For about a year, everyone thought Titanic was the greatest film ever made, and then, suddenly, everyone decided it was the worst. I think that’s partially because, for whatever reason, Titanic got entwined with teeny-bopper culture. I urge you to reinvestigate it and discover what is, and always was, brilliant about it—it’s timely view of class struggle, it’s eye-popping visuals, and the fact that, in a generation that tends to overcomplicate romance, Titanic dared to be innocent about love. Twenty years later, the sinking of that great unsinkable ship is one of the most jaw-dropping spectacles ever put on film, especially on the big screen.
19) Mulholland Drive
More than any other work by David Lynch, Mulholland Drive works on the level of an elegant, frustrating puzzle box (unlocked—and locked—with a blue key) and as the object of a surrendered dream. Erotic, fear-ridden, and beautiful, the primal imagery has the alluring pull of death itself.
18) The Silence of the Lambs
As the only horror film to ever win the Best Picture Oscar, you’d have to give most of the credit to Anthony Hopkins’ disturbingly controlled portrayal of Hannibal Lecter, and the beautifully antagonistic chemistry he has with Jodi Foster (they both also won Oscars for the movie). You could say the gore and the suspense are what makes it a horror film, but to us, it’s the terrifying psychological interplay between the two leads. Never before has simple banter been so scary.
17) Fight Club
Some call it the quintessential Millennial film. Wildly inventive, expertly acted, and undeniably controversial, there’s an endless list of subtexts and viewpoints which will fuel student pub debates for years. Fight Club is the rare film where the social satire actually matches that of the book it’s based on.
16) The Wizard of Oz
The Wizard of Oz is often the first “great” film that a person will see in life. That’s why countless kids can sit and watch it again and again, and keep doing it into their 80s. Knowing that it was made entirely by human ingenuity, without a single computer, makes it even more worth its marvel 75 years and an added dimension later. It’s the most magical film that has nary a trace of our present-day definition of “movie magic.”
15) Mean Girls (2004)
When compiling this list, there was nothing else that met with such all-around agreement: Mean Girls needs to be on it. It is, unquestionably, the quintessential high-school movie of the 21st Century. Sure, it perfectly captures the sticky interpersonal politics of our formative years, but it’s the little things that make every scene spill to the next with near-perfect cleverness: no way is “fetch” going to be allowed to happen; most people “don’t actually make a speech”; and the girl who doesn’t even go there. It’s all, like, totally fetch. (It happened!)
14) Jurassic Park (1993)
For Millennials born before 1990, in a way, this was our Star Wars—a trip to the movies that didn’t just impress our eyes, it took us somewhere. In this case, it was a tropical island where dinosaurs lived and breathed. And we believed in every acre of it. When we first saw that T-Rex, casually swallowing a goat’s entrails, we said, “This is the new standard for visual delight,” and we asked, “What will those visuals look like in 20 years?” The answer: about the same. That’s how amazing this movie was.
13) Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
From limbless black nights, fierce killer rabbits, and cattle tossing Frenchmen, Monty Python packed so much ridiculous comedy mayhem into their first motion picture that you have to wonder where they found the material for two more. At once an oafishly British farce and a deconstruction of dark aged chivalry, this is the Holy Grail of movie hilarity, and gets our vote as the best comedy of all time.
12) The Godfather (1972)
Yeah, there’s all that old stuff: Marlon Brando’s performance; the seamlessly human writing; the stunning cinematography. But may I be so bold as to say that The Godfather has entered this decade as a new generational touchstone? The movie is about the ugly side of the American dream, and Millenials are just starting to learn those lessons themselves. The Godfather simplifies our cutthroat capitalist world into something we all now understand: human violence is both real and metaphorical.
11) The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
It’s the movie that everyone loves, and the one that makes pretentious movie snobs hate them for it. I think the love for Shawshank can be explained pretty easily: it’s the rare movie that ceaselessly manipulates its viewer with violence and corruption and then actually rewards them for their endurance with a beautifully uplifting ending. But look closer and also see that it’s a fine-tuned period piece about dealing with overbearing authority, much like the world at the time dealt with the authority of racism and greed. That ending isn’t just for happy-tears, it’s also to convey progress, a better world forged from ill treatment and injustice.