This list is a composition of four lists created by the TPK Podcast Crew, namely Myself, Rick, Brian and Torin. It was used for Episode 20 of the TPK Podcast: 20 Films you Must See.
Because this isn’t AFI, we’re not listing these films in any order, other than alphabetical. Rather, this represents a list of films you simply must see, either because they contribute to the cultural zeitgeist, or because they are examples of truly excellent filmmaking, or both.
2001 A Space Odyssey
Kubrick’s sci-fi epic, it certainly will seem slow to a modern audience used to the space opera spectacles that followed a decade later. But this is a thoughtful, scientifically accurate film that is also a masterpiece of cinema.
A Touch of Evil
After William Randolph Hearst ruined Orson Welles’s film career, Welles was never given the scope and control from studios producing his films that he had with Citizen Kane (also on this list). A Touch of Evil is a noir classic that twisted by the studio into something completely alien from Welles’ vision. In the 1980’s a restored cut, using notes from Welles on how to fix the film, was produced and it has become a cult classic.
Ridley Scott gave us the Space Trucker, in an era where sci-fi was being moved toward the Space Opera, Scott showed a dirty, lived in version of space. Influenced both by the art of HR Giger and HP Lovecraft’s novella At the Mountains of Madness, this film started its own genre: that of sci-fi horror.
A film that created a sci-fi trope (the Space Marine) and certainly drew inspiration from Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (the fantastic book not the terrible film).
From IMBD: A high-school boy is given the chance to write a story for Rolling Stone Magazine about an up-and-coming rock band as he accompanies it on their concert tour.
An adaptation of Heart of Darkness, this film’s production is the stuff of legends. Despite this, it actually is one of the greatest films, particularly one of the greatest war films, ever made.
The second film (but most famous) to adapt Lew Wallace’s book of the same name, this is one of the classic Sword and Sandal studio epics.
Better Off Dead
Savage Steve Holland’s 1985 comedy featuring John Cusack as a depressed teen trying to win back his bitch ex-girlfriend, while not getting killed in a skiing race.
Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor collaborate on this irreverent 1974 western about a black sheriff in a small western town.
Sleazy, sweaty thriller about infidelity, murder and M Emmet Walsh. The Coen brothers first movie; a loving tribute to 50s noir.
Stylish “modern” gangster picture. Scorsese at his best
Some people say Goodfellas is better but fuck them, THIS is his best gangster movie.
Who doesn’t know about the cinematic masterpiece that is Citizen Kane? Orson Welles’s first foray into filmmaking, this film hardly saw any release because the subject of it, William Randolph Hearst, nearly killed it. Instead he succeeded in killing Orson Welles’ film career. A story about a man trying to regain a piece of his lost innocence, Citizen Kane is responsible for inventing film techniques that are still used today.
Dead Poets Society
Robin Williams plays John Keating, an influential English teacher at a prestigious New England boarding school.
Die Hard created its own genre. Other films have followed the same formula, but they are essentially Die Hard on a boat/on a train/on a plane.
Kubrick’s comedy classic (alliteration yay!). A screwball comedy that exposes and satirazes the cold war hysteria, this is a must-see film.
This is one of the best biopics ever made… about one of the worst filmmakers to ever have lived.
Escape from New York
Guilty Pleasure. Low budget B-movie with an “80s” futurism aesthetic. Best example of John Carpenter’s love of synth soundtracks.
Walt Disney’s animated musical adventure, exploring classical music animated with the traditional Disney touch.
A Coen Brothers Whodunnit based in the Northern Midwest, this dark comedy crime thriller doesn’t actually fit into any specific genre, rather it melds genres in a way that only the Coen Brothers could pull off.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Lovable goofball Ferris Bueller decides to take a day off of school with his best friend, the likable but perpetually morose Cameron.
A classic, somewhat campy, sci-fi film. Before Star Wars, before Star Trek even, there was Forbidden Planet. Set in the somewhat distant future, space explorers travel to a colony planet to find a mad scientist has unleashed a rather familiar monster.
Full Metal Jacket
Best Vietnam movie ever. Obligatory Kubrick pick
Not exactly the first modern slasher movie but the best.
Spielberg’s movie about a shark is much more that that: this film is a quintessential thriller.
Steven Spielberg returns to the monster film genera with this adaptation of Michael Crichton’s best-seller about a dinosaur zoo.
Kill Bill (both parts)
Quentin Tarantino may have a penchant for sadomasochistic fight choreography, but this is a masterful piece of cinema, from the snappy dialogue to the cinematography to the music choices. It’s easily one of Tarantino’s best.
Lawrence of Arabia
Chris actually lists this as the greatest film ever made. Aside from the breathtaking cinematography and the moving score, the film is an exercise in cinematic excellence.
Christopher Nolan’s second movie and a stylish take on the classic detective noir films from the 50s.
Mike and Sully are the best team at the scream factory, but they uncover an elaborate secret. Disney’s and Pixar best film (say “Toy Story” and I’ll stab you in the jaw).
Monty Python’s The Life of Brian
A film about a man born in the time of Jesus, the film is a social commentary on religion, government and fickle friends.
Not quite Wes Anderson at his most pretentious, but probably his most heartfelt movie. The closest thing that you’re going to get to a live action Peanuts movie with an extra dose of cynicism thrown in for good measure. Also, best Boy Scouts (Khaki Scouts) movie ever.
Stylistically brilliant, decades of societal pressure have conditioned men to think that you can’t be heterosexual and like a Baz Luhrmann film. But it’s a story about love and sacrifice and agony.
Sharp satire of the state of the media that is even more relevant today than when the movie was released in 1976.
Never Been Kissed
From IMDB: A newspaper reporter enrolls in high school as part of research for a story.
No Country for Old Men
Another Coen Brothers film. Based off of Cormac McCarthy’s book of the same name, the filmmakers masterfully translate McCarthy’s bare bones prose and dialogue onto film.
North by Northwest
Hitchcock has to be on the list, and North by Northwest is probably the best one. The Master of Suspense is at his best with this spy thriller.
Steven Soderbergh directs an all-star cast in a fun and funny caper film to rob 3 Las Vega Casinos.
On the Beach
From IMDB: After a global nuclear war, the residents of Australia must come to terms with the fact that all life will be destroyed in a matter of months.
A War biopic starring George C. Scott, this is a film about a man who was his own worst enemy.
Tarantino’s second film, and far more polished than Reservoir dogs.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Spielberg and Ford. Nazis. Hot, melting face.
Third best QT movie but the one that has its head up it’s own ass the least.
Cameron Crowe’s 1989 directorial debut is a nod to John Hughes’ coming-of-age films, and for most people, the first look we got of the growing counter-culture scene in Seattle.
Spielberg is on this list a lot for a reason. He’s a masterful filmmaker.
Akira Kurosawa’s classic Ronin story about seven masterless samurai who come to the aid of a poor village against a band of brigands. Remade as the Magnificent Seven in 1960, an anime of the same name, and the current Magnificent Seven starring Chris Pratt.
Shaun of the Dead
Perfect blend of horror and comedy, which is a hard feat to accomplish
From IMDB: In a future where all flora is extinct on Earth, an astronaut is given orders to destroy the last of Earth’s botany, kept in a greenhouse aboard a spacecraft.
From IMDB: A security pro finds his past coming back to haunt him, when he and his unique team are tasked with retrieving a particularly important item.
South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut
Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s meta-reflective examination of censorship and hypocrisy in film, set in the little mountain town of South Park. The most vulgar film ever made.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
The film that saved the Star Trek franchise, and arguably still the best film in the franchise.
Star Wars (Original Trilogy)
What can we say about Star Wars? It created the Space Opera genre… and it did so accidentally as well.
Sword of Doom
Sword of Doom (Japanese: 大菩薩峠 Dai-bosatsu Tōge) is one of the greatest pieces of Japanese cinema. Sword of Doom is a story about a villain. Not an anti-hero, but a pure villain. It contains some of the greatest swordplay ever to be on film.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Not a very well known film, this is what you would call a muted western. Starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck, this film
The Back to the Future Trilogy
Not necessarily great films per se, but these films have impacted generations of filmmakers and certainly the greater culture.
The Big Lebowski
The Coen Brothers comedy about “The Dude” who lives through life with no ambition except to bowl, drink White Russians and have a good rug in his house.
The Blues Brothers
Part buddy road picture, part loving tribute to the Blues, part wacky surreal SNL sketch where our heroes are chased by a psychotic Carrie Fisher with an M16. In other words a great cult film. Check it out.
The Breakfast Club
Five teenage archetypes spend their Saturday in detention, and learn important lessons about life, acceptance, and themselves.
The Bridge on the River Kwai
From IMDB: After settling his differences with a Japanese PoW camp commander, a British colonel co-operates to oversee his men’s construction of a railway bridge for their captors – while oblivious to a plan by the Allies to destroy it.
Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, Bruce Dern, Corey Feldman, and Rick Ducommun are regular suburban warriors who discover that their weird new neighbors are even stranger than they thought. Filmed on Universal’s famous “Colonial Street,” now better known as Wisteria Lane, setting for productions including the Munsters, Leave it to Beaver, and more recently, Desperate Housewives.
The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight is Christopher Nolan’s sequel to Batman Begins. Where Batman Begins spent much of its time setting up the Batman mythology (and suffers from it) The Dark Knight is a truly excellent film. Grounded, realistic and gritty, the Dark Knight is the best live action superhero film to date.
The Dollar Trilogy
Bringing us the Spaghetti Westerns, the Dollar Trilogy by director Sergio Leon introduced us to the “Man With No Name” trope, played by Clint Eastwood. Made on a shoe-string budget, with overdubbed audio, these films are still masterpieces of filmmaking despite their production values. And of course, they have the classic soundtrack by composer Ennio Morricone.
The Godfather (based on the novel by Mario Puzo which is itself loosely based on the real New York Mafia) is a cinematic masterpiece. It tells the story of Vito Corleone, a mob boss called “The Godfather” and his son who eventually takes over the family business.
Mickey and friends try to save their neighborhood by following a mysterious map to pirate treasure. The greatest children’s movie of all time.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson tells a story about a concierge who teams up with a lobby boy to steal a painting, escape from jail and apprehend a murderer.
The Life Aquatic
Wes Anderson’s tale about a broken man on a quest for vengeance while discovering an adult son he never knew he had.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Peter Jackson’s massive massive fantasy epic did the unthinkable: bring JRR Tolkien’s classic fantasy tale to the silver screen.
The Manchurian Candidate
One of the first films to explore mind control and existentialism in a meaningful way. Of course we mean the original version with Sinatra, not the remake with Washington.
The Mouse that Roared
Peter Sellers stars in this comedic tale of a small country that happens to bring the United States to its knees… accidentally.
The Princess Bride
The love-story of Wesley and Buttercup, as they attempt to free themselves from the clutches of the evil Prince Humperdink, with the help of a sporting giant and a vengeful Spanish swordsman.
The Right Stuff
The epic retelling of the birth of the American space program at the height of the cold war.
The Seventh Seal
This is a classic, the type of film that will be seen in first year film school. Many of the cinematographic techniques that are used today are inspired by this story about a medieval knight who plays a game with death for his life.
The Usual Suspects
Bryan Singer’s tightly-wound story of five criminals called on to pull off an impossible crime. One of the finest screenplays in cinema history.
There will be Blood
Paul Thomas Anderson’s breathtaking story about an Oil Tycoon at the turn of the century.
This is Spinal Tap
A film that helped to, if not created by itself, the mockumentary genre.
Clint Eastwood directed and starred in this Western deconstruction that shows the outcome of all the bloodthirsty murder and revenge that was depicted in the spaghetti westerns of the previous era.
Village of the Damned (1960)
From IMDB: In the English village of Midwich, the blonde-haired, glowing-eyed children of uncertain paternity prove to have frightening powers.
John Hughes’ 1985 favorite about a pair of high school nerds who change their lives when they use their computer skills to create the perfect woman.
Mel Brooks’ love story to classic Hollywood horror films, featuring the great Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Peter Boyle, and Teri Garr.
Have you seen Fistfull of Dollars? Well Yojimbo is the film that Sergio Leone knocked off to make it. Yojimbo follows the same plot as Dollars, but takes place in feudal japan.