Movies, like so much else in life, come down to personal choice. What someone, or some critic, might deem to be a cinematic masterpiece, someone else might think isn’t even worth the price of an ever-escalating box office ticket.
There are all kinds of lists when it comes to the best movies of all-time, and while there’s some amount of commonality between them, the rankings also exemplify the diversity of opinion that exists when it comes to excellence on the big screen.
Given there’s no definitive ranking, you can always turn to box office receipts, but that list tends to skew newer and be the exclusive domain of Hollywood blockbusters. With earnings of almost $3 billion worldwide, Avatar is the top grossing movie of all time, headlining a list that’s filled with superheroes and cartoon creatures. Only one film — Titanic — not released this century is in the top 30.
Delving into the world of subjective rankings is far murkier as the opinions of those in the industry as well as everyday movie goers run the gamut as one top 10 list might not include any of the same movies as another.
IMDb (Internet Movie Database), an online treasure trove of all things film, allows users to rate movies on a scale of one to 10, and since 2008, The Shawshank Redemption has been No. 1 on its top 250 list, followed by The Godfather and The Dark Knight. The prison period flick starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman also tops Rolling Stone’s list, voted on by readers, of the best 100 films of all-time.
Parade’s ranking of the best movies ever made has Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 classic Vertigo on top, while Variety’s top 100 has Psycho, another Hitchcock thriller, in the No. 1 slot. Stacker’s list is headed by The Godfather and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a 1968 science fiction epic, was voted as the greatest film of all-time in a Sight & Sound poll of almost 500 directors.
Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind and Pulp Fiction can all be found near the top of multiple lists as there’s no shortage of outstanding films — it’s just a matter of which one catches your fancy.
Given different movies resonate with different people, we asked prominent members of the Foothills community to share their thoughts.
Our request was simple: What’s your favourite movie and why? Here are their answers:
Paul Rasporich, Artist
Field of Dreams — 1989. Kevin Costner plays a farmer who builds a baseball field in his Iowa cornfield that attracts the ghosts of baseball legends.
“My favourite movie will always be Field of Dreams. I saw it in 1989 and was so stunned in the movie theatre that I had to meet and paint a portrait of the writer. The author, W.P. Kinsella, forgot that he agreed to the meeting when my wife and I showed up at his White Rock apartment. It was pretty much a replay of the scene between Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones.
“My favourite scene in that movie is when Archibald 'Moonlight' Graham (Burt Lancaster) has to decide whether he will play in a baseball game with his heroes or be a doctor to a child who is unconscious on the sidelines. Gets me every time.”
Shaun Dyer, Executive Director, Foothills Country Hospice
Star Wars — 1977. The beginning of an iconic franchise, the original film saw humans, aliens and robots co-exist in a galaxy far, far away.
“For me, it’s Star Wars — the first film I ever saw in a theatre and the film that sparked a lifelong love of going to the movies. It was the first time being so swallowed up by a story that the real world vanished as I immersed myself in the lives of those iconic characters — Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and R2-D2.
“The film’s famous climax, the destruction of the Death Star, blew my mind and launched me from the theatre with a sense of invincibility and wonder.”
Amber Wigg, General Manager, Okotoks Cinemas
October Sky — 1999. It tells the true story of a West Virginia coal miner's son who is inspired to build his own rockets by the launch of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 in 1957.
“My personal favourite movie is October Sky. I think our favourites are often movies from our formative years where young people challenge their stuck-in-their-ways parents and come out on top and I love any movie that’s set in the past.
“My favourite as a theatre owner has to be Harry Potter. Theatres do marathons and there are events in cities all over the world celebrating it, people quote it. It’s amazing to see how movies can impact our culture and bring generations together.”
Heather and Russell Thomas, Birdsong Studios
(Heather) The Princess Bride — 1987. The fantasy tells the story of a farmhand named Westley who must rescue Princess Buttercup in the fictional kingdom of Florin.
“The Princess Bride is the best classic fairytale and the only one with so many exceptional elements —R.O.U.S’s, the Fire Swamp, the Dread Pirate Roberts, the Pit of Despair and fun lines in between each. One of my favourites from Westley is: ‘Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.’”
(Russell) The Godfather — 1972. The Francis Ford Coppola classic tells the story of the Corleone crime family in 1945 New York City.
“It is one movie that I can watch it over and over and over again.”
Laurie Carmichael, Founder, Indie Author Group Okotoks
To Kill a Mockingbird — 1962. The legal drama stars Gregory Peck who is appointed to defend a black man accused of sexually assaulting a white girl.
"To Kill a Mockingbird, adapted from Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, is my all-time favourite. Lee’s depiction of racism, judgment and prejudice seen through a child’s eyes hit a chord with me.
“During what should be a time of innocence, Scout and Jem Finch awake to the reality that our skin colour, social standing and mental health can have dire consequences. Despite the evil and hatred, Scout Finch embraces her father’s sympathy and demonstrates compassion and understanding well beyond her years.
“During our own tumultuous time in history, we can learn from this young child’s wisdom.”
Katie Fournell, Okotoks Film Society
Love Actually — 2003. The romantic comedy set in London at Christmas features an ensemble cast and multiple, interconnected love stories.
“My favourite is Love Actually and Emma Thompson is the reason for that. The scene where she opens up the box and finds a Joni Mitchell CD, not a necklace, is captivating. I watch it every Christmas. It’s such a unique take on a rom-com.
“However, some other favourites include 12 Angry Men (the Henry Fonda one), Swiss Army Man and many more I am not thinking of right now. For what we have shown at our festival, a feature I loved was Rustic Oracle and a shorts I love would include A Whole World for a Little World, Time to Vote, Burka City and Alternative Math. My all-time favourite short is an Oscar nominee from 2013, Do I Have to Take Care of Everything.
Marica Borovich-Law, Games Manager, 2023 Alberta Summer Games
Up — 2009. The Pixar computer-animated film stars the voice of Ed Asner as an elderly widower who travels to South America to fulfill a promise he made to his late wife.
“It's a great movie that makes your heart smile and can be enjoyed by any age group with everyone coming out with something different. Some will see the multigenerational friendship between Carl and Russell and what they shared, taught and discovered about each other. Some will see two cranky old men looking for meaning in their lives.
“There are some hugely funny parts like Dug the dog and the catch phrase "Squirrel" that has made its way into everyone's vocabulary. The movie is optimistic, humourous, exciting, telling a great story that at times tugs at your heartstrings.
“The house being lifted by the balloons is a great visual that serves to lift your spirits. Definitely a movie that shows dreamers can move mountains even when life gets in the way.”
Phil Irwin, Foothills School Division Trustee and Western Wheel Cartoonist
Planes, Trains and Automobiles — 1987. Unlikely travel companions share a string of misadventures while trying to get home for Thanksgiving.
John Candy’s “Del” combined with Steve Martin’s “Neal”
Brought lots of laughs, some tears and a Thanksgiving meal.
There were diff’rent places they trekked to avoid the snow:
New York... St. Louis... and then on to Chi-ca-go.
The harder they tried, the more things unravelled,
But their relationship grew the longer they travelled.
Through it all, Del and Neal ended up being friends
With Neal showing some empathy right near the end.
So, there’s nothing that gives Phil any great thrill
Than to sit and watch Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
Kathy Coutts, Okotoks Museum and Archives Specialist
1917 — 2019. The film follows two British soldiers on a mission to deliver a message to call off a doomed attack during the First World War.
They Shall Not Grow Old — 2018. A documentary created using footage of the First World War from the Imperial War Museum's archives.
“I have two favourites – with a common theme – 1917 by Sam Mendes, which was inspired by his grandfather’s experiences in the First World War, and They Shall Not Grow Old, a First World War documentary directed by Peter Jackson.
“Both films were raw and immersive. However, how the directors filmed them was just as remarkable as the stories they told. Mendes’ single-take approach left me breathless, while Jackson’s film demonstrated the importance of archives and how they help ensure that important events like the First World War – and the personal stories of those involved – will long be remembered.”
Cheryl Taylor, Lineham House Galleries
Whale Rider — 2002. A New Zealand drama based on a 1987 novel follows a Māori girl whose ambition is to become chief of the tribe.
“Whale Rider is a family favourite going back to when our three dual citizen CDN/NZ children were young.
“With a stark honesty, strength and the irreverent humour Kiwis are known for (especially the scene with the lead character’s smoking “aunties”), this film acknowledges and respects cultural tradition while taking us on a young girl’s quest for much needed visibility within that framework. The innocent but transcendent genius of a truly remarkable 12-year-old Pai is near ethereal and unforgettable.
“Most importantly, Whale Rider demonstrates the ability of a young woman to effect change by encouraging it with insight and compassion while remaining firmly grounded in family, tradition and history. There is no needless destruction of everything that comes before her nor a relentless personal agenda which is especially refreshing 20 years on.”
Noor Kidwai, Wales Theatre
Gladiator — 2000. Russell Crowe stars as a Roman general who becomes a gladiator to avenge the murders of his family and his emperor.
“’Are you not entertained’ is my favourite quote from a movie. Gladiator was also one of the first movies we played after our family bought the theatre so there’s a special place in my heart for that movie.”