ASC Unveils List of 100 Milestone Films in Cinematography of the 20th Century

Throughout 2019, the Society will honor the best-photographed films of the 20th century, as voted on by ASC members. 

Founded on January 8, 1919, the American Society of Cinematographers celebrates its 100th anniversary today. 

As part of the centennial festivities, the Society released their members’ list of the 100 milestone films in the art and craft of cinematography of the 20th century. Organized by Steven Fierberg, ASC (Secretary, Love & Other DrugsThe Affair) and voted on by ASC members, the list is the first of its kind to showcase the best of cinematography as selected by professional directors of photography. 

“I believe that as individuals and also members of the ASC we need to share with the public what influenced and inspired us in our work and our artistry — films we all consider landmarks in our profession,” Fierberg says. 

Steven Fierberg, ASC

Part of the Society’s longstanding mission, he adds, is to revere and preserve the history of cinematography. As the ASC enters into its centennial year, this initiative is aimed at honoring the significant achievements of cinematographers whose artistry changed or furthered the art and craft of the profession and whose legacy is still felt today. 

The 100 films list will serve as a library of influential, key titles that all cinematographers should see as well as an educational tool for students, teachers and film lovers to better understand and appreciate the importance of cinematography. “It is our hope that the list will help cinematography to be better understood by the public — the audience — [and to showcase] each of us as an artist who is an essential contributor to the magic of cinema,” offers Fierberg.

Director David Lean, cinematographer Freddie Young, BSC and the crew shooting Lawrence of Arabia (1962). The first location site was Jebel et-Tubeiq, an uninhabited area 250 miles east of Aquabi in Jordan near the Saudi Arabian frontier. The nearest water source was 150 miles away and the heat almost unbearable.
Director David Lean, cinematographer Freddie Young, BSC and the crew shooting Lawrence of Arabia (1962). The first location site was Jebel et-Tubeiq, an uninhabited area 250 miles east of Aquabi in Jordan near the Saudi Arabian frontier. The nearest water source was 150 miles away and the heat almost unbearable.

The list represents a range of styles, eras and visual artistry, but, most importantly, it commemorates films that are inspirational or influential to ASC members and have exhibited enduring influence to generations of filmmakers. 

The list culminates in a Top 10 by number of votes, while the other 90 titles are unranked.“We are trying to call attention to the most significant achievements of the cinematographer’s art,” Fierberg assures. “We do not presume to call one masterful achievement ‘better’ than another.” 

Members chose to frame this list around the 20th century to ensure that enough time has passed for the titles and work to reasonably exhibit enduring influence. 

The process of cultivating the 100 films began with ASC members each submitting 10 to 25 titles that were personally inspirational or perhaps changed the way they approached their craft. “I asked them — as cinematographers, members of the ASC, artists, filmmakers and people who love film and whose lives were shaped by films — to list the films that were most influential,” Fierberg explains. A master list was then complied, and members voted on what they considered to be the most essential 100 titles. 

Since the ASC list is specifically focused on outstanding cinematography, several titles here do not appear on typical “best of” lists — such as BarakaThe Conformist and I Am Cuba — and members were encouraged to submit films for consideration that they believed were overlooked or ahead of their time. 

Detailed essays and historical information on each title will be published over the coming months, celebrating the diverse, global art form of cinematography throughout the ASC’s Centennial year.

The Top 10:

1. Lawrence of Arabia (1962), shot by Freddie Young, BSC (Dir. David Lean)

2. Blade Runner (1982), shot by Jordan Cronenweth, ASC (Dir. Ridley Scott) (more here)

3. Apocalypse Now (1979), shot by Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola) (more here)

4. Citizen Kane (1941), shot by Gregg Toland, ASC (Dir. Orson Welles)

5. The Godfather (1972), shot by Gordon Willis, ASC (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola) (more here)

6. Raging Bull (1980), shot by Michael Chapman, ASC (Dir. Martin Scorsese)

7. The Conformist (1970), shot by Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC (Dir. Bernardo Bertolucci)

8. Days of Heaven (1978), shot by Néstor Almendros, ASC (Dir. Terrence Malick)

9. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), shot by Geoffrey Unsworth, BSC with additional photography by John Alcott, BSC (Dir. Stanley Kubrick) (more here and here)

10. The French Connection (1971), shot by Owen Roizman, ASC (Dir. William Friedkin) (more here and here)

Titles 11–100 (in order of release):

Metropolis (1927), shot by Karl Freund, ASC; Günther Rittau

Napoleon (1927), shot by Leonce-Henri Burel, Jules Kruger, Joseph-Louis Mundwiller 

Sunrise (1927), shot by Charles Rosher Sr., ASC; Karl Struss, ASC

Gone with the Wind (1939), shot by Ernest Haller, ASC

The Wizard of Oz (1939), shot by Harold Rosson, ASC (more here)

The Grapes of Wrath (1940), shot by Gregg Toland, ASC

How Green Was My Valley (1941), shot by Arthur C. Miller, ASC

Casablanca (1942), shot by Arthur Edeson, ASC (more here)

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), shot by Stanley Cortez, ASC

Black Narcissus (1947), shot by Jack Cardiff, BSC

The Bicycle Thief (1948), shot by Carlo Montuori  

The Red Shoes (1948), shot by Jack Cardiff, BSC

The Third Man (1949), shot by Robert Krasker, BSC

Rashomon (1950) shot by Kazuo Miyagawa

Sunset Boulevard (1950), shot by John Seitz, ASC (more here)

On the Waterfront (1954), shot by Boris Kaufman, ASC

Seven Samurai (1954), shot by Asakazu Nakai

The Night of the Hunter (1955), shot by Stanley Cortez, ASC (more here)

The Searchers (1956), shot by Winton C. Hoch, ASC

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), shot by Jack HIldyard, BSC

Touch of Evil (1958), shot by Russell Metty, ASC

Vertigo (1958), shot by Robert Burks, ASC (more here)

North by Northwest (1959), shot by Robert Burks, ASC (more here)

Breathless (1960), shot by Raoul Coutard

Last Year at Marienbad (1961), shot by Sacha Vierny

8 ½ (1963), shot by Gianni Di Venanzo

Hud (1963), shot by James Wong Howe, ASC (more here) 

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), shot by Gilbert Taylor, BSC

I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba; 1964), shot by Sergei Urusevsky (more here)

Doctor Zhivago (1965), shot by Freddie Young, BSC

The Battle of Algiers (1966), shot by Marcello Gatti

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), shot by Haskell Wexler, ASC

Cool Hand Luke (1967), shot by Conrad Hall, ASC

The Graduate (1967), shot by Robert Surtees, ASC

In Cold Blood (1967), shot by Conrad Hall, ASC (more here)

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), shot by Tonino Delli Colli, AIC (more here)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), shot by Conrad Hall, ASC

The Wild Bunch (1969), shot by Lucien Ballard, ASC

A Clockwork Orange (1971), shot by John Alcott, BSC (more here)

Klute (1971), shot by Gordon Willis, ASC

The Last Picture Show (1971), shot by Robert Surtees, ASC

McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), shot by Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, HSC

Cabaret (1972), shot by Geoffery Unsworth, BSC

Last Tango in Paris (1972), shot by Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC

The Exorcist (1973), shot by Owen Roizman, ASC (more here)

Chinatown (1974), shot by John A. Alonzo, ASC (more here)

The Godfather: Part II (1974), shot by Gordon Willis, ASC

Barry Lyndon (1975), shot by John Alcott, BSC (more here)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), shot by Haskell Wexler, ASC

All the President's Men (1976), shot by Gordon Willis, ASC (more here)

Taxi Driver (1976), shot by Michael Chapman, ASC

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), shot by Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, HSC

The Duellists (1977), shot by Frank Tidy, BSC

The Deer Hunter (1978), shot by Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, HSC (more here)

Alien (1979), shot by Derek Vanlint, CSC (more herehere and here)

All that Jazz (1979), shot by Giuseppe Rotunno, ASC, AIC

Being There (1979), shot by Caleb Deschanel, ASC

The Black Stallion (1979), shot by Caleb Deschanel, ASC

Manhattan (1979), shot by Gordon Willis, ASC

The Shining (1980), shot by John Alcott, BSC (more here)

Chariots of Fire (1981), shot by David Watkin, BSC

Das Boot (1981), shot by Jost Vacano, ASC

Reds (1981), shot by Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC

Fanny and Alexander (1982), shot by Sven Nykvist, ASC

The Right Stuff (1983), shot by Caleb Deschanel, ASC

Amadeus (1984), shot by Miroslav Ondricek, ASC, ACK

The Natural (1984), shot by Caleb Deschanel, ASC

Paris, Texas (1984), shot by Robby Müller, NSC, BVK

Brazil (1985), shot by Roger Pratt, BSC

The Mission (1986), shot by Chris Menges, ASC, BSC

Empire of the Sun (1987), shot by Allen Daviau, ASC

The Last Emperor (1987), shot by Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC

Wings of Desire (1987), shot by Henri Alekan

Mississippi Burning (1988), shot by Peter Biziou, BSC

JFK (1991), shot by Robert Richardson, ASC

Raise the Red Lantern (1991), shot by Fei Zhao

Unforgiven (1992), shot by Jack Green, ASC (more here)

Baraka (1992), shot by Ron Fricke

Schindler's List (1993), shot by Janusz Kaminski

Searching For Bobby Fischer (1993), shot by Conrad Hall, ASC

Trois Coulieurs: Bleu (Three Colours: Blue; 1993), shot by Slawomir Idziak, PSC

The Shawshank Redemption (1994), shot by Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC (more here)

Seven (1995), shot by Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC (more here and here)

The English Patient (1996), shot by John Seale, ASC, ACS

L. A. Confidential (1997), shot by Dante Spinotti, ASC, AIC (more here)

Saving Private Ryan (1998), shot by Janusz Kaminski (more here and here)

The Thin Red Line (1998), shot by John Toll, ASC (more here)

American Beauty (1999), shot by Conrad Hall, ASC

The Matrix (1999), shot by Bill Pope, ASC (more here)

In the Mood for Love (2000), shot by Christopher Doyle, HKSC

Look for updates on theasc.com and our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) as we showcase each of these 100 films and discuss why they have endured as inspiring examples of exemplary cinematography.

An enterprising AC reader created a Letterboxd playlist of these titles here.

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