The Most Important Movies Of All Time

Does this sound familiar to you? You are watching a Simpsons episode with friends. Bart, waking up from an out-of-body experience where he visited Hell, says,

“I was miles and miles and miles away, writhing in agony in the pits of Hell! And you were there, and you and you and you.”

Everybody snickers knowingly and lets out a satisfied sigh. Ah, the subtext!

But you? You just missed another movie reference! Social ostracism awaits.

But fret not! There are not that many movies, and in fact most of them tend to cite the same classics over and over again. So, as a special service, her is the list of the most important movies ever made, ordered by a carefully constructed principle I call FilmRank. The ranking is the result of an algorithm, similar to what Google uses to rank web pages, and based on the Internet Movie Database’s list of movie references. I haven’t tinkered with the outcome. If you want to read more about the methodology, look at my related post

So, without further ado, here’s the list:

  1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
  2. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
  3. King Kong (1933)
  4. The Merry Widow (1934)
  5. Psycho (1960)
  6. Cabiria (1914)
  7. Star Wars (1977)
  8. Metropolis (1927)
  9. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
  10. Casablanca (1942)
  11. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  12. The Birth of a Nation (1915)
  13. Snow White (1916/I)
  14. Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness (1927)
  15. Frankenstein (1931)
  16. Vertigo (1958)
  17. Jaws (1975)
  18. The Godfather (1972)
  19. Gone with the Wind (1939)
  20. The Lost World (1925)
  21. Dr. No (1962)
  22. The Searchers (1956)
  23. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  24. Citizen Kane (1941)
  25. Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)
  26. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
  27. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  28. Bronenosets Potyomkin (1925)
  29. The Exorcist (1973)
  30. The Terminator (1984)
  31. La dolce vita (1960)
  32. The Scarecrow (1920)
  33. Un chien andalou (1929)
  34. Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
  35. Taxi Driver (1976)
  36. The Wizard of Oz (1925)
  37. The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917)
  38. The Battle at Elderbush Gulch (1913)
  39. Dracula (1931)
  40. Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo. (1966)
  41. Shichinin no samurai (1954)
  42. College (1927)
  43. Apocalypse Now (1979)
  44. His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914)
  45. La grande illusion (1937)
  46. The General (1926)
  47. The Lost Patrol (1934)
  48. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
  49. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
  50. The Great Train Robbery (1903)

Amazingly, it’s pretty good! There are some really old movies in there because the methodology will tend to favour them in an ever-decreasing pool of available references. But, if I use the same damping factor that Google uses for ranking web pages, this is what you get.

For fun, we can decrease this mysterious factor from .85 to .45. This will decrease the value of long chains of references, giving films like Star Wars more of a chance. Star Wars has tons of references (half a thousand other movies reference it, many more than Oz), but most of them are recent, and haven’t yet amassed the authority that comes from having generations of other movies refer to you. So here’s the second, more modern list:

  1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
  2. Star Wars (1977)
  3. Psycho (1960)
  4. King Kong (1933)
  5. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
  6. Casablanca (1942)
  7. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  8. The Godfather (1972)
  9. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
  10. Metropolis (1927)
  11. Jaws (1975)
  12. Gone with the Wind (1939)
  13. Frankenstein (1931)
  14. Cabiria (1914)
  15. The Birth of a Nation (1915)
  16. The Merry Widow (1934)
  17. Vertigo (1958)
  18. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  19. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  20. Citizen Kane (1941)
  21. The Exorcist (1973)
  22. Taxi Driver (1976)
  23. The Terminator (1984)
  24. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
  25. Apocalypse Now (1979)
  26. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
  27. Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo. (1966)
  28. Dr. No (1962)
  29. Snow White (1916/I)
  30. Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)
  31. Bronenosets Potyomkin (1925)
  32. The Searchers (1956)
  33. Dracula (1931)
  34. Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness (1927)
  35. Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
  36. Scarface (1983)
  37. Un chien andalou (1929)
  38. Shichinin no samurai (1954)
  39. La dolce vita (1960)
  40. The Shining (1980)
  41. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
  42. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
  43. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
  44. The Lost World (1925)
  45. Pulp Fiction (1994)
  46. Rocky (1976)
  47. Halloween (1978)
  48. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
  49. The Wizard of Oz (1925)
  50. Deliverance (1972)

As you see, little Dorothy still wins, but Darth Vader breathes down her neck! I like this list a bit better than the previous, so .45 seems to be the right damping factor for this particular network. Of course, there are many other PageRank-like algorithms in the literature, each with obscure constants to fiddle with. (Google used a long time fiddling with these things before they went public.) But I assume you’ll end up with pretty much the same movies as on the FilmRank lists.

I find the FilmRank lists just as inspiring and authoritative as many similar lists compiled by movie critics or fan votes. But this one is produced completely by machine, no human heart has acted as a mediator. Maybe that’s why Metropolis scores so high?

7 thoughts on “The Most Important Movies Of All Time

  1. avadeaux

    Shouldn’t you try to detect and lessen the effect of self-referencing? I looked a bit at the references to Shadow of a Doubt at IMDb, and it looks like a reason why it gets such a good rank (which I found surprising, it’s hardly one of hitchcooks top-ranking pictures in terms of impact) is that Hitchcock himself references it several times, from pictures that have turned out more prominent. It’s a bit like a cluster of self referencing websites in the Google analogy.

  2. Pingback: Sci-Fi FilmRank « Thore Husfeldt

  3. Pingback: statistical rate – top 50 movies of all times. « beinglorious.

  4. J B

    Artig liste, og morsomt gjennomført.

    Det er vel uendelig mange måter man kan tweake en slik algoritme på. Selv ville jeg forsøkt å justere dempningsfaktor (eller variabel med tilsvarende effekt) for å få en kurve tilnærmet forventet antall viktige filmer per tidsperiode. Det vil si tilnærmet flat kurve, men kanskje med fall det siste tiåret eller to.

  5. jonnystringer

    Nice list, especially the second. Like you say, it seems as solid, if not more-so, than a lot of critic or public ‘Greatest of All Time’ lists.

    I’ll probably start working through these as part of my film catch-up list.

  6. Stebern Fox

    this is really informative for all time classics movies. thank you for the information now i know what will i watch for my documentary a classic movies


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