100 Greatest Films
100 Greatest Films

Summaries - Part 1

100 Greatest Films
100 Greatest Films
Summaries - Part 1
(Links to Comprehensive Film Reviews)
Selection Criteria

See also Filmsite's 100 Greatest Films Title Screens


The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Melville Cooper, Ian Hunter
Director: Michael Curtiz, William Keighley

This 1938 swashbuckling costume epic stars Errol Flynn in arguably his greatest role, as the titular prince of thieves.

Arguably Flynn's greatest role, this is the classic, swashbuckling, adventure, costume epic/spectacle about the infamous rebel outlaw and his band of merry men from Sherwood Forest who "robbed from the rich and gave to the poor." The charming Robin Hood (Flynn) fights for justice against the evil Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Rathbone), the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham (Cooper), and the scheming Prince John (Rains), while striving to win the hand of the beautiful Maid Marian (de Havilland) - and to save the English throne for King Richard (Hunter). This good-natured, extravagant adventure epic still packs romance, comedy, great sword play action, music, colorful characters and storybook fantasy. One of the earliest films to be shot in three-color Technicolor and, at the time, the most expensive film Warner Bros. had produced ($2 million). William Keighley started directing the film, but Curtiz finished the filming. Academy Award Nominations: 4, including Best Picture. Academy Awards: 3, including Best Interior Decoration, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing.

The African Queen (1951)
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley
Director: John Huston

Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn's odd-couple chemistry anchors John Huston's 1951 romantic adventure.

Based on the 1935 novel by C.S. Forester, the wonderful combination of Hepburn and Bogie makes this a thoroughly enjoyable blend of comedy and adventure. Forester's story, Bogey's Oscar®-winning performance, 'odd-couple' chemistry, and an exotic locale combine for classic adventure/romance. The boozing, smoking, cussing captain of a tramp steamer, Charlie Allnut (Bogart), saves prim, sober, and proper missionary Rose Sayer (Hepburn), "a crazy psalm-singing skinny old maid," after her brother (Morley) is assaulted by a German soldier at the beginning of World War I in German East Africa, and dies from insanity. After many quarrels, they survive a treacherous African river journey on a rattle-trap steamer, shoot the rapids, struggle with mosquitos and blood-sucking leeches, and set sail on the Ulonga-Bora in order to sabotage The Louisa, a German warship. Later came the book (and Clint Eastwood film) White Hunter, Black Heart, that chronicled Peter Viertel's experiences observing Huston throughout the making of the picture. Academy Award Nominations: 4, including Best Actress--Katharine Hepburn, Best Director, Best Screenplay. Academy Awards: 1, Best Actor--Humphrey Bogart.

All About Eve (1950)
Starring: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter, Gary Merrill
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

This acerbic Oscar-sweeping drama stars Bette Davis as an aging Broadway dame and Anne Baxter as a scheming young social climber.

Much-loved, lengthy, acerbic drama of theatre life about a young actress who insinuates her way into Broadway stage star's life. Wit and sarcasm reign supreme (e.g., "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night") and George Sanders is perfect as Addison De Witt - a cynical, egotistical columnist/critic. The literate film features Davis as aging, bitchy accomplished star Margo Channing who takes the seemingly-naive and innocent fan Eve (Baxter) under her wing. As the film opens, the rising, unscrupulous star accepts an award for best newcomer on the Broadway scene. Then, in a flashback, we see the shameless starlet insinuating herself into the life of her idol, and scheming to steal her theatrical roles and her lover Bill (Merrill). By ruthlessly exploiting the older woman's kindness and hospitality, she manages to achieve her present success while almost destroying the veteran star in the process. The ending of the film returns to the awards banquet to find the starlet clinging to her trophy, with another fan in the wings. Also with Marilyn Monroe in a bit part. Academy Award Nominations (record-setting): 14, including Best Actress--Anne Baxter, Best Actress--Bette Davis, Best Supporting Actress--Celeste Holm, Best Supporting Actress--Thelma Ritter. Academy Awards: 6, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor--George Sanders, Best B/W Costume Design, Best Sound.

All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)
Starring: Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim
Director: Lewis Milestone

Lewis Milestone's hugely popular adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's novel is the first great antiwar movie to be made with sound.

Based on Erich Maria Remarque's timeless, pacifistic anti-war novel, this poetically brilliant epic about the horrors of war was hugely popular in its day. The moving drama, the first great sound anti-war film, follows a group of seven German schoolboys, with central character Paul (Ayres) inspired by their professor to fight for their country. They voluntarily enlist in World War I, believing in the glory of the Fatherland and learn about the realities of war from veteran soldier Katczinsky (Wolheim). The film documents their descent into war (and disillusionment) in graphic detail, from the everyday reality of trench warfare to starvation and butchery. The film tracks the boys in training, battle, and eventually their senseless, untimely deaths. Paul dies from an enemy bullet in the final scene as he reaches out to touch a butterfly. Shot on an epic scale with an impressive budget of $1.25 million, the film's realism and visual art created a sensation. Academy Award Nominations: 4, including Best Writing, Best Cinematography. Academy Awards: 2, including Best Production (Picture), Best Director.

An American In Paris (1951)
Starring: Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Nina Foch, Georges Guetary, Oscar Levant
Director: Vincente Minnelli

One of the greatest musicals of the fifties, this colorful toe-tapping classic finds the grace and athleticism of Gene Kelly on full display.

One of the great 50s screen musicals, colorfully enhanced by the grace and athleticism of Gene Kelly and direction by Vincente Minnelli. Jerry Mulligan (Kelly), a young American G.I., lingers in Paris after World War II to study art and painting. He wants to live the life of the great painters -- in a Montmartre garret, starving for his art. When a rich, romance-minded American gallery owner (Foch) offers to support him, he agrees -- even if the bargain means joining the benefactress' entourage of lovers. Then he meets Lise (Caron), a young, exquisite French mademoiselle, and instantly falls in love. Unfortunately, she's already engaged to marry her benefactor, music hall star Henri Baurel (Guetary), an older man who saved her from the Nazis. But when Henri discovers that she cares for someone else, he gracefully exits, leaving the young couple to find love together. The film debut for French actress/dancer Leslie Caron, who was discovered by Gene Kelly. With sumptuous sets, charming dance sequences, George and Ira Gershwin's memorable melodies, and a seventeen-minute, avant-garde ballet choreographed by Kelly - with backdrops representing various impressionistic artists. Academy Award Nominations: 8, including Best Director, Best Film Editing. Academy Awards: 6, including Best Picture, Best Story and Screenplay, Best Color Cinematography, Best Musical Score.

Annie Hall (1977)
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane
Director: Woody Allen

Widely considered Woody Allen's finest work, this bittersweet New York romance posits Diane Keaton as his flighty, adorable foil.

Bittersweet, cerebral, stream-of-consciousness, 70s, urban romantic comedy about a New York couple's neurotic love affair. Many consider this Allen's best work, and a transition from his earlier absurdist comedies to a richer, more thoughtful consideration of relationships. Innovatively filmed, with cartoon segments, flashbacks, monologues toward the camera, and other unique elements. Allen co-wrote, directed and stars as a kvetchy, neurotic, Brooklyn stand-up comedian Alvy Singer, wistfully recalling his bygone relationship with flighty, adorable, and irrepressibly Midwestern Annie Hall, an aspiring singer. (Film marks the fourth pairing of Keaton and Allen, who were also an off-screen couple at the time.) At first the cultural gap seems insurmountable, but despite their differences, they fall in love. As they get to know one another, they invariably attempt to change each other, causing friction and their eventual split. The film watches them try new relationships, as they reluctantly pull away from each other. The film, in actuality, chronicles the end of their relationship. Academy Award Nominations: 5, including Best Actor--Woody Allen. Academy Awards: 4, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress--Diane Keaton, Best Original Screenplay.

Apocalypse Now (1979) and Apocalypse Now Redux (2001)
Starring: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper
Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Coppola's nightmarish Vietnam epic, starring Marlon Brando and Martin Sheen, redefines the war flick and the dangers of the jungle.

A masterful, thought-provoking, pretentious film, with beautifully-chaotic visuals, about the nightmarish, moral madness of the Vietnam War, inspired by the novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Considered by many to be the best war movie of all time, with incredible performances, especially that of hawkish Lt. Colonel Kilgore (Duvall) who "loves the smell of napalm in the morning." Sweeping, surreal, still-controversial Vietnam war epic. An Army captain (Sheen) is sent into the Cambodian jungle aboard a patrol boat carrying a young, spaced-out crew. Their mission: to assassinate ("terminate") a Buddha-like Colonel Kurtz (Brando) who has become an insane demi-god and now runs his own fiefdom. The grueling production in the Philippines led to vast budget overruns and physical and emotional breakdowns. Academy Award Nominations: 8, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor--Robert Duvall, Best Film Editing. Academy Awards: 2, including Best Cinematography, Best Sound.



Ben-Hur (1959)
Starring: Charlton Heston, Hugh Griffith, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Martha Scott, Cathy O'Donnell
Director: William Wyler

This 1959 Charlton Heston classic tells the epic story of Judah Ben-Hur on an ambitious scale made evident by its famed chariot race.

Renowned Biblical epic of enormous scale about adult enmity between boyhood friends, filmed in Italy. The 1880 novel by Lew Wallace had previously been made in 1927 as a silent film with Ramon Novarro. A character-driven, action-filled, star-studded extravaganza and one of the cinema's greatest epics -- a compelling human story of revenge, bitterness, redemption and forgiveness. Heston is the Prince of Judea, Judah Ben Hur, who confronts the conquering Romans and tyrannical boyhood friend Messala (Boyd). His actions send him and his family (Scott and O'Donnell) into banishment and slavery - and an inspirational encounter with Jesus. As a galley slave, he saves the life of Roman nobleman/admiral Quintus Arrius (Hawkins), is adopted and becomes a respected citizen and a famed chariot racer under the tutelage of an Arabian horse racer (Griffith). Heston finally meets his rival Messala in a justly famous chariot race - often regarded as one of the most exciting action sequences ever filmed. Upon his return to Judea, Ben-Hur also rescues his suffering, leprous family and witnesses the crucifixion of Jesus - on his way to Golgotha, and is inspired to convert to Christianity. Academy Award Nominations: 12, including Best (Adapted) Screenplay. Academy Awards: 11, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor--Charlton Heston, Best Supporting Actor--Hugh Griffith.

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Starring: Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Harold Russell, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, Cathy O'Donnell
Director: William Wyler

William Wyler's landmark 1946 drama follows three World War II vets, including Oscar winner Harold Russell, as they return home.

A landmark, classic drama about three WWII veterans attempting readjustment to peacetime life and discovering that they have fallen behind. Perhaps the most memorable film about the aftermath of World War II, it unfolds with the homecoming of three servicemen to their small town: an Army Sergeant (March) who turns to drinking, an Air Force major (Andrews) who is rejected by his wife (Mayo), and a seaman who has lost both arms (Russell) and agonizes over his relationship with his girlfriend (O'Donnell). The movie portrays the reality of altered lives, readjustments at work, dislocated marriages and the inability to communicate the experience of war on the front lines or the home front. This was the first picture for Harold Russell, a non-actor and war veteran who was an actual amputee. Academy Award Nominations: 8, including Best Sound Recording. Academy Awards: 7, including Best Picture, Best Actor--Fredric March, Best Supporting Actor--Harold Russell, Best Director, Best Screenplay. A Special Academy Award for Russell for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance in the film.

The Big Sleep (1946)
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Martha Vickers, John Ridgely
Director: Howard Hawks

Howard Hawks' classic noir sets the standard for private-detective flicks, with star turns by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

Classic atmospheric film noir mystery with crackling dialogue, from Raymond Chandler's first novel, with an incomprehensible plot (and tortuous story line) about a private investigator hired by General Sternwood, a dying, invalid millionaire to look into drugs, blackmail, nymphomania, pornography, decadence and murder - and to follow after and protect his sharp-tongued, indiscreet, thumb-sucking nymphette daughter (Vickers). The film introduced down-at-the-heels private detective Philip Marlowe (Bogart), and set the standard for private detective movies. The private eye becomes sexually attracted to the older, sultry daughter Vivian (Bacall). Without any Academy Award nominations.

The Birth Of A Nation (1915)
Starring: Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh
Director: D.W. Griffith

The first-ever feature-length silent movie, D. W. Griffith's sweeping Lillian Gish-starring Civil War drama was a massive technological coup.

First feature-length silent film is a sweeping Civil War drama/epic, aka The Clansman. Placed in historical context, it's a landmark cinematic, technological achievement (with now-familiar techniques of cross-cutting, the flash-back, the close-up, and deep focus), though offensive due to its racism, dated views and stereotypes, and glorification of the KKK. D. W. Griffith's film tells the interwoven story of two families, one Northern and one Southern, confronting the Civil War and Reconstruction periods. The Camerons, headed by "Little Colonel" Ben Cameron, and the Stonemans, headed by politician Austin Stoneman, find themselves on opposite sides of the battle lines when War comes. The Civil War exacts a personal toll on both families, only to be followed by the equally destructive Reconstruction period. Griffith links the consequences of the war on their lives with the formation of the Ku Klux Klan.

Blade Runner (1982)
Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah, Sean Young, Joe Turkel, Joanna Cassidy, Edward James Olmos
Director: Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott's moody futuristic thriller boasts stunning effects and unmissable performances by Harrison Ford and Sean Young.

Moody futuristic, sci-fi noirish thriller, with stunning, visually-dazzling effects and a brooding atmosphere, about a hard-boiled detective hunting near-human "replicants." Based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. In a totalitarian, decaying 21st century Los Angeles (2019), a jaded, semi-retired, Philip Marlowe-style ex-cop (Ford), known as a "blade runner," is forced out of retirement to hunt down and eliminate four "replicants" (Hannah, Hauer, Cassidy) - genetically engineered super-humanoid robots. On earth illegally from an Off-world colony where they were used as slave laborers, and with a built-in, shortened life span of only four years, the androids have mutinied and escaped in order to confront the individual who designed them (Turkel). Seeing their heroic struggle against an inhuman system, the blade-runner ultimately falls in love with an android femme fatale (Young). Academy Award Nominations: 2, including Best Art Direction-Set Direction, Best Visual Effects.

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