AFI to Horror: Not on Our List
Let's take a second to review the process of listing "best movies". The only word that can really be used to describe the process is "arbitrary." In the case of the AFI's "100 Best" lists, the American Film Institute's "experts" -- over 1,500 "leaders from the creative community", including directors, writers, actors, cinematographers, and editors -- vote from a list of 400 nominated films on which 100 are the very best. The film must be feature-length and American. Selection criteria include critical recognition, awards won, popularity over time, historical significance, and cultural impact.
I take issue with critical recognition and awards won -- if you're making a list of 100 films, you are doling out critical recognition and, in a sense, giving an award. You should start fresh and not rely on the actions of the past, especially with films that were not well-praised in their time, but have come into their own as the culture changed.
I'm going somewhere with this. Last night, the AFI released their 10th Anniversary edition of their 100 Years, 100 Movies list, which catalogues the 100 greatest films of all time (really, it's 110 Years, 100 Movies at this point). A scant four horror films were worthy of the AFI's mention: Psycho (#14), King Kong (#41), Jaws (#56), and The Sixth Sense (#89). Significant amongst the omitted is Frankenstein, which held the 87th slot on the same list ten years ago.
I'm not sure which I'm more annoyed with -- the poor representation of the genre in general, or the dropping of what I consider to be the cultural milestone in Hollywood Horror. I'm not going to dig into their other selections; each film on the list has its champions and they have spoken. It's just a bummer that the AFI's creative think tank is treating horror like the poor cousin. Given the glitzy Hollywood focus of the list, I'm not expecting Night of the Living Dead to make the cut, but why not Rosemary's Baby? If not The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, what about The Exorcist (which is not a film I enjoy, but it made #3 on the AFI's own 100 Years... 100 Thrills list)?
For an alternate, non-US-centric viewpoint on 100 Great Films, I recommend Slant's 100 Essential Films from 2003, where they list 11 horror films, give or take one or two depending on your own definition of the genre. The choices are frequently controversial (Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls) but each title on the list links to a review that backs up their selection.
Edit (06/28/07): It's been pointed out to me that Silence of the Lambs was also on the list, at position 74. Still, this is borderline horror (much like King Kong and The Sixth Sense).