The Best-Looking Movies of the 20th Century

The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. In honor of the occasion, they’ve put together a list of The 100 Best-Photographed Films. Members submitted nominations, and then an overall list was created and voted on to pare it down to 100. They limited it to the 20th century, including the year 2000, as Arthur C. Clarke would remind us.   That was probably to avoid having too many people vote for the work of themselves or their friends. Rather than having an invidious ranking of all of them, they just broke the list into the Top Ten, and the worthy 90.   They’ll be updating the list with more information about the films throughout the year.

I’ve included the raw list at the bottom of this post, and added the directors for all the movies. Films in the top ten are in bold.  Let’s also answer a few questions about it:

Q: Who has worked on the most of these films?

A: Here are all the cinematographers who have two or more films, or one in the top ten:

Cinematographer Number Films
Vittorio Storaro 5 The Conformist (1970), Last Tango in Paris (1972), Apocalypse Now (1979), Reds (1981), The Last Emperor (1987)
Gordon Willis 5 Klute (1971), The Godfather (1972), The Godfather: Part II (1974), All the President’s Men (1976), Manhattan (1979)
Conrad Hall 5 In Cold Blood (1967), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Searching For Bobby Fischer (1993), American Beauty (1999)
John Alcott 4 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), The Shining (1980)
Caleb Deschanel 4 The Black Stallion (1979), Being There (1979), The Right Stuff (1983), The Natural (1984)
Vilmos Zsigmond 3 McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), The Deer Hunter (1978)
Freddie Young 2 Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Michael Chapman 2 Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980)
Owen Roizman 2 The French Connection (1971), The Exorcist (1973)
Gregg Toland 2 The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Citizen Kane (1941)
Jack Cardiff 2 Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948)
Robert Surtees 2 The Graduate (1967), The Last Picture Show (1971)
Haskell Wexler 2 Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Stanley Cortez 2 The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Janusz Kaminski 2 Schindler’s List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Robert Burks 2 Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959)
Jordan Cronenweth 1 Blade Runner (1982)
Néstor Almendros 1 Days of Heaven (1978)
Geoffrey Unsworth 1 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

I should know more about Vittorio Storaro given that great list. Gordon Willis is much better known, and rightly so given what he has worked on. Note that Conrad Hall’s films span 32 years, from In Cold Blood in 1967 to American Beauty in 1999 – that’s a tremendous career.

Q: Directors also have great input to a film’s look – who among them shows up the most?

Director Number Films
Stanley Kubrick 5 Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), The Shining (1980)
Steven Spielberg 4 Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Empire of the Sun (1987), Schindler’s List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Francis Ford Coppola 3 The Godfather (1972), The Godfather: Part II (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979)
Bernardo Bertolucci 3 The Conformist (1970), Last Tango in Paris (1972), The Last Emperor (1987)
David Lean 3 Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Orson Welles 3 Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Touch of Evil (1958)
Ridley Scott 3 The Duellists (1977), Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982)
John Ford 3 The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), The Searchers (1956)
Martin Scorsese 2 Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980)
Terrence Malick 2 Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998)
William Friedkin 2 The French Connection (1971), The Exorcist (1973)
Akira Kurosawa 2 Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954)
Mike Nichols 2 Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), The Graduate (1967)
Wim Wenders 2 Paris, Texas (1984), Wings of Desire (1987)
Bob Fosse 2 Cabaret (1972), All that Jazz (1979)
Alfred Hitchcock 2 Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959)
Alan J. Pakula 2 Klute (1971), All the President’s Men (1976)
Miloš Forman 2 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Amadeus (1984)
Michael Powell;Emeric Pressburger 2 Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948)
Victor Fleming 2 The Wizard of Oz (1939), Gone with the Wind (1939)

Kubrick and Spielberg are no surprise, and all of the top few are known for the gorgeous look of their films. Note, though, that the big SF directors George Lucas and James Cameron don’t appear at all. They seem to be somewhat discounting effects-heavy movies, although Blade Runner, Alien , and 2001 still make the cut.

Q: When were these films made?

Decade Number
1920s 3
1930s 2
1940s 9
1950s 10
1960s 17
1970s 26
1980s 17
1990s 15
2000s 1

The 1970s were a good decade!   As many have noted, it was a peak for Hollywood, before blockbusters conquered all.

Q: What does the full list look like?

Here it is in date order. It’s here in spreadsheet form. Note that most of the cinematographers belong to the ASC, unsurprisingly.   They have 66 out of the 105 people listed, followed by 19 from the BSC, the British Society of Cinematographers, and 8 from the AIC, the Italian Society of Cinematographers.  

So have a look at all of these films, preferably on a big screen!

Film Cinematographer(s) Director(s)
Sunrise (1927) Charles Rosher Sr., ASC; Karl Struss, ASC F. W. Murnau
Metropolis (1927) Karl Freund, ASC; Günther Rittau Fritz Lang
Napoleon (1927) Leonce-Henri Burel; Jules Kruger; Joseph-Louis Mundwiller Abel Gance
Gone with the Wind (1939) Ernest Haller, ASC Victor Fleming
The Wizard of Oz (1939) Harold Rosson, ASC Victor Fleming
The Grapes of Wrath (1940) Gregg Toland, ASC John Ford
How Green Was My Valley (1941) Arthur C. Miller, ASC John Ford
Citizen Kane (1941) Gregg Toland, ASC Orson Welles
Casablanca (1942) Arthur Edeson, ASC Michael Curtiz
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) Stanley Cortez, ASC Orson Welles
Black Narcissus (1947) Jack Cardiff, BSC Michael Powell;Emeric Pressburger
The Bicycle Thief (1948) Carlo Montuori, Vittoria De Sica
The Red Shoes (1948) Jack Cardiff, BSC Michael Powell;Emeric Pressburger
The Third Man (1949) Robert Krasker, BSC Carol Reed
Sunset Boulevard (1950) John Seitz, ASC Billy Wilder
Rashomon (1950) Hazuo Miyagawa Akira Kurosawa
Seven Samurai (1954) Asakazu Nakai Akira Kurosawa
On the Waterfront (1954) Boris Kaufman, ASC Elia Kazan
The Night of the Hunter (1955) Stanley Cortez, ASC Charles Laughton
The Searchers (1956) Winton C. Hoch, ASC John Ford
Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) Jack Hilyard, BSC David Lean
Touch of Evil (1958) Russell Metty, ASC Orson Welles
Vertigo (1958) Robert Burks, ASC Alfred Hitchcock
North by Northwest (1959) Robert Burks, ASC Alfred Hitchcock
Breathless (1960) Raoul Coutard Jean-Luc Goddard
Last Year at Marienbad (1961) Sacha Vierny Alain Resnais
Lawrence of Arabia (1962) Freddie Young, BSC David Lean
Hud (1963) James Wong Howe, ASC Martin Ritt
8 ½ (1963) Gianni Di Venanzo Federico Fellini
I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba) (1964) Sergei Urusevsky Mikhail Kalatozov
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) Gilbert Taylor, BSC Stanley Kubrick
Doctor Zhivago (1965) Freddie Young, BSC David Lean
The Battle of Algiers (1966) Marcello Gatti Gillo Pontecorvo
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) Haskell Wexler, ASC Mike Nichols
In Cold Blood (1967) Conrad Hall, ASC Richard Brooks
Cool Hand Luke (1967) Conrad Hall, ASC Stuart Rosenberg
The Graduate (1967) Robert Surtees, ASC Mike Nichols
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) Tonino Delli Colli, AIC Sergio Leone
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Geoffrey Unsworth, BSC; John Alcott, BSC Stanley Kubrick
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) Conrad Hall, ASC George Roy Hill
The Wild Bunch (1969) Lucien Ballard, ASC Sam Peckinpah
The Conformist (1970) Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC Bernardo Bertolucci
The Last Picture Show (1971) Robert Surtees, ASC Peter Bogdanovich
A Clockwork Orange (1971) John Alcott, BSC Stanley Kubrick
The French Connection (1971) Owen Roizman, ASC William Friedkin
Klute (1971) Gordon Willis, ASC Alan J. Pakula
McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, HSC Robert Altman
Last Tango in Paris (1972) Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC Bernardo Bertolucci
The Godfather (1972) Gordon Willis, ASC Francis Ford Coppola
Cabaret (1972) Geoffery Unsworth, BSC Bob Fosse
The Exorcist (1973) Owen Roizman, ASC William Friedkin
Chinatown (1974) John Alonzo, ASC Roman Polanski
The Godfather: Part II (1974) Gordon Willis, ASC Francis Ford Coppola
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) Haskell Wexler, ASC Miloš Forman
Barry Lyndon (1975) John Alcott, BSC Stanley Kubrick
All the President’s Men (1976) Gordon Willis, ASC Alan J. Pakula
Taxi Driver (1976) Michael Chapman, ASC Martin Scorsese
The Duellists (1977) Frank Tidy, BSC Ridley Scott
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, HSC Steven Spielberg
The Deer Hunter (1978) Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, HSC Michael Cimino
Days of Heaven (1978) Néstor Almendros, ASC Terrence Malick
Manhattan (1979) Gordon Willis, ASC Woody Allen
The Black Stallion (1979) Caleb Deschanel, ASC Carroll Ballard
Apocalypse Now (1979) Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC Francis Ford Coppola
Being There (1979) Caleb Deschanel, ASC Hal Ashby
Alien (1979) Derek Vanlint, CSC Ridley Scott
All that Jazz (1979) Giuseppe Rotunno, ASC, AIC Bob Fosse
The Shining (1980) John Alcott, BSC Stanley Kubrick
Raging Bull (1980) Michael Chapman, ASC Martin Scorsese
Das Boot (1981) Jost Vacano, ASC Wolfgang Petersen
Chariots of Fire (1981) David Watkin, BSC Hugh Hudson
Reds (1981) Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC Warren Beatty
Blade Runner (1982) Jordan Cronenweth, ASC Ridley Scott
Fanny and Alexander (1982) Sven Nykvist, ASC Ingmar Bergman
The Right Stuff (1983) Caleb Deschanel, ASC Philip Kaufman
Paris, Texas (1984) Robby Müller, NSC, BVK Wim Wenders
The Natural (1984) Caleb Deschanel, ASC Barry Levinson
Amadeus (1984) Miroslav Ondricek, ASC, ACK Miloš Forman
Brazil (1985) Roger Pratt, BSC Terry Gilliam
The Mission (1986) Chris Menges, ASC, BSC Roland Joffé
Empire of the Sun (1987) Allen Daviau, ASC Steven Spielberg
The Last Emperor (1987) Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC Bernardo Bertolucci
Wings of Desire (1987) Henri Alekan Wim Wenders
Mississippi Burning (1988) Peter Biziou, BSC Alan Parker
Raise the Red Lantern (1991) Fei Zhao Zhang Yimou
JFK (1991) Robert Richardson, ASC Oliver Stone
Baraka (1992) Ron Fricke Ron Fricke
Unforgiven (1992) Jack Green, ASC Clint Eastwood
Schindler’s List (1993) Janusz Kaminski Steven Spielberg
Trois Coulieurs: Bleu (1993) Slawomir Idziak, PSC Krzysztof Kieślowski
Searching For Bobby Fischer (1993) Conrad Hall, ASC Steven Zaillian
The Shawshank Redemption (1994) Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC Frank Darabont
Seven (1995) Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC David Fincher
The English Patient (1996) John Seale, ASC, ACS Anthony Minghella
L. A. Confidential (1997) Dante Spinotti, ASC, AIC Curtis Hanson
Saving Private Ryan (1998) Janusz Kaminski Steven Spielberg
The Thin Red Line (1998) John Toll, ASC Terrence Malick
American Beauty (1999) Conrad Hall, ASC Sam Mendes
The Matrix (1999) Bill Pope, ASC The Wachowski Brothers
In the Mood for Love (2000) Christopher Doyle, HKSC Wong Kar-wai

 

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