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AFI “100 Films” List Commentary

On last Sunday’s episode, I finally talked about the American Film Institute’s new 100 Years, 100 Films list (see the entire list here).

Here is a breakdown of some of the changes from the 1998 list to the 2006 list:


  • Doctor Zhivago was 39
  • Birth of a Nation was 44
  • From Here to Eternity was 52
  • Amadeus was 53
  • All Quiet on the Western Front was 54
  • The Third Man was 57
  • Fantasia was 58
  • Rebel Without a Cause was 59
  • Stagecoach was 63
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind was 64
  • The Manchurian Candidate was 67
  • An American in Paris was 68
  • Wuthering Heights was 73
  • Dances with Wolves was 75
  • Giant was 82
  • Fargo was 84
  • Mutiny on the Bounty was 86
  • Frankenstein was 87
  • Patton was 89
  • The Jazz Singer was 90
  • My Fair Lady was 91
  • A Place in the Sun was 92


  • 18. The General
  • 49. Intolerance
  • 50. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  • 59. Nashville
  • 61. Sullivan’s Travels
  • 63. Cabaret
  • 67. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  • 71. Saving Private Ryan
  • 72. The Shawshank Redemption
  • 75. In the Heat of the Night
  • 77. All the President’s Men
  • 81. Spartacus
  • 82. Sunrise
  • 83. Titanic
  • 85. A Night at the Opera
  • 87. 12 Angry Men
  • 89. The Sixth Sense
  • 90. Swing Time
  • 91. Sophie’s Choice
  • 95. The Last Picture Show
  • 96. Do the Right Thing
  • 97. Blade Runner
  • 99. Toy Story


On both lists there are a few film that I found surprising, objectionable, or just seemed out of place on this list.

Titanic (No. 83): Against my better judgement, I’ve often defended this film. It is a great big sentimental romance set against the backdrop of a natural disaster. It’s a great crowd-pleaser and it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. However, the stilted acting, thin characters, the lack of substance, and music by Celine Dion ought to disqualify it from being considered the greatest films of all time.

The Sixth Sense (No. 89): M. Night Shyamalan has certainly had a checkered career with The Village on the high end and Signs at the bottom. This is one of his better films but it is very much a one trick pony. Once the twist of the film has been revealed, it does not play as well on repeated viewings, which ought to be a requisite of a list like this.

M-A-S-H (No. 1970): I’ve never been a fan of Robert Altman, who I always thought was a bit of an art house fraud. He was famous for allowing his actors to improvise, but the result was scenes that went on forever and films that were more fun for those involved in the production than for the audience. The spin off television series was far superior to this picture.

Forrest Gump (No. 76): Another film that isn’t bad, but seems out of place next to other films on the list. It is a great piece of nostalgia for baby boomers, but the movie does not really reveal anything about our history seeing it through Gump’s eyes.

Tootsie (No. 69): Of all the films on my “What the hell?” list, this is the one I am most willing to relent on. Dustin Hoffman’s performance is amazing and this film plays on the man in a dress gag better than Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, or Tyler Perry. Tootsie is noteworthy, but compared to other films on the list it just seems a bit out of place.

E..T. the Extra Terrestrial (No. 24): By no means am I a Spielberg hater. He has emerged as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, filmmaker of his generation and I was pleased to see Schinder’s List and Jaws on the list. But this particular film is just too damn sentimental.

Toy Story (No. 99): I’d like to see the AFI embrace animation more than they have, so this is probably a step in the right direction. However, compared to other animated films, even recent films like Finding Nemo and Monster House, this particular choice seems odd.


Here are some films that I’d like to propose for consideration on the list. I’m not sure what films these ought to replace, if any, but they are well made, important films that are worth consideration.


  • Halloween (1973)
  • Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  • Frankenstein (1931)
  • Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
  • Dracula (1931)
  • The Exorcist
  • Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973)
  • Evil Dead 2


  • Caddyshack
  • Airplane
  • Blazing Saddles
  • Ghost Busters


  • Moulin Rouge!
  • Chicago

Historical and Epic Films

  • Kingdom of Heaven
  • Braveheart
  • Nixon
  • Gladiator (2000)

Fantasy Films

  • Superman: The Movie
  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
  • The Matrix
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  • The Empire Strikes Back


  • Bowling for Columbine or Fahrenheit 9/11
  • Woodstock
  • Hearts and Minds


The AFI’s 100 Years lists have been a great asset to film viewers, especially for those who haven’t gone through a film studies program. There are plenty of films on the AFI’s lists that are worthy and that audiences may not have heard of, and the Institute’s endorsement may connect films with viewers that might not have seen them otherwise. On the other hand, there is the risk that viewers will take the list at face value and not question what was chosen and how it was compiled. And, as I’ve pointed out, there are certainly some questionable films here. But over all it is a boon to the advancement of cinema as an art form.

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