To appear on the list of the American Film Institute’s top films of all time is a mammoth achievement, sitting beside the likes of Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Casablanca and Raging Bull. Though this isn’t the only list that the film institute operates, having also previously named what they consider to be the most inspirational film of all time.
The top ten list is certainly an eclectic one, with a strict agenda of entry criteria to be eligible for inclusion. Announced in celebration of 100 years of the American Film Institute, the list of one hundred films was unveiled during a three-hour special on CBS in 2006 and were selected by a jury of over 1,500 leaders from the film community.
As for the films themselves, each one had to be over 60 minutes long, feature a prominent American production and inspire a legacy of inspiration that has long reverberated throughout the country’s history. Whilst each film on the exhaustive list is worth special consideration, the top ten includes such films as Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, John G. Avildsen’s Rocky and John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath.
At number three is Steven Spielberg’s emotional war drama Schindler’s List starring Liam Neeson, following the incredible work of Oskar Schindler, an industrialist who helped over one thousand Jews escape persecution in Germany during WWII. Just above Spielberg’s film at number two is Robert Mulligan’s To Kill a Mockingbird, a film based on the iconic American novel by Harper Lee that follows a lawyer called Atticus Finch who helps defend a black man against a wrongful charge of rape.
Neither of these films however could champion the list of America’s most inspirational films, a prize that goes to Frank Capra’s iconic Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life, a staple of the winter season that continues to inspire audiences to this day. The original tale, The Greatest Gift, was written by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1939 and was immediately rejected by several publishers, only for Stern to print the story on pamphlets and mail them to 200 family members. Eventually, in 1944, RKO Pictures bought the rights to the story for $10,000.
After each of Dalton Trumbo, Clifford Odets, and Marc Connelly worked on drafts of the project, the original story was put in front of Frank Capra who fell in love with the film’s potential and bought the rights to the adaptation. What followed would become known as the greatest ever Christmas film, and, according to the American Film Institute, the most inspirational film of all time.