They include an eclectic range of genres that cross decades of film history: Alan Pakula's Oscar-winning real-life drama All the President's Men, the Robert Altman western McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Saturday Night Fever, starring John Travolta, William Friedkin's frightfest The Exorcist, comedies from the recently deceased Blake Edwards (The Pink Panther), the Zucker brothers (Airplane!, starring Leslie Nielsen, who also died recently) and W.C. Fields' It's A Gift, as well as John Huston's 1946 war documentary Let There Be Light and George Lucas's 1967 student film THX 1138 4 EB.
The registry, which preserves its holdings, now houses 550 films. This year's alphabetized list of 25 is below, with the Registry's explanation of why they picked them.
1. "Airplane!" (1980) "Characterized by a freewheeling style reminiscent of comedies of the 1920s, 'Airplane!' introduced a much needed deflating assessment of the tendency of theatrical film producers to push successful formulaic movie conventions beyond the point of logic."
2. "All the President's Men" (1976) "'All the President's Men' is a rare example of a best-selling book that was transformed into a hit theatrical film and cultural phenomenon in its own right."
3. "The Bargain" (1914) This western marked William S. Hart's first film and made him a star. The film was selected because of "Hart's charisma, the film's authenticity and realistic portrayal of the Western genre and the star's good/bad man role as outlaw attempting to go straight."
4. "Cry of Jazz" (1959) Ed Bland's seminal documentary short "intercuts scenes of life in Chicago's black neighborhoods with interviews with interracial artists and intellectuals. 'Cry of Jazz' is a historic and fascinating film that comments on racism and the appropriation of jazz by those who fail to understand its artistic and cultural origins."
5. "Electronic Labyrinth: THX 113B 4EB" (1967) George Lucas shot his award-winning student film at USC, and it became the basis of his 1971 feature, "THX 1138." "This film has evoked comparisons to George Orwell's '1984' and impressed audiences with its technical inventiveness and cautionary view of a future filled with security cameras and omnipresent scrutiny."
6. "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) "The much anticipated continuation of the 'Star Wars' saga, Irvin Kershner's sequel sustained the action-adventure and storytelling success of its predecessor and helped lay the foundation for one of the most commercially successful film series in American cinematic history."
7. "The Exorcist" (1973) "One of the most successful and influential horror films of all time. ... The film's success, both commercially and cinematically, provides a rare example of a popular novel being ably adapted for the big screen."
8. "The Front Page" (1931) "'The Front Page' is a historically significant early sound movie that successfully demonstrates the rapid progress achieved by Hollywood filmmakers in all creative professions after realizing the capabilities of sound technology to invent new film narratives."
9. "Grey Gardens" (1976) "'Grey Gardens' is an influential cinema verite documentary by Albert and David Maysles that has provided inspiration for creative works on stage and film."
10. "I Am Joaquin" (1969) The 20-minute short film, directed by Luis Valdez, is based on the epic 1967 poem by Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales. "The film is important to the history and culture of Chicanos in America, spotlighting the challenges they have endured because of discrimination."
11. "It's a Gift" (1934) The third W.C. Fields comedy to be named to the registry. "'It's a Gift' has survived a perilous preservation history."
12. "Let There Be Light" (1946) John Huston's documentary about World War II soldiers suffering from trauma and depression was banned by the War Department for 35 years "because no effort was made during filming to disguise or mask the identities of the combat veterans. ... The film provides important historical documentation of the efforts of psychiatric professionals during World War II to care for emotionally wounded veterans and prepare them to return to civilian life."
13. "Lonesome" (1928) The part-sound/part-silent romance that was recently restored by the George Eastman House "has been recognized for its success as both a comic melodrama and for its early use of dialogue and two-color Technicolor."
14. "Make Way for Tomorrow" (1937) Leo McCarey's drama about an elderly married couple forced to live separately in order to save money after their children abandon them. "'Make Way for Tomorrow' deftly explores themes of retirement, poverty, generational dissonance and the nuances of love and regret at the end of a long married life."
15. "Malcolm X" (1992) Spike Lee's biographical film on the slain civil rights leader. "Featuring an Oscar-nominated performance by Denzel Washington, the film exemplifies the willingness of the American film industry in the early '90s to support the making of mainstream films about earlier generations of social leaders."
16. "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" (1971) "The aesthetically acclaimed film that demonstrates why the Western genre, especially when reinvented by acclaimed Robert Altman, endured in the 20th century as a useful model for critically examining the realities of contemporary American culture."
17. "Newark Athlete" (1891) An experimental film by William K. L. Dickson and William Heise was one of the first made in America at the Edison Laboratory in West Orange, N.J. "Heise and especially Dickson made important technical contributions during 1891-1893, leading to the invention of the world's first successful motion picture camera -- the Edison Kinetograph -- and to the playback device required for viewing early peepshow films -- the Edison Kinetoscope."
18. "Our Lady of the Sphere" (1969) Perhaps the best known film from San Francisco animator Larry Jordan, who uses "'found' graphics to produce his influential animated collages, noting that his goal is to create 'unknown worlds and landscapes of the mind.'''
19. "The Pink Panther" (1964) Writer/director Blake Edwards introduced the comic character Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) in this classic. "The influence of the great comics of the silent era on Edwards and Sellers is apparent throughout the film, which is recognized for its enduring popularity."
20. "Preservation of the Sign Language" (1913) A two-minute film featuring George Veditz, one-time president of the National Assn. of the Deaf of the United States, which demonstrates in sign language the "importance of defending the right of deaf people to sign as opposed to verbalizing their communication. The film conveys one of the ways that deaf Americans debated the issues of their language and public understanding during the era of World War I."
21. "Saturday Night Fever" (1977) John Travolta became an overnight sensation in this disco musical-drama featuring a bestselling soundtrack by the Bee Gees. "Produced long after the heyday of the classic Hollywood musicals, this cinematic cultural touchstone incorporated set-piece music and dance numbers into a story of dramatic realism."
22. "Study of a River" (1996) Peter B. Hutton's exploration of the winter cycle of the Hudson River over a two-year period. "Some critics have described Hutton's work as reminiscent of the 19th century artist Thomas Cole and other painters of the Hudson River School."
23. "Tarantella" (1940) A five-minute color avant-garde short film by pioneer Mary Ellen Bute. "Bute's work influenced many other filmmakers working with abstract animation during the '30s and '40s, and with experimental electronic imagery in the 1950s."
24. "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" (1945) Elia Kazan's first feature film, based on the novel by Betty Smith. "A timely film, 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' was released at the end of World War II, helping to remind post-war audiences of the enduring importance of the American dream."
25. "A Trip Down Market Street" (1906) A 13-minute "actuality" film that was made by placing a moving camera on the front of a cable car as it traveled down Market Street. "A fascinating time capsule from over 100 years ago, the film showcases the details of daily life in a major American city. ..." Originally thought to have been shot in 1905, historian David Kiehn discovered it was made just days before the devastating 1906 earthquake after studying contemporary newspapers, weather reports and car license plates from the film.