What are the best decades for movies? It’s a question for which the answer will certainly vary from generation to generation. Perhaps this list, which features some of the best movies ever, decade by decade, and cinema's top directors, will help to answer the almost unanswerable question.
Some will contend the best years for movies came in the 1990s, with the explosion and mainstream success of independent film. Others will point to the great generation of filmmakers that emerged in Hollywood in the 1970s. While some will look to the Golden Age of Hollywood in the '30s. Think technology rules the big screen? Perhaps the 2000s, the era when 3D was finally perfected, tops your list as the best cinematic decade? And let's not forget the 1960s, during which time Godard, Fellini, Kurosawa, and Kubrick did some of their best work.
Which decade produced the most creative epochs in cinema? Which era are most of your favorite films from? What are the underrated gems of each decade? Make your voice heard and vote up which decade you think produced the best cinema.
Many consider the 1970s a comeback decade for cinema. Not only did the movies bring in major dollars at the box office, but young directors took artistic risks with sexuality, language, violence, and controversial subject matter. Francis Ford Coppola had one of the great runs in cinema history with two Godfather films, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now; Woody Allen struck comedic gold with Annie Hall, and gritty crime films like The French Connection and Serpico blurred the lines between good cop/bad cop. VCRs and pay channels like HBO were finding their way into American homes, ultimately changing the way we watched movies.
Meanwhile, in Europe, the literal and metaphorical hangover from the '60s manifested itself in myriad bizarre and fascinating ways, and in Hong Kong, the Shaw Brothers were pumping out countless kung fu classics, changing the way fighting and movement took place on screen. In Mexico, Alejandro Jodorowsky was living in a space not unlike the acid-drenched parallel dimension Coppola visited in Apocalypse Now. Off in Russia, Tarkovsky took advantage of state-employed Soviet film crews to make mind-bending science fiction at a cozily deliberate pace.
United States: The Godfather, The Godfather II, Annie Hall, One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest, Cabaret, Apocalypse Now, Rocky, Chinatown, Network, Taxi Driver, American Graffiti, All the President's Men, Manhattan, Star Wars: A New Hope, The Sting, The Exorcist, A Clockwork Orange, Jaws, Alien, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dawn of the Dead, Kramer vs. Kramer, Dirty Harry, Grease, The Last Picture Show, Young Frankenstein, The Deer Hunter, Dog Day Afternoon, Halloween, Blazing Saddles, Saturday Night Fever, M*A*S*H, The French Connection, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, American Graffiti, Carrie, Serpico, Deliverance
World Cinema: Stalker, Day For Night, Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Sholay, Le Cercle Rouge, Enter the Dragon, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Amarcord, Solaris, Vengeance Is Mine, The Holy Mountain, Suspiria, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, Anand, The Conformist, The Five Deadly Venoms, A Touch of Zen, Deewar, The Avenging Eagle, In the Realm of the Senses, The Spirit of the Beehive, A Swedish Love Story, Claire's Knee
UNDERRATED GEMS: Bad Company, The Conversation, Nashville, Duel, Days of Heaven, Barry Lyndon, Harold and Maude, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, A Woman Under the Influence, Straw Dogs, The Jerk, Five Easy Pieces, Badlands, Johnny Got His Gun, Sleuth, The Long Goodbye, Le Boucher
TOP FILM DIRECTORS OF THE 1970s: Luis Buñuel, Sidney Lumet, Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola, Andrei Tarkovsky, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Bob Fosse, Roman Polanski, Robert Altman, Woody Allen, William Friedkin, Werner Herzog, Peter Bogdanovich, Steven Spielberg, Mel Brooks
Remember hitting the local video store or Blockbuster in the 1990s on a Friday night? Thankfully, the days of late fees are gone, but the nostalgia will never die. In 1994, Quentin Tarantino changed the landscape of filmmaking with the box office and critical success of Pulp Fiction, proving that independent cinema could marry the best of both worlds - artistry and profits.
Also, Wes Craven launched the rebirth of the slasher film with the meta-funny, really scary Scream, which eventually turned into one of the most profitable horror franchises in cinema history. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, John Woo exploded the heroic bloodshed genre in the mid-'80s and was reveling in excessive body counts and bullet shells, Jackie Chan and Jet Li brought martial arts cinema to new heights, and Wong Kar-Wai found deep soul in neon-lit streets.
United States: Goodfellas, Scream, The Big Lebowski, Shakespeare in Love, The Shawshank Redemption, True Romance, Fargo, Seven, Dazed and Confused, Reservoir Dogs, Schindler's List, Three Kings, American Beauty, The Usual Suspects, Being John Malkovich, Titanic, Fight Club, Forrest Gump, The Sixth Sense, Braveheart, Unforgiven, Jurassic Park, Pulp Fiction, Heat, Clerks, Saving Private Ryan, Boogie Nights, The Silence of the Lambs, The Matrix, Philadelphia, Dances with Wolves, Boyz N The Hood, Thelma and Louise, Home Alone, JFK, Sense and Sensibility, Home Alone, Rushmore, The Thin Red Line, Eyes Wide Shut, The Player, Starship Troopers, Magnolia, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The English Patient, Beauty and the Beast, Malcolm X, Out of Sight
World Cinema: Trainspotting, Princess Mononoke, La Haine, All About My Mother, The City of Lost Children, Run Lola Run, Audition, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Chunking Express, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Open Your Eyes, Hard Boiled, Funny Games, Police Story 4: First Strike, Life is Beautiful, Three Colors: Red, My Best Fiend , The Full Monty, Drunken Master II, Andaz Apna Apna
UNDERRATED GEMS: Strange Days, Devil In A Blue Dress, Chaplin, Very Bad Things, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Gattaca, Beautiful Girls, Six Degrees of Separation, Election, Dark City, The Game, Go, Miller's Crossing, Office Space, A Simple Plan, Zero Effect, Jackie Brown, After Life, Fallen Angels, The Eel, Safe, Ravenous, The Crying Game, El Mariachi
TOP FILM DIRECTORS OF THE 1990s: Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Danny Boyle, Wes Craven, Wong Kar-wai, Spike Jonze, David Fincher, The Coen Brothers, David O. Russell, M. Night Shyamalan, Kevin Smith, Alexander Payne, Richard Linklater, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, John Woo, Jonathan Demme, Robert Zemeckis
War films marked the first half of the 1940s, as the entire filmmaking world was engulfed in War War II. The 1940s started off sluggishly at the box office (people had other things to worry about and millions of people were overseas fighting), but by the middle part of the decade, technological advancements like color and special effects brought a much-needed dose of modernity to the cinema. The period saw the rise of film noir, as seedy characters and dark overtones reflected the bleak war time mood of the nation.
Abroad, Italians changed the way cinema works with Neorealism, a movement that had such a profound effect on cinema it has been equated with the medium itself, inseparable from the most basic definition of what we understand film to be. In Japan, Akira Kurosawa got his start.
United States: Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, Citizen Kane, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Gaslight, Rebecca, The Philadelphia Story, The Red Shoes, Notorious, It's a Wonderful Life, The Big Sleep, Meet Me In St. Louis, His Girl Friday, The Killers, The Great Dictator, Shadow of a Doubt, Laura, The Best Years of Our Lives, The Grapes of Wrath, Key Largo, Red River, Fantasia, Miracle on 34th Street, Arsenic and Old Lace, Mildred Pierce
World Cinema: Children of Paradise, The Third Man, The Bicycle Thieves, Kind Hearts and Coronets, Rome: Open City, Stray Dog, Ivan the Terrible Part I, Day of Wrath, Germany Year Zero, Drunken Angel, Quai des Orfèvres, Late Spring, Beauty and the Beast, The Silence of the Sea, Jour de fête
UNDERRATED GEMS: Out of the Past, The Uninvited, Black Narcissus, Rope, The Magnificent Ambersons, Day of Wrath, Letter From an Unknown Woman, There Was a Father
TOP FILM DIRECTORS OF THE 1950s: Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, John Huston, Michael Powell, Vittorio De Sica, George Cukor, Charlie Chaplin, Otto Preminger, Vincente Minnelli, William Wyler, Michael Curtiz, Akira Kurosawa, Roberto Rosselini
As the Beatles and other rock bands of the British invasion took over the American music charts, foreign arthouse films found their way across the pond. Jean-Luc Godard, Federico Fellini, and Francois Truffaut were just a few of the auteurs who made a name for themselves in America, not to mention a guy called Stanley Kubrick, who found his authorial cinematic voice in the 1960s with Spartacus, Lolita, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Cold War black comedy Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
The French New Wave, led by friends Godard and Truffaut, changed the way filmmakers made movies by eschewing studios, traditional narratives, and pretty much every other convention of filmmaking you could thing of. For Breathless, Godard made up the script as he went along, shouting lines for actors as they were filming scenes. Just a year earlier, in 1959, Truffaut blew the doors off the film world with The 400 Blows. These were films about films, movies by movie fans, and that self-awareness is directly responsible for the similar device used by Quentin Tarantino and his many acolytes.
On top of that, the great Italians Fellini, Sergio Leone, and Michelangelo Antonioni were whipping up some marvelous dishes while, in Japan, a generation of filmmakers disillusioned by restrictions placed on post-war socialism bred a darkly comedic strain of nihilistic samurai films. Oh yeah, and James Bond kicked off in England.
United States: The Apartment, Midnight Cowboy, Lawrence of Arabia, Psycho, The Graduate, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, To Kill A Mockingbird, Cool Hand Luke, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Lolita, Night of the Living Dead, Bonnie and Clyde, Rosemary's Baby, Easy Rider, West Side Story, Mary Poppins, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Exterminating Angel, The Great Escape, The Sound of Music, Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Wild Bunch, Spartacus, My Fair Lady, The Manchurian Candidate, The Guns of Navarone
World Cinema: La Dolce Vita, 8 ½, Harakiri, Blow Up, Dr. No, Persona, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, Samurai Assassin, Goldfinger, Mughal-e-Azam, L'Avventura, Yojimbo, Shoot the Piano Player, Jules and Jim, Kwaidan, High & Low, Dragon Inn, Cleo from 5 to 7, Le Samouraï, Andrei Rublev, Ivan's Childhood, From Russia with Love, Daisies, Closely Watched Trains, Come Drink with Me, Repulsion, Divorce Italian Style, Double Suicide, The Bad Sleep Well, Thunderball
Godard (because he owned the '60s): Breathless, Contempt, A Woman Is a Woman, My Life to Live, Weekend, A Band of Outsiders, Pierrot le fou, Masculin Féminin, Alphaville, Two or Three Things I Know About Her
UNDERRATED GEMS: The First 25 Zatoichi films, Belle De Jour, Elmer Gantry, Ride the High Country, A Man for All Seasons, Inherit the Wind, Georgy Girl, Darling, Juliet of the Spirits, Fellini Satyricon, The Soft Skin, Red Beard, Pickpocket, Zazie Dans le Metro, Viridiana, Black God White Devil, La Collectionneuse
TOP FILM DIRECTORS OF THE 1960s: Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Billy Wilder, Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Luis Bunuel, Roman Polanski, John Ford, John Frankenheimer, Arthur Penn, Sidney Lumet, John Cassavetes, William Friedkin, Sergio Leone, John Schlesinger, Akira Kurosawa, Sergio Leone