These Are The Classic Films You MUST See Before Turning 30

It happens to all of us. You're with your friends, and suddenly someone makes a reference that everyone else seems to get — and you're not in on the joke. Why? Because as well-versed as you may be in Friends trivia or Game of Thrones theories, you might have a big ol' blind spot when it comes to classic movies. Whups.

No biggie, though. That's easy enough to deal with, even if you never go back and audit a Film 101 class. All you've got to do is sub out some of the binge time you've been dedicating to the television section of your Netflix queue and instead tune in to some of the most influential movies of the 20th century. Which ones should you be watching? In no particular order, we've picked out 30 of our favorites — and we'll be adding new titles each month. All you've got to do is bring the popcorn.
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Photo: RKO Radio Pictures.
King Kong (1933)

The CliffsNotes: We're guessing you've already got the basics of this one down, but just in case... Kong is a gigantic, prehistoric ape that captures a beautiful young woman and escapes to the top of the Empire State building.

Why you need to see it: If you have any intention of seeing the upcoming reboot, Kong: Skull Island, then you should have a little bit of an idea of what you're getting yourself into. Plus, who doesn't love a "monster overtakes New York City" movie?
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Image: Miramax Films.
The movie: Pulp Fiction (1994)

The CliffsNotes: In this Tarantino hit, Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) play erudite hitmen doing the bidding for their boss, Marsellus Wallace. But along the way, they have more than organized crime to contend with: Woven into the film are also threads about Marsellus's wife, the seductive Mia (Uma Thurman), nervous armed robbers, and a struggling boxer (Bruce Willis).

Why you need to see it: First off, how have you not seen this movie by now? Second: You will be floored by the number of references you've missed over the years, having not seen this film firsthand. Lastly, it's rife with Halloween costume ideas (and it's an amazing standout in the director's cinematic oeuvre).
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Image: AVCO Embassy Pictures/United Artists.
The movie: The Graduate (1967)

The CliffsNotes: Boy meets gorgeous older woman. Boy gets seduced. Boy falls for gorgeous older woman's daughter. Shit gets complicated.

Why you need to see it: If you don't, you'll never fully appreciate what it means when someone drops "Mrs. Robinson" into conversation. And that would be a sorry life indeed.
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Image: United Artists.
The movie: West Side Story (1961)

The CliffsNotes: Romeo and Juliet but in Manhattan in the late '50s with a killer score.

Why you need to see it: The dancing alone makes this movie worthwhile. But it's also perhaps the best-ever Shakespearean adaptation to make it to the big screen, and it was groundbreaking for Latinos in entertainment.
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Image: Paramount Pictures.
The movie: Vertigo (1958)

The CliffsNotes: A retired detective with a severe case of dizziness is hired to follow an acquaintance's wife and is followed by suicide, meltdown, etc.

Why you need to see it: The critical reception for this psychological murder mystery has only grown over time — and it's often lauded as a pivotal moment in Hitchcock's career, as well as one of the director's true masterpiece movies.
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Image: Paramount Pictures.
The movie: Metropolis (1927)

The CliffsNotes: Facism. Communism. Dystopian future. The rise of the machines.

Why you need to see it: Listen up, sci-fi fans: This film was basically the beginning of full-length feature movies in the genre. It's also a film school 101 must-watch — which means that, even if only for the sake of bar talk, it belongs on your list.
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Image: United Artists.
The movie: One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

The CliffsNotes: Criminal scams his way into serving his sentence at a mental institution. Turns the place upside down.

Why you need to see it: This movie took home all the major trophies at the 48th Academy Awards. You're going to have to watch it to truly understand why — but we swear it's time well-spent.
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Image: Columbia Pictures.
The movie: Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)

The CliffsNotes: Turns out, the government was corrupt back in the '30s, too.

Why you need to see it: Politicians hated this film, and Washington media of the time tore it to shreds. What can we say? Sometimes, the truth is hard to stomach.
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Image: Chelsea Studios.
The movie: 12 Angry Men (1957)

The CliffsNotes: Twelve jurors are left to decide a young man's fate.

Why you need to see it: Do you understand how reasonable doubt works? No? This is your perfect dramatic primer.
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Image: Liberty Films.
The movie: It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

The CliffsNotes: A man gets to see what the world would have been like if he had never existed. Spoiler: It would be grim.

Why you need to see it: Because it's wonderful. And for all these reasons.
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Image: United Artists.
The movie: Midnight Cowboy (1969)

The CliffsNotes: A dishwasher from Texas moves to NYC to land a sugar mama — and ends up living in an abandoned building with a new ally.

Why you need to see it: All the references from this movie you've been missing all these years ("I'm walkin' here!") will finally make sense. Also: New York in the '60s.
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Image: Warner Bros.
The movie: The Exorcist (1973)

The CliffsNotes: Just...prepare to be terrified.

Why you need to see it: At the very least, you might learn how to spider walk.
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Image: United Artists.
The movie: The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

The CliffsNotes: The son of a high-profile right-wing family is brainwashed and becomes a pawn in an international communist conspiracy plot.

Why you need to see it:
Well, for one thing: Frank Sinatra. For another, this gripping suspense thriller mixes political drama with satire — and it's brilliant.
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Image: MGM.
The movie: Gone With The Wind (1939)

The CliffsNotes: Rhett! Scarlett! Ashley! Rhett! Scarlett! "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."

Why you need to see it: This historical romance epic has been heralded for the better part of a century as one of the best films of all time.
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Image: United Artists.
The movie: A Hard Day's Night (1964)

The CliffsNotes: Beatle fans mob the band, on repeat.

Why you need to see it: You think Beliebers and 1D fans are obsessive? Just wait until you get a load of Beatlemania.
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Image: Warner Bros.
The movie: Rebel Without A Cause (1955)

The CliffsNotes: James Dean plays a rebel without a cause, although the truth is that there are myriad causes that spill out over the course of the film.

Why you need to see it: It's the original teenage angst movie. Need we say more?
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Photo: United Artists.
The movie: Goldfinger (1951)

The CliffsNotes: The name is Bond. James Bond.

Why you need to see it: This is arguably the best James Bond movie of the bunch — and the third in which Sean Connery played the iconic spy. It was also the first blockbuster in the franchise, which may or may not have had something to do with Pussy Galore.
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Image: United Artists.
The movie: The African Queen (1951)

The CliffsNotes: Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart are missionaries in Africa on the eve of World War I. Folly — and adventure! — ensue.

Why you need to see it: Hepburn and Bogart together on the Nile? That's an irresistible proposition if we've ever heard one.
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Photo: Columbia Pictures.
The movie: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)

The CliffsNotes: Ever wonder how the president might prevent a nuclear holocaust?

Why you need to see it: Because it's a Stanley Kubrick political satire masterwork.
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Image: 20th Century Fox.
The movie: All About Eve (1950)

The CliffsNotes: A young fan named Eve (Anne Baxter) enters the life of an aging Broadway star (Bette Davis) — and, little by little, it becomes clear that Eve is up to no good.

Why you need to see it: This is the only movie in Oscar history to receive four female nominations — and if that's not a reason to see it, we're not sure what is. (Though it's also really, really good.)
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Image: RKO Radio Pictures.
The movie: Citizen Kane (1941)

The CliffsNotes: A reporter is dispatched to unravel the secret behind newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane's dying words — and the deeper he digs, the more tangled the mystery of the man becomes.

Why you need to see it: There's a reason that every third person on the planet has called this the best movie of all time. But you should watch it and come up with your own thesis on the subject.
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Image: United Artists.
The movie: Annie Hall (1977)

The CliffsNotes: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl become smitten. Both spend a lot of time with their analysts. Girl outgrows boy and moves to California.

Why you need to see it: While we all have complicated Woody Allen feelings, Annie Hall is one of his very best — and Diane Keaton is absolutely irresistible.
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Image: Warner Bros.
The movie: Clockwork Orange (1972)

The CliffsNotes: A teen troublemaker is thrown in jail, becomes a guinea pig for a government aversion-therapy program, and then eventually needs to be "cured" of his treatment. Also featuring: All the hooliganism.

Why you need to see it:
This one's definitely a mind fuck. But in a way that will actually make you consider the way you see the world and consciously choose to either take off or leave on the rose-colored glasses.
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Image: Paramount.
The movie: Psycho (1960)

The CliffsNotes: Woman checks into hotel. Gets terrorized physically, mentally. Cue: You gasping and covering your eyes.

Why you need to see it: You know eventually you're going to dress up as the shower scene for Halloween. You should at least have a first-person experience of what you're referencing.
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Image: 20th Century Fox.
The movie: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

The CliffsNotes: BFF showgirls woo men, go shopping, impersonate one another, perform hijinks, have double wedding.

Why you need to see it: Because it's time to finally understand where the phrase "diamonds are a girl's best friend" came from.
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Image: Universal Pictures.
The movie: Jaws (1975)

The CliffsNotes: Giant shark decides to have humans for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Humans freak and must defeat the fish. You: Never go into the ocean again.

Why you need to see it: HOW HAVE YOU NOT SEEN JAWS YET?
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Image: MGM.
The movie: An American In Paris (1964)

The CliffsNotes: A former American G.I. stays in Paris to become a painter and falls in love with a woman — but as his art star rises, he gets himself into an interesting fix.

Why you need to see it: This is a feel-good oldie, and Gene Kelly tap-dancing while singing Gershwin music is, in a word, divine.
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Image: MGM.
The movie: Singin' In The Rain (1952)

The CliffsNotes: The film industry is transitioning from silent movies to talkies, and when an older film gets a musical makeover, its stars wind up at odds.

Why you need to see it: For Gene Kelly's tap dance during a downpour, but also because the whole thing is downright delightful.
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Image: Warner Bros.
The movie: Casablanca (1942)

The CliffsNotes: A nightclub owner in Casablanca finds out his former flame is in town with her husband — and helps them escape the country under the Nazis' noses.

Why you need to see it: "Here's lookin' at you, kid."
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Image: Radio Pictures.
The movie: King Kong (1933)

The CliffsNotes: We're pretty sure you know the gist of this one. But a giant prehistoric ape takes a beautiful young woman hostage, climbs the Empire State building, and MUST BE STOPPED.

Why you need to see it: Love stop-motion animation? This is kinda where it all began.
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Image: Paramount Pictures.
The movie: Chinatown (1974)

The CliffsNotes: A private eye is hired to spy on a woman's husband and discovers that there's something much, much darker than a run-of-the-mill infidelity to unravel.

Why you need to see it: The Chinatown screenplay is often touted as one of the best ever written — and the noir mystery will keep you guessing until the final moments.
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Image: MGM.
The movie: Meet Me In St. Louis (1945)

The CliffsNotes: The year leading up to the 1904 World's Fair, the Smith family grows up a lot, particularly as its two eldest daughters fall in love for the first time. Also: trolley time! (Fun fact: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was actually written for this film.)

Why you need to see it: This is Judy Garland at her very best on a performance front. But it's also a revealing look at the way the nation was shifting at the turn of the century — it's no one note emotional musical.