Scott Kacsmar: My Top 500 Films of All Time

For lovers of film and round numbers, there’s really no milestone like watching your 5,000th film. That’s the milestone I hit recently on the day I turned 34 and 1/3 years old. If you grew up years before having the internet or a smartphone by your side, you probably hit 1,000 movies on the strength of your VHS collection and many trips to the rental stores and local theaters.

The chase to 5,000? That’s been much different, aided so much by the DVR and streaming services. Thanks to the internet, it’s never been easier to track down obscure movies and watch at your own pace.

Technology has also made it so simple to track your progress. You can always see what I’ve watched and rated on my IMDb and Letterboxd accounts. Things have come a long way from the red pen and notebook I used in elementary school to track and rate the movies I watched. That set the groundwork for a spreadsheet I maintain to this day, which helped me create my accounts on those film pages.

Thanks to decades of tracking this stuff, it wasn’t that difficult for me to create a list of my 500 favorite films of all time. Take note of the word “favorite” there rather than “best” or “greatest.” This is my personal preference, so the only person who should be getting mad at me for a certain film placement is myself.

So how did I get things down to a top 500?

Documentaries (sorry, Grizzly Man) and shorts were excluded. My starting list included about 650 titles that I rated an 8/10 on IMDb (or 4/5 on Letterboxd). One thing I did not do was look at the nearly 1,900 titles I rated a 7/10 (3.5/5), which is easily my most commonly used rating. Should some of those films probably have been rated higher and could make my top 500? I have no doubt, but maybe during the next pandemic I can take a look at those.

Much like when ranking the top 100 NFL players of all time, I have a really hard time comparing movies from different genres. It’s not unlike trying to compare a quarterback to a linebacker. While I could give you my top 10 war or top 10 sci-fi movies, the mixing of genres makes things difficult.

To compromise, I only ranked my top 100 films. Everything from 101-500 is in alphabetical order. I had roughly 100 films that I rated a 9/10 (4.5/5), because I have always been strict on ratings, so that helped make the decision to stop at 100 much easier. If you ever looked at my ratings online before, then you know I’ve only given my #1 favorite film a perfect score, so the start of the list won’t be a surprise.

My Top 500 Favorite Films of All Time

1. Pulp Fiction, 1994
2. GoodFellas, 1990
3. Memories of Murder, 2003
4. Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 1991
5. The Dark Knight, 2008
6. The Silence of the Lambs, 1991
7. The Shawshank Redemption, 1994
8. Vertigo, 1958
9. Aliens, 1986
10. Dancer in the Dark, 2000
11. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975
12. Se7en, 1995
13. The Empire Strikes Back, 1980
14. (500) Days of Summer, 2009
15. Lost in Translation, 2003
16. Double Indemnity, 1944
17. The Usual Suspects, 1995
18. Saving Private Ryan, 1998
19. Seven Samurai, 1954
20. Oldboy, 2003
21. Shaun of the Dead, 2004
22. The Shining, 1980
23. Twelve Monkeys, 1995
24. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 2012
25. Glengarry Glen Ross, 1992
26. Die Hard, 1988
27. American Beauty, 1999
28. Kill Bill: Vol. 1, 2003
29. The Godfather: Part II, 1974
30. The Godfather, 1972
31. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, 2002
32. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 2003
33. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001
34. City of God, 2002
35. American History X, 1998
36. Come and See, 1985
37. Memento, 2000
38. No Country for Old Men, 2007
39. Requiem for a Dream, 2000
40. Star Wars, 1977
41. Taxi Driver, 1976
42. Inglourious Basterds, 2009
43. The Terminator, 1984
44. Alien, 1979
45. Casino, 1995
46. Jurassic Park, 1993
47. Psycho, 1960
48. Raging Bull, 1980
49. Fight Club, 1999
50. Schindler’s List, 1993
51. 12 Angry Men, 1957
52. 21 Grams, 2003
53. A Clockwork Orange, 1971
54. Batman Begins, 2005
55. Downfall, 2004
56. L.A. Confidential, 1997
57. Parasite, 2019
58. The Exorcist, 1973
59. The Prestige, 2006
60. The Green Mile, 1999
61. There Will Be Blood, 2007
62. Django Unchained, 2012
63. Apocalypse Now, 1979
64. Grosse Pointe Blank, 1997
65. Oasis, 2002
66. Rear Window, 1954
67. Rushmore, 1998
68. The Departed, 2006
69. Zodiac, 2007
70. American Psycho, 2000
71. The Elephant Man, 1980
72. Threads, 1984
73. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966
74. Ikiru, 1952
75. Harakiri, 1962
76. Big Fish, 2003
77. Reservoir Dogs, 1992
78. Shutter Island, 2010
79. Sin City, 2005
80. Strangers on a Train, 1951
81. Arsenic and Old Lace, 1944
82. Life Is Beautiful, 1997
83. Ran, 1985
84. Return of the Jedi, 1983
85. Fargo, 1996
86. Mulholland Drive, 2001
87. Election, 1999
88. Whiplash, 2014
89. Inception, 2010
90. The Matrix, 1999
91. M, 1931
92. Little Children, 2006
93. Sunset Boulevard, 1950
94. Magnolia, 1999
95. Batman, 1989
96. Million Dollar Baby, 2004
97. Snatch, 2000
98. The Man Who Came to Dinner, 1942
99. Rope, 1948
100. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, 2007

For the full 500, see my list on Letterboxd here.

In closing, I must say it’s fitting that I hit this milestone during the COVID-19 pandemic. When March started, I was going through the incredible FX series Nip/TuckĀ for the first time. Right after I finished that my focus shifted back to films, which I have neglected in favor of TV series for years now as TV looks to be the superior format for storytelling these days.

I’ve always said that I could catch up on films if there was ever a period where new ones just stopped being made for a year or two. Well, COVID is about the closest we’re going to get to that reality. According to Letterboxd, I’ve watched 456 films this year and that’s mostly from March through August.

As 2020 has reminded us daily, tomorrow is never guaranteed. Do I have another 5,000 films in me to get to 10,000? That’s too hard to say, which is why I respect the 5,000 milestone.

There’s also the sobering fact that I have likely consumed more great films in 34 years than I will for the rest of my life, even if I live to a very old age. In a way, this was unavoidable. There are over 100 years of cinema to draw from right now, and as you have seen, I’ve dug deep into it already. I could probably create a watchlist of 2,500 films from the lists I collect of great films, but many of those are obscure and hard to find. It would take a lot of quality future releases to get over 10,000 films.

If I’m fortunate enough to look back on this list in 20-30 years, I’ll be curious to see how many titles in my top 100 change. No matter the amount, I will keep watching. I will keep hunting for gems. I will keep hoping to be entertained or moved while I still can.