21 films to see before you die
These are Wonder of Film’s top 21 films to see before you die. These films have been selected for many different
reasons: some have been huge influencers on the film industry, some have
unparalleled narratives, and some are just undeniably great films that everyone should see at least once.
So, in no particular order, here they are:
(1968) Mike Nichols
One of the most parodied films of all time, The Graduate is a true classic. A complicated love triangle
(to say the least) spirals out of control and leaves a young Dustin Hoffman desperate to regain the
trust of his true love. The very last scene of the film is one of the most replicated scenes in the film
industry, it leaves you feeling the same as the characters; relieved and empty. The acting is first class.
(1969) John Schlesinger
Another early Dustin Hoffman film which sees him co-starring with Jon Voight. Voight plays a
convincingly naive gigolo who thinks New York City will see him making serious money, but ends
up enlisting the help of a low-life New York native, Hoffman, to survive the strikingly different
world to what he imagined. This film is raw and packed with emotion thanks to the incredible
acting and directing.
Original trilogy (1977, 1980, 1983) George Lucas
If you’ve got this far in life and haven’t seen the original Star Wars films, seriously where have you been?
Love or hate, watching these films is like a rite of passage. A sci-fi film set a long time ago in a galaxy far,
far away, Star Wars follows Luke Skywalker who, with the help of a Jedi Knight, two droids named
R2-D2 and C-3PO, a princess, a cocky pilot and his loyal Wookiee, tries to take down the evil Empire and
the infamous Darth Vader… But you knew that already, didn’t you?
Trilogy (1972, 1974, 1990) Francis Ford Coppola
The quintessential gangster films. Although The Godfather Part III never matched the brilliance of the
first two films, it was a necessary conclusion for the franchise. With the likes of Marlon Brando, Al Pacino,
Robert De Niro, James Caan and Robert Duvall spanning the franchise, it’s easy to see why the films are
so critically acclaimed. Step into the world of the mob, and see how family must always come first.
(1942) Michael Curtiz
Casablanca is one of the great romance films of all time. A story of love, loss, war and oppression,
the film still resonates today. Even if you’ve never seen the film, you’ve probably heard its most
“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”
(1979) Ridley Scott
World renowned artist and designer H.R.Giger created arguably some of the creepiest looking creatures
for Alien, a heart racing sci-fi where central character (Sigourney Weaver) and the rest of the crew on
U.S. commercial starship Nostromo start getting picked off one at a time by an unknown alien organism.
Breakfast at Tiffanys
(1961) Blake Edwards
Of all the films Audrey Hepburn made throughout her career, this is probably her most famous.
She plays an elusive young woman with an eye for Tiffany jewellery. When she gets an interesting
new neighbour in her building, she begins to show different sides to her character and as her
neighbour tries to work her out, he realises he is falling in love with her. This romantic comedy is
a classic which deserves a place in any film collection and sees Hepburn in her element.
(1987) Emile Ardolino
While many see this film as a one-dimensional romantic drama (with lots of incredible dancing),
Dirty Dancing is so much more. Set in the 60’s, it’s a story of social class segregation, the danger of
back-street abortions, and yes, forbidden love. Dirty Dancing is the most influential dance film of
all time, influencing the likes of Save the Last Dance, Step Up (and the many sequels) and Take the Lead.
Also, Patrick Swayze really can dance.
The Breakfast Club
(1985) John Hughes
The film centres around five teenagers who have detention on a saturday. The group couldn’t be
more different, but after a day stuck in school together the teens realise that perhaps they have more in
common than they thought. This is the must see coming-of-age movie, showing that sometimes people
aren’t what they seem.
(2011) Nicolas Winding Refn
The score, the acting, the directing, the lack of dialogue and use of powerful silences all amount to an
edge-of-your-seat romance-thriller that flies by in a breeze. You won’t want it to end, but when it does
you’ll want to watch it again.
The Shawshank Redemption
(1994) Frank Darabont
A prison film which depicts a beautiful friendship between two inmates, The Shawshank Redemption
is a film about finding hope when you feel there is none left.
“Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
2001: a Space Odyssey
(1968) Stanley Kubrick
Famed for its pioneering special effects and as one of the most influential films ever made,
2001: a Space Odyssey inspired a whole new generation of films through its imagery, editing and running
themes. The film is payed homage to and referenced in countless films and TV shows, for example,
in Armageddon the red chairs in the spaceship reference those in 2001, in The Shawshank Redemption
characters Heywood and Floyd were named after Heywood Floyd from 2001, in Independence Day
the message “Good Morning, Dave” appears on a computer screen, a quote referencing 2001, and many,
many more films reference the ultimate classic sci-fi, including Back to the Future, Alien, WALL-E, Tron,
The Fifth Element… The list goes on. 2001: a Space Odyssey really is one of those films you have to see.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
(1975) Milos Forman
A young Jack Nicholson plays a rebel who pleads insanity at court in the hopes of an easier time behind
bars, but once on a ward for the mentally unstable he sees how badly the nurses treat the inmates.
This film will make you laugh, make you cry, and break your heart.
The Terminator / Terminator 2: Judgement Day
(1984, 1991) James Cameron
Although Terminator 2 is undeniably as good as The Terminator, if not better, the original film was so
far ahead of it’s time, so full of suspense, and so believable as a concept, it can’t be left off the list.
Paving the way for the sequel, which is revered as one of the best sci-fi films ever, The Terminator
set the scene for Terminator 2 to make an unparalleled imprint on the sci-fi genre and special effects,
which can still hardly be rivalled over 20 years later.
Dead Poet’s Society
(1989) Peter Weir
Robin Williams shows his true splendour in the role of an inspirational teacher at an all-boys school,
where expectations run too high for the students. Williams owns the screen in this moving performance
of a teacher with such passion and drive to help his students, but for some, the pressure is too much.
One of the late Robin Williams’ finest moments on screen.
The Pursuit of Happyness
(2006) Gabriele Muccino
This emotional film, based on a true story, stars Will Smith as a man who hits rock bottom. After being
left by his wife and losing his house, he has to make the best of the situation while looking after a
young son and taking on 6 months of training at his job before receiving a pay cheque. When you feel
like you’ve been handed a sore deal in life, watch this film to motivate you to get up and change your
own luck. But have some tissues on-hand.
(1982) Ridley Scott
With such a huge cult following behind the film, it’s impossible not to include Blade Runner on the list.
The neo-noir set in 2019 follows Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, a Blade Runner who hunts down
‘Replicants’, which are genetically engineered to look exactly like humans and are banned from Earth.
It’s a dark and eery representation of the future which questions morals along the way.
(1995) Richard Linklater
A heartwarming film based on the simple idea of two strangers who meet on a train, and decide to spend
the day together exploring the romantic city that is Vienna, Italy. Of course the pair fall in love, but in
a time before mobile phones and social media, and without swapping addresses, they have to rely
on faith that they will see each other again.
Before Sunrise was followed by Before Sunset, both set and made nine years later (2004), where fans
finally got to find out what happened to the love-struck pair. Before Midnight is the latest installment,
released in 2013. Before Sunrise is a must-see, thanks to its straightforward but engaging plotline,
brilliant casting and wonderful writing.
In The Mood For Love
(2000) Wong Kar-Wai
A Hong Kong film which tackles morality, In the Mood for Love follows two neighbours who forge a
friendship through circumstance as their partners are often away on business. Over time, the friends
discover their partners are having an affair. The friends vow to never stoop to the level
of their partners infidelities, but struggle as they fall in love.
The way the film was shot, edited and produced is in such a way to bring on the feeling of isolation,
including recurring themes throughout the film, one of which is the loneliness
of eating alone.
(1976) Martin Scorsese
A disgruntled and mentally unstable New York night-time taxi driver, disgusted with the world around
him, sets out to save a 12 year old prostitute from ruining her life, and causes some mayhem along the way.
Robert De Niro is at his peak in this film, showing how truly diverse his acting capability is.
To get in the mindset of his character, De Niro actually became a cabbie in New York, driving 15 hours
a day for a month, and studied mental illness.
(2007) Danny Boyle
Home to one of the most unbelievably powerful original scores of all time, Sunshine centres around
the hauntingly realistic future prospect that our sun is dying, and therefore Earth’s resources are dying
out. Set in 2057, a group of astronauts are sent on a dangerous mission to reignite the sun with a nuclear
Sunshine is up there because it’s a realistic, plausible sci-fi film with some serious morale questions
asked throughout the film. If nothing else, it’s beautiful to watch, and the soundtrack can take your