awful Truth (1937) or Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday (1940). They also ignored the great comedy screenwriter/director Preston Sturges and any of his films, including The Lady Eve (1941), The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944) and Sullivan's Travels (1941), and the list also excludes any Laurel and Hardy films (such as Sons of the Desert (1933)). It only includes scant recognition for film-noirs ( Double Indemnity (1944)), ignoring much of the entire genre ( Touch Of Evil (1958), Out Of The Past (1947), The Night of the Hunter (1955) and Gun Crazy (1950)). Classic gangster/crime films (e.g., The Public Enemy (1931), Little Caesar (1930), Scarface: The Shame of the Nation (1932), and John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle (1950)) are overlooked and substituted with more recent crime films (Fargo (1996), GoodFellas (1990), and the sole independent film on the list - Pulp Fiction (1994)). In the war film genre, the great anti-war film Paths of Glory (1957) was replaced with the more recent Platoon (1986). Except for Disney animations ( Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Fantasia (1940)), one of the project's sponsors, there are no other animated choices.

Where are some of the critically-acclaimed, inventive, off-beat, out-of-the-mainstream films such as Jacques Tourneur's noirish Out Of The Past (1947), Ridley Scott's cultish sci-fi film Blade Runner (1982), entries from David Lynch (Blue Velvet (1986), for example), Orson Welles' second masterpiece The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) or Touch Of Evil (1958), Charles Laughton's only directorial effort The Night of the Hunter (1955), or Joseph Lewis' 'Bonnie and Clyde'-style melodrama, Gun Crazy (1950)? And why is the superior Bride of Frankenstein (1935) supplanted by the inferior Frankenstein (1931)? There are no films from Josef von Sternberg, Otto Preminger, Sam Fuller, Jim Jarmusch, Edgar Ulmer, Jerry Lewis, John Cassavetes, John Sayles, Robert Flaherty, Douglas Sirk (e.g., Written on the Wind (1956)), Anthony Mann, nor any of the American films of Jean Renoir, Max Ophuls (his exquisite Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948), for instance), or Fritz Lang. And no black directors (such as Spike Lee) or female directors are represented.

And what of the spectacular dancing duo of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (neither Top Hat (1935) nor Swing Time (1936) made the list)? Their 100 greatest list also ignores legendary directors, such as King Vidor (with the already-mentioned The Big Parade (1925) and The Crowd (1928)), Rouben Mamoulian (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932), Love Me Tonight (1932)), Frank Borzage (Seventh Heaven (1927)), Ernst Lubitsch ( Trouble in Paradise (1932), Ninotchka (1939), To Be or Not to Be (1942), or The Shop Around the Corner (1940)), action director Raoul Walsh (either The Roaring Twenties (1939) or White Heat (1949)), William Wellman (Wings (1927), The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), A Star is Born (1937), or The Public Enemy (1931)), Cecil B. DeMille (The Ten Commandments (1956)), or Howard Hawks (his Bringing Up Baby (1938) was solely honored at #97, overlooking his all time classics The Big Sleep (1946) and Red River (1948)). Even a current-day director, Mel Brooks (with The Producers (1968), Blazing Saddles (1974) and Young Frankenstein (1974)), was passed over.

Usually, the films on the AFI list are OK choices, but often, there are better options. For example, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is a fine choice for a modern-day adventure film, but what about the classic adventure tale The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)? And Ben-Hur (1959) is a solid choice, but Kubrick's epic Spartacus (1960) in the same time period was overlooked. Tootsie (1982) (at # 62) and Amadeus (1984) (at # 53) are fine films, but shouldn't be supplanting other genuine "greatest films."

Politically-questionable films also abound in the list, e.g., Costner's Dances With Wolves (1990) (that strikingly resembles Sam Fuller's earlier un-nominated Run of the Arrow (1957)), the 60's revisionistic Forrest Gump (1994), Michael Cimino's controversial Vietnam War film The Deer Hunter (1978), and the racially-judgmental The Birth Of A Nation (1915).

Others have noted AFI's inclusion of seven very deserving, but British films: Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949), David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), and Doctor Zhivago (1965), Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971), Dr. Strangelove, Or: (1964), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

Although the AFI list praised director Alfred Hitchcock's work, it missed Rebecca (1940) and Notorious (1946). Robert Altman's M*A*S*H (1970) was chosen over Nashville (1975) - widely considered to be his best work. The Marx Bros.' Duck Soup (1933) is included, but what happened to A Night At The Opera (1935) - their next best career film? George Cukor's Adam's Rib (1949) is a better choice than Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) for a Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn pairing. And what of the classic musicals by Vincente Minnelli starring Judy Garland - Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) and A Star Is Born (1954)? Where are two other influential musicals, The Band Wagon (1953) and Cabaret (1972)? What about the contributions of pioneering choreographer/director Busby Berkeley (in the grand-daddy of all backstage musicals 42nd Street (1933) and Footlight Parade (1933)), or any of Greta Garbo's performances in films including Ninotchka (1939), Queen Christina (1933), Camille (1936), or Grand Hotel (1932)? Except for her work in All About Eve (1950), the films of Bette Davis' early career (Now, Voyager (1942) and Jezebel (1938)) are absent. Audrey Hepburn's beautiful performance in Roman Holiday (1953) was conspicuously ignored. And Paul Newman's work in The Hustler (1961) is curiously missing. And there's no Robert Mitchum.

Previous Page Next Page