The best classic films from America

The best classic films from America

by Adriana Stein

Updated November 7, 2022

America has long been known for its deep roots in the film industry due to Hollywood. There are countless classic films that have influenced global cultures and societies as a result. So, if you want to get familiar with some of these oldies but goodies, here is a list of some of the best classic films from America.

Top 12 classic films from America

1. The Wizard of Oz

Year released: 1939

Starring actors: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger

The Wizard of Oz is likely one of the most popular classic American films in existence. It’s the movie that put the famous actress Judy Garland on the map and also inspired a lot of the movie traditions around the recreations of fairy tales. The story involves a girl named Dorothy Gale who is swept away with a tornado from her farm in Kansas and ends up in the magical land known as “Oz”. There she meets other magical creatures who help guide her back home, while also facing off with the Wicked Witch.

2. Citizen Kane

Year released: 1941

Starring actors: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore

If you’ve ever taken a film studies class, it will almost certainly include Citizen Kane, because it’s such a timeless classic. It also had a major influence on the film industry as a whole due to its clever use of chiaroscuro lighting (shadow play). Orson Welles, not only starred but also produced this story that depicted the life of an eccentric publishing billionaire, which was originally inspired by the life of William Randolph Hearst. It takes a mysterious tone and is a thriller that keeps you wanting to know more. 

3. Casablanca

Year released: 1942

Starring actors: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid

Set amidst WWII in Casablanca, Morocco this movie was the birthplace of the famous phrase “Here’s lookin’ at you kid”. It follows the struggles of expats who’ve left Europe to flee the war. The main character, Rick Blaine, runs into his former lover and her husband while in Morocco, but he soon finds out that her husband is a fugitive. Despite the tension, he decides to help them leave before they’re caught by the police.

4. The Godfather

Year released: 1972

Starring actors: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan

The Godfather can rightly be attributed to the movie industry’s development of the crime genre. The Godfather actually comes in a trilogy and launched both Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro to stardome. The movie follows an aging mob leader and the transition of the organization to his reluctant son.  

5. Pulp Fiction

Year released: 1994

Starring actors: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson

One of Quentin Tarantino’s most highly praised movies, Public Fiction weaves together the tales of four groups of people that end in violence and redemption. The story unfolds out of chronological order and features many award-winning monologues from Hollywood’s biggest names, leaving it as one of the most highly regarded postmodern films.

6. E.T. the Extraterrestrial

Year released: 1982 

Starring actors: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote

E.T. is a children’s classic that nearly all 90s kids saw and wished would happen to themselves. The story tells the tale of a friendly alien who came to earth and needs some help returning home. E.T. first encounters a boy named Elliott in his suburban California home. Soon after, he’s introduced to the sweet and thoughtful little girl, Gertie, and together they do everything they can to help E.T. go home. This is a great movie to watch if you want something cute and easy to understand.

7. Jaws

Year released: 1975

Starring actors: Roy Schneider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreys

Made famous mostly for the dramatic music, Jaws is a story about a killer shark who tries to eat everyone on a local beach. A sheriff, marine biologist, and an aging seafarer work together to bring him down. It’s not so much of a production masterpiece like other Steven Spielberg films, but it does captivate you with the drama.

8. Schindler’s List

Year released: 1993 

Starring actors: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley

Schindler’s list features a young Liam Neeson who plays Oskar Schindler, an industrialist who works to protect the Jewish workforce from Nazi persecution during WWII. While Schindler starts off as a greedy businessman, he turns into an unlikely humanitarian when he transforms his factory into a place of refuge for Jews. Based on a true story, he helped save 1100 Jews from being taken to Auschwitz. Definitely be prepared to shed a few tears on this one.

9. The Sound of Music

Year released: 1965

Starring actors: July Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Eleanor Parker

The Sound of Music quickly developed July Andrews’ career after the world was introduced to her beautiful singing skills. The film is set in Austria in the 1930s where a young woman named Maria fails to become a nun and needs to start a new chapter in her life. She ends up meeting Navy Captain Georg Von Trapp, who gives her a job as a governess to help raise his seven mischievous children due to the loss of his wife. She enlightens all their lives with her music and ends up feeling like a part of the family. The two eventually fall in love, even though the Captain is already engaged to another Baroness.

10. Grease

Year released: 1978

Starring actors: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing

Grease is likely one of the most famous musicals of all time and is remembered fondly across all different ages of the American public. It follows the story of a young couple in high school who fell in love over the summer, but then broke up. They’re later reintroduced at the same high school but trouble soon follows when their friends disapprove.

11. Gone with the Wind

Year released: 1939

Starring actors: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Thomas Mitchell

Gone with the Wind is considered one of the most famous romance movies of all time. Set during the troubled times of the US Civil War, the story follows the love triangles between a girl, her cousin, and a man that they’re both in love with. She also meets a new man at a party soon after and a complicated romance begins between them as well.

12. The Lord of the Rings

Year released: 2001

Starring actors: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom

The newest of the “classics”, the Lord of the Rings is a trilogy that is enchanted by many magical creatures. This one could also be seen as a classic New Zealand film. The world famous phrase “You shall not pass” coined by Gandalf comes from the first movie, the Fellowship of the Ring. The trilogy covers a group of hobbits who need to destroy a ring in order to remove evil from Earth. It contains some of the most epic battle scenes that are beautifully entwined with a love story, too.

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