Below is a list of my 25 favorite movies. It was difficult to narrow it down to just a few. As in my blog post about my favorite John Wayne movies, this is not a film critic’s list of the best movies ever made. It is simply a list of my favorite films that I most enjoy watching.
You may notice that several directors and actors appear multiple times on the list such as Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, Harrison Ford, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Alec Guinness, and Audrey Hepburn. Films from the 1960’s are also represented well on this list. You’ll notice several Christmas movies on the list, too. I’m always up for a good Christmas movie, in season of course. And you’ll find several classics on my list that also made AFI’s 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time list.
In junior high, I took a class entitled, The History of Great Movie Classics. I can probably trace my love of classic movies to two things–that class and Turner Classic Movies. There were several more classics that I wanted to squeeze on here, but there are only so many spots available.
25. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
I first saw this film in my high-school Psychology class, and in the last few years I try to watch it every Christmas season (the cable channel AMC has shown it often). I also like the 1994 remake, but I think the original is better. The movie was filmed in black and white, but there is also a 1985 colorized version. I know a lot of people hate the colorized version, but on this movie I actually prefer it to the black and white.
This is a heartwarming classic about a department store Santa Claus who tries to help a single mother and her daughter believe in Santa, only to find himself on trial defending his sanity, with his lawyer friend trying to convince the judge that Kris Kringle is who he says he is.
The film stars Maureen O’Hara as the skeptical mother, John Payne as the attorney, Edmund Gwenn as Santa Claus, Gene Lockhart as the judge and Natalie Wood as the daughter who helps her mom believe in Santa again. George Seaton directed and wrote the screenplay. The film won three Academy Awards and was nominated for Best Picture. It was also selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. If you want a feel-good movie to get you in the mood for Christmas, this is a great place to start.
24. The Birds (1963)
I saw this Hitchcock classic in junior high, I’ve loved it ever since. Starring Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy, and Suzanne Pleshette, this thriller/horror film is about a seaside town in California which is plagued by mysterious bird attacks. Hitchcock does a good job of slowly building the tension as the viewer gets introduced to the various characters. You’ll never look at a flock of birds the same way after seeing this movie. This film was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.
23. Vertigo (1958)
Another Hitchcock classic, this psychological thriller has been underrated for years, until recently. My first time to see it was on TCM. This is a movie that I enjoyed more on the second and third viewings. The film is a little long at 128 minutes, but it builds to a climactic conclusion. Set in beautiful San Francisco, the film stars Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak, and Barbara Bel Geddes. It is considered by critics to be among the best films ever made, and it is listed at 9th on AFI’s 100 Greatest American Films of All Time. The memorable score by Bernard Herrmann sets the mood for the film.
22. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
What can I say? Audrey Hepburn is exquisite in this film. Simply no one else could have played the role of Holly Golightly like her. Her charm and beauty are unmatched. From the opening credits when the song “Moon River” plays and Hepburn gets out of the taxi in that iconic dress, you know you’re in for a treat. The film also stars George Peppard, Patricia Neal, Mickey Rooney (in a controversial performance), and Buddy Ebsen. This romantic comedy has a unique appeal. It’s really unlike any other movie I’ve seen and is in a class of its own. The story is adapted from a Truman Capote novella. That may explain the eccentric nature of the film.
21. White Christmas (1954)
It just doesn’t feel like Christmas until I’ve watched this annual favorite. Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen star in this Christmas classic with Michael Curtiz directing. It was filmed in beautiful Technicolor and the first to be released using the Vista Vision widescreen process. The famous song, “White Christmas” was originally introduced in the film, Holiday Inn. This movie is a light, feel good movie that promises to be a fun ride and get you in the mood for the holiday season. The music and dance numbers are exceptionally well-done. I was a latecomer to this one as I saw it for the first time in my thirties. I don’t know how I missed it.
20. Charade (1963)
Hepburn shows up again on the list, this time with the suave Cary Grant in a Stanley Donen directed romantic comedy/suspense thriller from the sixties. The cast also includes Walter Matthau, James Coburn, and George Kennedy. It was filmed on location in Paris and has been called “the best Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock never made.” It has a complicated plot that includes the CIA, missing gold, and valuable stamps. I think I first discovered this one on TCM.
19. North by Northwest (1959)
You knew Cary Grant would have more than one movie on here. No one else on the big screen makes it look easier or more natural. This spy thriller is another Hitchcock classic; besides Grant, it also stars Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, and Martin Landau. It involves a case of mistaken identity, kidnapping, international intrigue, a chase scene including a crop duster (as seen in the above picture), and a climax scene at Mount Rushmore. This is a fun ride that you can enjoy again and again.
18. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
I grew up watching the Indiana Jones trilogy (the fourth movie came later). Obviously, the first one is a classic. The second installment was disturbing and disappointing. The third one is my favorite. The addition of Sean Connery as Indiana’s father was a genius move. The chemistry between Harrison Ford and Connery really came alive on the big screen. The film was directed by Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas had a hand in the story. River Phoenix even appears as a young Indiana Jones. The plot involves a race between the Jones’ and the Nazis to find the Holy Grail. The culmination of the film at Al-Khazneh in Petra is some of the most mesmerizing moments in cinematic history.
17. Inception (2010)
If you like movies that make you think, this film is for you. Christopher Nolan directed this brilliant sci-fi/action thriller. It has a great lineup: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Tom Berenger, Marion Cotillard, Elliot Page, Ken Watanabe, and Cillian Murphy. Inception displays some awesome, otherworldly visuals. The special effects are superb, but the strength of the movie is the exploration of the concept of implanting ideas into someone’s subconscious using dreams. The film concludes with an unforgettable on-the-edge-of-your-seat final 45 minute ending. I don’t think I have ever been so engrossed in a movie like I have with the final third of this movie. This is a film that will be rolling around in your head long after you watch it.
16. Braveheart (1995)
This is one of those landmark movies that became a cultural phenomenon. Whenever someone shouts, “Freedom!”, this film comes to mind. At 178 minutes, it is the epic story of the famous Scottish warrior and national hero, William Wallace. Mel Gibson directed and starred in the movie alongside Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan, Catherine McCormack, and Brendan Gleeson. The viewer will be treated to beautiful scenery and intense battle sequences in this historical drama and action film. While Braveheart contains plenty of historical inaccuracies, it still remains an inspirational film that captures the pathos of the struggle for Scottish independence against the English.
15. Crocodile Dundee (1986)
This very entertaining movie has it all–adventure, comedy, and romance. It has a great premise, likable characters and beautiful locations (the Australian Outback and New York City). In short, it’s a lot of fun. It stars Paul Hogan and Linda Kozlowski, who eventually married in real life and later divorced. The movie was based upon the experiences of Rod Ansell. This is one of the signature movies of the Eighties. The sequel is also worth seeing. It reverses the order of locations in the first movie by starting out in New York City and ending up in Australia.
14. Chariots of Fire (1981)
My dad showed us this movie when we were younger. As a child, I found it a little slow, but as an adult I really grew to appreciate it. It’s the true story of two British Olympians, Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, who both ran in the 1924 Olympics. It’s a story of faith, principle, and purpose. The iconic opening and closing scenes with the athletes running on the beach are set to the beautiful and memorable score by Vangelis. This British film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four, including Best Picture. The film stars Ian Charleson as Liddell, Ben Cross as Abrahams, as well as Nigel Havers, Nicholas Farrell, Ian Holm, and Alice Krige. There is a wonderful line in the film, spoken as Liddell competes in the Olympics, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”
13. Star Wars: Episode IV-A New Hope (1977)
Obviously, this one is a classic. The franchise became so much more than just a movie. It changed cinematic history and became part of the culture. There are not many people who haven’t heard of Star Wars. I grew up watching the original trilogy (Episodes 4, 5, and 6). In my mind, these original movies are far superior to the later ones. The making of Star Wars is a story in itself. George Lucas wrote and directed the film, and he faced all kinds of obstacles during filming. Others couldn’t see his vision, and many didn’t take the film seriously before it was released. But that would soon change.
Star Wars is a space opera, which stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness. Containing adventure, comedy, romance, action, and drama, this film is extremely entertaining. The lovable characters make the movie as much as the plot and action do. The special effects were groundbreaking at the time. And the score by John Williams is one of the most recognized pieces of music ever. It is number one on AFI’s List of Best Film Scores. And, yes, I had many of the action figures and toys from the movie. In fact, my kids now play with them.
12. The Fugitive (1993)
I really love this movie. I saw it in the theater when it came out, and I’ve enjoyed it almost as much on subsequent viewings. I’m a Harrison Ford fan, so that probably has a lot to do with it. I also enjoy the Chicago setting, especially the Saint Patrick’s parade scene. This action thriller starts out fast and rarely slows down until the ending. Tommy Lee Jones, as Deputy U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard, is a great counterpart to Ford’s character of Dr. Richard Kimble. I think what makes this movie great, besides the suspense of the chase, is that even though you find yourself rooting for Dr. Kimble, you also sympathize with Gerard at the same time. This film was based upon a television series of the same name.
11. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
This is a movie that grew on me each time I watched it. When I saw it in the theater, it was my first exposure to J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy adventure. I had not read the novel, so I came to it completely fresh. Upon my first viewing, I found it long and slow, but I didn’t really appreciate what it was all about. As I watched it on repeated viewings, I really grew to love the film. A thought-provoking morality tale is created around a central theme–the dangers of absolute power.
Directed by Peter Jackson and filmed in New Zealand, The Fellowship’s ensemble cast includes Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Dominic Monaghan, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, and Andy Serkis. Fellowship is the first installment in this film trilogy.
The scenery is awe-inspiring. One of the highlights of the film is the scene where the Fellowship travels through the Mines of Moria. It is one of the most unique and exciting sequences that I’ve ever seen in a movie. The score adds a lot of poignancy to the film. The movie is well cast; it is difficult to imagine anyone other than Elijah Wood as Frodo.
10. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) (TV version)
This popular movie is loved by many. It is based upon a Stephen King novella. It is the story of the friendship between two prisoners, Andy Dufresne and Red, and Dufresne’s journey to freedom after being falsely accused of the murder of his wife and her lover. Red serves as the narrator in the film. The story is uplifting and speaks to the common humanity of us all. The main theme of the movie is hope. One of the most memorable lines of the film is spoken by Andy Dufresne, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”
Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, and Bob Gunton star in the film. The chemistry of the friendship between Red and Dufresne make the film. The warmth of their friendship contrasts with the bleak atmosphere of the gray prison walls.
This movie gets shown a lot on cable television, and that is where I mostly remember seeing it. I watched the DVD version one time, and I was shocked by the amount of foul language in the film, so much so that I feel it detracted from the beauty of the story. That is why I recommended the “TV version” of the film above.
9. El Dorado (1966)
John Wayne afficionados are familiar with the fact that El Dorado is basically a remake of Rio Bravo with the same plot but with different actors around Wayne. You can also include Rio Lobo in this Howard Hawks trilogy, but the last installment was an inferior film to the other two.
El Dorado is my favorite of the three because it’s the most fun, but Rio Bravo is the one loved by the critics. Basically, El Dorado has everything you would want from a John Wayne movie–the Western setting, adventure, comedy, romance, zany antics, lots of gunfights, crazy characters, and memorable lines. Look for the scene where the Duke and Mississippi, played by a young James Caan, mix up a concoction to sober up the sheriff, played by Robert Mitchum. The cast also includes the sultry Charlene Holt as Wayne’s love interest, a young Ed Asner as the villain Bart Jason, Paul Fix as Dr. Miller, a hilarious Arthur Hunnicutt as Bull with a bugle, a spry Michele Carey, and Christopher George as the professional gunfighter, Nelse McLeod.
All three movies revolve around a sheriff and his deputies defending a town against outlaws. The good guys are holed up in the jail as they hold one of the bad guys as a prisoner. You know where the plot is headed, but it sure is entertaining getting there. I’ve watched this movie countless times, and I still enjoy it almost as much as the first time I saw it. I saw it in my last year of college during a difficult semester. It was a refreshing escape.
There are a lot of great lines in the film like when Wayne’s character, Cole Thornton, finds the sheriff, J.P. Harrah, drunk in bed. J.P. asks Thornton what he’s doing there, and Wayne delivers a line as only he can, “I’m looking at a tin star with a….drunk pinned on it.” In my opinion, this movie is John Wayne at his best.
(The above passage about El Dorado was taken from one of my previous blog posts entitled, “My Top 10 John Wayne Movies.”: https://wesleyprovine.com/2021/07/19/my-top-10-john-wayne-movies/)
8. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
David Lean, known for his epic historical dramas, directed this classic. It is based upon the life of T.E. Lawrence, an officer in the British Army in World War I. The plot centers around Lawrence’s efforts in the Arab Revolt to unite the various tribes and recruit them to fight against the Ottoman Turks.
Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quayle, and Claude Rains star in this winner of 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. The cinematography and musical score are excellent. There are many widescreen shots of the desert that really immerse the viewer in the Middle Eastern world.
It will help if you enjoy history when watching this film. A knowledge of Britain’s role in the Middle East during and after WWI will be helpful as well. But even if you aren’t a history buff, you can still enjoy the beautiful panoramas. This film has been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
7. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
This is the quintessential Christmas movie. I watch it every Christmas Eve. I remember the first time I watched it on Christmas Eve on a local PBS station. I knew I had stumbled upon a treasure. This Frank Capra film is classic Americana, and it makes one nostalgic for more innocent times. Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchel, Henry Travers, and Ward Bond star in this film, which is based upon a short story, The Greatest Gift, which is loosely based upon Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
At 131 minutes, the film is long, but the length is necessary to develop the characters and backstory. Everyone should see this film at least once. It has become part of the fabric of our culture. Interestingly, it was not always so popular. Due to a lapse in the copyright, the film was shown often on television in the 70’s and 80’s, which spurred its rise to classic status. The film has been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
6. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Another David Lean film, Doctor Zhivago is an epic historical romantic drama which begins before the Russian Revolution and ends during the Stalinist era. The film is based upon the Boris Pasternak novel of the same name. The revolution and civil war serve as the backdrop to a tragic romance. Omar Sharif, Geraldine Chaplin, Julie Christie, Tom Courtenay, Alec Guinness, and Rod Steiger, and Ralph Richardson star in this classic.
I think I first saw the film on TCM after I took a class on the Russian Revolution. I always thought the film did a good job of showing the miseries of communism and Bolshevism. But the film is not all politics. Besides the obvious love story, it is really about how the various characters deal with the crises inflicted upon them by the revolution. It is a story about humanity and suffering.
The film won five Oscars, including Best Original Score and Best Cinematography, and was nominated for five more. The music is very memorable in the film, especially “Lara’s Theme.” The ice palace scene is not to be missed.
5. The Patriot (2000)
A great movie to watch on Independence Day, The Patriot may not be historically accurate in every detail, but it will remind you of why you love America. I get a tear in my eye whenever I watch the scene where Benjamin rides off to the last battle of the film while holding the flag. Also, if it doesn’t get you pumped when Benjamin screams, “No retreat. Hold the line!”, in the midst of the battle, I don’t know what will.
The film stars Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Jason Isaacs, and Joely Richardson. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, and Best Sound. Set in the Revolutionary War, the film’s protagonist is Benjamin Martin, a colonist in South Carolina, who reluctantly fights in the war. The Martin character is based upon four historical figures.
4. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Another Frank Capra classic, this political drama made quite a splash when it was released. It’s a story about a political novice who goes to Washington as a newly appointed Senator and finds out the hard way that D.C. is more corrupt than he could have imagined. He is further disillusioned when his bill for a boys’ camp in his home state comes into conflict with the plans of his political hero, who is not what he appears to be.
Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur, and Claude Rains star in this whistleblower film. Being a Jimmy Stewart fan and a student of history and politics, I always loved this film. It’s a classic David versus Goliath underdog story. It reminds us all of the principles that made our country great–honesty, hard work, and concern for our fellow man.
3. The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
This movie is really underrated. You don’t hear much about it, but it is very solid. It’s based, of course, upon the classic Alexandre Dumas novel. This film was directed by Kevin Reynolds and stars Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Richard Harris, James Frain, Dagmara Dominczyk, and Luis Guzmán. The story is a classic tale of love, betrayal, revenge, and forgiveness. And it’s a really fun ride. I recently watched the 1975 TV movie version, and I found this 2002 version far superior. Jim Caviezel is wonderful as Edmond Dantès.
I wrote a previous blog post about this movie. You can find it here: https://wesleyprovine.com/2018/03/18/justice-or-mercy/
2. Casablanca (1942)
I love classic movies, and Casablanca is the best of the best. Directed by Michael Curtiz, the film stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre. Although the film had a solid release, few if any expected it to turn into the classic it has become.
Casablanca is the WWII-era story of a cynical but romantic nightclub owner who is confronted with his former love and a choice about whether to serve himself or the Allied cause. The movie is full of famous lines like, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” “We’ll always have Paris,” and “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Interestingly, “Play it again, Sam” is often misquoted. The actual line is, “Play it, Sam.” The song that Rick is referring to is the beautiful, “As Time Goes By.”
The film won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It was also one of the first films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. Even those who have not seen the movie have likely heard of it since the film has become such a part of our culture. Casablanca may be the best picture to ever appear on the Silver Screen.
1. The Natural (1984)
This is so much more than a baseball movie. It has mythology, history, nostalgia, romance, humor, and inspiration. Based upon the novel by Bernard Malamud, the film differs in tone from the book. While Malamud’s version presents a cynical take on Roy Hobbs, the movie is much more forgiving and strikes an optimistic note.
Directed by Barry Levinson, the film has an all-star cast which includes Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Barbara Hershey, Richard Farnsworth, Robert Prosky, Joe Don Baker, Darren McGavin, and Michael Madsen. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards.
The Natural borrows elements from the legend of King Arthur as well as Homer’s Odyssey. The true story of the shooting of baseball player Eddie Waitkus also influenced the film. This is a story of redemption and second chances.
I saw this movie in the theater as a kid with my mother and have loved it ever since. My brother and I even carved “Wonderboy” into a wooden bat that we used to play with in the backyard. This movie is my favorite because I never get tired of watching it, and it does more than entertain. It speaks to the heart and the human condition. The themes and lessons of the film give it a timeless quality.
I wrote an earlier blog post about the mythology in The Natural. You can find it here: https://wesleyprovine.com/2019/04/08/symbolism-and-second-chances-in-the-film-the-natural/
Not all the movies that I like made the list. So here are my Honorable Mentions:
Back to Future III
The Big Sleep
The Best Years of Our Lives
Legends of the Fall
The Mask of Zorro
A Perfect Murder
Singing in the Rain