If you’re a fan of great film, then we have an interesting article for you today. In this piece, we’re taking a detailed look at Criterion Collection films and dropping a list of the best Criterion films you can find.

The Criterion Collection, Inc. (or simply Criterion) is an American home video distribution company which focuses on licensing “important classic and contemporary films” and selling them to film aficionados.

Criterion is noted for helping to standardize a number of ideas, such as performing film restoration, using the letterbox format for widescreen films, and adding bonus features and commentary tracks for home video.

If you’re looking for the best Criterion films then you’ve come to the right place!

We’ve listed these Criterion films in no particular order and there’s no preference here. These are releases that have a special interest for one of the following reasons:

  • A particularly good version of the film print (although this is an admittedly wide field, due to Criterion having some of the best encodes and releases out there.
  • Interesting booklets or documentation.
  • Fantastic extras, documentaries, etc included.

So, without further ado, let’s get into the list of the best Criterion films you can get your hands on!

Best Criterion Films – The Top Films in the Criterion Collection

Let’s dive in and look at the best Criterion films you can find.

The Seven Samurai

Criterion’s best-selling edition of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece

“The source of a genre that would flow through the rest of the century.” -Roger Ebert

One of the most thrilling movie epics of all time, Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai) tells the story of a sixteenth-century village whose desperate inhabitants hire the eponymous warriors to protect them from invading bandits.

This three-hour ride from Akira Kurosawa—featuring legendary actors Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura—seamlessly weaves philosophy and entertainment, delicate human emotions and relentless action, into a rich, evocative, and unforgettable tale of courage and hope.

Seven Samurai (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima (Actors)
  • Akira Kurosawa (Director) - Akira Kurosawa (Writer) - Sôjirô Motoki (Producer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

Mulholland Drive

Mulholland Drive is a 2001 American neo-noir mystery film written and directed by David Lynch and starring Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux, Ann Miller, Mark Pellegrino and Robert Forster.

It tells the story of an aspiring actress named Betty Elms (Watts), newly arrived in Los Angeles, who meets and befriends an amnesiac woman (Harring) recovering from a car accident.

The story follows several other vignettes and characters, including a Hollywood film director (Theroux).

Originally conceived as a television pilot, a large portion of the film was shot in 1999 with Lynch’s plan to keep it open-ended for a potential series.

After viewing Lynch’s cut, however, television executives rejected it. Lynch then provided an ending to the project, making it a feature film.

The half-pilot, half-feature result, along with Lynch’s characteristic style, has left the general meaning of the film’s events open to interpretation.

Lynch has declined to offer an explanation of his intentions for the narrative, leaving audiences, critics, and cast members to speculate on what transpires. He gave the film the tagline “A love story in the city of dreams”.

Sale
Mulholland Dr. [Blu-ray]
  • Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux (Actors)
  • David Lynch (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

The Silence Of The Lambs

In this chilling adaptation of the best-selling novel by Thomas Harris, the astonishingly versatile director Jonathan Demme crafted a taut psychological thriller about an American obsession: serial murder.

As Clarice Starling, an FBI trainee who enlists the help of the infamous Hannibal ‘the Cannibal’ Lecter to gain insight into the mind of another killer, Jodie Foster subverts classic gender dynamics and gives one of the most memorable performances of her career.

As her foil, Anthony Hopkins is the archetypal antihero—cultured, quick-witted, and savagely murderous—delivering a harrowing portrait of humanity gone terribly wrong.

A gripping police procedural and a disquieting immersion into a twisted psyche, The Silence of the Lambs swept the Academy Awards (best picture, director, screenplay, actress, actor) and remains a cultural touchstone.

The Silence of the Lambs (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins (Actors)
  • Jonathan Demme (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Spanish (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

Pan’s Labyrinth

An Academy Award winning dark fable set five years after the end of the Spanish Civil War, Pan s Labyrinth encapsulates the rich visual style and genre-defying craft of Guillermo del Toro (The Devil s Backbone, Cronos).

Eleven-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero, in a mature and tender performance) comes face to face with the horrors of fascism when she and her pregnant mother are uprooted to the countryside, where her new stepfather (Sergi López), a sadistic captain in General Franco s army, hunts down Republican guerrillas who refuse to give up the fight.

The violent reality in which she lives merges seamlessly with a fantastical interior world when Ofelia meets a faun in a decaying labyrinth and is set on a strange, mythic journey that is at once terrifying and beautiful.

In his revisiting of this bloody period in Spanish history, del Toro creates a vivid depiction of the monstrosities of war infiltrating a child s imagination and threatening the innocence of youth.

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Pan's Labyrinth (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Doug Jones (Actors)
  • Guillermo del Toro (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

The Graduate

One of the most beloved American films of all time, The Graduate earned Mike Nichols a best director Oscar, brought the music of Simon & Garfunkel to a wider audience, and introduced the world to a young actor named Dustin Hoffman.

Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman) has just finished college and is already lost in a sea of confusion and barely contained angst when he becomes sexually involved with the middle-aged mother (Anne Bancroft) of the young woman he s dating (Katharine Ross).

Visually imaginative and impeccably acted, with a clever, endlessly quotable script by Buck Henry (based on the novel by Charles Webb), The Graduate had the kind of cultural impact that comes along only once in a generation.

The Graduate (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross (Actors)
  • Mike Nichols (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)

Do the Right Thing

Set on one block of Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy Do or Die neighborhood, at the height of summer, this 1989 masterpiece by Spike Lee confirmed him as a writer and filmmaker of peerless vision and passionate social engagement.

Over the course of a single day, the easygoing interactions of a cast of unforgettable characters—Da Mayor, Mother Sister, Mister Señor Love Daddy, Tina, Buggin Out, Radio Raheem, Sal, Pino, Vito, and Lee’s Mookie among them—give way to heated confrontations as tensions rise along racial fault lines, ultimately exploding into violence.

Punctuated by the anthemic refrain of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” Do the Right Thing is a landmark in American cinema, as politically and emotionally charged and as relevant now as when it first hit the big screen.

Do the Right Thing (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Spike Lee (Actors)
  • Spike Lee (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

Night Of The Living Dead

A deceptively simple tale of a group of strangers trapped in a farmhouse who find themselves fending off a horde of flesh-eating ghouls, Romero’s claustrophobic vision of a late-1960s America literally tearing itself apart rewrote the rules of the horror genre, combined gruesome gore with acute social commentary, and quietly broke ground by casting a black actor (Duane Jones) in its lead role.

Shot outside Pittsburgh on a shoestring budget, Night Of The Living Dead is a midnight hit turned box-office smash that became one of the most influential films of all time.

Night of the Living Dead (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Duane Jones (Actor)
  • George A. Romero (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Spanish (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

The Night of the Hunter

A tall, handsome preacher his knuckles eerily tattooed with love and hate roams the countryside, spreading the gospel…and leaving a trail of murdered women in his wake. To Reverend Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum), the work of the Lord has more to do with condemning souls than saving them,especially when his own interests are involved.

Now his sights are set on $10,000 and two little children are the only ones who know where it is. Chill… dren! the preacher croons to the terrified boy and girl hiding in the cold, dark cellar… innocent young lambs who refuse to be led astray.

The Night of the Hunter stars Mitchum in the most daring and critically acclaimed performance of his career. Spellbinding, ominous, and hauntingly suspenseful, this extraordinary film noir classic remains one of the most frightening movies ever made (Pauline Kael).

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The Night of the Hunter [Blu-ray]
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish (Actors)
  • Charles Laughton (Director)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

In the Mood for Love

Hong Kong, 1962: Chow Mo wan (Tony Leung Chiu wai) and Su Li zhen (Maggie Cheung Man yuk) move into neighboring apartments on the same day. Their encounters are formal and polite—until a discovery about their spouses creates an intimate bond between them.

At once delicately mannered and visually extravagant, Wong Kar wai’s In the Mood for Love is a masterful evocation of romantic longing and fleeting moments.

With its aching musical soundtrack and exquisitely abstract cinematography by Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping bin, this film has secured a place in the cinematic canon, and is a milestone in Wong’s redoubtable career.

In the Mood for Love (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Maggie Cheung Man-yuk, Tony Leung Chiu-wai (Actors)
  • Wong Kar-wai (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)

12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men, by Sidney Lumet, may be the most radical big-screen courtroom drama in cinema history.

A behind-closed-doors look at the American legal system as riveting as it is spare, the iconic adaptation of Reginald Rose’s teleplay stars Henry Fonda as the initially dissenting member of a jury of white men ready to pass judgment on a Puerto Rican teenager charged with murdering his father

What results is a saga of epic proportions that plays out in real time over ninety minutes in one sweltering room. Lumet’s electrifying snapshot of 1950s America on the verge of change is one of the great feature-film debuts.

12 Angry Men (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Ed Begley, Henry Fonda, Jack Warden (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

Some Like It Hot

When two male musicians witness a mob hit, they flee the state in an all-female band disguised as women, but further complications set in.

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Some Like It Hot (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe (Actors)
  • Billy Wilder (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

House

How to describe Nobuhiko Obayashi’s indescribable 1977 movie HOUSE (Hausu)? As a psychedelic ghost tale? A stream of consciousness bedtime story? An episode of Scooby Doo as directed by Mario Bava?

Any of the above will do for this hallucinatory head trip about a schoolgirl who travels with six classmates to her ailing aunt’s creaky country home and comes face to face with evil spirits, a demonic house cat, a bloodthirsty piano, and other ghoulish visions, all realized by Obayashi via a series of mattes, animation, and collage effects.

Equal parts absurd and nightmarish, HOUSE might have been beamed to Earth from some other planet. Never before available on home video in the United States, it’s one of the most exciting cult discoveries in years.

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House (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Kimiko Ikegami, Kumiko Ohba, Yoko Minamida (Actors)
  • Nobuhiko Obayashi (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Rosemary’s Baby

Terrifying and darkly comic, Rosemary’s Baby marked the Hollywood debut of Roman Polanski (Repulsion).

This wildly entertaining nightmare, faithfully adapted from Ira Levin’s best seller, stars a revelatory Mia Farrow (Hannah and Her Sisters) as a young mother to be who grows increasingly suspicious that her overfriendly elderly neighbors, played by Sidney Blackmer (High Society) and an Oscar winning Ruth Gordon (Harold and Maude), and self involved husband (actor and filmmaker John Cassavetes) are hatching a satanic plot against her and her baby.

In the decades of occult cinema Polanski’s ungodly masterpiece has spawned, it’s never been outdone for sheer psychological terror.

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Rosemary's Baby (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon (Actors)
  • Roman Polanski (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

Blood Simple

The career-long darkly comic road trip through misfit America of Joel and Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis) began with this razor-sharp, hard-boiled neonoir set somewhere in Texas, where a sleazy bar owner sets off a torrent of violence with one murderous thought.

Actor M. Emmet Walsh (Blade Runner) looms over the proceedings as the slippery private eye with a yellow suit, a cowboy hat and no moral compass, and Frances McDormand (Fargo) gives a cunning debut performance that set her on the road to stardom.

The tight scripting and inventive camera work that have marked the Coens work for decades is all here, as cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld (Raising Arizona) trades black-and-white chiaroscuro for neon signs and jukebox colors that combine with a haunting score by Carter Burwell (Barton Fink) to lurid and thrilling effect.

Blending elements from pulp fiction and low-budget horror flicks, Blood Simple reinvented the film noir for a new generation, and marked the arrival of a filmmaking ensemble that would help to transform the American independent cinema scene in the 1980s.

Blood Simple (The Criterion Collection)
  • Frances McDormand, M. Emmet Walsh (Actors)
  • Ethan Coen (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

Persona

Famed stage stress Elisabeth Vogler (Liv Ullmann) suffers a moment of blankness during a performance and the next day lapses into total silence.

Advised by her doctor to take time off to recover from what appears to be an emotional breakdown, Elisabeth goes to a beach house on the Baltic Sea with only Anna (Bibi Andersson), a nurse, as company.

Over the next several weeks, as Anna struggles to reach her mute patient, the two women find themselves experiencing a strange emotional convergence.

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Persona (Criterion Collection) (Blu-ray + DVD)
  • Liv Ullmann, Bibi Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand (Actors)
  • Ingmar Bergman (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

The Princess Bride

A kid (Fred Savage), home sick from school, grudgingly allows his grandfather (Peter Falk) to read him a dusty storybook – which is how we meet the innocent Buttercup (Robin Wright, in her breakout role), about to marry the nefarious Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) though her heart belongs to Westley (Cary Elwes).

The wedding plans are interrupted, however, by a mysterious pirate, a vengeful Spaniard, and a good-natured giant, in a tale full of swashbuckling, romance, and outrageously hilarious spoofery.

A high-spirited adventure that pits true love against inconceivable odds, The Princess Bride has charmed legions of fans with its irreverent gags, eccentric ensemble, and dazzling swordplay.

Directed by Rob Reiner from an endlessly quotable script by Oscar winner William Goldman, The Princess Bride reigns as a fairy-tale classic.

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The Princess Bride [Blu-ray]
  • New 4K digital transfer, with 5.1 surround DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack
  • Audio commentary from 1996 featuring director Rob Reiner, screenwriter William Goldman, producer...
  • Edited 1987 audiobook reading of Goldman’s novel The Princess Bride by Reiner
  • New programs about Goldman’s screenplay and tapestry based on the film
  • Archival interviews with Reiner, Goldman, and actors Crystal, Cary Elwes, Christopher Guest, Mandy...

Notorious

With this twisted love story, Alfred Hitchcock summoned darker shades of suspense and passion by casting two of Hollywood’s most beloved stars starkly against type.

Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia, an alluring woman with a checkered past recruited by Devlin (Cary Grant), a suave, mysterious intelligence agent, to spy for the U.S.

Only after she has fallen for Devlin does she learn that her mission is to seduce a Nazi industrialist (Claude Rains) hiding out in South America.

Coupling inventive cinematography with brilliantly subtle turns from his mesmerizing leads, Hitchcock orchestrates an anguished romance shot through with deception and moral ambiguity.

A thriller of rare perfection, Notorious represents a pinnacle of both its director’s legendary career and classic Hollywood cinema.

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Notorious (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Claude Rains (Actors)
  • Alfred Hitchcock (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Dr. Strangelove

Stanley Kubrick s painfully funny take on Cold War anxiety is without a doubt one of the fiercest satires of human folly ever to come out of Hollywood.

The matchless shape shifter Peter Sellers (The Pink Panther) plays three wildly different roles: Air Force Captain Lionel Mandrake, timidly trying to stop a nuclear attack on the USSR ordered by an unbalanced general (The Killing’s Sterling Hayden); the ineffectual and perpetually dumbfounded President Merkin Muffley, who must deliver the very bad news to the Soviet premier; and the titular Strangelove himself, a wheelchair bound presidential adviser with a Nazi past.

Finding improbable hilarity in nearly every unimaginable scenario, Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a genuinely subversive masterpiece that officially announced Kubrick as an unparalleled stylist and pitch black ironist.

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Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden (Actors)
  • Stanley Kubrick (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)

A Woman Under the Influence

John Cassavetes devastating drama details the emotional breakdown of a suburban housewife and her family’s struggle to save her from herself.

Starring Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands (in two of the most harrowing screen performances of the 1970s) as a married couple deeply in love yet unable to express that love in terms the other can understand, the film is an uncompromising portrait of domestic turmoil.

The Criterion Collection is proud to present one of the benchmark films of American independent cinema a heroic document from a true maverick director.

Available for the first time as a stand-alone release, from the box set John Cassavetes: Five Films.

Woman Under the Influence (The Criterion Collection)
  • New high definition transfer, with restored image and sound, and enhanced for widescreen...
  • New video conversation between actors Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk.
  • Trailer; Audio interview with Cassavetes by film historians Michel Ciment and Michael Wilson...
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired.
  • Audio commentary by longtime Cassavetes collaborators Mike Ferris (camera operator) and Bo Harwood...

The History of Criterion

The Criterion Collection company was founded in 1984 by Robert Stein, Aleen Stein, and Joe Medjuck, who later were joined by Roger Smith.

In 1985, the Steins, William Becker, and Jonathan B. Turell founded the Voyager Company to publish educational multimedia CD-ROMs (1989–2000), during which time the Criterion Collection became a subordinate division of the Voyager Company.

In March 1994, Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH bought 20% of Voyager for US$6.7 million; the four founders each retained a 20% owner’s share.

In 1997, the Voyager Company was dissolved (Aleen Stein founded the Organa LLC CD-ROM publishing company), and Holtzbrinck Publishers sold the “Voyager” brand name, 42 CD-ROM titles, the Voyager web site, and associated assets, to Learn Technologies Interactive, LLC (LTI).

Robert Stein sold 42 Voyager titles to LTI from his Voyager–Criterion company share. The remaining three partners, Aleen Stein, William Becker (President) and Jonathan Turell (CEO) owned the Criterion Collection company, which has a business partnership with Janus Films, and had one with Home Vision Entertainment (HVE) until 2005, when Image Entertainment bought HVE.

On November 4, 2013, it was announced that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment would handle distribution.

Best Criterion Films – Wrap Up

We really hope this list of the Criterion films has been useful to you. We’ve given you a wide range of different genres of film here. As ever, it really depends on what you’re looking to dip into.

The Criterion Collection is huge, though, so if we’ve missed out anything that you love, feel free to let us know in the comments below this article.

These films will give you glimpses into genres, styles and filmmakers that you may not have come across. As always, any one of these great films can be fantastic jumping off points for discovering new filmmakers and styles of filmmaking.

So whether you’re a filmmaker yourself, a collector, or just someone looking to see what the Criterion Collection has to offer, we hope this guide has stoked your interest.

What did we miss? If we missed out your favorite Criterion film, let us know in the comments below.