Barry Norman’s 100 Greatest Films of All Time

What better way to pay tribute to Britain's best loved film critic than with a list of his greatest ever movies?

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Anyone in Britain who was old enough to be allowed to stay up late watching television in the 1970s, 80s and 90s knew Barry Norman as the man who introduced generations to the wonders of film. But at Radio Times we also knew him as a colleague who, week in and week out, wrote us a column that kept his voice alive in our readers’ heads long after he had retired from broadcasting.

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A few years ago we asked him to compile a list of his 100 greatest films and he grumbled a little. How could he choose just 100?

But what a list. From the 1930s to the present day it pretty much covers his life in film and is full of insight, warmth, wonderfully wrought phrases and the odd joke. A lot like the man himself. We shall miss him enormously.

See the full list below…

Adventure

1. The Adventures of Robin Hood 1938 U 101min 

The recent Russell Crowe/Cate Blanchett Robin Hood runs this one close, but the Michael Curtiz version starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland gets my vote as a peerless adventure movie for its vivacity and, most of all, its conviction. This is not a grim, earnest, tell-it-like-it-was take on one of England’s favourite legends. It’s joyous as well as serious and you get the feeling that everyone involved believed implicitly in the story they were telling. Besides, Flynn was a great Robin Hood. 

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2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2000 12 115min  

The first martial arts movie for grown-ups. Ang Lee’s film is far more than breathtaking stunts and action — a rooftop pursuit, a battle in the swaying treetops, for instance — it also deals with romance, love, duty and sacrifice, as Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh go in search of the stolen sword of Green Destiny. The special effects are state of the art, the story much stronger than is usual in such films. Note: shun the dubbed version, stick to the original in Mandarin.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLpZ_5bHmo8?ecver=1

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3. The Dark Knight 2008 12 145min Colour 

Christopher Nolan’s second Batman offering takes the comic-book movie to a new level — darker, deeper and more serious than the average superhero caper and all the better for that. Gotham City is in its usual state of criminal chaos, mostly down to the Joker, the late Heath Ledger, who won a posthumous Oscar after stealing every scene he was in. That’s no mean feat when the cast also includes Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Christian Bale, as Bruce Wayne/Batman.

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4. Deliverance 1972 18 104min Colour 

Four city dwellers, led by Burt Reynolds, find their “back to nature” weekend in the Appalachian wilderness turned into a nightmare when they fall foul of vicious, inbred mountain dwellers. The ensuing violence — male rape included — in what becomes a struggle for survival is graphically portrayed, not to glamourise it but to reveal its horror. There’s also an early ecological warning about the damage man is doing to nature. In his first major starring role, Reynolds gives his finest performance.

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5. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 1989 PG 121min

All the Indy adventures — except the most recent, The Crystal Skull — are great romps, but this is the best of them because the presence of a grizzled Sean Connery as Indy’s father brings out the best in Harrison Ford. Dad and “Junior” share the same woman as they seek to beat the Nazis in the quest for the Holy Grail. All utter nonsense, of course, but very well done and thrilling entertainment. Indy even gets Hitler’s autograph at a Nazi rally. 

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6. Jaws 1975 12 118min

Everyone loves Jaws. Well, maybe a few curmudgeons don’t, but it’s their loss. It scares the hell out of you, what with the great white shark of the title snacking on swimmers off the holiday island of Amity and John Williams’s ominous music that announces its presence. But the human characters are strong, too — people we care about — and Spielberg handles the mounting tension and then the relief from it superbly. Terrific performances from Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1fu_sA7XhE?ecver=1

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7. Gladiator 2000 15 148min

With this, Ridley Scott revived the honourable tradition of the Roman epic. Russell Crowe plays Maximus, the general who becomes a gladiator after being betrayed by his patricidal emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Plenty of stirring action, both in and out of the arena, and an intelligent storyline that reveals the intrigue and turmoil of the Roman Empire. Crowe won the Oscar with his bravura performance and a starry supporting cast includes Oliver Reed in his last film, Richard Harris and Derek Jacobi.

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8. Lawrence of Arabia 1962 PG 217min

Practically every superlative you can think of has been applied to David Lean’s epic account of how TE Lawrence enlisted the Arab tribes on Britain’s side in the First World War, and it deserves them all. It’s by no means all action (although what there is is stunning) because it has the courage to take its time to explore the sexually and socially ambivalent character of Lawrence — a magnetic performance by Peter O’Toole — and establish the superbly photographed desert as almost a co-star in the film.

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9. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World 2003 12 132min

An adaptation of two of Patrick O’Brian’s novels about life in the British navy during the Napoleonic Wars, Peter Weir’s exuberant film is that rarity — an epic for thinking people, full of intelligence and wit. It includes two of the most exciting, brutal and violent sea battles ever filmed, but at its heart is the fascinating relationship between bluff Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) of HMS Surprise and his intellectual ship’s surgeon Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), both excellent. This is one of the few films to which I wish they’d make a sequel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oyQGHHz8U8?ecver=1

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10. Seven Samurai 1954 PG 190min

If you’ve seen The Magnificent Seven, you’ll know the basic plot. But Akira Kurosawa’s original, set in Japan in the 1600s, is a deeper, more complex film. Here the motives of the samurai in defending the villagers against the bandits for a minimal reward are much clearer than in John Sturges’s remake. They do it because they must; it’s what the samurai do. The cultural differences between the villagers and their defenders are more strongly emphasised, too. This is simply a great film by one of Japan’s greatest directors. 

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