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10 Absolutely Iconic Movies Everyone Should Watch

Philosophy Master’s Graduate. Lifetime Reader. Aspiring Jeopardy Contestant.

Here are ten classic movies. Check out one of them for your next movie night!

Here are ten classic movies. Check out one of them for your next movie night!

10 Classic Movies to Watch Right Now

I love movies, and I’ve seen nearly a thousand. (Seriously, I keep a list.) There are many classic movies worth seeing, but these ten are iconic and worth each moment of their run time—and your time. I’ve seen every movie on this list numerous times, and I remain confident in my decision to recommend them.

  1. The Godfather Pts. I and II (1972, 1974)
  2. American Beauty (1999)
  3. Schindler’s List (1993)
  4. American History X (1998)
  5. City of God (2002)
  6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  7. Forrest Gump (1994)
  8. 12 Angry Men (1957)
  9. The Deer Hunter (1978)
  10. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Side note: I realize now that there are no children’s movies on this list. Apologies, but it’s not that kind of list. That is an idea for another movie post, though!

The Godfather (1972)

The Godfather (1972)

1. The Godfather Pts. I and II (1972, 1974)

Serious question: Has anyone reading this not seen The Godfather? The first two chapters of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy—based on Mario Puzo’s intergenerational novel of the same name—are some of the greatest films ever made, and everyone should watch them.

Coppola’s movies have kept the Corleone family name alive and well in our memories and will continue to do so for years to come. I can always rewatch The Godfather, and honestly, I may have to pause right now because I feel like watching some clips on YouTube. Be back in a couple hours.

The movies are feats of filmmaking, acting, music, space and time. We move across generations, continents and cultures, from the small town of Corleone, in Palermo, Sicily, across the Atlantic to the United States.

Though not a ranked list, The Godfather Pts. I and II (I don’t care if that’s cheating) collectively sit at #1 because they epitomize classic moviemaking. I can always return to any of the subplots and they never disappoint.

American Beauty (1999)

American Beauty (1999)

2. American Beauty (1999)

American Beauty is directed by Sam Mendes, written by Alan Ball (Six Feet Under, anyone?!) and stars Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening. I’ve noticed that American Beauty gets polarizing reactions, and I can see why.

It’s a slice-of-life film about a dysfunctional suburban family, who, generally speaking, can be described as intolerable, materialistic and seriously out-of-touch. It might not be for everyone’s humour or taste, and I can see how some might find it unsavoury, or maybe unnerving?

I watched it as a young tween—my parents weren’t great about supervising our movie choices—and American Beauty played a pivotal role in shaping my love of movies, especially during a delicate season in my adolescence. I relished occupying the depressed mind of middle-aged white man Lester Burnham (played by Spacey).

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I’ve seen the movie countless times. Annette Bening makes me cry tears of true laughter because she is absolutely hilarious and does a Stepford housewife like nobody’s business.

The real Oskar Schindler, with Schindler Jeuden (“Schindler Jews”) after the war.

The real Oskar Schindler, with Schindler Jeuden (“Schindler Jews”) after the war.

3. Schindler’s List (1993)

“The list is an absolute good. The list is life.”

Schindler’s List is a movie based on Oskar Schindler, a German business magnate and a member of Germany's Nazi party during World War Two. Oskar Schindler’s life and actions go beyond extraordinary and firmly land within the supererogatory.

As a Jewish person and grandchild of Holocaust survivors, I am deeply moved every time I watch this movie and believe everyone should watch it at some point in their lives. I rewatched it to write about here, and its impact hasn't changed.

The girl in the red coat. One of the more moving scenes in Schindler’s List.

The girl in the red coat. One of the more moving scenes in Schindler’s List.

Schindler’s List is directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler, Sir Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern, and Ralph Fiennes as diabolical SS officer Amon Göth. Though a little over three hours, the movie keeps your attention the whole way through.

You will find yourself uncontrollably sobbing by the end, but don’t let that steer you away. Watch the movie, and cry like nobody’s watching.

American History X (1998)

American History X (1998)

4. American History X (1998)

We’re going from real Nazis to wannabe Nazis and skinheads in the home of the brave and land of the free. Coming in guns a-blazin’ at numero cuatro is the curb-stompingly gritty American History X. Directed by Tony Kaye and written by David McKenna, American History X stars Edward Norton as Derek, a neo-Nazi skinhead who turns a new leaf while in prison after befriending a Black inmate.

This movie has garnered a cult following, and it is still one of the most shocking, stomach-turning and violent films I’ve ever seen. American History X left a big impression on me when I first watched it, and each time I rewatch it I am immediately engrossed in the story all over again, as though I hadn’t already seen it.

It’s a film that captivates, tells a powerful story and features great acting, writing and everything else you could want from a top-tier cinematic experience.

City of God (2002)

City of God (2002)

5. City of God (2002)

Going steady with the theme of grit and violence for numero cinco, City of God is a Brazilian movie directed by São Paolo natives Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, and viewer warning: This movie contains a LOT of violence. It is not for the faint of heart.

City of God is a movie that pulsates with energy and excitement. We are in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, also known as the favelas (fah-VELL-ahs), a city within a city riddled with poverty, drugs and gang violence. The main narrator is Rocket, a boy who grew up in the hillside shantytowns of Rio, where the pressures of falling into gang life loom large and heavy.

This movie captures a piece of the world and the lives of people that are so vastly different from my own, giving me a glimpse at a place that’s full of life, and yet also disregards life entirely. City of God is unforgiving, but masterfully directed, shot and told. Not only is it one of the best foreign films I’ve ever seen, it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, full-stop.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

"How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d"
—From Eloisa to Abelard by Alexander Pope

Have you ever wished you had a spotless mind, that you could erase difficult memories or traumatic experiences in your life? If you did, then how likely would you be to repeat those same decisions, and therefore experience the same (or a similar set of) events as before?

Eternal Sunshine is a sci-fi romance about the story of two people: Joe and Clementine. Clementine undergoes a medical procedure to forget their relationship. Joe finds out that she had this procedure. The movie tracks the aftermath.

Writer Charlie Kaufman toys with concepts of memory, identity, fate and determination vs. freedom of choice and free will. Kaufman, a philosopher in his own right (and a low-key epic romance writer) gifted us this movie.

Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump (1994)

7. Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump is a movie about, well, Forrest Gump. Forrest has a lower IQ, but what he lacks in brains he makes up for in heart. Forrest is a good man, he has a pure heart, and though he may not be smart, he still knows what love is.

Forrest lives an extraordinary life. He meets the president, he’s a war veteran, he's the main shareholder of a booming business, and he's a retired athlete and runner. Ignorance is bliss, and so is Forrest.

I grew up on this movie; it’s a classic that I’ve seen I don’t know how many times. I couldn’t tell you when I first watched Forrest Gump, but in my memory the movie stands as an all-time classic that holds up after multiple rewatches. Everyone should see it.

12 Angry Men (1957)

12 Angry Men (1957)

8. 12 Angry Men (1957)

12 Angry Men is a classic courtroom drama and a lesson on what it means to give a person their right to a fair trial. This movie exposes the implicit biases that people hold towards one another.

Directed by Sidney Lumet and written by Reginald Rose, 12 Angry Men stars the impeccable Henry Fonda and is an absolute must-watch (at some point in your life).

The Deer Hunter (1978)

The Deer Hunter (1978)

9. The Deer Hunter (1978)

The Deer Hunter is a war movie like no other. It is a harrowing three-hour foray into the Vietnam War, focusing on a small group of friends from a small town in Pennsylvania.

The Deer Hunter has a heavyweight cast of all-time greats, including Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Cazale, in his final film before passing away due to lung cancer (RIP).

The beginning of the movie is a bit slow, but there is an energy and a heavy sense of foreshadowing. This movie takes a stark look at wartime horrors, dealing with PTSD in ways I haven’t seen in film before, and it is gripping.

The movie is segmented into parts: before, during and after the war. The way it delves into the psychological impact of war on the group of friends-turned-soldiers is an accomplishment that few other films have managed to achieve.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

10. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

I’m afraid that if I don’t include this movie on here, people might get mad. Is there a more beloved movie than The Shawshank Redemption? I’m not sure there is. Shawshank has been at number one on IMDb’s Top 250 Movies list for years, and whether you agree with this ranking or not, there’s no question that it’s a great movie that has stood the test of time.

A prison movie has no right being this heartwarming. Shawshank is tender and heartfelt and makes you feel warm and hopeful. It’s a classic redemption tale about friendship and resiliency, and doing what is right and good. We are privileged to have Morgan Freeman as the narrator and storyteller and Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne.

When you watch Shawshank, you can feel its importance as a film washing over you, keeping you locked into the plot and on the edge of your seat. I remember my first time watching the film, feeling like it was one of the greatest movies I’d ever seen. Honestly, it’s probably time I rewatch it.

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