The popcorn has been popped, sweatpants have been donned, and the evening is now your oyster. Your next task is to decide which of the many excellent films accessible to you the one you’ll see tonight is. There are plenty of movies you have to watch in your leisure time, whether you’re seeking romance, drama, or humor.
These are contemporary masterpieces, the finest of the best, the must-see films that millions of others are undoubtedly envious of you for seeing for the first time. There are a handful that will take you beyond your comfort zone and expose you to cultures and places you are unfamiliar with. This list may be lengthy, but FOMO is an inexhaustible source of anxiety. Here are the movies you have to watch (and that you should watch again and again if you’ve already watched them).
1. The Notebook (2004) – Ryan Gosling is a well-known actor. Rachel McAdams is a well-known actress. It’s tough to forget this on-screen kiss. The Notebook, based on Nicholas Sparks’ 1996 novel, is a must-see for those hopeless romantics who think they’ll find their way back to their one true love someday. “It wasn’t over. It still isn’t over!”
2. The Hate You Give (2018) – The Hate U Give stars Amandla Stenberg in an equally heartbreaking and eye-opening film about Starr (Stenberg), who is trapped between two worlds: the prep school she attends, which reeks of white privilege, and the mostly Black neighborhood where she lives, which has been harmed by police brutality. It’s based on Angie Thomas’ 2017 book of the same name.
3. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge) (1995)- The world’s longest-running Hindi film (it’s been 25 years!) is an incredible joy. The Bollywood rom-com about two young star-crossed lovers who fell in love over their parents’ disapproval won ten Filmfare Awards—equivalent India’s of the Academy Award—and forever altered the game.
4. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)- Every child in high school wished for a day off like Ferris Bueller’s, and to be honest, I still want for one as an adult. Come for the amusing antics of each character, and stay for the obvious parallels between Alan Ruck’s Cameron Frye and his current role on Succession, Connor Roy.
5. Parasite (2019) – A four-person jobless family intrudes into the life of the eccentric rich Park family. Then there’s the event that can’t be cleaned up completely in a cleaning shift. You’ll be debating the finale and pondering the difficult, vital subjects long after the credits have rolled. This is definitely one of the movies you have to watch!
6. Titanic (1997) – Is there anything more we can say? If you haven’t seen Titanic yet (please don’t say it aloud), do yourself a favor and do it right now.
7. Casablanca (1942) – Despite warnings from local officials, Rick Blaine’s (Humphrey Bogart) nightclub in Casablanca is an oasis for refugees during the early years of World War II. However, things take a turn for the worst when an ex-lover and her boyfriend arrive, posing a challenge for Rick. Casablanca is one of the most well-known classic Hollywood films of all time, and it’s a love tale you’ll never forget.
8. A Star Is Born (2018) – If you were alive in 2018, you were most likely aware of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s on-screen and off-screen connection as a result of their roles in the smash blockbuster A Star Is Born remake. The film follows rocker Jackson Maine (Cooper) and struggling artist Ally (Gaga) as they fall in love as Maine pushes Ally into the limelight while dealing with his own troubles. Make sure you have some Kleenex on hand.
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9. The Farewell (2019) – Awkwafina wins a Golden Globe for her performance as Billi, a lady on a journey to China for a “family wedding” that turns out to be a farewell to her grandma. Billi struggles to establish a deeper connection to the nation while there, and she ponders her family’s choice to keep her grandmother’s illness hidden from her.
10. Daughters of the Dust (1991) – A little lesson on history: Daughters of the Dust was the first Black woman-directed feature picture to be released in cinemas in the United States. It chronicles the narrative of three generations of Gullah women living on Saint Helena Island before the Civil War who are torn between staying and migrating north for a better life. The landscape in the film is breathtaking, but the film’s true beauty lies in its fascinating people.
11. Rebel without a Cause (1955) – James and Dean are two terms that come to me when I think of you. Before his tragic death in 1955, the elderly Hollywood icon’s second to final picture, as youngster Jim Stark, became one of his most acclaimed. The odd relationship shared onscreen between him, John “Plato” Crawford (Sal Mineo), and Judy (Natalie Wood) provided American teenagers at the time a film in which they could finally see themselves on the big screen.
12. Carmen Jones (1954) – Despite being courted by every guy on the base, Carmen (Dorothy Dandridge) has her eyes set on the highly wedded Joe in this overlooked musical set in an all-Black army barracks (Harry Belafonte). Dandridge was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal as Carmen Jones, making her the first African American actress in a prominent role to be nominated.
13. Promising Young Woman (2020) – The obsessive pursuit of one lady to revenge her best friend’s fatal assault is set against a background of all things frilly, pink, and sweet in this dark comedy. The film’s very dramatic finale is all the more surprising because of this striking contrast. In 2021, Promising Young Woman received five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Carey Mulligan, and a first-ever Best Director nomination for Emerald Fennell.
14. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)- Robert Redford, oh my! Newman, Paul! Face hair game that’s very powerful! What could possibly go wrong? A rail heist goes horribly wrong, leaving outlaws Butch Cassidy (Newman) and The Sundance Kid (Redford) on the run from a violent posse as they attempt to flee rural Wyoming for Bolivia. It’s a Western you won’t want to miss.
15. Rocky (1976) – Sylvester Stallone became a national celebrity thanks to this classic underdog narrative. Rocky Balboa is a boxer who is on his way to battle heavyweight champion Apollo Creed in a bout dubbed “a someone versus. nothing.” The picture, which was scripted by Stallone, went on to win Best Picture at the 1977 Academy Awards.
16. Schindler’s List (1994)- A film about the Holocaust is nearly always moving, but this one, directed by Stephen Spielberg, manages to surprise with its restraint. That’s on purpose: the pain and symbolism develop throughout the film, giving you a complete understanding of what occurred, who did it, and why it means so much. The film is shot in black and white with only a splash of color to provide a brief moment of optimism before capturing every imaginable grief in one memorable picture.
17. The Shining (1980)- Although Jack Nicholson appears on this list many times, this is his most well-known performance. During the winter, the Torrance family—husband Jack, wife Wendy, and son Danny—is staying at the Overlook Hotel. The hotel then starts to be overrun by a dreadful, horrific evil. Stephen King notably despised this rendition because Stanley Kubrick strips the father of any emotion (Nicholson, playing crazy like he was born to do it). However, it adds to the drama of the narrative. It’s also a chilling look at the ramifications of domestic abuse when seen through today’s viewpoint.
18. Annihilation (2018) – Natalie Portman plays a scientist who travels in quest of her spouse, based on the novel of the same name. She enters Area X, a twisted, surreal area that has been spreading since a meteorite struck it. And things are just getting stranger and stranger. Alex Garland, who directed Ex Machina, is directing this (another fascinating, freaky watch). To be honest, he’s on his way to being the next major sci-fi filmmaker, and this is proof of that.
19. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) – After seeing this hilarious British slapstick comedy set in the period of King Arthur and the mythical Round Table, you’ll never think about coconuts the same way again. God sends a troop of knights on a journey to discover the Holy Grail, but they run across a number of illogical roadblocks along the way.
20. Life is Beautiful (1997) – While this Italian film is about the horrors of the Holocaust, it also has a number of comedic moments that succeed. Roberto Benigni provides a stunning performance as a family guy who is taken to a concentration camp in northern Italy with his family as a Jew but uses his imagination to persuade his small son that it’s all a game.
21. The Dead Poet’s Society (1989) – This film, set in 1959 in a New England private school, follows an English teacher (Robin Williams) and his connection with his pupils as he teaches them to live a bit more via poetry. Williams received his second Oscar nomination for the film, while Ethan Hawke said that working on it motivated him to continue acting.
22. Jurassic Park (1993)- It’s hard to think that the director of Schindler’s List also directed this dinosaur adventure picture, but what’s even more astounding is that the two films were released only months apart. This is very different, but if you want to see a movie about these ancient monsters, go with the original. There’s a lot of love put into the dinosaurs’ appearance—not there’s a lot of CGI and a lot of physical effects—but, more significantly, the human characters are equally as engaging. In the finest cameo of all time, Samuel L. Jackson.
23. ‘Call Me By Your Name’ (2017) – In this heartfelt romantic drama, Timothée Chalamet co-stars with Armie Hammer in his breakthrough performance. It takes place in 1983 in Lombardy, Italy, and follows Hammer and Chalamet through a life-affirming summer of love. Bring plenty of Kleenex, just in case.
24. The Dark Knight (2008)- The second installment of the Batman trilogy is, without a doubt, the greatest of the three. Heath Ledger, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of the Joker, sets the bar for what it takes to play the character. Some claim it’s the greatest superhero movie ever, and we have to agree.
25. Minari (2020) – Minari depicts the tale of a family of South Korean immigrants who relocate to rural Arkansas in the 1980s in search of the “American dream.” It is a semi-autobiographical take on filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung’s own childhood. It’s a must-see portrayal of the immigrant experience in America, and it’s been nominated for six Oscars in 2021, including Best Picture.
26. Roman Holiday (1953)- Of course, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is fantastic, but Audrey Hepburn received an Academy Award for her portrayal of a princess who foregoes her schedule (and her entourage) in order to explore Rome, only to fall asleep on a bench and be rescued by a sexy American reporter portrayed by Gregory Peck. This is a classic love story.
27. Before Sunrise (1995)- Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke star in this swooningly romantic film from Richard Linklater about a couple of travelers—she French, he American—who meet by accident in Vienna and decide to spend the evening before his departure flight traveling around the city and chatting to one other. Before Sunset, released in 2005, continues the plot, and Before Midnight, released in 2015, completes the trilogy. They’re all worth watching again and again.
28. His Girl Friday (1940) – Carey Grant and Rosalind Russell star as a previously married couple—he is an editor, and she is an investigative reporter—who are forced to work together for one more assignment. Of course, the fact that he hired her only after learning she was engaged to someone else might play a role, but Russell is funny, and their chemistry is off the charts in their relationship.
29. Carrie (1976) – Sissy Spacek plays Carrie, a tormented adolescent who discovers telekinetic talents just in time for a hoax prom invitation to explode into a full-fledged carnage. I know we shouldn’t condone violence, but it’s hard not to feel sorry for Carrie as her peer’s splatter pigs’ blood all over her prom gown.
30. Trainspotting (1996) – Trainspotting is a British film that follows a gang of heroin addicts in Edinburgh, Scotland, as they attempt and fail to integrate themselves into “normal” society. Sure, it’s bleak, but it’s also a heartfelt homage to youth and economic instability that you won’t be able to forget.
31. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) – In this adaptation of Harper Lee’s renowned book, Scout Finch narrates the tale of how her father, Atticus, a small-town lawyer in the rural South, defended a falsely convicted black man. Most people who have watched this film associate Atticus Finch with Gregory Peck, and you will as well if you see it.
32. Legally Blonde (2001) – Have you ever heard of a bend and snap? If you can believe this film arrived into our life 17 years ago, it’s time to see it if you haven’t already—just to see Reese Witherspoon’s tremendous acting progression. Is this supposed to be difficult?
33. Psycho (1960) – Alfred Hitchcock’s eerie narrative of Norman Bates and his motel on the hill was one of the first slasher flicks (and spawned a slew of imitators).
34. Lady Bird (2017) – Greta Gerwig’s picture received a slew of Oscar nominations, and rightfully so. This coming-of-age picture will resonate with every adolescent growing up in the suburbs (especially those who went to Catholic school). It is often compared by viewers to the 2002 comedy/drama Real Women Have Curves, which is also fantastic.
35. You’ve Got Mail (1998) – We are *extremely* enthusiastic about this film, and with good cause. The 1998 drama/romance starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan recounts the tale of two local bookshop competitors who loathe each other in real life, then fall in love online, and well…we won’t tell you what happens next. (Those were the good old AOL days.)
36. The Sound of Music (1965) – In the Academy Award-winning film, Julie Andrews portrays an Austrian nun during World War II. She realizes how much the family means to her when she arrives at the estate of retired naval officer Captain Georg von Trapp to be governess to his seven children. The film’s last act includes an unexpected surprise that reveals the unfathomable reality of what it was like to live in Nazi Germany.
37. Get out (2017) – It’s not often that a film captures the spirit of the times so brilliantly, but in a year when Trump’s administration generated heated debates about police brutality, racism, and fake liberalism, this was the breakthrough film that did the job—in the horror genre, no less. With this combination of cultural commentary and horror cliches, director Jordan Peele flips the conventional horror screenplay on its head.
38. Moonlight (2016) – Yes, you’ve heard about the excitement around this film. Make time in your calendar to see it if you haven’t already. Moonlight is a stunningly shot coming-of-age film about a homosexual black teenager growing up in a Miami housing complex. The multi-layered picture, which was a true watershed moment at the Oscars, put light on facets of black identity that are seldom shown on film.
39. Her (2013) – Save this on a day when you’re not in the mood for sadness, since it may make you feel blue. The film “Spike Jonze’s” is directed by Spike Jonze. She imagines a not-too-distant future in which high-waisted trousers remain fashionable, and one lonely guy falls in love with his Siri-like operating system.
40. The Godfather (1972) – Yes, there are three parts to this trilogy, which may need a binge-watching session. But nothing compares to Francis Ford Coppola’s portrayal of Don Vito Corleone’s crime family. It’s a spine-chilling, action-packed tale that you won’t want to miss.
41. The Silver Linings Playbook (2012) – J.Laaaaaw. As a bipolar guy seeks to reunite with his estranged wife after his discharge from a psychiatric facility, what seems to be a standard rom-com digs deeper into the processes of mental disease. He meets a newly widowed lady (Jennifer Lawrence) who persuades him to enter a dancing competition with her in order to reclaim his wife.
42. Boyhood (2014) – The actual star of this sad epic, which was famously shot over a 12-year period by Richard Linklater, is Patricia Arquette, who portrays down-on-her-luck mom Olivia. You’ll laugh, weep, and wonder about the meaning of time itself—but you won’t be able to take your eyes off the screen.
43. 12 Angry Men (1957) – The plot of this classic film is allegedly about 12 white men on a jury debating whether a young Puerto Rican guy murdered his father (the class and racial relations seem sadly contemporary, 60+ years later). But it’s actually about discrimination and stereotypes, as well as the assumptions we make without recognizing it every day. If you didn’t have a chance to see it in school, here is your chance.
44. Mean Girls (2004) – No film has ever done a better job of mocking high school society than Mean Girls, whose comic writing by Tina Fey has become legendary, coining terms like “so fetch,” “I know, right?” and “cool mom.” Even though the film is almost ten years old, it continues to live on in many memes and GIFs.
45. Little Women (2019) – Countless adaptations of the classic novel have been created. But this one delivers the most current and nuanced portrayal of four sisters searching for love and financial stability in a male-dominated environment. Greta Gerwig’s newest also does what I thought was impossible: she manages to make Amy, who might come off as the book’s villain, clever, reasonable, and approachable.
46. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) – Following a breakup, a couple undergoes therapy to erase each other from their memory in one of the sharpest love tales ever written (it won the best screenplay at the Oscars that year). Isn’t that the dream? Not so, as they reminisce about their past together in hazy memories and discover they’re still not ready to let go.
47. Do the right thing (1989) – Spike Lee stars in and directs this picture that expertly blends humor and drama. On the hottest day of the year, Lee creates a village in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, brimming with life and tension. Then he pulls everything apart. But it’s so much more interesting than that summary suggests. Despite spot-on and heart-wrenching observations about racism, classism, and poverty, Lee treats all of his characters with affection, and there is no one who is actually terrible.
48. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) – The sheer genius of this film could fill volumes, but if you haven’t seen it, know that it’s one of the finest adolescent films ever produced, from the storyline to the acting (two words: Heath Ledger *swoons*) to the speech-making and wooing that makes it seem like a contemporary Shakespearean comedy.
49. The Big Lebowski (1998) – This film, which is still one of the most quotable of all the Coen Brothers’ films, is renowned for its humorous storyline, constantly insane series of events, and stoner banter from main actor Jeff Bridges AKA “The Dude,” he says.
50. Rear Window (1954) – This early Hitchcock picture is one of the few to get a perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s still regarded as one of the greatest of its era. The film, which stars Princess Grace Kelly and James Stewart, is about a guy who is confined to his wheelchair and enjoys spying on his neighbors. When he feels he has seen a murder, things go from bad to worse.
51. The Truman Show (1998) – Whether you’ve ever wondered if your life is one huge sitcom, The Truman Show depicts what occurs when one guy, portrayed by Jim Carrey, finds that his whole life is written for TV.
52. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) – In this picture about a persistent criminal condemned to time in a mental institution, Jack Nicholson is at his finest. Under the watchful eye of the nasty Nurse Ratched, he disrupts the natural order and tries to leave with his fellow inmates. In its day, the picture won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress.
53. Good Will Hunting (1997) – Stellan Skarsgrd stars as a professor who finds that his janitor (Matt Damon) is a math genius. And Robin Williams as the therapist who helps the disturbed young guy by tearing down his defenses and assisting him in healing. It’s the sad girl ’90s movie that dreams are made of, thanks to Elliott Smith’s music and Matt Damon’s moody portrayal.
53. Clueless (1995) – Cher Horowitz, the well-intentioned Valley Girl with an impressive rotating wardrobe who set out to show she wasn’t “just a ditz with a credit card,” won everyone’s heart in the 1990s. The film, which is based on Jane Austen’s Emma, depicts her attempting to play matchmaker at school until she becomes embroiled in her own love triangle.
54. Edward Scissorhands (1990) – In this Edward Burton film from the 1990s, Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder were at the height of their eccentric craziness, with Depp as a human weapon with real scissors for hands (but with lots of feelings, mind you). It’s also the film that brought the ’90s power couple “Winona Forever” together.
55. Pulp Fiction (1994) – In this dark criminal comedy featuring John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson as hitmen attempting to recapture a stolen bag for their mafia boss, Quentin Tarantino is at his most quotable. The chemistry of the superb ensemble members (including Tarantino’s favorite Uma Thurman) and the strange storyline always place this picture towards the top of reviewers’ best-of-the-century lists.
56. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – The Shawshank Redemption is usually the first film that springs to mind when people think about prison movies. Expect great performances and a thrilling conclusion (inspired by Mexican drug kingpin El Chapo’s run-in with the cops last year) that you’ll be talking about for years.
57. When Harry Met Sally (1989) – If you haven’t watched When Harry Met Sally, you are definitely familiar with the iconic “I’ll have what she’s having” sequence from the film. But its worth viewing in its entirety to revisit Nora Ephron’s innovative scripting as well as America’s darling Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal’s effortless banter (it kind of set the stage for modern rom-coms as we know them).
58. Heathers (1988) – Winona Ryder is at her best in offbeat dark comedies, and this one places her in the center of one. Her character, Veronica, is asked to join a popular clique of “Heathers” (actually three females named Heather), but they betray her. Veronica and her accomplice J.D. Dean (Christian Slater) set out to make up for all the wrongs done to her in cruel and unexpected ways.
59. The Breakfast Club (1985) – The films of John Hughes (frequently featuring Molly Ringwald) are all classics, but this narrative of an unexpected relationship that grows in the midst of detention hall takes the cake for its memorable sequences, which include choreographed dances and beauty makeovers.
60. Forrest Gump (1994) – You’ve probably watched it a dozen times by now, but it’s always worth it. Like Forrest Gump, an intellectually challenged guy from Alabama who lives a remarkable life, Tom Hanks delivers the performance of his life (don’t argue with me on this).
61. Back To The Future (1985) – Michael J. Fox stars as Marty McFly, a time traveler who returns to the 1950s in his flying Delorean after a failed experiment. Fun fact: the sequel takes place in the far future, i.e. 2015.
62. Apocalypse Now (1979) – Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, based on Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness, changes the film’s setting to the Vietnam War Era. A party of Americans in a Navy patrol boat in Vietnam travels up a Viet Cong-controlled river, where they are outraged by the damage and corruption they see.
63. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – This film is surreal and a little difficult to follow, but it’s a must-see. In only a few hours, Stanley Kubrick transports us from the birth of humanity to the dawn of a whole new species, and his vision of space and space travel set the bar for a thousand sci-fi films to follow. More significantly, it’s engrossing and horrifying all at the same time. Despite the fact that it was manufactured over 50 years ago, it has held up quite well.
64. Some like it hot (1959) – Take a look at this one if you’re not sure why Miss Marilyn Monroe was and is such a big deal. As the main singer of an all-girl band who dreams of courting a billionaire, she displays her singing prowess in the film. As her band goes to beautiful Florida, she befriends two new musicians in the ensemble, unaware that they are disguised as men on the run.
65. The Wedding Party (2016) – Anyone interested in Nollywood should see The Wedding Party, which is one of the highest-grossing Nigerian films of all time. The video depicts every element of Dozie’s (Banky Wellington) and Dunni’s (Adeusa Etomi) wedding day, from the families’ fears to the planner’s shenanigans. There’s also plenty of glitzy inspiration for your own big day.
66. Train to Busan (2016)-A group of passengers on a bullet train must battle off a vehicle full of zombies as a mystery sickness sweeps the nation in this renowned Korean thriller. The film boasts a fantastic cast and a hidden heart, with the individuals making difficult decisions to help their families survive.
67. Coming to America (1988) – Coming to America is a funny comedy with a super-sweet love story that is a must-see for anybody who enjoys a good laugh. Eddie Murphy’s status as comic royalty was confirmed in this picture, with him and Arsenio Hall cracking us up as a variety of characters.
68. White Christmas (1954) – One of the best tunes in this Irving Berlin musical is the traditional carol of the same name. The narrative of two song-and-dance duos working together to preserve a Vermont Inn pulls at the heartstrings all year, but it’s especially poignant over the holidays.
69. A Sun-Dried Raisin- The Youngers, a Chicago family, are about to acquire a fortune that will revolutionize their life, but they have opposing views about how to spend it. This film, based on the Lorraine Hansberry play and starring the original cast, asks who is entitled to the American Dream.
70. The Green Mile (1999) – The tale of a guy who didn’t believe in miracles comes from award-winning writer-director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) and best-selling novelist Stephen King’s book. Tom Hanks, a multiple Academy Award winner, leads a talented ensemble in The Green Mile, a film about life, death, and the miracles of the human spirit. He has escorted countless convicts along the length of green linoleum that leads to the electric chair.
But he’s never met someone like John Coffey (Armageddon’s Michael Clarke Duncan), a huge black guy convicted of viciously murdering two young white girls. When Edgecomb is paralyzed by anguish, Coffey reaches out from behind bars to cure the afflicted guard and free him of the sickness that has ravaged his body.