In the late 1990s, the American Film Institute was already well known among the film community for their efforts for celebrating and preserving American Cinema, and well known to the public for their life achievement awards to an American filmmaker (director or actor). In 1998, AFI released on CBS, AFI’s 100 Years 100 Movies. This special featured what the American Film Institute thought was the best American films from 1897 to 1997. The special also featured actors, actresses, critics, TV hosts, baseball broadcasters, and the current president of the United States each talking about the impact the film had on them. The American Film Institute took into consideration six important elements when selecting the top 100 (must be feature length, must be American, must have critical recognition, must have been a major award winner, must have had sustained popularity over time, must have had a major historical significance, and finally must have had a major cultural significance).The special lasted 3 hours and started with at number 100 with Yankee Doodle Dandy, a 1942 musical comedy about George M. Cohan. It ended at number one with what many other critics consider to be the greatest movie of all time, Citizen Kane (1941), followed by Casablanca (1942) and The Godfather (1972).
The special went over so well, that the following year, in 1999, the AFI released a new list: AFI’s 100 Years 100 Stars. However, 100 Stars was actually 50 Stars, 25 of the best male stars and 25 of the best female stars. Also, the Institute was only honoring people whose film careers started in or before 1950, or they started after 1950 but they had died and had a range of films. The “other fifty” comprised of the actors and actresses interviewed for the special. The top male actor was Humphrey Bogart, followed by Cary Grant and James Stewart. The top female actress was Katherine Hepburn, followed by Bette Davis and Audrey Hepburn.
The next three years could be considered the “genre years.” The next special, in 2000, was AFI’s 100 Years 100 Laughs. Looking at movies strictly from a comedy perspective, AFI listed what it considered to be the funniest movies of all time. The top three were, Some Like It Hot, Tootsie, and Dr. Strangelove. (Apparently the Institute thinks cross-dressing is hilarious). In 2001, AFI’s 100 Years 100 Thrills was released, detailing the most suspenseful movies of all time. The top three are also considered some of the scariest movies of all time as well: Psycho, Jaws and The Exorcist. The following year, in 2002, AFI did AFI’s 100 Years 100 Passions, detailing the 100 greatest love stories of all time. I particularly the top three, because Casablanca beat out Gone with the Wind for number one (West Side Story was number three).
The next three specials focused instead on particular aspects of movies versus a movie itself. The first special up: AFI’s 100 Years 100 Heroes and Villains in 2003. The special had the 50 greatest heroes (number one: Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mocking Bird) and the 50 greatest villains (number one: Dr. Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs). The following year was AFI’s 100 Years 100 Songs, detailing the greatest songs ever put on film. The top three were: “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz, “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca, and “Singin’ in the Rain” from Singin’ in the Rain. In 2005, AFI released AFI’s 100 Years 100 Movie Quotes, the most memorable quotes of all time from movies. “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a d---“ from Gone with the Wind was number one, followed by “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse,” from The Godfather.
The next year, AFI went back to a genre theme, AFI’s 100 Years 100 Cheers, the most inspirational movies of all time. The top three were, It’s a Wonderful Life, To Kill a Mockingbird and Schindler’s List. Then for 2007, AFI did a 10th anniversary special, AFI’s 100 Years 100 Movies 10th Anniversary Edition, with a revised and updated list. Some movies were dropped, some were added, every movie moved up and down the list, with the exception of three: Citizen Kane (1), the Godfather Part II (32), and the Best Years of Our Lives (37). After Citizen Kane, The Godfather moved up to number two and Casablanca moved to number three. Much of the special featured clips from the original special, which meant it didn’t feel as fun or original as the first special in 1998. The final AFI special showed they were running out of ideas for specials, though it was still a fun special: AFI’s 10 Top 10, which featured the top ten films from 10 different genres. The ten genres were: Animation (number one: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), Fantasy (Wizard of Oz), Gangster (The Godfather), Science Fiction (2001: A Space Odyssey), Western (The Searchers), Sports (Raging Bull), Mystery (Vertigo), Romantic Comedy (City Lights), Courtroom Drama (To Kill a Mockingbird) and Epic (Lawrence of Arabia). The following year, no AFI TV special appeared.Unfortunately, due to the licensing of so many movies per special, the specials will not be released on DVD or Blu-Ray, or available online. That’s too bad, because these specials are fun ways to get to know some of the greatest, funniest, most passionate, most thrilling, most quotable, movies ever made.