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Instant Film School

Learn from cinema’s best with this collection shaped for students. No lectures, no essays, just proof of what a camera and an idea can do.

This collection acts as a primer of essential viewing for film students; a collection of cinematic masterworks handpicked by the BFI. Journey through the history of cinema and its aesthetic movements, from German Expressionism and Soviet Montage through Italian Neorealism, New German Cinema, US independents, and Modernism/Postmodernism in all its guises.

You'll find many of the greatest films ever made in this collection, to be enjoyed by all film fans. But if you are a student, this is the very best kind of homework imaginable.

With kind thanks to BFI Reuben Library.

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Wings of DesireWings of Desire

Fantasy1987128 minsDirector: Wim Wenders

In director Wim Wenders' (Paris, Texas) most metaphysical work, a guardian angel desires nothing more than to be human. Presented in a stunning new restoration.

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Citizen KaneCitizen Kane

Drama1941119 minsDirector: Orson Welles

Given extraordinary freedom by Hollywood studio RKO for his debut film, boy wonder Orson Welles created this notoriously brilliant portrait of a media giant.

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Cléo from 5 to 7Cléo from 5 to 7

Drama196291 minsDirector: Agnès Varda

Agnes Varda’s classic character study follows a successful pop singer as she wanders around Paris while awaiting the results of serious medical tests.

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Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 BruxellesJeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Drama1975202 minsDirector: Chantal Akerman

Chantal Akerman's magnificent epic of experimental cinema offering a feminist perspective on recurrent events of everyday life.

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NosferatuNosferatu

Horror192289 minsSilentDirector: F.W. Murnau

This influential Dracula adaptation contains some of the most famous images of expressionist film, and remains shocking and stylish after 100 years.

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Paris, TexasParis, Texas

Drama1984145 minsDirector: Wim Wenders

The late, great Harry Dean Stanton's finest role came as the near-mute Travis, on a journey across America to reunite his family, in Wim Wenders' moving tale of loss and redemption.

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PressurePressure

Drama1978121 minsDirector: Horace Ové

Hailed as Britain's first black feature film, Pressure is a hard-hitting, honest document of the plight of disenchanted black youths in 1970s London; now available in its new restoration.

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CrashCrash

Drama1996100 minsDirector: David Cronenberg

Technology and sexuality meet in head-on collision in David Cronenberg’s controversial adaptation of writer J.G. Ballard’s hugely transgressive 1973 novel, starring James Spader and Holly Hunter.

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Seven SamuraiSeven Samurai

Drama1954207 minsDirector: Akira Kurosawa

Farmers hire a band of samurai to defend them against marauding bandits in Kurosawa’s influential epic, a touchstone for action movies ever since.

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PusherPusher

Crime1996105 minsDirector: Nicolas Winding Refn

The debut film of both Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) and Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) is a ferociously gritty crime thriller about a drug dealer's dizzying descent into self-destruction.

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CaravaggioCaravaggio

Biopic198693 minsDirector: Derek Jarman

Derek Jarman’s unique biopic of the 17th century Italian artist Michelangelo da Caravaggio is a powerful meditation on sexuality, criminality and art.

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OldboyOldboy

Thriller2003120 minsDirector: Park Chan-wook

Park’s wilfully grotesque fable about an abductee trying to fathom the mysteries of his past.

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Fish TankFish Tank

Drama2009118 minsDirector: Andrea Arnold

Andrea Arnold's BAFTA winner and coming-of-age story starring newcomer Katie Jarvis as disaffected teen Mia and Michael Fassbender in one of his earliest film roles.

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The SouvenirThe Souvenir

Drama2018120 minsDirector: Joanna Hogg

Sight and Sound's 2019 film of the year is the compelling, semi-autobiographical drama from acclaimed writer-director Joanna Hogg.

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Jules et JimJules et Jim

Drama1962106 minsDirector: François Truffaut

François Truffaut’s hugely popular classic depicts one of cinema’s most captivating love triangles

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RashomonRashomon

Crime195088 minsDirector: Akira Kurosawa

Credited with bringing Japanese cinema to worldwide audiences, Akira Kurosawa’s breakthrough tells the story of a murder in the woods from four differing perspectives.

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Wild StrawberriesWild Strawberries

Drama195788 minsDirector: Ingmar Bergman

Victor Sjöström is magnificent as the crabby professor taking a nostalgic road trip with his daughter-in-law, in Ingmar Bergman's elegiac masterpiece.

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The Seventh SealThe Seventh Seal

Fantasy195796 minsDirector: Ingmar Bergman

Ingmar Bergman’s best-known film is a brilliant allegorical drama starring Max von Sydow as a knight trying to elude his own death.

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Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-PowerBrainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power

Documentary2022107 minsDirector: Nina Menkes

You may never look at film the same way again after watching this illuminating journey, which deconstructs the male gaze in cinema.

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Daughters of the DustDaughters of the Dust

Drama1991112 minsDirector: Julie Dash

Julie Dash’s groundbreaking Daughters of the Dust remains urgent and poetic and continues to resonate, inspiring Beyoncé’s iconic visual album Lemonade.

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Tokyo StoryTokyo Story

Drama1953136 minsDirector: Yasujirō Ozu

A constant fixture in critics' polls, Yasujirō Ozu's most enduring masterpiece is a beautifully nuanced exploration of filial duty, expectation and regret.

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A Personal Journey… Part 2A Personal Journey… Part 2

Documentary199579 minsDirector: Martin Scorsese and Michael Henry Wilson

The second part of Martin Scorsese's 'personal journey' through American Cinema.

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Drama1963138 minsDirector: Federico Fellini

Fellini triumphantly conjured himself out of writer's block with this magnum opus about a film director experiencing his own creative crisis.

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A Personal Journey... Part 1A Personal Journey... Part 1

Documentary199572 minsDirector: Martin Scorsese and Michael Henry Wilson

The first part of Martin Scorsese's 'personal journey' through American Cinema.

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LondonLondon

Animation & Artists Moving Image199485 minsDirector: Patrick Keiller

The first in Patrick Keiller’s highly imaginative trilogy of films is a photographic trip through London, recounted by our unseen narrator.

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A Personal Journey… Part 3A Personal Journey… Part 3

Documentary199574 minsDirector: Martin Scorsese and Michael Henry Wilson

The third part of Martin Scorsese's 'personal journey' through American Cinema

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The Colour of PomegranatesThe Colour of Pomegranates

Animation & Artists Moving Image196880 minsDirector: Sergei Paradjanov

The film that Martin Scorsese compared to ‘opening a door and walking into another dimension, where time has stopped and beauty has been unleashed’.

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Un Chien AndalouUn Chien Andalou

Animation & Artists Moving Image192816 minsSilentDirector: Luis Buñuel

A scabrous study of desire, the subconscious and anti-clericalism - Buñuel and Dalí’s provocative first film is a classic of Surrealist cinema.

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MetropolisMetropolis

Science Fiction1927150 minsSilentDirector: Fritz Lang

Fritz Lang’s expressionist, dystopian vision is one of the first science fiction feature films, and is arguably the most influential.

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SuspiriaSuspiria

Horror1977101 minsDirector: Dario Argento

Dario Argento’s phantasmagoric gothic nightmare blends operatic violence, disorienting dream logic and hyper-real visuals to create a horror classic.

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Aguirre, Wrath of GodAguirre, Wrath of God

Historical drama197294 minsDirector: Werner Herzog

This early masterpiece from Werner Herzog stars Klaus Kinski as a power-crazed explorer in sixteenth-century South America who leads a band of conquistadors through the Amazon in search of El Dorado.

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Battleship PotemkinBattleship Potemkin

Historical drama192569 minsSilentDirector: Sergei M. Eisenstein

A fixture in the critical canon almost since its premiere, Eisenstein’s film about a 1905 naval mutiny was revolutionary in both form and content.

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Man With a Movie CameraMan With a Movie Camera

Documentary192967 minsSilentDirector: Dziga Vertov

Dazzling document of Soviet life, by Dziga Vertov, showing a living city and the people and machines that propel it.

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The Bitter Tears of Petra von KantThe Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

Drama1972124 minsDirector: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Fassbinder's visual and verbal extravaganza about a successful but lonely fashion designer who falls in love with a beautiful younger woman.

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Fear Eats the SoulFear Eats the Soul

Melodrama197493 minsDirector: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Fassbinder’s international breakthrough, this unconventional love story combines lucid social analysis with devastating emotional power.

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The Green RayThe Green Ray

Drama198699 minsDirector: Eric Rohmer

Eric Rohmer's masterpiece about a woman chasing romance and adventure during a long, hot summer.

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Dance CrazeDance Craze

Documentary198189 minsDirector: Joe Massot

Legendary concert film that brilliantly captures the cultural phenomenon that was the 2 Tone movement, and showcases the very best of the British Ska revival.

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La HaineLa Haine

Drama199598 minsDirector: Mathieu Kassovitz

Mathieu Kassovitz’s landmark mid-90s drama throws a cinematic Molotov cocktail at structural racism, police brutality and media manipulation.

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Rome, Open CityRome, Open City

Drama1945103 minsDirector: Roberto Rossellini

Roberto Rossellini’s landmark of Italian neorealism often cited as one of the greatest films ever made.

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The Passion of Joan of ArcThe Passion of Joan of Arc

Biopic192880 minsSilentDirector: Carl Th. Dreyer

An incontestable masterpiece of silent cinema, Carl Dreyer's deeply moving biopic features one of the most powerful performances ever captured on film.

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Ordet.Ordet.

Drama1955125 minsDirector: Carl Th. Dreyer

Carl Theodor Dreyer’s beautifully photographed tale explores the religious intolerance and familial tensions within a Danish farming family.

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The 400 BlowsThe 400 Blows

Drama1959100 minsDirector: François Truffaut

François Truffaut’s French New Wave landmark is one of the greatest movies about adolescence.

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Godard CinemaGodard Cinema

Documentary2022101 minsDirector: Cyril Leuthy

Unravelling the vast cinematic contribution and elusive personal mystique of one of cinema's great masters, Jean-Luc Godard.

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IkiruIkiru

Drama1952143 minsDirector: Akira Kurosawa

A bureaucrat’s life finds new meaning in Kurosawa’s classic original, the source for Bill Nighy’s brilliant drama, Living.

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Madonna and ChildMadonna and Child

Drama198028 minsDirector: Terence Davies

Autobiography as art: the centrepiece of Terence Davies' devastating Liverpool-set Trilogy focuses on his fictional alter-ego in middle age.

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L'ArgentL'Argent

Crime198384 minsDirector: Robert Bresson

Bresson’s superb final film and Cannes winner is a Tolstoy adaptation relating how a prank with a forged bank note leads to tragedy.

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The Draughtsman's ContractThe Draughtsman's Contract

Period drama1982107 minsDirector: Peter Greenaway

Peter Greenaway became a director of international status with this witty, stylised, erotic country house murder mystery.

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PersonaPersona

Drama196684 minsDirector: Ingmar Bergman

A nurse and an actress who refuses to speak seem to fuse identities in Ingmar Bergman’s disturbing, formally experimental psychological drama.

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Shoah (First Era)Shoah (First Era)

Documentary1985274 minsDirector: Claude Lanzmann

Claude Lanzmann's monumental chronicle of the Holocaust has been acclaimed by many as the greatest documentary ever made.

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Shoah (Second Era)Shoah (Second Era)

Documentary1985293 minsDirector: Claude Lanzmann

Claude Lanzmann's monumental chronicle of the Holocaust has been acclaimed by many as the greatest documentary ever made.