Thursday, October 16, 2008

Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn...

Did you know that this parting shot from Gone With The Wind is considered the best movie quote of all time, according to AFI's "100 Years, 100 Movie Quotes" list? I didn't until I looked it up just now, although I figured it would be in the top ten. I find it interesting, though, that there's such a definitive ranking for something that seems entirely subjective. What makes Rhett Butler's famous line better than, say, "Here's looking at you, kid," from Casablanca, which came in at number 5?

The subject of movie rankings is on my mind because last night I went to the first meeting of an Honors film series at my school. It's the club's first year, and it took us about an hour to decide which movies to see. The theme we ultimately decided on was "Movies Everyone Should See" -- the classics that are so embedded in our cultural lexicon that we can all recite lines and recognize allusions without ever having seen the original film. Using the aforementioned AFI lists, we picked about a dozen movies that seemed too important to pass up, but that someone most or all of us had managed to miss out on. Of course, the fact that there are only eight weeks left in the semester presented a problem, and we had to have a second round of voting to further narrow the list. In the end, we came up with:

  • On The Waterfront
  • 12 Angry Men
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • The Godfather
  • Blade Runner
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Tommy Boy

  • This list actually works out well for me, because I've never seen any of these movies. However, the voting process was definitely influenced by members' likes and dislikes, and what each of us personally wanted to see instead of what we considered the truly classic must-see movies. I was certainly guilty of this -- I lobbied for Adam's Rib purely because I keep missing it on TCM -- but by the time we were finished, I noticed that the movies generally considered to be among the very greatest, such as Casablanca and Citizen Kane, had been knocked off our list. Looking at the eight movies that are left makes me wonder how certain films came to be considered the best of all time, and why our list looks so different from the ones I usually see.

    A Google search for "best movie ever" turns up 5,810,000 hits. The first three are lists from IMDb, Wikipedia, and The New York Times. The last of these three does not give films individual rankings, but instead serves as a guide to movies that are all considered great. I think that this is the best and least subjective way to do it. The IMDb list is based on user votes, with results that I found somewhat surprising. The Dark Knight, for example, has already cracked the Top 5 despite being released only a few months ago. The Wikipedia list is broken down by genre, and includes many of the same titles as the AFI list.

    A "Starter Kit" from the Movie Morlocks was put together based on process of elimination, and is narrowed down not to the definitive dozen best movies of all time, but to twelve films that the author feels all new fans of classic movies should see. This is very close to the same process we used, and in fact one film, 12 Angry Men, wound up on both lists. Adam's Rib would have made our cut as well, if we hadn't needed to narrow our selections down to eight. This list, put together by one blogger rather than the votes of an entire user base, is perhaps more subjective than Wikipedia's or IMDb's, but I find it interesting that it came the closest to what we came up with on our own.

    Since these lists seem based on public polls, I'd like to conduct a very unscientific one of my own. What criteria do you use to rank films? Are your favorite films ones that you would consider classics, or would you have two seperate lists for movies you most enjoy and movies you feel everyone should see? Finally, what do you think is the best film ever made?


    AFI's 100 YEARS... 100 MOVIES. (2008). Retrieved October 16, 2008, from American Film Institute Web site:

    Film Critics of the New York Times. (2004). The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made. The New York Times. Retrieved October 16, 2008, from

    Films considered the greatest ever. (2008, October 15). Wikipedia. Retrieved October 16, 2008, from Wikimedia Foundation Web site:

    IMDb Top 250. (2008). IMDb. Retrieved October 16, 2008, from Internet Movie Database Web site:

    Rambeau, Mark. (August 17, 2008). A Classic Movie Starter Kit. from Movie Morlocks. Retrieved October 16, 2008, from TCM's Movie Blog Web site:

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