20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

A personal list of what I consider the 20 most essential films to watch if you want to get into movies.

Fiddler on the Roof - - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

Fiddler on the Roof -

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
Directed By: Norman Jewison
Written By: Joseph Stein
In Theaters: Nov 3, 1971 Wide

One of the most iconic musicals ever put to film. If you haven't seen any musicals-turned-film, see this one first. It's an amazing ride. If you love stories told through music (stories with weight and emotion) this will have you enjoying the entire way through. It's sad, it's exciting...but most of all, it teaches some pretty dope lessons on family and acceptance.
20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:
The Last Samurai - - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

The Last Samurai -

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 65%
Directed By: Edward Zwick
Written By: Edward Zwick, John Logan, Marshall Herskovitz
In Theaters: Dec 5, 2003 Wide

It may not be the most accurate movie but The Last Samurai is quite possibly the best film Cruise has ever acted in. From the set pieces, costume/wardrobe design and action sequences, it is one of the most sleek period pieces I've ever seen. It's not the best film ever...but it has solid performances and decent pacing.
20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:
Blade Runner - - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

Blade Runner -

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Written By: David Webb Peoples, Hampton Fancher, Darryl Ponicsan
In Theaters: Jun 25, 1982 Wide

One of the greatest sci-fi films ever made, hands down. Please watch the Director's Cut for the full effect, as this film was meant to be cut.
20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:
The Thief and the Cobbler - - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

The Thief and the Cobbler -

This doesn't have a Rotten Tomatoes score but let me tell you, if you can find a fan-edit version of the film, in the way it was meant to be structured, please do. This film is an animation marvel. It went through many changing hands, iterations and edits...but the fan-edits that are closest to what the director wanted are seriously the best. There are few animated films that can match the sheer detail of this gem.
20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring -

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Directed By: Peter Jackson
Written By: Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens
In Theaters: Dec 19, 2001 Wide

Well all know about this one. Fellowship is quite literally the best of the trilogy, usually ranking high in top 100 movie lists over the last decade. Fellowship could very well be one the greatest fantasy films of all time.
20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:
Gettysburg - - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

Gettysburg -

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Directed By: Ronald F. Maxwell
Written By: Ronald F. Maxwell
In Theaters: Oct 8, 1993 Wide

I've never seen a movie with this attention to detail and historical accuracy. This homage to American history is probably the best rendition of the Civil War ever put on film. The scope of it is massive, from hundreds of on screen extras, pinpoint military accuracy of troop movements and tactics to an all-star cast. Gettysburg has broken many cinematic records in its own right.
20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:
Full Metal Jacket -  - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

Full Metal Jacket -

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Directed By: Stanley Kubrick, Francesca Cima
Written By: Gustav Hasford, Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr
In Theaters: Jun 17, 1987 Wide

I regard this as one of the most coherent, concise and poignant of Kubrick's films. The most renowned critique of the Vietnam War ever put to the screen.
20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:
Spirited Away - - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

Spirited Away -

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97
Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki, Kirk Wise
Written By: Hayao Miyazaki, Cindy Davis Hewitt, Donald H. Hewitt
In Theaters: Sep 20, 2001 Wide

Probably Miyazaki's most recognized work. I consider Spirited Away to be one of the most important animated films of the last decade, in terms of cultural impact and commercial success.
20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:
The Neverending Story - - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

The Neverending Story -

20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
Directed By: Wolfgang Petersen
Written By: Herman Weigel, Wolfgang Petersen
In Theaters: Jul 20, 1984 Wide

A quintessential fantasy epic that seriously paved the way for future films. There were few movies that were capable of conveying child-like awe and whimsical fantasy like The Neverending Story, a movie that solidified itself as one of the most iconic productions in the genre. You could say that fantasy wouldn't be where it is today without movies like this one.
Alien -  - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

Alien -

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Written By: Dan O'Bannon
In Theaters: May 25, 1979 Limited

Simply the greatest sci-fi horror film that popularized the genre.
20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:
The Lion King - - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

The Lion King -

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Directed By: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
Written By: Linda Woolverton, Jonathan Roberts, Irene Mecchi
In Theaters: Jun 15, 1994 Limited

Not many animated films have such a far-reaching impact like The Lion King; arguably the best animated film Disney has ever put forth. I can't think of many Disney films that had as much of a cultural influence on animation like this staple. The reason I put this so far up the list is just on the sheer influence it's had on animation as a whole. The Lion King is quite frankly the most well known Disney film of their entire catalog.
20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:
Watership Down - - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

Watership Down -

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%
Directed By: Martin Rosen
In Theaters: Nov 1, 1978 Wide

The movie that beats out The Lion King for me, is a dark and twisted animated classic that redefines a LOT of what you know and expect from the medium. Nothing will surprise you more than this...I guarantee you.
20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back - - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back -

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Directed By: Irvin Kershner
Written By: Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan
In Theaters: May 21, 1980 Wide

Widely considered one of the best Star Wars films and one of the most influential sci-fi/space operas ever made. What else is there to say about it really? It's Empire. Enough said dude.
20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:
There Will Be Blood - - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

There Will Be Blood -

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Directed By: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written By: Paul Thomas Anderson
In Theaters: Dec 26, 2007 Wide

One of Daniel Day-Lewis's best performances. It's haunting. It's engaging as shit. Just watch it and see for yourself.
20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:
A Clockwork Orange - - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

A Clockwork Orange -

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Directed By: Stanley Kubrick
Written By: Stanley Kubrick
In Theaters: Dec 19, 1971 Wide

I'm not going to say anything about this film. Watch it and draw your own conclusions. It's probably one of the most important films of the last few decades...for good reason. Watch it and see why.
20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:
Schindler's List - - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

Schindler's List -

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Written By: Steven Zaillian
In Theaters: Dec 15, 1993 Wide

It's brutal. It's real. It drives you to an edge then picks you back up with a little bit of hope. It's a movie that will shake some people, hard....so be warned. It pulls no punches in it's depictions of Nazi brutality.
20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:
Citizen Kane -  - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

Citizen Kane -

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Directed By: Orson Welles
Written By: Orson Welles, Herman J. Mankiewicz
In Theaters: May 1, 1941 Wide

This has a rightfully deserved perfect score. If you want to study film in ANY capacity, this is usually where you start. If there was some form of "the perfect movie", Citizen Kane would be pretty damn close to that.
20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:
The Godfather - - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

The Godfather -

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Directed By: Francis Ford Coppola
Written By: Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo
In Theaters: Mar 24, 1972 Wide

It's hard to even talk about this movie. Usually everyone has seen it. If you haven't, just set aside a few hours to watch the Restoration Edition like it would have been seen on the big screen back in 1972. It's a staple for any movie buff to watch both The Godfather: Part I and II.
20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:
The Godfather: Part II - - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

The Godfather: Part II -

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97
Directed By: Francis Ford Coppola
Written By: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
In Theaters: Dec 20, 1974 Wide

Part II is quite honestly better than Part I. It is one of the few instances where a sequel meets and surpasses the expectations of the original. It's best to watch Part I and II together, as they build off each other.
20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:
Eraserhead - - 20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles:

Eraserhead -

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Directed By: David Lynch
Written By: David Lynch
In Theaters: Jan 1, 1977 Wide

Please let me explain...I honestly believe that Eraserhead is one of the greatest American films ever created. The level of creativity, nuance and effort explored in this is...well...I consider it amazing. It may go down as David Lynch's masterpiece. His magnum opus. The doors Eraserhead opened, the things it tried to do, the story it was telling...

Go watch this now. Seriously. If there was a class on "most impactful American works in cinema", David Lynch would be on it with this fantastic piece of art. I know I'm praising the shit out of this but trust me. It's a truly fantastic expression of art.

Very few films will leave you in such thought and emotional disarray as this work. It's for this reason that Eraserhead is my number 1.
20 Essential Movies for Cinephiles: