Your movie education starts here with nearly 160 films vital to a core understanding of American cinema.

What if you wanted to help a teenager, or really anybody who doesn’t watch movies, develop a more sophisticated taste in film?

I met someone recently who had only seen a few movies in her lifetime. It wasn’t that she didn’t like movies. She did.

She didn’t share her flimsy film education with any arrogance like, ‘I don’t own a television.” Watching movies was just something she hadn’t spent much time doing.

FAST FACT: USA Today reports the average movie goer will watch 5,000 films in their lifetime

She asked me what films she should watch to start catching up. That got me thinking about movies and how you’d even begin developing a movie literacy.

It’s a bit like wine, right? There’s a big difference between “Two Buck Chuck” and a Mossback 2013 Cabernet.

You don’t start with Mossback just like I don’t think you could jump into, “Citizen Kane” and appreciate what you’re watching without first building a bedrock to understand the magnitude of its genius.

Yet movies are like any other kind of art, you like what you like. Case in point:

Some people love abstract expressionist Mark Rothko, while others won’t ever “get it” no matter how much context you provide. That’s how it goes with movies. Some appreciate director Stanley Kubrick. Others don’t or won’t.

So what movies would make up a basic literacy of the medium?

Here would be my picks…

The Classics

“The Caine Mutiny,” “Hud,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Rear Window,” “Vertigo,” “North By Northwest,” “Gone with the Wind,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Nanook of the North” and “Singin’ in the Rain”

Science Fiction & Fantasy

“Blade Runner,” “Terminator,” “Terminator 2,” “Alien,” “Aliens,” “The Matrix”, “Star Wars,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi,” the “Lord of the Rings” Trilogy, the “Harry Potter” franchsie, “Metropolis,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Avatar,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” (1937), “Field of Dreams,” “Excalibur,” “Weird Science” and “Mad Max”


“Pale Rider,” “Unforgiven,” “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “The Searchers,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “Nashville”

Detective & Crime Noir

“LA. Confidential,” “Chinatown,” “Mulholland Drive,” “The Godfather” Trilogy, “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Public Enemy,” “Bullitt” and “Body Heat”

Stoner Detectives

“Inherent Vice,” “The Big Lebowski,” “Easy Rider” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”

Action & Adventure

“Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Jaws,” “The Dark Knight,” “Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2,” “Die Hard,” “Inception,” “Rashomon,” “Ben Hur,” “Enter the Dragon” and “Jurassic Park”


“Stripes,” “Caddyshack,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “The Hangover,” “Superbad,” “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “Modern Times,” “The Graduate,” “Airplane!” “Annie Hall,” “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” “Sixteen Candles,” “Breakfast Club” and “Seems Like Old Times”


“Saving Private Ryan,” “Platoon,” “Dunkirk,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “Apocalypse Now,” “The Thin Red Line,” “Schindler’s List,” The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” “Das Boot” and “Midway”


“Pleasantville,” “Fight Club,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Memento,” “12 Angry Men,” “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “Gandhi,” “Do The Right Thing,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Toy Story,” “Spirited Away,” “King Kong” (1933), “Wall Street” and “The Year of Living Dangerously”


“The Shining,” “The Cabin in the Woods” (2012), “The Thing” (1982) “The Witch,” “28 Days Later,” “Dracula,” “Se7en,” “Psycho” (1960), “Night of the Living Dead,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1923), “The Exorcist” (1973), “The Blair Witch Project”


“Knight of Cups,” “The Tree of Life,” “Boyhood,” “Fantastic Planet,” “Eraserhead,” “Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Wear Rabbit,” “Fantasia,” “Pink Floyd: The Wall,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”


“Casablanca,” “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” “A Walk on the Moon,” “Her,” “sex,lies & videotape,” “Blue Velvet,” “The Notebook,” “Up,” “Bridges of Madison County,” “The African Queen,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “9 1/2 Weeks,” “Risky Business,” “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “500 Days of Summer”

Now, you’re ready to watch, and fully appreciate, “Citizen Kane.”

This list represents the movies most people talk about and are taught in film classes. They’re generally considered some of the best and most important movies ever made.

Sure, that’s close to 160 movies to see in order to build a literacy. It’s worth it. These are some amazing films!

What essential films would you add to these categories?