Movies, like books and music, have the ability to inspire beyond boundaries and languages simply because “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Imagine then how many words a motion picture must inspire. The unique power of the visual medium is the fact that it can transcend any language it is shot in and mercifully for us, Netflix and Amazon Prime solves that dilemma with subtitling and dubbing.
Be that as it may and newer movies notwithstanding, there are hundreds of movies over the years that Hollywood has put out that inspire, give hope, question, answer and leave you breathless. The impact of these movies are conversations of how art imitates life and can vice versa. We’ve picked out 100 movies over the decades and while it might seem to be an excessive number, they’re not. The order of listing does not reflect its commercial success or critical acclaim. They’re just darn good movies, some of which you might know, others not and some have nearly been forgotten.
- An Officer And A Gentleman
Richard Gere’s biggest commercial success until Pretty Woman came along in 1990. Zack Mayo, a navy brat played by Gere, signs up to be a naval aviator His attitude problem causes frequent run-ins with Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley (Lou Gosset Jr.). His love interest is played by Debra Winger as Paula. The film has Joe Cocker’s “Up Where We Belong” as the featured track. If the plot sounds remotely familiar to a certain Tom Cruise movie, you’re not off the mark.
- The Italian Job (1969)
It took a mere 34 years to remake this Michael Caine gold heist classic. Produced at a time when British cinema still held some sway with quality actors, plots and their typical dry humour, The Italian Job featured car chase scenes on the streets of Turin in real time traffic jams. Parts of the movie were also shot on Fiat’s factory premises. Legend has it that the Italian mafia was instrumental in “organising” street closures and that the Mini Cooper went from a town runner to a rally car after drivers watched its versatility.
- Rebel Without A Cause
One of James Dean’s most iconic movies in which he plays the brooding and troubled teenager Jim, Rebel Without A Cause brought to the forefront the issues that young people that age faced and continue to face even today. The consequences however, manifest in the ways of their times. Watchout especially for the knife fight and chicken race scenes that leave you hanging on to the edge of your seat.
- Saturday Night Fever
All of nineteen years old, American-Italian Tony Manero (John Travolta) lives in Brooklyn with his parents and two siblings. His constant fights with an alcoholic father and domineering mother and dead-end job in a paint shop don’t get in the way of his Saturday nights at 2001 Odyssey; the local disco. Tony is a dazzler on the floor and teams up with Stephanie to enter the club’s dance competition. Though they win the contest, Tony gives the prize money away to the couple he thought deserved it. Tony then moves out of Brooklyn to Manhattan and new beginnings.
- The Great Escape
A story of grit, determination, derring do, resourcefulness, innovation and perseverance, The Great Escape is based on the book by James Clavell in which Allied POWs are held in Germany’s most secure camp from which they plan an escape from the moment they arrive. The starcast is a bag of different personalities and each has his own talent he brings to the table to aid the escape. Steve McQueen plays Hilts, an American flyer, performs his own motorcycle stunts towards the end of the movie.
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
A John le Carre classic first made into a BBC mini series in 1979 features Alec Guness as George Smiley, a British spy forced out of retirement to expose a mole in the “Circus” (MI6). Smiley goes about his business uncovering Karla’s mole planted by Moscow Centre in cool fashion. The 2011 remake is worthy of the original and packs as much intrigue in one film compared with seven episodes. The who’s-who of modern British cinema led by Benedict Cumberbatch, Gary Oldman and Colin Firth do justice to the original characters.
- Thomas Crown Affair
Another remake affair with an equally charming star cast. The original from 1968 features Steve McQueen as Thomas Crown, a dashing and flamboyant millionaire with a penchant for the good life. Faye Dunaway plays the female lead as Vicki Anderson, a smart and sassy insurance investigator who is employed by the Boston Police to uncover the crime. Anderson agrees to take the job for 10% of the value of the theft and succeeds in snagging Crown professionally and personally. Interestingly, Dunaway has a part in the 1999 version as well, playing the role of a psychiatrist. Replacing bank millions with expensive art, the Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo (as Catherine Banning) remake is just as enjoyable.
- Ocean’s 11
Another case of a classic from the 60’s to be remade with an all star cast. While the casino heist is the basic plot of both the movies, the 1960 is a bit more elaborate with Danny Ocean’s (Frank Sinatra) plans of hitting five casinos in Las Vegas. The names of all the characters in the later production are different, barring Danny Ocean. Spoiler; the Sinatra production doesn’t end with the bank heist, but segues into what we now know as Ocean’s 12.
The celebrated “Rat Pack” comprising Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford make up the cast in the original while George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and Andy Garcia comprise the cast in the remake.
The Sinatra version is viewed today as a sexist disambiguation compared to the 2001 production. Notably, the 1960 soundtrack does not feature any recording by Sinatra, but has performances by Davis Jr and Dean Martin.
- Enter The Dragon
The movie that made a generation take up martial arts. Lee (Bruce Lee) is approached by Braithwaite (Geoffrey Weeks) to participate in a tournament that Han (Kien Shih) holds every three years. Lee’s mission to uncover a drug running and prostitution ring becomes personal when he discovers that his sister was killed by Han’s men. An unlikely band of co-participants with Jim Kelly as Williams and John Saxon as John Roper team up to try and bring down Han’s empire. The movie culminates with a fight sequence that is watchable many times over. The soundtrack scored by Lalo Schifrin adds to the thrill and danger of the movie especially with the opening theme.
- Top Gun
If ever there was an adrenaline and testosterone filled movie, this has to be it. Fighter jets, fast bikes, a glamorous female lead, a badly sung karaoke version of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” and Harold Faltermeyer’s title track hit the afterburners in this “good guys always win” thrill a minute flick. Such was its popularity that the US Navy saw a 500 percent increase in its aviation recruitment drive program. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Tony Scott, Top Gun was a mammoth production which the US Navy played a huge role in and charged Paramount Studios accordingly.
- Tailor of Panama
It’s a pity that John le Carre’s books, while they’ve been made into movies, weren’t franchised like Ian Fleming’s Bond series. The everyday human qualities of le Carre’s characters shine in all his writing. Watching Pierce Brosnan as an MI6 agent; Andy Osnard puts him in sharp contrast with his other roles as a secret agent. His penchant for women lands Osnard in trouble with a posting to Panama, where he recruits Harry Pendel, an ex-con who claims to have a Savile Row pedigree tailoring suits for the power brokers.
Osnard coerces Harry to act as an informant while seducing his wife Louisa (Jamie Lee Curtis), who works with the port authority. Osnard learns that the Panamanian government is planning on selling the canal to the Chinese and this sets off a deadly cat and mouse game with plots within plots.
- Good Will Hunting
A casting coup of unlikely actors playing as divergent characters as you can imagine, Good Will Hunting is the story of Will Hunting (Matt Damon) a troubled mathematical genius, who while working as a janitor, is discovered by Stellan Skarsgård as Lambeau, a professor at MIT. Lambeau introduces Will to Sean (Robin Williams), a therapist who helps him realise his potential. Along the way Will discovers that not only he has a natural talent for academics, but can learn how to love also. Matt Damon and co-star Ben Affleck’s writing skills shine through on this journey of self-discovery.
- Patch Adams
Based on the true story of Hunter “Patch” Adams (Robin Williams), who admits himself as a patient in a mental hospital ends up helping other inmates there. The entire attitude of the medical community has such a profound effect on him that he enrols in the Medical College of Virginia, where his unorthodox methods land him in trouble with the administration. His mantra of adding a humane and comical element to patients’ treatment is at odds with the established norm. His practise lands him in front of the Medical Review Board for disciplinary action.
- Schindler’s List
Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) is an industrialist who uses Jewish labour at his Krakow factory at the start of WWII in 1939. Based on a true story, Schindler after witnessing the atrocities of the SS, sets about saving their lives from the Nazis. Schindler’s avarice deserts him and he is successful in saving 100 Polish Jews from the gas chambers but loses his wealth in the process.
- The Name Of The Rose
The year is 1327 and William von Baskerville (Sean Connery), a Franciscan friar, arrives at a Benedictine Abbey to investigate suspicious deaths. The monks believe that the apocalypse is at hand. The Abbey is scheduled to host a council of the Franciscan Order which is of the opinion that the Church should not be holding any wealth, Baskerville and his apprentice Adso (Christian Slater) must not only investigate the mounting death toll, protect the wrongly accused and also uncover the secrets the abbey doesn’t want revealed. And all this must be done before the arrival of Bernardo Gui, the Holy Inquisitor. Based on the book of the same name by Umberto Eco.
- The Magnificent Seven
Based on famed Japanese director’s “Seven Samurai”, Chris Larabee Adams (Yul Brynner) is approached by three men from a Mexican village to protect themselves against Calvera’s (Eli Wallach) bandits. The bandidos pillage Mexican village’s crops and they are hard pressed for survival until the next harvest. Admas puts together a band of hired guns who must now teach Hilario and the villagers to defend themselves against the raiders. When Calvera attacks for the first time, he is beaten back. Calavera convinces the villagers to hand over the hired defenders and throws them out of town. Not ones to take it lying down, Adams, Tanner (Steve McQueen), O’Reilly (Charles Bronson), Britt (James Coburn) and Lee (Robert Vaughn) return and rid the village of the gang. The 2016 version starts Denzel Washingtopn, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Lee Byung-hun.
- The Pursuit of Happyness
Based on a true story, Chris Gardner (Will Smith) uses his money on building portable bone density scanners, Though this is a superior product compared with x-rays machines, he struggles to sell them because of what they cost. All this time he is at odds with his wife Linda who works multiple jobs just to support his dream and meet basic financial requirements. Gardner changes boats midstream when he decides to become a stockbroker after passing a written test and grabbing one of just twenty-one positions available.
- Captain Phillips
Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is the captain of the MV Alabama, sailing with his freight around the Horn of Africa. The ship is boarded by four Somali pirates and he orders his crew to hide. He offers the US$ 30,000 to let them go, but the pirates have other plans. The pirates led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi) take the cash and Phillips as hostage for a larger ransom. This puts the pirates up against the US Navy who are determined to sink the lifeboat they are on, even if it means sacrificing Phillips.
- The Spy WHo Came In From The Cold
Alec Leamas (Richard Burton) is “Control’s” (Cyril Cusack) man in Berlin. Control is worried that the pressure is affecting Leamas’ mind and he summons him back from the “cold” to London and adopts a new “legend”. The intention is to try and deceive the east Germans into believing that Alec has turned and begins feeding them false information to try and implicate Mundt; a highly valued East German operative, as a double agent working for the British. An unwitting accessory to this scheme is Fiedler (Oskar Werner), Mundt’s subordinate, to aid in the former’s downfall. Matter’s for leamas get complicated when he gets involved with Nancy Perry (Claire Bloom) who is a member of the British Communist Party. This mission was unneeded for Leamas, but he takes it anyway. What will be its outcome for him? Another John le Carre mind bender, Leamas’ role earned an Oscar ® nomination for Burton.
As real life goes, it doesn’t get more Hollywood than this. Set in the background of the 1979 American hostage crisis in Tehran, where the Ayatollah has deposed the Shah of Iran in a coup. As the US Embassy is taken over by the revolutionaries, six members of the staff manage to find their way to the Canadian ambassador’s residence and take refuge there. The CIA brings in Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) to mastermind an audacious rescue from right under their noses. Mendez fabricates a false Canadian studio that wants to shoot a film in Iran. Directed by Ben Affleck, the movie won three Oscars.
- Ford Vs. Ferrari
Lee Iacoca (Jon Bernthal) wants to beat Enzo Ferrari’s Ferraris at the 24 hours endurance race at Le Mans. With just a ninety day window, the 1959 winner of the race Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is recruited to build the car with Ken Miles (Christian Bale) behind the wheel. All this so that Ford can improve their credibility with a win at this gruelling competition against a Ferrari that has its own share of problems. Shelby and Miles built and raced the now famous GT40 Mk I at Le Mans in 1966 after combating corporate apathy and indifference.
Though Casino Royale was the first Bond book to be published in 1953, Dr. No was the first movie to be released in 1962. Skyfall continues with the resurrection, if you will, of 007 that began with Casino Royale as a human being as vulnerable and flawed as the next person. It puts him back in touch with his roots at his ancestral home “Skyfall” in Scotland and his Aston Martin DB5, and this is where he takes M (Judi Dench) to confront Silva (Javier Bardem), a disaffected former MI6 agent. Silva is at odds with the establishment, which itself is facing an existential crisis with Mallory (Ralph Feinnes) waiting in the wings to pounce on it. Javier obtains a hard drive containing the names of all their agents across the world after an opening action sequence in Istanbul. Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) also sees a revamp and is not just a pretty faced secretary sitting behind a desk, pining for James’ affection, but a complete badass behind the wheel and a half-decent marksman.
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Perhaps two of the most charismatic actors in Hollywood ever, Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy and Robert Redford as The Sundance Kid, team up in this all-time favourite as two outlaws who are trying to make a dash to Bolivia when a train robbery gets botched. Based on the true life personalities of Robert LeRoy Parker and Harry Longabaugh, who actually were train and bank robbers. They escape a posse of lawmen into Bolivia where they are ambushed by its army. The movie won four Oscars, including Best Original Song for “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” written by Burt Bacharach and performed by BJ Thomas.
Though the papillon is a dog breed, the origin of the word lies in the French for butterfly. Steve McQueen as Henri Charriere (who wrote the book Papillon and had that tattoo) is a romanticised account of his time at Devil’s Island, a French penal colony in Guyana from where there is no escape. On the way there he meets Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman), a counterfeiter who promises Papillon a large amount of wealth in exchange for his protection. McQueen, as usual, performed most of his stunts himself and the movie is a glowing tribute to man’s perseverance in adversity irrespective of his questionable past. Oh, and the 2017 remake with Charlie Huffman as Papillon and Rami Malek as Dega is thoroughly enjoyable too.
Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a celebrated, yet frustrated head chef at Gualiose run by Riva (Dustin Hoffman). When food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) arrives at the restaurant, Riva wants Casper to stay on the tried and classic track with his cooking. Michel of course pans his food on social media to which Casper reacts publicly. A temporary truce is established between them and Casper cooks for Michel again, but his review hasn’t changed. With his outrage now public and facing bleak prospects, Casper is convinced to take some time off, which he does with his son as they refurbish a food truck with his ex-wife’s current husband’s help and set off on a bonding and discovery trip from Miami to Los Angeles.