What are the best movies ever made? Ever since the Lumière brothers first brought the art of film projection to the masses in 1895, the world has been enraptured by the magic of movies. Film has gone on to become one of the most popular art forms around, with millions of people heading to the cinema each year to watch the best dramas, uproarious comedy movies, and box-office-breaking blockbusters.
Of course, the proliferation of films out there inevitably leads to the question, what are the best movies of all time? It’s a difficult question to answer – after all, everyone has their favourites, and no two film fans have exactly the same taste. That said, we here at The Digital Fix are confident that, like Sauron forging the One Ring, we’ve crafted the ultimate best movies list (though, as brilliant as it is, we haven’t committed to that metaphor by including Lee Daniels’ Precious).
We’ve poured our passion, nerdiness, and willingness to watch anything into this feature. Along the way, we’ve scoured cinematic highs and lows, all to bring you a list made up of modern superhero blockbusters, definitive romances, and iconic classics. There’s no cinematic stone we’ve left unturned while compiling our selections for the best movies of all time.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
One of the best war movies ever made, Apocalypse Now is a breathtaking, operatic film that manages to capture the horror of Vietnam like no other picture before it.
On the surface, it’s about a soldier trying to assassinate a rogue colonel, but really it’s about how war drives us all mad. A true masterpiece that overcame one of the most troubled productions in the history of cinema.
You can say what you want about Alfred Hitchcock, but the guy knew how to make a great movie, and they don’t come much better than Vertigo. James Stewart stars as John “Scottie” Ferguson, a former cop with a literally dizzying fear of heights, who slowly loses his mind as he investigates Madeleine Estler (Kim Novak).
Widely considered Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Vertigo is a tight and effective thriller that’ll keep first-time viewers guessing until the very end. The real star, though, is Stewart, who plays against his reputation as an American everyman and instead embraces his darker, more obsessive side.
Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t just our favourite Guillermo del Toro movie; it’s easily his best film (sorry Mimic fans). Set in Franco’s Spain, this dark fairy tale manages to interweave the brutal reality of the regime with gorgeous high fantasy.
Part horror movie, part Disney movie, Pan’s Labyrinth is a twisted and spellbinding take on Alice in Wonderland, full of monsters, wonder, and imagination.
The second part of Park Chan-wook’s unofficial Vengeance Trilogy, Oldboy is probably the best-known and most successful of this trio of films. A neo-noir thriller, the film sees businessman Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years on the orders of some unknown figure.
Once freed, Oh Dae-su finds his life in ruins and resolves to solve the mystery of his kidnapping and take bloody vengeance. Violent and chaotic Oldboy is a grisly take on the revenge fantasy that turns everything you know about the genre on its head.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Quentin Tarantino may have made a splash with his first film Reservoir Dogs, but it was his second film Pulp Fiction that cemented him as a filmmaking legend.
Violent, self-referential, and told anachronistically, it could have been a disaster, but Tarantino’s razor-sharp script, perfect casting, and stylish direction make Pulp Fiction make it one of the greatest movies ever made.
Back to the Future (1985)
The film that single-handedly made the DeLorean car cool, Back to the Future, is an insanely fun time-travel movie, with a surprisingly tight script. Perfectly balancing its sci and comedy elements, this manic trip back in time is easily one of the most engaging and entertaining science fiction movies ever made.
Featuring two incredible central performances from Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, this story of a time-travelling teenager trying to get his parents together before he’s erased from history manages to be both sweet and hilarious at the same time. Let’s not get into the mum having a crush on her son, however.
Bong Joon-ho’s genre-defying modern masterpiece about social inequality is a wildly entertaining movie that did the impossible and crushed the one-inch subtitle barrier. Parasite tells the story of the Kims, a low-income family struggling to make ends meet, who, thanks to some guile on the part of their son, Kim Ki-woo, manage to infiltrate the home of the wealthy Park family.
What a picture! Best drama movies
What starts as a black comedy slowly turns into a gripping thriller movie as the film examines simmering class tensions and unspoken resentments. An awards darling, Parasite won a leading four awards at the 92nd Academy Awards and became the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. To our mind, Parasite marks one of the few times the Academy actually got things right.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is probably the esteemed auteur’s greatest film and the best superhero film ever made. While Batman Begins is arguably the more enjoyable Batman movie, it’s the sequel that redefined the caped crusader for modern audiences, dragging the rodent-themed vigilante into the ‘real world’.
Featuring an understated but powerful performance from Christian Bale, as well as Heath Ledger’s career-defining Joker, the film boasts some of the superhero genre’s best acting. When combined with Nolan’s impeccable grasp of the technical aspects of filmmaking, Wally Pfister’s immaculate cinematography, and Hans Zimmer’s iconic score, you have the makings of something extraordinary.
Put a smile on your face: best Batman villains
While the movie’s enjoyable enough as an action-packed punch fest, it takes on a new life when you start to dig into its themes. This mature neo-noir uses the well-worn story of Batman and The Joker to tackle themes of escalation, order versus chaos, and the duelling ideologies of philosophers Hobbes vs Rousseau. Basically, The Dark Knight is a film concerned with the question, is humanity naturally good, or inclined towards evil?
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece is a beguiling and hypnotic piece of filmmaking. We’d be lying if we said we fully understood it but that’s probably intentional. The entire film is just so extraordinary it defies description which isn’t very useful when you’re trying to write about it.
Written by Kubrick and futurist Arthur C. Clarke the film is nominally about man’s first communion with alien life, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a missive on the potential of humanity and also a warning that despite our potential we’re only moments away from being cavemen again. 2001: A Space Odyssey is simply superb.
Jaws, the film that invented the modern-day blockbuster, put Steven Spielberg on the map, and made an entire generation scared of the ocean. You know the story by now, a person-eating shark terrorises a summer resort town forcing the sheriff, his marine biologist mate, and the local shark hunter (who knew that was a job?) to track it down before it eats everyone who dares stick a toe in the sea. This is far more than a monster movie, though.
Jaws is a near-perfect suspenseful thriller that manages to be exciting, gruesome, and, most importantly, entertaining. The movie works for three main reasons: Spielberg’s top-notch direction (very few people could make a giant rubber shark scary); a cast of characters who feel like actual people dealing with an extreme situation; and most importantly, John Williams’ incredible score.
While we can’t quite say it’s Williams’ most iconic composition (that honour belongs to Star Wars’ title theme), it’s definitely his most effective. With a simple alternating pattern of two notes, mimicking the beat of the human heart, Williams manages to create one of the most dread-infused pieces of music ever written, which perfectly complements the terror in Spielberg’s storytelling.
The Exorcist (1973)
When Warner Bros. released The Exorcist, expectations were low. After all, who would go and see a horror film with a bloated budget, no stars, and on Boxing Day of all days? Well, as it turns out, lots of people. The Exorcist was a phenomenon, garnering numerous award nominations, a record-breaking box office performance, and perhaps most importantly, it traumatised audiences so thoroughly it left an indelible mark on the psyche of an entire generation.
What a day for an exorcism: The best ghost movies
For years The Exorcist’s reputation preceded it, this was a film so scary it could cause heart attacks, induce vomiting, and make even the toughest of the tough wet their pants in fear. A dangerous movie with evil running through the celluloid. Does it deserve its infamous reputation? Well, yes, it’s the scariest film ever made, but there’s more to it than superficial scares. The Exorcist is fundamentally a film not about evil and demons, but about love and faith. In the end, it subverts the usual nihilism found in horror movies, and instead reminds us that while evil exists good will always rise up to fight it.
Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
Indiana Jones, the Nazi-punching archaeologist with a wry smile and a heart of gold, had to have a place on this list. The only question was which of his films we would include.
Each of the original three flicks is excellent in its own way, but in the end, we had to give it to Raiders, the first in the series and (sorry, Crystal Skull fans) the definitive article, in our opinion. While we could wax lyrical all day about John William’s breathtaking score, Spielberg’s remarkable eye for visual storytelling, or the superb supporting cast, those aren’t the reasons we love Raiders.
Why’d it have to be snakes? The best adventure movies
No, we love Raiders because it introduced us to Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones, the second-coolest man in cinema (after Han Solo) and an icon of the silver screen. He’s every pulp hero rolled into one, rugged, brave, and clever but also surprisingly fallible and vulnerable. It’s just an amazingly rewatchable performance in an already rewatchable film.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
An infamous box-office bomb, Frank Darabont’s quietly dignified prison drama movie, The Shawshank Redemption, has gone on to become one of the most widely beloved films of all time.
Based on the Stephen King novella, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the film tells the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), following him from his first day in Shawshank State Penitentiary to the night he makes a miraculous escape. Along the way, we see him befriend prison smuggler Red (Morgan Freeman), build a library (it’s more impressive than it sounds), and help the warden embezzle millions of dollars.
On paper, The Shawshank Redemption seems like a harrowing prison drama in the vein of Midnight Express or Papillon, but it mostly subverts the usual dour cliches and plot cul-de-sacs to tell a story about friendship, hope, and triumph of the human spirit in the most difficult of situations.
Casablanca, the quintessential cinematic romance, remains an enduring classic and a wonderful monument to the golden age of Hollywood.
The film follows a cynical club owner and dashing rogue, Rick (Humphrey Bogart) as he’s dragged into WW2 when his former lover Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) turns up at his club asking him to help her get her husband out of the country before he’s captured by Nazis. The embers of their old romance are soon reignited though, and Rick must decide between what’s right and what he wants.
Love falling in love? You need these romance movies
Featuring career-defining performances from Bogart and Bergman, Casablanca is a fascinating melodrama about love, pain, and sacrifice, full of wisecracks, music, and charm. It’s also just endlessly quotable.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
There’s a phrase among the Star Wars fandom that no one hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans. Well, if that wretched statement is true, then so is our own much more positive affirmation that it doesn’t matter if you like the sequels, prequels, or anything in between, all Star Wars fans love The Empire Strikes Back.
Boldly go! Star Trek timeline in order
Empire is the high benchmark by which all Star Wars movies are judged, and for a good reason. It improves on the original in every way, from the story – which is darker with far higher emotional stakes – to the filmmaking, which takes a significant leap forward now that Irvin Kershner’s behind the camera.
Combine all that with one of the most shocking twists in all of movie history, and you’ve got a science fiction movie that’s earned its place on this list of best films.
The Godfather (1972)
One of the most influential movies in film history, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, needs no introduction. There honestly aren’t enough superlatives in the dictionary to describe the first chapter in The Godfather Trilogy, which shows the beginning of Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) transformation from war hero and outsider to a ruthless mob boss.
The film is a triumph both in terms of its ingenious storytelling, and its boundary-pushing technical achievements. Coppola and co-writer Mario Puzo’s decision to take us inside a crime family and portray them not as violent thugs, but as morally complex, three-dimensional characters, with their own code of honour was unprecedented, and their words are elevated by the superb cast.
Speaking of which, Brando, Pacino, Caan, Duvall, and Keaton – is this the best ensemble ever seen on the silver screen? We think it might be, and we’re not alone in our fawning praise either. Stanley Kubrick (who knew a thing or two about cinema) once said of The Godfather that it had the best cast ever, and could have been the best film ever made. It’s hard to imagine popular culture without The Godfather’s influence. If we hadn’t had this movie, there’d be no Goodfellas, no Sopranos, no Fat Tony in The Simpsons. It’d be a cultural wasteland.
Citizen Kane (1941)
We know choosing to put Citizen Kane on a list of the best movies of all time is a cliché, but in our defence, it really is a magnificent piece of cinema. In fact, this exemplary quasi-biographical look into the life and death of the fictional Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) is probably the best film ever made.
In technical terms, Kane is ahead of its time by nearly half a century. Gregg Toland’s spellbinding cinematography and Robert Wise’s groundbreaking use of transitions alone have earned the movie a place in the hallowed halls of cinematic nirvana, but that isn’t why the movie works.
Black and white? Boring! Give me action movies
No, the reason Citizen Kane is an enduring masterpiece has less to do with its superb technical innovation and more to do with the sensational screenplay written by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz (we know, we’ve seen Mank). The story of Kane, the shrewd, ruthless newspaper tycoon, and the mysterious meaning of his final words, is told in a non-linear fashion – years before Quentin Tarantino popularised the trope – and is as engaging a mystery today as it was in 1941. Full of triumphant highs and despondent lows, Citizen Kane is a powerful story about what it means to have everything and nothing at the same time.
If all that’s not enough for you though, watching Citizen Kane has one more fringe benefit. It makes The Simpsons a lot funnier – seriously.
Wondering where your favourite film is? Why not check out our list of the best alien movies and see if it’s on there? Or maybe it made the cut on our best Pixar movies list? There’s only one way to find out…
Finally we also have a guide breaking down the best new movies 2023 has to offer.