Scratching our heads at the BBC’s top 100 American Movies of All-Time

First off, let's make one thing clear.  We're not scratching our heads at Spike Lee's “Do The Right Thing” making the BBC's 100 greatest American films.  That movie, of which an image accompanies this post, not only made the list, but ranked appropriately at no. 25.  It's the rest of the selections that have us scratching and, yes, shaking our heads in disbelief.

A wonderful page view driver, these sorts of lists make great fodder for passionate movie fans no matter what their age or part of the world they hail from.  There is nothing more entertaining than watching two critics from opposite ends of the globe try to debate whether “The Dark Knight” should have been nominated for best picture or make a list like this.  Even in this age of short form content where Vines, Shapchats and Instagram videos have captured viewers attention, movies will continue to inspire because they have the ability to elicit such passionate viewpoints and emotions.  

That being said, not all opinions are good ones and we're quite curious who the 62 critics from around the world who voted on the BBC's list are.  Look, we're not interested in throwing anyone under the bus, but it might explain exactly why some of these pictures made it on the list and why some didn't.

Before we even discuss the glaring omissions it should be noted that to qualify as an “American” movie it only needed U.S. funding.  That means there are numerous international filmmakers on the list.  And, hey, we're O.K. with that (except that somehow Ang Lee's “Brokeback Mountain” didn't qualify).  It did mean, however, that 32 movies were directed by filmmakers born elsewhere.  And, frankly, that makes the idea of an “American” film list sort of silly.  Still, AFI's top 100 list (last updated in 2007) and admittedly conservative has a number of films that you would have expected to possibly see here including “The Grapes of Wrath,” “On the Waterfront,” “All About Eve,” “Midnight Cowboy,” “Tootsie,” “Rocky,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Easy Rider,” “Terms of Endearment,” “Reds,” “Cabaret” and “Platoon,” among others.

But wait, it gets worse.

There is not one Coen Brothers movie on the list. That means no “Fargo,” “No Country for Old Men,” “The Big Lebowski” or “Barton Fink” (which won the Palme d'Or).

There is not one Clint Eastwood movie on the list. Somehow even “Unforgiven” didn't make it.

There is not one film from Steven Soderbergh, Michael Mann (cough, “Heat”), David Fincher, Todd Haynes or Gus Van Sant. 

And, inexplicably, Ridley Scott's “Thelma & Louise” made the top 100 over “Blade Runner,” arguably the most influential Sci-Fi film since “2001: A Space Odyssey” (stop and think about that for a moment).

Keeping all that in mind, we suggest you take a deep breathe before reviewing the official list which includes some specific commentary on a number of the selections.


100. Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)
*Not sure five Wilder films were needed.

99. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
*Simply too soon.  You can also argue it's not even McQueen's best film.  

98. Heaven”s Gate (Michael Cimino, 1980)
97. Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)
*It certainly doesn't need to be in the top 25, but this low on the list? Strange.

96. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
*Torn, a great film, but not sure it deserves to be on here if “Blade Runner,” “Fargo” or “The Silence of the Lambs” aren't.

95. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)
94. 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002)
*Jaw dropped. As former HitFix contributor Guy Lodge noted, “It's arguably not even one of his top five films.” In my opinion, “Malcolm X” is a far superior film.

93. Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)
92. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
91. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)
90. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
*That's awfully low.

89. In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
88. West Side Story (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, 1961)
87. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
*Great film, nowhere near the top 100.

86. The Lion King (Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, 1994)
*Tough. I'm not a “Toy Story” fan, but even I would argue it deserves to be on this list before “The Lion King.” I'd also argue “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Fantasia” were more worthy.

85. Night of the Living Dead (George A Romero, 1968)
*Tossup.  It's influence on the horror genre is huge, but over “The Exorcist”?

84. Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972)
83. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)
82. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)
81. Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991)
*This is silly. “Blade Runner” has to be on this list before “Thelma.”

80. Meet Me in St Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944)
79. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
*Certainly deserves mention before some of the other films on this list, but many would argue “The Thin Red Line” is a strong overall piece of work.

78. Schindler”s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)
77. Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939)
76. The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)
*Not sure you can have both “Empire” and “Star Wars” on just the top 100.  Perhaps 200…

75. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977)
74. Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994)
*Biggest shocker of them all.  Should not be in the top 100. I'd chose Zemeckis' “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” before “Gump.”

73. Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
*Too low on the list. Should be higher.

72. The Shanghai Gesture (Josef von Sternberg, 1941)
*”The Shanghai Express” is a much better example of Von Sternberg's cinematic achievements than “Gesture.”

71. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)
70. The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli, 1953)
69. Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982)
68. Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)
67. Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936)
66. Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)
65. The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman, 1965)
64. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)
63. Love Streams (John Cassavetes, 1984)
62. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
61. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
*No, not top 100. It was underrated at the time, but this is going incredibly overboard.

60. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
59. One Flew Over the Cuckoo”s Nest (Miloš Forman, 1975)
58. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)
57. Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen, 1989)
*Slightly high, but if its this just this and “Annie Hall” from Allen's oeuvre in the top 100? O.K.

56. Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)
*Are you kidding? Wonderfully entertaining comedy adventure from the '80s.  It is not one of the top 100 American movies of all-time.  

55. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967)
54. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)
*Seems slightly low to me.

53. Grey Gardens (Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, 1975)
*Incredible documentary.  Are there other docs that deserve to be on this list before “Grey”?  Yes, yes there are.

52. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)

51. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)
50. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)
49. Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)
48. A Place in the Sun (George Stevens, 1951)
47. Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964)
*This is a fine Hitchcock film, but it's not top 100 worthy.

46. It”s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
45. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962)
44. Sherlock Jr (Buster Keaton, 1924)
43. Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, 1948)
42. Dr Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
41. Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)
40. Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943)
39. The Birth of a Nation (DW Griffith, 1915)
38. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
37. Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959)
36. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)
35. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)
34. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939)
33. The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
32. The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)
31. A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974)
30. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
29. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)
28. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
27. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
26. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1978)
*On the one hand, I love that Burnett's film made the list. I am not convinced it's top 100, however, let alone top 30 worthy.

25. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
24. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
23. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
22. Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1924)
21. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
20. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
*This has become one of Scorsese's slightly overrated films.  Would have been in the 90's if it made my list at all.

19. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
18. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
17. The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925)
16. McCabe & Mrs Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)
*Over some of the omissions listed previously? No.

15. The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946)
14. Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)
13. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
12. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
11. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)
10. The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
9. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
8. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
7. Singin” in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952)
6. Sunrise (FW Murnau, 1927)
5. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
*Would bump up to no. 2, but hard to argue with the top four. (That's something I guess.)

3. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
2. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)

Agree or disagree with the BBC's list? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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