The Top Ten Films of 1946
Throughout 2016, we’ll be taking a look at what Flickchart users think are the best movies of ten, twenty, thirty, and even one hundred and twenty years ago. Previously this year, we headed back to 1996. Look forward to a new entry every month!
In 1946, World War II was over, but the world’s troubles were far from it, as soldiers adjusted to returning to civilian life and countries began the slow and painful process of rebuilding. Movies dealing with the long-lasting effects of the war, and of related horrors like the Holocaust, would trickle out over the next several decades, but were already visible both directly in films like The Best Years of Our Lives and indirectly, in the tension and paranoia of noir.
The top-grossing films of the year reflect cinemagoers’ desire to engage with the serious, as The Best Years of Our Lives‘s second place box office shows. Noir films like The Postman Always Rings Twice, Notorious, and Gilda, two of which are in Flickchart’s Top Ten below, also fared well – most of the other big moneymakers were escapist or family fare like The Yearling, Till the Clouds Roll By, and Bing Crosby vehicles Blue Skies and Road to Utopia. The #1 film of the year was Disney’s Song of the South, which is ironically the one Disney feature you can’t legally pay money to see today.
The Best Years of Our Lives was also the big winner at the Oscars, winning five major statues for Best Picture, Director (William Wyler), Actor (Fredric March), Supporting Actor (Harold Russell, a real veteran amputee), and Adapted Screenplay (Robert Sherwood). It’s somewhat unusual that a classic-era film wins big at awards and box office AND is near the top of Flickchart’s list – this film is something special, as those who’ve seen it would agree. But there are many other special films from 1946, so let’s get to it!
Probably the best-known film version of the Charles Dickens classic, David Lean‘s Great Expectations sticks close to the novel. It is less strikingly stylized in its visuals and acting than Lean’s next movie, Oliver Twist (1948), also a Dickens story, but it is held in high regard as an example of exacting literary adaptation. Great Expectations was only Lean’s fifth film, but it was his first time directing the young Alec Guinness, who would go on to provide colorful performances in great Lean films like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, and indeed Oliver Twist. Knowing what Lean would later achieve with landscapes may make one wish for grander settings than the eerie, foggy downs where Pip meets Magwitch, or the stifling rooms where Miss Havisham conducts her mysterious business, but the faithful precision with which Lean translates words to images in these moments is to his credit. If Lean the auteur had not quite emerged, Lean the hardworking and perfectionistic filmmaker had come into his own. Great Expectations was rewarded with two Oscars, including the first-ever British win for cinematography in praise of the film’s sharp yet heavily-shadowed look. – David Conrad
Currently ranked #1011
Ranked 11560 times by 823 users
Wins 42% of its matchups
9. The Killers
Usually, film adaptations of books have to leave out a lot of content to fit in under two hours, but when you adapt an Ernest Hemingway short story, you have to add a lot. Hemingway’s The Killers has two hitmen at a bar looking for a man known only as “The Swede.” They want to find him and kill him. And that’s basically it. The film version fleshes this out with a detective who finds out the Swede’s backstory, why the men want to kill him, and a whole network of set-ups and betrayals over a quarter million dollar bank robbery. The result was the first film version of his work that Hemingway truly admired. Burt Lancaster immediately makes his mark in his screen in his debut film as the ill-fated Swede, and Ava Gardner leaped to prominence after several forgettable roles in minor films as a true femme fatale. Though it made Flickchart’s Top Ten of 1946, I still feel like this film is underrated to a great degree, and it’s easily a top-shelf noir. – Jandy Hardesty
Currently ranked #798
Ranked 8998 times by 507 users
Wins 58% of its matchups
If you like your Westerns traditional — good guys, bad guys, Indians, bar fights, church raisings, shootouts — My Darling Clementine is for you. We know from the beginning who’s right, who’s wrong, and what’s going to happen to them, because this was neither the first nor the last retelling of the gunfight at the OK Corral between Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Clanton family gang. This movie isn’t remotely true to the real event, yet even as they rewrite history, director John Ford and star Henry Fonda play for realism. Ford met the real Wyatt Earp when the famous lawman was an aged celebrity, and he wanted Fonda to portray Earp’s plain, unassuming, everyman qualities. (John Wayne, Ford’s frequent muse, would have been too powerful and assured.) Ford cast against type when he placed Walter Brennan, usually a lovable old coot, in the role of the callous, glowering Old Man Clanton. Ford does his usual good work filming distant mesas and buttes, and here he also shows a mastery of the physical atmosphere of the West: the smoke that fills the saloons, the rain squalls that send people under leaky eaves for shelter. Instead of looking up at a lone hero, many shots in My Darling Clementine feature rows of men standing flush with each other, a suitable decision for a story that ends with the forces of order and the forces of violence marching against each other on a makeshift field of battle. – David
Currently ranked #676
Ranked 11616 times by 688 users
Wins 53% of its matchups
In the annals of femme fatales, few loom larger than Rita Hayworth‘s Gilda, and yet really Gilda’s not really trying to lead Glenn Ford‘s Johnny astray so much as protect herself from his emotional abuse – and he’s trying to get back at her for his own heartbreak. What I’m saying is, despite its undeniable glamour and appeal, Gilda is a movie about broken and often terrible and vindictive people. When we first meet Gilda, it’s as the wife of Johnny’s new boss, a casino owner in Buenos Aires, but we quickly learn that Gilda and Johnny have a painful romantic history. In addition to this little angry love triangle, Gilda’s husband is in some trouble with a German cartel, which drives most of the plot. But the plot isn’t what you’ll remember – you’ll remember Gilda’s desperate striptease to “Put the Blame on Mame” as Johnny watches disapprovingly from the shadows. It’s an iconic moment for its glamour and sexiness, but in context, it’s emotionally charged and rather devastating. – Jandy
Currently ranked #586
Ranked 12577 times by 892 users
Wins 47% of its matchups
For viewers who are most familiar with the musical Disney adaptation of this story, this is a beautifully different version, with far more elements of the original fairy tale. The film’s visuals are the most impressive. The costume design, set design, makeup and cinematography all combine to create a dreamy atmosphere that makes us feel like we’ve stepped into a fairy tale land ourselves. That sense of otherworldliness, however, doesn’t distance the viewers from the characters, and even though the film tends towards visually stunning parable more than deep character drama, the age old love story of the beauty and the beast is still a stirring one, even more so when told with such attention to every little detail of mise-en-scene. – Hannah Keefer
Currently ranked #497
Ranked 18705 times by 1037 users
Wins 52% of its matchups
The Best Years of Our Lives won Best Picture for this year. Whether or not it is the best film from the year, it truly is a good one. Very much a film of its time, it examines the lives of several soldiers after they’ve returned home from World War II. The collective fatigue and loss of the American people can be felt resonating throughout this film. The men in question have lost plenty during the course of the war and have become slightly jaded. Civilian life is something soldiers have a great deal of difficulty adjusting to after the highly rigid structure of military life. This film is perhaps one of the most accurate depictions of the struggles real world soldiers face. Picking up the pieces of their careers, relationships, and everything else is not an easy task. Dana Andrews, Fredric March, and Harold Russell all encapsulate their roles well and give portrayals that are likely infinitely relatable to veterans. The moving story was likely a film that all Americans felt a piece of their lives in at the time. It’s still a message that resonates today and why it stands as a film classic. – Connor Adamson
Currently ranked #211
Ranked 27640 times by 1706 users
Wins 47% of its matchups
Very often for me, the films of Powell and Pressburger are such gigantic experiences that I almost feel overwhelmed by them. The Archers – as Powell and Pressburger together were known as – could no doubt bring beauty to the screen, but I rarely feel an emotional connection with the gorgeous images I’m being presented. With A Matter of Life and Death , I get that perfect combination of visual and emotionally overpowering imagery. We get the wonderful romance at the beginning of the story that ties us to this exciting story, but also, the afterlife sequences allow The Archers to embrace their more bombastic visual style. Even with the idea of a simple love story, The Archers imbue A Matter of Life and Death with tons of their personal style and a resonant story that is still fantastic 70 years later. – Ross Bonaime
Currently ranked #186
Ranked 12702 times by 546 users
Wins 63% of its matchups
This Christmas classic is a well-known favorite, but it’s not really much of a holiday movie despite all the airtime it gets that time of the year. Most of the story is a slow telling of a simple man’s life, someone who had big aspirations and dreams, but life kept getting in the way. George Bailey (James Stewart) tries over and over to do the right thing, even as it sets him back personally, but not even Frank Capra can make that kind of selflessness seem eternal, and the dark, almost nightmarish final third of the film focuses on a despondent George discovering that doing the right thing does give your life meaning even if you can’t see it. The movie’s optimistic ending works because we have that darkness before, but work it does, and the film ends leaving us all grateful for our blessings and determined to pay it forward. – Hannah
Currently ranked #110
Ranked 374851 times by 36283 users
Wins 54% of its matchups
When Humphrey Bogart was tasked with playing Raymond Chandler’s iconic detective Philip Marlowe, he’d already played Dashiell Hammett’s iconic detective Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon – and okay, the two roles are similar in many ways. But Marlowe gets the edge for his witty sarcasm, his bemusement, and his casually flirtatious approach to dealing with both spoiled heiresses (Lauren Bacall‘s Vivian Rutledge) and bookstore clerks (Dorothy Malone making the most of a single scene). Most people agree that the plot is almost too convoluted to follow, but the pleasures here are in the dialogue, the chemistry between Bogart and Bacall (this was their first film together after becoming an offscreen couple), and several unforgettable scenes that matter much more than who killed the chauffeur. While other films are more quintessentially “noir,” few surpass The Big Sleep in the detective noir subgenre. – Jandy
Currently ranked #106
Ranked 55648 times by 3997 users
Wins 52% of its matchups
Notorious is the Master of Suspense at his most suspenseful. It’s a spy drama that doesn’t take its thrills from the world stage and what could happen internationally if our heroes fail. Rather it makes you care deeply for the flawed and desperate characters at the heart of its drama. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman are always excellent in whatever they do, but Notorious is perhaps one of their very best performances, and their characters the most interesting. The movie is in fact far more about them and their relationship than anything else. Nor should Claude Rains be overlooked for his surprisingly nuanced and sympathetic role as the villain and he more than earns the Oscar nomination he received for it. From the opening to the end, the movie features one iconic scene after another, and Notorious truly feels like a part of cinematic history. There is in an irresistible merging of passion, danger, and betrayal in the plot that lifts the movie above any one genre and explores issues of duty, loyalty, redemption, and forgiveness, all mixed in with the danger and suspense that Alfred Hitchcock knew how to film so well. – Naomi Laeuchli
Currently ranked #68
Ranked 66274 times by 4520 users
Wins 54% of its matchups
The above list is the top films of 1946 on Flickchart, as decided by rankings of all its users. We wanted to showcase our own personal favorites, so a couple of us have chosen a favorite film that falls outside of Flickchart’s global Top 10.
David – Anna and the King of Siam
The King and I later upstaged this film with its colorful, musical, now-definitive version of Anna Leonowens’ story. But there are many pleasures to be found in an earlier film called Anna and the King of Siam, which takes its name from a novel about Leonowen. Chief among them is Rex Harrison as King Mongkut, whose letter to President Lincoln on the subject of elephants is delivered with a relish that even Yul Brynner can’t equal. Harrison is less imposing than Brynner’s later Mongkut, and Brynner’s eastern Russian heritage makes his casting marginally less awkward from a “whitewashing” perspective, but Harrison’s take on the modernizing king is boundlessly energetic. Another strength of this version is Linda Darnell as Mongkut’s favorite concubine, Tuptim. In The King and I, that role is played by the multitalented Rita Moreno, but Tuptim occupies a less central role in the story. Here, Darnell acts out the crushing drama as though her life depended on it, which Tuptim’s does: the film does not shy away from showing her execution by immolation and the decisive effect the death has on Anna. Additionally, Arthur Miller’s Oscar-winning photography has charms, for example in the way it captures the fractal-like designs of windows and banisters. It may not beat The King and I on most charts, mine included, but Anna and the King of Siam is a fun watch for fans of the legendary musical.
Currently ranked #5723
Ranked 1172 times by 105 users
Wins 42% of its matchups
Jandy – The Harvey Girls
No one mentions The Harvey Girls in the annals of Judy Garland‘s career, but I love it unabashedly. Not only is it a musical (something I love!) with Garland (someone I love!), but it’s also a western, set right when the railroads are starting to spread west (something I love!). Throw in a great supporting cast including Ray Bolger, Marjorie Main, Cyd Charisse, a deadpan Virginia O’Brien, and a young Angela Lansbury as a saloon dancer, and it’s pretty easy to forgive the forgettable male lead, John Hodiak. The show stopper number is, of course, “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,” performed by the entire ensemble as the train carrying the Harvey Girls arrives in the frontier town, bringing civilization, order, and the feminine touch to the wild west through the Harvey restaurants – the song won the Oscar that year. None of the other music is as big and bold as that, but I love it anyway, from Garland’s wistful “In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down)” to O’Brien’s hilarious “The Wild, Wild West.” The film is perhaps unlikely to convert anyone who didn’t go “me too!” to all my “something I love!” exclamations above, but if you did, give it a go.
Currently ranked #3435
Ranked 1623 times by 178 users
Wins 43% of its matchups
Chad – Bedlam
Bedlam was the last of the horror films Val Lewton produced for RKO Radio Pictures. It’s more of a comedic thriller than a fright flick, with a humorously wicked performance by Boris Karloff. As the head of the 18th century Bedlam insane asylum, Karloff abuses his patients and his authority. Anna Lee plays Nell Bowen, the protégé of the buffoonish Lord Mortimer who Karloff seeks to curry favor with. When Mortimer refuses to help improve the living conditions of Bedlam’s inmates Nell publicly ridicules him. Karloff convinces Mortimer to have Nell declared insane. With the help of a morally resolute Quaker, Nell inspires the inmates to overthrow Karloff. The whole cast is fun and the dialogue is snappy. Maybe the scene where Nell tames the mad brute Karloff keeps in a cage is a tad cheesy, but the rest of Bedlam is a good time.
Currently ranked #5920
Ranked 2180 times by 78 users
Wins 51% of its matchups