Weekend Roundtable: Movies the AFI Top 100 Ignored

This week’s Roundtable spun out of last week’s topic. Specifically, it was prompted by a comment from reader Brian H, who suggested that we should put together our own list of 100 films that didn’t make the AFI Top 100 Movies list. I don’t know that we have the wherewithal to do a hundred titles all on our own, but perhaps we can get the ball rolling. We’ll give you our picks for movies that the AFI inexplicably ignored, and you can fill in the rest. Let’s see how far we get.

One ground rule: Since the AFI is the American Film Institute, the Top 100 list is meant to include only American films. (I’m not sure how ‘The Third Man‘ qualifies as an American film, but it slipped in there somehow.) We’ll do our best to stick to the original intent. Foreign films unfortunately do not qualify for this topic.

[Disclaimer: When I sent out this week’s assignment to the staff, I erroneously included a link to the AFI’s 1997 Top 100 list, not the more recent 2007 version. As a result, a couple of our contributors picked movies (‘Toy Story’ and ‘Do the Right Thing’) that actually are on the AFI’s current list. I take full responsibility for this mistake and any confusion it may have caused. Mea culpa. –JZ]

Josh Zyber

It’s no secret that I am – or at least, used to be – a fan of director David Lynch. I proudly list his much-reviled ‘Dune‘ as my favorite movie of all time, and ‘Twin Peaks’ as my favorite TV show. No, much as I may love it, I wouldn’t be crazy enough to suggest that the deeply-flawed ‘Dune’ should make the Top 100 list. However, Lynch’s masterpiece ‘Blue Velvet‘ certainly should. Bouncing right back from the failure of his sci-fi epic, this is the movie that established Lynch as a true auteur, and allowed his cinematic voice to bloom.

Compared to some of the director’s later works, the murder mystery narrative in ‘Blue Velvet’ may seem almost curiously straightforward and (dare I say it?) conventional. There are no dream sequences or backwards-talking dwarves here. This is Lynch’s attempt to put his own spin on the ‘Hardy Boys’ novels he read as a youth. Yet the film is all about looking below the surface. Dig into it a little, and you’ll find a deeply strange story about the dark underbelly of the placid, idyllic face of America. The movie proved to be very divisive when it was released in 1986 (Roger Ebert was one of its most vocal detractors), but it has stood the test of time and proven itself one of the most important American films of the last three decades.

Nate Boss

Since we’re only talking about American films, some great stuff has to be left off. I refuse to put anything with Tom Hanks up here (sorry, ‘Philadelphia’), solely due to how awful he’s been this last decade. So, I’m going to go with ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day‘. Yeah, a sequel, in the list to end all lists (when not even ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ made it!). This film has everything it needs to be on the list here: iconic characters, memorable lines, and the ability to stand apart from its peers as the face of an era. Cutting edge special effects (and not just for one scene), long tense sequences, and a child actor you don’t want to strangle only make it even sweeter. If Stallone can make it on the list, so too can Schwarzenegger, damn it. I know Josh would be happy to know that I’d boot ‘Forrest Gump’ off the list to make room.

Aaron Peck

The AFI Top 100 films boast a wide variety of movies that are, yes, quite good. However, I think they overlooked one important film among the 400 that were nominated for the list. That movie is ‘A Christmas Story‘. I can’t think of another movie out there that has become such a phenomenon that we as a country watch it religiously at the same time every year. Heck, TBS plays it on a loop for 24 hours starting every Christmas Eve. It’s a classic in every sense of the word. It’s become part of Americana. People far and wide know the story of the leg lamp. You can even buy replicas of it to stick in your front window to celebrate the season. The American Film Institute celebrates American films, and it doesn’t get anymore American than ‘A Christmas Story’.

Luke Hickman

I love Quentin Tarantino. My university required me to write a 20+ page “capstone” paper prior to graduating. Mine was on Tarantino. I love that ‘Pulp Fiction’ made its way into the AFI Top 100 list, but where is ‘Reservoir Dogs‘? Don’t get me wrong, ‘Pulp Fiction’ is amazing – but so is ‘Reservoir Dogs’. If films make the Top 100 list for doing cinematic things that hadn’t been done before, ‘Reservoir Dogs’ deserves to be on it. Watch the Blu-ray special feature “Playing It Fast and Loose.” It describes the impact the unforgettable ear slicing sequence has had on American filmmaking. Storytelling-wise, does it get any better than watching Mr. Orange practice his “Cops in the Restroom” dialogue?

Mike Attebery

I seem to bring up Billy Wilder films quite a lot in these Roundtables, but the man made some truly classic films. ‘Sabrina‘ comes from what I’ve called his Sgt. Pepper period (1950 – 1960). Even though Humphrey Bogart was clearly showing his age at this point, the film features two stars (Audrey Hepburn and William Holden) at their most radiant. This fairy tale, which takes place “Once upon a time, on the north shore of Long Island…” offers some of Wilder’s all-time best lines (he and Samuel A. Taylor adapted Taylor and Ernest Lehman’s play “Sabrina Fair” for the screen). This is a tale of wit, style, class, and heart. I challenge you to watch it and not want to spend a summer on Long Island’s Gold Coast. I spent my own childhood summers there, and while I have many a fond memory from those years, they were, alas, nothing like the world of ‘Sabrina’. If I could add film #101 to AFI’s list, this would definitely be it.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

Maybe it’s just because director William Wyler already held several slots elsewhere on AFI’s list, but otherwise, I’m kind of puzzled about why ‘Roman Holiday‘ didn’t make the cut for “100 Years, 100 Movies.” Even for a snarky writer like myself who recoils at “romantic comedy” like some kind of four-letter word, I find ‘Roman Holiday’ completely enchanting and perhaps the single best the genre’s ever delivered. This is, after all, the film that made an entire country fall head over heels for Audrey Hepburn. It’s no wonder that she took home an Academy Award for her work here (among several the film earned), even though this was the young actress’ first leading role. Who else could make viewers kind of forget that Gregory Peck is standing in front of the camera too? Even throughout the nearly six decades that have since passed, not all that many films have made such wonderful use of location photography as ‘Roman Holiday’ either. The Eternal City itself is very much a character in its own right, and I can’t imagine watching the film and not being desperate to catch the next flight to Rome immediately afterwards. This to my mind is exactly what a romantic comedy ought to be: a cute, infectiously fun, and… well, romantic escape without feeling cloying, formulaic, or dumb. Although the AFI did snub ‘Roman Holiday’ on “100 Years, 100 Movies,” they did rank the film near the top of the “100 Passions” list, so at least they wised up eventually.

David Vaughn (Ultimate AV)

The one movie that deserves a spot on the AFI Top 100 list is ‘Toy Story‘. The wildly entertaining story about friendship and loyalty is great family entertainment in and of itself, but it deserves placement based upon the technology shift that Pixar pioneered. One thing I’ve always admired about Pixar is that the studio continues to move forward with technological advances in animation, but never forgets the most important aspect of any movie: the story!

Mrs. Z

I think the AFI list, and indeed Hollywood in general, would benefit from a bit more diversity. I admit that I haven’t researched all 100 films on the list, but on a cursory overview, it looks as if they are mostly, if not all, directed by white men. To me, that’s a pretty narrow view of the American experience. I feel strongly that Spike Lee’s ‘Do the Right Thing‘ truly deserves a spot on this list, and not just in the name of diversity. The film has a distinctive visual style, and it explores provocative issues of race that are still relevant more than 20 years later. But don’t just take my word for it; the film has been deemed “culturally significant” by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in its first year of eligibility. It holds a 96% “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is one of the highest rated films on Metacritic. I appreciate many of the great films included on the AFI list, but in light of a few of the titles that did make the cut (I’m looking at you, ‘Dances with Wolves‘), it’s hard to understand this omission.

Dick Ward

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat and watched the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, but I decided to pop in ‘The Empire Strikes Back‘ over the weekend, and I can honestly say that I was surprised at how good it was. It’s not like I didn’t love ‘Empire’ in the first place, but after being inundated with low quality prequels and dismal TV shows, I think my standards for what ‘Star Wars’ should be were extremely low. As it turns out, ‘Empire Strikes Back’ holds up beautifully and still manages to capture my imagination, even though I know most of the lines by heart. It’s also a sequel leaps and bounds better than the original. ‘A New Hope’ sits at number 15 on the AFI’s Top 100 list, while the far superior sequel is nowhere to be found.


  1. MultiWizard

    I have been on a mission to watch all of the AFI Top 100 films for awhile now. I originally was using the 1997 list, and then went over to the 2007 list. There are a number of films that were dropped completely off of the 1997 list when the newer one came out. I think all of those films deserve to be on the list if they were voted to be on in the first place.

  2. HuskerGuy

    If I’m not mistaken, isn’t Toy Story on that list at #99. David has to pick again 🙂

    • Crap…I went over that list 3 freaking times and didn’t see it on there! Great find HuskerGuy! I need you as an editor 🙂

      Now I’m at a loss as to what I would pick but I think the entire trilogy of “The Lord of the Rings” should be on the list instead of just “Fellowship.”

  3. BostonMA

    Josh, i love Blue Velvet as much as you, and completely agree that it belongs on the list (it’s one of the 20-25 best films ever made in my opinion), but there is a dream sequence in the film, one that ends with Frank Booth looking at the POV shot and punching it in the face, which in turn wakes up MacLachlan’s character.

    anyways, great choice but also, what do you mean by you “at least, used to be a fan of Lynch’s”? did you hate Inland Empire THAT much?

    Nate, completely agree on T2. one of my favorites as well (although Hamilton and Furlong’s flawed acting slightly derails it from time to time). at its heart is a great sociological message on mankind, which is presented in a much less arrogant way than James Cameron’s later themes.

    in addition to those films, i’d definitely add HEAT, which is probably the best film ever made in my eyes, one that’s loaded with existential importance as well as flawless filmmaking, as well as Kubrick’s final film, EYES WIDE SHUT and Malick’s THE THIN RED LINE. if there’s another reevaluation of the list in the future, then i hope they better know that they need to add Mann’s COLLATERAL and Malick’s THE NEW WORLD as well, the latter of which has a special importance to “America” itself.

    • BostonMA

      oh and of course Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. must be added to the future listing’s execution too.

    • YES! I was thinking the same thing! If Titanic can make the list then those movies should be on the list without question.

      On another note, you could make a case for “Star Wars” representing the whole series, but since this is the top “100 movies”, TESB should be the representative.

  4. Ian Whitcombe

    Mrs. Z, Do the Right Thing is on the 2007 AFI list, and Dances With Wolves was removed.

    • Josh Zyber

      It appears that I’m at fault here. When I sent out this week’s assigment, I accidentally included a link to an earlier year’s version of the list, which did not include either Do the Right Thing or Toy Story.

      Whoops! Sorry about that.

  5. Brian H

    Shocker, but I do like this idea.

    Granted that the AFI updated in 2007, they might as well book a spot for “No Country for Old Men.” I’ve studied both the book and the film, and have found the story to be simple and accessible, and yet possessing a polarizing depth.

    Meanwhile, they can pull Butch Cassidy in favor of “the Hustler.”

    The list really needs Gene Wilder- I would say Young Frankenstein or Willy Wonka.

    Chris Nolan may not be American, but several of his films are “American film(s): English language, with significant creative and/or financial production from the United States.”

    I might say, “you know the Evil Dead isn’t a top teer movie,” but then I see “Rear Window” on the list. Movies like “Dazed and Confused” and the “Breakfast Club” would seem to be way more influential than a list of 95 dramas.

    I would have to say that “Grave of Fireflies” qualifies for the AFI. The American influence couldn’t be stronger.

    Just at a glance, I would cut “12 Angry Men,” “Easy Rider,” and “All the President’s Men.” Granted these movies represents stars in their respective decades but don’t belong on this list- I would easily put in “Death Wish.”

    I would cut Forrest Gump and put in LA Confidential.

    Spaghetti western or not- the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, has been a timeless influence of american cinema.

    • I don’t care for Easy Rider, but I understand it’s place on the list. It is a good movie with a great influence rather than being merely a great movie. If it weren’t for some retarded editing choices and Peter Fonda’s opting to play an allegory rather than a human being, I would say this was a great movie.

      12 Angry Men would be great whether the jurors were stars or not. The ensemble works perfectly together, the story is riveting despite its static, no-frills setting, and the direction is impeccable.

      Christopher Nolan grew up partly in Chicago, was born to an American mother, and has dual citizenship.

  6. As an avid Kubrick enthusiast, I would like to see Paths of Glory on the list instead of Spartacus. Or I’d like to see The Shining knock away The Sixth Sense.

    I’d replace Sophie’s Choice with The Pawnbroker if we had to keep up a 2 percent Holocaust quotient.

    I also look forward to some David Fincher on this list come the inevitable 20th anniversary list, whether that means Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, or The Social Network.

  7. EM

    Some of the disparities between the two AFI lists are amazing. Of course, the fact that 23 new films were added to the 2007 list means that 23 other films got knocked off. Although newcomers managed to rank as high as #18 (The General), most are in the bottom half, becoming numerous around #59 (Nashville). Still, I shouldn’t think a knocking-off would happen to a movie previously ranked as high as #39, but it did. That, by the way, would be Doctor Zhivago. Other somewhat high-ranked movies that disappeared from the 2007 list include Birth of a Nation (#44), From Here to Eternity (#52), Amadeus (#53), All Quiet on the Western Front (#54), The Third Man (#57—but see Josh’s comment about eligbility in the main article), and Fantasia (#58). I’m particularly saddened by that last omission.

  8. EM

    The AFI Top 100 doesn’t completely omit the horror genre, but my top 100 would definitely give it more representation, with such films as The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Bride of Frankenstein, The Raven (1935), Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, The Haunting (1963), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Alien, The Thing (1982), H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator, Aliens, Little Shop of Horrors (1986), and Scream (1996).

    I think science fiction is better represented in the AFI lists, but (besides the science-fictiony horror films I’ve already mentioned) I would like to see The Day the Earth Stood Still and Forbidden Planet receive honors.

    Some comedies worth considering would be The Blues Brothers, Airplane!, and This Is Spinal Tap.

      • EM

        Of the omissions I’ve referenced, I think Forbidden Planet’s is the one that most rises to the level of a crime.

        Well, that or the dropping of Fantasia.

  9. I thought and thought as to what I would put on the list, and finally decided that I was going to step back this week. I agree with MOST of the movies on the list already, and I have a feeling that any movie I might add wouldn’t be shared by everyone. Also, not sure, this day and age, what constitutes an “American” movie. For example, I might say that we should add “Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone” as it is the movie that ignited the phenomenom, even though I agree that “Prisioner of Azkabahn” is a better movie.

    The first “Superman” movie comes to mind. As many people have said, I totally support Terminator 2 and The Matrix. Inception and Back To The Future should probably be on the list. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Airplane. A Mel Brooks movie or two (I’m thinking Spaceballs, Young Frankenstein, and / or Robin Hood:Men In Tights). The fact that these are great movies are only half of what should make them appear on the list – they define their times, who we were as a country, so forth and so on.

    Other movies that come to mind are the Bond movies (not all should be in there, maybe one or two as representations of the series), Samantha: An American Girl, No Reservations, Battle of the Bulge, Dr. Strangelove, Moulin Rouge. Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (even though I prefer Tim Burton’s), Jurassic Park. I am sure I could go on and on, but I think when it comes down to it, the AFI list is pretty darn good. Yeah, there are some movies I would like to see taken off (such as Forrest Gump, Titanic, and A Clockwork Orange), but its a pretty good list.

  10. Wouldn’t an “American” film be anything shot by an American studio? I mean LAWRNECE OF ARABIA was shot by a British filmmaker with British actors (primarily) in Spain and Morocco – but it’s considered an “American” film because it was bankrolled and released by Columbia.

  11. ilovenola2

    Charles Laughton’s THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER— with Robert Mitchum as screen’s most dastardly villain, the “Reverand” Harry Powell: “Would’ja like me to tell you the little story of Right Hand/Left Hand, the story of Love and Hate?”
    Still riveting and on many top lists of blu ray releases in 2010.