Only the greatest and most renowned cinematic masterpieces (or at least those with a large enough amount of reviews) are awarded a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score, with few films receiving the prestigious honor. It takes the best of the best to nab the coveted rating, and is the ultimate triumph for filmmakers and entertainment studios when the rare occurrence comes to fruition.
Rotten Tomatoes is a popular review-aggregation website for both film and television, and since its launch in 1998 has become a leading platform for audiences and critics to express their opinions on newly-released flicks. The “Tomatometer Rankings” connects to the practice of viewers throwing rotten tomatoes when disapproving of a poor stage performance; the higher the percentage a movie receives, the more “fresh” it is and, at least theoretically, better in the show business world.
Updated October 14th, 2022: If you love universally acclaimed films, you’ll be happy to know we’ve updated this article with additional content and entries.
To earn a certified fresh and perfect Rotten Tomatoes score is no easy accomplishment, which makes it all the more thrilling when a picture is able to do so. Indeed, most recently, Marcel the Shell with Shoes debuted with a perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes. Sometimes, the choices are surprising and seem a bit arbitrary. Nonetheless, usually cinema’s most admired and celebrated films have achieved the victory, ranging in a wide array of genres and subjects. The 1931 horror classic Frankenstein graces the illustrious list, as do two of the best Disney movies and even an Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘80s action extravaganza. Let’s take a look at some of the best movies which have also gotten the revered 100% Rotten Tomatoes score.
12/12 12 Angry Men (1957)
It’s been remade for both stage and screen, but the original 1957 effort, led by Henry Fonda, takes the cake. 12 Angry Men takes place after the closing arguments in a murder trial, where the 12 members of the jury must deliberate. A guilty verdict means death for the accused, an inner-city teen. As the dozen men try to reach a unanimous decision while sequestered in a room, one juror (Fonda) casts considerable doubt on elements of the case.
Personal issues soon rise to the surface, and conflict threatens to derail the delicate process that will decide one boy’s fate. In addition to maintaining a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes over the years, the film is also near the top of list for best courtroom dramas by the American Film Institute for their AFI’s 10 Top 10 list. It’s not to be missed, especially for the true cinephiles who consume the classics.
11/12 Frankenstein (1931)
The iconic 1931 horror classic Frankenstein famously features Boris Karloff as the notorious movie monster, having been assembled from body parts by the obsessed titular scientist as part of an unorthodox experiment. The cinematic staple is based on the renowned Mary Shelley novel, and utilizes the skills of distinguished creature feature make-up artist Jack Pierce, who would later design and create the looks for fellow monsters The Mummy and The Wolf Man.
Dracula legend Bela Lugosi was tied to the picture with the film’s initial director Robert Florey, but was dissatisfied with the character and scope of the role, reportedly claiming that, “I was a star in my country and I will not be a scarecrow over here!” Frankenstein was a knockout success with both critics and audiences, with Karloff’s brilliant performance and the flick going on to have a significant impact on pop culture and the face of film, as well as spawning a number of sequels, spin-offs, and adaptations.
10/12 Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Silver screen heartthrob Paul Newman stars as the eponymous Luke in the critically-acclaimed prison drama Cool Hand Luke, which follows decorated World War II veteran Lucas “Luke” Jackson, who is sentenced to two years on a chain gang in a prison camp for drunken misconduct but refuses to surrender to the system. The thrilling drama showcases Luke’s continuous attempts to escape the Florida prison, successfully doing so multiple times while defying and challenging the confinement’s authorities every step of the way.
Newman’s performance in the picture garnered rave reviews, and helped cement his status as one of the era’s top actors; Time Out commended the prison drama, writing, “A caustically witty look at the American South and its still-surviving chain gangs, with Newman in fine sardonic form as the boss-baiter who refuses to submit and becomes a hero to his fellow prisoners.”
9/12 Henry V (1989)
Esteemed actor and filmmaker Kenneth Branagh made his directorial debut with the critically-lauded 1989 British historical drama Henry V, an adaptation of the famed Shakespeare play in which he also stars as the titular ruler. Chronicling the King of England’s crusade to conquer France in 1415 and his efforts to unite the two countries as one powerful force, the impressive film garnered nearly universal praise upon its release. Branagh went on to earn both an Oscar nomination for Best Actor and Best Director, and nabbed the honor for Best Direction at the British Academy Film Awards.
Widely considered to be one of the greatest Shakespeare movie adaptations to ever grace the silver screen, the cinematic masterpiece marked the beginning of Branagh’s continuous projects and interpretations of the legendary playwright’s works. In their glowing review of the drama, Rolling Stone declared, “Branagh has made a hotblooded, lively and moving Henry V that speaks pertinently to a new generation.” Plus, Henry V features the late, great Robbie Coltrane in a wonderful performance as Falstaff.
8/12 The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Hollywood greats Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart appear in the 1940 romantic comedy The Philadelphia Story, which follows socialite Tracy Lord whose wedding plans become complicated by the simultaneous arrival of her ex-husband and a tabloid magazine reporter. The picture is considered one of cinema’s finest examples of a comedy of remarriage, a popular genre of the 1930s and 1940s in which a couple divorces, has flirtatious dalliances and ultimately remarry.
The rom-com is one of the best Jimmy Stewart movies, and was Hepburn’s first mega hit after several flops which landed her on a notorious 1938 list of actors considered “box office poison;” the movie served as her highly-anticipated screen comeback with the help of Grant and Stewart. The Philadelphia Story won two Academy Awards and was remade as the 1956 musical High Society, this time starring Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra.
7/12 Toy Story (1995)
The 1995 spectacular animated comedy Toy Story was the first feature film from Pixar, which was approached by Disney to produce a computer-animated picture told from a small toy’s perspective. The wondrous children’s flick is set in a world where toys come to life when humans are not present, and introduced the world to dynamic duo Wood and Buzz Lightyear: an old-fashioned pull-string cowboy doll and a modern astronaut action figure. It depicts the characters as they go from rivals competing for the affection of their owner Andy, to friends who work together to be reunited with the boy when they get separated.
Toy Story features dynamite voice acting performances from Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, and John Ratzenberger, and was a knockout with audiences and critics, grossing more than $350 million. Many reviewers recognized the film’s appeal to various age groups, with Entertainment Weekly noting, “It has the purity, the ecstatic freedom of imagination, that’s the hallmark of the greatest children’s films. It also has the kind of spring-loaded allusive prankishness that, at times, will tickle adults even more than it does kids.” Its success launched a multimedia franchise and a series of three sequels.
6/12 Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Heavily regarded as the greatest classic musical ever made, the 1952 musical romantic comedy Singin’ in the Rain features the talents of Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor, and tells the story of three stars in late 1920s Hollywood who struggle with the transition from silent pictures to “talkies.” The lighthearted flick includes a slew of catchy tunes, most notably the titular song that Kelly performed while spinning an umbrella and splashing through puddles, all the while battling a 103 degree fever.
The musical was infamous for some on-set tension between the trained dancer Kelly and newcomer Reynolds; the actor apparently insulted her over her lack of dancing experience and upset her so much she hid under a piano and cried, only to be found by the legendary Fred Astaire. Despite production woes, Singin’ in the Rain captured the hearts of audiences and is considered one of the finest films of its genre.
5/12 The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Starring Hollywood icon Humphrey Bogart, famed director John Huston’s 1941 film noir The Maltese Falcon follows San Francisco private detective Sam Spade as he takes on a case involving three eccentric adventurers, all of whom are competing to find a jewel-encrusted falcon statuette. Based on the Dashiell Hammett novel of the same name and 1931 picture, the drama has been cited among some critics as the first true film noir and helped launch the career of Bogart and Huston.
Several 11.5 inch tall falcon props were made for The Maltese Falcon, with one being auctioned off in 1994 for $398,500, the highest price paid for a prop at that time. The esteemed Oscar-nominated classic was met with widespread praise upon its release, with Variety calling it “one of the best examples of actionful and suspenseful melodramatic storytelling in cinematic form.”
4/12 How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
The 1966 beloved Christmas classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is an enduring holiday favorite that is adapted from the Dr. Seuss children’s book, and tells the tale of how the Grinch set out to destroy Christmas for all the Whos down in Whoville. Horror icon Boris Karloff memorably voiced the mean, green misanthropic character, also serving as the narrator for the celebrated made-for-TV movie special. Released during a resurgence in popularity of animated holiday specials (A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer also debuted in the decade), the cartoon was praised for its stunning artwork, faithfullness to the original source and Karloff’s outstanding performance.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! remainsa perennial Christmas staple and continues attracting loyal viewers over fifty years later. The cartoon classic landed at the top of TV Guide’s 10 Best Family Holiday Specials list and its success led to two additional television specials surrounding the enduring Seuss character.
3/12 The Last Picture Show (1971)
The late great Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 coming-of-age drama The Last Picture Show takes place in the small Texas town of Anarenein in 1951, and focuses on two high-school seniors and long-time friends Sonny Crawford and Duane Jackson as they go through the uncertain period of life and learn hard lessons on love, jealousy and ultimately hope. Bogdanovich was fairly unknown when he landed his filmmaking duties, with only one small movie to his directorial credits (the great crime thriller Targets) and was a 31-year-old stage actor and essayist.
He had discussed the project with his house guest at the time, the distinguished Orson Welles, who agreed that shooting the drama in black and white would work aesthetically despite being an unusual choice. The Last Picture Show won two Academy Awards and in 1998 was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry.
2/12 The Terminator (1984)
The epic action flick that spawned a lucrative franchise and helped elevate Arnold Schwarzenegger to superstar status, James Cameron’s 1984 sci-fi staple The Terminator centers on the cyborg assassin as he is sent back in time from 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor, whose unborn son will one day cause the extinction of a hostile artificial intelligence and save the human world. Cameron devised the plot of the movie after he fell ill and had a fever dream about a metallic torso holding kitchen knives dragging itself from an explosion; the visionary filmmaker was also inspired by John Carpenter’s low-budget Halloween, and used the dream as a “launching pad” to writer a slasher-style project.
Before Schwarzenegger was cast as the notorious cybernetic android, action stars Sylvester Stallone and Mel Gibson turned down the role and when the studio suggested O.J Simpson, Cameron quite ironically didn’t feel he would make a believable killer. The Terminator’s success led to several sequels, a television show, comic books and video games, and established Schwarzenegger and Cameron as Hollywood hot commodities.
1/12 Pinocchio (1940)
Walt Disney’s 1940 animated musical fantasy film Pinocchio is based on the Italian children’s novel by Carlo Collodi, and tells the heart-warming tale of a woodcarver named Geppetto who carves a wooden puppet named Pinocchio. His puppet is brought to life by a blue fairy, who informs him that he can only become a real boy if he proves himself to be “brave, truthful, and unselfish.” Along his journey to prove himself worthy, Pinocchio encounters many unusual characters, such as a wise 100-year-old talking cricket and the spoiled pet cat Figaro.
Pinocchio was a groundbreaking achievement in the area of effects animation, with lead artist Joshua Meador and animators creating everything that moves other than the characters. The picture was a hit with moviegoers and critics, with The New York Times proclaiming upon its release, “Pinocchio is here at last, is every bit as fine as we had prayed it would be — if not finer — and that it is as gay and clever and delightful a fantasy as any well-behaved youngster or jaded oldster could hope to see.”