What’s the greatest movie ever made? This Japanese film tops our best movies of all time list

With its stunning visuals and suspenseful plot, this 1954 film is easily one of the best movies of all time

The cast of Seven Samurai, which is considered by many as the best movie ever made

Like any other form of art, cinema is subjective. Films that are great to some, maybe mediocre to others, and that’s completely understandable. With the rise of streaming services, movies ― both old and new ― have become more accessible to people than ever, resulting in a more divided opinion on motion picture projects. While it’s impossible for the question “What’s the best movie ever made?” to have one single answer, we at GeekSpin think that Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is the best film of all time.

About Seven Samurai

From a creative and technical standpoint, arguably no film has had a long-lasting impact on cinema as the 1954 epic samurai drama movie Seven Samurai.

Co-written, edited, and directed by Kurosawa, Seven Samurai is largely credited for popularizing the “assembling the team” trope in movies and other media, which has since become a common theme in many action movies, heist films, and even flicks in the science fiction genre.

Seven Samurai even spawned its own subgenre of “men-on-a-mission” films. Dubbed the Seven Samurai Formula, the narrative structure follows a team of disparate characters that are grouped to undertake a specific mission.

The formula has been widely adopted by several films, including the Academy Award-winning The Dirty Dozen (1967), The Savage Seven (1968), Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), as well as newer movies like The Expendables (2010) and Avengers: Endgame (2019).

What is Seven Samurai about?

Set in 1586 during the Sengoku period of Japanese history, Seven Samurai tells the story of a samurai who answers a village’s request for protection after he falls on hard times. A large group of bandits is expected to steal the village’s crops after the harvest season, so the samurai gathers six others to help him teach the villagers how to defend themselves.

Kurosawa co-wrote the film’s original screenplay with Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni.

Seven Samurai cast

Seven Samurai starred Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Daisuke Katō, Isao Kimura, Minoru Chiaki, Seiji Miyaguchi, and Yoshio Inaba as the titular characters.

Toshiro Mifune in Samurai Seven
Toshiro Mifune in Samurai Seven

The village patriarch, referred to as Grandad, was played by Kokuten Kōdō, while Shinpei Takagi portrayed the bandit chief.

Mifune and Shimura were both nominated for Best Foreign Actor at the 1956 BAFTA Film Awards, with the latter winning Best Foreign Actor at the 1959 Jussi Awards. Miyaguchi was also named Best Supporting Actor at the 1955 Mainichi Film Awards.

Seven Samurai’s cinematography

Seven Samurai‘s cinematography is one of its most celebrated aspects. Kurosawa and his cinematographer, Asakazu Nakai, used a variety of techniques to create a visually stunning and evocative film.

One of the most striking things about the cinematography of Seven Samurai is its use of deep focus. This means that both the foreground and background of the shots are in sharp focus. This creates a sense of realism and depth in the images, making the movie even more cinematic.

Another notable aspect of the cinematography is its use of movement. Kurosawa and Nakai often used tracking shots and panning shots to follow the characters as they move through the landscape. This helps to create a sense of dynamism and excitement in the film.

Kurosawa also used a variety of framing and composition techniques to create striking and memorable images. For example, he often used low-angle shots to make the characters look more imposing, and he used high-angle shots to make them look more vulnerable. He also used long shots to establish the vastness of the landscape, and close-ups to capture the emotions of the characters.

Is Seven Samurai a silent film?

Although Seven Samurai is an old film, it is not a silent film. It is a sound film with a musical score and dialogue. But like silent films, Seven Samurai uses intertitles to convey information about the story and the characters.

Is Seven Samurai a cynical film?

Some people see Seven Samurai as a cynical movie because it depicts the harsh realities of life in feudal Japan, where peasants are at the mercy of bandits and samurai are often more interested in money than in protecting the innocent.

However, others see Seven Samurai as a hopeful film because it shows the power of ordinary people to come together and stand up for what is right. The seven samurai are not perfect characters, but they are ultimately motivated by a sense of justice and compassion. They risk their lives to protect the villagers, even though they know that they may not be successful.

Seven Samurai’s critical reception

On Rotten Tomatoes, Seven Samurai holds a perfect approval rating of 100% based on 96 reviews, The critical consensus of the website’s film critics called the feature film a “masterpiece,” thanks to its engrossing story, superb movie dialogue, memorable characters, brilliant acting, and stunning action sequences. On IMDb, the movie has a rating of 8.6/10.

The movie doesn’t have a complex story, but its interesting plot is more than enough to keep the audience invested. Since the film is set more than 400 years ago, it also serves as reference material for scholars studying Japanese culture during the 16th century.

Since its release, the film has consistently ranked high in different critics’ lists of the best movies ever made. For instance, it was voted the greatest foreign-language movie of all time in a 2018 BBC poll of 209 critics in 43 countries. The film was also voted the second-best action movie of all time in the 2019 Time Out poll and ranked at No. 7 on Time Out magazine’s list of The 100 Best Movies of All Time.

Seven Samurai’s box office earnings

Within the first twelve months of its Japanese release, Seven Samurai earned a distribution rental income of $2.3 million, against a production budget of $580,000. It was Japan’s third highest-grossing film of 1954, out-grossing Godzilla.

Though the box office income for its 1956 North American original release is unknown, Seven Samurai grossed at least $833,533 in the U.S. after two re-releases in 2002.

Seven Samurai’s adaptations

Seven Samurai has been remade several times, and one of its most straightforward adaptations is John Sturges’ 1960 movie The Magnificent Seven. Sturges took Seven Samurai and adapted it to the Old West, replacing the samurai with gunslingers.

Intended as a “Magnificent Seven in outer space,” Jimmy T. Murakami’s 1980 movie Battle Beyond the Stars was also based on the plots of The Magnificent Seven and Seven Samurai.

The plot of Seven Samurai was also re-worked for the 1983 Italian sword-and-sandal film, The Seven Magnificent Gladiators. Moreover, Seven Samurai was also the inspiration for the 2004 steampunk anime series Samurai 7.

Seven Samurai trailer

Below is the trailer dropped by the British Film Institute for the 2021 re-release of Seven Samurai in the United Kingdom.

New trailer for Kurosawa

Where to watch Seven Samurai

In the United States, Seven Samurai is currently streaming on Criterion Channel and on Max. Fans can also watch the movie by renting or purchasing a digital copy on Apple TV+, Amazon, Google Play, and Vudu, from $3.99 to $12.99.

Seven Samurai (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]

In addition to the complete 207-minute film, this DVD set is accompanied by two full-length commentary tracks, including a new track combining the critical insights of film scholars David Desser, Joan Mellen, Stephen Price (author of The Warrior's Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa), Tony Rayns, and the dean of Japanese film experts, Donald Richie (author of The Films of Akira Kurosawa). 

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06/22/2023 02:29 am GMT

Who is Akira Kurosawa?

Akira Kurosawa on the set of Seven Samurai in December 1953
Akira Kurosawa on the set of Seven Samurai in December 1953

Widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the history of filmmaking, Kurosawa directed 30 films during his five-decade career in the motion picture industry.

Kurosawa started working in the Japanese movie industry in 1936 following a short stint as a painter. After years of working as an assistant director and scriptwriter on several movies, he finally made his debut film as a director during World War II with the popular 1943 action film Sanshiro Sugata.

The critical acclaim of Kurosawa’s 1948 movie Drunken Angel, which featured the then little-known actor Toshiro Mifune in a starring role, cemented the director’s reputation as one of the most important young filmmakers in Japan. Following the success of their first movie together, the two men went on to collaborate on another 15 films.

In addition to Seven Samurai, Kurosawa’s other notable films include the drama Ikiru (1952), the period drama Throne of Blood (1957), and the samurai flick Yojimbo (1961). In 1990, he accepted the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Our list of 50 greatest movies ever made

Seven Samurai ranks No. 1 in our list of 50 best films ever made. Other movies on the list include the American film The Godfather (1972) directed by Francis Ford Coppola, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) by Frank Capra, Pulp Fiction (1995) by Quentin Tarantino, Space Odyssey (1968) by Stanley Kubrick, Taxi Driver (1976) starring Robert De Niro, Citizen Kane (1954) by Orson Welles, The Shawshank Redemption (1995) by Frank Darabont, and Casablanca (1942) starring Humphrey Bogart.

The list also includes the Henry Hill biopic Goodfellas (1990), the crime movie Psycho (1960) by Alfred Hitchcock, the love story Some Like it Hot by Billy Wilder, Chinatown (1974) by Roman Polanski, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2004) by Percy Jackson, cult classic Blade Runner (1984), George Lucas’ Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and the 1994 Academy Award Best Picture winner Schindler’s List, among many others.

Did your favorite movie make it to our list? Check out our list of the 50 greatest films of all time below:

  1. Seven Samurai (1954)
  2. The Godfather (1972)
  3. Citizen Kane (1941)
  4. Apocalypse Now (1979)
  5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  6. The Godfather Part II (1974)
  7. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
  8. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  9. The Searchers (1956)
  10. Jaws (1975)
  11. Rear Window (1954)
  12. Raging Bull (1980)
  13. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
  14. Vertigo (1958)
  15. 12 Angry Men (1957)
  16. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
  17. Chinatown (1974)
  18. Touch of Evil (1958)
  19. The 400 Blows (1959)
  20. Taxi Driver (1976)
  21. Schindler’s List (1993)
  22. Back to the Future (1985)
  23. Pulp Fiction (1994)
  24. Casablanca (1942)
  25. Gone with the Wind (1939)
  26. Goodfellas (1990)
  27. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
  28. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  29. In the Mood for Love (2000)
  30. La Dolce Vita (1960)
  31. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
  32. All About Eve (1950)
  33. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
  34. Blade Runner (1982)
  35. Ben-Hur (1959)
  36. West Side Story (1961)
  37. 8 ½ (1963)
  38. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
  39. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
  40. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
  41. North by Northwest (1959)
  42. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
  43. Metropolis (1927)
  44. Die Hard (1988)
  45. The General (1926)
  46. Some Like It Hot (1959)
  47. Psycho (1960)
  48. Jurassic Park (1993)
  49. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
  50. The Third Man (1949)

There are a lot of other great movies that didn’t make it to our list. These include the 1939 French satirical comedy-drama film The Rules of the Game and the 1980 sports drama movie Raging Bull about boxer Jake LaMotta, am

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