Our 50 must-see movies

Posted by
Stylist Team
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

In last week's issue of Stylist, we listed the 50 films every woman should see. It provoked fierce debate and sparked divisions in the office (the Vertigo vs Psycho battle is still raging), but we got there - and we asked you to let us know which film from our list of 50 you thought should be crowned the greatest of all time.

Hundreds of you unleashed your inner film critic and sent us some fantastic entries - ranging from personal memories of watching the classics to debating what makes a great movie. We'll be announcing your ultimate 'must-see' movie shortly, and the winner of all 50 films on DVD.

In the meantime, please do continue to share your favourite films with us - it's the perfect excuse to spend Sunday afternoons on the sofa!

Click an image to open the gallery.

  • The Wizard Of Oz (1939)

    A technicolor miracle and said to be the most watched motion picture in history, The Wizard Of Oz is as iconic as filmmaking gets – from Dorothy’s ruby slippers to the yellow brick road, from the Munchkins to Toto, from the Wicked Witches to the classic song Over The Rainbow.

    Best bit: The moment when Dorothy walks into Oz – thus changing the film from black and white to colour. A lo-fi trick but utterly enrapturing.

  • Terms Of Endearment (1983)

    A heart-wrencher about a mother-daughter relationship that’ll have you choking back sobs. Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger crackle with tension, whilst Jack Nicholson is at his charismatic best as the astronaut– yes, astronaut – who lives next door.

    Did you know? Director James L Brooks co-created The Simpsons.

  • The Constant Gardener (2005)

    Ralph Fiennes has starred in two great weepies: 1996’s The English Patient and this tale of a diplomat in Kenya searching for the killer of his activist wife (Oscar-winning Rachel Weisz). A moving conspiracy thriller.

    Did you know? The filmmakers set up The Constant Gardener Trust to help inhabitants of the slums near Nairobi where they shot it.

  • La Dolce Vita (1960)

    Italian director Federico Fellini’s episodic portrait of a journalist (Marcello Mastroianni) in late Fifties Rome is pure, glamorous magic. It is also the film credited with coining the term ‘paparazzi’.

    Watch it for: The iconic moment when statuesque Swedish actress Anita Ekberg climbs fully-clothed into Rome’s Trevi Fountain.

  • Mulholland Drive (2001)

    Maverick director David Lynch’s dream-like noir is stylish, sexy and mysterious. After a woman loses her memory in a car crash, she befriends an aspiring actress and together they try to find out who she is.

    Did you know? Lynch first came up with the idea as a potential spin-off from his cult TV show Twin Peaks.

  • The Red Shoes (1948)

    With Black Swan creating interest in all things ballet, it’s worth returning to this beautiful 1948 British film about a young ballerina. Like Black Swan, it’s about obsession and the boundaries between art and life – though thankfully there’s no face-stabbing.

    Watch it for: The inventive staging of The Red Shoes ballet.

  • Brief Encounter (1945)

    This stiff upper lip romance is one of the great British films. It tells the story of Laura, a married woman who falls in love with a doctor after a chance meeting in a railway station. But both realise their affair must end.

    Best bit: When the lovers say their devastating last goodbye, only to be interrupted by a chatty acquaintance.

  • Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

    Marilyn Monroe shines as the gold-digging Lorelei Lee in this breezy story of a conniving (yet charming) nightclub entertainer whose love of gems lands her in hot water. The brilliant Jane Russell, who sadly died last month, is also great fun as her cynical best friend.

    Watch it for: Marilyn’s performance of Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend (a number famously recreated by Madonna in the video for Material Girl).

  • Annie Hall (1977)

    Woody Allen’s finest hour, this playful romantic comedy about Allen’s neurotic Alvy and Diane Keaton’s ditsy Annie is both truthful and funny.

    Best bit: The scene where the flirty pair’s thoughts are given subtitles. As Alvy pontificates about photography, he thinks: “Wonder what she looks like naked.”

  • When Harry Met Sally (1989)

    Can a man and a woman ever just be friends? That’s the question frequently discussed by the best friends (Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal) at the centre of this sparky romcom.

    Best bit: Meg Ryan’s fake-orgasm-ina- deli scene is rightfully famous (and very funny). It’s director Rob Reiner’s mother who utters the famous “I’ll have what she’s having” line.

  • The Graduate (1967)

    Bored, aimless and living with his parents for the summer after finishing college, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) has no real purpose in life. Enter seductive housewife Mrs Robinson: just as bored as Benjamin and ready for an affair.

    Watch it for: Anne Bancroft as the mother of all cougars.

  • Pulp Fiction (1994)

    Quentin Tarantino’s best, the coolest film of the Nineties and one that’s endlessly quotable and oozes style: from Uma Thurman’s sleek black bob to that dance with John Travolta in Jack Rabbit Slim’s.

    Did you know? Uma Thurman is barefoot for much of the movie, as she is in Tarantino’s Kill Bill.

  • Casablanca (1942)

    Combining wartime intrigue with an ill-fated love affair, Casablanca is a copper-bottom classic. Bogart is world-weary bar owner Rick and an incandescent Ingrid Bergman plays the woman who walks back into his life.

    Watch it for: Immortal one-liners such as “Here’s looking at you kid” and “We’ll always have Paris”.

  • Heathers (1988)

    High-school swot Winona Ryder hangs with three queen bees called Heather, before being shown the error of her ways by Christian Slater – who's even darker than he first appears. It’s like Gossip Girl gone goth. In a good way.

    Did you know? It’s currently being turned into a Broadway show by the writer behind Desperate Housewives.

  • The Apartment (1960)

    Smart, funny and sad, The Apartment stars Jack Lemmon as the office loser who loans his home to his bosses so they can conduct their affairs. Shirley MacLaine is the vulnerable elevator girl he falls for – before realising that she is no stranger to his apartment.

    Did you know? MacLaine’s role was originally written for Marilyn Monroe.

  • Let The Right One In (2008)

    Forget The Twilight Saga, here’s a vampire movie that will genuinely creep you out. The Swedish film is also strangely moving in its depiction of a vampire forming an unlikely relationship with a young, bullied boy in suburban Stockholm.

    Did you know? The film was remade in the US as Let Me In by Cloverfield director Matt Reeves.

  • Persepolis (2007)

    Marjane Satrapi’s animated adaptation of her own graphic novel, Persepolis tells the story of growing up in Iran during the 1979 revolution.

    Watch it for: Persepolis makes the political personal and the trials faced by Satrapi’s character as she grows up under a repressive regime are truly moving.

  • The African Queen (1951)

    Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn sparkle in this offbeat adventure about a buttoned-up missionary and a grizzled riverboat captain who launch a daring attack on an enemy boat in WWI Africa – and fall in love.

    Did you know? Bogart won his only Oscar for this performance.

  • The Birds (1963)

    Hitchcock’s classic horror about crows and seagulls terrorising a California bay town is unforgettably creepy. In Tippi Hedren (an ex-model and mother of actress Melanie Griffith), it also boasts one of Hitch's iconic icy blonde heroines.

    Did you know? It’s based on a story by Daphne du Maurier, who also wrote the book behind Hitchcock’s Rebecca.

  • Gone With The Wind (1939)

    A lavish epic in every respect: from the story of the South’s downfall during the American Civil War to the widescreen sets and even wider dresses sported by Scarlett O’Hara.

    Best bit: All of it. Don’t be put off by the 224-minute running time: this is one romantic saga to wrap yourself up in.

  • Belle De Jour (1967)

    About a bored housewife who becomes a prostitute during the day while her doctor husband is at work, Belle De Jour is a fascinating exploration of sexuality and fantasy, directed with a surreal twist by Spanish master Luis Buñuel.

    Watch it for: Catherine Deneuve, icily flawless as Severine.

  • Pretty Woman (1990)

    The relationship between a prostitute and a businessman may be an uneasy foundation for a romcom on paper – but Pretty Woman has transcended that to become a funny, soppy classic. It’s also the film that shot Julia Roberts and her 1,000-watt smile to bona fide superstardom.

    Best bit: That revenge-seeking shopping trip along Rodeo Drive.

  • Dirty Dancing (1987)

    Dirty Dancing remains a rite of passage nearly 24 years – yes, that long – after its release. The story of one girl’s romantic awakening, thanks to the attentions of Swayze’s dancer, remains as rousing as ever.

    Best bit: “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.”

  • Sunset Boulevard (1950)

    Gloria Swanson is iconic as Norma Desmond, the faded silent movie star who dreams of returning to the silver screen. But things get complicated when she moves a young screenwriter into her mansion.

    Best bit: Norma’s assertion that “I am big, it’s the pictures that got small” – while standing next to her dead pet chimp – is pure Hollywood.

  • Brokeback Mountain (2005)

    Following the relationship between two cowboys over two decades, it is made great by incredible performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. Sadly, it would be one of Ledger’s last.

    Did you know? The iconic shirts that feature in the sob-inducing climax were sold for over $100,000 on eBay.

  • The Women, 1939

    The genius of this Thirties classic – starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell – is that not a single man appears on screen. Following the romantic trials of rich Manhattanites, the film is funny and tart – and all about men.

    Bypass: The dubious 2008 remake with Meg Ryan.

  • Aliens (1986)

    Sigourney Weaver is at her most butt-kicking as the alien-slaying Ripley in this intense sequel, which sees her returning to the planet from the original film to discover that the alien threat is very much back.

    Best bit: Ripley’s showdown with the alien queen, which sees her climb into a hydraulic suit and trade blows.

  • Some Like It Hot (1959)

    Classic comedy that unites Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon in a screwball tale of two musicians who hide from gangsters by joining an all-girl band.

    Did you know? It had to be filmed in black and white because in colour, the leading men’s heavy make-up looked green.

  • Taxi Driver (1976)

    With a tour de force turn from Robert De Niro, Taxi Driver is a devastating character portrait of Travis Bickle, a New York taxi driver on a one-way street to a violent breakdown helped by an obsession with Jodie Foster’s child prostitute, Iris.

    Did you know: The iconic “You talkin’ to me?” scene was largely improvised by De Niro.

  • Thelma & Louise (1991)

    Ridley Scott’s buddy flick was a revelation when it came out 20 years ago. For the first time, women took centre stage in the traditionally masculine genre of the road movie. Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis are fabulous as the waitress and housewife who find liberation – and a gratuitously shirtless Brad Pitt in his breakthrough role – on the road to Mexico. Brimming with one liners, poignant moments and one of the most heart-wrenching climaxes ever – it’s essential viewing.

    Did you know? At one point Meryl Streep was set to play Louise, with Goldie Hawn keen to take on the role of Thelma.

  • Mildred Pierce (1945)

    Joan Crawford is at her peak in this 1945 melodrama about a housewife turned-business woman’s stormy relationship with her deceitful daughter. Crawford won her only Oscar for her hypnotic performance.

    Did you know? It was recently made into a series by HBO with Kate Winslet in the title role.

  • Secrets And Lies (1996)

    Director Mike Leigh is a wry, insightful chronicler of everyday British characters and he’s on fantastic form in this Oscar-nominated film about an adopted black woman (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) who discovers her real mother is white.

    Best bit: The moment where Brenda Blethyn’s character Cynthia begins to realise the truth.

  • Psycho (1960)

    The most iconic murder in cinema history, Psycho’s shower scene is the centrepiece of a film that has lost none of its power to frighten. It’s the story of Norman Bates, a motel owner hiding a dark, decomposing secret.

    Did you know? Director Alfred Hitchcock used chocolate sauce as blood in the shower scene.

  • Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

    Very strange and very scary, Roman Polanski’s film is about a couple who move into a New York apartment block. When she falls pregnant, Rosemary starts to suspect her child might be the spawn of Satan.

    Did you know? Star Mia Farrow received divorce papers from then-husband Frank Sinatra on set.

  • Lost In Translation (2003)

    One of the strangest and most stylish love stories of the last decade, Sofia Coppola’s beautifully shot film tells the story of an ageing actor (Bill Murray) and a bored, neglected newlywed (Scarlett Johansson) who strike up an unlikely friendship in a Tokyo hotel.

    Did you know? The film was shot in only 27 days.

  • Pretty In Pink (1986)

    Molly Ringwald shines in one of the best Bratpack movies ever made. She plays Andie, a cool girl from the poor side of town who falls for the preppy Blane (Andrew McCarthy).

    Did you know? Robert Downey Jr was almost cast as Andie’s best friend Ducky.

  • Harold & Maude (1971)

    A romantic comedy about the relationship between a morbid young man and a 79-year-old woman may not sound like a recipe for romantic fireworks but it’s rightly a cult classic.

    Watch it for: Ruth Gordon’s performance as free-spirited septuagenarian Maude is both funny and touching.

  • The Blue Angel (1930)

    Frilly knickers and a shiny top hat: costumes don’t come more iconic than Marlene Dietrich’s in this racy 1930 German classic about a cabaret dancer who leads a professor astray.

    Did you know? German screen goddess Dietrich was approached by the Nazis in 1937 but refused to get involved with them, becoming an American citizen in 1939.

  • Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

    This screwball 1985 New York comedy, Her Madgesty’s first big screen role, tells the story of a timid New Jersey housewife (Rosanna Arquette) who becomes consumed with curiosity about the supercool and slightly criminal Susan.

    Watch it for: Madonna’s none-more Eighties style.

  • Grey Gardens (1975)

    This cult documentary follows two reclusive socialites in East Hampton who live in abject squalor – despite being cousins of Jackie Onassis. The mother and daughter at the centre of the film are fascinatingly bizarre.

    Did you know? It was recently turned into an HBO film starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange.

  • À Bout de Souffle (1960)

    French auteur Jean-Luc Godard famously declared that all a film needed was a girl and a gun. He combines both in this hipster classic, also known as Breathless, about an American student in Paris who hooks up with a local criminal. Released in 1960, it’s still fresh half a century on.

    Watch it for: The iconic cool blonde Jean Seberg complete with pixie cut.

  • All About My Mother (1999)

    Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar is known for his offbeat melodramas and this is his best. A single mother heads to Barcelona after her son’s untimely death and encounters various eccentrics – including Penélope Cruz’s pregnant nun.

    Did you know? The film won the best foreign language Oscar in 2000.

  • The Silence Of The Lambs, 1991

    Often parodied for the foodie preferences of cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter (liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti anyone?), it’s one of the most gripping thrillers ever committed to celluloid.

    Watch it for: The electrifying exchanges between Hannibal and FBI rookie Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster).

  • Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961)

    Audrey Hepburn plays naive Holly Golightly, a girl looking for love – and money – in New York. Pairing Givenchy dresses with a cigarette holder, it made Hepburn an icon.

    Did you know? Classic song Moon River was written specially for the film and went on to win the 1961 Oscar for Best Song.

  • Toy Story (1995)

    Its two sequels ran it close, as do fellow Pixar masterpieces Wall-E and Up, but we went for the original. The first totally CGI film, it is as entertaining as it is innovative. To infinity and beyond indeed.

    Did you know? The script was co-written by Buffy The Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon.

  • All About Eve (1950)

    Bette Davis is all cigarettes and smarts in this biting 1950 classic about getting ahead in showbusiness. She plays Margo, an ageing Broadway star who takes wide-eyed young fan Eve under her wing. But Eve has her own designs on stardom…

    Did you know? A young Marilyn Monroe has a small role.

  • Groundhog Day (1993)

    A sort of sarcastic, modern take on It’s A Wonderful Life, this clever comedy sees mardy weatherman Bill Murray forced to live the same day over and over again – until he learns to be a better man.

    Watch it for: Murray’s masterful performance as he gradually wins over the whole town – and his producer, Andie MacDowell.

  • Amélie (2001)

    The story of a lonely Montmartre waitress who decides to make the lives of those around her better was criticised by cynics for its rose-tinted optimism but the film oozes charm thanks to its lead, Audrey Tautou.

    Best bit: The details, like Amélie relishing cracking her spoon into a crème brûlée, are a delight.

    'Picture credits: Rex Features

  • Edward Scissorhands (1990)

    We simply had to include one film by Tim Burton and this gothic fairytale, inspired by a drawing Burton did at school, was it. It’s a sweet, surreal love story between Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder set in a visually stunning, stylised version of suburbia.

    Did you know? Depp lost nearly two stone for the film – and only says 169 words during it.

  • Rear Window (1954)

    Hitchcock’s ingenious thriller sees James Stewart recovering from a broken leg. He starts spying on his neighbours and becomes convinced one of them has murdered his wife.

    Watch it for: Grace Kelly. Her sparky relationship with Stewart was based on Ingrid Bergman’s affair with war photographer Robert Capa.

    Picture credits: Rex Features and Magnum Photos