What Are the AFI Top 100 Movies of All Time?

AFI 100 Movies
How many of the AFI Top 100 Movies have you seen? 

I remember watching the AFI Top 100 list in 1998 with my parents. It was a TV special that counted down the best American films ever made. At that time I had seen only a handful, but by the time the list came back around in 2007 I was well on my way and had seen over half. 

Over the next thirteen years of my life, I chipped away at the list, getting closer and closer to viewing the top 100. It wasn't always easy, but as Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, "Life, uh, finds a way."

My way was stumbling across the Unspooled Podcast, which covered every title on the 2007 list. With their help and motivation, I finished the list during the quarantine. 

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=qV8H8iQEGHs

But what the hell is the AFI list? And why do we put so much stock into it? Were all the movies great, and should you watch through them? 

I aim to answer those questions as objectively as possible. 

So let's dive in. 

What is the AFI Top 100 List? 

AFI is The American Film Institute. They bill themselves as "Champions the moving image as an art form. We believe in the revolutionary power of visual storytelling to share perspectives, inspire empathy, and drive culture forward."

Pretty cool, right? 

They also offer higher degrees in filmmaking and are the place Terrence Malik, Paul Schrader, Andrea Arnold, Darren Aronofsky, Ari Aster, Sam Esmail, Brad Falchuk, Liz Hannah, Patty Jenkins, Janusz Kamiński, Matthew Libatique, David Lynch, Melina Matsoukas, Polly Morgan, Rachel Morrison and Wally Pfister, and many others got their film school degrees. 

That's an impressive list. 

The AFI mandate includes shining a light on the history of American movies. The list is as determined by the American Film Institute from a poll of more than 1,500 artists, filmmakers, and executives who chose from a list of 400 nominated movies. The 100-best list was unveiled in 1998 and there was an updated list released in 2007. 

So who chose the 400? 

According to American Film Institute director and chief executive officer (in 1998) Jean Picker Firstenberg, the 400 films on the ballot were chosen by AFI historians, archivists, curators and catalogers--"people whose lives are devoted to the history of the motion picture. They were very careful in considering the criteria.”

What's on the AFI Top 100 List? 

You can download a PDF of the updated list here to check them off as you go! 

The 1998 List 

1.CITIZEN KANE (1941)

2.CASABLANCA (1942)

3.GODFATHER, THE (1972)

4.GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)

5.LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)

6.WIZARD OF OZ, THE (1939)

7.GRADUATE, THE (1967)

8.ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)

9.SCHINDLER'S LIST (1993)

10.SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952)

11.IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)

12.SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)

13.BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, THE (1957)

14.SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)

15.STAR WARS (1977)

16.ALL ABOUT EVE (1950)

17.AFRICAN QUEEN, THE (1951)

18.PSYCHO (1960)

19.CHINATOWN (1974)

20.ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1975)

21.GRAPES OF WRATH, THE (1940)

22.2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

23.MALTESE FALCON, THE (1941)

24.RAGING BULL (1980)

25.E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982)

26.DR. STRANGELOVE (1964)

27.BONNIE & CLYDE (1967)

28.APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)

29.MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939)

30.TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948)

31.ANNIE HALL (1977)

32.GODFATHER PART II, THE (1974)

33.HIGH NOON (1952)

34.TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)

35.IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934)

36.MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969)

37.BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, THE (1946)

38.DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)

39.DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965)

40.NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)

41.WEST SIDE STORY (1961)

42.REAR WINDOW (1954)

43.KING KONG (1933)

44.BIRTH OF A NATION, THE (1915)

45.STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, A (1951)

46.CLOCKWORK ORANGE, A (1971)

47.TAXI DRIVER (1976)

48.JAWS (1975)

49.SNOW WHITE & THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937)

50.BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID (1969)

51.PHILADELPHIA STORY, THE(1940)

52.FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953)

53.AMADEUS (1984)

54.ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930)

55.SOUND OF MUSIC, THE (1965)

56.M*A*S*H(1970)

57.THIRD MAN, THE (1949)

58.FANTASIA (1940)

59.REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955)

60.RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)

61.VERTIGO (1958)

62.TOOTSIE (1982)

63.STAGECOACH (1939)

64.CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)

65.SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE (1991)

66.NETWORK (1976)

67.MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, THE (1962)

68.AMERICAN IN PARIS, AN (1951)

69.SHANE (1953)

70.FRENCH CONNECTION, THE (1971)

71.FORREST GUMP (1994)

72.BEN-HUR (1959)

73.WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1939)

74.GOLD RUSH, THE (1925)

75.DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990)

76.CITY LIGHTS (1931)

77.AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973)

78.ROCKY (1976)

79.DEER HUNTER, THE (1978)

80.WILD BUNCH, THE (1969)

81.MODERN TIMES (1936)

82.GIANT (1956)

83.PLATOON (1986)

84.FARGO (1996)

85.DUCK SOUP (1933)

86.MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935)

87.FRANKENSTEIN (1931)

88.EASY RIDER (1969)

89.PATTON (1970)

90.JAZZ SINGER, THE (1927)

91.MY FAIR LADY (1964)

92.PLACE IN THE SUN, A(1951)

93.APARTMENT, THE (1960)

94.GOODFELLAS (1990)

95.PULP FICTION (1994)

96.SEARCHERS, THE (1956)

97.BRINGING UP BABY (1938)

98.UNFORGIVEN (1992)

99.GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER (1967)

100. YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942)

The 2007 List 

In 2007, a new bunch of movies were picked and the current ones have been reranked. Check out the list and then we'll talk about what left. 

  1. CITIZEN KANE - 1941
  2. THE GODFATHER - 1972
  3. CASABLANCA - 1942
  4. RAGING BULL - 1980
  5. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN - 1952
  6. GONE WITH THE WIND - 1939
  7. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA - 1962
  8. SCHINDLER'S LIST - 1993
  9. VERTIGO - 1958
  10. THE WIZARD OF OZ - 1939
  11. CITY LIGHTS - 1931
  12. THE SEARCHERS - 1956
  13. STAR WARS - 1977
  14. PSYCHO- 1960
  15. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY - 1968
  16. SUNSET BOULEVARD - 1950
  17. THE GRADUATE - 1967
  18. THE GENERAL - 1927
  19. ON THE WATERFRONT - 1954
  20. IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE - 1946
  21. CHINATOWN - 1974
  22. SOME LIKE IT HOT - 1959
  23. THE GRAPES OF WRATH - 1940
  24. E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL - 1982
  25. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD - 1962
  26. MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON - 1939
  27. HIGH NOON - 1952
  28. ALL ABOUT EVE - 1950
  29. DOUBLE INDEMNITY - 1944
  30. APOCALYPSE NOW - 1979
  31. THE MALTESE FALCON - 1941
  32. THE GODFATHER PART II - 1974
  33. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST - 1975
  34. SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS - 1937
  35. ANNIE HALL - 1977
  36. THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI - 1957
  37. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES - 1946
  38. THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE - 1948
  39. DR. STRANGELOVE - 1964
  40. THE SOUND OF MUSIC - 1965
  41. KING KONG - 1933
  42. BONNIE AND CLYDE - 1967
  43. MIDNIGHT COWBOY - 1969
  44. THE PHILADELPHIA STORY - 1940
  45. SHANE - 1953
  46. IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT - 1934
  47. A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE - 1951
  48. REAR WINDOW - 1954
  49. INTOLERANCE - 1916
  50. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING - 2001
  51. WEST SIDE STORY - 1961
  52. TAXI DRIVER - 1976
  53. THE DEER HUNTER - 1978
  54. M*A*S*H - 1970
  55. NORTH BY NORTHWEST - 1959
  56. JAWS - 1975
  57. ROCKY - 1976
  58. THE GOLD RUSH - 1925
  59. NASHVILLE - 1975
  60. DUCK SOUP - 1933
  61. SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS - 1941
  62. AMERICAN GRAFFITI - 1973
  63. CABARET - 1972
  64. NETWORK - 1976
  65. THE AFRICAN QUEEN - 1951
  66. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK - 1981
  67. WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? - 1966
  68. UNFORGIVEN - 1992
  69. TOOTSIE - 1982
  70. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE - 1971
  71. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN - 1998
  72. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION - 1994
  73. BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID - 1969
  74. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS - 1991
  75. IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT - 1967
  76. FORREST GUMP - 1994
  77. ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN - 1976
  78. MODERN TIMES - 1936
  79. THE WILD BUNCH - 1969
  80. THE APARTMENT - 1960
  81. SPARTACUS - 1960
  82. SUNRISE - 1927
  83. TITANIC - 1997
  84. EASY RIDER - 1969
  85. A NIGHT AT THE OPERA - 1935
  86. PLATOON - 1986
  87. 12 ANGRY MEN - 1957
  88. BRINGING UP BABY - 1938
  89. THE SIXTH SENSE - 1999
  90. SWING TIME - 1936
  91. SOPHIE'S CHOICE - 1982
  92. GOODFELLAS - 1990
  93. THE FRENCH CONNECTION - 1971
  94. PULP FICTION - 1994
  95. THE LAST PICTURE SHOW - 1971
  96. DO THE RIGHT THING - 1989
  97. BLADE RUNNER - 1982
  98. YANKEE DOODLE DANDY - 1942
  99. TOY STORY - 1995
  100. BEN-HUR - 1959

What Changed in the 2007 Update? 

Twenty-three films from the original top 100 films list were removed in 2007. Some like Birth of a Nation felt like they were important but also not indicative of a message they wanted to celebrate. 

Four films released between 1996 and 2006 were added:

Nineteen films made before 1996 were also added:

We Need a New AFI List

After going through all the titles and watching the overlapping movies taken off, I came to the summation that we need a new list. A list that not only reflects the last thirteen years of cinema but also our changing society. I also think that while every movie on the list is good, rewatching led me to believe not all of them should be in the top 100 American films. 

I also think we spend a lot of time honoring the same actors and directors. I wonder if there's a way to say you can only have two titles on the list directed by the same person. Or three titles from the same year. Some sort of factor that allows us to open the scope more. 

While this is an opinion=based list, I also think we should talk more to young Hollywood. 

In watching many of the movies I could see why they stood out in the day but I think there are other movies within their genre or even genre mashups that could fit this list. Things like Killer of Sheep, There Will be Blood, Up!, Blazing Saddles, When Harry Met Sally, Boys Don't Cry, Pariah, among many others. 

What are some titles to think should be on the list? 

Titles you think should move off? 

Let us know in the comments. 

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Your Comment

1 Comment

Congrats -- these 3 sentences are the most ridiculous sentences I've ever read regarding any top movie list, let alone The AFI List...

"I also think we spend a lot of time honoring the same actors and directors. I wonder if there's a way to say you can only have two titles on the list directed by the same person. Or three titles from the same year. Some sort of factor that allows us to open the scope more."

Great movies are great movies -- sorry if you're bored with greatness. You sound like a parent at grade school who wants his kid to get an award for coming in second to last. When filmmakers make better films they will earn their way onto the list, period -- the end.

July 14, 2020 at 4:56PM

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