What are the 50 greatest films I need to see?

June 13, 2019

As part of my upcoming year of self-directed learning, I intend to watch 50 critically acclaimed movies to enhance my knowledge through the medium of film.

I made the choice to include this because film is not simply a form of entertainment. Film can expose us to different perspectives on culture, politics and ideas. It can inspire us to seek out knowledge in areas we hadn't previously considered, and is a social medium,  as expressed so clearly by Nathan Rohe, writing for The Odyssey:
Films encourage ideas and social commentary within communities. They have the power to express a culture's ideals and shape them. Art, especially film, is important because it gives us the ability to form lasting human connections through by letting us share our experiences with each other.
This element of my learning programme needs to pay consideration to the principles of SMART targets, in addition to directing me to watch films I may otherwise have missed. For this reason, I've spent some time trying to find a curated list of 50 films to watch methodically. The problem is deciding which to choose!

From directors to professional film critics and your average moviegoer, everyone has their own subjective definition of what makes a film "great". A simple Google search for the term "50 greatest films" yields around 1,040,000,000 results!

Since I am based in the UK, the BFI's decennial 50 Greatest Films of All Time list tops the search results. This list boasts a high level of integrity as the list was aggregated by submissions from critics, programmers, academics and distributors, and is highly regarded as the "definitive" list of the greatest film of all time. Unfortunately, I feel the list is skewed towards films which are older (very few inclusions were produced before the year 2000) which makes them difficult to source in addition to being less appealing. This causes difficulties meeting the Realistic and Achievable elements of my SMART targets.

Similar principles apply to the American Film Institute's "100 Years... 100 Movies" list, with the obvious addition that all of these movies are American - and I would really prefer a list which includes world cinema (although I do admit that the list is appealing)!

Last year, Empire published a list of The 100 Greatest Movies after asking readers of their prestigious magazine to place their votes. Having seen 95% of the movies included, I wholly agree that all of these inclusions are brilliant. I'll probably work my way through the remaining 5 I have not yet seen in the months to come, simply for the sense of "completion", though cannot consider using Empire's list or any other audience polls (such as IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes rankings) since they're unlikely to expose me to film I would not otherwise have chosen.

The BBC's list of The 21st Century's 100 Greatest Films is very appealing. Published in 2016, this list aggregates submissions from 117 film critics to include a wide variety of genres and diversity. Having scanned through the top 50, I can see only a handful I've previously had the pleasure of viewing, which makes this particular list a top contender.

Another consideration is the BFI's list of 50 films to watch before the age of 14. Yes, I know I'm in my forties now, but my consideration here is that these films were chosen for their educational value in addition to their suitability for a younger audience. Film is an important part of my family life, so choosing this list would enable me to share this part of my learning programme with my children.

Classically Educated has a wonderful long-term project to watch each of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (from the book by Steven Jay Schneider) in chronological order. Although I have no idea how I could choose 50 from this huge list, it is certainly worth a considering a look if I can borrow a copy from the library.


I'm not yet decided which list to adopt. Over the next week or so, I'll do more research and mull over my choices as well as discuss with my family whether or not they would like to be involved.

I'd be more than happy to consider any other film lists you as readers of my site would like to suggest, and encourage you to post them in the comments section below.

Header image credit: Ginnie, via Flickr

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Goodreads Reading Challenge

2019 Reading Challenge

2019 Reading Challenge
Amanda has read 49 books toward her goal of 50 books.