Classic Movies Every Film Student Needs to See

An old film projector projecting onto a screen

Old doesn’t necessarily mean boring – dozens of cinematic masterpieces created during the twentieth century made history for being the best of the best. Even today, many are often considered mandatory viewing for any film student. Here are six classic movies that revolutionized the film industry and should be considered must-watches for aspiring moviemakers.

Citizen Kane

This film revolutionized the industry when it was released in 1941. The first feature film from Orson Welles, its director, producer and star, Citizen Kane has been praised for its influential use of music, lighting, cinematography and story structure. The nonlinear storytelling makes frequent use of flashbacks, an innovative tool at the time. These expert techniques have helped solidify the mystery of a publishing magnate’s dying word in the minds of millions since the film’s release decades ago.


With an expertly-written screenplay and big-name actors, this oft-quoted World War II film tells the timeless tale about two former lovers reuniting at a haven for refugees in Morocco, perfectly balancing an emotional love story with intellectual and political themes. The movie has only grown in popularity with time and is now considered one of the most excellent films from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

12 Angry Men

A drama taking place in the confines of one room, this 1957 movie incorporates themes of justice, morality and prejudice as a group of jurors discuss the conviction of an 18-year-old defendant on the basis of reasonable doubt. It is a compelling study in social psychology, with one juror attempting to persuade the others to assume his point of view over the course of an hour and a half.

Dr. Strangelove

Satire at its finest, this black comedy tackles the heavy topics of nuclear war, a central fear during the Cold War. The 1964 movie from Stanley Kubrick includes potent political commentary that have helped it become immortalized as one of the greatest films of all time.


This complex thriller from the legendary Alfred Hitchcock not only contains a suspenseful and haunting plot about an ex-police officer and his extreme fear of heights, but features a brilliantly composed score by Bernard Hermann.

Modern Times

Charlie Chaplin wrote, produced, directed and starred in this film, which follows the Little Tramp through his many (silent) adventures. The picture touched on many of the topics central to the U.S. during the Great Depression, including fears of unemployment and the increasing prevalence of technology, as immortalized by the iconic scenes of Chaplin’s comedic struggles with an assembly line. Not only is the film an entertaining example of Chaplin’s expertise, but it serves as a well-preserved time capsule of the 1930s.

If you hope to create legendary films like these, consider a program from Grand Canyon University’s College of Fine Arts and Production, such as the Bachelor of Arts in Digital Film With an Emphasis in Production, or explore other Performing Arts and Digital Arts degree options.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.