2023 NFR Nominees: Men In Black, The Karate Kid, Gladiator, and More
My other nominees include How To Play Football, Seven, and But I’m A Cheerleader
NOTE: This year, I decided to remove four of my selections from The Mind’s Eye series. The reason being that I discovered that these films were exclusively released on VHS. While home video recordings are not expressly forbidden by the National Film Registry, they are not prioritized, so I made the decision to remove them from my nomination cycle. I have also removed The Haunting (1963) from my nomination cycle, upon making the embarrassing discovery that it is not a British-American co-production, but a purely British film. My apologies if I misled anyone.
It’s that time of year again, folks. Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation estimates that “one half of all films made before 1950 and over 90% made before 1929 are lost forever.” This makes the mission of the National Film Registry (NFR) all the more pertinent, as we can no more afford to lose these amazing shadows of our national heritage. Every year since 1989, the film archive selects 25 American films to be listed as deserving of preservation due to their historical, cultural, or aesthetic significance. The films must be at least 10 years old and the public is free to nominate up to 50 films each year.
I am proud to announce that for the year of 2022, one of my oldest nominees, Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976), was selected for preservation. Other important films selected for preservation included Iron Man (2008), The Little Mermaid (1989), Charade (1963), and When Harry Met Sally (1989).
2022 NFR Nominees: Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Mishima
Superheroes, Pirates, and Japanese literature
Without any further ado, here are the nominees:
How To Play Football (1944)
Alongside his partners, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, Goofy is one of Walt Disney’s most iconic cartoon characters. Goofy made his mark in the 40s through instructional “How To” shorts. In How To Play Football (1944), the sport of American football is cleverly lampooned through Goofy and his various clones. How To Play Football was nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.
The Karate Kid (1984)
Robert G. Avildsen, took the underdog sports formula he masterfully executed in Rocky (1976) and reworked it for younger audiences with martial arts through The Karate Kid (1984). The screenplay for the film was written by Robert Mark Kamen, who based the story on his own experiences with learning karate. The film starred Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso, a boy who moves to California, but gets bullied by Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) for falling in love with his ex-girlfriend Ali (Elizabeth Shue). After being saved from an attack by Johnny by the kindly Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), Daniel serves under his unique tutelage to learn karate and prove himself at the local tournament.
The Karate Kid successfully mixes a number of film genres: high school romance, teen comedy, sports drama, and martial arts. The characters were treated with nuance and sensitivity. Macchio’s performance as Daniel is kind-hearted, but also wiseacre who can be brash and arrogant. His karate teacher, Mr. Miyagi, teaches Daniel through a number of comedic ways, from waxing his cars to painting his fences. What keeps Miyagi from being little more than comic relief is his difficult past, as we learn that his wife and unborn child died in a Japanese internment camp. After learning this, it becomes evident that the relationship between Daniel and Miyagi is more than student and teacher, but of father and son. For his role as Mr. Miyagi, Morita was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
The Karate Kid inspired two direct sequels, one spinoff, and one remake with Jackie Chan. The story has also been continued in the critically acclaimed TV show Cobra Kai. The film also popularized karate in the United States.
Seven (1995) was an early film in David Fincher’s directing career, but it remains among his most riveting and thoughtful. Set in an unnamed city, Morgan Freeman plays William Somerset, a retiring detective who teams up with rookie David Mills, played by Brad Pitt, who must find a serial killer who commits crimes inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins. Gwyneth Paltrow also gives an emotional and convincing performance as Pitt’s wife.
The cinematography by Darius Khondji provides the film with a dark and grimy aesthetic which evokes the classics of film noir. The editing by Richard Francis-Bruce, particularly for the opening sequence, earned Seven an Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing. The script by Andrew Kevin Walker provides a sobering meditation on human nature, particularly our penchant for cruelty and apathy. It is open to many interpretations and provides no easy answers. Its twist ending is one of the most famous in cinematic history.
Men In Black (1997)
Men In Black (1997) is a sci-fi action comedy directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, and based on the Marvel comic books by Lowell Cunningham and Sandy Carruthers. The film is about secretive government agents who covertly handle alien contact on Earth. Will Smith stars as the rookie, Agent J, who is mentored by Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) on how handle aliens. Men In Black takes an absurd approach to extraterrestrials, with some who regrow their heads when blown off, while others are addicted to coffee and cigarettes. As film critic Owen Gleiberman wrote in his review for Variety, “The joke of Men in Black is that aliens have arrived, and they’re not monsters…they’re pests. In its throwaway absurdity, the picture mirrors the ironic nonchalance of 90s America, a place that feels — or at least wants to feel — that it has neutered most of its enemies.”
What helps Men In Black standout are the amazing special effects, which are a mix of computer animation, puppetry, and make up. These achievements in effects allow the filmmakers to convincingly show a variety of aliens, from a baby squid to a giant cockroach. The usage of make-up to make Vincent D’ Onofrio an insect in a skin suit was so impressive, that it probably led to the film’s Oscar for Best Make Up.
Men In Black is also the definitive Will Smith film, and helped to establish him as one of Hollywood’s best actors. No other movie since has quite captured his charisma at the height of his popularity in the 90s. He even made the hit rap song for the soundtrack.
But I’m A Cheerleader (1999)
Considered by many to the greatest LGBT film of all time, But I’m A Cheerleader (1999), directed by Jamie Babbitt, stars Natasha Lyonne as Meghan, a cheerleader who is suspected by her parents of being a lesbian, and is sent to a conversion therapy camp to be “cured” of her homosexuality.
While it is a teen sex comedy on the surface, it is so much more than that underneath. The film is first and foremost a celebration of queer love and desire in both gays and lesbians, it also mocks the futility of “conversion therapy,” and satirizes the rigid gender norms of heterosexuality. But I’m A Cheerleader is an exemplar of camp, with its over-the-top acting, bright pinks and blues, and flashy costumes. Clea DuVall, RuPaul, Cathy Moriarty, and Dante Basco, also flesh out the film with delightful performances. But I’m A Cheerleader famously pushed the envelope in its depiction of female sexual pleasure, which earned it a controversial NC-17 rating.
Inspired by past sword-and-sandal epics like Ben-Hur (1959) and Spartacus (1962), Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) not only brought the sword-and-sandal back to Hollywood, but also redefined the historical epic. Gladiator is about a Roman general, Maximus Decimus Deridius, (Russell Crowe), who is asked by Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) to succeed him as emperor and restore the Roman Republic. When Aurelius’ son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) hears of this, he murders his father and tries to have Maximus killed. Maxmius escapes, but returns home to find his son and wife crucified. He is captured and sold into slavery under Proximo (Oliver Reed), who trains him to fight in the gladiatorial games, where Maximus hopes to meet again with the Commodus and have his revenge.
Gladiator is a visual epic which shows the breadth of the Roman Empire at its height, from Germany to Spain to North Africa to Rome itself. The film has an advantage over older epics in that it uses computer animation to bring to life great vistas, like the Colosseum. The film also surpasses its predecessors visceral violent combat, from chariots to tigers. The score by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard drew on Gustav Holst and Richard Wagner, but has a richness all its own, with its popular theme being “Now We Are Free.”
Gladiator was nominated for several Academy Awards, winning Best Visual Effects, Best Actor, and Best Picture. The American Film Institute also listed Maximus as the 50th greatest movie hero. While Gladiator does take many historical liberties, it is still an exciting visual representation of the Aurelius’ stoic philosophy and gladiatorial combat. The success of Gladiator also influenced a new generation of epics from The Lord of Rings Trilogy (2001–2003), The Last Samurai (2003), Kingdom of Heaven (2004), 300 (2007), Robin Hood (2010), and Game of Thrones (2011–2019). It also reinvigorated interest in Ancient Roman history.
2023 NFR Nominees Full List
- Barney Oldfield’s Race For A Life (1913)
- Bottle Rocket (1996)
- The Cat Concerto (1947)
- Der Fuehrer’s Face (1943)
- 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)
- The Defiant Ones (1958)
- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
- Rape Culture (1975)
- Gimme Shelter (1970)
- What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
- The Patterson-Gimlin Film (1967)
- Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982)
- Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
- The Blues Accordin´ To Lightning Hopkins (1968)
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer´s Stone (2001)
- Batman (1989)
- Fight Club (1999)
- Mulholland Dr (2001)
- The Secret of NIMH (1982)
- The Color Purple (1985)
- The Truman Show (1998)
- Pleasantville (1998)
- WarGames (1983)
- The Crow (1994)
- Crumb (1994)
- Lake Of Fire (2006)
- Mutiny On The Bounty (1935)
- Boogie Nights (1997)
- Inherit The Wind (1960)
- Scarface (1983)
- The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
- Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906)
- Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969)
- Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)
- The Sixth Sense (1999)
- Somewhere In Time (1980)
- Lonely Are The Brave (1962)
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
- Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)
- Spider-Man (2002)
- Spider-Man 2 (2004)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
- Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters (1985)
- How To Play Football (1944)
- The Karate Kid (1984)
- Seven (1995)
- Men In Black (1997)
- But I’m A Cheerleader (1999)
- Gladiator (2000)
2023 NFR Nominee Justifications
- Barney Oldfield’s Race For A Life (1913)
A classic silent comedy that immortalized the famous image of a damsel in distress being tied to the train tracks by a mustachioed villain. The film also features the Keystone Cops, who stand along with Chaplin and Keaton as comedy icons of America’s silent film era.
2. Bottle Rocket (1996)
Wes Anderson’s films have gone on to represent independent filmmaking in America for many years, and much of that started with his meandering debut Bottle Rocket. The film, though flawed, maintains a strong focus of friendship between its cast, through the adventures of bored middle class suburban teenagers who try to become professional criminals. Bottle Rocket is a looking-glass, perhaps, into America’s restless Generation X, as well as into the creativity of Anderson’s own mind.
3. The Cat Concerto (1947)
Tom and Jerry are one of the most popular duos in animation history, and the oft copied Cat Concerto stands as one of their finest examples. Tom and Jerry compete with a piano while Franz Liszt’s famous Hungarian Rhapsody №2 plays on. The film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Subject and was included on Jerry Beck’s 50 Greatest Cartoons.
4. Der Fuehrer’s Face (1943)
During World War II, Disney produced multiple animated propaganda films to sway public opinion in favor of the war. Der Fuehrer’s Face is an excellent example as it features Donald Duck living under the horror of the Nazi regime. Much like Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940), it is a great satire of Nazi Germany. The film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Subject.
5. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)
Walt Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is one of the most famous and critically acclaimed adaptations of Jules Verne’s enduring novel. The film has a cast of some of Old Hollywood’s best actors: Paul Lukas, Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre, and most famously, James Mason as the chilling Captain Nemo, who stands as one of the most morally complex characters ever put onto film. The film is one of Disney’s most mature, carrying many of Verne’s themes on personal freedom, the dangers of science, and the failings of society. It is especially interesting that the film was released during the Cold War, and that the growing fears about nuclear war were cleverly added to the film. The visual aesthetic of the Nautilus also had an influence on the steampunk genre. The movie itself is a special effects milestone, featuring an impressive giant squid and winning the Oscar for Special Effects that year.
6. The Defiant Ones (1958)
Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones is great film about America’s changing attitudes towards racism against blacks. The film stars Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier as prisoners on the run chained together. The two, in many ways, are a microcosm for the racial tensions between blacks and whites in America, but their ultimate ability to work together shows the superiority of friendship over racial prejudice. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
7–8. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2002–2003)
- The Two Towers (2002)
- The Return of the King (2003)
2021 NFR Nominee: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001–2003)
National Film Registry Essay: It’s that time of year again, folks! Every year I make a list of films which I am…
Peter Jackson’s critically acclaimed Lord of the Rings Trilogy, alongside with Harry Potter, reinvigorated an interest in fantasy, and promoted the accessibility of blockbusters over two hours. The film is a fantasy epic with an ensemble cast, including Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, and Hugo Weaving, which has at its center the friendship between Frodo and Sam, as they go on an odyssey to throw the One Ring into the fires of Mt. Doom. The film echoes back to older epics, such as Ben-Hur and Gone With The Wind, that has a memorable grand score, along with a balanced use of computer animation and practical effects to create truly breathtaking shots and scenes. The author of the original trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien, once called his books “unfilmmable.” However, this film trilogy, as one of the first major pictures of the 21st century, represents how far American films have come since D.W. Griffith’s epics. Indeed, it is a culmination of all the breakthroughs American movies have made in the 20th century, and a golden standard by which future American films would be set to. The Lord of the Rings film trilogy won 17 out its 30 Oscar nominees, with Return of the King taking home Best Picture
9. Rape Culture (1975)
A raw documentary produced by Prisoners Against Rape, the DC Rape Crisis Center, and political filmmakers Margaret Lazarus, and Renner Wunderlich, Rape Culture is probably one of the first movies to examine the crime of rape in its ugly forms and the roles that Hollywood films, pornography, masculinity, and racism have played in its persistence. The film also features various feminists such as Mary Daly, who give viewers a glimpse into radical second-wave feminism. Although many aspects of the film may seem quite obtuse today, the film represented a time in American history when the causes of rape began to be identified, or at least discussed. Whether or not one agrees with all of its assertions, or even the existence of rape culture, the film represents a visual milestone in the start of a conversation that still continues to this day.
10. Gimme Shelter (1970)
Ever since the British Invasion of the 1960’s, The Rolling Stones have been a staple of American rock music. The first half of the movie shows their energetic live performances on concert and the stresses that go into recording their songs. The Stones were not at Woodstock, but they did have their own sort of festival at the Altamont Free Concert. Thus, the second half of Gimme Shelter depicts the concert itself, set up at the Altamont Highway. This section of the film shows some of the crude excesses of the counterculture, which tragically culminated in a murder during The Stone’s song, “Sympathy For The Devil”. In a sense, this film is a gritty contrast to idealistic flower power of Woodstock. Gimmie Shelter has since been added into the Criterion Collection.
11. What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
Peter Bogdanovich’s excellent tribute to the screwball comedies of the 1930’s that manages to be something of a great comedy in itself. The movie keeps in the tradition of the New Hollywood era which were the first films directed by people who had grown up on films. The American Film Institute included it as one of the nation’s best comedies.
12. The Patterson-Gimlin Film (1968)
The Patterson-Gimlin film is believed by many to be the best evidence for Bigfoot captured on film. At the very least, it has captured the fascination of many since its release. Even if one doesn’t believe in Bigfoot, the film has played a big role in shaping our popular understanding of the elusive beast. Indeed, if there could be one film you would use to symbolize our ongoing fascination with Bigfoot, this one is probably it.
13. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982)
The series, Star Trek, has proven to be iconic in the world of American television. So too does The Wrath of Khan hold an enduring impact for bringing the best of Star Trek onto the silver screen. Leonard Nimoy’s role as Mr. Spock has become lauded within the annals of science-fiction. Of course, Spock’s place in The Wrath of Khan is particularly famous, including a heartfelt moment where he utters, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Of course, none of this is to diminish the superb cast of the USS Enterprise, played by William Shatner, Deforest Kelley, George Takei, James Doohan, Walter Koening, and Nichelle Nichols. Though few stick out as well as the fearsome Khan himself, portrayed viciously by Ricardo Montalban.
14. Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
This work is a marvel of Ray Harryhausen’s spectacular stop-motion effects, from the many headed Hydra to the army of skeletons.
15. The Blues Accordin’ To Lightning Hopkins (1968)
Lightning Hopkins is considered one of America’s finest guitarists, and Les Blanc’s documentary shows just why. Blues is an integral part of our cultural history and Hopkins plays with an emotional understanding of this fact. Throughout we see the impact of his music on ordinary people. The Blues Accordin’ To Lightning Hopkins has also been added to the Criterion Collection.
16. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
Harry Potter launched from a bestselling book series and into a global phenomenon. This influence was felt no less by film. The inaugural entry into the popular film series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was successful in creating Hogwarts, the fantasy world where goblins run banks, sports are run on broomsticks, and chess pieces can run you over. Harry Potter also provided America with a showcase of Britain’s best talent, from Alan Rickman to Richard Harris to Maggie Smith, as well as a catapult for bringing fantasy novels and young adult fiction onto the silver screen.
17. Fight Club (1999)
Based on the equally controversial book by Chuck Palaniuk, David Fincher’s Fight Club is a film that examines masculinity, consumerism, and meaning in a changing society. Edward Norton plays the unassuming narrator, whose directionless life is given an injection of adrenaline by the wild Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt. Tyler starts a fight club, which allows men to fight out their aggression, within various rules, of course. The first rule of Fight Club being that you cannot talk about it. Fight Club is a dual image, both a condemnation and a celebration of our twisted society, along with the men who reside in it.
18. Batman (1989)
Batman, along with Superman, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man, Batman is one of the most iconic superheroes in American comics. Tim Burton’s adaptation of the character is considered, alongside Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, one of the definitive interpretations of Batman on film. The film was successful in returning Batman to his darker origins from his campy image on the Adam West show. The movie is a showcase of talent: Tim Burton’s artistic use of sets, models, and lighting, Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson’s performances in the leading roles, Danny Elfman’s sweeping score, and Prince’s pop additions. Batman would go on to define the character, and superhero films, for the years to come.
19. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
David Lynch’s magnum opus, and one of the most acclaimed and divisive films of 2001, Mulholland Dr. was directed in pure Lynchian style: obscure, enigmatic, strange, thoughtful, ambiguous, and addictive. The film explores identity, desire, dreams, and the many faces of Hollywood. Much like Sunset Boulevard, Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. is as much a critique of the Hollywood system as it is a celebration of it. The film is also among the first to start the craze of Internet forums and websites analyzing and interpreting movies of this kind. Mulholland Dr. is also one of the few films from the 2000’s that came of BFI’s Sight and Sound poll for greatest films of all time.
20. The Secret of NIMH (1982)
While Disney floundered throughout the 1980’s, former Disney animators Don Bluth and Gary Goldman filled the gap in quality cartoon films. The best of these works was Bluth’s magnum opus The Secret of NIMH, based on the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien. NIMH stands above many other animated features, in that it has a subtlety and adult sensibility that is often left by the wayside in children’s entertainment. It also carries a female protagonist in the lead who has no special powers or alluring beauty, but simply seeks to save her home.
21. The Color Purple (1985)
Based on the critically acclaimed novel by Alice Walker, the film, directed by Steven Spielberg, provides an important lens into an area of American history, particularly the struggles of African-American women in the early 1920’s, who had to deal with racism, poverty, and sexism, as seen through the eyes of Celie, a woman who takes a slow odyssey of liberation from her abusive husband. The film is also a grand showcase of African-American talents, Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Margaret Avery, Adolph Caesar, and Oprah Winfrey. The Color Purple was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress In A Leading Role, and Best Actress In A Supporting Role. Film critic Roger Ebert added it to his Great Movies list.
22. The Truman Show (1998)
One of Jim Carrey’s most acclaimed films, which is about a man whose entire life is a well-constructed television show, but he’s the only one who does not know it. The film satirizes and questions the utopian concept of the “American Dream.” Like The Matrix (1999), it examines the concept of simulated reality, and like Network (1976), it examined the endless shock factor of burgeoning reality television.
23. Pleasantville (1998)
A clever tribute as well as parody of the black and white sitcoms that were popular during the 1950’s. The film features two 90’s teenagers who enter the world of the fictional 1950’s television show, “Pleasantville,” and come face-to-face with the ideals that America projected onto the screen, and see their strengths as well as shortcomings. The film also examines the conflict between the culture of that era and the culture of the later decades, through art, music, literature, and sex. This is mainly achieved through the film’s mixture of black-and-white and color visuals. The film also stars the late Don Knotts of The Andy Griffith Show as a guiding force.
24. WarGames (1983)
One of the first films to accurately portray hacker culture to a mass audience, WarGames also examines the strategy of “mutually assured destruction” and the growing roles of computers and artificial intelligence in governmental affairs.
25. The Crow (1994)
Alex Proyas’s film adaptation brought to life James O’Barr’s gritty comic book that features the resurrection of Eric Draven, a rock musician who seeks to avenge the rape and murder of his fiance. The film is foremost the last, and perhaps best performance of Brandon Lee, who died during the production of the film, just as he began to emerge from his father’s shadow. The film’s creative special effects echo the minaturesque macabre of Tim Burton’s Batman as well as the dystopian hell of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Also, keeping in the theme of Draven’s former role as a rock musician, The Crow also serves as a showcase of some of the 90’s most popular rock groups, from The Cure to The Stone Temple Pilots.
26. Crumb (1994)
A documentary which examines the strange and obscene lifestyle of one of America’s most famous underground cartoonists, Robert R. Crumb. Through the film, we see his legacy through creations such as Fritz The Cat, Mr. Natural, Keep On Truckin’, and his album cover for Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills, as well as the grotesque and pornographic side of American cartoons never explored through the films of either Disney or Warner Bros. In the film, we also see the broken lives of Crumb and as his brothers as they struggle with loneliness and depression, and how for Crumb, cartooning provided him a unique escape.
27. Lake Of Fire (2006)
Abortion, alongside gun control, remains one of the most divisive topics in American politics, with no comfortable resolution yet in sight. Through this 152 minute documentary, filmed over 16 years, and costing $8 million dollars, director Tony Kaye allows for all points of view from across the political, religious, legal, medical, and philosophical spectrum to be heard, without editing or judgement. The film examines the pro-life movement, the murders of abortion doctors, the pro-choice movement, and shows us two actual abortion procedures. Among those interviewed include Norma McCorvey, Noam Chomsky, Peter Singer, Alan Dershowitz, Nat Hentoff, and most importantly, the women who have been directly affected. The film is shot in black, white, and shades of grey, reflecting, perhaps, the various perspectives.
28. Mutiny On The Bounty (1935)
Considered by many to be finest film on the true Bounty mutiny, if not the most historically accurate, is the most influential in shaping the popular perception of what occurred during the incident. Most notably framing Christian Fletcher (Clark Gable) as righteous and Captain William Bligh (Charles Laughton) as sadistic. For their convincing roles, Gable, Laughton, and Franchot Tone, were all nominated for the Oscar of Best Actor that year, with none of them winning. Mutiny did, however, win the Oscar for Best Picture. The American Film Institute has listed it as the 86th greatest film of all time, and Laughton’s depiction of Captain Bligh as the 19th greatest villain of all time.
29. Boogie Nights (1997)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights is one of the few dramas to depict the Golden Age of Pornography in American cinema, and as well as one of the few to humanize pornographic filmmakers, producers, actors, and actresses as people. With its ensemble talent of Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, John C. Reiliy, William H. Macy, Heather Graham, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzmán, and Alfred Molina. Through the film we see the behind the scenes of how pornographic films were made, their near-mainstream popularity, the effects of the rise of home video, and the discrimination these people faced, and indeed, still do face, for their work. The film also has cameo appearances from Golden Age porn stars Nina Hartley and Veronica Hart.
30. Inherit The Wind (1960)
Inspired by the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, which to many Americans symbolized the conflict between scientific progress and religious fundamentalism, the film is a rarity, as it acutely and boldly explores questions of faith, education, and fraud. At the center of the film are powerful performances from Spencer Tracy, Gene Kelly, and Fredric March, all playing characters inspired by the American icons, Clarence Darrow, H.L. Mencken, and William Jennings Bryan. Film critic Roger Ebert added Inherit The Wind to his Great Movies list.
31. Scarface (1983)
Brian De Palma’s controversial remake of Howard Hawk’s 1932 mob film. Scarface is the story of Tony Montana (Al Pacino), a Cuban refugee from the Mariel boatlift who rises to great wealth through his involvement in cocaine trafficking. Much like Bonnie and Clyde (1967), the film pushed the limits of violence that could be shown on screen. The script, written by Oliver Stone, it both a critique of the American Dream as well as the War On Drugs. The film launched the career of actress Michelle Pfeiffer, and made Montana an icon for rap and hip-hop artists. The American Film Institute listed it as the 10th greatest gangster film of all time, and film critic Roger Ebert added it to his Great Movies list.
32. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Conceived by Tim Burton and directed by Henry Selick, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a signature film for the art of stop-motion animation. The film carries elements of both Christmas and Halloween, making it an effective tale for both holidays. Drawing from the German Expressionist movement, the film is a great palette of Tim Burton’s creativity, Danny Elfman’s musical talents, and Henry Selick’s attention to detail. The Nightmare Before Christmas has gone on to become a seminal part of America’s gothic subculture.
33. Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906)
James Stuart Blackman’s three minute short carries the unique significance of being the first animated film. An important landmark in the history of animation.
34. Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969)
One of the most famous student films of all time, that features a brief, but humorous, encounter between Bambi and Godzilla. Created by Marv Newman, it reveals the creative skills of one who can make a memorable joke with limited resources. Animation historian Jeff Back listed it as one the greatest animated shorts of all time. Bambi Meets Godzilla was also preserved by the Academy Film Archive.
35. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)
Regarded as the best Thanksgiving film, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles signified a shift in John Hughes’s direction from movies about teens to those about adults. The film also portrays the ranging comedic talents of John Candy and Steve Martin. Film critic Roger Ebert added the movie to his Great Movies list.
36. The Sixth Sense (1999)
The debut film of director M. Night Shaymalan, which remains his most famous and critically acclaimed work. Drawing upon elements of Hitchcockian thriller and the Twilight Zone, Shyamalan crafts a sentimental tale of death and the afterlife. The film established Shyamalan as a director of thrillers, particularly those with twist endings, and launched the career of child actor Haley Joel Osment. The Sixth Sense was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and the American Film Institute listed it as the 60th greatest thriller of all time, and in 2007, the 89th greatest movie of all time. The Writers Guild of America listed its screenplay as the 50th best of all time.
37. Somewhere In Time (1980)
Based on the romance novel Bid Time Return (1975) by novelist Richard Mattheson, Somewhere In Time stars Christopher Reeve as a playwright goes back in time to meet his love Elise, played by Jane Seymour. It is also the first and only movie to be filmed almost entirely on Michigan’s Mackinac Island, and a treasured visual representation of that land. While met with lukewarm reviews in theaters, the film earned a a strong fanbase after its replays on cable television and the resonance of John Barry’s musical score. Activism from the fanbase helped lead to both Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour earning stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, and the annual “Somewhere In Time Weekend” at Mackinac, where fans dress up as characters from the film. The film was also a major influence on James Cameron’s epic Titanic (1997).
38. Lonely Are The Brave (1962)
A film that Kirk Douglas himself regards as his best, Lonely Are The Brave belongs alongside Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992) and John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance! (1962) as a mediation on the death of cowboy lifestyle. The films stars Douglas as a cowboy on the lam, and with a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, it could be interpreted, like Spartacus, as a statement on the McCarthy era.
39. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
2019 NFR Nominees: The Blues Brothers (1980) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
It’s that time of year again, folks.
The first major American film adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel which launched the iconic Universal Monsters series. In this silent picture, the hunchback Quasimodo, is played by Lon Chaney Sr. in his famously fearsome makeup. This film along with The Phantom of the Opera helped establish Chaney as an icon of American cinema and was one of Universal’s most successful silent films.
40. Godzilla: King of the Monsters! (1956)
2020 NFR Nominee: “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” (1956)
National Film Registry Essay: Every year I make a list of films that I am nominating for the National Film Registry…
While drawing most of its footage from the Japanese kaiju film Gojira (1954), the American adaptation, directed Terry Morse, included new actors and sets filmed in California. Such acting talent included Rear Window’s Raymond Burr, as well as Asian-American talents, like Frank Iwanaga. Not only was the film an innovator of future hybrid works like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, but it was the only version that most international audiences saw until 2004.
41. Spider-Man (2002)
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man is one of the best representations of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s iconic superhero on film. The film stars Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, a nerdy teen who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and gains spider powers. As Peter becomes Spider-Man, he must grapple with the advice of his uncle, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Raimi brings the comic panels to life with a dynamic visual style. David Koepp’s script has many flavors of romance, slapstick comedy, high school drama, and action thrillers. The supporting cast has many great performances from Jonah J. Jameson, Willem Dafoe, Rosemary Harris, Kirsten Dunst, and Cliff Robertson. Danny Elfman also provides the film with a score as triumphant as that he provided for Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). Spider-Man is also an interesting work of post-9/11 art, being set in New York City only several months after the attack.
42. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Spider-Man 2 is one of those rare sequels that many consider to be superior to the original. Based on the comic storyline “Spider-Man No More,” the film goes deep into struggles and sacrifices that Peter Parker must make in balancing his personal life with his life as Spider-Man. The film also introduces Alfred Molina as the tragic Doctor Octopus, who mechanical tentacles are brought to life with a mix of puppetry and CGI. The special effects in the film are so spectacular that they won Oscar for Best Visual Effects in 2004.
43. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Based on the theme park ride at Disneyland, Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, pays homage to the swashbuckling adventures of old, like Errol Flynn’s The Sea Hawk (1940), and is a pirate film which draws on the imagery of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883). The film stars Johnny Depp as the charismatic Jack Sparrow, a role which would give him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. The movie also enjoys great performances from Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley. The film was shot on location at St. Vincent and has an instantly memorable score from Klaus Badelt.
44. Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters (1985)
Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters, blends the life of Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima with the content of his novels. The film explores Mishima’s homosexuality, sadomasochism, masculinity, and his shocking ritual suicide in 1970. Ken Ogata gives a strong performance as Mishima, Phillip Glass provides a moving classical score, and Eiko Ishioka’s production design and John Bailey’s cinematography pay tribute to Japanese performing arts and cinema.
45. How To Play Football (1944)
Alongside his partners, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, Goofy is one of Walt Disney’s most iconic cartoon characters. Goofy made his mark in the 40s through instructional “How To” shorts. In How To Play Football, the sport of American football is cleverly lampooned through Goofy and his various clones. How To Play Football was nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.
46. The Karate Kid (1984)
Based on Robert Mark Kamen’s semi-autobiographical script, John G. Avildsen’s The Karate Kid is an underdog sports film which popularized the martial art of karate in the United States. It stars Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso, who must learn karate from the unorthodox Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) in order to face his bullies and gain respect. Morita was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role as Mr. Miyagi.
47. Seven (1995)
Seven (1995) was an early film in David Fincher’s directing career, but it remains among his most riveting and thoughtful. Set in an unnamed city, Morgan Freeman plays William Somerset, a retiring detective who teams up with rookie David Mills, played by Brad Pitt, who must find a serial killer who commits crimes inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins. The script by Andrew Kevin Walker provides a sobering meditation on human nature, particularly our penchant for cruelty and apathy. It is open to many interpretations and provides no easy answers. Its twist ending is one of the most famous in cinematic history.
48. Men In Black (1997)
Men In Black (1997) is a sci-fi action comedy directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, and based on the Marvel comic books by Lowell Cunningham and Sandy Carruthers. The film is about secretive government agents who covertly handle alien contact on Earth. Will Smith stars as the rookie, Agent J, who is mentored by Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) on how handle aliens. What helps Men In Black standout are the amazing special effects, which are a mix of computer animation, puppetry, and make up. Men In Black is also the definitive Will Smith film, which helped to establish him as one of Hollywood’s best actors.
49. But I’m A Cheerleader (1999)
Considered by many to the greatest LGBT film of all time, But I’m A Cheerleader (1999), celebration of queer love and desire in both gays and lesbians, it also mocks the futility of “conversion therapy,” and satirizes the rigid gender norms of heterosexuality. But I’m A Cheerleader is an exemplar of camp, with its over-the-top acting, bright pinks and blues, and flashy costumes. But I’m A Cheerleader famously pushed the envelope in its depiction of female sexual pleasure, which earned it a controversial NC-17 rating.
50. Gladiator (2000)
Inspired by past sword-and-sandal epics like Ben-Hur (1959) and Spartacus (1962), Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) not only brought the sword-and-sandal back to Hollywood, but also redefined the historical epic. Gladiator was nominated for several Academy Awards, winning Best Visual Effects, Best Actor, and Best Picture. The American Film Institute also listed Maximus as the 50th greatest movie hero. While Gladiator does take many historical liberties, it is still an exciting visual representation of the Aurelius’ stoic philosophy and gladiatorial combat. The success of Gladiator also influenced a new generation of epics from The Lord of Rings Trilogy (2001–2003) to Game of Thrones (2011–2019), and it also reinvigorated interest in Ancient Roman history.