100 “American” Movies

What is America? How would I describe it if the only language I had were the movies? These were the questions put to me recently by a friend. These same questions led me to compile the following list of 100 movies that I would use to introduce an outsider to the United States. To complete the list, I wanted a multiplicity of voices from different eras. I wanted movies that represented a variety of genres, in particular making an effort to include comedy. Sometimes you know a place or its people best when you can begin to appreciate their comic rhythms.

Of course, this list is far from perfect, limited in particular by what I’ve actually seen. But it’s a starting point. In light of that, the question that interests me most involves you: What movies do you think serve as an introduction to America? Come up with a title or ten and leave a comment. I’d love to see what you suggest.

1. Birth of a Nation (Griffith, 1915)
2. The Immigrant (Chaplin, 1917)
3. Greed (von Stroheim, 1924)
4. The Gold Rush (Chaplin, 1925)
5. The Crowd (Vidor, 1927)
6. The General (Keaton, 1927)
7. I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (LeRoy, 1932)
8. Steamboat Round the Bend (Ford, 1935)
9. Modern Times (Chaplin, 1936)
10. My Man Godfrey (La Cava, 1936)
11. Make Way For Tomorrow (McCarey, 1937)
12. Gone with the Wind (Fleming, 1939)
13. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Capra, 1939)
14. Young Mr. Lincoln (Ford, 1939)
15. Grapes of Wrath (Ford, 1940)
16. Sergeant York (Hawks, 1940)
17. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
18. The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 1942)
19. The Ox-Bow Incident (Wellman, 1943)
20. Meet Me in St. Louis (Minnelli, 1944)
21. Mildred Pierce (Curtiz, 1945)
22. They Were Expendable (Ford, 1945)
23. The Best Years of Our Lives (Wyler, 1946)
24. It’s a Wonderful Life (Capra, 1946)
25. Paisan (Rossellini, 1946)
26. Red River (Hawks, 1948)
27. Ace in the Hole (Wilder, 1951)
28. High Noon (Zinnemann, 1952)
29. Shane (Stevens, 1953)
30. The Sun Shines Bright (Ford, 1953)
31. Night of the Hunter (Laughton, 1955)
32. Rebel Without a Cause (Ray, 1955)
33. On the Waterfront (Kazan, 1956)
34. The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
35. The Wrong Man (Hitchcock, 1956)
36. 12 Angry Men (Lumet, 1957)
37. The Incredible Shrinking Man (Arnold, 1957)
38. Sweet Smell of Success (Mackendrick, 1957)
39. West Side Story (Wise, 1961)
40. The Manchurian Candidate (Frankenheimmer, 1962)
41. To Kill a Mockingbird (Mulligan, 1962)
42. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Kubrick, 1964)
43. Bonnie and Clyde (Penn, 1967)
44. The Graduate (Nichols, 1967)
45. Salesman (Maysles, 1968)
46. Easy Rider (Hopper, 1969)
47. M*A*S*H (Altman, 1970)
48. Patton (Schaffner, 1970)
49. Dirty Harry (Siegel, 1971)
50. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Altman, 1971)
51. The Godfather (Coppola, 1972)
52. American Graffiti (Lucas, 1973)
53. Blazing Saddles (Brooks, 1974)
54. The Conversation (Coppola, 1974)
55. The Godfather Part II (Coppola, 1974)
56. All the President’s Men (Pakula, 1976)
57. Harlan County U.S.A (Kopple, 1976)
58. Network (Lumet, 1976)
59. Taxi Driver (Scorcese, 1976)
60. Killer of Sheep (Burnett, 1977)
61. Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979)
62. Manhattan (Allen, 1979)
63. First Blood (Kotcheff, 1982)
64. The Right Stuff (Kaufman, 1983)
65. Scarface (DePalma, 1983)
66. Tender Mercies (Beresford, 1983)
67. The Natural (Levinson, 1984)
68. Places in the Heart (Benton, 1984)
69. Red Dawn (Milius, 1984)
70. Stand By Me (Reiner, 1986)
71. Wall Street (Stone, 1987)
72. Hoosiers (Anspaugh, 1988)
73. Platoon (Stone, 1988)
74. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Herek, 1989)
75. Christmas Vacation (Chechik, 1989)
76. Do the Right Thing (Lee, 1989)
77. Goodfellas (Scorcese, 1990)
78. Miller’s Crossing (Coen, 1990)
79. Boyz n the Hood (Singleton, 1991)
80. Dazed and Confused (Linklater, 1993)
81. Groundhog Day (Ramis, 1993)
82. Rudy (Anspaugh, 1993)
83. Safe (Haynes, 1995)
84. Dead Man Walking (Robbins, 1995)
85. L.A. Confidential (Hansen, 1997)
86. The Last Days of Disco (Stillman, 1998)
87. The Straight Story (Lynch, 1999)
88. George Washington (Green, 2000)
89. Zoolander (Stiller, 2001)
90. 25th Hour (Lee, 2002)
91. In America (Sheridan, 2002)
92. Spellbound (Blitz, 2002)
93. Take Out (Baker, 2004)
94. Good Night and Good Luck (Clooney, 2005)
95. Grizzly Man (Herzog, 2005)
96. The New World (Malick, 2005)
97. United 93 (Greegrass, 2006)
98. When the Levees Broke (Lee, 2006)
99. Taxi to the Dark Side (Gibney, 2007)
100. Milk (Van Sant, 2008)

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