Top Ten: Roger Ebert’s Great Movies

Today would have been Roger Ebert’s 71st birthday had he not recently passed away. What better way to celebrate his life than to remember the films that he singled out for particular praise in his Great Movies series? Ebert did not rank these films; in fact, he added them only after he had a chance to reevaluate them and write about them, so there’s no hierarchy here at all. The ones he identified as Great Movies are likely only a fraction of what he would consider the Greatest Movies of All Time, and possibly not even the top fraction. But because the list of Great Movies is unranked by Ebert, it’s a perfect filter for Flickchart, letting us see how I personally and Flickchart users globally rank the conglomerate.

Flickchart is a movie ranking website that pits two random films against each other and asks you to choose which one is better, meanwhile building a list of your favorite films. I rank according to what I like the best, prioritizing personal preferences and emotional connections, so my Flickchart is in no way meant to be objective.

10 – The Thin Man (1934)

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it many more times in the future – Nick and Nora Charles are my favorite on-screen married couple. They flirt and joke with each other, get through disagreements and have friendly competitions, are totally secure in each others’ love, and each is ready to take a bullet for the other if it becomes necessary. And oh, it does, because this is a murder mystery that crosses the Hammett-style detective story (Hammett actually wrote the novel the film is based on) with a touch of Agatha Christie, and a whole lot of ’30s-style witty comedy. The balance is perfect, and this is a film I can watch over and over and never get tired of.

9 – Vertigo (1958)

Alfred Hitchcock is my favorite director, and a whole bunch of his movies are in my Top 100, so it’s not surprising to find two on this list. First up, Vertigo, which is one of the first Hitchcock films I remember watching, when my cousin decided we should watch it when I was probably much too young for it. I liked it anyway, and I’ve only liked it better with every (frequent) rewatch. I love everything about this movie – the dark side of Jimmy Stewart, the lush and unrealistic colors, the slow burn, and perhaps especially the tragic Midge, who gave Scottie everything she had knowing he’d give her nothing in return. The fact that Midge’s story exists alongside and underneath the Scottie/Madeline/Judy story simply shows the breadth and nuance of Vertigo.

8 – West Side Story (1961)

The first time I saw West Side Story, I didn’t like it. I was a literary purist elitist adolescent and I didn’t like that they changed the ending from Romeo and Juliet. The next time I watched it, it rocketed into my Top Four. Over time it moved down into the thirties somewhere, but on a rewatch a few months ago after buying the Blu-ray, it jumped solidly back into my Top Ten. I think it’s likely to stay there. This movie, perhaps more than any other (possibly excepting Bob Fosse’s films), knows how to use cinematic space for dance choreography, and every second is breathtaking to watch. It’s more than enough to overcome the blandness of Richard Beymer and the fact that Natalie Wood barely passes for latina. Doesn’t matter. This film still gets to me, I still cry every single time for like the last third of the movie, and I’ll say it – it’s actually BETTER then Romeo and Juliet.

7 – The Wizard of Oz (1939)

I just wrote about The Wizard of Oz last week, where it topped my Top Ten Judy Garland films. I didn’t have much to say about it then, either. I mean, everybody’s seen it, most everybody likes it. I’ve loved it since I was a kid, and that’s showed no signs of changing as I grow older. I can’t wait to share it with my daughter. :)

6 – Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

It’s hard to get much more blissful than this film – it’s definitely on my list of films that pick me up whenever I’m feeling a bit depressed. The Arthur Freed unit at MGM produced a ton of solid musicals in the ’40s and ’50s, and this one is actually fairly self-serving to the producer – back at the beginning of the sound era, Freed had been a songwriter and Singin’ in the Rain was conceived as a way to bring all of those old songs out of the mothballs and reuse them, albeit with a healthy dose of fun poked at the vagaries of the time period. Funny that it turned out to be one of the greatest musicals ever made, despite its twenty-year-old songs. The silent-to-sound era story is brilliantly told, and of course the dancing is sublime.

5 – Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

The adventure film by which all other adventure films are now measured, the first Indiana Jones film is a delicious throwback to 1930s serials, complete with daring escapes and Nazi baddies with a supernatural twist. The pacing is perfect, and Harrison Ford brings just the right vibe to the role of Jones. The sequels tried their hardest, and many other movies (and video games!) have tried to replicate the success of Raiders, but none have even come close.

4 – The 400 Blows (1959)

I credit The 400 Blows with expanding my cinematic interests outside Hollywood and with awakening me to how much you could really express with film. The story of Antoine Doinel is simple – he’s just a boy with a fairly crappy home life who acts out at school and runs away. But the way it’s told, the way that Truffaut lets the story unfold with no commentary or intervention, and yet makes you feel very attached to this little delinquent is extraordinary, and the fact that it’s a first film is all the more amazing. The film has a freshness and a vitality to it that would become hallmarks of the French New Wave movement that it kicked off, and it remains, obviously, very dear to me to this day.

3 – Mulholland Drive (2001)

Sometimes I think I have Mulholland Drive ranked too high on my Flickchart (it is my #3 of all time right now, as well as on the Ebert’s Great Movies filter). I mean, it is quite new relative to the others; has it really earned its place among Hitchcock, Truffaut, and the others? But then I remember the third time I saw it, the first time in a theatre, when I was so utterly destroyed by it that I could barely walk out to my car. And I mean destroyed in a good way. It is an experience, a film more felt than understood, though I do believe it’s understandable, and it is breathtaking and devastating. For that, I think it should be in my Top Ten. Now, next time it comes against The 400 Blows, it may be quite a tough battle…

2 – Bonnie & Clyde (1967)

Bonnie & Clyde is a perfect movie, in my opinion. I’ve seen it four times now, and there’s absolutely nothing that could be changed to make it any better. Every beat is right, every line, every characterization (yes, even poor Blanche). Sure, it turns bank robbers into glamorized anti-heroes, but the real genius is in how the film comments on celebrity and the way people, including the viewers of the film today, are willing to turn even criminals into folk heroes. Bonnie & Clyde’s time ran out as bank robbers, but this movie has guaranteed their survival as cultural icons. I even had Bonnie & Clyde as my #1 for a while, but Rear Window reclaimed its rightful spot before long.

1 – Rear Window (1954)

This is the one movie that I simply cannot turn off if I happen to come across it on television (which sadly happens less often these days). I’ve watched it a dozen times, I bet, and every time I get more out of it. Maybe not whole new messages or themes at this point, but nuances, shadings, little things that I didn’t notice before or that stand out to me in a new way. It’s a mystery, thriller, romance, comedy, drama, cautionary tale, and more. When asked to give a little talk about film criticism, I chose this film as illustration, because it can be usefully approached with nearly every critical approach there is – genre, auteur, historical, technical, psychoanalytic, feminist, etc. It’s remarkable how rich this film is when it seems so simple on the surface. Every time I watch it, I’m in awe of it again. And besides that, it’s dashedly entertaining, as one expects from Hitchcock.

Me vs. Flickchart

Just for fun, here is my list as compared to Flickchart’s Global Top Ten, compiled from the rankings of all Flickchart users. The numbers following the title are where they rank on the overall lists, for example, my #1 film of Roger Ebert’s Great Movies, Rear Window, is also my #1 film out of my entire chart of 3337 films. Flickchart overall has nearly 45000 films listed, so the global rankings are out of that number. Here I only share a couple of films with the Flickchart global Top Ten – Rear Window and Raiders of the Lost Ark – but Ebert’s Great Movies dominate the top of both lists.


My List Flickchart’s Global List
1 Rear Window (1/3337) Star Wars (1)
2 Bonnie & Clyde (2/3337) The Godfather (3)
3 Mulholland Drive (3/3337) Raiders of the Lost Ark (4)
4 The 400 Blows (5/3337) The Shawshank Redemption (5)
5 Raiders of the Lost Ark (6/3337) Pulp Fiction (6)
6 Singin’ in the Rain (7/3337) The Godfather Part II (8)
7 The Wizard of Oz (8/3337) Rear Window (10)
8 West Side Story (9/3337) Goodfellas (11)
9 Vertigo (11/3337) Casablanca (13)
10 The Thin Man (12/3337) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (15)


Top Ten: Judy Garland Films


Star Trek Into Darkness: Things I Liked, Things I Didn’t


  1. Lots of great movies on there, though I’m still hesitant on West Side Story. I’ve only seen it once, so maybe it would grow the second time. I feel like my Flickchart list is flawed and not exactly how it really is. Still, here’s what comes up for me when I filter it to Roger Ebert’s Great Movies:

    10. Citizen Kane
    9. The Third Man
    8. The Godfather Part II
    7. Stagecoach
    6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    5. Goodfellas
    4. City Lights
    3. Magnolia
    2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
    1. Casablanca

    • West Side Story certainly grew on me, Dan! But I know musicals of its type are tough to get into for some people, so I try not to hold it against people who don’t like it. :)

      Your list is pretty great, too! Of course, all of Ebert’s Great movies are pretty, well, great. Heh. I think it’s really interesting that I think your Ebert-filtered list is great, and the Flickchart global Ebert-filtered list is great, but there are only a few titles in common between the three.

      • That definitely shows the variety from the list. I’ve gone through all the Great Movies from the first book (except the Up series), and there were a few that were less exciting. Even so, I could see why they were on there, and Ebert’s piece made it even more understandable. I’d still like to check out a lot more of them.

    • Oh, Dan, unrelated to this, but I just swapped out my parking pass at work for a Metro pass, and every time i get on the train I think of Metropolitan and your blog name. :p

      • Woo! That’s great. I also take the Metro here 3-4 times a week (it was less for a while after the baby arrived), so the name fits for that too.

  2. David Greenwood

    Might as well chip in with my top “Ebert filter” list, because it’s totally different! I do share a love of Magnolia with Dan Heaton though :)

    1) Pulp Fiction
    2) The Big Lebowski
    3) Magnolia
    4) The General
    5) Planes, Trains and Automobiles
    6) Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
    7) My Neighbor Totoro
    8) M
    9) Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
    10) Badlands

    • I love Magnolia as well! And most of the rest of your list, too, particularly Lebowski, Pulp Fiction, The General, and M. They just didn’t quite make my Top Ten. :)

      It just goes to show what a great range of films Ebert included in his Great Movies series, doesn’t it? I didn’t always agree with his week-to-week reviews, but his Great Movies selections (and the accompanying essays) are pretty, well, great.

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