It is an understatement to claim that the task of compiling a list of the 10 Greatest Films of All Time is daunting. Even with the knowledge that any list made will not be definitive, there is a pressure inherent to the task given all the aspects one has to consider. There are so many possible approaches – do we consider the profitable success of a movie, or its popularity (although we now all know how unreliable the IMDB ratings are these days)? Do we instead consider the different talents involved – the writing, direction or acting? Is it the performance or the story that is more important?
In truth, all these aspects have to be considered, including more abstract qualities such as themes and impact on the course of cinema and wider society. In short, the films I have included are ones that have profoundly moved me in some way. Cinema is art that has the honour of enchanting us through its enriching in both the dimensions of time and space. And art therefore shall be assessed in this list by its emotive qualities.
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10. Ben-Hur (1959)
Kicking off the list is William Wyler’s directorial crowning achievement, the second of three Hollywood adaptions of Lew Wallace’s novel: “Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ”. This film is often considered to be the definitive religious epic, with enough sweat and sand to be the envy of all other rival sword and sandal flicks.
Indeed, no aspect of the movie falls short of this description, from the next level ham acting from Charlton Heston in the titular role to the now infamous chariot scene which boasted an 18 acre set and 15,000 extras. Each element complemented a story of immense highs and lows filled with treachery, revenge and redemption.
The film’s extremely brief depiction of Christ remains one of the most popular with a rarely bestowed Vatican approval – a faceless Christ helping the ailing Judah Ben Hur with the gentle offer of water remains spine-tingling to this day. Consequentially, MGM’s gamble paid off, with the film’s return saving the studio from bankruptcy (for when accounting for inflation it is the 13th highest-grossing film of all time). It would also earn critical and peer approval, becoming the first film to earn the legendary 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture.
Ben-Hur is now such an integral part of Western Pop Culture it is often imitated but never bested, with numerous homages and parodies from the pod race in The Phantom Menace to the hilarious “A Star is Burns” episode of ‘The Simpsons’.
9. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Not only is this one of the most beautiful films to look at on this list, it is also the foundation of one of the biggest empires of the modern era.
The film project, based on The Brothers Grimm fairy tale, was nicknamed “Disney’s folly” during its production, as it was expected to flop. However, the revenue it earned was responsible for building the Disney Studios at Burbank: accounting for inflation, it remains the highest grossing-animated film of all time.
It would be difficult to argue that Snow White doesn’t deserve this accolade, considering its innovation and the sheer effort in creating the first-ever feature length animation – there are several stories of animator frustrations regarding the months of agonising labour put into sequences of cell-animation that would only last one minute on screen (the dwarves “Heigh-ho” march) or would be cut entirely.
These hand-drawn and hand painted efforts (actual rouge was used for Snow White’s rosy cheeks) were not in vain considering their legacy. The meticulous animation resulted in unforgettable characterisation, notably the Queen’s regal villainy and the charm of the dwarfs, particularly Dopey. The enormous production efforts poured into Disney’s gamble means this animation stands out as the most beautiful to this day, particularly in comparison to Disney’s Xerox era. Furthermore, Snow White was the last true animation trailblazer for decades until the advent of Computer Generated animation, meaning the success of most 2D animation productions is owed to Snow White.
Beyond animation, Snow White was a trend setter to other industry practices being one of the first movies to sell related merchandise on its release (which became another significant cornerstone of the Disney empire) alongside a released soundtrack – with Disney’s music now being just as famous as its animation.
As Snow White edges closer to its century anniversary, the film’s place on this list is validated by the fact that children around the world continue to be intrigued and enthralled by this film. Even if the Disney empire eventually collapses, the continuing popularity of Snow White means the name will still be regarded as legendary.