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What is the Greatest Movie Ever Made?

Updated on August 30, 2020
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I wrote film reviews for over a decade in a variety of formats.

Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia
Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia

Greatest Movie Ever vs. Best Movie Ever

I have already written an article arguing that "Jaws" is the best movie of all-time.

Now, I'm going to have a little fun and nitpick the semantic differences between the word "best" and the word "greatest" as it applies to phrases like "the greatest movie of all-time" or "the best movie of all-time". Are there any practical, actual differences between the two words? Probably not, but for the purposes of this article, I'm going to create a few.

"Best", as it applies to the phrase "the best movie of all-time", means that the movie is both critically and financially successful because "best" implies that their is a social component to the qualification. Therefore, the public has more of an influence over what is "best". "Greatest" has more of an objective tone than "best". Things that are the "greatest" are often determine by panels of experts. Things that are "best" are usually open to the public. For example, the "best" president and the "greatest" president are probably not the same man because the "best" president is more of a popularity contest while the "greatest" president is probably determined by a panel of historians.

So while I have argued that "Jaws" is the best movie of all-time, I am not going to argue that it is the greatest movie of all-time. So what is the greatest movie of all-time? Let's revisit the "Citizen Kane" vs. "Casablanca" debate I posed in the other article.

Orson Welles in Citizen Kane
Orson Welles in Citizen Kane

Casablanca vs. Citizen Kane

When talking about the best film of all-time, I lean toward "Casablanca" if my choice is between that film and "Citizen Kane". However, when differentiating between "best" and "great" and discussing the "greatest" film of all-time, the argument clearly falls on the side of "Citizen Kane". In terms of influence and critical respect, there's no competition between the two films. "Citizen Kane" is the clear winner.

However, would I consider it the greatest film of all-time? Although I don't, I have no issue with those that do. It's like arguing that George Washington is the greatest president of all-time instead of, say, Abraham Lincoln. In that argument, you're picking the man who set the precedents and had undeniable influence over just about every president who followed. "Citizen Kane" is certainly the first great modern film, so in that regard, it must be given consideration as possibly the greatest film of all-time.

In picking my selection though, there is a certain element of watchability included. To me, "Citizen Kane" seems just dated enough to make its influence less palpable and its appeal

Dooley Wilson and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca
Dooley Wilson and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca

Short Lawrence of Arabia Quiz

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And The Best Movie of All-Time Is...

My pick for greatest movie of all-time is David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia".

The first time I ever saw "Lawrence of Arabia" was when it was re-released, so I saw it in 70mm in a large theater and I was fairly close to the front of the theater. There's something about seeing "Lawrence of Arabia" that makes one appreciate everything that's great about the cinema and that's why I'm picking this film. It's truly a film and it's not nearly as significant watching it at home. I remember quite distinctly being overwhelmed by the scene where Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) emerges from the desert. It's everything that's great about that movie embodied in one moment. You know right there whether you love movies or not.

"Lawrence of Arabia" is epic and it's everything that's great about movies. This movie is grand. If you've seen it in a theater, you remember it. This is the kind of movie director David Lean made. It was also the film that made Peter O'Toole a star and it's a performance that's truly amazing. Then you add in actors like Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif, Jose Ferrar, and Claude Rains.

"Lawrence of Arabia" is a big movie. It's grand. It's spectacular. If you don't love it, you don't love movies.

Do you agree that Lawrence of Arabia is the Greatest Movie Ever?

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Here are a few other movies that deserve a place in the discussion of greatest movie ever made

The Godfather

I would have no problem if somebody said they thought The Godfather was the greatest movie ever made. Absolutely none. First of all, the trilogy is epic. The performances are amazing. Furthermore, there is something quintessentially American about mafia films. I love that genre. My personal favorite film of all-time is Miller's Crossing by the Coen brothers.

The Godfather is always in the discussion.

The Shawshank Redemption

When discussing the greatest film ever made, we tend to lean toward older films.

Yet, The Shawshank Redemption, which was made in 1994, frequently holds the top spot on the IMDB Top 250. That's no small feat. Of course, the IMDB Top 250 has a prejudice toward newer films. Just look through the list.

However, there's no doubt that Frank Darabont's film, based on a Stephen King short story, is great. People love that movie. Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins shine. Perhaps never has there been a better story about male friendship and overcoming adversity.

Pulp Fiction

Was 1994 one of the greatest years in film history? You bet. Among many, that year saw the release of Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, and Forrest Gump. That's some serious quality power.

And the fact is, Quentin Tarantino's film was incredibly impactful. It's as influential as any film in the last 30 years. That alone makes it worth discussing as one of the greatest ever made. It's derivative and original all at the same time.

2001: A Space Odyssey

There just has to be a Stanley Kubrick film on this list somewhere.

Honestly, I might suggest Dr. Strangelove or Clockwork Orange too. There's just so much to choose from.

However, I think it's easiest to focus on 2001. Science fiction has become such an important genre in movies. This film basically kicked it all off. It blew people away. The themes still resonate today. There's not a single science fiction film out there that doesn't owe something to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Toy Story

I also thought I should suggest at least one animated film.

Think about how profoundly animated films have impacted our lives. Now, clearly, skipping all those Disney films is a little controversial. It's also probably unwise. After all, there's no Toy Story without Pinocchio or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Dumbo. So, this pick is a little out there.

That said, Toy Story revitalized animation and changed the whole industry. Pixar's storytelling is unrivaled too. Seems like everyone on earth knows the story of Woody and Buzz.

I admit, this one is a stretch though.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Allen Donald


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