Rotten Tomatoes, in honor of its 25th anniversary, recently asked a select group of critics to pick the movies that they think are the best of the best from over the last quarter-century. We covered those picks in a separate post, and they range from the odd superhero flick (Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight) to foreign dramas (Parasite) and arthouse gems (Mulholland Drive). The shortcoming of that list of the best movies, of course, is that it only goes back so far — leaving out some gems from even earlier that are still regarded as among the best movies of all time.
To get a sense of those movies, while also remembering that there’s a fair amount of subjectivity in these kinds of lists, IMDb maintains a ranking of the Top 250 movies of all time (as rated by regular IMDb voters). The full list includes the usual suspects, ranging from Schindler’s List to Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, and Inception, to name just a few. The movies in the top five spots on the IMDb list, meanwhile, can be found below (in descending order).
#5: 12 Angry Men
I remember watching this masterpiece from director Sidney Lumet during a film class in college and just being blown away by, first of all, the fact that it’s set entirely in a jury room. You, the viewer, watch the deliberation as part of a murder trial unfold in real time, with a single skeptical juror causing the rest of the group to examine their own prejudice, bias, and mistaken impressions one-by-one — until the whole jury (minus the original skeptic) has completely changed their minds by the end. An utterly fascinating character study that still resonates today.
#4: The Godfather Part 2
One of the rare examples of a sequel matching (and, to some viewers, exceeding) the original movie, the inclusion here of director Francis Ford Coppola’s follow-up to his original epic about the Corleone mafia family should come as no surprise.
The winner of six Academy Awards, the story is based on the crime novel of the same name by Mario Puzo, originally published in 1969. This sequel is built around two storylines, following Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone, now the head of the Corleone family, as they expand their various business interests into Cuba and Las Vegas. Michael learns how to wield power and maintain control of his empire while also battling rival gangsters.
Simultaneously, the film’s other key storyline rewinds the clock to tell the story of Michael’s father, Vito Corleone, and how he rises from poverty to become a feared Mafia don in New York City. Needless to say, the parallels between the ascent of both Corleones over the years helped turn this second Godfather movie into a towering cinematic achievement.
#3: The Dark Knight
One of the remarkable achievements of this next film on IMDb’s list of the best movies is the record-setting amount of praise it’s collected online. Nolan’s 2008 superhero masterpiece The Dark Night, is so good thanks in large part to the staggering performance of the late Heath Ledger as The Joker that it’s regarded as not just one of the best superhero movies ever — but, simply, one of the best movies ever.
And along those same lines, per the achievement alluded to above: The Dark Knight also has the highest audience score to date on Rotten Tomatoes, with more than 500,000 reviews from moviegoers. “In many ways, the modern era of superhero cinema can trace its roots back to 2008, the year when a pair of comic book movies took the world by storm,” Rotten Tomatoes explains.
“One of them was Marvel’s Iron Man, which of course kickstarted the blockbuster machine we all now know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the other was DC’s The Dark Knight, the second chapter in Christopher Nolan’s celebrated trilogy of Batman movies.”
#2: The Godfather
If a list of the best-ever movies is going to include The Godfather’s 1974 sequel, it should go without saying that the original movie in the franchise needs to be even higher up on the list — ideally, right near the top. Even star Al Pacino, in a recent interview, said he thinks the original definitely outshines the sequel, the latter of which he feels is almost a completely different thing compared to the “more entertaining” original.
“Godfather II is this study, this personal thing for Francis,” Pacino said, as part of the 92nd Street Y, New York’s “People Who Inspire Us” series. “Godfather I, I saw it recently, it’s always got two or three things going on in a scene. You’re always in the story, you’re going. You don’t know what’s going to happen next, it’s storytelling, it’s really storytelling at its best. Godfather II sort of linearizes, and (it’s) kind of different, somber, moves slowly.”
#1 The Shawshank Redemption
And now, we come to #1 on our list of the best movies, as chosen by IMDb voters. Director Frank Darabont’s 1994 drama The Shawshank Redemption, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, is one of the most thought-provoking and unforgettable movie experiences I think I’ve ever had in my life.
Robbins’ character Andy Dufresne, for the seven of you who haven’t seen it, is wrongfully convicted of killing his wife and her lover. At Shawshank State Penitentiary, where he’s sentenced to serve time, we see him confront the horrific reality of life behind bars — and slowly adjust to it, befriending Freeman’s character Red. The two inmates form a tight-knit bond, and one of the most moving things about the story (at least to me) is the way he retains his resilient spirit, never losing hope even in the darkest of circumstances.