Movies are a brilliant way to teleport yourself into a different story where you have a different life in a different place with a whole lot of different people and out of the millions of movies out there, this list has picked out a little bit of everything so by the time you’re 40 you can say you know a little something about everything from the cult classics to the rom-coms. I have to say there are so many movies that could’ve made my list as I’m sure you’ve all seen many great ones you’d recommend, but still, it might be worth giving this smoothie of genres and decades a watch too if they sound like your cup of tea (or your bucket of popcorn!)
1. Fight Club (1999)
I’m starting with this cult classic because it’s an absolute favorite. The story revolves around an unnamed protagonist who in an attempt to overcome his struggles with masculinity and consumerism, starts a fight club “as a radical form of psychotherapy”. This movie is best watched without any spoilers, so don’t go around looking it up. Just watch it. Seriously.
2. The Godfather (1972)
Who hasn’t heard of The Godfather. This film revolves around the outbreak of a gang war set in the late 1940’s that took place in NYC. The Godfather has been widely regarded as one of the “greatest films in world cinema” and as one of the most influential. If that’s not enough to sell it to you, I don’t know what will.
3. Forrest Gump (1994)
Seems to be a recurring theme with movies based on novels. Starring the marvelous Tom Hanks, the story shows the naïve Forrest Gump’s life throughout several decades, who witnesses and even takes part in some of the most memorable events of the late 20th century. It’s such a light-hearted film but might make you feel a lot of things. In conclusion, it’s definitely a must-watch.
4. Pulp Fiction (1994)
This Quentin Tarantino comedy crime masterpiece is a classic. With its ironic mix of violence and humor and lots of pop culture references this movie was nominated for 7 Oscars. Starring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman, Pulp Fiction connects the story lines of LA mobsters, fringe players, small-time criminals and the mysterious briefcase. This movie could be broken down and analysed forever but the best way to get into all those interesting analytical discussions, is to give it a watch.
5. Psycho (1960)
A classics list would be incomplete without Hitchcock. Once again based on a novel, this film is about Marion Crane, a secretary who ends up at a motel after embezzling money from an employer and the motel’s disturbed owner manager. It has been said to have “set a new level of acceptability for violence, deviant behavior and sexuality in American films” and the US Library of Congress said it was “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” Convinced?
6. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Banker Andy Dufresne is convicted of a double murder even though he continues to proclaim his innocence. He’s then sentenced to a life time in Shawshank State Prison where he meets “Red” and faces the ugly realities of prison life. Think a little Orange Is The New Black? Or maybe not! If you’ve liked American History X, City of God or Trainspotting then this is definitely your type.
7. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Along the vibes of The Truman Show and a little American Beauty, this movie is one of Nicholson’s best. McMurphy escapes prison by pleading insanity and when sent to a ward for the mentally unstable, he both endures and witnesses the abuse and degradation of the Nurse Ratched and of course, the nurse must be taken down. Great plot line and also – surprise, surprise! – based on a book.
8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
One of my absolute favorites. You have Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet at one of their finest moments playing the intriguing Joel and Clementine. This is also another that is best watched without any spoilers but the gist of it is that Clementine applies to undergo a procedure to erase Joel from her memories but the experience in itself allows them to truly understand what they had in the first place. Filled with beautiful quotes and really intriguing moments, this one is a top recommendation for the indie film lovers out there.
9. Her (2013)
I was wondering whether I should add a new film to the list or not but this list would be incomplete without Her. In a world where artificially intelligent operating systems have become accessible to everyone and are designed to have a conscious, Theodore finds himself developing a very unlikely relationship with his OS, Samantha. This film truly touches on our dependency when it comes to technology and what our possible dystopia/utopia could look like. Very thought provoking.
10. American Beauty (1999)
This one is a true classic. With the brilliant Kevin Spacy as Lester Burnham, a depressed suburban father struggling with a mid-life crisis, American Beauty truly explores the life of suburban America from the housewife archetype to the American dream with just the perfect amount of nostalgic vibes for the modern viewer.
11. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Following the invasion of Normandy, two brothers lay dead while in New Guinea a third brother has been killed fighting the Japanese. After the Army General Staff learns that a fourth brothers missing in the French countryside, a rescue mission is sent to find the young soldier and return him home. This mission to “Save Private Ryan” is a thrilling, although intensely graphic journey.
12. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Full Metal Jacket, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is a war film about the dehumanization of U.S. recruits in the Vietnam War both in the brutal boot camps to the streets in Hue. Focused on the Tet Offensive, this film is a great look back into history with all its grim bits left in.
13. Platoon (1986)
Following the theme of the Vietnam War, Platoon is the first film of a trilogy of Vietnam War films by Oliver Stone and is based on Stone’s own experiences as a U.S. infantryman in contrast with John Wayne’s vision of the war as portrayed in The Green Berets. It’s also the first Hollywood film to be written and directed by a veteran of the war in Vietnam.
14. 300 (2007)
300 is an American fantasy action film based on the 1998 comic series of the same name by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, which is a retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae. The plot is about King Leonidas who leads 300 Spartans into battle against the Persian Xerxes. Definitely a classic and one that I have watched one too many times.
15. Schindler’s List (1993)
The first time I watched this movie was for History class and when I got home I decided to watch the full thing and boy was I not disappointed. Schindler’s List is considered an “epic historical drama film” directed and co-produced by the legendary Spielbrg. The story is based on the life of Oskar Schindler who was a German businessman who saved more than a thousand Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.
16. Léon: The Professional (1994)
This English-language French thriller film is about Mathilda, a 12-year-old girl played by a young – and brilliant – Natalie Portman, who is taken in by a mob hit man after her family is murdered. The film revolves around the formation of an unusual relationship between Mathilda and the hit man as she becomes his protégée making it a very interesting watch.
17. Kill Bill (2003)
Another Quentin Tarantino creation. The movie follows “The Bride”, a former member of an assassination team who seeks revenge on her ex-colleagues who massacred members of her wedding party and tried to kill her along with them. If you like a little crazy, go for it.
Who hasn’t heard of The Lord of the Rings? Set in Middle-earth, the Dark Lord Sauron is seeking the One Ring which has found its way to the hobbit Frodo. The film was highly acclaimed to be “an achievement in the fantasy film genre and has continued to feature on critics’ lists of the greatest fantasy films ever made. If you’ve been hesitant about watching the series or just want to know what the heck the buzz is about, then I suggest you just dive in.
19. The Matrix (1999)
I refuse to turn 40 without getting the millions of Matrix references and I bet you do too. For all of you curious to know what the buzz is about, The Matrix is set in a dystopian future in which reality is actually simulated (and called “The Matrix”) created by these sentient machines to subdue the human population while their bodies’ heat is used as an energy source. Pretty morbid huh?
20. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Another recent one I thought I might as well add to keep the time periods of the list diverse. Directed by Bryan Singer, Days of Future Past is the seventh installment of the X-Men film series and the sequel to both X-Men: First Class and X-Men: The Last Stand. If superhero films are your thing and you’re all for Marvel, then go watch it now!
21. Memento (2000)
Memento is a psychological thriller about Leonard Shelby who suffers of anterograde amnesia which damages his ability to store new memories and has developed a system for recollection using hand-written notes, tattoos and Polaroid photos. This one requires a little attention, so it’s not the film to multi-task doing something else while watching because it’s more than what it seems.
22. The Dark Knight (2008)
This list would be incomplete without BATMAN. This is for you DC lovers. The film is the sequel to Batman Begins and there’s not much to say about this except the fact that it is the home of one of Heath Ledger’s best performances ever. So watch it whether superheroes are your jam or not because I guarantee you Heath Ledger will make it worth your time.
23. Vertigo (1958)
Alfred Hitchcock is back once again. The film revolves around former police detective John Ferguson who is forced into early retirement because an incident has caused him to develop acrophobia, which is the extreme fear of heights, and vertigo, which is a sensation of false, rotational movement. It’s also the first film to utilize the dolly zoom, an in-camera effect that distorts perspective to create disorientation which is now often referred to as “the Vertigo effect” after the movie!
24. Cabin in the Woods (2012)
A little warning about this film is don’t watch it if you’re scared of clowns. I know this from personal experience. This is a satirical horror film about five friends who go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods where they “discover the truth behind the cabin.” Trust me, the film will sell itself better than I ever will. Being satirical and having lots of thought put into the consideration of the details it’s an intriguing watch if you pay attention.
25. Shutter Island (2010)
This list cannot be complete without Leonardo DiCaprio who stars as U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels who is investigating the disappearance of a murderess who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane and finds himself in one roller coaster of a journey leading him to doubt everything from his memory, his partner and even his own sanity. Brilliant movie.
26. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Another one based on a book, this film is a lighthearted watch about a British woman who decides to keep a personal diary in order to improve her health, her job and her love life. It’s such a relatable story and will definitely motivate you to get your New Year’s Resolutions together and start your own Diary!
27. Clueless (1995)
Cher Horowitz is the Queen Bee of high school in Beverly Hills but not in a “Mean Girls” way more in a witty, charming and intelligent way. Cher Horowitz taught me never to settle for anything less than what I deserve and the entire film just discusses aspects of teenage life that most people sugarcoat or just think are too trivial to even talk about. Also, their fashion is on point therefore Clueless holds a special place in my heart.
28. (500) Days of Summer (2009)
To most, this is immediately seen as a cliche, but if the viewers were to look deeper into the characters and how they’re presented to us, (500) Days of Summer becomes a whole lot more interesting. Summer played by the perfect-for-this-role Zooey Deschanel doesn’t believe in love but is also very difficult to draw any conclusions from as she’s only seen through Tom’s eyes who is insanely infatuated with her that he refuses to believe she might not be the girl he’s destined for.
29. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Did you know that this film was adapted from William Shakespeare’s play “The Taming of the Shrew”? Well now you know! This film handles the ridiculous cliches of high school so expertly making it so believable and the cast is fabulous with the one and only Heath Ledger rising above the rest.
30. Annie Hall (1977)
Directed by Woody Allen and starring Allen as Alvy Singer, who is trying to figure out the reasons for the failure of his relationship with Annie, played by Diane Keaton who actually had the role written specifically for her. The film discusses love, sexuality and Jewish identity which I feel is a great film to end this list with as it has a more serious approach despite being part of the usually trivialized rom com genre.