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Based on personal preference, technical excellence, meaningful stories, great images, and historical value, this list encompasses what I currently think the greatest movies ever are. This is a living list that will change as I do. Please pardon the thousands of omissions that are worthy of being named here.

Since I subscribe to the auteur theory–that the great directors leave their own visionary imprint on all of their work, in spite of the clear fact that film is a massive collaborative effort that involves a lot of luck and thousands of talented people–I include those great directors on this list. The easiest way for me to find a great movie is just to watch another one by a director I already like. My advice, then, is just find directors on this list that you like and watch their other movies.

The Greatest Director Ever is …

Akira Kurosawa. He’s the Shakespeare of film. I’m confident that in two hundred years he’ll be one of the few 20th-century directors whom people still admire.

  • Rashomon
  • Seven Samurai
  • The Bad Sleep Well
  • Yojimbo and Sanjuro
  • High and Low
  • Kagemusha
  • Ran
  • Ikiru
  • Throne of Blood
  • Derzu Uzala
  • I Live in Fear
  • Scandal
  • Red Beard
  • and many more …

Desert-Island Movies

These are the ones for me that, rewatched twenty times, will render twenty different, powerful experiences. They aren’t necessarily the greatest movies ever, although the top few are among them, but I have repeatedly found them enjoyable in some way. Directors are named in the parentheses.

  • Children of Paradise (Marcel Carne)
  • The Decalogue (Krzysztof Kieslowski)
  • Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock)
  • Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring (Claude Berri)
  • The Thin Red Line (Terence Malick)
  • Samurai Rebellion (Kobayashi)
  • The Third Man (Carol Reed)
  • Sherlock Jr. (Buster Keaton)
  • Playtime (Jacques Tati)
  • Local Hero (Bill Forsyth)
  • The Samurai Trilogy (Inagaki)
  • The Godfather: Part 2 (Coppola)
  • Lola Montes (Max Ophuls)
  • The Purple Rose of Cairo (Woody Allen)
  • The Ladykillers (Alexander Mackendrick)
  • Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner)
  • Amadeus (Milos Forman)
  • Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog)
  • Ratatouille (Brad Bird)
  • Ed Wood (Tim Burton)
  • Repo Man (Alex Cox)
  • The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan)
  • Babe: Pig in the City (George Miller)
  • Idiocracy (Mike Judge)

The Most Powerful, Visionary Movies I’ve Seen

Here I place movies that were really potent for me. I may not actually like them or agree with anything in them, but they are impossible for me to shake, for some reason. (Movie-lovers will sniff out the biases here: I tend towards the fantastical and the heavily stylized.)

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey; and Barry Lyndon (Kubrick)
  • The Letter Never Sent (Kalatozov)
  • Belle du Jour (Luis Bunuel)
  • The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer; use the choral score “Voices of Light” when you watch it)
  • The Tree of Life (Malick)
  • Red River (Hawkes)
  • Florence Foster Jenkins (Stephen Frears)
  • A Matter of Life and Death; and Black Narcissus (Michael Powell)
  • Videodrome (David Cronenberg)
  • Malcolm X (Spike Lee)
  • Nausicaa in the Valley of the Wind (Miyazaki)
  • Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean)
  • The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton)
  • Mother! (Darren Aronovsky)
  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Coen Brothers)
  • The Fall (Tarsem)
  • The Fog of War (Errol Morris)

Directors I Haven’t Mentioned But Have To

Orson Welles — Maybe the greatest American genius of film, I’ve found that his movies are a Wellesian world out of which I cannot single one out. Start with “Citizen Kane,” of course, but “The Magnificent Ambersons,” “Chimes at Midnight,” “The Lady from Shanghai,” “The Trial,” “Touch of Evil,” and more are worth it.

Alfred Hitchcock — I’m cheating because he’s already been mentioned, but who can not list Vertigo, The 39 Steps, Notorious, Dial M for Murder, Strangers on a Train, and a dozen more?

Werner Herzog — See my “Top-10 movies of Herzog” video.

Wong Kar-Wai

Satyajit Ray

Andrei Tarkovsky — Be patient! His movies are dreams. “Stalker,” “Andrei Rublev,” and “Solaris” are your starting material.

John Ford — Like Welles, I can’t single out one of his movies that I like above all others. He’s teaching and making American history, offering a visionary experience that altered most moviemakers forever. “My Darling Clementine” is my favorite, but “The Searchers,” “Stagecoach,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” etc.

Martin Scorcese — So well known I don’t need to bring him up. But my favorite of his movies are an odd bunch: in some order, “Mean Streets,” “After Hours,” “The King of Comedy,” and “The Departed.”

Terry Gilliam — Sometimes I love him; sometimes I hate him. But it’s impossible to ignore his best work: “The Zero Theorem,” “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” “Brazil,” and even “12 Monkeys.”

Asghar Farhadi — In the running for the greatest director of the 21st century, he’s been on a roll with his last five movies, all of which are great — “The Past,” “A Separation,” “The Salesman,” are starting-points.

Abbas Kiarostomi

Hal Ashby

Buster Keaton

Alexander Payne — He’s up there with Farhadi for me as a great humanist director. “About Schmidt” is a great satire, but he complicates his satiricial edge in his last four movies: Sideways; The Descendants; Nebraska; and Downsizing.

Good Movies that Anybody Might Like

In my limited view, I try to imagine how other people of a variety of walks of life–backgrounds, IQ-levels, beliefs–would see a movie. I think that many people I know (again, a limited sample) would agree that these movies are pretty good. In some cases, these are appropriate for children.

Here’s a great list at of 200+ films that I recommend to nearly everybody.

  • Modern Times; The Gold Rush (Chaplin)
  • The Navigator; The General; Seven Chances (Keaton)
  • Safety Last (Harold Lloyd)
  • The Freshman (Harold Lloyd)
  • King Kong (1933 version)
  • Red River (Howard Hawkes)
  • Shane (George Stevens)
  • Diabolique (Clouzot)
  • Ride the High Country (Peckinpah)
  • The Endurance (documentary)
  • The Station Agent (Tom McCarthy)
  • Master and Commander (Peter Weir)
  • Matchstick Men (Ridley Scott)
  • Whale Rider (Niki Caro)
  • Waiting for Guffman (Christopher Guest)
  • Big Night (Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci)
  • The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (Seth Gordon)
  • The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper)
  • Brooklyn (John Crowley)
  • Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Herzog)
  • Florence Foster Jenkins (Stephen Frears)
  • Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (Alex Gibney)
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie (Nick Park)
  • Ford v. Ferrari (James Mangold)


  • Francine Belanger says:

    I have thought of myself as a cinephile for most of my life, but I now realize that I don’t know very much about films. I also realize that I may not have the creative intelligence or worldliness to appreciate some of the best films ever made. So many of the films that are revered by film critics such as yourself bore me to tears, and I am increasingly aware that there are very few films that I truly connect with. On the other hand, when I see a film that I truly appreciate and that has an impact on me that lingers way past the viewing of the film, I am rarely able to find anyone who can see what I see in that film. It is so hard to find a like minded film viewing buddy. So I watch films alone most of the time, sadly. I just stumbled upon one of your critiques a moment ago but I think that listening to your videos will enhance my appreciation and understanding of film. Thank you.

    • mm Josh Matthews says:

      you are welcome. It’s true that when a film is impactful, it can be really impactful — you can feel your vision of the world altering, a little bit or a lot. Films/art give insight in ways other mediums cannot. It’s God’s gift to us, as he is the ultimate artist.

  • Anikó says:

    Dear Josh. I am Anikó, and I am from Budapest, Hungary. I got to know about your work two days ago, when I re-watched – after 25 years – Three Colors: Blue. That movie was one of my most important movie experience as I grew up. Re-watching it was.. a revelation, a catharsis, and eye-mind-and heart-opener. A real “tesuva”, turning point. This movie is a Gospel – tells more about God, mankind, life and love than church at all. I started to read after Kieslowski and found “he retained a personal and private relationship with God” (his own words). Well, this shows in th movie. This movie is the perspective on life and humans of someone who developed and sustained a personal and private relationship with God. Since than I re-watched Red and find it a gem, too.
    So, when looking for materials on the Trilogy and Kieslowski, I found your teaching video on Youtube. So far I watched the one on Blue, and I am just about to watch the one on Red. From Youtube I found your website, and had a quick look at it. Pleasant surprise to see your Christian connection. And – here comes my question at last – looking on your list of greatest movies and directors, I do not find the Three Colors Trilogy (none of them) neither Kieslowski’s name, and I am really interested why. For me, he is – a humble genius? – genius is not the appropriate word to describe him, I am loking for words to describe what he brings in, the unique perspective, the unity of divine and humane, an absolutely exceptional yet so comfortingly familiar and natural view on life, man, things and situations.
    From your little video essay for me it came through you true and genuine appreciation of Kieslowski and his movies. So I wonder why you did not put them on your list.
    Yours truly

    • mm Josh Matthews says:

      Aniko, I was not aware that I hadn’t put Three Colors Trilogy on my list. I should do that! Thanks for pointing it out. When I am asked about my favorite directors, it is Kieslowski who is at the top of my list. He and Kurosawa are still my two favorites. I agree very much with your first paragraph, and thank you very much for writing and watching!

  • Roberto González says:

    Hello Josh. Have a good pretty Merry Christmas.
    I will show you my favourite picks of films ever I love. My ten selected best movies of all time, but it is difficult to resume this election in a few movies.
    1946: The Big Sleep (Hawks)
    1951: The River (Renoir)
    1953: Mr. Hulot’s Holidays (Tati)
    1955: Ordet (Dreyer)
    1958: Vertigo (Hitchcock)
    1959: Some Like It Hot (Wilder)
    1962: The Miracle Worker (Penn)
    1975: Dersu Uzala (Kurosawa)
    2007: Zodiac (Fincher)
    2007: The Romance of Astree and Celadon (Rohmer)
    Kind regards,
    Roberto González.

  • Roberto González says:

    Hello Josh
    Nice to meet you writing to you. The first, wish you a Merry Christmas to you and the people you share your feelings and love. I’ve watched several of your videos and I’ve enjoyed them due to your acknowledgment of Cinema. I share with you studies in English Philology.
    I’d wish to show you my preferences about the best movies ever I’ve seen and loved:
    1946: The Big Sleep (Hawks)
    1951: The River (Renoir)
    1953: Mr. Hulot’s Holidays (Tati)
    1955: Ordet (Dreyer)
    1958: Vertigo (Hitchcock)
    1959: Some Like It Hot (Wilder)
    1962: The Miracle Worker (Penn)
    1975: Dersu Uzala (Kurosawa)
    2007: Zodiac (Fincher)
    2007: The Romance of Astree and Celadon (Rohmer)

  • Roberto González says:

    I can add other films until 72 entries like:
    Shadow of a Doubt
    The Brides of Dracula
    The tiger of Esnapur/The Indian Tomb
    The Adventures of Prince Achmed
    Etre Et Avoir (Philibert)
    The Birds
    Le Yeux Sans Visage (Franju)
    The Night of the Demon
    A Midsummer night’s dream (Trnka)
    La Pointe Courte (Varda)
    Johnny Guitar
    Chikamatsu Monogatari

  • Andrew Garcia says:

    Greetings Dr. Matthews,

    I hope this finds you well (and doesn’t just disappear into the void).
    I hope this is a good place to put out this question to you.

    Introductory gushiness:
    I have you to thank for whatever cinephility I currently have. I have been following your youtube since I got into Bergman’s work, and now I am a proud owner of some of (I think) the movie greats from the likes of: Bergman, Kieslowski, Wong Kar Wai, Jim Jarmusch, and Lynne Ramsay. I actually showed Dekalog 1 to some of my Physics students because I think It is a good way to start thinking about the seeming certainty versus faith dichotomy (and its definitely in my top 5).

    In online meanderings, I recently ran across a greek director by the name of Theo Angelopoulos. I have so far only watched his “The Beekeeper” and I was thoroughly impressed by it (barring too much explicit…naturism..for my liking in one segment). I plan on giving some of his other works a go, but I am wondering if you have heard of him and have any insights, because his work has gone largely unnoticed by the likes of Criterion and other non-Greek places. If you have not seen any of his work, I do highly recommend “The Beekeeper” as it almost has a Dekalog-like quality to it and is said to have been praised by Bergman himself.

    Your take would be very much appreciated.

    All good things,


    • mm Josh Matthews says:

      just found this comment. Thank you very much. I know of Angelopoulos but haven’t seen his movies. I know a few commenters on the channel have recommended him. Worth trying? Don’t know, but if you pursue him let me know!

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