This is a slight departure from what's normally found here on Cool Ass Cinema. It's not a total deviation, though, as there are some fantasy and horror pictures sprinkled throughout this list (at least six). The following feature focuses on 20 films that are true American classics. There are more than 20 that could be listed here, obviously, but those seen below have permeated the North American lexicon in a vast number of ways. It might be a certain noteworthy scene, a piece of dialog, or a familiar musical cue, but every movie here has been encountered by just about everyone at some point whether you like the movie itself, or not. I figured with this list I'd pay a small tribute to some great productions. Sure, these have flaws just like the seedier side of cinema offerings, but these pictures have a loftier place in movie history that has endeared them to millions of film lovers the world over. These movies aren't what I normally sit down to watch, but I certainly appreciate the classics of American cinema.
1. KING KONG (1933)
Great Film Quote: "...It was beauty that killed the beast."
Merian C. Cooper's magnificently influential monster movie with a love story twist has managed to become one of the most famous creature features ever made. A film crew lands on Skull Island, a dangerous tropical locale populated by vicious natives, dinosaurs and Kong, a gigantic ape creature who becomes infatuated with the pretty blonde actress. Stop motion animator Willis O'Brien first stunned audiences with his vision of THE LOST WORLD (1925), but it was KONG that stood the test of time. Certain scenes of violence and sexual situations were cut prior to the pictures 1938 reissue to comply with the Production Code. The most notable omission, the 'Spider Pit' sequence, is now lost save for production stills. The "Eighth Wonder of the World" is ranked #4 by the American Film Institute's 'Ten Greatest Fantasy Films' and #44 on their list of the '100 Greatest Films of All Time'. In 1991, KING KONG was considered "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" enough to become a part of the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress.
2. SNOW WHITE & THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937)
Great Film Quote: "Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?"
Although I am no longer a big fan of Disney, there's no denying the sheer amount of elegance of this, the first of the company's many lavish displays of animated opulence. A beautiful young princess stirs a jealous rage within her step-mother, the evil queen. Using sorcery, the queen tries to put an end to Snow White's life with a magic apple. She's saved by seven kindly dwarfs. Disney's maiden voyage of cartoon excellence was nominated for 'Best Music Score' in 1938 and won an 'Honorary Award' in 1939 for innovation in the animation medium. SNOW WHITE is also #34 on AFI's list of the '100 Greatest Films of All Time'. It was also admitted to the National Film Registry in 1989 as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
3. GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)
Great Film Quote: "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."
Victor Fleming's opulent and sweeping tale of a manipulative, self centered woman and the men she loves and that love her amidst the bloody backdrop of the Civil War is truly one of the greatest cinematic achievements and at four hours long, a massively epic motion picture. Fleming's lavish production was the recipient of Eight Oscars--Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Editing and Best Screenplay. It also won an Honorary Award and a Technical Achievement Award. GONE WITH THE WIND is #6 on AFI's 'Greatest Films of All Time' as well as being listed within the National Film Registry in 1989.
4. THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
Great Film Quote: "I'll get you my pretty...and your little dog, too!"
Great Film Quote: "I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
This fantastically fanciful fantasy musical is one of the most timeless cinema classics that will forever be ingrained within the American conscious. Fans across the United States got to Follow the Yellow Brick Road once a year as televised airings of the film were an annual tradition till the start of the new millennium. It's quite possibly the best live action fairy tale film possessing magnificent studio sets that add to the operatic look of the production. Back then there was no place like OZ as Dorothy and company went home with Oscars for 'Best Original Score' and 'Best Original Song'. The wonderful WIZARD was also selected for preservation within the walls of the Library of Congress by the National Film Registry in 1989. The film is also #10 on AFI's list of 'Greatest Films of All Time'.
5. CASABLANCA (1942)
Great Film Quote: "Here's lookin' at you, kid."
Great Film Quote: "...I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
This major classic of American cinema from director Michael Curtiz (THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD) concerns a love triangle between Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) amidst a Nazi invasion during the early days of WW2. Containing a suitcase full of famous lines, CASABLANCA is just one of many classic movies that didn't quite set the box office on fire, but still managed to stand the test of time and accrue a great deal of respect and admiration from critical circles. Look for Claude Rains (THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) and Peter Lorre (MAD LOVE) in supporting roles. The film won Oscars for 'Best Picture', 'Best Screenplay' and 'Best Director'. It won the National Film Registry in 1989 and is the current #3 Greatest Film of All Time on AFI's list.
6. IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)
Great Film Quote: "I been savin' this money for a divorce if I ever get a husband."
Great Film Quote: "...you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it all away?"
Yet another box office disappointment upon its original theatrical release, Frank Capra's (MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON) inspirational tale of a depressed man named George Bailey who plans to end it all on Christmas Eve is in the A CHRISTMAS CAROL vein. His guardian angel is sent down from heaven to show George how much he means to so many people and how many lives he has touched in an effort to show him that his life has more importance than he realizes. Since its release, Capra's classic has become a staple of Christmas airings on television alongside another well known and classic movie MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947). Nominated for five awards and winning none, the film has maintained an enduring effect in the American lexicon. The scene of James Stewart running through the street wishing everyone and everything a Merry Christmas has been seen in numerous other movies showing characters watching the Capra film on television. It's #20 on AFI's 'Greatest Films of All Time'.
7. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952)
Great Film Quote: "You have to show a movie at a party. It's a Hollywood law."
Great Film Quote: "The show must go on! Come rain, come shine, come snow, come sleet, the show MUST go on!"
Gene Kelly was a massively influential Hollywood personality as well as being a stunning performer onscreen with his dynamic dance moves which translated to poetry in motion in a series of musical movies. One of, if not the most famous is SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, a comedy musical number that details the end of the silent era and the beginnings of the Hollywood talkies. In between this historical tinseltown triumph, a war between movie studios and actors and actresses play out amongst some amazing song and dance numbers. The iconic sequence showing Kelly belting out the title tune in the rain is made all the more amazing in that Kelly had a 103 degree fever during the shooting of this sequence. A huge hit, it didn't win any Oscars, but actor Donald O'Connor won a Golden Globe for 'Best Actor'. In 1989 the picture was selected for the National Film Registry and is the #5 Greatest Film of All Time as voted by the American Film Institute.
8. SHANE (1953)
Great Film Quote: "Can't you ask nothin' but questions?"
This beautifully shot and classic western film about a lone gunman who gets involved in a property war between settlers and a greedy land baron who isn't above killing to get what he wants became one of the most significant examples of the western genre despite not starring John Wayne, Randolph Scott, or Clint Eastwood. Aside from the stellar cast, the lush look of the valley's and mountains is stunning amongst the vast expanse of the American frontier. The films vision was awarded with a 'Best Cinematography' Oscar in 1954. SHANE has been a major influence on numerous other filmmakers (both American, European and Asian) and their view of the American Wild West. It's #45 on AFI's 'Greatest Films of All Time' list and was awarded the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress in 1993.
9. REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955)
Great Film Quote: "I don't want any trouble."
Nicholas Ray's socially relevant film about defiance and delinquency among the youth of the day was a shining moment in the all too brief career of James Dean. This being his most recognized and identified role, Dean was killed in a car crash shortly before this films release while traveling to partake in a race. He only did three movies, but his saturation within the public conscious is undeniable. His persona has influenced countless other films and filmmakers around the world. It never won an Oscar, but the production was nominated for three awards. AFI had the film as #59 on their 'Greatest Films of All Time' list back in 1998. It's view of a frustrated and decayed youth resonates just as much today as it did then. It resides within the Library of Congress, awarded the National Film Registry in 1990.
10. THE SEARCHERS (1956)
Great Film Quote: "Figure a man's only good for one oath at a time; I took mine to the Confederate States of America."
The much celebrated director John Ford took the helm of this sprawling western epic starring "The Duke" John Wayne who, home from the Civil War, leads a search for abducted women taken after a Comanche raid on his brothers home in Texas. Ford's film took full advantage of the scope of the Old West utilizing the expanse of real locations and the vibrance of studio sets to create what is considered by many to be the single Greatest American Western of All Time. It won no Oscars, nor any nominations, but its admiration and influence on many of Hollywood's major players is unmistakable. AFI has it listed as the 12th Greatest Movie of All Time. The film became a part of the National Film Registry in 1989.
11. PSYCHO (1960)
Great Film Quote: "A boy's best friend is his mother."
Great Film Quote: "Mother...she isn't quite herself today."
Alfred Hitchcock was the mastermind behind numerous thrillers, but few have the lasting staying power of this celebrated horror film about a deeply disturbed young man with a mother fixation who runs an ominously creepy motel where some check in but never check out. The whole movie reeks of perfection assisted to a shocking degree by Bernard Herrmann's stabbingly vicious and nerve wracking violin amplified sonic assaults. The shower scene did for baths what JAWS did for going into the ocean. Herrmann's 'Shower' cue has become one of the most famous and oft imitated pieces of film music all around the world. The film was nominated for five Oscars, but won none. Janet Leigh won a Golden Globe for 'Best Supporting Actress'. In 1992 PSYCHO (1960) was selected for the National Film Registry. PSYCHO also resides on AFI's Greatest Films of All Time list at #14.
12. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)
Great Film Quote: "It seemed like the right thing to do at the time."
Great Film Quote: "Generosity... that was my first mistake. I leave these people a little bit extra, and then they hire these men to make trouble. It shows you, sooner or later, you must answer for every good deed."
Considered among the greatest western pictures, John Sturges' remake of the even classier SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) has remained firmly entrenched within the American cinema heartland for decades. Not only is it one of the brawniest movies ever made, it has one of the most endearingly catchy and instantaneously hummable film scores ever conceived. Elmer Bernstein's main theme is of special mention. The plot is simplicity about a Mexican village frequently pillaged by bandits. Seven men from different backgrounds come together to protect them. Brimming with dozens of quotable lines, it's one of the best of the "Tough Guy", or "Men On A Mission" movies. The film garnered three sequels and a television series. While it never won any Academy Awards, the score was listed at #8 on AFI's 'Top 25 Film Scores' list.
13. THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)
Great Film Quote: "You brought music back into the house. I had forgotten."
Great Film Quote: "...the wool from the black sheep is just as warm."
Wildly popular musical from Robert Wise stars Julie Andrews as a woman who leaves a nunnery to become a governess to a naval officer and his seven rowdy children. Of course, Andrews and her new employer eventually fall in love, but there's a third interested party as well as a gaggle of musical numbers, some of which have branded themselves within the musically inclined of American cinema lovers such as the oft repeated "Do-Re-Mi". The film won five Oscars--'Best Picture', 'Best Director', 'Best Sound', 'Best Score' and 'Best Editing' as well as numerous other awards. The National Film Registry saw fit to preserve the picture in 1992. Personally, the movie grates on my nerves, but it currently sings its songs at #40 on AFI's list of Greatest Films of All Time.
14. EASY RIDER (1969)
Great Film Quote: "You know...this used to be a helluva good country. I can't understand what's gone wrong with it."
A product of the time period, Dennis Hopper's portrait of two motorcycle riding journeymen traveling America and experiencing life and true freedom on their way to New Orleans in the late 1960s is on many film lovers 'Best Of' lists. The movie has a little bit of everything from Bikers, babes, drugs, hillbillies and informal discourse on the meaning of life. Both majestic and tragic, EASY RIDER is arguably the best example of the biker genre. Jack Starrett's RUN, ANGEL, RUN (1969) starring the indominatable William Smith beat it to theaters by a few months and was also a huge hit on the Drive In circuit, but it was Hopper's film that has made the lasting impression. The film also sports an incredible and groundbreaking soundtrack of rock tunes. It never won any Oscars, but its cultural and historical significance was recognized by the Library of Congress in 1998 for the National Film Registry. EASY RIDER heads down the highway as the #84 Greatest Film of All Time by the AFI.
15. THE GODFATHER (1972)
Great Film Quote: "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse."
The dynastic criminal organization of Don Corleone is the centerpiece of this sprawling and violent soap opera that spans a decade. The old, benevolent Mafia clashes with the new, more forceful criminality that doesn't mind getting its hands bloody. Coppola's movie is yet another of America's most influential and celebrated movies that is still the blueprint by which so many other Mob movies pay their respect and kiss the hand. The cast is a virtual who's who of amazing cinematic talent. Nominated for eight Oscars, it took out a contract for three which were 'Best Actor', 'Best Picture' and 'Best Screenplay'. The score won a Grammy in 1973 and the film became part of the National Film Registry in 1990. THE GODFATHER staunchly sits at #2 on the American Film Institutes 'Greatest Films of All Time' list.
16. JAWS (1975)
Great Film Quote: "You're gonna need a bigger boat."
Steven Spielberg created one of the most primal cinematic nightmares that not only reinforced the fear of the water and what lies beneath it, but also the fear of the unknown. Still to this day, his movie about a great white shark having a bloody picnic in the small seaside town of Amity has the ability to shock and horrify. There's not too many horror movies that hold power over an audience over thirty years after they were made. JAWS is one of those few. The film also benefits from some great performances and memorable characters. JAWS managed to swallow numerous awards whole including Oscars for 'Best Music', 'Best Editing' and 'Best Sound'. John Williams iconic soundtrack also won a Grammy award for 'Best Score'. In 2001, JAWS was inducted into the National Film Registry. JAWS stalks the sea at #56 on AFI's Greatest Films of All Time list.
17. ROCKY (1976)
Great Film Quote: "Yo, Adrian."
John G. Avildsen scored a major upset with this box office knockout. Coming out swinging, ROCKY delivered a punishing triple combo taking home the gold for 'Best Picture', 'Best Director' and 'Best Editing'. It garnered seven nominations. It also was voted #4 on the list of '100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time' by the American Film Institute as well as #57 on their list of the Greatest Movies of All Time. Bill Conti also won a Grammy for his score. ROCKY became a part of the National Film Registry in 2006. Stallone returned to the ring five more times duking it out with Apollo Creed (on two occasions), Clubber Lang, Ivan Drago, Tommy Gunn and, most recently, Mason "The Line" Dixon. Originally, Rocky Balboa was to have died in the fifth movie, but this was discarded. With the continued success of the series, Stallone hasn't shown interest in hanging up his gloves just yet.
18. STAR WARS (1977)
Great Film Quote: "May the Force be with you."
Great Film Quote: "I find your lack of faith disturbing."
This astoundingly successful movie about "A boy, a girl and a universe" is quite possibly the single most popular movie on this list. George Lucas created a massive "Empire" with his epic tale of good versus evil. While JAWS was the first true blockbuster, the release of STAR WARS forever changed audience perception of what a movie could look like with its state of the art special effects. During and after its release, STAR WARS was literally everywhere in every aspect of popular media. Lucas' epic space saga took home seven Academy awards for 'Best Art Direction', 'Costume Design', 'Best Editing', 'Best Music', 'Best Sound', 'Best Visual Effects' and a newly created 'Special Achievement Award'. John Williams' opulent soundtrack has become one of the most memorable aspects of the entire series and also won a Grammy in 1978. The Force was with STAR WARS in 1989 as the film became a part of the National Film Registry and also assumes the #13 spot on AFI's list of the Greatest Films of All Time.
19. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
Great Film Quote: "I hate snakes!"
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas joined forces for this adventure film like no other that paid great tribute to the serial cliffhangers of the 1930s and 1940s. Harrison Ford plays Dr. Jones in search of the fabled Ark of the Covenant, an artifact also coveted by the Nazis; high adventure ensues in this glorious big budget 'B' movie that has enthralled filmgoers since its release and subsequent sequels, television spin off and other non related jungle action movies with similar plot lines. John Williams delivered another famous soundtrack and took home another Grammy for 'Best Score' in 1982. JONES managed to steal away five awards including Oscars for 'Best Art Direction', 'Best Visual Effects', 'Best Editing' and 'Best Sound'. It also snagged a 'Special Achievement Award' for Sound Effects Editing. It's the #66 Greatest Film of All Time on AFI's list. The ARK was safely sealed away and preserved in the National Film Registry in 1999.
20. E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982)
Great Film Quote: "E.T. phone home...."
This touching film from director Steven Spielberg quickly became one of the signature modern American classics of our time. It was also fiercely imitated in various cinematic forms by producers anxious to make a quick buck and those other similar movies generally lacked the heart and soul of Spielberg's seminal work. Sales of Hershey's candies skyrocketed after the prolific use of Reeses Pieces in the movie. It's late release on VHS in 1988 was a cause for celebration for the many that hadn't seen the film in years. E.T. won Oscars for 'Best Sound Effects Editing', 'Best Visual Effects', 'Best Sound' and 'Best Score' for John Williams who, yet again, won another Grammy for Best Album in 1983. E.T. was safely sent home to the Library of Congress with the National Film Registry in 1994.