Tearing Apart the Imdb Top 250 Films Part 1

Tearing Apart the IMDb Top 250 Part 1: Forrest Gump, Requiem for a Dream and The Shawshank Redemption

The IMDb Top 250 is a hotly contested and controversial list of the IMDb top rated movies. Many see it as a list of the best movies of all time. 

Indeed, it has become infamous as almost the cultural touchstone of film itself – a means by which to rate a film’s quality, even if many would say that objectively judging subjective art is futile. 

It is so relied upon that many hire professionals to perfect their IMDb page, as it’s often the first place an actor’s face will be seen.

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Is IMDb’s Top 250 really the best of the best?

This vote-by-majority list is the closest we have to a consensus on the ranking of films; if not by quality then at least by popularity. Elections aren’t always won by the best candidates after all, but often the ones which receive the most votes. 

Howeve if, for argument’s sake, we were to consider the IMDb Top 250 to represent the 250 best films ever produced – at least by popular vote – then the presence of some films on that list would simply baffle me. 

The natural response to this might be to quote The Big Lebowski (1998), or #205 on the list at time of writing: “That’s just like, your opinion, man”. Yet beyond even those caveats, I still cannot comprehend who would put the following so-called best-ever films amongst the highest IMDb rated movies.

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

 One of the first rules taught in most film schools is this: if your audience has to sit through nearly two hours of your film, it helps if the main characters are likeable and relatable.

This rule is the guiding principle for almost all of fictional writing, including cinema. Your audience has to be able to relate to, or like, the characters in your story.

Of course you can make a film with an anti-hero lead if they’re relatable, and you can make a film with a lovable character even if you can’t relate to them. 

However, the main characters in Requiem for a Dream are utterly unlikeable and unrelatable – the worst of both worlds. 

Neither Jennifer Connelly, Jared Leto or Marlon Wayans have an outstanding film career, but each is a competent actor with some good performances under their belt prior to this. However, it is difficult to see what even the greatest actors alive could have done with such soulless, two-dimensionally depraved characters. 

I dislike the idea that art has to have a message – as much as the people who tap their foot expectantly waiting for films to voice said opinions for their approval, like a recruitment officer inducting new pieces of art as soldiers into the culture war. 

Yet every time I watch this film I am forced to ask myself what its purpose is – what message does this film convey? 

An unlikeable film with unlikeable characters


More than perhaps any other film, Requiem for a Dream (2000) seems to have no deeper meaning. It is as shallow as its characters.

More than perhaps any other film, Requiem for a Dream (2000) seems to have no deeper meaning. It is as shallow as its characters.

As characters, drug addicts are, from the outset, harder to sympathise with than most. As such other films make extended efforts to give audiences reasons to pity them. Requiem for a Dream (2000) on the other hand elects to skip this process and thus gives us very little reason to be sympathetic towards them. 

That runtime is instead dedicated to depicting their increasingly anti-social behaviour, which is ultimately a product of their own addictions and poor life choices.

The much-lauded film seems to be little more than two hours of thoroughly unlikeable people, with no redeeming qualities, consistently refusing to address their own issues or improve their lives in any meaningful way. 

It solely depicts drug addicts being drug addicts, interspersed with them torturing the only sympathetic character, Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn). SPOILER ALERT We see through her how an innocent, naive person can fall into addiction.

Presumably we are supposed to supplant Sara’s path to addiction onto the other characters, assuming vicariously that they are equally blameless and innocent – all evidence to the contrary. At least for me, as you may assume, this fails utterly. It instead serves only to make me less sympathetic to the other characters, as they are not only ruining their own lives, but dragging down innocent people with them.

Requiem’s visuals and score are remarkable improvements upon the plot 

There are so many stand-out pieces: from the infamous refrigerator scene, and the grotesquely beautiful and oddly tasteful pornographic scenes, to the almost surreal blurring of fantasy and reality for Sara and her ‘TV addiction’. 

Plus, of course, the constant oppressive droning soundtrack pressing in on you like an unwaning addiction. All are quite incredible, and worthy of a far better film.

 Requiem for a Dream (2000) is not just in the Top 250, it is actually #97 at time of writing. Considering I think it does not deserve to be on the much-coveted list at all, I’m always shocked to remember it is as high up the list as it is. 

‘Look how sad the lives of drug addicts are’ isn’t exactly a message that should take 2 hours of runtime to convey. Amounting to little more than voyeuristic drug addict footage, I can’t comprehend why people hold this up as a masterpiece.

Amounting to little more than voyeuristic drug addict footage, I can’t comprehend why people hold this up as a masterpiece.

Ben’s Ranking: 3.0 – IMDb Ranking: 8.3

Forrest Gump (1994)

 I actually like Forrest Gump as a film quite a bit. 

That said, I don’t understand why it is held aloft on such a pedestal. Perhaps it’s simply because it stars Tom Hanks, an actor who – much like popcorn – audiences simply can’t get enough of. 

He’s great in many roles, even if I feel his acting range is rather limited. 

But why fix what isn’t broken? 

Of course, if there’s any one character that does break the mould of the ‘Oscar-Winning Tom Hanks character’ it’s probably Forrest. The know-nothing naif is at once an everyman and yet unlike anybody you know, blending pure likeability with, at times, total unrelatability; even to absurd degrees.

Not every film is out to change the world

As stated earlier I personally dislike the idea that art has to have a message. That said, I would be at a loss to say what, if anything, Forrest Gump (1994) was actually ‘about’ – save for the antics of its titular character.

Judging by Google’s recommended searches, I’m not the only one asking that question either.

 Character studies can be incredible, and Tom Hanks undoubtedly delivers an amazing performance – made all the more impressive given he has both feet firmly outside of his comfort zone with this character. 

Yet I don’t think there’s really enough here to justify putting Forrest Gump on the IMDb Top 250 list. Outside of Forrest the only characters who see true development are Jenny and Lieutenant Dan, played by Robin Wright and Gary Sinise respectively, two similarly outstanding actors. 

Looking at the characters who aren’t Forrest Gump


Lieutenant Dan is the audience surrogate for the more bitter and jaded part of the audience.

Lieutenant Dan I would argue is the audience surrogate – or at least an audience surrogate for the more bitter and jaded part of the audience which includes myself. 

Sinise’s character serves as a grim reminder of reality in the fantastical exploits Forrest undergoes. He asks questions we would ask, and challenges Forrest’s simple demeanour, like that kid who points out how the trick is being done at a birthday party magic show.

Jenny, by contrast, is by many colloquially considered to be one of the least likeable characters in the history of cinema. 

The series of events which she puts into motion, deliberately no less, are so reprehensible as to be comically evil and devoid of all empathy. 

She is almost distractingly evil, and more bafflingly, people will defend her actions and argue she is misunderstood. It should go without saying that such a distracting character, even in a plot this fantastical, stands out even more than our granite-rugged realist Lieutenant Dan – although worryingly this seems unintentional.

The missed opportunity for a better story

I often find myself wishing this film was instead called ‘Lieutenant Dan’.

I often find myself wishing this film was instead called ‘Lieutenant Dan’, and began shortly before Dan met Gump. When forced to choose between the two options mentioned earlier, a likeable but unrelatable or relatable but unlikeable character, I feel the latter is a far stronger choice, and Lieutenant Dan is firmly in the second category. 

I feel as though there is a far more interesting story happening off-screen when we’re busy watching Forrest run around a lot, one with far more depth and, again, more relatable themes.

Indeed, sometimes it almost feels as if Forrest Gump started out as a film about Lieutenant Dan, but at some point Hanks was signed as the goofy second character. 

Being such a hot ticket in Hollywood at the time, having Hanks on board led to significant rewrites to give his character more screen time, until he was overshadowing the main role – at which point they decided to make the film about him instead.

Not bad, but also not the makings of a Top 250 movie

Forrest is not a bad character. Indeed he is, by design, almost impossible not to like. 

Yet I find it tragic to see a character with a ‘more real’ story just off-screen, which I feel would have made for a much better film. The fairytale aspects of Forrest’s story simply feel like pink paint spilled over a much better painting, obscuring that which may not appeal to as wide an audience, but which would offer a more meaningful experience.

 Forrest Gump (1994) sits at position #12 at time of writing, higher than all of the following movies on the Top 250 list, including Apocalypse Now (1979), The Shining (1980) – perhaps the ultimate character study film – Star Wars: Episode 4 – A New Hope (1977), The Matrix (1999), and Alien (1979).

Even if you could convince me Forrest Gump deserves to be on the IMDb Top 250, I don’t think you could ever convince me it deserves to be higher than all of the films above.

Ben’s Ranking: 5.5 – IMDb Ranking: 8.7 

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

I would question whether any film can truly be considered the ‘best film of all time’, nor do I think you could really make a short-list of the ‘best movies of all time’. 

That would be like deciding what the greatest song was, or greatest painting. I would never call A Clockwork Orange (1971) the greatest film ever made – but I’d certainly rank it much higher than The Shawshank Redemption

As it stands, A Clockwork Orange, at time of writing, sits outside the top 100 films of all time (if you go by the IMDb top 250), whereas The Shawshank Redemption is ranked as the best film of all time, at #1.

The Shawshank Redemption is Tim Robbins‘ most successful role, starring alongside Morgan Freeman in the film I probably have the most issue with on the Top 250 list. 

Is this really supposed to be the best film of all time?

A newcomer to Shawshank State Prison, Andy Dufresne (Robbins) is a boring, understated character with no goals, a bland and smug demeanour, and generally no real ‘character’ to speak of. He ambles about inside a prison for a while, has a bad life because he’s in said prison, and while we are told he is innocent there is no effort made whatsoever to prove that one way or the other. He then drinks some beer on a rooftop with some of his fellow insipid, understated prisoner friends – which I’m regularly told equates to the greatest story ever told in cinema.

 In response to my incredulity, I’m told that ‘it’s not about the story itself, but the way it’s told’, that being through Freeman’s character, ‘Red’. 

To summarise, then, it’s not important that the film is boring, because this boring film is presented to us in such a skillful and artful manner. 

It’s not important that the film is boring, because this boring film is presented to us in such a skillful and artful manner. 

I would argue that someone can dangle keys in front of you in the most skillful and artful manner possible, but that won’t stop it from getting boring fairly quickly unless you are remarkably easily entertained.

Maybe I just can’t stand to see any film labelled the best film of all time

Admittedly, beyond even the contrarian desire to argue against any list of the best movies of all time, there is undoubtedly a primal non-conformal urge lurking in many of us to dethrone whichever film sits atop the golden throne as number 1. 

However, I do honestly feel that even if Shawshank Redemption (1994) was at #250 I would still be baffled by it being on the IMDb Top 250 list at all.

I do honestly feel that even if Shawshank Redemption (1994) was at #250 I would still be baffled by it being on the IMDb Top 250 list at all. 

 The film constantly tries to frame our criminal cast in an idyllic light, the warden as an egomaniac, and his guards as mindless brutal thugs. In fact, it goes to ludicrous degrees to force this power dynamic down your throat in a film which otherwise presents itself as subdued and realistic. 

It’s hard to drink in a subtle prison drama when every other scene is invaded by cartoonishly evil characters.

 The central question of the film, innocence, is fairly self explanatory. The film answers its own question fairly early on, which doesn’t leave very much to work with afterwards. Even if any of them are innocent, it doesn’t matter, so who cares? They all say they’re innocent, which quickly induces semantic satiation. 

I much prefer the original story – the one most fans haven’t read

You may be aware that Forrest Gump (1994) is based on a book – one, which, much to my surprise, corrects some of the major complaints I have with that film. 

Shawshank Redemption (1994) is also a novel adaptation, adapted from a novel which fixes practically every issue I have with the film. 

While one can obviously make the argument that, unconstrained by the limitations of film as they are, a book will always be superior to any film adaptation, I was staggered to see how much was lost in translation. 

Unlike in the film where Andy Dufresne’s innocence is inconsequential and yet unendingly focused upon, in the novel his guilt is almost certain, and the novel instead focuses on him trying to improve as a person. Put simply, it is a relatable and empathetic story about a guilty man – or everything the film fails to be. 

As an aside, it is worth mentioning that Requiem for a Dream (2000) is also a book, but the film is more or less an accurate retelling of the novel – which is more than enough reason to never read the book.

The first time I watched it I was sure I was watching the wrong film, either an Asylum-esque similarly titled rip-off, or perhaps a little-known remake or original. Surely, I thought, this couldn’t be the film which people I otherwise found to be of both sound body and mind considered the greatest film ever made? 

Why was I forced to rewatch this film yet again

 The plot is dead-end, boring, and brief.

Andy Dufresne is a blank mannequin who had a smug grin moulded onto him at the factory.

Our dramatis personae have very little character to speak of, least of all Andy Dufresne, being a blank mannequin who had a smug grin moulded onto him at the factory. They do nothing, accomplish next to nothing, and barely change due to that being a central theme of the film. This is notably a feat which even Requiem for a Dream (2000) did not accomplish. 

The only character with even a semblance of growth has it, shall we say, ‘cut short’, and I don’t blame them for wanting to escape from this film by any means necessary. 

 I stand in awe of the fact that this film is even well liked, let alone considered by many to be – not just one of the greatest movies of all time – but in fact the best film of all time. In fact, there are 249 other films on this list I reckon deserve that top spot more, yes, even the other two films mentioned earlier in this article, loathe as I am to admit it.

 Ben’s Score: 2.0 – IMDb Score: 9.2


Editor & Artwork: Richard Williams
Images: Gage Skidmore (Jared Leto)

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Writer and editor from the north of Scotland, lifelong movie enthusiast. Always looking for an unseen classic, watching something new every day.

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