The Best Decades For Filmmaking 

Ann Casano
Updated June 14, 2019 2.5k votes 835 voters 15.7k views 10 items

List Rules 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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2000s is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Decades For Filmmaking
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. 


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

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1940s is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Decades For Filmmaking
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.


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

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1950s is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Decades For Filmmaking
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


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

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1930s is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Decades For Filmmaking
Photo: Universal Studios

The bulk of the 1930s is often labeled The Golden Age of Hollywood. Talkies dominated the landscape, and more and more films throughout the decade were made with color. The establishment of film genres also emerged as audiences seemed to favor the rule-bound world established by a western, horror, or screwball comedy.

The establishment of the Hayes Code in 1930 set a rigid standard of censorship of language, sex, and violence in American cinema. One of the first films to challenge the Hayes Code, Gone with the Wind, with its use of the word "damn," gained notoriety and huge box office receipts in part for defying the code. 

Meanwhile, in France, Jean Renoir and Marcel Carne trafficked in humanism and romance, which Renoir undercut with hiw scathing social satire The Rules of the Game. In Germany, the Nazis helped redefine the language of cinema as propaganda through films like Triumph of the Will, yet at the beginning of the decade, some great films shot out of the death rattle of Weimar Expressionism. 


United States: Gone with the Wind, Ninotchka, The Wizard of Oz, Dracula, Duck Soup, City Lights, It Happened One Night, Trouble in Paradise, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Scarface, The Shame of a Nation, Modern Times, The Rules of the Game, Frankestein, Bride of Frankenstein, Bringing Up Baby, King Kong, Hell's Angels, Design for Living, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Stagecoach, All Quiet on the Western Front, Top Hat, The Thin Man, You Can't Take It With You, Animal Crackers, Young Mr. Lincoln, City Girl, Holiday, Tom Sawyer, Shanghai Express

World Cinema: The Rules of the Game, The Grand Illusion, October: Ten Days That Shook the World, Earth, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum, Boudu Saved from Drowning, L’age d’Or, Alexander Nevsky, The Blue Angel, M, Triumph of the Will, Vampyr, Kuhle Wampe, Olympia Parts I & II, L'Atalante, Le Million, La Chienne, Daybreak, Pepe Le Moko, ¡Que Viva Mexico!, A Day in the Country

UNDERRATED GEMS: Freaks, The Lady Vanishes, The Only Son, Our Neighbor, Miss Yae, People on Sunday

TOP FILM DIRECTORS OF THE 1930s: John Ford, Charlie Chaplin, Ernst Lubitsch, Jean Renoir, Howard Hawks, Marcel Carne, Alfred Hitchcock, Victor Fleming, Frank Capra, Fritz Lang, Cecil B. DeMille, George Cukor, John Cromwell, W. S. Van Dyke, Sergei Eisenstein, Leni Riefenstahl

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