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100 Movies You Have to Watch at Least Once in Your Life

The essentials. (Netflix password not included.)

must watch movies
Design by Susanna Hayward

The popcorn's been popped, the sweatpants are on, and the evening is your oyster. Your next challenge: Figuring out exactly which of the great movies available to you is the one you're going to commit to tonight. No matter what you're looking for—romance, drama, comedy—there are plenty of classics that, if you haven't seen them yet, now's the perfect time. After all, if the past couple of months cooped up in our homes has taught us anything, it's that there's nothing better than a movie to take us to a place that's far, far away from our current one. These are modern classics, the best of the best, the movies that millions of people are probably jealous that you're getting to see for the first time. There are a few that might be outside your comfort zone, and a couple that'll introduce you to cultures and environments you know nothing about. This list may be long, but FOMO is eternal. Now's the perfect time to catch up on the films that your friends can't believe you haven't seen yet. Here are the 100 essential films absolutely everyone should see (and if you've seen them, ones to watch again and again).

fun, adaptation, room, games,
Neon
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Parasite (2019)

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An unemployed family of four slips into the lives of the crazy wealthy Park family. Then, there's an incident that can’t entirely be cleaned up in a cleaning shift. Long after the credits roll, you’ll be questioning the ending and mulling over the tough, important themes.

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mandatory credit photo by 20th century foxparamountkobalshutterstock 5886183e
leonardo dicaprio, kate winslet
titanic   1997
director james cameron
20th century foxparamount
usa
scene still
drama
20th Century Fox/Paramount/Kobal/ShutterstockShutterstock
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Titanic (1997)

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Star-crossed lovers Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) develop feelings for each other while on board an ill-fated ship, the R.M.S. Titanic. The winner of 11 Academy Awards is a little over three hours long, but with a story as compelling as this one, it'll seem like no time at all.

casablanca
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Casablanca (1942)

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Set in the early years of World War II in Casablanca, Rick Blaine's (Humphrey Bogart) nightclub is an oasis for refugees despite the warnings he gets from local authorities. But things get rocky when an ex-lover and her boyfriend show up, bringing with them a challenge that Rick has to face. One of the most famous old Hollywood films of all time, Casablanca is a love story you won't forget.

spirited away, sen to chihiro no kamikakushi, chihiro, 2001, c walt disneycourtesy everett collection
Everett
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Spirited Away (2001)

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If you've never seen a film from Studio Ghibli, then have Spirited Away be your first. Having your parents turned into pigs after entering a mysteriously abandoned theme park is a borderline horror story for kids. Still, adults will admire the strength 10-year-old Chihiro Ogino does to get them back. The animated picture is the highest-grossing film in Japanese history, and rightfully so.

devil wears prada
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The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

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There's a reason you can find this movie playing on some channel at any point in the day. It's just that good. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, Midwest girl Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway), by God's grace, winds up working as the assistant to the editor-in-chief, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) of a high fashion magazine. Thrown into the glamorous world, she has to make decisions that may boost her career but could leave other parts of her life severely lacking.

bombay, india  movie goers watch the popular hindi film dilwale dulhania le jayenge the brave hearted will take the bride away at the citys prestigious maratha mandir movie hall in its matinee show  in bombay 09 may 2005  the film affectionately called ddlj by its acronym will be bollywoods first movie to complete 10 years of screening at the popular maratha mandir theatre on 13 may 2005 the shah rukh khan kajol starrer still sees over 60 percent occupancy in the theatre every day for the 1130 matinee afternoon show   afp photo indranil mukherjee  photo credit should read indranil mukherjeeafp via getty images
INDRANIL MUKHERJEEGetty Images
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Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995)

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The longest-running Hindi film of all time (going on 25 years now!) is an absolute delight. The Bollywood rom-com about two young star-crossed lovers who fall in love despite their parents' critiques ended up winning 10 Filmfare Awards—India’s Academy Award equivalent —and changed the game forever.

the farewell
A24
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The Farewell (2019)

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In her Golden Globe-winning role, Awkwafina plays Billi, a woman on a trip to China for a "family wedding" that's actually a final goodbye to her grandmother. While there, Billi struggles to find a deeper connection to the country and tries to understand her family's decision to keep her grandmother's sickness a secret from her.

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mandatory credit photo by miramaxkobalshutterstock 5885613f
drew barrymore
scream   1996
director wes craven
miramax
usa
scene still
Miramax/Kobal/ShutterstockShutterstock
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Scream (1996)

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All right, scary movies aren't for everyone, but if you're going to watch one, it should be Scream. Stacked with '90s stars from Drew Barrymore to Courteney Cox, the slasher flick brought new light to the slasher genre by mixing comedy and horror. And the fact that the characters, who were being stalked by the masked murderer, were aware of real-world horror films and frequently discussed the clichés that came with them is legendary.

grease, romantic movies
Everett
9 of 100
Grease (1978)

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During one magical summer, Australian Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) falls in love with the Californian bad boy Danny (John Travolta). But Sandy has to head back home and leave Danny behind—or so they both think—until they cross paths at Rydell High School in the fall. The film was the highest-grossing musical-movie for 39 years.

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mandatory credit photo by celador filmspathe internationalkobalshutterstock 5886243bj
freida pinto
slumdog millionaire   2008
director danny boyle
film 4celador filmspathe international
ukusa
scene still
drama
Celador Films/Pathe International/Kobal/ShutterstockShutterstock
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Slumdog Millionare (2008)

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A baby-faced Dev Patel plays 18-year-old Jamal Malik, who finds himself hitting all the right marks on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Question after question, he finds himself getting closer to the grand prize of 20 million rupees, but the greatest reward of all might be who he gets to reconnect with after the cameras stop rolling.

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mandatory credit photo by columbiakobalshutterstock 5883239h
ice cube
boyz n the hood  boyz in the hood   1991
director john singleton
columbia
usa
scene still
boyzn the hood, la loi de la rue
Columbia/Kobal/ShutterstockShutterstock
11 of 100
Boyz n' The Hood (1991)

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Legendary director John Singleton's first film is unforgettable. Based on his own life growing up in South Central Los Angeles, the movie introduced us to an array of Hollywood A-listers like Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr., Regina King, and Angela Bassett. The film would be nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay at the 1992 Academy Awards, making Singleton the first African-American nominated for Best Director.

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mandatory credit photo by focuskobalshutterstock 5883005a
bill murray, scarlett johansson
lost in translation   2003
director sofia coppola
focus features
usa
scene still
comedy
Focus/Kobal/ShutterstockShutterstock
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Lost In Translation (2003)

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It turns out it doesn't matter if you're a fading Hollywood star or a recent married college graduate—not everyone has their life figured out. The Oscar-winning movie from Sofia Coppola is a slow burn at times, but the friendship shared between the two characters during their week-long stays in Tokyo makes you wish the flame will never burn out.

rebel trio
John Kobal FoundationGetty Images
13 of 100
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

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Two words for you: James! Dean! The old Hollywood icon's second to last film, as teenager Jim Stark, before his untimely death in 1955 ended up being one of his most celebrated. The unlikely bond shared on-screen between him, John "Plato" Crawford (Sal Mineo), and Judy (Natalie Wood) gave American youths at the time a movie where they could finally see themselves on the screen.

black panther chadwick boseman
Marvel Studios
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Black Panther (2018)

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What's so devastating is that this movie didn't just change the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the better, earn the first Oscar Best Picture nom for a superhero film (it won two other Oscars!), represent an enormous shift in the film industry, and become an inspiration to Black kids and adults alike. It's also one of Chadwick Boseman's final works before he passed away, having quietly battled colon cancer for years, including during production on this film. Watched in that new light, it makes his steely, beautiful, mesmerizing performance all the more heartbreaking. If you haven't watched, watch. If you have, watch it again.

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mandatory credit photo by moviestoreshutterstock 1646937a
y tu mama tambien and your mother too,  gael garcia bernal,  maribel verdu
film and television
Moviestore/ShutterstockShutterstock
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Y tu mamá también (2001)

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On the heels of their high school graduation, best friends Julio (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) meet Ana (Maribel Verdú), a beguiling older woman. Stricken with raging hormones and the desire for adventure, the boys manage to convince Ana to accompany them on a freewheeling cross-country road trip. The result is a journey through the Mexican countryside that tests their friendship and unravels their understanding of the world.

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mandatory credit photo by andrew cooperwarner broskobalshutterstock 5886259ai
matt damon, leonardo dicaprio
the departed   2006
director martin scorsese
warner bros
usa
scene still
documentary
les infiltrés
Andrew Cooper/Warner Bros/Kobal/ShutterstockShutterstock
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The Departed (2006)

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Martin Scorsese’s epic tells the story of an undercover cop tasked with infiltrating a ruthless mob group in Boston. Watch this thriller for its all-star cast, featuring solid performances by Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Mark Walhberg. Stay for an oft-debated appearance by a rat at the tail end of the film.

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mandatory credit photo by 20th century foxkobalshutterstock 5885034f
tony revolori, saoirse ronan
the grand budapest hotel   2014
director wes anderson
20th century fox
usagermany
scene still
comedydrama
20th Century Fox/Kobal/ShutterstockShutterstock
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The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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The king of aesthetics, Mr. Wes Anderson, strikes gold with this fun mystery movie set at a hotel at a famous European ski resort in the 1930s. Known for pleasing their guests in exciting ways (read: sleeping with them), things start to go out of control when a guest winds up dead, and the ever so charming Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) is framed.

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mandatory credit photo by david jamesdreamworkskobalshutterstock 5886021an
jennifer hudson, beyonce knowles, anika noni rose
dreamgirls   2006
director bill condon
dreamworks
usa
scene still
dream girls
David James/Dreamworks/Kobal/ShutterstockShutterstock
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Dreamgirls (2006)

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The film that proved Jennifer Hudson was so much more than an American Idol star (though we can't forget that Beyoncé absolutely crushed her role, too). Three close friends get the chance of a lifetime to be the backup singers for national star James Early (Eddie Murphy), but with fast fame, some things come at a price.

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mandatory credit photo by new linekobalshutterstock 5880159b
vivica a fox, queen latifah, kimberly elise, jada pinkett smith
set it off   1996
director f gary gray
new line
usa
film portrait
drama
le prix à payer
New Line/Kobal/ShutterstockShutterstock
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Set It Off (1996)

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Starring Vivica A. Fox, Jada Pinckett Smith, and Queen Latifah, this heist movie doubles as a social thriller that highlights the economic realities that Black women face. After Frankie (Fox) loses her job as a bank teller, she and her friends give a big F-U to the system (as they should) and decide to moonlight as robbers. Once they catch the attention of an ambitious detective, the women have no choice but to go all the way.

promising young woman 100 best movies
Focus Features
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Promising Young Woman (2020)

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This very dark comedy juxtaposes one woman's insatiable quest to avenge her best friend's tragic assault in front of a backdrop of all things frilly, pink, and sweet. That stark contrast only makes the movie's incredibly intense climax that much more shocking. Promising Young Woman was nominated for five Oscars in 2021, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Carey Mulligan, and a history-making Best Director nod for Emerald Fennell.

carmen jones
FPGGetty Images
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Carmen Jones (1954)

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This underrated musical set at an all-Black army camp follows Carmen (Dorothy Dandridge), who, despite being sought after by every man at the base, has her sights set on the super married Joe (Harry Belafonte). Dandridge's performance as Carmen Jones got her nominated for an Oscar, making history as the first African American actress in a leading role to be nominated.

something's gotta give, diane keaton, jack nicholson, 2003, c columbiacourtesy everett collection
©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett CollectionEverett
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Something's Gotta Give (2003)

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Nancy Meyers hasn't just given us beautiful kitchens to ogle (although her sets are gorgeous and I want it all). She's also given us iconic films we've watched over and over, like The Parent Trap and The Holiday. But her crowning achievement might be this little gem, which actually dares to be a rom-com that doesn't just involve hot New Yorkers in their 30s. Instead, we get a hot 50- and 60-year-old flirting and falling in love just as well as their younger counterparts. Hollywood, take note.

daughters of the dust
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Daughters of the Dust (1991)

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Quick history lesson: Daughters of the Dust was the first feature film directed by a Black woman distributed in theaters in the U.S. It tells the story of three generations of Gullah women in pre-Civil War times living on Saint Helena Island who are stuck on deciding whether to stay or migrate north for a better life. The film's scenery is stunning, but the real beauty of the film is its complex characters.

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mandatory credit photo by ben glasswarner brosregencycanal kobalshutterstock 5884445y
kevin costner, whitney houston
the bodyguard   1992
director mick jackson
warner brosregencycanal 
usa
scene still
drama
bodyguard
Ben Glass/Warner Bros/Regency/Canal +/Kobal/ShutterstockShutterstock
24 of 100
The Bodyguard (1992)

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Whitney Houston's debut as an actress is precisely what you'd expect: amazing. The film about a famous singer and her ex-secret-service-agent-turned-professional-bodyguard (Kevin Costner) is equal parts swoon-worthy and edge of your seat thrilling. And the soundtrack? It's still the bestselling soundtrack album of all time, with more than 42 million copies certified worldwide.

butch and sundance
Silver Screen CollectionGetty Images
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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

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Robert Redford! Paul Newman! Really strong facial hair game! What could go wrong? Well, actually, a train robbery does go wrong, leaving outlaws Butch Cassidy (Newman) and The Sundance Kid (Redford) on the run from a seriously dangerous posse as they try to leave rural Wyoming for Bolivia. It's a Western film you can't miss.

daniel craig in 'casino royale'
Everett
26 of 100
Casino Royale (2006)

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James Bond is known in the movieverse for its action-packed, women-objectifying spy films, but all that changed when Daniel Craig took over the role. His first movie as Britain's most notorious secret agent is filled with deception, love, unreal stunts, strong female leads, and a twist ending you won't see coming. If you've never seen a 007 film before, let this one be your first.

coming to america arsenio hall eddie murphy
Paramount/Kobal/REX/ShutterstockShutterstock
27 of 100
Coming to America (1988)

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Since there's a sequel in the works, take some time to watch the original—quintessential Black '80s humor at its finest. Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) is wary of the arranged marriage set up for him and sets out to Queens to find a woman he can love. Ignore some of the dated tropes, come for the sweetness in Murphy's performance: He's very much playing against his own "funny jackass" type with a vulnerable, hopeful, sweet yet profoundly stubborn monarch-to-be. But don't worry—keep an eye out for the trademark "Eddie Murphy playing another character" cameos for some of that characteristic wittiness.

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Memento (2000)

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Before Christopher Nolan was known as the popular director with brain-bending plots, he made this small film. It's about a man who has no short-term memory, who's after vengeance for his murdered wife—oh, and it's shot almost entirely in reverse chronology. It's the thing that put Nolan on the map, and it holds up incredibly well. This isn't just a gimmicky premise; it also happens to be a great movie with an impressive twist ending.

bridesmaids kristen wiig 
no merchandising editorial use only no book cover usage
mandatory credit photo by suzanne hanoveruniversalkobalrexshutterstock 5885429p
kristen wiig
bridesmaids   2011
director paul feig
universal pictures
usa
scene still
mes meilleures amies
Suzanne Hanover/Universal/Kobal/REX/ShutterstockShutterstock
29 of 100
Bridesmaids (2011)

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It's like an anti-Sex and the City. Women who've lived through planning or being in a wedding will recognize A LOT in this hilarious film: Passive aggressive infighting. Disagreements about the insane costs of a shower and bachelorette party. The special awkwardness that comes from several strangers who only have one thing (the bride) in common. Judd Apatow's made sweeter movies, including the classic 40 Year Old Virgin, but this one dares to be brutally honest.

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She's the Man (2006)

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The '00s weren’t the '00s without Amanda Bynes, and She’s the Man proves it. When Viola (Bynes) finds out that her school is cutting the women’s soccer team, she decides to take a chance and disguises herself as her twin brother to play for his school. When she gets there, she starts to fall for her roommate and teammate, Duke (Channing Tatum). Things get messy.

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