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The Insidious Dullness of 'Hollywood's 100 Favorite Films'

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by Sam Adams
June 25, 2014 1:55 PM
24 Comments
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Al Pacino in "The Godfather," #1 on the list of "Hollywood's 100 Favorite Films"

The Hollywood Reporter asked a group of "studio chiefs, Oscar winners, and TV royalty" to pick the 100 greatest films ever made. What happened next will surprise you—if you harbor any illusions that the industry is interested in anything other than English-language stories made by, and largely about, white men.

The results of any poll boil down to conventional wisdom: Once you go above half a dozen or so participants, the idiosyncrasies of individual taste drop out and you're left with blandness that increases proportionally with sample size. But even so, the results are astonishing in their failure to astonish. Next to this group, the American Film Institute's notoriously vanilla lists of top movies look like the work of an obscurantist film blogger.

Let's run a few numbers. According to the Reporter's version of the entertainment industry's 100 favorite films comprise:

  • One film by a female director.
  • Two films by a non-white director.
  • Zero documentaries (h/t Tim Horsburgh)
  • Three films in a language other than English. (Four if you count "Slumdog Millionaire" or "The Godfather: Part 2."
  • Five films released before 1950
  • 15 movies released in or after 2000.


Consider those last two figures for a moment. According to them, three times as many great movies have been made in the last 14 years than in the first half-century of cinema's existence. How fortunate we are to be living in this purported golden age!

Equally alarming is the pathetic showing of films directed by or about people of color, or directed by women. Female protagonists are trickier to count—does "Casablanca" count, or "The Breakfast Club"?—but the number is, generously, around one quarter of the total. Is it any wonder that, as Melissa Silverstein recently pointed out at Women and Hollywood, less than five percent of the studio films made during the last five years have female directors? (Silver lining: That's more than their one percent representation on the list.)

Lists are boring by nature, but this one is insidiously dull, revealing a pronounced lack of interest in anything but the same kind of stories Hollywood has always told from the people who, in theory, are in a position to change that.

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24 Comments

  • Sanker from India | July 17, 2014 8:18 AMReply

    1. Every list that comes out makes me appreciate the sight and sound list even more! Look at all the films in the top 250 on that
    2. You absolutely nailed it with the comment on idiosyncrasy being lost during list making
    3. Isn't that still from "The Godfather Part II"?

  • David | July 3, 2014 5:47 PMReply

    This is not a great list, to be sure, and it demonstrates that Hollywood's understanding of film history is shockingly shallow, which explains why they seem to have largely forgotten how to tell stories these days. No Shane? No Lubitch? Only one foreign film? Jurassic Park and Inception and Avatar top 100 of all time? Come on...

    Still, the "lack of diversity" complaint is silly PC nonsense. The makers of this list were not asked to create the top 100 movies made by "the most diverse set of filmmakers", they were asked for the top 100 movies, period, and that is the only criteria that should be on anybody's mind here. Hollywood has traditionally been the dominant force in the history of motion pictures, with the most steady output of any country coupled with the most resources and yes, diversity of talent making films. It is the place where many of the greats from all over the world tended to want to get to to make films. Yes, Bollywood makes a lot of films, and a lot of good ones, but they have not traditionally had anything close to the same resources over as long a period of time as Hollywood. Neither has Japan, who had some greats steadily working but never had the output or again, resources of Hollywood. Though this has been changing in the last decade or so, Hollywood has always been the dominant force in film for the history of the medium and they have had the most consistent resources, talent pool, and number of films being made each year, so of course the lion's share of any "great films" list is going to come from there. Likewise, like it or not, white male directors were traditionally the ones making almost all the movies in Hollywood for a variety of reasons. Of course you aren't going to get women directors on such lists, because hardly any of them have worked in the history of the medium and have been dwarfed by the amount of men making movies over the same period of time. Likewise for directors of other races.

    So should we whine about the lack of "diversity" on this list? (I put that word in quotes because I refuse to judge people based on color or sex - diversity of thought is the only diversity that means anything) Absolutely not. The list asked for the best films, and the fact is that white males have made almost all of Hollywood's films over the years. The reasons are irrelevant, the question was not "why have so few women directed films over the history of movies, the question was "what are the best movies?" And people should select those without thought to the sex or color of who made each film because that has nothing to do with the quality of the movies itself and is bringing in some arbitrary outside criteria that has nothing to do with the question at hand. Asking somebody what the best movies ever made are and then taking them to task for not bringing in some outside, arbitrary diversity criteria to make the list feel more politically correct is ludicrous and unfair. And being surprised that a list of great films is going to come from the subset of people who have actually made almost all of the movies in the dominant system is just silly.

  • hdbfly | June 30, 2014 3:23 AMReply

    Okay, we could all add tons of films that are not on the list. But I have to question how some of these were even considered to be among the greatest films made, let alone be on the list. Mary Poppins? Forrest Gump? Inception? Jurassic Park? Ghostbusters? It was a fun movie but one of the greatest films ever made? What was the criteria?

  • IndieWIRE | June 30, 2014 12:46 AMReply

    taste always takes a backseat to being PC here at INDIEWIRE

  • Joe H. | June 29, 2014 3:48 PMReply

    I swear to God indiewire sees everything in skin colors and sex organs.

  • Soumik | June 29, 2014 7:47 PM

    The problem that is people like you fail to see them.

  • This | June 29, 2014 6:02 PM

    " don't really care about the gender or ethnicity of a film's director. I don't even care what language it was shot in or what year it was made. I only care about the quality of the script and how well the film moves me. I only care about how well it was made and how it makes me think and feel."

    THIS

    also THIS

    "I swear to God indiewire sees everything in skin colors and sex organs."

  • Andrew | June 29, 2014 1:52 PMReply

    Maybe I'm biased. I'll give you that. I don't really care about the gender or ethnicity of a film's director. I don't even care what language it was shot in or what year it was made. I only care about the quality of the script and how well the film moves me. I only care about how well it was made and how it makes me think and feel. I don't see any mention of the screenwriters who created these films, whether they were male or female or of a specific race. Perhaps these 'greatest films' just sprang out of the minds of their directors. That's a neat trick. Okay, so I'm biased. I like quality no matter who makes the film. Great screenplays make great films. Great editors make them even better. If Sam Adams, (really? That's a real name?) wants to make a great film with a diverse cast, crew, writer, and director, he should borrow a camera and make one.

  • Tobin | June 29, 2014 12:02 PMReply

    Sam,
    Your article seems to misstep in presenting its argument. It does not appear to be an alarming issue that those who the HR asked are largely made up by the same demographic that are creating and are created about. I would think their primary interest is in making money, not solving the gender and racial issues of the day.

    In thinking about Sullivan's Travels, perhaps Sturges' lesson could shed light on another reason why this list appeared as such. To me, the film says that there is nothing wrong with fluff films for mere entertainment, as they play an important role (the Bacchae, an ancient Greek tragedy, also reinforces the human need for entertainment). And the Shakespearean identity issues in Sullivan's Travels seems to imply that it is the content of a person, not the shell, that matters.

    Given these considerations (aim to make money, mere entertainment is fine, the quality to make a financially successful film is more important than who the person creating is), I find the results of this inquiry what I would expect from the three demographic areas indicated and I don't think one needs to raise alarm due to the results as they are quite what one would expect.

    Now, sure, I am interested in more opportunity for female and non-white artists, but I'm not responsible for a studio's success or at the top of a career that is largely self-serving for those already there. And I enjoy film as entertainment as well as art with deeper meaning and wisdom. I'd hate to see either be destroyed or ignored because of a social agenda.

    If there is to be blame for the lack of female or non-white directors or stories, it perhaps is best left to some wider issue like education or social upbringing. Hanging the blame on those who make films seems to be misplaced. Compounding Hollywood with the documentary world, International film world, etc., also seems to be misplaced.

    Thoughts?

  • TheJoker | June 29, 2014 11:42 AMReply

    Stop mixing art with racial and gender politics!!! When looking at this list I see objectively some of the best films ever made. After all, most of these films did not make the list because they were all directed by white men, but because they tell good stories in interesting ways. To be honest, it is equally racist to disregard them because they were made by white people in Hollywood. FILM IS ART and when it gets mixed with racial politics the value is taken away from it!

  • NLJ | June 27, 2014 1:42 PMReply

    Waah waah. Who cares? Make your own list and ignore the Hollywood Reporter.

  • Chandler | June 25, 2014 8:06 PMReply

    I agree, but it's still more honest that the Top 250 on IMDB, which is a disgrace. We all know it's manipulated by immature fanboys who have dozens of sock accounts so they can vote more than once.

    THR list is boring but believable, and traditional, which is what you would expect from that group of people. I think it's slightly better than the ridiculous list the AFI put out last year. And Hollywood being run by this group of people is why we have Transformers 27 and other crap. No imagination, afraid of originality, and counting beans.

  • Aaron | June 25, 2014 6:19 PMReply

    Hollywood is not progressive. It is xenophobic, sexist, racist, and homophobic. This list only reinforces that. I've always said this - they're oppressors. They're part of the "1%", and it reflects in what they make and what they consider great (as in this list)

    They continuously deny audiences any chance for reflection and exploration. And that trickles down to filmmakers - we become conditioned to believe that Spielberg is god, Star Wars is the greatest trilogy ever, and that modern American "greats" (I use that term VERY loosely) like Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino should be idolized. This isn't even getting into the hackery of Noah Baumbauch and a corporate Hollywood shill like David Fincher, who's never made a visually interesting film in his life.

    The more lists like this that get propagated, the less foreign films gets released. The more the tastes that hold sway in this list have influence, the more new/young filmmakers will feel that anything outside of this box is 'pretentious' and 'unnecessary'. It's a form of social conditioning, feeding into what we like and how we consume it. It keeps viewers complacent and narrow in their watching habits, and I'm pretty sure many who helped create this list were part of that cycle of influence (and, partly because of that, become the ones in power to further spread that influence). I could keep going with my endless well of disgust, but I'll stop.

    TL;DR: This list is a pile of prejudice garbage that is simply a symptom of a much greater problem with the Hollywood system.

    For the record, I'm a (almost) 20 year old filmmaker. And no, when I say filmmaker, I don't mean "I have a youtube channel and know how to use a Canon 5D Mark II". I mean that I've shot on 35 mm and the like.

    It took a long time, but over the past 3 years I've pretty much completely broken out of the conditioning. (My own favorite films include things like Ran, The Sacrifice, Fanny and Alexander, Rosetta, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, Mauvais Sang, Come and See, Irreversible, The Rules of the Game, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Charulata, Sansho the Bailiff, Chungking Express, Tokyo Story, Weekend… I could go on. And yes, American films, too - Taxi Driver, Elephant, A Woman Under the Influence, Gun Crazy, Magnolia, so on. It's about story told with visual language, not where and when it comes from.)

  • Wess Anderblum | June 29, 2014 3:14 PM

    I agree completely with you Aaron. Yes, the hackery of Noah Baumbach. These commenting about your post strike me as real tools dude. To criticize fan boy favorites like Fincher and Tarantino really ruffles them up. The article is touching on a world seen blandly and homogenously and it seems that these detractors to your comment have bought into it, hook line and sinker. And probably benefit from it as well. Taste is acquired through exposure.
    Hollywood makes movies for 17 to 35 year old white males. If this demographic is flattered by this the joke's on them because they've been condescended to. Hollywood resorts to the lowest common denominators to bring these guys in. And the rest of the world knows it and laughs at this.
    You "Aaron," at 20 are heads above some of these philistines who stopped maturing at 17. Keep expanding your horizons and make and look for stories made by other people.

  • Aaron | June 27, 2014 5:34 PM

    Ah, I love these responses. I did my job. :)

    JRose: Think of a better thing to use as a basis of criticism than my age. Even if you were to attack me for a Marxist interpretation of film, that would be far more valid.

    John and Jeff: I've already hinted as to why I dislike them. How about some burden of proof. Tell me why I SHOULD respect them, then I can propose why I shouldn't.

    Thanks buds.

  • jrose | June 27, 2014 3:56 PM

    Ah, there's nothing quite like a teenager telling everybody what's right and what's wrong.

  • John | June 27, 2014 1:34 PM

    Criticizing Spielberg and Tarantinto,the classic sign of a pseudo-intellectual filmgoer(of filmmaker as you cal yourself)

  • Jeff Mclachlan | June 26, 2014 9:23 PM

    "The hackery of Noah Baumbauch"? Armond White, is that you?

  • marcelo | June 25, 2014 5:50 PMReply

    Maybe the writer should tap into his faux outrage and ask the Hollywood Reporter to ask for submissions for the 100 Greatest films of all time but with the caveat to "try to make it as diverse as possible." Or just ask the HR for a list of the 10 best movies directed by women, foreign language, etc. If the Hollywood Reporter had sought submissions from the same number of people who are not in the film industry there would be NO films directed by women for certain and possibly not that many more by foreign directors...if someone asked me for a list of what I thought were the best movies ever I certainly would not compose it with an eye on making it as culturally diverse as possible. Its just a list and its just opinion...

  • No | June 25, 2014 2:51 PMReply

    So "The Hollywood Reporter asked a group of "studio chiefs, Oscar winners, and TV royalty" to pick the 100 greatest films ever made" and you're peeved that "the industry is interested in anything other than English-language stories made by, and largely about, white men"?

    So, that makes your job easy, right?

  • Sam Adams | June 25, 2014 4:44 PM

    Because why exactly?

  • AreaMan | June 25, 2014 2:33 PMReply

    Ang Lee and Akira Kurosawa -- I count two non-white directors. But yeah, very sad nonetheless.

  • Sam Adams | June 25, 2014 4:42 PM

    Lee I overlooked because he's made so many films (like "Brokeback Mountain") in the Hollywood system. With Del Toro, depends who you ask. (Can't link, but Wiki "Mexicans of European Descent.") Corrected above

  • AreaMan | June 25, 2014 2:41 PM

    Wait -- one more! Guillermo Del Toro!

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