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 certain movies that, if you haven't seen yet, now's the perfect time for. These are modern classics, the best of the best, the movies that millions of people are most likely jealous that you get 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 85 essential films absolutely everyone should see.
Two friends set out on a road trip, but end up on the wrong side of the law after Louise shoots and kills a man who tries to rape Thelma. It’s a story of freedom and female friendships that has a lot of great scenes, some of which feature a shirtless 26-year-old Brad Pitt.
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.
An unemployed family of four slowly starts to put themselves into the lives of workers of the crazy wealthy Park family. Then, there's an incident that can’t entirely be cleaned up in a shift. Long after the credits roll, you’ll be questioning the ending.
It’s the classic underdog story that made Sylvester Stallone a household name. The movie follows boxer Rocky Balboa on the road to fight heavyweight champion Apollo Creed in a match deemed “a somebody v. nobody.” The film, written by Stallone, would go on to win Best Picture at the Oscars in 1977.
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.
Olivia Wilde’s directional debut about two overachieving high school seniors' wild night on the eve of their graduation is so stomach-hurting-from-laughing-too-hard funny. It hits to my inner core a level of nostalgia I haven’t felt in years. Oh, to be 17-years-old again.
When Steven Spielberg made this movie, I’m unsure if he knew it would become the face of anti-shark propaganda. Regardless, this movie about a sheriff, marine biologist, and fisherman hunting down a shark that’s terrorizing their beach town is must-see.
Saoirse Ronan shows us why she's an icon in this '50s story of an Irish immigrant who moves to New York. She falls in love with a local, but then has to return back to Ireland for some unexpected business—and finds herself forced to choose between two countries and two men. Sounds good, right?
A movie about the Holocaust is almost guaranteed to be poignant (and, frankly, depressing), but under Stephen Spielberg's expert direction, this one surprises with its restraint. That's deliberate—the sadness and symbolism build throughout the film so that you have a full sense of what happened, who did it, and why it matter so, so much. The movie's in black and white, with the smallest pop of color to offer a moment of hope and then (devastatingly) all possible heartbreak in one unforgettable image.
Jack Nicholson is on this list a few times, but this is probably his most well-known role. The Torrance family, husband Jack, wife Wendy, and son Danny, are staying in the Overlook Hotel during the winter. Then, the hotel begins to come alive with a terrible, terrifying evil. Stephen King famously hated this adaptation, because Stanley Kubrick takes out all the empathy from the patriarch (Nicholson, playing crazy like he was born to do it). But it makes the story even more powerful. Viewed through today's lens, it's also a haunting look at the effects of domestic violence.
Listen. We could put a lot of Wes Anderson movies on here: Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Darjeeling Limited are all worth a watch. But this is the perfect film if you're looking for quintessential Anderson: It's jam-packed with his favorite stars, quirky as hell, loaded with family drama (Bill Murray perfecting his role as charming jerk), and an epic sea journey at the same time.
This is Bong Joon-ho pre-Parasite. Even though this film didn't get quite as many accolades, he was already getting very good at commentary about social disparity and climate change (I'd actually argue that this might even be a little better?). In time for the TV show, watch the original movie: The few survivors of a post-apocalyptic Earth survive, broken apart into classes, in a train that races around the globe.
Based very, very loosely on the book of the same name, Natalie Portman is a scientist who goes in search of her husband. She enters Area X, a mutated, trippy landscape that's been expanding ever since it was hit by a meteorite. And shit just keeps getting weirder and scarier. This is directed by Alex Garland, the same guy who did Ex Machina (another fascinating, freaky watch). Honestly, he's becoming the next big sci-fi director, and this proves it.
Shot entirely on an iPhone 5S, this film is groundbreaking for another reason: It actually cast (unbelievably talented) transgender actors to play transgender characters. And with all that, this movie is most known for being utterly hysterical and beautifully poignant. Sex workers traverse L.A. in search of friends, clients, and spurned lovers—with some of the snappiest banter I've heard in years.
A movie about the last day of school for a group of teenagers in Austin, Texas, in 1976, starring Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck? Sign us up. You'll be quoting McConaughey for weeks after it's done.
The only acceptable film adaptation of the beloved Jane Austen novel is the 2005 movie from Joe Wright (fight me). In this film, we find Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy fighting their feelings for each other over the course of two "please, someone, kiss!"-filled hours. The final scene of this film is so beautiful, it makes me cry every time.
Believe the hype on this one—this film set the stage for smart horror movies to come. It was unbelievably innovative for the time by integrating modern research about sociopaths from the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit. It really shows: Hannibal Lector is smart and charismatic as well as being, you know, the scariest ever. He's widely known as one of the best book/film villains of all time.
Set at a New England private school in 1959, this movie follows an English teacher, played by Robin Williams, and his relationship with his students as he teaches them to live a little more through poetry. The movie gave Williams his second Oscar nominee, and Ethan Hawke said that working on this movie inspired him to continue to be an actor.
This is the best Rob Reiner movie, without a doubt. 'The Princess Bride' is a fairytale story of a princess and her one true love's journey back together after many years apart. It's very fun, very wholesome, and just all-around a feel-good movie for the ages.
Somewhat based on the life of writer and director, Cameron Crowe, Almost Famous is a coming-of-age story about a 15-year-old boy who is offered the chance to write for Rolling Stone about a new rockband that’s on the come up. It's a love letter to 70s culture in the best way.
Uma Thurman kills (literally) as a former assassin who wakes up from a coma post-assassination attempt seeking revenge. She then sets off on a mission to get back at an ex-lover and friends who killed her husband-to-be and her unborn child on her wedding day four years ago. It's a king of girl power you would only see in a Quentin Tarantino film. Volume 2 is also great, FYI, it's just a very different kind of film.
If you ever thought a haircut couldn't be frightening look at Javier Bardem as Chigurh. In this Coen brothers film, it follows Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) fleeing East Texas with two million dollars he found at a drug deal gone bad. It turns into a terrifying game of cat and mouse as Chigurh sets out to find Moss to get back the cash that will leave you on the edge of your seat.
It's a little hard to believe that the Schindler's List director also came up with this dino adventure movie, but what's even more impressive is that the two films came out mere months apart. This could not be more different, but if you're looking for a film about these prehistoric creatures, stick to the classic. There's so much loving attention paid to the dinosaurs' look—there isn't a ton of CGI, with a greater reliance on practical effects—but more importantly, the human characters are just as interesting. Samuel L. Jackson, in the best cameo of all time.
Watch Timothée Chalamet's breakout role starring alongside Armie Hammer in this heart-wrenching romance film. It's set in Lombardy, Italy, in 1983 and follows Hammer and Chalamet's life alerting summer of love. Fair warning: bring lots of tissues.
Winner of Best Original Screenplay at the 2008 Oscars, Juno follows the story of teenage girl's unexpected pregnancy and her journey. It's a coming-of-age story that reminds you why this genre of films reigns superior and it also sports a 2007 Michael Cera as the love interest that's just unforgettable.
This second movie in the Batman trilogy is arguably the best of the bunch. Heath Ledger sets the standard what it takes to play the Joker, as he won an Oscar for his performance. Some say it's the best superhero film ever made and we have to agree.
Breakfast at Tiffany's is terrific, of course, butAudrey Hepburn won the Academy Award for her turn as a princess who ditches her schedule (and her entourage) in favor of exploring Rome, only to fall asleep on a bench and get rescued by a hunky American reporter played by Gregory Peck. A classic romance film.
In this swooningly romantic movie from Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke play a pair of travelers—she French, he American—who have a chance meeting in Vienna and decide to spend the evening before his departing flight walking around the city and talking to one another. In 2005, the sequel Before Sunset continues the story, and then in 2015 the trilogy is wrapped up with Before Midnight. All of them are worth watching over and over.
Carey Grant and Rosalind Russell play a formerly married couple—he an editor, she an investigative reporter—who have to team up for one last assignment. Of course, the fact that he hired her only after finding out she was engaged to someone new might have something to do with it, but Russell is hilarious and their chemistry is bananas in this romance.
The filmmaking in this sequel to the Australian dystopian road movie for the 1980s simply has no right being as good as it is. Not only that, but this tale of a wasteland populated by bloodthristy (literally) driving gangs ends up being a pretty feminist tale when all is said and done (thanks, Charlize Theron!).
Sissy Spacek is the one true Carrie—a bullied young woman who develops telekinetic abilities just in time for a prank prom invite to turn into a full-fledged bloodbath. I know we shouldn't condone violence, but it's hard not to root for poor Carrie after her classmates dump pigs' blood on her in her prom dress, right?
Quentin Tarantino loves a bit of revised history (see also Django Unchained, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), but this was his biggest and best. A small group of Jewish-American soldiers, "The Basterds," roam around World War II Germany "killin' Nazis" (to quote Brad Pitt, perfectly cast as their commander). The film's stuffed with stars, and it served as the introduction of Christoph Waltz to U.S. audiences as one of the most gleefully evil villains in cinema history.
Scout Finch tells the story of how her father, Atticus, a small town lawyer in the rural South, defended a wrongfully accused black man in this adaptation of Harper Lee's beloved novel. Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch is how most people who've seen this movie think of the character, and you will too when you see it.
Greta Gerwig's film has landed multiple Oscar nominations, and for good reason. Any teen growing up in suburbia can relate to this coming-of-age film (especially those who went to Catholic school). Viewers often find it similar to the 2002 comedy/drama Real Women Have Curves—which is also awesome.
The Marie Claire team is *very* passionate about this movie, and for good reason. Starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, the 1998 drama/romance tells the story of two neighborhood bookstore rivals who absolutely hate each other in real life, then fall in love online, and well...we won't spoil the rest for you. (The good ol' AOL days.)
Julie Andrews plays an Austrian nun during World War II in the Academy Award-winning film. When she comes to the villa of retired naval officer Captain Georg von Trapp to be governess to his seven children, she begins to realize how much the family means to her. The latter part of the movie has an unexpected twist and displays the unfathomable truth of what it was like living through Nazi Germany.
It's not often that a movie so perfectly taps into the spirit of the times, but in a year where Trump's presidency has sparked tense discussions about police brutality, race, and false liberalism, this was the breakout movie that did the job—in the horror genre, no less. Director Jordan Peele turns the typical horror script on its head with this blend of cultural criticism and horror tropes.
Yes, you've heard all the buzz about this movie. But if you haven't seen it yet, make room in your schedule. Moonlight is a beautifully filmed coming-of-age story of a gay black boy growing up in a housing project in Miami. The many-layered film sheds light on aspects of black identity that are rarely spotlighted on film and was a truly watershed moment at the Oscars.
This riveting newsroom drama, based on real events, follows the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Spotlight" team as they investigate cases of sexual abuse by the Catholic church in the Boston area. Expert performances from the well-rounded cast (including Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams) plus an examination of the career-defining journalism undertaken here make this a must-see.
J.Laaaaaw. What looks from the outset like a typical rom-com delves deeper into the motions of mental illness, as a bipolar man tries to reconnect with his estranged wife following his release from a psychiatric ward. He meets a recently widowed woman (Jennifer Lawrence) with her own problems, who convinces him to join a dance competition with her to help him win his wife back.
This classic film is ostensibly about 12 white men on a jury arguing over whether a young Puerto Rican man actually killed his father (the class and race dynamics feel unfortunately familiar, 60+ years later). But it's really about prejudice and stereotype and the assumptions we carry with us every day without realizing it. If you didn't get to watch this one in school, watch it now.
No movie has ever spoofed high school culture as brilliantly as Mean Girls, whose hilarious script by Tina Fey has become iconic, bringing the phrases "so fetch," "I know, right?" and "cool mom" into our modern language. It lives on in countless memes and GIFs, even though the movie's more than 10 years old at this point.
The classic book has been made into countless remakes. But this one offers up the most modern and nuanced take of four sisters growing up in a male-dominated world, looking for love and financial security. Greta Gerwig's latest also does something I thought was impossible: She makes Amy, who sometimes comes off as the villain of the book, smart, sensible, and relatable.
One of the smartest love stories ever written (it won best screenplay at the Oscars that year) captures a couple who both undergo a treatment to erase each other from their memories following a breakup. The dream, right? Not so, as they revisit their life together in woozy flashbacks and realize that they're not ready to let go just yet.
If your tween years weren't fun (so, just about everyone), this is the perfect film to remember that angst and loneliness through a profoundly empathetic lens. Lonely, alienated Kayla longs for connection as she finishes out her disastrous middle school experience. Comedian, writer, singer, and YouTube sensation Bo Burnham directs. Who knew he'd be the one to make us cry so hard?
This famous modern French flick is a quirky story about a do-gooder woman who wants to set the world around her right with a series of good deeds. The inventive use of color and the creative dialogue made it a super accessible watch for international audiences, who all rooted for Amélie Poulain to find love and happiness for herself, too.
Spike Lee acts and directs in a film that marries comedy and drama perfectly. Roger Ebert's review is pretty spot-on, but to summarize: Lee builds a community in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, teeming with life and tension on the hottest day of the year. And then he rips it apart. But it's so much more compelling than even that description. Lee handles all his characters with love, and there's no one who's truly evil, despite spot-on and heart-wrenching commentary about racism, classism, and poverty.
The elaborate costumes, the stunning visuals, and the beautiful art direction are all key features of this art house movie by Chinese director Wong Kar-Wai. And though there's sparse dialogue, sit back and prepare to be enchanted by the slow but captivating scenes of two married neighbors falling in love.