DISCOVER--fifty films that you might feel you don't need to see but actually do

You may not have heard of these, or you may be vaguely aware of them. You may already love them, or you may have decided they're not for you... I'm saying... Don't miss 'em. If you take film as fun seriously, if you consider yourself knowledgeable on the subject of cinema without being a snob about it, you need to give these a go.
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American Graffiti (1973)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
A couple of high school grads spend one final night cruising the strip with their buddies before they go off to college. (110 mins.)
Director: George Lucas
“ 1950s nostalgia started here, and when you see this little gem, you'll understand why. The irony is, it's set in the early '60s... A wonderful film, and at the time, a total original. Hard to believe it came from the same guy who gave us the banal and sterile Star Wars. ” - jonabbott56
Animal House (1978)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
At a 1962 college, Dean Vernon Wormer is determined to expel the entire Delta Tau Chi Fraternity, but those trouble-makers have other plans for him. (109 mins.)
Director: John Landis
“ Achingly funny from start to finish, and not a smidgen less funny today, this classic comedy unleashed a flood of unfunny imitators but effortlessly retains its crown all these years later. ” - jonabbott56
Bullitt (1968)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
An all guts, no glory San Francisco cop becomes determined to find the underworld kingpin that killed the witness in his protection. (114 mins.)
Director: Peter Yates
“ Alongside Dirty Harry, this difficult but captivating police thriller was responsible for half a decade of subsequent cops and robbers shows on TV in the 1970s. McQueen's cool, calm, understated performance is superb, Robert Vaughn reinvents himself as the quintessential suit-and-tie villain after four years as The Man from UNCLE, and the supporting cast is excellent. ” - jonabbott56
Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
An ophthalmologist's mistress threatens to reveal their affair to his wife, while a married documentary filmmaker is infatuated by another woman. (104 mins.)
Director: Woody Allen
“ Although it's one of Woody Allen's more serious works, this one is enhanced by a fabulous cast including Martin Landau and Jerry Orbach, and provides real food for thought alongside some superb performances. It's the old 'why do bad things happen to good people and vice versa' but with depth. ” - jonabbott56
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
An alien lands and tells the people of Earth that they must live peacefully or be destroyed as a danger to other planets. (92 mins.)
Director: Robert Wise
“ Over sixty years old, and still the best sci-fi film ever made. ” - jonabbott56
Dillinger (1973)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
John Dillinger and his gang go on a bank robbing spree across the midwest, but one G-Man is determined to bring him down. (107 mins.)
Director: John Milius
“ The best "modern" gangster film ever, this minor masterpiece makes Pacino's wonderful Scarface look like the overblown comic strip it is, and exposes Costner's Untouchables as a hopeless fraud. Perfect, from start to finish. ” - jonabbott56
Dirty Harry (1971)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
When a mad man calling himself 'the Scorpio Killer' menaces the city, tough as nails San Francisco Police Inspector Harry Callahan is assigned to track down and ferret out the crazed psychopath. (102 mins.)
Director: Don Siegel
“ Classic Eastwood. A heavy-handed comic book, it's amusing to think how seriously the hand-wringers took this one in its day. Then again, it did reinvent the cop thriller and the macho hero overnight... ” - jonabbott56
Dr. No (1962)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
A resourceful British government agent seeks answers in a case involving the disappearance of a colleague and the disruption of the American space program. (110 mins.)
Director: Terence Young
“ The first Bond. It's that simple. You have to see this, and you have to see Goldfinger. After that, you can see any Bond or spy-fi you like, at any time, in any order. ” - jonabbott56
Don't Look Now (1973)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
A married couple grieving the recent death of their young daughter are in Venice when they encounter two elderly sisters, one of whom is psychic and brings a warning from beyond. (110 mins.)
Director: Nicolas Roeg
“ Although on the surface a horror film, this is really an incredibly sad and tender romance. A tour-de-force for director Nicolas Roeg, who mixes luck and talent in equal parts, and Donald Sutherland (Klute) and Julie Christie (McCabe and Mrs. Miller) are superb. A true masterpiece. ” - jonabbott56
Five Easy Pieces (1970)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
A drop-out from upper-class America picks up work along the way on oil-rigs when his life isn't spent in a squalid succession of bars, motels, and other points of interest. (98 mins.)
Director: Bob Rafelson
“ The best thing Jack Nicholson ever did, and proof that he can act when he wants to. The scene where he has a one-sided conversation with his father, and the final moments at the garage are devastating. Karen Black is marvellous as the girlfriend out of her depth with his contemptible family of sterile snobs. ” - jonabbott56
Frankenstein (1931)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
An obsessed scientist assembles a living being from parts of exhumed corpses. (70 mins.)
Director: James Whale
“ Traditional horror films start here. ” - jonabbott56
Get Carter (1971)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
When his brother dies under mysterious circumstances in a car accident, London gangster Jack Carter travels to Newcastle to investigate. (112 mins.)
Director: Mike Hodges
“ The more you watch this uncompromising gangland thriller, the more you get out of it. If you only watch it once, you're cheating yourself. This will always be Michael Caine's best... So much so that the superb supporting cast rarely get a nod. Bryan Mosley, Ian Hendry, and Glynn Edwards in particular are superb, as are the women, most notably Rosemarie Dunham as the lonely landlady. ” - jonabbott56
Goldfinger (1964)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
Investigating a gold magnate's smuggling, James Bond uncovers a plot to contaminate the Fort Knox gold reserve. (110 mins.)
Director: Guy Hamilton
“ As above... There's no point watching any Bond or Eurospy until you've wallowed in this one. ” - jonabbott56
Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
The happy tranquility of Buggsville is shattered when the populace learns that a colossal skyscraper is to be built over their tiny town. (78 mins.)
Director: Dave Fleischer
“ It wasn't all Disney. This is the genius of Max Fleischer. ” - jonabbott56
I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  
In Norrisville, Bill Farrell leaves his bachelor party on the eve of his marriage with Marge Bradley... (78 mins.)
Director: Gene Fowler Jr.
“ The only truly adult science-fiction film of the '50s, and quite the time capsule. Most sci-fi films of the period, even the great ones, have a ten-year-old's eye view of male/female relationships. This is a film about sex, 1950s-style. Despite non-existent day for night filming that causes some continuity problems and confusion, the performances are excellent, the aliens are superb, the dialogue real, and the entire film is chilling, scary, and fun. Invaders From Mars for grown-ups. ” - jonabbott56
Invaders from Mars (1953)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  
A young boy learns that space aliens are taking over the minds of earthlings. (78 mins.)
“ A surreal, dreamlike masterpiece, a child's nightmare onscreen. ” - jonabbott56
The Killer (1989)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
A disillusioned assassin accepts one last hit in hopes of using his earnings to restore vision to a singer he accidentally blinded, only to be double-crossed by his boss. (111 mins.)
Director: John Woo
“ John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat both peak simultaneously in this stunning ballet of violence. Start here and then chase up their other non-Hollywood work. ” - jonabbott56
Klute (1971)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
A small-town detective searching for a missing man has only one lead: a connection with a New York prostitute. (114 mins.)
Director: Alan J. Pakula
“ Fabulous thriller with a bravura performance from Fonda as the cynical, insecure New York hooker stalked by a tortured monster and pursued and protected by Donald Sutherland's cold, unimpressed detective. ” - jonabbott56
Last Tango in Paris (1972)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
A young Parisian woman meets a middle-aged American businessman who demands their clandestine relationship be based only on sex. (129 mins.)
“ If ever an actor pissed away his talent it was Brando, but he left us this tour-de-force about a tortured, selfish man who strikes up what he intends to be a meaningless casual relationship with a young and attractive free spirit. Despite his best efforts, the resulting encounters exude affection and eroticism. Maria Schneider is dead-centre excellent, but Brando gets the lion's share of opportunities, and relishes all of them. ” - jonabbott56
Contempt (1963)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
Screenwriter Paul Javal's marriage to his wife Camille disintegrates during movie production as she spends time with the producer. Layered conflicts between art and business ensue. (103 mins.)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
“ Before he became a phoney, Jean Luc Godard had talent. Even though he couldn't resist playing his little games during the making of this, there are enough brilliant scenes staged here to show what he could have achieved if he'd wanted. ” - jonabbott56
Love and Death (1975)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
In czarist Russia, a neurotic soldier and his distant cousin formulate a plot to assassinate Napoleon. (85 mins.)
Director: Woody Allen
“ You've probably heard it said that Woody Allen's best films are his early funny ones... Here's why... ” - jonabbott56
The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
Thomas Jerome Newton is a humanoid alien who comes to Earth to get water for his dying planet. He starts... (139 mins.)
Director: Nicolas Roeg
“ The best science fiction film of the 1970s... And no, I'm not forgetting anything... ” - jonabbott56
Mean Streets (1973)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
Following the life of a small-time hood who struggles with a moral crisis regarding his friends, family, business, and his conflicting religious beliefs. (112 mins.)
Director: Martin Scorsese
“ The film that quite rightly made the reputation of Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, and Martin Scorsese. A tour-de-force. ” - jonabbott56
The Omega Man (1971)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
Army doctor Robert Neville struggles to create a cure for the plague that wiped out most of the human race. (98 mins.)
Director: Boris Sagal
“ Early '70s period piece sci-fi often overlooked or forgotten by the public, but not the film-makers, who nick from it all the time. Despite production values barely higher than a TV movie of the period, it's excellent and influential. Anthony Zerbe as the lead mutant is great. ” - jonabbott56
Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
In the falangist Spain of 1944, the bookish young stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world. (118 mins.)
“ The banality of fascism meets the magic of imagination in this extraordinary and original blend of fairytale and horror. A wonderful creature in a cave dominates proceedings. Creator Guillermo del Toro grew up watching The Outer Limits, and boy, did it pay off. ” - jonabbott56
The Party (1968)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
A clerical mistake results in a bumbling Indian film star being invited to an exclusive Hollywood party instead of being fired. (99 mins.)
Director: Blake Edwards
“ Peter Sellers is on top form with an affectionate and three-dimensional portrait of a minor Indian actor inadvertently sent an invite to a lavish Hollywood party, which he then proceeds to methodically and accidentally destroy in a comedy of errors. Not a single comic misjudgement from anybody. ” - jonabbott56
Performance (1970)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
Chas, a violent and psychotic East London gangster needs a place to lie low after a hit that should never have been carried out... (105 mins.)
“ Two dead-end lifestyles collide when Fox's murderous pragmatic gangster stumbles into the decadent hovel of Jagger's fading rock star. Could be any time between 1969 and 1979. Co-directed by writer Donald Cammell and controlled improviser Nic Roeg, but it's fairly obvious from their later achievements, the film itself, and subsequent documentation by film buffs that Roeg did all the work. Extraordinary and unparalleled. ” - jonabbott56
Point Blank (1967)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
After being double-crossed and left for dead, a mysterious man named Walker single-mindedly tries to retrieve the rather inconsequential sum of money that was stolen from him. (92 mins.)
Director: John Boorman
“ Lee Marvin is the surprisingly clever and efficient dumb ape assassin who methodically works his way up the ladder and through the mob hierarchy murdering corporate thugs who don't know the value of either a few dollars or their own lives in the eyes of a straightforward thug who feels slighted and cheated. Marvellous performances from an assortment of familiar faces including Angie Dickinson, John Vernon, Lloyd Bochner, Michael Strong, and Carroll O'Connor. ” - jonabbott56
Police Story 3: Supercop (1992)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  
A Hong Kong detective teams up with his female Red Chinese counterpart to stop a Chinese drug czar. (95 mins.)
Director: Stanley Tong
“ Not to be confused with the Michelle Yeoh film called Supercop and featuring a cameo by Jackie Chan, this is the magnificent Police Story 3, starring J.C. and co-starring Yeoh. An amazing climax, and remember, not a pixel of CGI. ” - jonabbott56
Prime Cut (1972)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
A vicious Kansas City slaughterhouse owner and his hick family are having a bloody "beef" with the Chicago crime syndicate over profits from their joint illegal operations. Top enforcer Nick Devlin is sent to straighten things out. (88 mins.)
Director: Michael Ritchie
“ An extraordinary and often forgotten or underrated Lee Marvin film. Not a single scene is flawed, Hackman is superb (why didn't he play Luthor like this??), Marvin is his usual stone-faced self, and the lovely Sissy Spacek makes her film debut. ” - jonabbott56
The Public Enemy (1931)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
A young hoodlum rises up through the ranks of the Chicago underworld, even as a gangster's accidental death threatens to spark a bloody mob war. (83 mins.)
“ Cagney on top form in the film that made his name. ” - jonabbott56
Pulp Fiction (1994)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.9/10 X  
The lives of two mob hit men, a boxer, a gangster's wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption. (154 mins.)
“ Despite the few indulgences, still a work of genius, and probably Tarantino's best. ” - jonabbott56
The Searchers (1956)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A Civil War veteran embarks on a journey to rescue his niece from an Indian tribe. (119 mins.)
Director: John Ford
“ Classic John Wayne. Start here, then see below... ” - jonabbott56
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
Captain Nathan Brittles, on the eve of retirement, takes out a last patrol to stop an impending massive Indian attack. Encumbered by women who must be evacuated, Brittles finds his mission imperiled. (103 mins.)
Director: John Ford
“ A moving and stunningly photographed western classic. Wayne was still an actor rather than an icon at this point. Make sure you see a good print, and watch the sun glint on that bugle... ” - jonabbott56
Sleeper (1973)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
A nerdish store owner is revived out of cryostasis into a future world to fight an oppressive government. (89 mins.)
Director: Woody Allen
“ Classic fish-out-of-water comedy filled to the gills with great sight gags, brilliant one liners, fabulous ideas, and brutal satire. Stand it next to any contemporary comedy film of the last thirty years and cry like a baby... ” - jonabbott56
Sons of the Desert (1933)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
When Stan and Ollie trick their wives into thinking that they are taking a medicinal cruise while they're actually going to a convention, the wives find out the truth the hard way. (68 mins.)
“ Speaking of which, don't pass up one of the few Laurel and Hardy films that's as non-stop brilliant as the twenty minute classics... Features the famous sitting-down-after-everybody-else-is-settled late arrival routine stolen by everybody else ever since... ” - jonabbott56
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
Snow White, pursued by a jealous queen, hides with the Dwarfs; the queen soon learns of this and prepares to feed her a poison apple. (83 mins.)
“ Still as powerful as it was back in the day... ” - jonabbott56
This Island Earth (1955)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.8/10 X  
Aliens come to Earth seeking scientists to help them in their war. (87 mins.)
Director: Joseph Newman
“ Vintage textbook 1950s sci-fi. Absolutely everything is here, and in colour. It's got the lot. The scenes on Metaluna are fantastic, but the entire film is a gem. ” - jonabbott56
The Time Machine (1960)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
A man's vision for a utopian society is disillusioned when travelling forward into time reveals a dark and dangerous society. (103 mins.)
Director: George Pal
“ A beautiful film with a beautiful beginning, a beautiful ending, and a beautiful and profound message. The middle's not too bad either. ” - jonabbott56
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
A dramatization of the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor and the series of American blunders that allowed it to happen. (144 mins.)
“ Step by step retelling of the shameful day that took America into WWII. Understated, yet overwhelming. ” - jonabbott56
True Grit (1969)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
A drunken, hard-nosed U.S. Marshal and a Texas Ranger help a stubborn teenager track down her father's murderer in Indian territory. (128 mins.)
Director: Henry Hathaway
“ Already by now an American institution, Wayne reinvents himself for middle age. "Fill your hands, you sons of bitches...". ” - jonabbott56
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
In 1968, a Czech doctor with an active sex life meets a woman who wants monogamy, and then the Soviet invasion further disrupts their lives. (171 mins.)
Director: Philip Kaufman
“ Forget your rom-coms and chick flicks, this intelligent and overpowering erotic love story will break your heart and stiffen your... resolve. ” - jonabbott56
Viva Las Vegas (1964)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  
Race car driver Lucky Jackson goes to Las Vegas to earn money to pay for a new engine for his motor car. Working as a waiter, he still finds the time to court young Rusty Martin. (85 mins.)
Director: George Sidney
“ I hate to resort to cliche, but if you only see one Elvis film (you're missing about twenty other fun ones), let it be this... ” - jonabbott56
Walkabout (1971)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
Two young siblings are stranded in the Australian Outback and are forced to cope on their own. They meet an Australian boy on "walkabout": a ritual separation from his tribe. (100 mins.)
Director: Nicolas Roeg
“ Moving and engrossing cliche-free story of a clash of cultures when two suburban school kids are abandoned in the Australian outback after their father cracks up and suicides. Sounds like a lemon, but don't make the mistake I did and miss it for two years. When I finally caught it by chance, I kicked my butt round the room for pre-judging it. I like my home comforts, but the final coda will rip your guts out. ” - jonabbott56
The War of the Worlds (1953)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
A small town in California is attacked by Martians. (85 mins.)
Director: Byron Haskin
“ Best alien invasion film ever. ” - jonabbott56
Way Out West (1937)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
Stan and Ollie are charged with delivering the deed to a valuable gold mine to the daughter of a dead prospector... (64 mins.)
Director: James W. Horne
“ Some classic routines, plus Trail of the Lonesome Pine and the famous dance routine... ” - jonabbott56
White Heat (1949)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
A psychopathic criminal with a mother complex makes a daring break from prison and leads his old gang in a chemical plant payroll heist. Shortly after the plan takes place, events take a crazy turn (114 mins.)
Director: Raoul Walsh
“ One of the greatest gangster films ever made, and you don't just get Jimmy Cagney's legendary finest performance, but Virginia Mayo's sleazy, slutty, two-faced moll, Steve Cochran's brash usurper, and Margaret Wycherly's poisonous and devoted mother. Not one dud moment. "So you want some air, do you...?" ” - jonabbott56
The Wicker Man (1973)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
A police sergeant is sent to a Scottish island village in search of a missing girl whom the townsfolk claim never existed. Stranger still are the rites that take place there. (88 mins.)
Director: Robin Hardy
“ Wacky and offbeat British classic that appears to have been some sort of happy accident from start to finish as it explores the British adversarial attitude toward sex. Edward Woodward is the uptight cop on a wild goose chase on a pagan island of weirdos. ” - jonabbott56
The Wild Bunch (1969)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
An aging group of outlaws look for one last big score as the "traditional" American West is disappearing around them. (145 mins.)
Director: Sam Peckinpah
“ Peckinpah's masterpiece. Genuinely redefined both the western and screen violence, but so much more than just a shoot-out. Makes other male buddy films look as dumb as they are. ” - jonabbott56
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
Dorothy Gale is swept away to a magical land in a tornado and embarks on a quest to see the Wizard who can help her return home. (102 mins.)
Director: Victor Fleming
“ Yes, a little twee in places, but you absolutely have to see the visuals. Besides, not a month goes by without contemporary comedy and/or pop culture making a reference to it, so how you going to get the joke?

Jon is not on Facebook, but can reply to comments here, at the base of this list.

Obsessed with the popular culture of the 1960s and surrounding decades, Jon Abbott has been writing about film and TV for over thirty years in around two dozen different publications, trade, populist, and specialist. He is the author of several books, including

Irwin Allen Television Productions 1964-1970,
Stephen J. Cannell Television Productions: A History of All Series and Pilots,
The Elvis Films,
Cool TV of the 1960s: Three Shows That Changed the World,
and Strange New World: Sex Films of the 1970s.

See his Amazon author's page, and his other lists on the IMDB, all under the pre-fix DISCOVER. ” - jonabbott56