The Three Greatest Films in American Cinema

Marc Lapadula – Yale University

Citizen Kane
The Godfather
2001: A Space Odyssey 

Could these be the three greatest American movies ever made? Orson Welles, Francis Ford Coppola and Stanley Kubrick were operating at the pinnacles of their respective talents when they created what many movie scholars and critics consider the three greatest masterworks in the history of American Cinema. Beyond revolutionary, these films not only defined the turbulent social and cultural eras in which they were made but successfully transcended those eras by casting a giant, awe-inspiring shadow of influence across the entire film industry that is still being reflected on movie screens to this very day. Each film is beyond noteworthy for its virtuoso directorial style, shrewd presentation of complex narrative structure, trail-blazing technical innovations, mesmerizing editing sequences, painstaking attention to period detail and an undaunted and deft handling of controversial subjects and themes.

These three thought-provoking films are unequivocally without parallel in terms of the sheer scope of their ambition and the spellbinding potency of their poetic force. Citizen Kane (directed by Orson Welles, 1941), The Godfather (directed by Francis Ford Coppola, 1972), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (directed by Stanley Kubrick, 1968) have each, in their own visionary way, indelibly transformed the art of cinema by carving a monolithic impression in our cultural landscape, thus providing the yardstick whereby all other 'Masterpieces of American Cinema' will be forever measured.