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When choosing which movie to watch next, you might reluctantly turn to your personalized Netflix recommendations or Amazon suggestions. You might sift through a few trailers. Perhaps you like to scan a couple of reviews.
But what should you do if you want to evade the spoilers that come with trailers? The biases that come with reviews? The terrible movies that repeatedly come from algorithmic recommendations?
Choose One of These Best-Of Lists for Top Movies
In these cases, you’ll want to turn to a “best-of” list that compiles critically acclaimed movies already proven to be well received and masterfully created. Some of these rely on audience ratings. Others aggregate critic reviews. Some rely on the input of industry insiders. And a few are more statistical, looking at things like box office revenue.
Whichever list you choose to rely on, you probably won’t love everything that’s recommended. But you can be confident that every entry which consistently maintains a spot in that list (usually) deserves to be there for one reason or another. In other words, your time will not be wasted.
That’s not to say that any of these lists are perfect, though. Each is compiled differently, and each has its own pros and cons, which you’ll want to consider before picking any of them to rely on.
To help with this, here are six quality lists with explanations of how they’re put together. Our list recommendation for top movies appears at the end of the article.
Best for: Finding top grossing movies that people love to talk about.
If you’re looking for an objective list, Filmsite’s Box Office Top 100 might be what you want. This is simply a rundown of the 100 highest grossing movies of all time. There’s no hidden nuance, no subjectivity, or pretense: just the money that each movie brought in at the box office.
Given that these movies generated so much revenue, it’s safe to assume that a huge number of people have seen them (at least at the cinema). This means that many of these movies are popular topics of conversation. Take Star Wars Episode VII and Avatar as just two examples. If you want to hold your own in conversations about popular movies, then this would be a good list to turn to.
Watch out for:
Just because a movie created a huge profit, it doesn’t guarantee it’s a great movie. Rather, it shows it had great marketing and a behemoth budget.
Best for: Completely democratic, transparent rankings of top movies.
This is a list that keeps things simple. If you think a movie deserves to be further up the list, click the up arrow. If you think it doesn’t deserve its spot, hit the down arrow. The number of votes received is displayed below the respective buttons. If you want to go one step further, you can submit your own list (including movies that haven’t yet made the cut) by clicking Rank Your Version. Every vote is equal. In other words, it’s completely democratic.
But the real reason this Ranker list has been included here is that you can filter the list based on your sex, generation, and region. This all helps to add more context to the list.
Watch out for:
This list is mostly based on the opinions of laypeople like you and me. This could be a good thing or a bad thing. Also, due to the extra step needed to vote for movies not currently on the list, voters will be more inclined to reaffirm the current list, rather than venture out of its present scope.
Best for: Movies that Rotten Tomatoes-approved critics consistently enjoy.
Rotten Tomatoes is one of the largest, most influential review aggregator sites online, with each movie having two scores: an audience score, and a critic score. These are not average ratings. Instead, they show the percentage of reviews that are positive. If 60 percent or more are positive, the movie gets a fresh red tomato. If less than 60 percent are positive, the movie gets a rotten green tomato.
This much-trusted Top 100 Movies list (filterable by genre) completely ignores the audience rating in favor of the critic-based Tomatometer. This is “the percentage of approved Tomatometer critics who have given the movie a positive review”. Each of these critics’ ratings is equally weighted, and a movie must have at least 40 reviews to be considered. The rating then goes through a Bayesian analysis to take into account the differences in the number of reviews.
Watch out for:
This kind of binary analysis (good vs. bad) leaves no room for movies that are passable, run-of-the-mill, and average. For a more comprehensive idea of how good or how bad a movie is, you’ll need to dig deeper.
Best for: Discovering top movies that have inspired and influenced industry insiders.
Once a decade, The British Film Institute asks critics and directors to send in a list of their top 10 movies. The last time this happened was 2012, when 846 top-ten lists were received from 73 countries, citing 2,045 different films. These are then whittled down to a list of just 100.
Within a few seconds of scrolling through this list, you’ll see it’s completely different to anything else out there. There’s a strong emphasis on black and white movies (with a few silent ones thrown in there, too). There will be many you’ve never heard of, yet each has obviously been an inspiration to enough critics and directors to make the cut.
Watch out for:
This is a list for true movie buffs, who aren’t afraid of old-school art-house pictures. Some of these movies have been accused of being pretentious, or at least elusive.
2. IMDb Top 250
Best for: Discovering the average rating for movies from a huge number of movie-enthusiasts.
The IMDb Top 250 is an iconic top movies list that almost all cinephiles are aware of, with plenty of movie-lovers working hard to tick-off every movie in the lineup.
Compiled by taking votes from the site’s regular users, on movies with over 25,000 ratings, this is an ever evolving run-down of popular features ranked by their average, adjusted score.
Watch out for:
IMDb has its fair share of critics. Users are predominantly male, between the ages of 18–29, who are particularly keen on superhero, and Christopher Nolan movies. IMDb’s ratings are also skewed somewhat toward the positive end of the spectrum.
Best for: the most statistically reliable rankings based on reviews from professional critics.
When Data Scientist Alexandru Olteanu looked into which movie rating site was the most reliable, Metacritic came out on top, making their list of top movies probably the most reliable. This is because Metacritic’s scores tend to follow a pattern of normal distribution more closely than any other site that was analyzed. In other words, when we look at how Metacritic’s scores are distributed, we see what we’d expect: a few bad movies, plenty of average movies, and a few great movies. It sounds self-evident, but other review sites don’t actually follow this pattern so well.
To settle on a movie rating, the Metacritic team read at least four reviews from some of the world’s most respected critics. They’ll usually read much more than this. Scores are assigned to these reviews, and a weighted average (based on the stature and quality of publications) is applied to boil this range of opinions down to a single rating, out of 100. Audience ratings are not taken into account.
Watch out for:
The initial score that Metacritic’s staff assign the individual reviews they read is problematic (and subjective). We’re essentially talking about turning a qualitative review into a quantitative rating. Not an easy task, and a task which Metacritic have been accused of getting wrong a number of times.
The Choice Is Yours
Some people want to watch top movies that critics fall in love with. Others prefer to stick to movies that are simply popular. And there are those who fall somewhere in between.
Wherever you lie on this spectrum, at least one of these lists should be right for you. You’ll find a lengthy selection of quality movies deserving of your appreciation, so you’ll never again struggle to decide what to watch next. All you have to do now is find where to stream them!
What do you think of ranking movies like this? Are there any lists that you trust more than others?
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