So, what are the top 20 greatest Feature Films (or Movies) ever, and Why?

(Note: A feature film is defined as: narrative fiction feature film, over 60 minutes in length.)


The first feature film ever was “The Story of The Kelly Gang” 70 mins, (1906) Directed by Charles Tait, and starring Frank Mills as real-life bushranger Ned Kelly. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0000574/

Story of the Kelly Gang poster

The Story Of The Kelly Gang (1906)
You can read more about the film here: http://www.nfsa.gov.au/collection/film/story-kelly-gang/

More information here: http://aso.gov.au/titles/features/story-kelly-gang/

(and – this film is not to be confused with the short film, Ned Kelly and His Gang, starring Godfrey Cass, also made in 1906, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0353789/)

So – the Top 20 movies (or films), ever?

We could say, they are the top 20 of these:

The IMDb Top 250 http://www.imdb.com/chart/top

Or the top 20 of these:

Empire Magazine’s 500 Greatest Movies of All Time http://www.empireonline.com/500/

Or these –

Sight and Sound Critics Pollhttp://explore.bfi.org.uk/sightandsoundpolls/2012

The Seventh Seal (1957)

The Seventh Seal (1957)

Or the latest 20 of these (1992-2012)…

Best Picture Oscar-winners


Or, the latest 20 of these

Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winners:



Or even, the

Top 20 Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winners that also had the highest theatrical box officehttp://www.boxofficemojo.com/genres/chart/?id=cannes.htm


My own Theory on this (i.e. – the top 20 greatest feature films ever) is:

The 20 feature films that had the widest Audience Reach,

for the least Production Budget.

Audience reach to Prod Budget

And – why?

Because they were: the 20 feature filMovies that went the most viral.


Therefore: they had the greatest stories in them.

As it’s the story that makes a movie go viral.


…Your Thoughts?

What do you feel are the 20 best-ever feature filmMovies – and: Why?

A random Definition:

“Films” are Art, “Movies” are business.

Cinema that combines both, are:


FilMovie Venn diagram


You have been reading a weblog post by:

Velikovsky of Newcastle


Dr Joe T Velikovsky

Evolutionary Creativity Guy,


High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher

& whatnot

The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”.

It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild.

For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/


I always admired Schrader’s book Transcendental Style In Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer (1988). (The legendary John Colette got me into it, at AFTRS in 1995!)

Here’s an interesting thing:


And, an interesting article: On Paul Schrader’s “Rethinking Transcendental Style” (Hodsdon 02019)





11 thoughts on “StoryAlity #2 – What Are The Greatest 20 Feature Films Ever?

  1. For me the answer is more qualitative than quantitative – For example one of my top 20 is “A few good men”. There are a couple of cringe moments – but the theme, acting (especially Nicholson) is excellent (Of course Cruise over egg’s in parts; but the role is very him). It highlights for me that like music, what makes someone’s top twenty is subjective. Film and music are one of the last sacred areas of innovation that are not fully governed by steering committees and focus groups. There are films like Shawshank that tick all the boxes for the masses; but people’s top 20 will vary by taste. It’s just a shame that normal distribution curves and easy profit often drive what is made. The top 20 may be easier to pick if there wasnt such a sea of mediocrity – with factory produced comedy and throw away action movies. Ultimately I like ROE (return on Entertainment) as a measure of film excellence rather than ROI – and so the IMDB rating system is pretty good barometer (notwithstanding the masses applaud monstrosities like the Hangover).

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  3. All great points Matt, thanks for this.

    Although – what is deeply ironic: There has not been any research done before this (i.e. before my doctoral study) on: The film stories (i.e. the story memes, and, the story structure) in the Top 20 ROI Films…

    So – the existing `normal curves’ and `trends’ that have been used – to date – (e.g. by Hollywood and others, to turn out mostly unsatisfying films – both aesthetically and financially – as: 7 in 10 movies lose money), are all very questionable anyway.

    Also, obviously – my approach is not asking `qualitatively’ what any individual peoples’ (or – even, my own) opinion on `the best 20 movies ever made’ are… (mine include: Fight Club, The Sound of Music, Drive, American Psycho, anything by Kubrick, Malick, or David Fincher…) But I would never recommend early or middle career filmmakers even attempt movies like that. They are expensive and done by late-career, industry veterans… And are almost-impossible to ever get made as spec screenplays, by unproduced (or even mid-career) screenwriters…

    As you know Matt – my angle on all this is:

    If these Top 20 ROI movies were *the most viral film stories ever*, then – what exactly was it, in them, that made them go viral? And – using that knowledge – What can other filmmakers/film storytellers/screenwriters learn from that and use to tell their own stories more effectively?
    i.e. As hard as this may be to fathom – (it is very counter-intuitive) it is not enough just to even: Write a brilliant screenplay…! – The bigger question is: How can you get your movie made? And will that movie go viral – and therefore recoup its cost? (Also: most movies fall over in financing… It is about a million times harder than most people assume, just to get a movie MADE, once it is written… and yet – some of these Top 20 ROI films were made for $7k… And – that in itself, is a key point… Keep the budget as low as possible! – The average budget of the Top 20 ROI Films is $1.9m… even when we include Star Wars 1977 ($11m) and ET 1982 ($10m))

    Also, not 100% sure I agree at all, that Film is *not* governed by steering committees and focus groups… ie – because: films are SO expensive, I think that they are highly-governed by the above… (in my experience anyway… even Indie films – as Distributors also have `market research’ that they base their decisions on…)

    And – this is the exact problem. to date: the data that they (the marketers and distributors and exhibitors of feature films) are all using – to date – is *actually not very useful*…! (And – if it is, then why do 7 in 10 films lose money?) …Nobody has looked at what exact `Story/Film/Screenplay elements’ make a film more successful except for 2 studies by The Wharton School (2007 and 2010), and I believe they are deeply flawed in their methodology and findings. (See my other post on that, for more… they actually used computers to analyze `the words’ in film Synopses, for one thing… ie – There is a huge problem right there… ie – As we all know – computers – in themselves, aren’t actually very `smart’. 🙂

    Also – they (those 2 Wharton School studies) were conducted within the Marketing discipline, which – is not at all (by any stretch) a `Film Narratology’ discipline, so – the findings of those 2 studies are *somewhat problematic* as a result…

    I still think – it is harder to find a more accurate list of what the Best 20 Films Made are than the Top 20 ROI Films…
    (as I am defining `Best’ as: “A Film Story That Goes The Most Viral”)…
    (ie – Does any writer ever *NOT* want that for their film/story?)

    ie I believe that – empirically – these 20 films are: “The film stories the world wanted to hear, most” (ie – measuring their small budgets, compared to their High Audience Reach… and thus: their ROI)…
    Overall, there wasn’t `expensive whizzbangery’ in these films, just: A Great Film Story, and Well Told. (Which is why I analyze their common Story/Screenplay Structure – they are actually all the 1 story, ironically.)

    My key point being out of all this: If your first film loses money, you are in *big trouble*, as – a screenwriter/director/filmmaker – and even: investor…! (You may never recover from that… ie May never make a 2nd film… Anf therefore all your training and experience gets wasted! And it takes 10 years before almost anyone sells their first screenplay! ie yes, there are rare exceptions… but they are: rare, and exceptions!!!)

    I also really don’t understand, How the problem has gone on this long:
    ie: (is this not crazy?)
    1) 7 in 10 films lose money (and this has been constant for 20 years)
    2) 98% of screenplays go unmade. (We need to ask: Why. There are actually very clear and definite answers to both these questions from this Top 20 ROI Films research… and it is NOT talked about in the current “screenwriting convention”! This is just: nuts.)

    i.e. Someone needed to actually tackle this… (I don’t care who it is… me – or: anyone)

    So – I do think this research goes towards directly addressing those 2 very, very serious Domain Problems in Film…
    (ie – Importantly: from the point-of-view of – a working Screenwriter and/or Filmmaker, and – NOT from the sole (money-orientated “bottom line”) point-of-view of: a big wealthy Hollywood Studio – nor: film investors/marketers, necessarily… though – ironically, all the lessons from these top 20 ROI Films/Screenplays totally and utterly apply to them too…) See Art De Vany’s finding: The film story trumps everything. Nothing else matters for film success. Seriously.

    (Also – a random side note: I happen to adore `The Hangover’, but – that’s a personal-taste thing… as I say – I am trying to steer well away from anything unempirical 🙂 That has been the problem with the screenwriting convention to date: all opinions. No wonder 7 in 10 movies lose money…!

    Maybe see also my post #62: “Do Film Critics Matter?” for more on the IMDb survey that you mention above… (the one in which `Shawshank’ is currently #1)… Note also that, NONE of the top 20 ROI films are adaptations. Not one!

    I have also been discussing this research of mine with DK Simonton, the legendary researcher/author of the awesome book `Great Flicks’, and though his data set (and project of enquiry) is different to mine – we both totally agree, there is such a massive division, between:

    1) Films that win awards
    2) Films that are popular with audiences, (and therefore – by default/incidentally, make loads of ROI… ie the goal of this research project is not filthy lucre… it is: What Film Stories Empirically *Go More Viral* In Film? A: The Top 20 ROI Films. Okay – and So; Why?)

    I also think – any filmmaker/writer would agree, the latter (ROI) is way more important than the former… (awards)

    Awards are super-nice and all (some of my films have won them) – but – they do not pay the bills – and in fact – ironically, usually – awards cause a big drop in income for many, as – then, people in the industry *can* sometimes assume, that you are 1) now too `elite’ or: 2) now `too expensive’ – to hire…! lol – The irony of this, is actually quite profound…

    Anyway – thanks again heaps for the comments Matt, all really great stuff, and all good food for thought…


  4. Pingback: StoryAlity #117 – Velikovsky’s 40 Domain Problems in Screenwriting (or: Consilient PhDs I’d Like To See) | StoryAlity

  5. I provided stories, speeches, and concepts for ten of the top 20 films rated by imdb.com. Now, I’m looking for some drug addicts.

    • Hello Together-In-Paris,
      Do you mean, 10 of the top 20 Movies, listed here? http://www.imdb.com/chart/top
      If so, that is fascinating, and which 10? And, pardon the deep skepticism, but why should I believe any of this? (Who are you?) You appear to be SPAM, but on the off-chance you’re telling the truth (though the odds are stacked against it on the surface of it all), I am prepared to listen to one or two more Comments. I also don’t understand the drug-addict reference, but that’s just me.

      • Shawshank Redemption, Schindler’s List, LOR, Star Wars, The Matrix, Inception, Avatar, a few others. I knew Stevie Spielberg when he was 15 and I was 18, although he was actually 24, which, ironically, everyone found quite impossible to believe. Your skepticism is my blanket, so never be convinced. The only credit I ever got was in my doodle in E.T. (held to the camera in fulfillment of a promise just before Elliot releases the frogs–but only in the VHS edition and the original movie release, of course).
        I became a scientist (I was in training to be one while a plague of movie-maker-hopefuls repeatedly descended upon me.) Somebody asked for me to comment here because they’re interested in genius. I am one, having devised 13 oscar-best pictures, lots of nominations & a few wins for screenwriting.
        I discovered, following a microeconomic model of human behavior, that kissing passes a pheromone. Experiments led me to understand sociopathy in terms of a pheromone deficiency, easily remedied. NicholsonScience.com

      • 1, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14 are mine. Some of the others I’ve not seen. The way these things come out, the look, the actors, they don’t depend on the story. I’ve noted that I’m quoted in a lot of trailers and advertisements, like Braveheart quotes me, quoting Benedict Arnold “…would trade all the years from that one to this one, to come back here and tell our enemies, they may take our lives, but they’ll never take OUR FREEDOM?!”

  6. Aha! Bubba Nicholson! I just saw your request on Researchgate – about pheromones to cure drug addiction! Now I understand about the `drug addicts’ line. – Thanks! Gotcha.
    Well all that is utterly fascinating. And, as you would know my approach is consilient, so I can never learn enough about Science! Random Q: Is it that sociopaths don’t have enough oxytocin? ie The empathy/`love’ drug..?
    (Am guessing this is oversimplifying.)


  7. Pingback: StoryAlity #117 – Velikovsky’s 40 Domain Problems in Screenwriting (or: Consilient PhDs We’d Like To See) | StoryAlity

  8. Pingback: StoryAlity #160 – Reply to `Why are Australian films now so unpopular?’ | StoryAlity

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