May 24, 2020 (Updated: January 2, 2022)

Challenge: Watch the Top 100 Highest-Rated Movies of All Time

I love watching movies, and my wife Sarah and I often watch movies as one of the ways we hang out together in the evening. But we had this recurring but minor friction point: what do we watch next?

For a long time, we just picked movies ad hoc, mainly based off whether there was a movie that once of us was particularly interested in seeing. That led to an obvious imbalance where I, as the huge movie nerd in the family, dominated the "Oh we definitely need to see this!" list.

Eventually, I suggested that we formally take turns picking movies (which I aptly named The Evan Methodology, as if this was my crowning achievement), where each person could pick whatever they wanted when it was their turn. That was more balanced, but it still wasn't quite the thing I was looking for – I wanted some inspiration as well!

Then I had this idea: Let's watch the best movies of all time. We'll see a bunch of movies we would never watch under normal circumstances, we'll cede control of the "what's next?" question blindly to The List, we'll (probably) gain a new appreciation for some bastions of film history, and we'd finally be able to sound super cultured at parties. Or something like that.

So that's what we're going to do: We're going to watch the top 100 highest-rated movies of all time, and start at the 100th and work our way to the top. Based on some back-of-the-napkin estimation from our average movie viewing rate, we think this will take us something like two years to complete.

Buckle up, you're coming with us.

The List

A key part of this challenge was to find a reputable, authoritative list of movies to watch. There are lots of ways to make a list of the "greatest" movies, but we decided to base this challenge on ratings. Sure, the opinions of film critics don't always align with audience popularity or box office success, but we thought if we were going to start somewhere, we might as well start with the folks who care the most about movies.

The second factor was that we didn't want to take just one source's list; we wanted the list to be more balanced and to include foreign films that otherwise may not feature as prominently from U.S.-based critics. Our goal was to find an aggregated list that combined multiple popular lists.

Dave's Movie Database

We landed on Dave’s Movie Database: Best Rated Movies as our source of truth for this challenge. It's fantastic: he aggregated results across twelve major sources, and only included movies that averaged at least 4.5 out of 5 stars with ratings from nine or more sources.

So, thank you, Dave Whitaker, you are awesome, and we'll probably come back to check out your other lists in the future.

Ground Rules

Every good challenge has rules, so here they are:

  1. Watch The List in order, from lowest (#100) to highest (#1).
  2. Don't skip movies in The List. Exceptions: You can skip a movie if it isn't available, or if it's Christmas and the timing doesn't line up quite perfectly with #22: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) which you know you're going to watch whether or not it's on The List.
  3. Watch movies in the format that earned their original rating. In most cases, that means watching them as they were shown for their theatrical release, so no director's cuts, extended editions (gasp!), etc.
  4. If there are sequels in The List, delay watching them until you get to the highest-rated installment and then watch them in release order, because it would be monstrous to watch them out of order or with long delays in between. For example, all three The Lord of the Rings movies are on The List (πŸ™Œ), but The Two Towers is ranked #95, Fellowship is ranked #62, and Return of the King is ranked #59. In this case, you should delay watching Fellowship and The Two Towers until you reach Return of the King at #59, and then watch them all together, in order of release.
  5. If there are movies in the list that have sequels that aren't on the list, you can watch them if you want to, but aren't required to. Looking at you, Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983).

Our Review Methodology

As we watch these movies, I'll record some brief thoughts about each here for posterity, because after 100 movies (many of them being quite old), they're going to start blurring together.

For each movie, I'll record some of the basics (rank, title, year released, director, writers, main actors), as well as some arbitrary blurb and opinions about our thoughts.

As for our opinions, we're going to answer two basic questions:

  1. Did we like it?
  2. Would we watch it again?

We thought these were interesting (and simple) dimensions that would both convey whether watching the movie was a positive experience, and regardless of that, if we'd be up for watching it again in the future. For example, maybe we'll be really impressed by a movie's brutal, sad story, but maybe one viewing was enough for a lifetime. Is it still a good movie? Yes, probably!

In general, we'll be voting with πŸ‘ and πŸ‘Ž, and if we have mixed feelings, you might see a πŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ in there as well.

Unless otherwise noted, if there's just a single answer to those questions, it means both Sarah and I shared the same opinion. If we disagreed, I'll note my answer vs. hers.

How are we going to watch these movies?

Streaming! That's the great thing about watching some of the highest and most critically-acclaimed films of all time: nearly all of them are available on major streaming services, and many of them have been masterfully restored (including some with 4K scans from the source material!) as part of preservation or re-release efforts.

As for how we track down which streaming service has a particular movie, I've found JustWatch to be super useful (seriously, I don't want to think about how many times I paid to rent something that was streaming for free on another service to which I was already subscribed). With JustWatch, you can search for a movie and it tells you which platforms it's streaming on - easy peasy.

Also, it turns out that HBO Max is a heavy-hitter when it comes to movies on this list. Seriously, before we started this challenge, I was thinking about canceling our subscription because we just weren't using it very much. It turns out HBO Max has an incredible catalog of classic films and their selection has easily exceeded what's available (with a subscription) on our other streaming providers like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, and Disney+.

How are we going to track our progress?

I'm a big fan of Google Keep - it's free, lightweight, super simple, has built-in checklists, syncs across devices, and lists are easy to share between multiple people. I simply took The List and copy-pasted it into a Keep checklist, then shared it with Sarah (and sure, I used a little regex magic to reformat things).

(Post-script: In hindsight, I should have used a spreadsheet like Google Sheets or similar. I didn't originally plan to meticulously log our progress through the list, let alone write an increasing amount of editorial the further we got into it (it just happened, alright?), so I had to play a decent amount of catch-up to port over my notes from other sources.

If I was to do it again, I would create a shared spreadsheet, with one row per movie, then have columns for my rating, Sarah's rating, basic metadata about the movie (that I could have scraped and regex'd into a CSV or something), a link to an image, and my review blurb.)

Want to follow along?

As we finish each batch of ten movies, I'll post a summary of the movies here with the tag #top-100-highest-rated-movies. Even better: You should sign up for my newsletter (it's free!) and you'll be the first to know when I make a new post in the series.