The Best Movies We Have Ever Seen

Ulises Duenas, Ben Friedman, and Garrett Hartman


Filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu once said: “Cinema is a mirror by which we often see ourselves.”

The precious images and storylines that are cleverly woven together to present a feast for the eyes often leave a lingering effect that stirs so many emotions within us.

The perpetual argument – as to which films are the best – has been at the forefront of critics’ minds (and pens) for decades. But as Gonzalez Innaritu explains, the choice comes down to our own personal feelings as the viewer.

On that note, it’s time for Highbrow Magazine film critics to add their favorite films to the ever-growing lists of other publications and sites that spend ample time ranking and scoring the “must-see” movies ever created.

But as our senior writer and film critic Ulises Duenas said, it’s like being asked to pick your favorite child.

In this first installment of The Best Movies We Have Ever Seen, Duenas – along with contributing writers and film critics Ben Friedman and Garrett Hartman – list their 12 all-time favorites.

Interestingly, the one film that appears on Duenas’s, Friedman’s, and Hartman’s lists is The Empire Strikes Back.

This selection – which features the viewing preference of millennial and Gen Z critics – differs considerably from the Gen-X musings of the magazine’s chief film critic Forrest Hartman and founding editor and publisher Tara Taghizadeh, whose own selections will be featured soon.

For the love of movies…enjoy. And please send us your own favorite titles.

--Tara Taghizadeh, founding editor and publisher—



From Ulises Duenas – Senior Writer and Film Critic:

Picking 12 favorite films is like picking a favorite child, but sometimes these tough choices must be made. Some are personal favorites, and others are films I see as essential viewing for the modern moviegoer. In no particular order; these are my top picks.



A sci-fi classic that only becomes more relevant with age. This movie is dripping with neon atmosphere, thanks to its beautiful and dour sets, along with an amazing soundtrack. Ridley Scott’s tale of humanity clashing with synthetic life while deciphering what differences even exist between the two is fascinating.

Harrison Ford delivers a great performance -- then Rutger Hauer comes along to steal the show. I also thank this movie for pioneering the cyberpunk subgenre, my personal favorite flavor of sci-fi media.



If anyone asks me to name my favorite movie, my go-to answer is Goodfellas. As a general rule of life, I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like this film; yes, it’s that good. While The Godfather holds the crown for best mob movie in many people’s minds, I argue that Goodfellas has usurped it. The pacing, cinematography, writing, and performances; it’s as close to perfect as a movie can get. 



The Dark Knight

I don’t want to add more than one superhero movie here, and it was between this and Logan. The Dark Knight changed the game for superhero movies the way The Watchman did for comics. It shows the depth of character that the genre can have without having to stray too far from the formula. Obviously, Heath Ledger’s legendary performance as the Joker is the highlight here, and for good reason, because he steals every scene he’s in. 


No Country for Old Men

Cormac McCarthy’s work is difficult to put on screen, yet somehow the adaptation for No Country for Old Men was not only a success, but a masterpiece. It’s a timeless story of nihilism and greed told with a high level of violence, along with great performances from Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem. An American classic.


The Empire Strikes Back

I don’t know what I can say about this movie that hasn’t already been said. The best Star Wars movie, an eternal classic, a must-watch. Truly an iconic film.




I had to give anime some love on this list, and while I love Miyazaki’s work, I have to give the nod to Akira, a visually entrancing film that offers something totally new for Western audiences with its themes and characters. It shows that the genre is capable of a lot more than two characters posing and screaming for hours, and that the medium can stand alongside any other as art.


Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

If a flawless movie ever existed, it’s this one. This film captured my imagination before I ever set foot in elementary school, and over time, I developed a greater appreciation for its witty dialogue and Gene Wilder’s performance. From the sets to the score and, of course, the Oompa Loompa songs, this movie nails every element. It’s a beautiful and charming experience for all ages.


There Will Be Blood

If I told you this was one of the best films ever made, you would agree. Arguably, Daniel Day-Lewis’s greatest performance in a film that is thematically deep with a poetic script and one of the greatest, most haunting cinematic endings ever. 


Full Metal Jacket

To create a movie that is defiantly anti-war without being obvious is something few are capable of, and Stanley Kubrick pulled it off better than anyone. I know many viewers think this movie loses steam in the second half, but I would say they completely missed the point of the film. The complete horrors of war are not as obvious as burning bodies and bloody corpses; the way it warps people’s minds can be just as dark. On that note, an honorable mention to Jacob’s Ladder.



Pulp Fiction

Quotable, cool, and hilarious, this mixture of interconnected stories by Quentin Tarantino has left a huge impact on modern cinema. Its all-star cast and brilliant dialogue make this movie easy to watch year after year.


Old Boy

I want to include at least one non-animated foreign film here, and this was the first one that came to mind. This stomach-churning drama from Korea will leave the viewer feeling sick and exhausted, but it’s all a testament to how good it is. I’m talking about the original by the way, not the awful remake from 2013.


Napoleon Dynamite

This movie was quite polarizing in its time, which is understandable. The awkward humor here isn’t for everyone, but it had a huge impact on me as a kid. Jon Heder’s performance was so good, it probably ruined his future film career, but for making one of the best comedies of all time and a unique movie, I would say it was worth it.



From Ben Friedman—Contributing Writer and Film Critic:

Frank Capra. James Cameron. John Ford. Orson Welles. Ridley Scott. Spike Lee. These are just a few of the names that did not make it onto my Top 12 Best Films list. That is not to say that their work is not worthy, nor that they were never in consideration. Rather, the opposite is true. In conjuring this list, I painstakingly went through the archives of my film collection (of which I have thousands) and jotted down every entry in consideration. When complete, I looked down only to discover I had written down 100+ titles, all of which I thought were deserving of a spot on this list.

     What does it mean to be considered one of the best films I have ever seen? In my head, I weighed historical significance, performances, rewatchability, and most importantly how much I find myself obsessing over them. Most will disagree with my list. I am sure in one year I will revisit it myself in horror. Yet, my selections should not be viewed as definitive, rather I hope this showcases my sensibilities as a film lover, and provides an opportunity to highlight exceptional films worthy of praise.


12. Annie Hall

The most important romantic comedy ever made, Annie Hall deconstructs the genre, revealing the inner nuances of intimacy that mainstream filmmaking danced around. Annie Hall is not the first sex-comedy ever produced, nor is it director Woody Allen’s first foray wrestling with the subject matter. Rather, Allen’s 1977 Best Picture winner strikes the perfect chord of New York intellectualism, silly visual gags, and French New Wave influence. Coupled with Diane Keaton’s best performance as the titular character makes Annie Hall unique in presentation, allowing the film to work both as a relic of its era and a timeless story about love and loss.


11. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

The most recent entry on my list, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse serves as the beginning of the next evolution of art and storytelling. Into the Spider-Verse pays homage to what came before, while paving its own style and influence. This idea is explored through Miles Morales, a biracial teenage son of an African American father and a Puerto Rican mother, who both literally and metatextuality finds himself in the shadow of Peter Parker. His journey of self-discovery serves to empower and reinvent superhero storytelling. Coupled with breathtaking animation that blends 100+ years of pop art styles creates a cinematic language that understands its history -- good and bad -- and fuses it with the sensibilities of today.


10. Se7en

“You know this isn’t going to have a happy ending.” Director David Fincher warns the audience early on that by design, Se7en can only end in bleakness. What we did not realize is simply how sadistic Fincher’s sensibilities proved. Despite being visually disturbing and upsetting, every few months I find myself revisiting and rediscovering its brilliance.

Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt star as Detectives Somerset and Mills tracking down a serial killer who targets victims he sees as representing one of the seven deadly sins. In Se7en, our heroes are predestined to suffer. Heavily influenced by noir films of the 1940s, the world present within the film is created to further kick down our protagonists. The heavy rainfall and constant raddling from the train line make it feel as if God himself is conspiring to torture Somerset and Mills.


9. Psycho

Every modern horror film owes its existence in part to Alfred Hitchcock. Dubbed the “master of suspense” the famed director’s talents proved generational. From such classics as The Birds, North by Northwest, Rear Window, and Vertigo, his ability to manipulate camera movements, framing, and pacing to invoke terror proved to make him one of the most influential and controversial directors of all time. No film better exemplifies Hitchcock’s sensibilities than his 1960 horror-thriller Psycho.

Its premise is simple - a woman is trapped in proximity with a serial killer. What differentiates Psycho from other horror films is its interest in the deranged. At 63 years old, the Psycho is still as frightening as ever -- due largely to Anthony Perkins's off-putting smile and stillness in movement as Norman Bates. Pair that with Hitchcock’s direction and you have the quintessential slasher movie!


8. JFK

The fall of Camelot. The Rise of the Military Industrial complex. The Death of the American Youth. The consequences of November 22, 1963, are palpable within Oliver Stone’s 1991 “historical” epic JFK. At the pinnacle of his fame following the success of Platoon, Wall Street, and Born on the Fourth of July, Stone weaponized his influence to craft his narrative on what exactly happened in Dallas. Part protest, part therapeutic, and all brimstone anger, Stone utilizes the magic of filmmaking (and a tremendous John Williams score) as a radical middle finger to the American government.

To view JFK as the gospel truth would be naive. Not bound to live and die by factuality, Stone utilizes the tools of his enemy in the form of propaganda, to answer the burning question that has haunted him since he returned home from Vietnam in 1968: Why?


7. The King of Comedy

Martin Scorsese has always been a director willing to dive into the ugliness of the human condition, yet despite how grim and violent his work often is, a misconception arises that Scorsese himself is a cynical filmmaker. Nothing can be further from the truth. The 80-year-old director’s work time and time again showcases an earnest director interested in the forces that corrupt. Which makes The King of Comedy even more interesting.

Protagonist Rupert Pupkin has no rhyme or reason. He is not a troubled Vietnam veteran, or a poor child seeking riches and power, nor is he the Messiah, rather he is a man who wants to make people laugh on TV, whatever the cost. This is Scorsese’s only real foray into cynical storytelling. Given everything that had befallen him (and Taxi Driver) post-John Hinckley’s assassination attempt on President Reagan, it's unsurprising to see Scorsese’s fury towards the fetishization of stardom as promoted by mass news media. Darkly comedic, yet with the same fierceness that made Taxi Driver a hit, The King of Comedy is fundamental to understanding Scorsese as an artist both on and off-screen.


6. The Empire Strikes Back

When I was 7 years old and first sat down to watch the original Star Wars trilogy, I truly felt like I was in a galaxy far, far away. I treated the series as if it was a documentary -- real lived-in worlds, with heroes and scum all existing within their own environment and possessing their own cultural practices. To put it simply, I bought into the movie magic on display. Our heroes look older as years of war have taken their toll. Here, they never possess the upper hand, rather they seek to survive another day. It’s a tale of persistence that only ends in tragedy as our once bright-eyed optimistic learns the horrors that await him.


5. Back to the Future

Back to the Future. The movie that made me fall in love with movies. Despite being a product of the ‘80s, Michael J. Fox’s performance as Marty McFly is ageless, defining what I understood to be the height of cool growing up. The reason I fell in love with Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future is its screenplay. No joke is wasted; no character beat is unjustified; no action is taken without consequence. In my opinion, it is the best screenplay ever written. It is the movie that defined my childhood and I have revisited it countless times. Every time, I take something new away from it. 


4. The Godfather: Part II

“If history has taught us anything, it’s that you can kill anybody.” Michael Corleone weaponizes his power in the form of violence and ruthlessness throughout The Godfather: Part II. Convinced in his self-assurance awarded to him by his stature as the new Don of the Corleone family, Michael is so focused on the “can,” but never takes moments to consider the cost. Like its predecessor, Francis Ford Coppola’s storytelling is operatic -- akin to a Greek tragedy, except here our protagonist succeeds, but at the cost of his soul. Having destroyed everything and everyone who stood in his way, Michael embraces the role of Satan forced to rule a hollow kingdom of his creation.


3. The Great Dictator

World War II, The Holocaust, and Adolf Hitler -- topics that in 1940 were taboo for comedy, even if named Charlie Chaplin. The controversial anti-war satire arrived a year before Pearl Harbor, and lampoons Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Pre-The Great Dictator, Chaplin refused to abandon his work in silent films, thus for many audience members, the film presented the first time they heard Chaplin speak.

In many ways, Chaplin and the film’s protagonist are the same. The protagonist, a Jewish barber, is forced to give a speech despite never doing so in his life. Forced to speak, Chaplin and the barber become one and the pretense of the film vanishes. The audience watches as the famed comedian condemns and gives voice to his disgust for Hitler, fascist ideology, and antisemitism. The film’s climatic monologue envisions a world that is kind and optimistic -- a future worth fighting for that is in danger if good men and women remain complicit to the horror of Nazism.


2. Casablanca

What is there left to say about Casablanca? It is a testament to performances mixed with a daring screenplay that resonates with audiences both during World War II and 80 years later. The love story between Rick and Ilsa is iconic in large part due to Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman’s on-screen chemistry.  It is a story about love and loss, but to label it romantic would be a mischaracterization. Rather, love is the last thing both characters must sacrifice.

Director Michael Curtiz is able to infuse Bogart’s roots in noir pictures and infuse it thematically into the psychological questions that plague war. Rick Blaine is neither a hero nor a villain, rather he turns his back on the world. Not out of moral unrighteousness, rather out of fear. Beneath his smooth, charming exterior lies cynicism and heartbreak. Similarly, like Rick, Ilsa runs from her past. Yet, where he runs out of fright, she runs out of determination -- a determination to never look back so as to help the war efforts. Together, Rick and Ilsa help each other move forward and in doing so, sacrifice for the greater good.

1. Schindler’s List

The talents of Steven Spielberg lie in his ability to fuse his scale in technical filmmaking mixed with humanity in storytelling. All of Spielberg’s most successful films possess those two qualities. Whether it is Elliot and E.T. having one final heart-to-heart outside a giant spaceship, or Martin Brody monologuing about the nightmares of his past while being chased down by a shark, Spielberg understands that scale means nothing if not accompanied by genuine human emotion. This fundamental understanding is what gives Schindler’s List its power. His direction honors those who perished and those who survived.

The camera is unflinching so as to capture the brutality of the Holocaust, while never exploiting the subject matter. Liam Neeson’s performance is gentle and delicate. The film is never interested in making Oskar Schindler a folk hero or savior, but rather a man forced to face the ugliness of humanity. In the film’s final moments as Oskar cries out, “I could have done more,” his screams prove cathartic. The wound that is the Holocaust is laid bare, and through Spielberg's direction, is given space to mourn and heal, while never forgetful of the pain experienced.



From Garrett Hartman – Contributing Writer and Film Critic:


Fight Club

David Fincher’s gritty 1999 film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk, is a recent watch but a favorite for me. The film oozes style with excellent music and stark lighting. It offers a commentary on social apathy, capitalism, and gender. A commentary I would argue is all the more relevant 20-plus years later, considering the rise of uber-masculine personas on social media, and the tough-guy attitude many pundits and politicians have been fronting in recent years. 


American Psycho

Continuing on the trend of film commentaries on society and gender, 2000’s American Psycho, directed by Mary Harron and adapted from the novel by Bret Easton Ellis, is a film that addresses similar themes as Fight Club -- male fragility, ego, violence, and social anger. Christian Bale portrays an unsettling killer with a soulless smile. Bale’s performance and surreal over-the-top sequences serve to create an intriguing and unforgettable film.


The Empire Strikes Back

The influence of the Star Wars franchise unquestionably permeates throughout pop culture. While A New Hope is probably my favorite, I would argue The Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the franchise. Directed by Irvin Kershner, it’s an excellent follow-up to A New Hope. It continues the franchise's revolutionary visual effects and has some of the most iconic moments in cinema.


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards is a poignant but dark film about a woman who rents three billboards outside her town to criticize the failure of the police in solving the rape and murder of her daughter. The film deals with the grief and the drama of a small town that is reeling from the effects of the controversial signs. The film offers Oscar-winning performances from Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell.



The General

You know a film is great if it stands the test of time. The General does just that. This 1926 silent film co-directed by Clyde Bruckman and its star Buster Keaton follows Johnnie Gray, a man who is thrust into a train chase to save the woman he loves. It is a slapstick comedy that features daring stunts by the remarkable Keaton. The film is a fun spectacle, and while it is narratively simple, it does what it strives to do perfectly.


Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

The follow-up to 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse, Across the Spider-Verse is as much, if not more, of an impressive animated spectacle than its predecessor, blending and referencing a variety of artistic styles into its gorgeous visuals. Visuals aside, the film delivers a great narrative with a deep subtext commenting on media and pop culture.



1996’s Scream, directed by Wes Craven, is a meta-commentary on the horror genre that is witty not only in its writing but also its direction. Both humorous and tense, Scream is a great film that delivers comedy without forsaking its horror roots.


Batman Begins

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is arguably the best live-action superhero film series ever made -- with character-defining performances that have contributed to the push of Batman and his rogues gallery into decidedly darker themes. While The Dark Knight has a riveting performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker, Batman Begins stands out as a better film.


Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Monty Python’s parody of Arthurian legend is, while not necessarily an expertly crafted story with complex characters and themes, an expertly crafted farce and a helluva time. The self-aware comedy duels between wit and stupidity, offering up a charming film that is hard to not love.


12 Angry Men

This 1957 legal drama concerns a jury – with Henry Fonda leading an impressive cast -- as they vote to convict or acquit a minority teenager for murder. The film shows characters butt heads as they clash on the topics of ethics, morality, and bias.



Like Scream, Zombieland parodies elements of pop culture. The film sheds most aspects of horror, while poking fun at the tropes and oversaturation of the genre. Zombieland is a fun parody of zombie media with a great cast featuring Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, and Jesse Eisenberg.



The Incredibles

Unfortunately, animated films are largely underappreciated. But almost any Pixar film could earn a spot on a best-films list. However, I chose The Incredibles because of its great sense of style, or perhaps considering the number of superhero films on this list, my predisposition for them as a child of the 2000s. The clever, pun-intended soundtrack and stylized character designs create a unique aesthetic.


For Highbrow Magazine


not popular
Bottom Slider: 
In Slider