Well, I've seen The Big Lebowski anyway...
January 26, 2008 2:36 PM   Subscribe

What movies should any person in their right mind have seen by now?

I don’t know how it happened, exactly, but I’ve basically never seen 95% of the movies I should have seen. I don’t mean ‘should have seen’ in the sense of ‘great cinematic classics’. I mean that most of the time when movies come up in conversation, I haven’t seen them, and everyone I’m talking to is practically horrified. I mean that my boyfriend had to show me The Godfather for the first time a few weeks ago. I just recently got Netflix in order to fix this problem, and I’ve been trying to fill my queue using various top 100 lists, but the problem is, I don’t necessarily want to watch ‘important’ movies. Right now, I just want to become culturally literate.

To give you an idea, here are some of the movies in my queue now, none of which I’ve seen:

The Graduate
Die Hard
The Silence of the Lambs

I need more movies like this- movies that, if a friend of yours said they’d never seen them, you’d be amazed that pop culture passed them by so completely. Can you tell I’m kind of embarrassed about this? (Not that I don’t love movies- I do. I’m not doing this as an unpleasant exercise, but because I genuinely want to see all these movies, and more.)

So, educate me. What movies should any person who hasn’t been living in a cave have seen by now?
posted by showbiz_liz to Media & Arts (101 answers total) 106 users marked this as a favorite
One flew over the cuckoo's nest
posted by kenchie at 2:40 PM on January 26, 2008

AFI top 100
posted by sharkfu at 2:40 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Princess Bride.
posted by you're a kitty! at 2:41 PM on January 26, 2008 [5 favorites]

sharkfu OP didn't say American. Akira Kurosawa FTW
posted by kenchie at 2:44 PM on January 26, 2008

I'm in the same boat as you. so I'm answering this based on what my friends have said to me. I saw my first Indiana Jones movie last year, so I'll say those. I didn't see Star Wars until it was re-released when I was 18. Blues Brothers. Fight Club. Animal House. The Goonies (because it is my favorite movie).
posted by Ruki at 2:45 PM on January 26, 2008

How old are you? That makes a big difference in terms of what you should have seen by this point in your life. There's a difference between classics of your own generation, blockbusters of the last ten years, and all-time classics from 50 years ago.
posted by bingo at 2:46 PM on January 26, 2008

I would cross "Misery" (a pale shadow of the book) off the list.

Since this seems to be as much about pop-culture literacy as anything else, I'd add the original three Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns (The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, etc.), Godfather I and II, Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, and Reiner's Spinal Tap (Kittyperson already mentioned Princess Bride, clever kitty.)

The Coens' Raising Arizona, to riff on your title, is at least as quotable as Lebowski and Fargo.

I, too, amd saying these are the best films of the era (they're all at least good, though). But they're the ones that I have noticed are referenced so often by other art that it's impossible to not know them, even indirectly.
posted by rokusan at 2:47 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd start at IMDb's Top 250 and work your way down.
posted by nitsuj at 2:47 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

("amd" = some newfangled contraction for "am not" that I just made up by accident.)
posted by rokusan at 2:48 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Roger Ebert's Great Movies list is pretty good.
posted by jamaro at 2:48 PM on January 26, 2008

2001 and A Clockwork Orange
posted by mrunderhill at 2:50 PM on January 26, 2008

Or you could go about watching every oscar-winning best picture film. Not that those are necessarily the gold standard for best movies, but after you've made it through the AFI and IMDB lists, you can start working through that one.
posted by np312 at 2:52 PM on January 26, 2008

Bingo, I'm twenty years old.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:52 PM on January 26, 2008

So many. Probably lots of disagreement on this too.

Just off the top of my head in less than a minute:
Office Space
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Blade Runner
The Matrix

Also, i'm not sure how widely popular these are, but in my current circle of friends you'd be lost without seeing:
South Park movie
Harold and Kumar
posted by saladpants at 2:57 PM on January 26, 2008

I'm trying to think of things that talk show hosts reference with no worry that they'll be "gotten"...

Star Wars (at least the original and its two sequels)
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Wizard Of Oz
It's A Wonderful Life
Snow White And The Seven Dwarves
The Sound Of Music
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
Forrest Gump

If you did not have some familiarity with all of the above -- maybe not having seen it, but at least having a general knowledge of the move -- I would think you'd been living in a cave.
posted by tkolar at 2:58 PM on January 26, 2008

Stand by Me
Dirty Dancing
Bourne Series
posted by Sassyfras at 3:01 PM on January 26, 2008

Heathers -- a movie that could never ever get made today. C'mon, they blow up Westerberg High!

"Dear Diary: My teen-angst bullshit now has a body count."

Far from a great film, but a real pop culture touchstone for a lotta folks.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:14 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Kill Bill (1 & 2)
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
Singing In The Rain
Wizard of Oz
Sweeney Todd
The Philadelphia Story
posted by davidmsc at 3:15 PM on January 26, 2008

Schindler's List-amazing and humbling, a cinematic masterpiece.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
posted by ~Sushma~ at 3:19 PM on January 26, 2008

It's hard to know what movies might come up in your conversations, so I'll recommend a few from several genres that I think everyone should see, and have a certain degree of notoriety.

Apocalypse Now (not the redux)
The Godfather Part II
A Simple Plan
Rain Man
Saving Private Ryan
Citizen Kane

Off Kilter
American Splendor
The Conversation
28 Days Later
The Sixth Sense
Donnie Darko

Foreign (if you are a USian)
28 Days Later
Run Lola Run

Planes Trains and Automobiles
Raising Arizona

The Thin Blue Line
The Fog of War
The Up Series (7-Up, etc. Netflix has them)
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
posted by The Deej at 3:19 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Dr. Strangelove. There are tons of pop culture references to this one. So bleak, so funny.
posted by otolith at 3:26 PM on January 26, 2008

office space
lord of the rings series
reservoir dogs
south park movie
oceans series maybe (skip 12)
posted by DJWeezy at 3:29 PM on January 26, 2008

In the interest of pop cultural literacy, I would add (to name a few, and noticing a bit of overlap with the above):

Wes Anderson movies (Rushmore and The Royal Tenanbaums especially)
Donnie Darko
Shaun of the Dead
Monty Python movies
Dr. Strangelove
Lost in Translation
Eastwood's Man With No Name movies (especially The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly)
High Fidelity (and other John Cusack classics Say Anything… and Grosse Point Blank)
City of God
My Neighbor Totoro
posted by Schismatic at 3:31 PM on January 26, 2008

You need to see Harold and Maude.

John Cusack has been mentioned but I think his most important movie may be Better Off Dead. You'll at least know what people are talking about when they say "I want my two dollars!"

Any of the Brat Pack movies including: Sixteen Candles, St Elmo's Fire, The Breakfast Club.
posted by triggerfinger at 3:40 PM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

The website twofifty.org lets you keep track of which of the IMDB top 250 movies you've seen. In my opinion, the IMDB is a good mix of popular and critically acclaimed movies.

247/250 for me. Go me!
posted by IvyMike at 3:41 PM on January 26, 2008

I can't believe no one mentioned Blazing Saddles - "where the white women at?", and every frame with Mongo...

The Fountain is truly astounding, people either hated it or loved it. My honey & I saw it and left the theater in tears.

And then there's Nightmare Before Christmas, so gorgeous and touching.

The Player, Altman's finest (for my money). And, of course, his original M*A*S*H, which is nothing like the TV series.
posted by dbiedny at 3:42 PM on January 26, 2008

Just the first few that came to mind

John Carpenter earlier stuff
The Fog
Assault on Precinct 13
Escape from New York
The Thing

The Warriors
Run Lola Run
Taxi (French version)
posted by Z303 at 3:42 PM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

A Fish Called Wanda
posted by dilettante at 3:42 PM on January 26, 2008

Lawrence of Arabia. On the biggest screen you can get your hands on.

Star Trek IV (even if you're not a Star Trek fan - seems like a lot of pop cultural references stemmed from that movie).
posted by frobozz at 3:42 PM on January 26, 2008

Oh, and The Usual Suspects, probably.
posted by dilettante at 3:43 PM on January 26, 2008

Also, I'm glad to see that Airplane! has been mentioned a few times as it may easily be the most quotable movie ever.
posted by triggerfinger at 3:44 PM on January 26, 2008

Yes yes yes to The Usual Suspects. I can't believe I forgot that one!
posted by numinous at 3:47 PM on January 26, 2008

The BFI 100:
1. The Third Man (1949)
2. Brief Encounter (1945)
3. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
4. The 39 Steps (1935)
5. Great Expectations (1946)
6. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
7. Kes (1969)
8. Don't Look Now (1973)
9. The Red Shoes (1948)
10. Trainspotting (1996)
11. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
12. if.... (1968)
13. The Ladykillers (1955)
14. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)
15. Brighton Rock (1947)
16. Get Carter (1971)
17. The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)
18. Henry V (1944)
19. Chariots of Fire (1981)
20. A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
21. The Long Good Friday (1980)
22. The Servant (1963)
23. Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
24. Whisky Galore! (1949)
25. The Full Monty (1997)
26. The Crying Game (1992)
27. Doctor Zhivago (1965) (a US production)
28. Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)
29. Withnail and I (1987)
30. Gregory's Girl (1980)
31. Zulu (1964)
32. Room at the Top (1958)
33. Alfie (1966)
34. Gandhi (1982)
35. The Lady Vanishes (1938)
36. The Italian Job (1969)
37. Local Hero (1983)
38. The Commitments (1991)
39. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
40. Secrets & Lies (1996)
41. Dr. No (1962)
42. The Madness of King George (1994)
43. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
44. Black Narcissus (1947)
45. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
46. Oliver Twist (1948)
47. I'm All Right Jack (1959)
48. Performance (1970)
49. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
50. My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
51. Tom Jones (1963)
52. This Sporting Life (1963)
53. My Left Foot (1989)
54. Brazil (1985)
55. The English Patient (1996) (a US production)
56. A Taste of Honey (1961)
57. The Go-Between (1971)
58. The Man in the White Suit (1951)
59. The IPCRESS File (1965)
60. Blowup (1966)
61. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)
62. Sense and Sensibility (1995)
63. Passport to Pimlico (1949)
64. The Remains of the Day (1993)
65. Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)
66. The Railway Children (1970)
67. Mona Lisa (1986)
68. The Dam Busters (1955)
69. Hamlet (1948)
70. Goldfinger (1964) (a joint UK-US production)
71. Elizabeth (1998)
72. Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
73. A Room with a View (1985)
74. The Day of the Jackal (1973)
75. The Cruel Sea (1952)
76. Billy Liar (1963)
77. Oliver! (1968)
78. Peeping Tom (1960)
79. Far from the Madding Crowd (1967)
80. The Draughtsman's Contract (1982)
81. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
82. Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)
83. Darling (1965)
84. Educating Rita (1983)
85. Brassed Off (1996)
86. Genevieve (1953)
87. Women in Love (1969)
88. A Hard Day's Night (1964)
89. Fires Were Started (1943)
90. Hope and Glory (1987)
91. My Name Is Joe (1998)
92. In Which We Serve (1942)
93. Caravaggio (1986)
94. The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954)
95. Life is Sweet (1990)
96. The Wicker Man 1973
97. Nil by Mouth (1997)
98. Small Faces (1995)
99. Carry On up the Khyber (1968)
100. The Killing Fields (1984)
posted by pracowity at 3:47 PM on January 26, 2008

Citizen Kane
The Jazz Singer
The Godfather 1,2,3
Annie Hall
posted by prophetsearcher at 3:52 PM on January 26, 2008

From the dropped-jaw reactions that I generally get when I make this confession, apparently you Need to have seen the Karate Kid, although this one might also fall into the category of generational classics. I still haven't seen Gone With the Wind either, but that one doesn't seem to invoke the 'what's wrong with you?!' stares of confusion quite so much.
posted by KatlaDragon at 3:52 PM on January 26, 2008

Young Frankenstein
Back to the Future
The Beastmaster
The Hunt for Red October
Forbidden Planet
King of Comedy
Buck Privates
Starship Troopers
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
posted by sandra_s at 3:54 PM on January 26, 2008

A few I forgot:

- Once Were Warriors

- Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey (a documentary)

- The Devil & Daniel Johnston (also a documentary)

- Natural Born Killers
posted by dbiedny at 3:57 PM on January 26, 2008

The best "Top" list I have found is the Arts and Faith Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films. At least two thirds of that list are must see, and I am not at all religious.
posted by fire&wings at 3:59 PM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Blue Velvet

(did I mention Blue Velvet?)
posted by The_Auditor at 4:03 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

YES to virtually everything by David Lynch.

How did his films skip my mind?
posted by numinous at 4:05 PM on January 26, 2008

You can find a nice selection here: http://www.foreignfilms.com/
posted by mand0 at 4:05 PM on January 26, 2008

Umm... I can't believe no one has said Clerks! Don't bother with Clerks 2, however.

Also, Snatch is a great, quotable film, although most people seem to like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels better.
posted by sbutler at 4:07 PM on January 26, 2008

Ohhh... and it will be one at least Ebert's list, but Groundhog Day is one of those quirky films that everyone assumes you've seen. It really is great.
posted by sbutler at 4:10 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

And History of the World, Part 1.
posted by sbutler at 4:11 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I always got odd looks when I said I'd never seen Titanic.
posted by narrativium at 4:12 PM on January 26, 2008

Also for some cult movies, anything that was shown on the wonderful Moviedrome as presented by Alex Cox. Who's Repo Man should make the list.
posted by Z303 at 4:26 PM on January 26, 2008

Reality Bites
posted by box at 5:02 PM on January 26, 2008

I think a fun way to do this would be to watch a number of movies by particular directors, or featuring particular actors in row, so that you're not just seeing films you "should" have seen, but also really getting a feel for the styles of particular directors and performers.
posted by washburn at 5:22 PM on January 26, 2008

I think the list of movies you have to have seen is much shorter than what you propose. In fact, I think it's just two movies: Star Wars and Animal House. I mean, people have mentioned tons of great movies in this thread, and I certainly think you should watch them (and put them on your queue before Die Hard, for God's sake) but you are asking about cultural touchstones. From your original list, the only one that really comes close is Alien, and even that only for the notion of abdominal extraterrestrial emergence.
posted by escabeche at 5:29 PM on January 26, 2008

I had friends who were shocked that I hadn't seen The Goonies, but also admitted that it would be lost on me if I watched it at this point in my life (late 30s).

Instead of another "best of" type list, I suggest a different tack - here's a list of obnoxiously over-quoted films.

And for a laugh, there's this article. (I haven't seen it either, if that makes you feel better)
posted by O9scar at 5:29 PM on January 26, 2008

Glengarry Glenn Ross.
posted by wafaa at 5:29 PM on January 26, 2008

Seven Samurai, Miller's Crossing.
posted by electroboy at 5:29 PM on January 26, 2008

Ok, keeping in mind that you're wanting to know about films that are widely familiar, rather than necessarily artistically superlative:

Annie Hall
Breakfast at Tiffany's
Star Wars
Blade Runner
The Wizard of Oz
The Godfather
Animal House
Red Dawn
The Breakfast Club
Ferris Buehler's Day Off
Star Trek II
Airplane (a parody of the disaster genre, and especially of Airport)
Scary Movie (a parody of Halloween, Friday the 13th, or Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.)

Also of course this list will depend on who counts as "everyone"--my suggestions above arfe more pop culture than cinema studies, since that's what you're looking for, and also skew towards 80's 90's cultural touchstones.
posted by washburn at 5:36 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

There are a lot already mentioned that I second:

Citizen Kane
Seven Samurai
Fight Club
Run Lola Run

Also, I would suggest the following:
Hard Boiled
The Killer
Five Deadly Venoms
Batman (1989)
Batman Begins (for contrast)
Superman, Superman II and Superman Returns
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Terminator and Terminator 2
posted by slavlin at 5:44 PM on January 26, 2008

All the Molly Ringwald movies up until the word "baby" gets mentioned in the title.
posted by uandt at 5:52 PM on January 26, 2008

Star Wars definitely, just about broke a friend's mind when I mentioned offhand that I hadn't seen any of them yet.
posted by Phire at 7:05 PM on January 26, 2008

I'd like to suggest that it somewhat depends on your age. Thanks to the internet (p2p) I was able to download a number of movies that I'd seen twenty years ago and loved then to watch again now. My tastes had changed, to say the least.

That said, I consider Fight Club a deeep picture of the modern plight of rampant consumerism bleeding into identity disorientation. Like the man said long ago, "it may not be the best, but it is the coolest".
posted by telstar at 7:23 PM on January 26, 2008

Billy Jack.
posted by wv kay in ga at 7:40 PM on January 26, 2008

I couldn't see where anyone else mentioned it.
posted by wv kay in ga at 7:47 PM on January 26, 2008

Aww. To be able to see all these great films for the first time yet. I'm so jealous.

posted by jouke at 7:52 PM on January 26, 2008

What you seek are cultural touchstones... All of Washburn's list above plus
Bruce Lee's Enter The Dragon
Its a Wonderful Life
Bringing up baby
Omega Man
Logan's Run
Hudsucker Proxy (you know, for kids!)
Oh Brother Where Art thou
The Deer Hunter
Various Python
various Mel Brooks
various Hitchcock

Many of the movies listed above seem to be guy flicks. YMMV
posted by Gungho at 7:52 PM on January 26, 2008

I didn't read everyone else's posts all that carefully, but just a couple of quick mentions:

The Big Lebowski will provide you with endless opportunities to quote , riff, and generally prove your worthiness to hang with others who have already seen it.

Same with Monty Python And The Holy Grail. Has the additional allure of being very strong "nerd bait", if you're trying to attract nerds...at least, it's always worked on me.
posted by motown missile at 7:54 PM on January 26, 2008

A couple from the Nerd Canon:

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure
Galaxy Quest

And my favorite movie that's not actually good, but which you should see anyway:

The Lost Boys
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 8:29 PM on January 26, 2008

Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey

Are you kidding? You think people's jaws will drop if someone says they haven't seen this movie?

Anyway... I'm in my 40s, so take my suggestions as a comparison between your generation's cultural icons and mine. Some of the following I like; some I don't, but these are all movies that "everyone" saw when I was in my formative years:

Dr. Strangelove
Network (Has one of the most quotable lines in movie history)
Dog Day Afternoon
Godfather I and II
One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest
Harold and Maud
The Graduate
Last Tango In Paris
Star Wars
Raiders of the Lost Ark
All the Presidents Men
The Sting
The Shining
Taxi Driver

OLDER movies that "everyone" has seen:
Gone With The Wind
Wizard of Oz
King Kong (1933)
Citizen Kane
Rear Window
All About Eve
Singin' In The Rain
It's a Wonderful Life
posted by grumblebee at 8:45 PM on January 26, 2008

There's pop culture literacy, and there's film literacy. There's overlap between the two, but they're not necessarily the same thing. La Dolce Vita or The Bicycle Thief are well worth enjoying, maybe could fit into both areas.

For sheer entertainment, I'll mention the Marx Brothers canon since no-one else has directly yet.

Classic film noir in general has given us a bucketload of cultural memes. Try The Maltese Falcon, Out of the Past, maybe even something like The Killers (with Burt Lancaster).
posted by gimonca at 8:54 PM on January 26, 2008

Taxi Driver: because all the previous posts have mentioned the films that I would recommend (or at least the ones I can think of at the present), and because the question sort of reminds me of my friend who frequently quotes or makes reference to Travis Bickle and he still hasn't watched the movie. Oh, and because I think it's a good flick.
posted by hip_plumber at 9:00 PM on January 26, 2008

I think you have plenty of time. Does UNC have a film series? If so (the university of Iowa did in the early '90's), go regularly and you'll be fine.
posted by brujita at 9:54 PM on January 26, 2008

Brazil, Dogs in Space, Kelly's Heroes, The Great Escape.
posted by pompomtom at 10:23 PM on January 26, 2008

Oh, and The Omega Man
posted by pompomtom at 10:32 PM on January 26, 2008

Rocky I
It Happened One Night
Arsenic & Old Lace
Toy Story I & II
The Sting
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:49 PM on January 26, 2008

Because I don't think I've seen it here yet: Mad Max.

The first, because it's a great flick. (Not film, flick, but you said pop-culture literacy.) The two sequels--Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome--because of the cultural references. "Two men enter, one man leaves ..."

And, to add my two cents to what's been said above: Everything Kubrick, because of his influence--those iconic things that come up everywhere, like the style of the "war room", Flight of the Valkyries accompanying helicopters, the jump-cut from 2001? Know your sources.

Everything John Hughes, not because I think his films are good, but because they typified that 80's American highschool experience which seems to resonate with everyone, whether or not they went to highschool in the 80's.

And seconding (thirding, fourthing, fifthing) most everything above.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 11:45 PM on January 26, 2008

The short list of absolute "must-see" movies (as opposed to merely personal favorites... Go for a general consensus of picks, otherwise you'll probably flip out and give up movies altogether):

Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi. Quite possibly the ones to blame for the recent proliferation of our pop-culture-reference-mad culture

Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Wizard of Oz
It's a Wonderful Life, 2001, Psycho (not my favorite Hitchcock, but it's obligatory)
Godfather I and II, Jaws, ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark
Schindler's List, Pulp Fiction

A longer list of "should-see" movies (two of which I need to see):

The General
Adventures of Robin Hood
Mr Smith Goes to Washington
Maltese Falcon
The Third Man
North by Northwest
Some Like It Hot
Rear Window
Singin in the Rain
On the Waterfront
Seven Samurai
Rebel Without a Cause
Rear Window
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
A Fistful of Dollars (and Yojimbo, upon which it was based)
Dr Strangelove
To Kill a Mockingbird
Taxi Driver
Annie Hall
Terminator 2
The Matrix
Lord of the Rings
The Usual Suspects

I would think maybe a James Bond movie should be in there too.

Then there's Shawshank Redemption. Can't explain IMDB's love for this one, but I guess it's a must-see. It's odd that it easily has the most votes (300K).

And frankly, I can't believe ET isn't in the Top 250. 7.8 from only 70K+ votes.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 11:57 PM on January 26, 2008

Withnail & I.

seventy-three comments and only one mention in a pasted list.

*shakes head in despair for humanity*
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:58 PM on January 26, 2008

Whoops, I put 2001 twice. I went back and forth between it being in the top (it's a classic, but it can be a bit hard to decipher).

Maybe the first Dirty Harry, he's certainly an iconic character.

Airplane and Naked Gun should be in there, too, as the two definitive examples of movie parodies.

And... Titanic...?
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 12:02 AM on January 27, 2008

For anyone recommending 2001: I'd just like to say that of course it is an important movie, because it featured some amazing film making for its time. However, I think some people from the Star Wars generation and later might find it a bit boring. The pacing is incredibly slow (no, seriously) and very little "happens" in the movie. For what it is, it's very well made and worth seeing if you are coming to it from a filmmaking perspective. But if your interest is simply in watching enjoyable films I'd scratch it off the list.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:11 AM on January 27, 2008

Full Metal Jacket
The Jerk
posted by concrete at 1:41 AM on January 27, 2008

said before, say again and again: Run Lola Run (subtitle version)
posted by thomcatspike at 2:43 AM on January 27, 2008

Everything Kubrick, because of his influence--those iconic things that come up everywhere, like the style of the "war room", Flight of the Valkyries accompanying helicopters

"Flight of the Valkyries accompanying helicopters" is from "Apocalypse Now," which should probably be on the above lists. But it was directed by Coppola, not Kubrick. Also, I think it's "Ride of the Valkyries."
posted by grumblebee at 3:29 AM on January 27, 2008

oof. so many great movies! thing is, though, it sounds like you want two different things:

1) to see good movies
2) to be able to participate in conversation about movies people have seen.

those are different lists! what's "good" is subjective. what's popular is easy!

i'd avoid watching oscar winners. the academy awards is mostly politics and the films they pick are frequently not the best of the year in many people's estimation. AFI is a good place to start for critically acclaimed films.

my best advice, though, is to get friends who love movies to show you the films they love. that's an excellent way to be introduced to something.

personally, my favorite films are, in no particular order:

miller's crossing
the big sleep (original version)
full metal jacket
being there
the good, the bad, and the ugly
the third man

if you're anywhere near melbourne, c'mon over. i'll show you movies until your eyes cross....
posted by xz at 4:37 AM on January 27, 2008

The Shining

If you're a woman, Sense and Sensibility and The Piano and On Golden Pond and Lost In Translation

Stand By Me
Bringing Up Baby
Strictly Ballroom
28 Days Later
Apocalypse Now
Run Lola Run
Christopher Guest Movie of Your Choice
Monty Python Movie of Your Choice
Annie Hall
Donnie Darko
Duck Soup
It's A Wonderful Life
The Sound Of Music
Dirty Dancing
Team America
The Incredibles
posted by rainbaby at 4:58 AM on January 27, 2008

Getting movies from Netflix is good, but if there's an art film-type theater near you that runs series, go see classic movies with an audience. I went to a series of Garbo movies at an art theater, and it was amazing to see her on a big screen, as well as to have the traditional movie theater/audience experience.

I'll add Brazil and the rest of Terry Gilliam's movies to your list.
posted by theora55 at 5:41 AM on January 27, 2008

If it has been mentioned, I will confirm: You MUST see This is Spinal Tap. It is ubiquitously referenced in pop culture. You will likely have several moments of "so that's where that's from!"
posted by The Deej at 6:25 AM on January 27, 2008

Most of my "must see to be pop-culture literate" movies have been mentioned already, but in my group of friends, that would also include:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Being John Malkovich
posted by gemmy at 7:28 AM on January 27, 2008

The Muppet Movie.

At least 3 generations now know this movie. Except me. I also need to see this movie.

To get you film nerd cred, I would also suggest Night of the Iguana (Charles Laughton, 1955) or anything directed by Preston Sturges up to 1946. He seems to have slipped after that.
posted by droplet at 8:22 AM on January 27, 2008

So I guess this begs the question WHY does one need to know/reference cultural icons? I'll tell you a story. Back in the day I used to be a retail buyer. I would get calls all the time. We would say the buyer is out. We would say his name was either Willy Loman, or Travis Bickle. NO ONE got it. After a while for some callers Willie Loman was unavailable, (I think he went to the first Gulf war), and Travis was his replacement. Still NO ONE got it. Oh, and by the way Willie was killed in action. Tragic really, because he was such a good salesman... And when we told callers this they still didn't get it.

By the way there are also certain touchstones on TV too.- from I love Lucy to All in the Family, Cheers, Married With Children, all the way through the Simpsons
posted by Gungho at 8:33 AM on January 27, 2008

Stripes. You can more-or-less ignore the third act "rescue", but up until Bill Murray and that motley crew of misfit cadets graduates is about as dead-on a cultural touchstone as you can get.
posted by mkultra at 9:54 AM on January 27, 2008

If it has been mentioned, I will confirm: You MUST see This is Spinal Tap. It is ubiquitously referenced in pop culture. You will likely have several moments of "so that's where that's from!"

Amen. Though in this day and age, I liken its value to that of Monty Python And The Holy Grail- when in a group of strangers, you'll quickly know who to avoid. ;)
posted by mkultra at 9:58 AM on January 27, 2008

I liken its value to that of Monty Python And The Holy Grail- when in a group of strangers, you'll quickly know who to avoid. ;)

No no no. The difference is: It's funnier to say lines from Holy Grail than to actually watch it. Whereas Spinal Tap is always funnier to watch than to quote.
posted by The Deej at 10:08 AM on January 27, 2008

Most of my suggestions are already on here (noticed Jaws only got one mention - I would definitely second that one). As far as silly movies that are often quoted, for some reason my friends are constantly referencing Supertroopers. No idea why. Oh and, believe it or not, Finding Nemo!
posted by platinum at 10:24 AM on January 27, 2008

I third (or fourth) the vote for IMDB's top 250. I went through the top 100 back when the lists was shorter and enjoyed probably 95% of them. Though there are plenty of classics, the IMDB list is more representative of popular opinion rather than insider or critical opinion, so it's more of the movies that people are likely to be talking about.
posted by xulu at 11:29 AM on January 27, 2008

Slap Shot (this might only apply to Canadians).
posted by kalimotxero at 12:03 PM on January 27, 2008

I'm too lazy to read the above posts. For "qualifications" I'll say I spent 5 years running an art/foreign video store, spent 4 years in film school and between 1993 and 2004 I saw at least one film every single day, on average. Here are the films I most lend out or recommend to my friends, in no particular order:

Carnal Knowledge
Five Easy Pieces
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Clean, Shaven
Hows Your News?
Vernon, Florida
Louie Blouie
Thin Blue Line
Let's Get Lost (on Chet Baker)
Ken Burns' Baseball
Ken Burns' Civil War
Ken Burns' The Shakers
Fog of War
The Kid Stays in the Picture
Riding Giants
Don't Look Back
Don't Look Now
Paradise Lost
Alein Wornous: The Selling of a Serial Killer
Idi Amin, Dada
Born into Brothels
War Game (Watkins)
Lives and Times of Harvey Milk
Anything by Fred Wiseman (though good luck finding them)
Capturing the Friedmans
The Corporation
Triumph of the Will
Olympiad (riefenstahl)
The Cruise
Hands on a Hard Body
Cane Toads
Touching the Void (psuedo doc)
The Gleaners and I
Straight, No Chaser
Bus 174
Style Wars
Broken Noses
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
Coup de torchon
They Live
All the Vermeers in New York
Dogtown and Z-Boys
Grey Gardens
Paradise Lost II
Brother's Keeper
Murder on a Sunday Afternoon
Ken Burns' Huey Long
Red Desert
Citizen Kane
The Conversation
Three Days of the Condor
Bonnie and Clyde
Time Indefinite
High School
Cat People (original)
Panic In Needle Park
Knife in the Water
Rosemary's Baby
Funny Games
The Celebration
Code Unknown
Dog Day Afternoon
Sexy Beast
Monsters Inc.
David Holzman's Diary
LA Confidential
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Stardust Memories
The Long Goodbye
3 Women
The Player
8 1/2
Fight Club
Spanking the Monkey
The Graduate
His Girl Friday
Jules and Jim
The Philadelphia Story
La Jetee
Singing in the Rain
Burnt by the Sun
The Apartment
The Third Man
All the President's Men
Boiling Point (kitano, not hopper/snipes)
Point Blank
The Limey
Scenes from a Marriage
Rules of the Game
The Hustler
Blood of the Beasts
Thin Red Line
Girl on the Bridge
The Hairdresser's Husband
Monsieur Hire
Eyes Wide Shut
Mulholland Drive
The Wild Bunch
Straw Dogs
Breathless (Godard, not Gere)
Down by Law
Stranger than Paradise
Purple Noon
In the Mood for Love
Buffalo '66
Body Heat
French Connection (I and II)
Lord of the Flies
Happy Together
Spoorloos (The Vanishing)
Wages of Fear
The Lives of Others
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
The Cruise
400 Blows
Miller's Crossing
Raging Bull
Do the Right Thing
Woman Under the Influence
Easy Rider
In the Heat of the Night
Under the Volcano
Blood Simple
Le Trou
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
Veronika Voss

And... some that you might still be able to catch in the theatre as these'll be the ones people will be talking about soon enough.

There Will Be Blood
No Country for Old Men
Michael Clayton

Lastly, there are a gazillion recommendations from myself and others in this ancient thread.
posted by dobbs at 9:08 PM on January 27, 2008 [4 favorites]

Instead of going by IMDB's best-rated movies, you could also go by their list of highest-grossing movies. Considering the basis of the original question, this might actually be a more relevant list (there's a difference between popularity and quality). After all, I don't think some stranger on the street would go bananas if you told them you'd never seen "City of God."

Granted, the problem with this is that it's top heavy with contemporary movies, but it's another way to start.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 9:53 PM on January 27, 2008

I joined netflix last year for the same reasons as you. If you want to "friend" me on netflix and see my queue, send me a message. (definitely adding a few of those listed above that I was missing, so thx for asking the question!)
posted by Chris4d at 12:24 AM on January 28, 2008

I would think maybe a James Bond movie should be in there too.

Goldeneye was the Bond revival. But the Sean Connery was suaver-->better as Bond. James Bond.

Funny how Lawrence of Arabia is listed as an American movie.
posted by ersatz at 5:42 AM on January 29, 2008

If you're looking for informed recommendations, I encourage you to take a look at a blog that a friend and I started last week or so.

We're both film geeks with a good measure of film study, if not history behind us and our method is 'literary' --- we do lots of in-genre comparisons (e.g. 'French Connection II' vs. 'Ronin') that may give you a feel for some movies you've mised.

By no means is the current selection of reviews a 'best of'. At this point, I *know* that I haven't written reviews on all of the movies that I hold dear; rather, the current inventory mostly reflects movies that have given me pause -- distracted me or pissed me off – long enough to take note and possibly evangelize just a little.

But the number of disappointment reviews is relatively small and I, at least, have a tendency to want to re-evaluate mvoies from the '70's and '80's.
posted by vhsiv at 6:48 AM on January 31, 2008

Here are some films that I find myself and others referencing (that haven't already been mentioned). This is definitely due to when these films came out with respect to my age at the time and also who I hang/hung out with, but whatever.

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (watch this before The Matrix if possible)
The Crow
El Mariachi
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Ghost in the Shell
The Producers
Real Genius
Requiem for a Dream
Top Gun
Total Recall
The Wizard
posted by ODiV at 1:52 AM on February 2, 2008

Oh, Christ. How could I forget Aliens? I guess I thought it was already listed.

"Game over man, game over!"
posted by ODiV at 1:56 AM on February 2, 2008

Thanks for posting the "100 Spiritually Significant Films" list, fire&wings!

showbiz_liz: you might also want to check out

On the Waterfront (I don't think it's been mentioned yet)
The Bicycle Thief
Come and See
and Lawrence of Arabia and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (as has already been mentioned)
posted by hadjiboy at 2:53 AM on February 3, 2008

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