I started writing a short history for each of the Top 100 films on the American Film Institutions list, and then I realized that the AFI list is problematic for a few different reasons. It only represents the opinions of film critics, it stays within the boundaries of Hollywood and American born films, and it tends to pander towards the classics with films that were extremely important but do not necessarily represent the opinions of those that watch them, the movie going public.
So, I present the exact same project with the Top 100 movies from The Internet Movie Database's Top 250 list. The IMDB list is a much greater tool, and one I've used in the past because it's dynamic. Over the course of the years it has changed substantively adding new films, removing old films and generally reflecting the opinions of those that watch the films.
Number one on that list is the greatest book to film adaptation ever made, Mario Puzo's classic saga of the Corleone family in The Godfather. At any time, it's possible this venerable classic could slip below The Shawshank Redemption as the two have been neck and neck for years, but by far it will never be below second place (and I've never seen it in second place).
Released in 1972 by Francis Ford Coppola, the film tells the story of Don Corleone's handover of the family to his relationship son over a nine years stretch from 1945 to 1954. The film stars Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Diane Keaton, and Robert Duvall, one of the greatest ensembles on screen. The film was the first real breakout success fro Coppola, but it took a hardheadedness on his part to make it happen.
He was the third choice to direct, and the studio was dead set against either Brando or Pacino in their roles. On repeated incidents he was almost fired and the studio was unsure of how it would have received so the budget was slashed. Fortunately for all, Coppola stuck strong to his ideals and made the film in his vision, into the Gangster opus we have now.
To summarize the film would take away from its majesty, plus it's an amazingly long complex plot (one in which you'll be more than caught up). The beginning of the film takes place at the wedding of Don Vito's daughter. Here we meet each of the major players, Michael, Sonny, the Don. Soon after we learn of the method by which Don Corleone makes his offers, we learn of the new rival in town and the burgeoning drug trade. The Don is not comfortable with getting involved in the drug trade, unsure that his pocketed politicians would be willing to help smuggle heroin and so a violent war between factions takes off.
The kidnaps, offings, and epic intergang rivalries between Sollozzo and the Corleones crafts One of the greatest crime films, nay the greatest films of all time. The film won best picture and Marlon Brando won best actor (which he famously denied in protest of American Indian treatment at Wounded Knee) and has been consistently rated among the greatest films ever made on every list ever compiled. At the time, it became the highest grossing film of all time, crushing studio expectations and spawned an immediate sequel, The Godfather II considered also among the top movies ever made. Many even consider it to be better than the original. The infamous lines of Don Vito, "I'm going to make him an offer he can not refuse," was named the second most famous movie quote of all time, and the film essentially created the subculture of the Italian Mob in film and literature. Television Crime Dramas as well as shows like The Sopranos all pay homage to Coppola's masterpiece as almost every scene from his film has infiltrated the deepest pores of American Pop culture.