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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 certain movies that, if you haven't seen yet, now's the perfect time for. 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 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 100 essential films absolutely everyone should see (and if you've seen them, ones to watch again and again).

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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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.

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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.

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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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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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'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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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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'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.

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'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.

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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 be 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 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.

the cast of st elmos fire, directed by joel schumacher, 1985 left to right rob lowe, ally sheedy, demi moore, emilio estevez, mare winningham, judd nelson and andrew mccarthy photo by silver screen collectiongetty images
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'St. Elmo's Fire' (1985)

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Post-grad life is a lot, which is what makes St. Elmo's Fire so important. As it weaves in and out of the lives of seven friends who recently graduated from Georgetown, the emotions you felt in those months after you donned a cap and gown are not only seen but heard. Featuring '80s icons like Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, and Andrew McCarthy, it's no wonder this movie holds up after all these years.

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'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri' (2017)

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Frances McDormand's performance is dynamite in this Oscar-winning drama. Fed up with the police not doing anything to find out what happened to her daughter, who was murdered seven months ago, Mildred Hayes ( McDormand) decides to put matters into her own hands. Get ready to be on the edge of your seat.

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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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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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'Sing Street' (2016)

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Two genres of films loved by cinephiles everywhere, musicals and coming of age, come together in this retro number. Set in 1980s Ireland, a schoolboy decides to form a new wave band to impress the girl he likes, played by a cool Lucy Boynton. (Duh!) It's filled with tons of catchy, irresistible songs and is a nice reminder that good things do happen to good people.

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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.

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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 who live on Saint Helena Island who are stuck on deciding 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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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 hot a 50 and 60-year-old flirting and falling in love just as well as their younger counterparts. Hollywood, take note.

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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.

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The Bodyguard (1992)

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Whitney Houston's first debut as an actress is precisely what you 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 on your seat thrilling. And the soundtrack? It's still the bestselling soundtrack album of all time, with more than 42 million copies certified worldwide.

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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.

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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.

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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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Rocky (1976)

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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.

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The Matrix (1999)

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Even if you don't realize it, many action and virtual reality flicks owe their effects (see the slow motion action scenes) to this iconic '90s film that blurs the lines between dreams and reality. The film is set in dystopian future in which most people's "reality" is really just a simulated world called "The Matrix." One computer hacker named Neo learns the truth of his existence and tries to fight back against the machines who run this alternate universe.

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The Big Lebowski (1998)

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Still one of the most quotable of all the Coen Brothers' movies, this film is notable for its hilarious script, continually madcap sequence of events, and stoner dialogue from lead actor Jeff Bridges AKA "The Dude."

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The Truman Show (1998)

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If you've ever wondered whether your life is just one big sitcom, The Truman Show illustrates what happens when one man, played by Jim Carrey, realizes that his entire life is scripted for television.

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Boogie Nights (1997)

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Paul Thomas Anderson's wild and colorful flick Boogie Nights is a classic for its portrayal of sex and excess in the swinging '70s starring Mark "Marky Mark" Wahlberg, AKA porn star "Dirk Diggler." Schedule it for a viewing if you're looking for a hot and sexy time.

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Good Will Hunting (1997)

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Stellan Skarsgård plays a professor who discovers that his school janitor (Matt Damon) is actually a math whiz. And Robin Williams plays the therapist who draws out the troubled young man, breaking through his walls and helping him heal. Between the Elliott Smith soundtrack and the brooding performance from Matt Damon, it's the sad girl '90s movie that dreams are made of.

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Clueless (1995)

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Cher Horowitz stole everyone's heart in the '90s as the well-intentioned Valley Girl with an enviable revolving closet who set out to prove she wasn't "just a ditz with a credit card." Inspired by Jane Austen's Emma, the film sees her trying to play matchmaker at school, until she gets caught up in her own love triangle.

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Fargo (1996)

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This hilarious black comedy directed by the Coen brothers launched the TV show of the same name in 2014. And for good reason—the original film was full of darkly ironic twists and turns, anchored by a stellar performance by Frances McDormand (she won the Oscar for Best Actress that year), who plays a pregnant (!) police chief investigating a kidnapping and ransom deal gone off the rails. Oh, and the subsequent TV series is great too.

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Pulp Fiction (1994)

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Quentin Tarantino is at his most quotable in this dark crime comedy starring John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson who play hitmen trying to reclaim a stolen suitcase for their mob boss. The chemistry of the outstanding cast members (including Tarantino favorite Uma Thurman) and the bizarre script routinely land this at the top of critics' lists for the best film of the century.

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The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

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When people discuss prison movies, probably the first one that comes to mind is The Shawshank Redemption. Expect excellent acting plus a suspenseful ending (that inspired Mexican drug lord El Chapo's rendezvous with the police last year) that you'll be talking about for years to come.

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When Harry Met Sally (1989)

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If you haven't seen When Harry Met Sally, you probably know it from this famous "I'll have what she's having" scene. But it's worth seeing in full to relive Nora Ephron's groundbreaking screenwriting plus the easy banter between America's sweetheart Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal (it kind of set the stage for modern rom-coms as we know them).

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Edward Scissorhands (1990)

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Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder in the '90s were at the prime of their quirky weirdness in this Edward Burton flick that captures Depp as a human weapon with literal scissors for hands (but with lots of feelings, mind you). It's also the film that brought together the "Winona Forever" power couple of the '90s.

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Heathers (1988)

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Winona Ryder's always in her element in off-beat dark comedies, and this one sets her in the middle of a high school where her character Veronica gets invited to a join a popular clique of "Heathers" (literally three girls whose names are Heather) until they betray her. Veronica and her partner-in-crime J.D. Dean (Christian Slater) set out to right all the wrongs made against her, in cruel and unusual ways.

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Toy Story (1995)

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We could probably put any and all of the Toy Story movies on this list. But the original is so fabulous that if you haven't watched it, now's the perfect moment. It's not the first time this concept's been covered: Your toys come alive just as soon as you leave the room. But it's the execution (and voice acting) that really makes this a classic. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are just two of the pros lending their iconic voices to the roles, and Pixar was really starting to perfect its formula. Introduce characters you love, put them in peril, teach us something, make us all cry. And boy, does this one do all four.

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Blue Velvet (1986)

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Blue Velvet is a quintessential David Lynch movie that sees the director exploring his knack for dark visual effects and psychological horror. Twin Peaks' Kyle Machlachlan gets wrapped up in a mysterious plot after he discovers a severed ear in a parking lot.

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The Breakfast Club (1985)

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John Hughes' catalogue of '80s films (with Molly Ringwald often playing the starring role) are all classics, though this story about unexpected friendship that blossoms in the middle of detention hall takes the cake for its iconic scenes, from coordinated dances to beauty makeovers.

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Back to the Future (1985)

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This sci-fi film sees Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, a time traveler who drives his flying Delorean back into the '50s after an experiment gone wrong. Fun fact: the sequel is set in the far-away future, a.k.a. 2015.

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Apocalypse Now (1979)

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Inspired by Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness, Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now updates the film setting to the Vietnam War Era. In Vietnam, an American group aboard a Navy patrol boat travel up the Viet Cong-held river, where they're horrified by the destruction and corruption they see.

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Blade Runner (1982)

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Considered one of the most ahead of its time sci-fi movies, Blade Runner stars a brooding Harrison Ford as a "blade runner" in a futuristic world of replicants, or robots designed to look like humans. His job is to hunt down some replicants that have escaped, until he falls for one named Rachael.

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National Lampoon's Animal House (1978)

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Every college student has probably seen the navy blue "College" sweatshirts around campus, even if they didn't get the reference. The source? This quintessential college comedy about Greek life, starring Saturday Night Live alum John Belushi.

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Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

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You'll never think of coconuts the same way after watching this silly British slapstick comedy set in the time of King Arthur and the fabled Roundtable. God sends a group of knights on a quest to find the Holy Grail, where they encounter several nonsensical obstacles along the way.

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

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See for yourself where all the live versions of the cult favorite Rocky Horror Picture Show began with this over-the-top, perfectly cast musical (see: young Susan Sarandon).

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

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Jack Nicholson's at his best in this film about a habitual criminal who's sentenced to time in a mental hospital. There, he threatens the natural order under the watch of cruel Nurse Ratched and attempts to flee with his fellow patients. The film swept up five Academy Awards in its day, from Best Picture to Best Actor and Best Actress.

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The Godfather (1972)

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Yes, there are three parts to this trilogy that might require a night of bingeing. But there's really nothing like Francis Ford Coppola's depiction of the mob family of Don Vito Corleone. It's a chilling to the bone, action-packed story that's not one to miss.

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The Graduate (1967)

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Between the Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack and the easy-on-the-eyes love triangle—Dustin Hoffman as a wandering college graduate, his married neighbor Mrs. Robinson, and her daughter—this film is hard to not immediately fall in love with.

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Psycho (1960)

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One of the first slasher films (that launched many copycats to come) is Alfred Hitchcock's creepy story of Norman Bates and his hotel on the hill.

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Some Like it Hot (1959)

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If you don't know why Miss Marilyn Monroe was and is such a big deal, take a look at this one. The film shows off her vocal chops as the lead singer of an all-girl band who dreams of wooing a millionaire. As her band travels to sunny Florida, she makes friends with two new musicians in the group, who she doesn't realize are men in disguise and on the run.

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Rear Window (1954)

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This early Hitchcock movie is one of the few coveted films to score a 100 percent Rotten Tomatoes score and it's still considered one of the best of its time. Starring Princess Grace Kelly and James Stewart, the film revolves around a man confined to his wheelchair whose pastime involves spying on his neighbors. Things take a turn for the worst when he believes he's witnessed a murder.

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