What’s Wrong With Hollywood’s List of Its Own Greatest Movies?

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The Hollywood Reporter recently compiled a list of Hollywood’s 100 favorite movies by asking members of the entertainment industry, including actors, directors, agents, screenwriters, and other members of the entertainment industry what they think the best films of all time are. The list the publication produced has some predictable entries — The Godfather and Citizen Kane — but overall featured much newer movies than other ‘best films of all time’ lists.

The American Film Institute’s “100 Years… 100 Movies” list is most frequently cited as the definitive list of the greatest films of all time, though it is worth noting that list has its own biases towards American movies and films in English. AFI says that a panel of 1,500 film artists, critics, and film historians helped to compile that list, which upon first glance seems to have a lot in common with THR’s, but with a closer look is revealed to be a more serious compilation that one would expect when scholars are included in the discussion. The most recent version of that list from AFI was updated in 2007.

Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Casablanca, Schindler’s List, and The Wizard of Oz are all the rather predictable (but still great) films in the top ten of both lists. Both also feature Steven Spielberg as the top director. In addition to Schindler’s List, E.T., Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Saving Private Ryan made it on AFI’s countdown. THR’s list featured all those movies and an additional two, Jurassic Park and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The differences start to show the THR panel’s preference for newer movies. On that list, the 1994 films The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction both crack the top five, with The Godfather: Part II (1974), E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) rounding out THR’s top ten. AFI chose older films for its list, with Raging Bull (1980), Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Gone With the Wind (1939), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and Vertigo (1958) completing the top ten.

The newest movie on THR’s list was 2010′s Inception from Christopher Nolan, and the oldest were Gone With the Wind and Wizard of Oz, both from 1939. The oldest film on AFI’s list is much older, D.W. Griffith’s sweeping epic Intolerance from 1916. The newest film on that list is Peter Jackson’s 2001 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and that movie is the only one from the 2000′s on the list.

Once you get past the top ten of THR’s list, which is most surprising for its dual entries from 1994, things get weirder. Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, When Harry Met Sally, The Princess Bride, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off may all be quite enjoyable ’80s classics, but they probably don’t belong on any list of the greatest films off all time. There are no silent films on the list whatsoever and Charlie Chaplin is completely absent. The only Humphrey Bogart appearance we get is from the in-ignorable Casablanca.

Box office performance obviously played a role in the choices of Hollywood voters, as James Cameron’s Titanic and Avatar both appear on the list and both are mostly notable for being able to sell a ton of tickets, even at jacked-up 3D prices. Titanic made it on AFI’s list, but was ranked much higher at THR — No. 83 versus 45. It’s unlikely that Avatar’s special effects will be enough to overcome its predictable plot and warrant a spot on the AFI list when it’s updated in 2017.

Overall, only five films before 1950 made the list, while fifteen released in or after 2000 did, suggesting that three times as many great movies have been made in the last fourteen years than in the first fifty years of films’ existence, Indiewire pointed out. Both of the lists are victim of similar biases against foreign films, films not in English, and non-white and female directors, but THR’s basically overlooks half of cinema’s existence. Perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned from THR’s countdown is that Hollywood has a really short memory.

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