Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book and Club – 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Several years ago I ran across the book 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.  The title, combined with a cover featuring Janet Leigh screaming in the shower in Psycho, made me chuckle.  I flipped through the 950 page hardcover book and my immediate thought was “Wow!”  Even though it was a little more expensive than usual, I knew I had to have it.

From what I can tell, I bought the book the first year it was published (2003).  It covered movies from 1902 to 2002.  This book proved to be popular and it has spawned a number of similar titles for Books, Paintings, Comics, Music, Video Games, etc.  There have also been several more editions of the Movies book as the newest films are added each year and some older ones are removed to make room.

The book is an excellent reference for the movie lover.  It has write ups for every one of the movies, along with photos, cast/crew lists, Oscar nominations/wins, and other information.  The movies appear in the book in the order they were released.  If you do not know what year a movie came out, there is an index by the title.  There is also an index by the Director’s name.  If you are in the mood for a particular kind of movie, the films are also grouped into genres in yet another index.

I had worked off other lists of movies in order to sometimes get recommendations for what to watch.  This book was a natural for me.  Because of its price, and because the contents are heavily weighted toward “critics’ films” and not popular films, it is probably not a fitting resource for the person who watches only a couple movies a month.

Even with 1,001 entries to allow for a wide range of movies there are still some real head scratchers for the films that are not included (i.e. Inherit the Wind.)  Because the book is compiled by critics they also have to show off here and there by listing some completely obscure movie from East Snowshoe, Antarctica to show just how much of a cinephile they are.  On the other hand, they also have some obvious attempts to be “cool” and show they are not just movie nerds (i.e. Top Gun).

The creation of any movie list is almost immediately followed by the crossing off of the movies that have already been seen.  In some people’s cases this is then followed by attempts to see some of the remaining movies so that even more can be crossed off.  In a few people’s cases, this is followed by a goal to see every single movie in the list, no matter how obscure it is.

I’m somewhere in the middle.  I have not made a specific effort to pick movies out of the book in order to watch more of them, but by seeing movies recommended in other places I have ended up knocking off quite a few.  I have used the book to check off those that I have watched.  I just did a count and I have seen 512 of the 1,089 movies in the list.

What’s that you ask?  What’s with the “1,089” instead of 1,001?  Well, I mentioned above that newer editions have come out and this has changed some of the movies in the list.  Since the lists are ever evolving, most people that are trying to see all of the movies just leave all the titles in their lists.  This means the total number of movies grows by a handful each year.  Keeping all the titles in the list also eliminates the frustration of having a bunch of films that you have already seen get removed, as if the effort to track them down and watch them was wasted. 

I just joined a group of bloggers who write and submit reviews of selected films from this list – one film per week.  People that join are not required to do a review each week, but only to submit what they can, when they can.  The site where this takes place is named, fittingly enough, 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die Blog Club.  You can find it here.  It is organized and run by Squish at filmsquish.com.

In conjunction with this, look for a new Label that I will be using on my site.  It is titled “Movies – 1001 Movies”.  Any film from the list that I review will carry this Label, in addition to the normal ones for the rating, decade, category, etc.  I have gone back through all my posts and added this Label to the existing reviews that qualify.  If you are interested in seeing what those movies are, you can click on this link.

If you are a movie lover, and especially if you are a movie reviewer/blogger, then I highly recommend you pick up a copy of this book.  Yes, you can find the names of the movies in the list a number of places, including at the Club site, but the book gives you a lot more content about each and every one.  You may be hesitant to get the book when it’s going to change next year.  Well, I still have just my original copy.  I plan to buy the latest and greatest edition 10 years after this book, so in other words, 2013.  I figure that gives it time to have enough turnover in the list to be significant enough to warrant a new copy.  I recommend you do the same.

[While readying this post I just noticed that Amazon is selling the latest edition of the book, new, for almost half off the $35 cover price.  That's a hell of a deal.  I paid full price for my copy.]



  1. Welcome to the club Chip! I'm glad you joined! I'll try to catch up on your reviews. I'll buy the book soon either as I really love the current cover.

  2. Great undertaking. I got this book as a gift a few years back. I haven't checked how many I've seen, but I've definitely seen a great deal. Maybe I should join the club.

  3. @Michael Parent - Thanks!

    @Dave Enkosky - "Maybe I should join the club." Go ahead and check it out. I was concerned at first that the format of my blog (categories of related movies that I would recommend) would not lend itself to a weekly review of sometimes offputting movies, but it was explained to me that it is not an assignment, but simply something you can participate in, when you can.

  4. Chip, this sounds like a great project. I received the latest version of this book (with Natalie Portman from Black Swan on the cover) for Christmas and have just browsed through it so far. I know there are a ton of movies that I still need to see in here and agree that some strange choices are in the book. It seems like a great resource, and I've enjoyed reading the blurbs on the movies I've already seen.

  5. @Dan - thanks for commenting. I, too, have just read the write ups for the films I have seen. You never know whether a spoiler will sneak into a movie description, so I have been hesitant to read too deeply on the films I haven't seen yet.

  6. I've been able to buy a 1st edition of the book this week following the reading of your post! I might wait til 2013 and buy the tenth edition like you intend to do! I also caress the idea of buying every edition and start a collection...

  7. @Michael Parent - Good for you. Based on the different covers shown at the Club sight, there have been 8 editions, which would mean one each year. I've seen a couple of the versions on the shelves over the years, but some of the covers were new to me.

  8. Just realized that I never commented on this post like I had wanted to when I saw it...

    Like you, I love this book and have the first edition of it (though it is so worn that the side spine cover has fallen off). If it isn't the most detailed critical analysis ever, it does one of the best all encompassing jobs I've seen of pulling disparate films into a vague "canon" (you'll never get the perfect canon of films, but this ain't bad).

    I would disagree with you regarding how you framed the inclusion of both obscure and popular films though...There's no doubt a bunch of stuff I'd never heard of as well as some titles I will likely NEVER see, but I think they've spread those out reasonably well and included experimental films where it makes sense. If you are attempting to go broad with your coverage, you really do need to include Stan Brakhage, Michael Snow and Maya Deren ("Meshes of the Afternoon" is really wonderful). As for "Top Gun", it sure isn't my pick for favourite anything, but I really like the context they gave it to explain the inclusion - it was one of the first big 80s style blockbusters and, again, if you want to provide a broad coverage of styles/periods this is a prime example of the big 80s flick.

    Granted, I agree with Inherit The Wind - helluva film.

    I recently cracked the 700 mark of films I've seen in the book. Looking through it, I could possibly hit the upper 800s or even crack 900 if I REALLY tried, but I have no compunction to complete the list. I use it (along with many other books and lists) to help drive further viewing. Many of the descriptions do indeed contain spoilers, but typically only in the final paragraph, so you can still get an idea of whether you might want to watch a film listed.

    I actually namechecked the book recently on a friend's podcast as we discussed how we choose films for viewing.

    Great post overall - I think both newbies and cineastes would enjoy it. And at $18, it's a freaking steal.

  9. @Bob Turnbull - thanks for the long comment. I tend to have a bit of a cynical attitude towards professional movie critics. While a friend will recommend something that they truly think you'll like, critics that write for major publications tend to sometimes recommend something just because it's different from the patterns they've seen in the prior ten thousand films they watched. While this sometimes does lead to some truly wonderful discoveries, it also leads to some movies that are different just for the sake of being different. It was the latter kinds of films that I was referring to. I completely agree that no list of movies will ever be definitive.

    On his 1001plus.blogspot.com blog SJHoneywell has done a great job at tracking down some really obscure movies. At one point recently I saw him comment that he's found all but 20 or so of them. If you're ever looking for one, he's the person I'd start with for advice.

    I do have to admit that since making this post and joining that club I have started actively watching some of the films from the book, rather than figuring I will see them "someday". I've also been trying to watch all the Best Picture nominees over the years. I've got less than 10 left to have seen every one from 1980 to the present. I recently saw 1984's A Soldier's Story, which I liked quite a bit. For both of these I will probably go after the "low hanging fruit" and see what Netflix has available to watch instantly.

  10. I have just discovered your blog and club. How do I join the club? I have been working my way through all of the films in the 1001 book and also write a blog. On Fridays I review movies and DVDs I have seen that week plus a film from the book. I have 262 films to go. If you are interested, you can fine me here http://rosythereviewer.blogspot.com/2015/05/far-from-madding-crowd-and-week-in.html

    1. It's great to find a new person interested in the list. Unfortunately, the site for the blog club experienced server problems late last year. When it happened I reached out to the hoster to make sure he was okay, but he doesn't seem to have the time or energy to address the server issues. I checked just now and the site is still showing error messages. You can still get to all the films that have been reviewed, and the links to the various bloggers who participated, but no new content has gone up in 2015. If you don't have it already, here is the main page for it: http://www.filmsquish.com/guts/?q=node/4577

      Thanks for the link to your site. I will check it out when I get a chance. And if you experience trouble finding some of the films on the list, check out the 1,001 Movies wiki I help maintain. There's a link to it on the upper right of this site.

  11. Hi,

    this seems the place to go for us 1001movilievers. I started some months back my own project. To see the 1001 movies in 1001 days (2008 ed.). Today I make the 200. It it a quite interesting experience because most of them were unknown for me. I am no film critic but I find some on them quite attractive. For instance, today's film Odd Man Out. It's really impressive!

    My page is http://1001films1001days.tumblr.com
    Original edition is in Spanish: http://cinedel1al1001.tumblr.com/

    1. Good luck with your quest. That sounds like an interesting way to approach it. I took a look at your site. I'm not on Tumblr myself, so it was interesting to see that it could be used to post reviews along with pictures from the movies.

      Unfortunately, the 1001 Movies blog club I mentioned in this post is no longer active. The website it was hosted on had major issues and the webmaster never fixed them.

      However, here is a site of another person who completed the entire list, if you are interested. He has links to several other bloggers working on the 1,001 Movies list. http://1001plus.blogspot.com/

      And if you ever have trouble finding one of the movies, I have a link on the upper right of this page titled "1001 Movies Wiki" that might be able to help you get the film.