Greatest Movies: The Data

For several months—possibly almost a year at this point—I’ve been working my way through Empire magazine’s list of the 500 greatest movies of all time. I’ve seen 203 so far, including those that I’d already seen before the list was published.

You won’t be surprised to learn that my tracking of this project involves a spreadsheet full of colours and formulae. There’s even a pie chart depicting the fractions of movies seen by me, Eileen, both of us, or neither of us.


Yes, I have managed to find a girlfriend who’s willing to collaboratively update a spreadsheet of movie-watching history with me. That feeling you’re experiencing is either intense jealousy, or intense pity.

Since I already have a digital copy of the movie list in a form amenable to machine-reading, I thought I’d grab some stats from the list.

Greatest directors

There are 294 directors in the list, if you count directing teams, like Joel and Ethan Coen, as single directors. The majority of these directors, 194 of them, have only a single movie on the list. The other 100 directors account for the remaining 306 movies between them, with 27 directors having at least four movies on the list. Here are those 27, in order from most to least:

Movies Director
11 Steven Spielberg
8 Martin Scorsese
7 Stanley Kubrick
7 Alfred Hitchcock
6 Woody Allen
6 Tim Burton
6 Akira Kurosawa
5 Quentin Tarantino
5 Peter Jackson
5 Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
5 Joel & Ethan Coen
5 Francis Ford Coppola
5 Brian De Palma
5 Billy Wilder
4 William Wyler
4 Sidney Lumet
4 Sam Raimi
4 Robert Zemeckis
4 Rob Reiner
4 Richard Linklater
4 John Huston
4 Jean-Pierre Melville
4 James Cameron
4 Hayao Miyazaki
4 George Lucas
4 David Lynch
4 Christopher Nolan

I’m as big a fan of Steven Spielberg as anyone, and surely no-one would deny that Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Schindler’s List are deserving of their places on this list, but even I wouldn’t claim that a full eleven of Spielberg’s movies should be there. AI: Artificial Intelligence and the fourth Indiana Jones film are conspicuously out of place in that crowd.

Greatest decades

The modern bias in the selection of these movies is very obvious when you look at their distribution over time.

Great Movies by Decade

There are representatives of every decade of film since the 1920s, yet more than a fifth of the movies in the list are from this decade, before it’s even over. No recognition is given to the well established fact that Hollywood reached its peak in the mid-1980s.

However wrong I might think this list is—and I find it hard to imagine anyone ever getting it “right”—I’ve definitely found some real gems while watching the highest-rated movies. Most of the best one’s I’ve discovered, though, were not made in the 00s by Steven Spielberg.

2 Replies to “Greatest Movies: The Data”

  1. The best one on the list that I hadn’t already seen is The Big Lebowski. But I can’t really claim that I saw that one because of the list, since I had long planned to see it anyway.

    I really liked Jaws, but it doesn’t technically count either because I had seen it already many years ago. I just didn’t remember it very well, and certainly hadn’t appreciated it as much the first time—I was too young.

    Casablanca and Psycho were two that lived up to their reputations. But if you’re asking for obscure ones, I don’t think they qualify.

    Kind Hearts and Coronets was one of my favourites, and since I had no idea who was in it or what it was about before I saw it, I feel reasonable in counting it as an “obscure great”. It’s probably the best one that I wouldn’t have seen were it not for the list.

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