Yahoo has posted their list of the 100 Movies to See Before You Die. Although the horror genre is, typically, under-represented, fans of science fiction and fantasy films will be pleased to see numerous favorites on the list. In fact, if one is liberal in their definition of what constitutes cinefantastique (as indeed we have always been, since the debut issue of Cinefantastique magazine included reviews of CATCH 22, EUGENIE – THE STOR OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION, FELLINI SATYRICON, SECRETS OF SEX, SKULLDUGGERY, and TARZAN’S DEADLY SILENCE), then there are over thirty titles among the the top 100 – not too bad a showing.
Unfortunately, the list suffers from a tendency that mars many such undertakings. The criteria are vague (“historical importance and cultural impact” vie with whether films are the “most thrilling, most dramatic, scariest…”). Despite the promise that “you may not have heard of” some of the films, the results are heavily weighted toward popular blockbusters and traditionally acknowledged classics.
This might be acceptable if the list were presented merely as a popularity contest, but the Yahoo Movies Editorial Staff insists that these films are “essential” viewing (“each one is a timeless classic that you absolutely have to see”). Needless to say, in several cases, the “essential” dramas that made the list would have been better omitted to make room for more remarkable and imaginative (but less reputable) genre work.
Leaving that aside for now, let’s take a look at the science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies that made the list (along with several borderline titles of interest to Cinefantastique Online’s readers).
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY(1968). No argument here. Cinefantastique founder, the late Frederick S. Clarke, considered this the high-water mark in science fiction cinema, remarking in a 1979 issue that his head was still buzzing from having seen the film over 10 years previously.
8 1/2 (1963). Federico Fellini’s film about a director (Marcello Mastrionni) making a sci-fi film is mostly a drama about creative lethargy, but several surreal scenes interrupt the so-called “reality” of the story. Not a fantasy per se, 8 1/2shows how an imaginative filmmaker can stretch the medium to make his point, incorporating imagnative asides and dreamlike visual episodes instead of relying on spoken dialogue.
ALIEN (1979). Another no-brainer. This science fiction monster movie is one of the best of its kind, featuring great production design, an intense story, wonderful performances, fantastic special effects, and one of cinema’s great monsters (designed by H. R. Giger). Director Ridley Scott puts all the elements together in a way that makes you absolutely believe everything that happens – quite an achievement for a film set in outer space.
APOCALYPSE NOW (1979). I’ve been found of listing this as a genre title ever since Steven King wrote a Rolling Stone magazine article in 1979, including this title among his list of the best horror films that year (which also included ALIEN and DAWN OF THE DEAD). Technically, the genre is War Movie, but director Francis Ford Coppola takes viewers on a harrowing journey into the Heart of Darkness, filled with more than enough surreal imagery, questions of madness and evil, and horrifying violence to qualify as horror.
BLADE RUNNER (1982). It flopped when it came out, but it became a classic in retrospect. Adapted by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples from Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,and directed by Ridley Scott, this film features one of the most memorable realizations ever of a future city – it’s a monumental vision that demands to be seen.
BLUE VELVET (1986). Dark and demented, David Lynch’s mystery-thriller is another film that takes its viewers on journey into the depths. I personally don’t think it’s Lynch’s best work (I find it more camp than horrifying), but for some reason this is the one that caught on and earned a favorable reputation. I would have put LOST HIGHWAY (1997) in its place.
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000). Never underestimate the value of earning over $100-million at the box office. Director Ang Lee’s martial arts fantasy is a good film, but it is modeled after numerous less well known Hong Kong Fant-Asia titles more worthy of consideration, such as A CHINESE GHOST STORY and THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR.
DR, STRANGELOVE, OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964). Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy is one of the highlights of cinema, obviously deserving of a spot on the list. The inclusion of a Doomsday Device in the scenario qualifies it as science fiction.
E.T. – THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982). Easily one of the most over-rated films ever made, this one has not stood the test of time so well. A revamped re-release a few years back (with some substantial digital alterations) failed to ignite much interest at the box office (unlike the re-release of the STAR WARS trilogy in 1997). Yet for some reason critics cling to the illusion that this is a masterpiece.
THE EXORCIST (1973). This was something of a disreputable blockbuster in its day – a film that made money while critics bemoaned audience bad taste. The passing of years has secured its reputation as a horror classic, one whose intensity and seriousness of approach have never been matched.
GOLDFINGER (1962). Although less sci-fi oriented than some of the series, this is generally considered the best Bond adventure, and we heartily agree.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). An acknowledged classic, this one is a bit sappy and sentimental – which is okay, because the film works hard to earn audience good will. Still, this is the kind of film that, if you look at it closely, reveals some troubling undertones.
JAWS (1975). Another over-rated opus from director Steven Spielberg, this water-logged horror film is actually pretty good when dealing with the shark on the high seas, but the land-based drama is weak, and the pacing is slack. To this day, no one has ever explained how Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) got out of that shark cage without being eaten.
KING KONG (1933). Still the all-time champion of monster movies. One of those films whose inclusion will brook no argument.
LORD OF THE RINGS (2001-2003). The inclusion of this title is another testament to blockbuster box office returns. The trilogy began strong with FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, but declined through THE TWO TOWERS and RETURN OF THE KING. Filled with repetetive battles that do no advance the story, and running times that would try anyone’s patience, the latter films were impressive but hardly great. Ironically, RETURN OF THE KING took home a Best Picture Oscar. Hollywood sure loves success.
M (1931). A flawed classic, Fritz Lang’s early sound film has a real problem when it comes to sound (there is no ambient sound or music to fill in the blanks between dialogue; nevertheless, its reputation survives on the basis of its dark and troubling story, about organized crime tracking down a serial killer (because the killer’s predations have prompted a jump in police activity, which cuts into criminal profits). It’s more police procedural than horror, but the serial child killer (played by Peter Lorre) sets the standard for generations of human monsters who followed in his footsteps.
THE MATRIX (1999). This way-cool virtual reality film was both popular and critically praised. The two sequels have perhaps dimmed the lustre of the franchise, but the original still holds up.
MODERN TIMES (1936). Silent movie comedic genius Charlie Chaplin spoofs Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS (which, ironically, is not on the list). The opening sequence features Chaplin’s little tramp working in a factory that uses all the latest technology, offering an opportunity for some excellent sight gags. Still, my favorite Chaplin film is MONSIEUR VERDOUX (even though it’s not a genre title).
MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975). Okay, it’s a comedy, but it has more than enough blood and monsters (including a killer bunny rabbit) to qualify as horror. A great movie.
NOSFERATU (1922). This is strictly an obligatory entry. In only one sense can I consider it essential: you have to see it so that you can see for yourself how over-rated it is.
PRINCESS MONONOKE(1999). Excellent anime from Hayao Miyazaki, my personal favorite of his work. Of course, if we’re talking about essential anime, AKIRA deserves a slot, too.
PSYCHO (1960). Thanks to the Alfred Hitchcock brand name, this is one horror film that usually makes it onto lists like this. Fortunately, the film does deserve its reputation, so we will not argue.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1982). Reagen-era American fascism of the most self-congratulatory kind. We’re better than anyone else, so we should use our superior firepower to kill anyone who gets in our way. Hurray for our side!
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS(1991). This film you really should see is Hannibal Lecter’s first on-screen appearance, MANHUNTER, although SILENCE is good, too.
SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937). I would have preferred to see FANTASIA representing Disney’s animated oeuvre, but this seems to be the established favorite.
STAR WARS (1977). This film that made movie-going fun again. I think EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is the better film, but this one is probably more historically important, because it was the first. However, only the original 1977 version deserves inclusion here, not the bastardized version from 1997 or the subsequent DVD releases.
SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950). Most people seem not to realize that this is a horror film, but it is. It is also one of the great movies of all time, and we are glad to agree with its listing among essential viewing.
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991). The movie that proved overblown action could be cool, not ham-handed. Some people still prefer the original, but this sequel is one awesome spectacle that never looses its characters and story among the explosions.
VERTIGO (1958). A mystery-thriller-romance, we like to consider this a genre film because it hints at reincarnation and possibly even necrophilia, with James Stewart trying to remake a look-alike into the image of a dead woman he loves.
WINGS OF DESIRE (1988). Wim Wenders excellent black-and-white film about angels overseeing life on Earth. A moody masterpiece, interrupted with humor and romance.
THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939). I guess no one can argue with this one. It’s the kind of movie that delights you as a child and continues to entertain as you grow older. A lavish, beautifully done example of Hollywood craftsmanship and artistry.
If you are interested in comparing Yahoo’s list to others who have made similar attempts, here are a few: