The Best Decades For Filmmaking

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Vote up the decades with the best movies, greatest directors, and finest innovations.

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.

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  • 1
    758 VOTES

    1990s

    1990s
    Photo: Miramax Films

    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. 

    NOTABLE RELEASES:

    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 JayengeOpen 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

    758 votes
  • 2
    683 VOTES

    1970s

    1970s
    Photo: Paramount

    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. 

    NOTABLE RELEASES:

    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: StalkerDay 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

    683 votes
  • 3
    541 VOTES

    1980s

    1980s
    Photo: Anchor Bay

    Several blockbuster franchises from prestigious directors were born in the '80s, including Indiana Jones with Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg), Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis), and Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman). A young director named John Hughes entered the zeitgeist making movies that captured what life was like for bored American teenagers. George Lucas released the second and third installments of his space saga set in a galaxy far, far away.

    It was also the era of muscle-bound dudes being huge, slasher films, and a major influx of punk rock influence into the aesthetic and attitude of films. Plus all that glorious dystopian science fiction, thanks to the economic disparity of the Reagan years. 

    Meanwhile, an underground scene that eventually exploded in the '90s went about slowly creating new ways of making cinema, thanks to the likes of Jim Jarmusch. In Hong Kong, John Woo released A Better Tomorrow, paving a road of double-fisted pistols, trench coats, and sunglasses that ended in The Matrix, and Jackie Chan took on-screen stunts to insane (and nearly lethal) new heights. Over in Japan, a guy you may have heard of called Hayao Miyazaki was doing marvelous things, as anime became high art.

    In Europe, filmmakers struggled to define their identity in the fractured Cold War world. 

    NOTABLE RELEASES:

    United States: Raging Bull, Robocop, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Princess Bride, Do the Right Thing, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason LivesE.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Sixteen Candles, Die Hard, Full Metal Jacket, Lethal Weapon, Caddyshack, The Terminator, A Christmas Story, Say Anything, Back to the Future, This Is Spinal Tap, Down By Law, The Big Chill, Platoon, When Harry Met Sally, Predator, Beverly Hills Cop, They Live, The Untouchables, Blade Runner, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Shining, sex, lies & videotape, Blue Velvet, Aliens, Amadeus, Raising Arizona, Ordinary People, Stand By Me, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Airplane!, Scarface, Ghostbusters, The Breakfast Club, Hannah and Her Sisters, Rain Main, Stranger Than Paradise, First Blood (Rambo), Road House

    World Cinema: A Better Tomorrow, Come and See, My Neighbor Toroto, Wings of Desire, Ran, Police Story, Fitzcarraldo, City on Fire, The Decalogue, Paris Texas, Cinema Paradiso, Kiki's Delivery Service, Christiane F, Withnail and I, Akira, The Killer, Kagemusha, Au revoir les enfants, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind , The Last Metro, Fanny and Alexander, Grave of the Fireflies, Tampopo, Prison on Fire

    UNDERRATED GEMS: Ladyhawke, The King of Comedy, Angel Heart, The Fabulous Baker Boys, A Fish Called Wanda, The Killing Fields, Brazil, The Thing, Once Upon A Time In America, Broadway Danny Rose, Gloria, Pennies From Heaven, Talk Radio, The Return of Godzilla, Total Recall, Repo Man

    TOP FILM DIRECTORS OF THE 1980s: John Hughes, Spike Lee, James Cameron, Woody Allen, Oliver Stone, Steven Spielberg, Paul Verhoeven, Hayao Miyazaki, Wim Wenders, John Woo, Robert Zemeckis, Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott, David Lynch, Brian De Palma, Rob Reiner, Cameron Crowe, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese

    541 votes
  • 4
    359 VOTES

    2000s

    2000s
    Photo: NBC Universal

    Watch a movie on your laptop, on your iPad, even on your phone. The world didn't end with Y2K, as the turn of the century made entertainment available at any time. James Cameron finally nailed the whole 3D technology thing with his billion-dollar blockbuster Avatar, war films (Blackhawk Down, In the Valley of Elah, The Hurt Locker) made a comeback post 9/11 and Iraq War, and low budget, torture-filled horror (Saw franchise, Hostel) made a killing at the box office, all of which seemingly reflected the mood of the country. 

    Meanwhile, American indie directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino increasingly embraced classicist blocking and mis-en-scene with roots in the 1930s, a new generation of indie filmmakers led by the likes of Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola emerged, an all-time great martial star emerged in Tony Jaa, Wong Kar-Wai found yet more romance mining Hong Kong's past and future, Danny Boyle pushed innovation in digital cinema, South Korean auteurs created new ways of being brutally violent and simultaneously hilarious, and Michael Haeneke quietly went about proving he's one of the best filmmakers in the world. 

    And, lest you forget, the Three Amigos of Mexico innovated cinematic narrative, visual language, myth-making, and the correlation between violence and pathos in such a way that the total effects of it probably won't be understood until Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro, and Alejandro González Iñárritu are willowy haired old men. 

    NOTABLE RELEASES:

    United States: There Will Be Blood, Inglorious Basterds, Ratatouille, Avatar, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Traffic, Memento, No Country For Old Men, Wall-E, Saw, Ocean's 11, A Beautiful Mind, Gladiator, Mulholland Drive, The Departed, The Hurt Locker, Juno, Almost Famous, Minority Report, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Lost In Translation, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Dark Knight, Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2, Little Miss Sunshine, Up, Million Dollar Baby, Brokeback Mountain, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Grizzly Man, Garden State, Adaptation, Requiem for a Dream, Erin Brockovich

    World Cinema: Amelie, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, SnatchAbout Elly, Slumdog Millionaire, District 9, A Prophet, 28 Days Later, In The Mood For Love, Old Boy, Spirited Away, Tell No One, The Protector, Millions, The Host, City of God, Heaven, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, The White Ribbon, The Piano Teacher, Cache, Code Unknown, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Memories of Murder, Infernal Affairs, Irreversible, Dancer in the Dark, 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Gomorrah, Before Night Falls, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Hero, Mother

    Three Amigos Films: Y Tu Mama Tambien, Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth, The Devil's Backbone, Amoresperros, Hellboy, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, 21 Grams, Babel, Blade 2, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

    UNDERRATED GEMS: Notre Music, I Heart Huckabees, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Brick, Stranger Than Fiction, Bug, Gerry, Rules of Attraction, Laurel Canyon, The Act of Killing, Lymelife, Bubble, Me and You and Everyone We Know, Chop Shop, Silent Light, The Son, Elephant, Whale Rider, The Secret of the Grain, 2046, Exiled, Triad Election

    TOP FILM DIRECTORS OF THE 2000s: Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, The Coen Brothers, Ang Lee, Wes Anderson, Stephen Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Cameron Crowe, Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott, David Fincher, Guillermo del Toro, Ron Howard, James Cameron, David Lynch, Kathryn Bigelow Gus Van Sant, Steven Soderbergh, Alfonso Cuaron, Michael Haeneke, Wong Kar-Wai, Johnnie To

    359 votes
  • 5
    258 VOTES

    1950s

    1950s
    Photo: Criterion Collection

    Hollywood responded to the relieved but defeated post-war world of the 1950s by creating complex films about conflicted youth, damaged war vets, and an uncertain world and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, banal musicals, absurd historical spectacles, and heroic battle films. The disgruntled youth rebellion led by cool icons such as James Dean and Marlon Brando brought a new vision to young people around the country. American cinema also found the power of rock n' roll and in 1955 Blackboard Jungle became the first Hollywood movie to use music's hottest new trend on its soundtrack.

    Abroad, Italian Neorealism forged ahead. Ingmar Bergman was laying groundwork for the surreal imagery and esoteric metaphors Kubrick loved so much, while in Japan, Akira Kurosawa changed action cinema forever - without him you can kiss Lucas, Coppola, Spielberg, and Scorsese goodbye. Meanwhile, in France, the New Wave officially kicked off with The 400 Blows

    NOTABLE RELEASES:

    United States: The Searchers, Rear Window, An American in Paris, Sabrina, On the Waterfront, Bridge on the River Kwai, Night by Northwest, Rebel without a Cause, Sunset Blvd., Ben-Hur, The Searchers, Vertigo, Singing in the Rain, 12 Angry Men, High Noon, The Ten Commandments, The Wild One, The Big Heat, Dial M for Murder, Some Like It Hot, Touch of Evil, Shane, Strangers on a Train, The African Queen, From Here to Eternity, In a Lonely Place, East of Eden, The Asphalt Jungle, Giant, Shane, Limelight, A Streetcar Named Desire, Blackboard Jungle, Seven Year Itch, Gigi, A Place in the Sun

    World Cinema: Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy, The Seventh Seal, The 400 Blows, Black Orpheus, Wild Strawberries, Hiroshima Mon Amour, Ugetsu, Tokyo Story, La Strada, Rififi, Gojira, The Cranes Are FlyingNights of Cabiria, The Human Condition Parts 1 & 2, I Vitelloni, The Lady Killers, Elevator to the Gallows, Stromboli, Bellissima, The Lavender Hill Mob, Gate of Hell, The Wages of Fear, The Bridge, Los Olvidados, Machine to Kill Bad People

    Akira Kurosawa: Rashomon, Scandal, Ikiru, The Idiot, Seven Samurai, Record of a Living Being, Throne of Blood, The Lower Depths, The Hidden Fortress 

    UNDERRATED GEMS: The Night of the Hunter, Ace in the Hole, Marty, All That Heaven Allows, Johnny Guitar, D.O.A., Gunfight, Suddenly, Salt of the Earth, Ride Lonesome, The Narrow Margin

    TOP FILM DIRECTORS OF THE 1950s: Billy Wilder, Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Alfred Hitchcock, Fred Zinnemann, Nicholas Ray, John Ford, Fritz Lang, Elia Kazan, John Huston, George Stevens, John Ford, Orson Welles

    258 votes
  • 6
    298 VOTES

    1940s

    1940s
    Photo: Warner Bros.

    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.

    NOTABLE RELEASES:

    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

    298 votes