People watch movies for various reasons: for entertainment, to participate in discussions, to see what all the hype is about surrounding a particular film, as a form of escapism, or perhaps to learn about a topic of interest. Whatever the reason, studies have shown there are psychological benefits to watching movies.
One study led by the University College London and Vue Cinemas published in the UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences discovered that people who watched movies benefited from enhanced mental focus. This form of focused watching also helped to improve memory. During the experiment, a range of biometric devices, similar to a Fitbit, were used to analyze the body's reaction during a two-hour film. At times, heart rates were 40%-80% of their maximum heart rate, even though the viewers were seated.
Stacker analyzed data on the most popular movies among users of the film-focused social media platform Letterboxd. A web analytics site, Similarweb, cites almost 63% of Letterboxd users are 34 or under, and 57% are male. For the films featured on this list, popularity is based on a combination of the number of times a movie has been watched, rated, and commented on.
Christopher Nolan is the only director with three films in the top 25. Three others (David Fincher, Quentin Tarantino, and Damien Chazelle) have two movies each. Only two films directed by women—"Lady Bird" and "American Psycho"—appear on the list.
Director: David Fincher
User rating: 4.07
In "Gone Girl," adapted from the bestselling novel by Gillian Flynn, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a former magazine writer, blames the recession on losing his job and the downward spiral of his marriage to his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike). Wealthy in her own right, when Nick reports Amy missing on their fifth wedding anniversary, he becomes a key suspect. Pike's lead turn in the film garnered her a Best Actress nomination at the Academy Awards in 2015.
Director(s): Mary Harron
User rating: 3.95
Based on the novel of the same name by Bret Easton Ellis, "American Psycho" follows Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a wealthy investment banker in the 1980s who conceals his psychopathic tendencies from others. During the day, Patrick lives what would be considered a "normal" life, which involves morning routines and going to work. At night, he taps into his twisted alter-ego, dabbling with violence. Bale, who nearly lost the iconic role to Leonardo DiCaprio, received a Best British Actor nomination at the Empire Awards for his depiction of Ellis' character.
Director: Stanley Kubrick
User rating: 4.27
Aspiring author Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) attempts to combat his severe writer's block by taking his family to a remote hotel in Colorado, where he intends to work as an off-season caretaker. Jack doesn't expect the sinister events that soon unfold at The Overlook Hotel, including hearing voices. Based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King, who infamously panned the film, "The Shining" was chosen for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2018 by the Library of Congress.
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
User rating: 4.00
Marvel's "Avengers: Infinity War" follows the Avengers in their heroic efforts to unite and defeat the villain Thanos, who intends to use the Infinity Gauntlet to wipe out half the galaxy. Film critics praised the movie, calling it "a thrilling, funny, emotional, rip-roaring crowd-pleaser that serves as a fitting culmination of their decade-long buildup." "Infinity War" made history at the box office, bringing in $257.6 million domestically and $640.5 million worldwide, the biggest opening weekend for a film.
Directors: Martin Scorsese
User rating: 4.01
Based on the memoir written by Jordan Belfort, a former stockbroker found guilty of money laundering and fraud, "The Wolf of Wall Street'' unpacks the defamed businessman's wild lifestyle of drugs, women, and fast rides. Leonardo DiCaprio, who also produced the flick, stars as Belfort. Despite the criticism DiCaprio and director Martin Scorsese faced over glamorizing Belfort's schemes, the black comedy earned five Oscar nominations, including Best Actor for DiCaprio and Best Picture.
Director: Quentin Tarantino
User rating: 3.78
In "Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood," actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) witnesses the decline of his celebrity and takes supporting roles against new and up-and-coming talent. The film received 10 Academy Award nominations, earning Brad Pitt—who plays Dalton's good friend and stuntman Cliff Booth—his first acting Oscar (Best Supporting Actor).
Director: Damien Chazelle
User rating: 3.96
This romantic musical follows the story of jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) as they navigate major decisions about their creative aspirations and romantic relationship. Writing for the movie review website Gone With The Twins, Mike Massie called the film "dually a celebration of music and magic, where swelling emotions are captured by somber yet jazzy leitmotifs." The film won all seven Golden Globe Awards for which it was nominated, setting the record for the most awards won by a single movie.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
User rating: 3.97
In this adaptation of Frank Herbert's seminal sci-fi novel, a natural resource known as "spice" has become the most valuable commodity, sought after for its medicinal benefits, such as helping people to live longer. The film stars Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides, a warrior mystic whose premonition calls him to travel to another part of the planet to preserve the future of his family legacy and the people of the land. "Dune" received notable accolades, including Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, and Best Production Design. A sequel, "Dune: Part Two," is slated to release in 2023.
Director: Wes Anderson
User rating: 4.22
Self-assured hotel concierge Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) finds himself a prime murder suspect after one of his romantic partners suddenly dies. The film was well-received among audiences and critics alike, including Calum Baker of the Radio Times, who wrote in his review, "Wes Anderson's bright, meticulous style reaches its most complete expression in this painfully poignant period comedy." "Grand Budapest Hotel" also claimed several trophies at the Academy Awards, including Best Costume Design and Best Production Design.
Director: Greta Gerwig
User rating: 3.88
"Lady Bird" stars Saoirse Ronan in the leading role and tells the story of a teenager and her mother in Sacramento as they navigate frustrating moments in their relationship. Greta Gerwig, the film's director, has admitted that she drew inspiration from her personal coming-of-age experience for the film. The film earned critical acclaim, garnering five Academy Award nominations and walking away with Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy) and Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy (for Ronan).
Directors: Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan
User rating: 4.46
Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) has entirely too much going on in her life: The laundromat Evelyn manages with her husband is under investigation for tax evasion, her marriage to her husband Waymond is on the rocks, her relationship with her daughter has become distant, and the influence of her elderly father continues to loom over her life. The movie didn't just earn critical acclaim; it's become A24's highest-grossing project to date, raking in $100 million in ticket sales worldwide.
Director: Damien Chazelle
User rating: 4.39
"Whiplash" tells the story of a jazz drummer, Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), who aspires to be a core drummer in one of the best jazz orchestras in the country. Andrew is under the leadership of an unrelenting and abusive instructor, Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), who drives him to insanity. Simmons took home the Academy Award for Best Actor for his turn in the film, which Reel Talk Inc. critic David Gonzalez praised, writing, "There is not much to dislike about 'Whiplash.' It is simply a pleasure to watch."
Director(s): Christopher Nolan
User rating: 4.24
"Interstellar" follows a team of astronauts who travel to another side of the galaxy, searching for a new place where humanity can survive. In this futuristic world, much of society has turned to farming due to "The Blight," a plague that has wiped out many of Earth's crops. Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and David Gyasi all star in the film. Of its five Academy Award nominations, "Interstellar" claimed the Oscar for Best Visual Effects.
Director(s): Christopher Nolan
User rating: 4.44
In this follow-up to 2005's "Batman Begins," the caped crusader (Christian Bale) must put an end to the Joker's (Heath Ledger) reign of chaos and terror in Gotham City. The film drew massive media attention due to Ledger's untimely death and shattered box office records as the highest-grossing film of 2008. Ledger won several posthumous accolades for his star turn as the Joker, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Director(s): Jon Watts
User rating: 4.05
In "Spider-Man: No Way Home," Peter Parker's (Tom Holland) hidden identity as the web-slinging vigilante is unmasked to the world in this follow-up to 2017's "Spider-Man: Homecoming." In response to the public's attention, Parker struggles to separate his everyday life with Mary Jane (Zendaya) from that of a superhero and turns to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help in restoring his secret. To the delight of Spider-Man fans everywhere, the movie included surprise appearances by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, who returned as their respective Spider-Man interpretations from previous films in the franchise.
Director(s): Christopher Nolan
User rating: 4.18
Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) has the ability to steal corporate information by infiltrating the minds of his targets, infiltrating their subconscious with a dream-sharing device without their knowledge. Director Christopher Nolan spent nine years bringing his mind-bending thriller to the big screen. His efforts paid off: "Inception" took home four of the eight awards for which it was nominated at the Academy Awards, including Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing, and Best Cinematography.
Director(s): Rodney Rothman, Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti
User rating: 4.44
Brooklyn teen Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) struggles to fit in at his new school. After being bitten by a spider while investigating an abandoned subway line, Miles develops powers and adopts the vigilante persona of Spider-Man. Miles soon meets Peter Parker and realizes he's not the only one with spider-like abilities. The computer-animated flick won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and a Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature.
Director(s): Jordan Peele
User rating: 4.19
In this horror flick, Black photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is getting serious with his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), who invites him upstate for a weekend at her parents' home. At first, Chris thinks the family's overly accommodating behavior is their way of handling their daughter's interracial relationship. As the weekend proceeds, however, mounting sinister events hint at a dark truth more nightmarish than he could have ever imagined. Jordan Peele's directorial debut, "Get Out" won several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay.
Director(s): Ari Aster
User rating: 3.85
"Midsommar" follows a couple who travel to Sweden to visit friends in a rural town for a seasonal festival. The fun trip turns sour when they are invited to participate in bizarre pagan rituals. The film is partly based on an actual Swedish festival, which notably lacks the violence shown in the horror flick. Inspiration was also drawn from real-life pagan and pre-monotheistic groups. Although "Midsommar" did not receive a single Oscar nomination, the film won an Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography.
Director(s): Quentin Tarantino
User rating: 4.3
When Quentin Tarantino wrote the screenplay for his second film, "Pulp Fiction," the up-and-coming filmmaker had no idea the movie would earn $214 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing independent film at the time. "Pulp Fiction" tells the story of two hitmen determined to retrieve a stolen suitcase from their mob boss employer. The film boasts a star-studded cast—Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, and Uma Thurman, among others—and received seven Oscar nominations, winning Best Screenplay.
Director(s): Rian Johnson
User rating: 4.05
In "Knives Out," famed crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead at his residence right after his 85th birthday. Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) interviews Harlan's combative family, determined to solve the murder. In the flick, director Rian Johnson sets out to honor classic detective stories from authors like Agatha Christie. The film, which received nominations at the Golden Globes and Academy Awards, will be followed by two sequels at Netflix—the first, "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery," will premiere on the streamer in December 2022.
Director(s): Matt Reeves
User rating: 4.07 Selina
In "The Batman," Robert Pattison is the latest actor to don the cowl of one of cinema's most popular superheroes. The film, set in Batman's second year in Gotham City, follows the young billionaire Bruce Wayne, who has turned recluse and seeks to investigate the latest acts of corruption in the city. In a review for RogerEbert.com, film critic Christy Lemire wrote: "This is a Batman movie that's aware of its own place within pop culture, but not in winking, meta fashion; rather, it acknowledges the comic book character's lore, only to examine it and reinvent it in a way that's both substantial and daring."
Director(s): David Fincher
User rating: 4.29
Based on Chuck Palahniuk's novel of the same name, "Fight Club" tells the story of an unnamed narrator who leads a dull life and suffers from insomnia. Things change when he meets the soap-selling rebel Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), with whom he decides to form an undercover club where everyday people come to punch away their sorrows. Despite its underwhelming performance at the box-office flop, the film amassed a cult following in the DVD sector—perhaps due to its heavy-hitter stars like Pitt and Meat Loaf (who had a minor role in the flick).
Director(s): Todd Phillips
User rating: 3.88
In "Joker," loner Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) battles mental illness while clinging to the hope of becoming a successful stand-up comedian. The film was met with its fair share of controversy, as some viewers were uncomfortable with the online fandom surrounding the protagonist and the intense themes that permeated the film. Nonetheless, "Joker" claimed several accolades, including the Academy Award for Best Actor and Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role (for Phoenix).
Director(s): Bong Joon-ho
User rating: 4.58
Dealing with themes of structural inequality, "Parasite" follows Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and his family, who are struggling to make ends meet, living in the slums of a South Korean city. Then, one day, Kim Ki-woo's wealthy friend approaches him with the opportunity to be an English tutor for a girl he's been working with, an opportunity that gives way to an insidiously symbiotic relationship between two families of different social ranks.
Directed by Bong Joon-ho, "Parasite" is a thrill ride of unpredictable twists and turns. The film earned tons of acclaim and broke barriers for foreign language films during awards season, becoming the first South Korean movie to receive Academy Award recognition. Among the film's Oscar accolades includes Best Picture and Best Director.