These Are The Clever Movies That Film Snobs Pretend To Want To Watch... But Never Actually Do

By James O Malley on at

Hey, weren’t the Oscars exciting? How exciting to see films like Five Billboards, Phantom Thread and The Shape of Water recognised! The awards were well deserved!

Well, I assume so anyway. Because here’s the thing… I haven’t seen any of them.

I like to think I’m pretty clever: I went to university. I have a Master’s Degree. I once went on The Weakest Link and won. But I always find it a bit embarrassing when talking to my friends about films. The problem is that while in principle I’d love to watch all of the high-brow art films that the pseuds all rave about, the truth is that I’m much happier in the cinema with a bucket of popcorn and the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Realistically, I’m only ever going to find out who Greta Gerwig is if her next project is Mission Impossible 7.

So I watched the Oscars coverage with this sense of shame hanging over me - that somehow I wasn’t smart enough to appreciate real art, like films about women who get romantically entangled with fish.

But then it hit me: Perhaps I’m not the only one? What if there are loads of people out there who would say they want to watch all of the clever, art-house films - but never actually do?

The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance

To find out, I turned to the website Letterboxd. It’s essentially the same as Amazon's GoodReads but for films instead of books, and lets film fans keep a log of the films they’ve seen and would like to see - along with hosting reviews and the like.

I wrote some code that downloaded the names of just over 220,000 users (which I think is most of the users on the site), and then picked 10% of them at random as a sample. And then from that 10%, downloaded their “to-watch” lists. With this data, I was then able to tot up which films put in the most appearances on to-watch lists. Easy… right?

And it turns out, now looking at the data, that, well, I’m right. After filtering for films released before 2010, so that film fans have no excuses not to have caught them by now, the resulting list is full of ultra-worthy Oscar-bait and the sort of films which require you to stroke your beard and wear a beret to watch.

Top of the list is 1954’s Seven Samurai, which is routinely lauded by critics in “greatest of all time lists”, and second is 2001 Mulholland Drive, which is often called the best film made so far this century. Then as you go down, you’ll notice dozens of critically acclaimed films that you’ve definitely heard of, but have never actually bothered to fire up on Amazon Video - like Taxi Driver, Schindler’s List and Lawrence of Arabia.

And yes, of course Citizen Kane, which is widely considered the greatest film ever made is on there. Come on - it’s only been out for 77 years! Have you really been that busy for that long?

Here’s the full Top 100 films that Letterboxd users want to see, filtered to films released before 2010, on the basis that these are films that people definitely have no excuse about not having caught up with by now, if they really did actually want to watch them.

(The number in the second set of brackets is the number of the 20,000 or so sample that had the film listed as “to watch”).

1) Seven Samurai (1954) (838)
2) Mulholland Drive (2001) (821)
3) Apocalypse Now (1979) (796)
4) Come and See (1985) (774)
5) Magnolia (1999) (744)
6) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) (729)
7) Vertigo (1958) (724)
8) Taxi Driver (1976) (691)
9) Stalker (1979) (691)
10) Metropolis (1927) (682)
11) Schindler's List (1993) (672)
12) Persona (1966) (666)
13) 8½ (1963) (659)
14) There Will Be Blood (2007) (659)
15) Synecdoche, New York (2008) (659)
16) Requiem for a Dream (2000) (652)
17) Lawrence of Arabia (1962) (644)
18) Citizen Kane (1941) (633)
19) Solaris (1972) (633)
20) Barry Lyndon (1975) (631)
21) Eraserhead (1977) (628)
22) In the Mood for Love (2000) (625)
23) Lost in Translation (2003) (625)
24) Dogtooth (2009) (615)
25) Raging Bull (1980) (611)
26) Brazil (1985) (607)
27) Eyes Wide Shut (1999) (605)
28) Enter the Void (2009) (600)
29) 12 Angry Men (1957) (595)
30) The Godfather (1972) (589)
31) Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) (581)
32) A Clockwork Orange (1971) (581)
33) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) (577)
34) Being John Malkovich (1999) (572)
35) Badlands (1973) (567)
36) Amélie (2001) (565)
37) Chinatown (1974) (561)
38) One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) (560)
39) City of God (2002) (554)
40) Moon (2009) (554)
41) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) (551)
42) Casablanca (1942) (547)
43) Rosemary's Baby (1968) (545)
44) GoodFellas (1990) (545)
45) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) (543)
46) The Thin Red Line (1998) (543)
47) Lolita (1962) (541)
48) Blue Velvet (1986) (541)
49) Suspiria (1977) (536)
50) Paris, Texas (1984) (536)
51) Pan's Labyrinth (2006) (535)
52) Boogie Nights (1997) (534)
53) My Neighbor Totoro (1988) (533)
54) The Godfather: Part II (1974) (530)
55) Children of Men (2006) (522)
56) Rear Window (1954) (520)
57) M (1931) (519)
58) The Elephant Man (1980) (518)
59) The Seventh Seal (1957) (518)
60) Before Sunset (2004) (516)
61) Paths of Glory (1957) (508)
62) No Country for Old Men (2007) (505)
63) The Pianist (2002) (504)
64) Oldboy (2003) (503)
65) Tokyo Story (1953) (500)
66) Dogville (2003) (499)
67) Chungking Express (1994) (499)
68) Ikiru (1952) (497)
69) Punch-Drunk Love (2002) (492)
70) Grave of the Fireflies (1988) (492)
71) Mirror (1975) (491)
72) Psycho (1960) (489)
73) Zodiac (2007) (487)
74) Scarface (1983) (486)
75) Before Sunrise (1995) (483)
76) Le Samouraï (1967) (481)
77) Memento (2000) (480)
78) Fargo (1996) (480)
79) The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) (476)
80) Princess Mononoke (1997) (475)
81) Full Metal Jacket (1987) (474)
82) Leon: The Professional (1994) (473)
83) Ran (1985) (472)
84) Yi Yi (2000) (472)
85) Spirited Away (2001) (472)
86) Akira (1988) (472)
87) Cinema Paradiso (1988) (470)
88) Blade Runner (1982) (470)
89) Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) (468)
90) Once Upon a Time in America (1984) (468)
91) The Deer Hunter (1978) (467)
92) Brokeback Mountain (2005) (466)
93) Videodrome (1983) (466)
94) A Serious Man (2009) (466)
95) The 400 Blows (1959) (465)
96) Perfect Blue (1997) (465)
97) Hunger (2008) (464)
98) Dog Day Afternoon (1975) (462)
99) Adaptation. (2002) (461)
100) Memories of Murder (2003) (460)

I think I’ve only seen three of the films on the list. And don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Metropolis was exciting in 1927, but as impressive as it is to see moving images, I don’t need a twenty minute sequence of the workers shuffling into work on foot.

So what has this data taught us? Perhaps it shows that for all of the bluster and pretension, film fans - especially those who like film so much that they register on a website like Letterboxd - aren’t quite as into the clever stuff as much as they like to let on? Clearly everyone pretends that they want to watch clever films - but clearly, many people never actually get around to it.

So it’s okay. Don’t feel bad. You can go and watch Avengers again completely guilt free - because that’s what everyone else is really doing anyway.

James O'Malley is Interim Editor of Gizmodo UK and tweets as @Psythor.