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What is the Best Movie Ever Made?

Updated on November 6, 2017
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I wrote film reviews for over a decade in a variety of formats.

Is Citizen Kane the best movie ever made?
Is Citizen Kane the best movie ever made?

When somebody asks "What is the best movie ever?" they are usually asking for and expecting a subjective response - a personal opinion. Is there really a best movie of all-time or a greatest movie ever? Can we narrow that list down, objectively, to a top ten movies of all-time or even a top fifty? While I make an argument here about what I think is the best movie ever based on some objective analysis, I don't think that a question like "what is the best movie ever?" will ever be answered. That's what's great about movies. While there is some objective data in the analysis of a great film, the subjective data will always play a role. The process of making an argument is almost as fun as seeing the movie.

You've probably heard somebody refer to something in another medium as "the Citizen Kane of...." Thus, if a science fiction book is called "The Citizen Kane of science fiction", it presumably means that it's the best science fiction book ever or it's a science fiction book that established a standard of excellence within the genre.

But is "Citizen Kane" the best movie of all-time? If not, what is the best movie of all-time?

Many film scholars and film critics would argue that "Citizen Kane" is the greatest movie of all-time due to the standards it set for film and the groundbreaking nature of the movie itself. However, shouldn't the best movie of all-time be the movie that appeals to the most people? Shouldn't it be a movie that people, no matter when they were born, want to watch over and over again?

Or is Casablanca the best movie ever made?
Or is Casablanca the best movie ever made?

Citizen Kane vs. Casablanca

If defining the best movie of all-time means that part of that qualification must necessarily include a certain popular appeal then "Citizen Kane" probably isn't the best movie ever. After all, movies are made for an audience and while a movie like "Citizen Kane" may appeal to film scholars and film critics, it does tend to leave general audiences a bit cold.

Although I have no data to support the following conclusion, I'm pretty sure that if you randomly polled 1,000 people and asked them whether they would prefer to watch "Citizen Kane" or "Casablanca", most would say "Casablanca". Does that make it a better movie? Not necessarily, but since film is meant as popular entertainment, the populous should have some say in what makes the best movie of all-time - popular appeal should factor in. I'd argue that the best movie of all-time should be both critically successful and commercially successful - and if not commercially successful, at least a movie that has become beloved in some way. In that regard, I'm one who would argue that "Casablanca" is a better movie than "Citizen Kane".

The Problem of Time

Why is it that when we talk about something that is the greatest of all-time or the best of all-time, it always seems like it's something that's old? Could it be that a movie made within the last ten years is the best movie of all-time?

It's essential that a certain amount of time pass in order to put things into perspective. One reason older movies are generally regarded as "the greatest of all-time" is because they set precedents that other movies follow and therefore the movies that follow are considered in some way derivative.

While many twenty-somethings might consider "The Matrix" the greatest science fiction film of all-time, they do so not having seen "2001" or "Blade Runner" and not knowing that the concepts and/or techniques used in "The Matrix" were influenced by other films. Even "The Matrix" filmmakers might admit that without the influence of their predecessors, "The Matrix" might never have been made.

Having said all this, I don't believe that it's necessary to pick the oldest film possible as the best film of all-time. I do think it's necessary to select a film that was highly influential and popular at the same time. The best film of all-time should have a long-lasting influence on cinema and have not only been popular in its day, but is still popular presently.

Maybe Jaws is the best movie ever made?
Maybe Jaws is the best movie ever made?

So what film is the best?

My pick for the best movie of all-time is "Jaws". I was vascillating between "Jaws" and "Psycho", but I think that "Jaws" has had more overall influence on the cinematic landscape since it's release in 1975. In addition to being a critically-acclaimed film, "Jaws" was also a blockbuster. Not only that, "Jaws" is often credited with creating the "summer blockbuster" and how we now think about the summer movie season. Think about how much that has changed our lives. Every summer, filmgoers eagerly await the string of big summer movies that come out. "Jaws" set that precedent. That's 36 years of influence that shows now signs of abating.

Think about the opening scene of "Jaws". It does not deal with the main characters at all, other than the shark. It is used to set the tone of the film and it's influence is still felt today. An incredible number of movies open with what amounts to a preface to establish the movie's tone. Now think about the music. What movie has more memorable music? It's two notes! One of the greatest film scores of all-time is two notes long.

I am going to provide one caveat to this pick and it's this: no woman would ever pick "Jaws" as the best movie of all-time. It's a man's pick. There are hardly any women in the entire film with the exception of the one who gets eaten at the beginning. Still, it was popular, influential, and critically-acclaimed. It isn't my personal favorite movie of all-time. In fact, it's not even in my top 10. I'm probably being silly trying to provide some objective criteria to something that's eternally subjective, but there you go.

I'm putting it in print. "Jaws" is the best movie of all-time.

Jaws Movie Trailer

What movie do you think is the best of all-time?

See results

© 2011 Allen Donald


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