The best 50 US movies of substance

by JuguAbraham | created - 15 Apr 2013 | updated - 21 Jun 2020 | Public
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1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

G | 149 min | Adventure, Sci-Fi

84 Metascore

After uncovering a mysterious artifact buried beneath the Lunar surface, a spacecraft is sent to Jupiter to find its origins - a spacecraft manned by two men and the supercomputer H.A.L. 9000.

Director: Stanley Kubrick | Stars: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter

Votes: 659,778 | Gross: $56.95M

2. The Tree of Life (2011)

PG-13 | 139 min | Drama, Fantasy

85 Metascore

The story of a family in Waco, Texas in 1956. The eldest son witnesses the loss of innocence and struggles with his parents' conflicting teachings.

Director: Terrence Malick | Stars: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken

Votes: 176,781 | Gross: $13.30M

An exquisite cinematic product grappling with metaphysics and theology. My review is at http://moviessansfrontiers.blogspot.com/2011/11/121-us-director-terrence-malicks-tree.html

3. Citizen Kane (1941)

PG | 119 min | Drama, Mystery

100 Metascore

Following the death of publishing tycoon Charles Foster Kane, reporters scramble to uncover the meaning of his final utterance: 'Rosebud.'

Director: Orson Welles | Stars: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead

Votes: 438,415 | Gross: $1.59M

4. The Thin Red Line (1998)

R | 170 min | Drama, History, War

78 Metascore

Adaptation of James Jones' autobiographical 1962 novel, focusing on the conflict at Guadalcanal during the second World War.

Director: Terrence Malick | Stars: Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Kirk Acevedo

Votes: 186,967 | Gross: $36.40M

“What’s this war in the heart of nature?” My review is at http://moviessansfrontiers.blogspot.com/2009/10/90-us-director-terrence-malicks-thin.html

5. Heat (1995)

R | 170 min | Action, Crime, Drama

76 Metascore

A group of high-end professional thieves start to feel the heat from the LAPD when they unknowingly leave a clue at their latest heist.

Director: Michael Mann | Stars: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight

Votes: 644,747 | Gross: $67.44M

6. Runaway Train (1985)

R | 111 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

67 Metascore

Two escaped convicts and a female railway worker find themselves trapped on a speeding train with no brakes and nobody driving.

Director: Andrey Konchalovskiy | Stars: Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, Rebecca De Mornay, Kyle T. Heffner

Votes: 29,585 | Gross: $7.94M

An unusual Hollywood film that intensely deals with philosophy and the choices one makes in life. My review is at http://moviessansfrontiers.blogspot.com/2015/09/183-russian-director-andrei-mikhalkov.html

7. The Conversation (1974)

PG | 113 min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller

87 Metascore

A paranoid, secretive surveillance expert has a crisis of conscience when he suspects that the couple he is spying on will be murdered.

Director: Francis Ford Coppola | Stars: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Frederic Forrest

Votes: 111,287 | Gross: $4.42M

8. Duel (1971 TV Movie)

PG | 90 min | Action, Thriller

A business commuter is pursued and terrorized by the malevolent driver of a massive tractor-trailer.

Director: Steven Spielberg | Stars: Dennis Weaver, Jacqueline Scott, Eddie Firestone, Lou Frizzell

Votes: 70,602

9. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

R | 229 min | Crime, Drama

75 Metascore

A former Prohibition-era Jewish gangster returns to the Lower East Side of Manhattan 35 years later, where he must once again confront the ghosts and regrets of his old life.

Director: Sergio Leone | Stars: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Treat Williams

Votes: 347,885 | Gross: $5.32M

A great swansong from the acclaimed director. My review is at http://moviessansfrontiers.blogspot.com/2006/09/14-late-italian-director-sergio-leones.html

10. Days of Heaven (1978)

PG | 94 min | Drama, Romance

93 Metascore

A hot-tempered farm laborer convinces the woman he loves to marry their rich but dying boss so that they can have a claim to his fortune.

Director: Terrence Malick | Stars: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, Linda Manz

Votes: 58,012

Seeing heaven by twilight on earth. My review is at http://moviessansfrontiers.blogspot.com/2007/04/36-us-director-terence-mallicks-days-of.html

11. Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

Not Rated | 86 min | Documentary, Music

72 Metascore

A collection of expertly photographed phenomena with no conventional plot. The footage focuses on nature, humanity, and the relationship between them.

Director: Godfrey Reggio | Stars: Edward Asner, Pat Benatar, Jerry Brown, Johnny Carson

Votes: 38,428 | Gross: $1.72M

12. Shy People (1987)

R | 118 min | Drama

New York journalist visits her distant cousin for the first time to write an article about her hard life in the bayous of Louisiana. Journalist's wild drug addicted daughter just adds to tensions between two families' cultures.

Director: Andrey Konchalovskiy | Stars: Jill Clayburgh, Barbara Hershey, Martha Plimpton, Merritt Butrick

Votes: 1,364 | Gross: $0.77M

An original story/screenplay by the film’s director with notable performances and cinematography, all worthy of greater recognition than bestowed. My review is at http://moviessansfrontiers.blogspot.com/2018/05/222-russian-director-andrei.html

13. Limbo (I) (1999)

R | 126 min | Adventure, Drama, Thriller

68 Metascore

In an economically devastated Alaskan town, a fisherman with a troublesome past dates a woman whose young daughter does not approve of him. When he witnesses the murder of his shady brother, he, the woman and the kid run to the wilderness.

Director: John Sayles | Stars: David Strathairn, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Vanessa Martinez, Michael Laskin

Votes: 6,075 | Gross: $2.00M

14. The Kid (1921)

Passed | 68 min | Comedy, Drama, Family

The Tramp cares for an abandoned child, but events put their relationship in jeopardy.

Director: Charles Chaplin | Stars: Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Jackie Coogan, Carl Miller

Votes: 125,721 | Gross: $5.45M

15. Castle Keep (1969)

R | 107 min | Action, Comedy, Drama

During the Battle of the Bulge, an anachronistic count shelters a ragtag squad of Americans in his remote 10th Century castle hoping a battle there against the advancing Germans will not lead to its destruction and all the heritage within.

Director: Sydney Pollack | Stars: Burt Lancaster, Patrick O'Neal, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Peter Falk

Votes: 3,185

16. F for Fake (1973)

PG | 89 min | Documentary

87 Metascore

A documentary about fraud and fakery.

Directors: Orson Welles, Gary Graver, Oja Kodar, François Reichenbach | Stars: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar, François Reichenbach, Elmyr de Hory

Votes: 16,892

The most thought-provoking film on illusion and reality from an exceptionally gifted filmmaker and intellectual. My review is at http://moviessansfrontiers.blogspot.com/2013/07/147-us-maestro-orson-welles-last-film-f.html

17. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Not Rated | 131 min | Drama

75 Metascore

A bitter, aging couple, with the help of alcohol, use their young houseguests to fuel anguish and emotional pain towards each other over the course of a distressing night.

Director: Mike Nichols | Stars: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal, Sandy Dennis

Votes: 75,147

Nichols’ debut film is his finest work to date. My review is at http://moviessansfrontiers.blogspot.com/2012/10/134-us-film-director-mike-nichols-debut.html

18. Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969)

PG | 98 min | Drama, Western

In 1909, when young Paiute Indian Willie Boy returns to his California reservation to be with Lola, whose father disapproves of him, a killing in self defense takes place, triggering a massive man hunt for Willie.

Director: Abraham Polonsky | Stars: Robert Redford, Katharine Ross, Robert Blake, Susan Clark

Votes: 3,026 | Gross: $6.00M

19. The Petrified Forest (1936)

Passed | 82 min | Drama, Thriller

A waitress, a hobo and a bank robber get mixed up at a lonely diner in the desert.

Director: Archie Mayo | Stars: Leslie Howard, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Genevieve Tobin

Votes: 13,889

20. The Night of the Iguana (1964)

Approved | 125 min | Drama

An ostracized Episcopal clergyman leads a busload of middle-aged Baptist women on a tour of the Mexican coast and comes to terms with the failure haunting his life.

Director: John Huston | Stars: Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, Sue Lyon

Votes: 11,797 | Gross: $9.43M

21. Night Moves (1975)

R | 100 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

82 Metascore

Los Angeles private investigator Harry Moseby is hired by a client to find her runaway teenage daughter. Moseby tracks the daughter down, only to stumble upon something much more intriguing and sinister.

Director: Arthur Penn | Stars: Gene Hackman, Jennifer Warren, Edward Binns, Harris Yulin

Votes: 15,184

22. The Swimmer (1968)

M/PG | 95 min | Drama

A man spends a summer day swimming as many pools as he can all over a quiet suburban town.

Directors: Frank Perry, Sydney Pollack | Stars: Burt Lancaster, Janet Landgard, Janice Rule, Tony Bickley

Votes: 11,759

Social satire on the typical WASP US male, an abstract morality tale, rewinding in time, presented with intelligence, rarely encountered in Hollywood cinema. My review is at http://moviessansfrontiers.blogspot.com/2015/11/186-us-directors-frank-perrys-and.html

23. Freaks (1932)

Not Rated | 64 min | Drama, Horror

80 Metascore

A circus' beautiful trapeze artist agrees to marry the leader of side-show performers, but his deformed friends discover she is only marrying him for his inheritance.

Director: Tod Browning | Stars: Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova, Roscoe Ates

Votes: 46,348

24. Monte Walsh (1970)

PG-13 | 106 min | Western

An aging cowboy realizes that the West he knew and loved will soon be no more--and that there will be no room for him, either.

Director: William A. Fraker | Stars: Lee Marvin, Jeanne Moreau, Jack Palance, Mitchell Ryan

Votes: 2,761

25. Titus (1999)

R | 162 min | Drama, History, Thriller

57 Metascore

Titus returns victorious from war, only to plant the seeds of future turmoil for himself and his family.

Director: Julie Taymor | Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Osheen Jones, Dario D'Ambrosi

Votes: 20,699 | Gross: $1.92M

One of the most striking adaptations of Shakespeare on screen. My review is at http://moviessansfrontiers.blogspot.com/2006/12/24-us-director-julie-taymors-titus-1999.html

26. The Godfather Part II (1974)

R | 202 min | Crime, Drama

90 Metascore

The early life and career of Vito Corleone in 1920s New York City is portrayed, while his son, Michael, expands and tightens his grip on the family crime syndicate.

Director: Francis Ford Coppola | Stars: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton

Votes: 1,249,656 | Gross: $57.30M

27. As Good as It Gets (1997)

PG-13 | 139 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

67 Metascore

A single mother and waitress, a misanthropic author, and a gay artist form an unlikely friendship after the artist is assaulted in a robbery.

Director: James L. Brooks | Stars: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding Jr.

Votes: 297,119 | Gross: $148.48M

28. Nine Lives (2005)

R | 115 min | Drama

80 Metascore

Captives of the very relationships that define and sustain them, nine women resiliently meet the travails and disappointments of life.

Director: Rodrigo García | Stars: Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman, Glenn Close, LisaGay Hamilton

Votes: 6,893 | Gross: $0.48M

29. Scarecrow (1973)

R | 112 min | Drama

72 Metascore

An ex-con drifter with a penchant for brawling is amused by a homeless ex-sailor, so they partner up as they head east together.

Director: Jerry Schatzberg | Stars: Gene Hackman, Al Pacino, Dorothy Tristan, Ann Wedgeworth

Votes: 17,399 | Gross: $9.00M

30. An Unmarried Woman (1978)

R | 124 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

79 Metascore

A wealthy woman from Manhattan's Upper East Side struggles to deal with her new identity and her sexuality after her husband of 16 years leaves her for a younger woman.

Director: Paul Mazursky | Stars: Jill Clayburgh, Alan Bates, Michael Murphy, Cliff Gorman

Votes: 5,419 | Gross: $24.00M

31. Giant (1956)

G | 201 min | Drama, Western

84 Metascore

Sprawling epic covering the life of a Texas cattle rancher and his family and associates.

Director: George Stevens | Stars: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Carroll Baker

Votes: 38,918

32. Harry and Tonto (1974)

R | 115 min | Adventure, Comedy, Drama

72 Metascore

When his apartment building is torn down, a retired lifelong New Yorker goes on a cross-country odyssey with his beloved cat Tonto.

Director: Paul Mazursky | Stars: Art Carney, Ellen Burstyn, René Enríquez, Herbert Berghof

Votes: 5,743 | Gross: $1.26M

33. Paris, Texas (1984)

R | 145 min | Drama

80 Metascore

Travis Henderson, an aimless drifter who has been missing for four years, wanders out of the desert and must reconnect with society, himself, his life, and his family.

Director: Wim Wenders | Stars: Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell, Sam Berry

Votes: 105,301 | Gross: $2.18M

34. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Approved | 129 min | Crime, Drama

88 Metascore

Atticus Finch, a widowed lawyer in Depression-era Alabama, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his children against prejudice.

Director: Robert Mulligan | Stars: Gregory Peck, John Megna, Frank Overton, Rosemary Murphy

Votes: 314,399

35. The Reivers (1969)

PG-13 | 107 min | Comedy, Drama

66 Metascore

In turn-of-the-century Mississippi, an 11-year-old boy comes of age as two mischievous adult friends talk him into sneaking the family car out for a trip to Memphis and a series of adventures.

Director: Mark Rydell | Stars: Steve McQueen, Sharon Farrell, Ruth White, Michael Constantine

Votes: 3,058 | Gross: $18.70M

36. Michael Clayton (2007)

R | 119 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

82 Metascore

A law firm brings in its "fixer" to remedy the situation after a lawyer has a breakdown while representing a chemical company that he knows is guilty in a multibillion-dollar class action suit.

Director: Tony Gilroy | Stars: George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Michael O'Keefe

Votes: 165,800 | Gross: $49.03M

A screenplay, a writer would like to direct without compromises, My review is at http://moviessansfrontiers.blogspot.com/2009/04/82-us-director-screenplay-writer-tony.html

37. The New World (2005)

PG-13 | 135 min | Biography, Drama, History

69 Metascore

The story of the English exploration of Virginia, and of the changing world and loves of Pocahontas.

Director: Terrence Malick | Stars: Colin Farrell, Q'orianka Kilcher, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale

Votes: 86,486 | Gross: $12.71M

38. To the Wonder (2012)

R | 112 min | Drama, Romance

58 Metascore

After falling in love in Paris, Marina and Neil come to Oklahoma, where problems arise. Their church's Spanish-born pastor struggles with his faith, while Neil encounters a woman from his childhood.

Director: Terrence Malick | Stars: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams

Votes: 28,944 | Gross: $0.59M

Love your spouse in the context of divine love, suggests Malick. My review is at http://moviessansfrontiers.blogspot.com/2013/04/144-us-director-terrence-malicks-sixth.html

39. Paper Moon (1973)

PG | 102 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama

77 Metascore

During the Great Depression, a con man finds himself saddled with a young girl who may or may not be his daughter, and the two forge an unlikely partnership.

Director: Peter Bogdanovich | Stars: Ryan O'Neal, Tatum O'Neal, Madeline Kahn, John Hillerman

Votes: 47,558 | Gross: $30.93M

40. How the West Was Won (1962)

G | 164 min | Western

56 Metascore

A family saga covering several decades of Westward expansion in the 19th century, including the Gold Rush, the Civil War, and the building of the railroads.

Directors: John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall, Richard Thorpe | Stars: James Stewart, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda

Votes: 20,943 | Gross: $46.50M

41. Point Blank (1967)

Not Rated | 92 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

86 Metascore

After being double-crossed and left for dead, a mysterious man named Walker single-mindedly tries to retrieve the money that was stolen from him.

Director: John Boorman | Stars: Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, Keenan Wynn, Carroll O'Connor

Votes: 21,149

Alienation at its best surfaces in a Hollywood action film! My review is at http://moviessansfrontiers.blogspot.com/2007/10/45-british-director-john-boormans-us.html

42. Cheyenne Autumn (1964)

PG | 154 min | Drama, History, Western

The Cheyenne, tired of broken U.S. government promises, head for their ancestral lands but a sympathetic cavalry officer is tasked to bring them back to their reservation.

Director: John Ford | Stars: Richard Widmark, Carroll Baker, Karl Malden, Sal Mineo

Votes: 5,744

43. Cool Hand Luke (1967)

GP | 127 min | Crime, Drama

92 Metascore

A laid back Southern man is sentenced to two years in a rural prison, but refuses to conform.

Director: Stuart Rosenberg | Stars: Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Strother Martin, J.D. Cannon

Votes: 176,205 | Gross: $16.22M