Essential Movies

There's a reason this film is regularly deemed the greatest ever made.

As with art, literature or music, film has developed its own vocabulary based on the style, substance and historical importance of the thousands of films that have been produced over the past 100 years or so. Granted, most have done little to further the art of filmmaking. They are entertainments, movies made for the sake of pleasing an audience for a couple of hours and nothing more.


And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Every once in a while, however, a movie will become something more. It might be because a movie furthers the art of movie making. It might be because it becomes part of the cultural discussion. It might be because an enormous popular response makes it iconic. For whatever reason, there are movies that every film fan should see. Behold The Augusta Chronicle checklist of essential movies. How many have you seen?


CITIZEN KANE (1941): There's a reason this film is regularly deemed the greatest ever made.

SCHINDLER'S LIST (1993): Searing cinematic look at the Holocaust.

ON THE WATERFRONT (1954): A stirring drama featuring Marlon Brando's most complex and accomplished performance.

CHINATOWN (1974): A movie about big issues (water, urbanization, power) that remains very personal. Maybe the greatest screenplay ever.

THE MALTESE FALCON (1941): The mother of all film noir.


IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934): Still timely and hysterical nearly 75 years after its initial release.

THE GOLD RUSH (1925): Everything great about Charlie Chaplin can be found in this film.

DR. STRANGELOVE (1964): A pitch-black comedy that never forgets to be funny. Director Stanley Kubrick at the top of his game.

SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959): The American Film Institute anointed this gender-masher the funniest movie ever made. It's a pretty safe argument.

DUCK SOUP (1933): The finest film featuring the Marx Brothers, who very well could be the finest comedy team in Hollywood history.


THE WILD BUNCH (1969): Changed the way audiences viewed Westerns and film violence.

SHANE (1953): One of the first Westerns to focus on character rather than hats, horses and showdowns in the street.

THE SEARCHERS (1956): The high point for both director John Ford and his longtime collaborator John Wayne. An epic in every sense.

A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964): Clint Eastwood may have gone on to make better Westerns, but they all owed a debt to his first outing with director Sergio Leone. Everything iconic about him started here.

HIGH NOON (1952): Do internal turmoil and existential crisis have a place in a classic Hollywood Western? Clearly they do. The pinnacle of Gary Cooper's career.


THE GODFATHER (1972): Ask any film fan to reel off important movies, and this story about the intersection of crime and familial duty is guaranteed to rank high.

THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931): James Cagney is the prototypical film gangster and this is his best known, and probably best, film.

GOODFELLAS (1990): This mob epic is not only Martin Scorsese's strongest work, but also one of the finest crime movies produced.

BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967): Part love story, part history lesson and part violent crime caper, this film manages to balance its disparate parts and remain compelling.

M (1931): Although better known for his role in Casablanca, Peter Lorre's star turn in this dark European export is stylish and incredibly creepy.


PATHS OF GLORY (1957): Stanley Kubrick took the first of many swipes at the military in this tale of a good officer facing off against uncaring and incompetent leaders.

M*A*S*H (1970): Although set in the Korean War, this sharp satire is clearly an indictment of the then-current Vietnam conflict.

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957): A fantastic prisoner-of-war film about the strength of the human spirit.

THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963): Oddly enough, another fantastic prisoner-of-war film about the strength of the human spirit.

APOCALYPSE NOW (1979): A hallucinatory view of the Vietnam War and the fragility of the human psyche when placed in peril.


SINGING IN THE RAIN (1952): A Hollywood musical about Hollywood that features the most famous song-and-dance sequence in cinema.

CABARET (1972): A film that manages to not only produce a few toe-tappers but also say something very real about the rise of Nazi Germany.

WEST SIDE STORY (1961): Shot on the streets of New York, this adaptation of one of the great American musicals is also a significant cinematic landmark.

TOP HAT (1935): Fred Astaire. Ginger Rogers. Enough said.

THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939): Great tunes, iconic imagery and a positive message to boot. That's a full package.


FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956): Flying saucers and robots meet William Shakespeare and audiences reap the rewards.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968): Science fiction made cool and scary and thought-provoking and beautiful.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS (2001-2003): I've always considered this one film told in three part as the grandest example of extended storytelling in cinema history.

STAR WARS (1977): Sure, 2001 might have started the revolution, but Star Wars brought it to the people.

METROPOLIS: This silent classic is owed a debt every time a robot, ray gun or futuristic cityscape hits the screen.


RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981): The greatest action movie ever made and the stylistic template for summer blockbusters ever since.

THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951): Exciting, endearing and affecting, it's a nearly perfect example of old fashioned Hollywood storytelling.

THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (1936): This Errol Flynn film isn't seen much anymore, but for years it was the model followed by filmmakers trying to capture a sense of visceral excitement.

TARZAN THE APE MAN (1932): The best, and best-known, entry in an iconic and ground-breaking action franchise.

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962): An epic that engages the audience.


CASABLANCA (1942): Rick. Ilsa. Morocco. Play it again.

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S (1961): When you think of Audrey Hepburn, you think of this movie. Goofy, a little dated and still magnetic and compelling.

AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957): The movie every woman loves and every man pretends not to.

ANNIE HALL (1977): Woody Allen, at the top of his game, breaks down modern romance.

SAY ANYTHING (1989): A film so timeless it hardly seems possible that 20 years have passed since its release.


VERTIGO (1958): Alfred Hitchcock at his twisted, manipulative best.

TOUCH OF EVIL (1958): A beautifully constructed Orson Welles gem that gives Citizen Kane a run for its money.

CHARADE (1963): This twisting, turning mistaken identity film manages just the right balance between the light and bright and darkly paranoid.

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944): Everything that is cool about film noir.

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962): The prototype for a generation of strong, smart and deeply twisted political thrillers.


THE SEVEN SAMURAI (1954): Thoughtful, exciting and iconic, this is a movie that, in the years since its release, has been borrowed and stolen from countless times.

THE 400 BLOWS (1959): The cinematic equivalent of Catcher in the Rye. Smart and emotionally engaging.

GRAND ILLUSION (1937): A film about war, class and, most of all, the art of telling stories on the screen.

THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957): Director Ingmar Bergman's classic film about life, death, morality, mortality and other big questions.

THE BICYCLE THIEF (1948): A landmark of the Italian neo-realist movement, there are few films that tell a story so simply or leave an audience more emotionally affected.


ROCKY (1976): A film that understands that sports are not always about winning or losing but the opportunity to compete.

RAGING BULL (1980): Robert De Niro scorches the screen as troubled prize fighter Jake la Motta.

THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (1942): Based on the life of baseball legend Lou Gehrig, the greatest example of what a sport might offer to those who choose to play.

CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981): An artful and intelligent look at the sport, science and history of Olympic track.

CADDYSHACK (1980): It's a Cinderella story.


ALIEN (1979): The most awful creature imaginable stalks the confines of a deep space mining ship.

KING KONG (1933): After Kong, everything seemed possible cinematically. A real film revolution.

FRANKENSTEIN (1931): A stylish, sometimes scary, film about literature's greatest misunderstood monster.

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991): Sometimes man is the monster. Exhibit A -- Hannibal Lecter.

JAWS (1975): Rarely seen but still keenly felt, the shark in Jaws still makes the beach a vaguely menacing place.


SNOW WHITE (1937): Mickey Mouse might have been the wellspring for Disney animation, but it was this, the first of the Mouse House features, that established the form of full-length animated movies.

TOY STORY (1995): The film that made the computer an accepted animation tool, it's also stylish and very funny.

SPIRITED AWAY (2001): The Japanese have always maintained their own animated aesthetic. This fantastic fable is perhaps the finest.

WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988): Sure, the whole live action-animated thing had been done before, but Roger Rabbit is light years from Pete's Dragon and the ilk.

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993): Funny, spooky, and painstakingly beautiful, it's also the only movie appropriate for two holidays.


These are my picks for the films essential to movie literacy. There are some notable omissions. I've never been big on either Gone With the Wind or The Sound of Music, and though it pained me, I couldn't find a spot for either Blade Runner or The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Let me know what you would add to the list and what you would remove to make room. I'll post some of the answers in an upcoming column. E-mail suggestions to

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or



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