"The Godfather" (1972)
"The Godfather" (and its sequel) is just one of those perfect movies. The story, casting, and direction all work together to create onscreen magic.
"Do the Right Thing" (1989)
With its carefully built complex narrative, Spike Lee's is a visceral movie about race in America that lends itself to new interpretations every time you watch it.
"Citizen Kane" (1941)
"Citizen Kane" isn't just essential viewing because critics often agree it's the best movie of all time. It's a timeless story of greed and power.
"Before Sunrise" (1995)
Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise" — and its sequels, each made nine years apart — are the most romantic movies ever made.
"Boyhood," another Linklater film, was filmed over a period of 11 years to capture the life of a character growing up.
Fredrico Fellini's "8½," a classic of arthouse cinema, is a comedy about the messy romantic and professional life of a filmmaker trying to get a movie off the ground.
"2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968)
Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" came out in 1968, but its special effects — and its message — are just as brilliant today as they were back then.
"The Rules of the Game" (1939)
Few movies take as sharp a knife to the pettiness of class distinctions as "The Rules of the Game," Jean Renoir's hilarious yet moving satire.
"Toy Story" (1995)
Of all the Pixar films, "Toy Story" is still the most essential. It's a moving tale that changed animation forever. While you're at it, watch its sequels as well.
Alfred Hitchcock was the master of suspense, and "Psycho" is one of his best works.
"Seven Samurai" (1954)
Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" set the template for classic Hollywood movies like "A Bug's Life" and "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story." It's a universal story about building trust with strangers.
"The Muppet Movie" (1979)
Every kid should watch "The Muppet Movie," which helped bring the charms of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and the rest of the gang to the world.
"Bicycle Thieves" (1948)
"Bicycle Thieves" unfolds like a fable, with emotional clarity and a powerful social justice message in a simple story about a father, a son, and a bike.
"Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
"Singin' in the Rain" is more than a sprightly musical comedy — it doubles as a history lesson for how movies evolved from silent to sound.
"Beauty and the Beast" (1991)
1991's adaptation of "Beauty and the Beast" is one of Disney Animation's crown jewels. It was the first animated movie to receive a best picture nomination at the Oscars.
"E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" (1982)
For kids, "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" is a sweet story as well as a valuable lesson about being skeptical of authority.
Every kid remembers the first movie that terrorizes them. To make it a good one, watch Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" or "Jaws."
"Groundhog Day" (1993)
"Groundhog Day" is a classic not just because it's horrifyingly good at capturing the repetitive nature of adult life, but because it knows how to shake you out of accepting it.
Of all of Martin Scorsese's films, "Goodfellas" is his most masterful. It shows what can go wrong in the life of a promising young person, and how it can go spiraling down — all while being hilarious.
"The Shining" (1980)
"Red Rum. Red Rum." Before today's horror thrillers, there was nothing scarier than the adaptation of Stephen King's 1977 novel about a couple staying at a hotel as the husband grows more and more delusional and violent while trying to write a book of his own. It's one of Jack Nicholson's best and most terrifying performances.
Barry Jenkins's "Moonlight" may be new but — in its portrayal of neglected lives and their pitiable turns — it's already essential.
"Some Like it Hot" (1959)
Billy Wilder has made about a dozen classics. "Some Like it Hot" stands out as having not only one of Marilyn Monroe's finest roles, but a surprisingly progressive commentary on gender politics.
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004)
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" combines the best elements of a mind-bending psychological thriller and an epic, unforgettable romance.
"The Shawshank Redemption" (1994)
"The Shawshank Redemption" was somewhat overlooked upon its release in 1994, but it's since cemented itself as a universal favorite — and it's guaranteed to make you cry.
"Die Hard" (1988)
John McClane (Bruce Willis) is just an off-duty cop trying to save a bunch of hostages from a terrorist named Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) at a Christmas party. Once you view it, you too will be able to weigh in on one of the hottest debates in pop culture: Whether or not "Die Hard" is a Christmas movie.
"Blazing Saddles" (1974)
"Blazing Saddles" is Mel Brooks' boldest work, a searing satire of racism in America and the western genre starring Gene Wilder.
"The Lion King" (1994)
Adapting "Hamlet" as a musical would be hard, but "The Lion King" succeeds wonderfully by turning all the characters into animals.
"Mulholland Drive" (2001)
There are no other movies like "Mulholland Drive," which has a dreamlike aesthetic, cryptic narrative, and dark humor that pushes the possibilities of cinema itself.
"The Dark Knight" (2008)
Christopher Nolan's second Batman film elevated the genre to new, darker heights and made it worth taking seriously. Heath Ledger gave the performance of a lifetime as the iconic Joker villain, earning an Oscar posthumously.
"Pulp Fiction" (1994)
Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" helped change the way audiences thought about cinema, putting dozens of references and genres into a blender and turning it into something effortlessly cool.
"Apocalypse Now" (1979)
Francis Coppola's iconic movie is a haunting depiction of what war can do to a man. The film is a difficult one to watch — and an even more difficult one to make — with career performances from Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, and Marlon Brando.
It's heartbreaking to watch Maximus' (Russell Crowe) journey throughout the film from slave to gladiator as he seeks to gain vengeance against a power-hungry ruler (Joaquin Phoenix) who killed his family and ruined his chances at ruling Rome. Hans Zimmer's score is a must-listen as well.
"Tokyo Story" (1953)
Yasujiro Ozu's masterpiece "Tokyo Story" follows an aging couple and their generational conflict with their children. It's unforgettable.
"12 Years a Slave" (2013)
No other film recreates the horrors of slavery with as much visceral pain and empathy as Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave."
You can't go your entire life without seeing one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. The story of two ill-fated lovers meeting on a doomed ship set to sink is a classic romance spoiled by the buoyancy of a floating door.
"Within Our Gates" (1920)
Skip "The Birth of a Nation." "Within Our Gates" — the 1920 drama about the lynching of a black man and the challenges of mixed racial heritage by the prolific black director Oscar Micheaux — is another historically significant landmark film.
"The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" (1966)
The best American westerns were made by Italians. Sergio Leone's "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" helped turn Clint Eastwood into a star and turned its camera to the epic landscape of the west in the middle of the Civil War.
The Coen Brothers' precisely crafted style, fish-out-of-water characters, and dark sense of humor have made almost all of their movies masterpieces. "Fargo" might be the most beloved.
"Forrest Gump" (1994)
Robert Zemeckis' endearing story of a young man (Tom Hanks) with a low IQ, but a big heart. If you don't know the line about life being like a box of chocolates, you should watch this stat.
"The Piano" (1993)
Jane Campion's "The Piano" is as exhilarating a drama about love and sex as has ever been made.
"Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope" (1977)
Unless you plan to be a pop culture luddite for the rest of your life, you need to watch the original "Star Wars."
"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937)
Every animated movie owes a debt to 1937's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," the first full-length one ever and the beginning of Walt Disney's princess movies.
"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975)
Miloš Forman's adaptation of the 1962 novel starring Jack Nicholson won all five major Academy Awards for best picture, lead actors, director, and screenplay.
"The Wizard of Oz" (1939)
Victor Fleming managed to direct two of the most important movies of all time that were released in 1939. But between "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone with the Wind," most people will agree that it's "Oz" which has aged better.
"Close-Up," the knotty docu-fiction drama about a man who impersonates a filmmaker, asks hard questions about identity and whether images are ever trustworthy in the first place.
46. "Casablanca" (1942)
"Casablanca" — with its star turns from Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman — is emblematic of the best of classical Hollywood cinema.
"Children of Men" (2006)
"Children of Men" didn't make much of an impact upon its release in 2006. But in the past ten years, it's gained a reputation as a profoundly thoughtful science-fiction movie and one of the most brilliantly crafted films of the century.
It took decades to get Martin Luther King Jr.'s story on the big screen, and Ava DuVernay's "Selma" retells it with a riveting star performance by David Oyelowo.
"The Terminator" (1984)
There have been many movies in the "Terminator" franchise. If you're going to watch one, make it the original which scared everyone into what could happen if robots in the future were ever able to go bad. Plus, it gave us iconic Arnold Schwarzenegger lines like "Hasta la vista, baby" and "I'll be back."
"Meshes of the Afternoon" (1946)
Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid's "Meshes of the Afternoon" is a landmark of experimental film, putting its characters and viewers in a dreamlike trance.
"Lost in Translation" (2004)
"Lost in Translation" remains one of the best movies ever made about feeling lonely in your surroundings, as well as the indescribable feeling of alienation between different people.
"Things to Come" (2016)
"Things to Come," about the life of a French philosopher going through a period of societal change, further establishes Isabelle Huppert as one of the all-time greatest actresses.
"Schindler's List" (1993)
Steven Spielberg's story of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a German businessman who saved the lives of hundreds of Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust is both powerful and heartbreaking. It won seven Oscars including best picture.