American Films That Give Me Something To Think About !!

by JoeKulik | created - 29 May 2015 | updated - 08 Dec 2016 | Public

"Film will only become an art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper." - Jean Cocteau

"Every poem is a coat of arms. It must be deciphered." - Jean Cocteau

American films that "feed my head" in some way. This list isn't in any order of preference or quality. I just add "thought provoking" American films as they come to mind.

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1. Fear and Desire (1953)

Not Rated | 62 min | Drama, Thriller, War

Four soldiers trapped behind enemy lines must confront their fears and desires.

Director: Stanley Kubrick | Stars: Frank Silvera, Kenneth Harp, Paul Mazursky, Stephen Coit

Votes: 7,126

dir: Stanley Kubrick.

available at

2. Lolita (1962)

Not Rated | 153 min | Crime, Drama, Romance

A middle-aged college professor becomes infatuated with a fourteen-year-old nymphet.

Director: Stanley Kubrick | Stars: James Mason, Shelley Winters, Sue Lyon, Gary Cockrell

Votes: 78,835 | Gross: $9.25M

dir: Stanley Kubrick.

available at Instant Video.

3. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

PG | 95 min | Comedy

96 Metascore

An insane general triggers a path to nuclear holocaust that a War Room full of politicians and generals frantically tries to stop.

Director: Stanley Kubrick | Stars: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn

Votes: 397,521 | Gross: $0.28M

screenplay: Stanley Kubrick et al. dir: Stanley Kubrick.

available at Instant Video.

4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

G | 149 min | Adventure, Sci-Fi

82 Metascore

Humanity finds a mysterious, obviously artificial object buried beneath the Lunar surface and, with the intelligent computer HAL 9000, sets off on a quest.

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

Votes: 511,360 | Gross: $56.95M

screenplay: Stanley Kubrick et al. dir: Stanley Kubrick.

available at Instant Video.

5. Get Low (2009)

PG-13 | 103 min | Drama, Mystery

77 Metascore

A movie spun out of equal parts folk tale, fable and real-life legend about the mysterious, 1930s Tennessee hermit who famously threw his own rollicking funeral party... while he was still alive.

Director: Aaron Schneider | Stars: Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, Lucas Black

Votes: 20,448 | Gross: $9.18M

Robert Duvall. Bill Murray. Sissy Sapcek.

After 30 years in seclusion in the wilderness, a hermit contacts the undertaker at his nearby hometown to arrange conducting a funeral for himself while he's still alive & wants to invite the whole town to attend.

6. The Crossing Guard (1995)

R | 111 min | Drama, Thriller

46 Metascore

Freddy Gale is a seedy jeweller who has sworn to kill the drunk driver who killed his little girl.

Director: Sean Penn | Stars: Jack Nicholson, David Morse, Anjelica Huston, Robin Wright

Votes: 11,641 | Gross: $0.83M

Jack Nicholson. David Morse. Anjelica Huston. Director & Writer: Sean Penn.

Nicholson delivers a brilliant portrayal of a man whose obsession with revenge is destroying his life & driving him to the brink of insanity.

7. Finding Forrester (2000)

PG-13 | 136 min | Drama

62 Metascore

A young writing prodigy finds a mentor in a reclusive author.

Director: Gus Van Sant | Stars: Sean Connery, Rob Brown, F. Murray Abraham, Anna Paquin

Votes: 77,446 | Gross: $51.80M

Sean Connery. Rob Brown.

The unlikely alliance between an eccentric & reclusive old White man & a poor, disadvantaged Black teenager proves, in the end, to benefit both of them.

8. The Old Man and the Sea (1958)

Not Rated | 86 min | Adventure, Drama

An old Cuban fisherman's dry spell is broken when he hooks a gigantic fish that drags him out to sea. Based on Ernest Hemingway's story.

Directors: John Sturges, Henry King, Fred Zinnemann | Stars: Spencer Tracy, Felipe Pazos, Harry Bellaver, Don Diamond

Votes: 6,177

Spencer Tracy. Ernest Hemingway's novel.

A classic portrayal of Man's never ending struggle with Nature.

9. 12 Angry Men (1957)

Approved | 96 min | Crime, Drama

96 Metascore

A jury holdout attempts to prevent a miscarriage of justice by forcing his colleagues to reconsider the evidence.

Director: Sidney Lumet | Stars: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, John Fiedler

Votes: 553,989

Henry Fonda & a great ensemble supporting cast.

On a jury of 12 White men, only one man has the guts to stand up & argue that they can not just throw away a young man's life with a hasty decision, even if he is a poor, lower class Latino.

10. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

R | 122 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

81 Metascore

After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own.

Director: David O. Russell | Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver

Votes: 598,909 | Gross: $132.09M

Bradley Cooper. Jennifer Lawrence. Robert De Niro.

A mentally ill man & a mentally ill woman find sanity & romance while practicing as a couple for a ballroom dance competition.

11. Good Will Hunting (1997)

R | 126 min | Drama

70 Metascore

Will Hunting, a janitor at M.I.T., has a gift for mathematics, but needs help from a psychologist to find direction in his life.

Director: Gus Van Sant | Stars: Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Stellan Skarsgård

Votes: 725,211 | Gross: $138.43M

Matt Damon. Robin Williams. Ben Affleck. Minnie Driver.

A brilliant & inspiring story of how a young man's low self image was keeping from realizing his true potential.

12. Ethan Frome (1993)

PG | 99 min | Drama, Romance

A new pastor arrives in a stark Vermont village and is intrigued by crippled, misshapen Ethan Frome living on an isolated, hardscrabble farm with his sickly wife Zeena.

Director: John Madden | Stars: Liam Neeson, Patricia Arquette, Gil Rood, Tate Donovan

Votes: 1,844 | Gross: $0.30M

Liam Neeson. Patricia Arquette.

Although set in the 1800's, this film gives an excellent portrayal of life in a small town, replete with narrowed minded, judgmental "small town thinking", & where everybody knows everybody else's business, & that is still very much alive & well in small town America even today.

13. Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

PG-13 | 106 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

70 Metascore

A delusional young man strikes up an unconventional relationship with a doll he finds on the Internet.

Director: Craig Gillespie | Stars: Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, R.D. Reid

Votes: 127,273 | Gross: $5.97M

Ryan Gosling. Emily Mortimer.

Delusional, but lovable, & good natured small town guy buys an inflatable sex doll on the Internet & tells his family & everyone else in town that he loves her & that he's going to marry her & he's sincere about it. Everybody in town goes overboard to go along with him because they've known him & loved him his whole life.

14. East of Eden (1955)

PG | 118 min | Drama

A wilful young man contends against his brother for the attention of their religious father while reconnecting with his estranged mother and falling for his brother's girlfriend.

Director: Elia Kazan | Stars: James Dean, Raymond Massey, Julie Harris, Burl Ives

Votes: 34,853

James Dean,

James Dean gives a brilliant portrayal of the classic dilemma of a boy who just can't get his father's approval & validation, no matter how hard he tries.

15. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Not Rated | 129 min | Crime, Drama

87 Metascore

Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, 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: 258,577

Gregory Peck. Harper Lee's novel.

16. Amigo (2010)

R | 124 min | Drama, War

63 Metascore

A fictional account of events during the Philippine-American War.

Director: John Sayles | Stars: Joel Torre, Chris Cooper, Garret Dillahunt, Arthur Acuña

Votes: 508 | Gross: $0.18M

director: John Sayles.

17. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

PG-13 | 111 min | Drama

87 Metascore

A rebellious young man with a troubled past comes to a new town, finding friends and enemies.

Director: Nicholas Ray | Stars: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus

Votes: 72,925

James Dean.

A classic portrayal of the disintegration of the nuclear family in Modern America.

18. Mad City (1997)

PG-13 | 115 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

45 Metascore

A disgruntled security guard holds a school trip group hostage, while a news reporter forms a bond with him.

Director: Costa-Gavras | Stars: John Travolta, Dustin Hoffman, Alan Alda, Mia Kirshner

Votes: 17,732 | Gross: $10.56M

John Travolta. Dustin Hoffman.

19. Our Idiot Brother (2011)

R | 90 min | Comedy, Drama

60 Metascore

A comedy centered on an idealist who barges into the lives of his three sisters.

Director: Jesse Peretz | Stars: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Nick Sullivan

Votes: 79,165 | Gross: $24.81M

Paul Rudd.

The protagonist is a free thinking, free loving guy with a very unconventional life style. His three sisters all have alternative lifestyles that are only a little more "normal" than his. Together, they kick the "Establishment" dogma in the teeth that preaches that true happiness lies only in living "The American Dream".

20. Giant (1956)

G | 201 min | Drama, Western

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: 29,909 | Gross: $35.00M

James Dean. Rock Hudson. Elizabeth Taylor.

James Dean delivers a brilliant portrayal of a character that goes through a more radical transformation of personality than I have seen in any other film.

21. Marvin's Room (1996)

PG-13 | 98 min | Drama

68 Metascore

A leukemia patient attempts to end a twenty-year feud with her sister to get her bone marrow.

Director: Jerry Zaks | Stars: Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro

Votes: 22,670 | Gross: $12.78M

Meryl Streep. Leonardo Di'Caprio. Diane Keaton. Robert De Niro.

22. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Not Rated | 129 min | Comedy, Drama

73 Metascore

A naive man is appointed to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate. His plans promptly collide with political corruption, but he doesn't back down.

Director: Frank Capra | Stars: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold

Votes: 93,563 | Gross: $9.60M

James Stewart

A classic portrayal of the well worn tale of the young, naïve idealist who takes on the corrupt Establishment.

23. As I Lay Dying (2013)

R | 110 min | Drama

50 Metascore

Based on the classic novel by William Faulkner, first published in 1930, "As I Lay Dying" is the story of the death of Addie Bundren and her family's quest to honor her last wish to be buried in the nearby town of Jefferson.

Director: James Franco | Stars: James Franco, Tim Blake Nelson, Jim Parrack, Ahna O'Reilly

Votes: 3,467 | Gross: $0.02M

James Franco.

24. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

PG | 130 min | Drama, Family, Fantasy

89 Metascore

An angel is sent from Heaven to help a desperately frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he had never existed.

Director: Frank Capra | Stars: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell

Votes: 333,549 | Gross: $7.27M

James Stewart. Donna Reed.

25. Dead Man Walking (1995)

R | 122 min | Crime, Drama

80 Metascore

A nun, while comforting a convicted killer on death row, empathizes with both the killer and his victim's families.

Director: Tim Robbins | Stars: Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Robert Prosky, Raymond J. Barry

Votes: 80,202 | Gross: $39.39M

Susan Sarandon. Sean Penn.

26. The Brother from Another Planet (1984)

R | 108 min | Comedy, Sci-Fi

A mute alien with the appearance of a black human is chased by outer-space bounty hunters through the streets of Harlem.

Director: John Sayles | Stars: Joe Morton, Daryl Edwards, Rosanna Carter, Ray Ramirez

Votes: 4,983 | Gross: $3.70M

director: John Sayles

27. Marty (1955)

Not Rated | 90 min | Drama, Romance

A middle-aged butcher and a school teacher who have given up on the idea of love meet at a dance and fall for each other.

Director: Delbert Mann | Stars: Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Esther Minciotti, Augusta Ciolli

Votes: 18,156

Ernest Borgnine

28. The Believer (2001)

R | 98 min | Drama

75 Metascore

A young Jewish man develops a fiercely anti-Semitic philosophy. Based on the factual story of a K.K.K. member in the 1960s who was revealed to be Jewish by a New York Times reporter.

Director: Henry Bean | Stars: Ryan Gosling, Summer Phoenix, Peter Meadows, Garret Dillahunt

Votes: 33,597 | Gross: $0.41M

Ryan Gosling.

A young man from a devout Orthodox Jewish family slowly converts to being a member of an ant-Semitic, neo-Nazi gang.

29. Return of the Secaucus Seven (1979)

R | 104 min | Drama

Seven former college friends, along with a few new friends, gather for a weekend reunion at a summer house in New Hampshire to reminisce about the good old days, when they got arrested on the way to a protest in Washington, DC.

Director: John Sayles | Stars: Bruce MacDonald, Maggie Renzi, Adam LeFevre, Maggie Cousineau

Votes: 1,793 | Gross: $2.00M

director: John Sayles

30. The Retrieval (2013)

R | 92 min | Adventure, Drama, Western

75 Metascore

On the outskirts of the U.S. Civil War, a boy is sent north by his bounty hunter gang to retrieve a wanted man.

Director: Chris Eska | Stars: Ashton Sanders, Tishuan Scott, Keston John, Bill Oberst Jr.

Votes: 2,255 | Gross: $0.05M

Reveals that slavery is just not a physical & a social phenomenon, but slavery has a psychological dimension as well. Protagonist is a Black teenager during the Civil War who is free both physically & socially, but whose mind is still in chains.

31. Sleepers (1996)

R | 147 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

49 Metascore

After a prank goes disastrously wrong, a group of boys are sent to a detention center where they are brutalized. Over ten years later, they get their chance for revenge.

Director: Barry Levinson | Stars: Robert De Niro, Kevin Bacon, Brad Pitt, Jason Patric

Votes: 169,753 | Gross: $49.10M

Brad Pitt. Kevin Bacon. Robert De Niro.

An innovative, creative, & well thought out variation of the age old revenge story.

32. Lianna (1983)

R | 110 min | Drama, Romance

A happily married woman comes to realize herself of being a repressed lesbian after she has an affair with a female college professor, and then tries to come to terms with her newfound lifestyle.

Director: John Sayles | Stars: Linda Griffiths, Jane Hallaren, Jon DeVries, Jo Henderson

Votes: 1,431 | Gross: $1.50M

director: John Sayles

33. Seven Years in Tibet (1997)

PG-13 | 136 min | Adventure, Biography, Drama

55 Metascore

True story of Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountain climber who became friends with the Dalai Lama at the time of China's takeover of Tibet.

Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud | Stars: Brad Pitt, David Thewlis, BD Wong, Mako

Votes: 108,012 | Gross: $37.96M

Brad Pitt.

34. Little Odessa (1994)

R | 98 min | Crime, Drama

62 Metascore

Early 1990s drama about a family of Soviet Jews living in Brooklyn's Brighton Beach ocean-side neighborhood nicknamed Little Odessa.

Director: James Gray | Stars: Tim Roth, Edward Furlong, Moira Kelly, Vanessa Redgrave

Votes: 6,330 | Gross: $1.10M

Tim Roth.

35. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

PG | 122 min | Drama

96 Metascore

Disturbed Blanche DuBois moves in with her sister in New Orleans and is tormented by her brutish brother-in-law while her reality crumbles around her.

Director: Elia Kazan | Stars: Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden

Votes: 88,038 | Gross: $8.00M

Marlon Brando. Vivian Leigh. Karl Malden. Tennessee William's play.

36. Passion Fish (1992)

R | 135 min | Drama

After an accident leaves her a paraplegic, a former soap opera star struggles to recover both emotionally and mentally, until she meets her newest nurse, who has struggles of her own.

Director: John Sayles | Stars: Mary McDonnell, Alfre Woodard, Angela Bassett, Lenore Banks

Votes: 4,553 | Gross: $5.41M

director: John Sayles

37. On the Waterfront (1954)

Not Rated | 108 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

88 Metascore

An ex-prize fighter turned longshoreman struggles to stand up to his corrupt union bosses.

Director: Elia Kazan | Stars: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger

Votes: 122,406 | Gross: $9.60M

Marlon Brando. Karl Malden. Lee J Cobb.

38. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

PG | 105 min | Drama

77 Metascore

Ted Kramer's wife leaves her husband, allowing for a lost bond to be rediscovered between Ted and his son, Billy. But a heated custody battle ensues over the divorced couple's son, deepening the wounds left by the separation.

Director: Robert Benton | Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Jane Alexander, Justin Henry

Votes: 112,530 | Gross: $106.26M

Dustin Hoffman. Meryl Streep.

39. Brother's Shadow (2006)

91 min | Drama

Jake Groden is the black sheep of his family. Ankle deep in fish guts, he serves out his parole in Alaska. Then, after a decade of self-imposed exile, he is forced to return to his Brooklyn... See full summary »

Director: Todd S. Yellin | Stars: Scott Cohen, Katie Danziger, Lisa Emery, Ato Essandoh

Votes: 100

Scott Cohen. Judd Hirsch.

40. Last Tango in Paris (1972)

NC-17 | 129 min | Drama, Romance

77 Metascore

A young Parisian woman meets a middle-aged American businessman who demands their clandestine relationship be based only on sex.

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci | Stars: Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, Maria Michi, Giovanna Galletti

Votes: 42,552 | Gross: $36.14M

Marlon Brando.

41. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

Not Rated | 108 min | Drama

Brick, an alcoholic ex-football player, drinks his days away and resists the affections of his wife, Maggie. His reunion with his father, Big Daddy, who is dying of cancer, jogs a host of memories and revelations for both father and son.

Director: Richard Brooks | Stars: Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Burl Ives, Jack Carson

Votes: 38,546 | Gross: $17.57M

Paul Newman. Elizabeth Taylor. Burl Ives. Tennessee William's play.

42. The Long, Hot Summer (1958)

Not Rated | 115 min | Drama

Accused barn burner and con man Ben Quick arrives in a small Mississippi town and quickly ingratiates himself with its richest family, the Varners.

Director: Martin Ritt | Stars: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anthony Franciosa, Orson Welles

Votes: 8,566

Paul Newman. Joanne Woodward. Orson Welles.

43. The Young Philadelphians (1959)

Approved | 136 min | Drama

A promising lawyer tries to handle his social and professional problems while climbing the ranks in Philadelphia.

Director: Vincent Sherman | Stars: Paul Newman, Barbara Rush, Alexis Smith, Brian Keith

Votes: 2,735

Paul Newman.

44. The Hustler (1961)

Not Rated | 134 min | Drama, Sport

An up-and-coming pool player plays a long-time champion in a single high-stakes match.

Director: Robert Rossen | Stars: Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott

Votes: 68,623

Paul Newman. Jackie Gleason.

45. The Sting (1973)

PG | 129 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama

80 Metascore

Two grifters team up to pull off the ultimate con.

Director: George Roy Hill | Stars: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning

Votes: 208,567 | Gross: $159.60M

Paul Newman. Robert Redford.

46. The Deer Hunter (1978)

R | 183 min | Drama, War

81 Metascore

An in-depth examination of the ways in which the U.S. Vietnam War impacts and disrupts the lives of people in a small industrial town in Pennsylvania.

Director: Michael Cimino | Stars: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Cazale, John Savage

Votes: 272,291 | Gross: $48.98M

Robert De Niro. Christopher Walken. Meryl Streep.

47. Silver City (2004)

R | 128 min | Comedy, Drama, Mystery

47 Metascore

The discovery of a corpse threatens to unravel a bumbling local politician's campaign for governor of Colorado.

Director: John Sayles | Stars: Chris Cooper, Thora Birch, Maria Bello, Billy Zane

Votes: 3,613 | Gross: $1.02M

director: John Sayles

48. Reign Over Me (2007)

R | 124 min | Drama

61 Metascore

A man who lost his family in the September 11 attack on New York City runs into his old college roommate. Rekindling the friendship is the one thing that appears able to help the man recover from his grief.

Director: Mike Binder | Stars: Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle, Jada Pinkett Smith, Liv Tyler

Votes: 88,621 | Gross: $19.66M

Adam Sandler. Don Cheadle.

49. We're No Angels (1989)

PG-13 | 106 min | Comedy, Crime

Two escaped cons only prayer to escape is to pass themselves off as priests and pass by the police blockade at the border into the safety of Canada.

Director: Neil Jordan | Stars: Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, Demi Moore, Hoyt Axton

Votes: 19,246 | Gross: $10.56M

Robert De Niro. Sean Penn. Demi Moore.

A revealing & even cynical commentary about how most people can be fooled just by a person's outward appearance.

50. World's Greatest Dad (I) (2009)

R | 99 min | Comedy, Drama