The 35 best British films in history

Snatch
Scene from Snatch

After publishing the list of the 20 unmissable British TV series, I still had to go through the best films in history. To tell you the truth, when I’m not writing articles, I spend my free time going to the cinema.

I know there’ll be plenty of disagreements about the list: that many films are missing, that others shouldn’t be there, blah, blah, blah… Which is why I used the Top 100 lists published in TimeOut, The Telegraph, and Empire magazine as references… I cross-referenced them with the IMDB user ratings and, to round it all off, I added some of my own, which in my opinion can’t be skipped.

Now let’s see how many you’ve seen. 😉

1. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Convinced that communists are contaminating the United States, a general has a fit of insanity and orders a surprise nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. His aide, Captain Mandrake, tries to find a way to stop the bombing. For his part, the President of the USA gets in contact with Moscow in order to convince the Soviet government that the attack is no more than a stupid mistake. In the meantime, the President’s advisor, an old Nazi scientist called Dr Strangelove, confirms the existence of the “doomsday machine”, a retaliatory Soviet device capable of destroying mankind forever.

IMDB rating: 8.5
Filmaffinity rating: 8

2. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Cairo, 1917. During the First World War (1914-1918), T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole), a troubled and mysterious British official, is sent to the desert to participate in a campaign backing the Arabs in their conflict with Turkey. He and his friend Sherif Alí (Omar Sharif) will put all they have into this mission. The locals adore Lawrence because he has more than demonstrated his love for the desert and the Arab village. But his British supervisors think he has gone mad. Despite the fact that Laurence’s plans are built for success, his dream of an independent Arabia will fail.

IMDB rating: 8.4
Filmaffinity rating: 8

3. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Britain at an unspecified future point in time. Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is an aggressive young man who has two passions: excessive violence and Beethoven. He’s the leader of a band of “droogs” who give in to their basest instincts: beating, raping, and terrorizing the public. When this reign of terror finally escalates to murder, Alex is arrested and, while in prison, subjects himself voluntarily to an innovative reeducation experience that claims to totally destroy any trace of antisocial behavior.

IMDB rating: 8.4
Filmaffinity rating: 8.2

4. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

The second film from Monty Python, which tackles the history of the legendary King Arthur and his knights as they search for the Holy Grail.

IMDB rating: 8.4
Filmaffinity rating: 7.4

5. The Third Man (1949)

At the beginning of the Cold War, in Vienna, 1947. Holly Martins, a mediocre American writer of Western novels, reaches the Austrian capital when the city is divided into zones occupied by the Allied states of the Second World War. Holly is going to visit Harry Lime, a childhood friend who has promised him work. But his arrival coincides with Harry’s burial: Harry was hit by a car and killed in the middle of the street. The chief of the British military police tells Martins that Lime was seriously involved in the black market. But Martins thinks something doesn’t add up: everyone says they saw two men at the site of the car crash trying to help Lime, but one witness swears he saw a third man… An adaptation of the novel with the same name by Graham Greene.

IMDB rating: 8.3
Filmaffinity rating: 8.3

6. Snatch. (2000)

Franky is a diamond thief who has to deliver a valuable specimen to his boss Avi. But before doing, he’s convinced by some guy called Boris to bet on an illegal boxing match. It’s really a trap to take the diamond from him When Avi finds out, he hires Tony to find Franky and the diamond. Once Franky’s sad fate has been discovered, the recovery of the vanished gem provokes a crazy chain of events where deception, blackmail, and fraud are combined in bloody fashion with dogs, diamonds, boxers, and a lot of weapons.

IMDB rating: 8.3
Filmaffinity rating: 7.9

7. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Cinema history’s sci-fi film par excellence narrates the different periods of mankind’s history, not just the past but also the future. Millions of years ago, before the appearance of “homo sapiens”, some primates discover a monolith which helps bring them to a higher state of intelligence. Millions of years later, another monolith, this time buried on the moon, catches the attention of scientists. Finally, during a NASA mission, HAL 9000, a machine gifted with artificial intelligence, is in charge of controlling all the systems of a manned spacecraft.

IMDB rating: 8.3
Filmaffinity rating: 7.3

8. The Red Shoes (1948)

A drama set in the world of ballet, about the sacrifices made for professional success.

IMDB rating: 8.3
Filmaffinity rating: 7.7

9. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

During the Second World War (1939-1945), a group of British prisoners are forced by the Japanese to build a bridge. The officers, led by their phlegmatic colonel, will resist any order that violates the Geneva Convention on the rights and living conditions of prisoners of war.

IMDB rating: 8.3
Filmaffinity rating: 7.9

10. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

Eddie convinces three friends to bet all their savings on a game of cards against “Hatchet” Harry, a neighbourhood member of the Mafia. The game is rigged and Eddie not only loses all the money, but also goes into debt half a million pounds, which he needs to pay within a week. The mobster intends to take over his father’s local bar as payment for the debt, but the four friends plan to pay it off in a much riskier way.

IMDB rating: 8.2
Filmaffinity rating: 7.9

11. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

An ambitious and unscrupulous young man (Dennis Price) plans to get revenge on his own family (the aristocratic D’Ascoyne family) after the humiliation it has inflicted on him and his mother. His plan consists of eliminating all members of the family who are ahead of him in line to the duke’s inheritance.

IMDB rating: 8.2
Filmaffinity rating: 7.7

12. Trainspotting (1996)

Mark Renton, a young Scotsman, and his friends are heroin addicts – something that means they live outside reality, in a different world. In the group, there’s a violent alcoholic psychopath, a desperate young man, a womanizer with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Sean Connery, and a big fan of hiking and Iggy Pop.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sl6O7sad9hI&feature=youtu.be

IMDB rating: 8.2
Filmaffinity rating: 8.1

13. Life of Brian (1979)

Brian is born in a Bethlehem manger on the same day as Jesus Christ. A series of unfortunate and hilarious mistakes will make him live a life parallel to the real Son of God’s. His lack of intelligence and the declining and chaotic state of Galilee in those days make him a pawn in the hands of his mother, a feminist revolutionary, and none other than Pontius Pilate, his worst nightmare.

IMDB rating: 8.2
Filmaffinity rating: 7.9

14. Brief Encounter (1945)

A man and a woman, both middle-aged and married, happen to meet in a train station. Their initial friendship soon turns into a forbidden and passionate love.

IMDB rating: 8.1
Filmaffinity rating: 8.1

15. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

In the middle of the Second World War (1939-1945), a former British military officer remembers his long and exciting life. His long friendship with a German colleague and his refusal to obey orders so he can help a young compatriot in a difficult situation are two episodes of an unforgettable personal story.

IMDB rating: 8.1
Filmaffinity rating: 7.5

16. A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

The British pilot Peter Carter is in a plane that has gone up in flames. Just when he is about to crash, he falls in love with the female operator who answers his call for help. He appears to have been miraculously saved and he meets the woman he was talking to. But then a message from the Other World informs him that he is in between life and death and that if he wants to keep living, he’ll have to defend his case before a heavenly court. While this supernatural situation is taking place, a team of doctors in the operating room is trying to treat an injury to Peter’s brain.

IMDB rating: 8.1
Filmaffinity rating: 7.2

17. The King’s Speech (2010)

The Duke of York became George VI, King of England (1936-1952), after the abdication of his older brother, Edward VIII. His stuttering, which was a big inconvenience when it came to carrying out his duties, led him to ask for help from Lionel Logue, an expert speech therapist who managed to eliminate the king’s weakness with a series of unorthodox methods.

IMDB rating: 8.1
Filmaffinity rating: 7.4

18. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is a poor teenager from the suburbs of Mumbai who’s participating in the Indian version of the popular programme Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? He’s about to win 20 million rupees, the biggest prize available, and he’s being interrogated by the police, who suspect he is cheating. But Jamal has an answer for every one of their questions.

IMDB rating: 8
Filmaffinity rating: 7.8

19. Black Narcissus (1947)

A group of western nuns opens a hospital in an ancient temple in the Himalayas. Due to economic difficulties and the hostility of the locals, tensions between the nuns quickly rise. A British agent tries to intervene in an attempt to solve their problems, but his presence will awaken the repressed sexuality of some of the sisters, with disastrous consequences.

IMDB rating: 8
Filmaffinity rating: 7’4

20. Great Expectations (1946)

An adaptation of the novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. The son of a humble blacksmith is sent off to get an education in London thanks to the money he receives from an unknown benefactor.

IMDB rating: 8
Filmaffinity rating: 7.4

21. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

A romantic comedy… with zombies. Shaun (Simon Pegg)’s life is a dead-end street with no way out. He spends his life in the local pub, The Winchester, with his best friend Ed (Nick Frost), argues with his mother, and neglects his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield). When Liz walks out on him, Shaun finally decides to get his life in order: he has to win back his girlfriend’s heart, improve his relationship with his mother, and face his adult responsibilities. But unfortunately, the dead are coming back to life and trying to eat the living, so Shaun has a bigger problem to face. Armed with a cricket bat and spade, he starts a battle to the death against a horde of zombies to rescue his mother, his girlfriend, and even, reluctantly, his father-in-law… bringing them all to the safest and best protected place he knows: The Winchester.

IMDB rating: 8
Filmaffinity rating: 6.8

22. The Lady Vanishes (1938)

In a country in central Europe, the Transcontinental Express train is severely delayed due to bad weather. The passengers spend the night in a little hotel, where Iris Henderson starts speaking to an old English governess, Miss Froy. Shortly after continuing on her journey, Iris realizes that the old woman has disappeared, but the other passengers claim that her friend doesn’t exist and that she was hallucinating.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8aj3y_67dU&feature=youtu.be

IMDB rating: 8
Filmaffinity rating: 7.4

23. In Bruges (2008)

After a failed assignment, two hired assassins, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), are ordered by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) to temporarily abandon London and move to the city of Bruges, in Belgium, for a while until things calm down.

IMDB rating: 8
Filmaffinity rating: 6.6

24. Casino Royale (2006)

The first mission of the British agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) as 007 brings him to Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), the banker for the world’s terrorists. In order to stop him and break up the terrorist network, Bond must defeat him in a risky game of poker at the Casino Royale. At first, Bond is annoyed by Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), the beautiful Treasury officer in charge of guarding the government’s money. But when Bond and Vesper are forced to defend themselves from Le Chiffre and his follower’s deadly attacks, a mutual attraction springs up between them.

IMDB rating: 8
Filmaffinity rating: 6.8

25. Naked (1993)

A harsh critique of British society from the perspective of an unemployed man with a very pessimistic view of life.

IMDB rating: 7.9
Filmaffinity rating: 7.2

26. The 39 Steps (1935)

Richard Hannay is in a London music hall. Suddenly, he hears a gunshot and a fight breaks out. In the middle of the commotion, a frightened girl asks if she can leave with him. Richard accepts and brings her to his apartment …

IMDB rating: 7.9
Filmaffinity rating: 7.4

27. Billy Elliot (2000)

In 1984, during a miners’ strike in Durham County, there is conflict between picketers and police. Two of the most fanatical miners are Tony and his father, who is determined that his younger son Billy take boxing classes. But although the boy has good footwork, he can’t throw a punch. One day at the gym, Billy watches ballet class with Mrs Wilkinson, a strict woman who encourages him to participate. From then on, Billy will dedicate himself fully to dance.

IMDB rating: 7.7
Filmaffinity rating: 7.4

28. This is England (2006)

An independent British film. During the summer vacations and 1983, Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), a solitary boy whose father died in the Falklands War, is taken under the wing of a group of skinheads. With his new friends, Shaun discovers parties, his first love, and Doc Marten boots. One of his friends is Combo (Stephen Graham), a racist skinhead who has just gotten out of jail.

IMDB rating: 7.7
Filmaffinity rating: 7.1

29. The Wicker Man (1973)

A letter that makes it seem as if a missing young girl has been killed brings Sergeant Howie of Scotland Yard to Summerisle, an island off the coast of England. Once there, the inspector discovers the existence of a kind of pagan cult and meets Lord Summerisle, the religious leader of the island…

IMDB rating: 7.7
Filmaffinity rating: 7.1

30. 28 Days Later… (2002)

London is a cemetery. The once-crowded streets are now deserted, the shops empty. And total silence reigns. The propagation of a virus that has ended up infecting most of Great Britain’s population has led to an invasion of terrifying beings. The virus was first spread after a group of animal rights activists broke into a laboratory. Transmitted through blood, the virus produces devastating effects on its victims. In 28 days, the epidemic spreads across the whole country and there are only a handful of survivors.

IMDB rating: 7.6
Filmaffinity rating: 6.7

31. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

A group of four thieves successfully carries out an operation in the Hatton Gardens jewellery store in London. The problem is that only George, the group’s leader, knows where the jewels are hidden, but he’s in jail. Wanda, the only woman in the group, plans to seduce Archie, George’s defense attorney, in hopes of coaxing the location of the loot out of him. The other members of the group are Otto, a sinister psychopath and admirer of Nietzsche, and Ken, a stutterer who’s crazy about exotic fish.

IMDB rating: 7.6
Filmaffinity rating: 7

32. The Italian Job (1969)

After getting out of jail, Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) is ready to execute a meticulously organized plan: steal a gold shipment on the streets of Turin during a giant traffic jam. He’s counting on the help of the criminal mastermind Mister Bridger (Noël Coward) and a band of criminals. Once the job is complete, the problem is getting the loot out of the country, because the police and the mafia are close behind them.

IMDB rating: 7.4
Filmaffinity rating: 6.6

33. The Full Monty (1997)

The closing of the Yorkshire steel mills leaves almost the whole male population without work. Gaz, one of the workers affected, will lose the right to see his son if he doesn’t get the money to pay his wife child support. Desperate, he comes up with what at first seems like a crazy idea, and proposes it to friends who are in the same situation: organize a striptease show.

IMDB rating: 7.2
Filmaffinity rating: 6.9

34. Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

Charles (Hugh Grant) and his friends, all of them single and unattached, have reached an age when all their acquaintances are getting married. At one of the weddings, to which the group has been invited, Charles meets Carrie (Andie Macdowell), an American he falls in love with at first sight. They spend that night together, but don’t see each other again. They’ll have to wait for the next wedding, when Carrie will introduce him to her fiancé.

IMDB rating: 7.1
Filmaffinity rating: 6.4

35. Rush (2013)

This film is about the rivalry between two great Formula 1 drivers, the British James Hunt and the Australian Niki Lauda, mainly in 1976, the year Lauda had a very serious accident that almost cost him his life.

IMDB rating: 8.2
Filmaffinity rating: 7.3

To be honest with you, I’ve only seen 18 of the 35. 😛

If you could add five titles to the list, which would they be?

Sources:

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