1. Sunset Boulevard (1950)

IMDB Rating: 8.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 98%

Storyline:
Sunset Boulevard is a black comedy and drama that delves through a struggling screenwriter who ends up at the infamous mansion of Norma Desmond – an aging silent film star. The film chronicles the encounter between the old-era stardom and the impending doom of narrating delusional grandeur and desperate intentions layered with nefarious plots.

Why it’s a Major Movie:
The movie is an iconic film, solidifying Wilder’s status as one of the top directors in Hollywood. It pushes the envelope with its thought-provoking narrative, unforgettable characters, and exceptional performances, especially by Gloria Swanson and William Holden. Additionally, Sunset Boulevard explores the dark side of glamour, a less explored facet of Hollywood and offers an unraveling suspense with its enticingly macabre storyline.

Why it’s a Major Movie:
Sunset Boulevard has aged remarkably well and remains just as effective today. It delivers a unique meld of satire, black humor, and noir, reinforcing its position as a seminal work in cinematic history. The film also has a splendid script that is filled with sharp and witty dialogues. With praise heaped over its cinematographical techniques, story espousal, and character development, it’s undoubtedly amongst Wilder’s greatest directorial achievements.

2. Double Indemnity (1944)

IMDB Rating: 8.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 97%

Storyline:
Double Indemnity is a noir masterpiece. It follows the events after an insurance representative lets himself be drawn into a murder/insurance fraud scheme that arouses the suspicious mind of the insurance investigator.

Why it’s a Major Movie:
This film, powered by an unflinching exploration of the human capacity for greed and deceit, casts a heavy influence on future neo-noir films. The seamless screenplay combines wit, suspense, and character study, resulting in a tightly wound film that registers as one of the essential noir tales. The performances of Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson elevate the film’s overall appeal.

Why it’s a Major Movie:
Double Indemnity is an emblematic noir film, which is aesthetically compelling with its striking black-and-white cinematography that captures the dark, looming themes of the plot effectively. The film’s cultural impact, narrative power, and the cynical dialogue have firmly affixed it among cinematic masterpieces over the decades. Wilder’s uncanny ability to orchestrate suspense and dramatic tension underscores his mastery in directorial and storytelling skills.

3. Some Like It Hot (1959)

IMDB Rating: 8.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 95%

Storyline:
Some Like It Hot presents a classic tale of two struggling musicians who, after witnessing a mob hit, flee the state in an all-female band disguised as women. However, complications arise when one falls for the band’s lead singer.

Why it’s a Major Movie:
This movie is a comedic powerhouse showcasing the genius of Wilder’s direction. It fluidly combines situational and physical comedy scenes within its engaging narrative. The performances by Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon are comic masterpieces and their brilliant chemistry plays an essential role in making the film an iconic comedy.

Why it’s a Major Movie:
Some Like It Hot anchors its universal acclaim with its superb execution of a complex narrative full of memorable lines, fantastic comic timing, and characters that remain resonant. It proves to be a timeless classic that stands the test of time with its daring themes, breaking conventional norms, and introducing elements of cross-dressing and homosexuality with audacious humor.

4. The Apartment (1960)

IMDB Rating: 8.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 94%

Storyline:
The Apartment navigates the story of a man who tries to move ahead in his corporate job by letting its executives use his apartment for trysts, but complications and a romance of his own ensue.

Why it’s a Major Movie:
This film presents a diabolical tale of corporate politics and personal integrity with a touch of romance. It’s unique, in its own right, with its perfectly synchronized humor and drama, mocking societal norms while tenderly handling the subjects of loneliness and love. The performances by Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine are absolutely heartwarming.

Why it’s a Major Movie:
The Apartment represents a high watermark for Wilder, where he perfectly balances the comedy and drama. The narrative construction and thematic exploration of corporate cruelty, human flaws, and the quest for decency contribute to its classic status. It’s additionally distinguished by its commendable dialogues and clever humor.

5. Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

IMDB Rating: 8.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%

Storyline:
The movie is a courtroom drama unraveling an unexpected twist of events where a barrister attempts to defend a client – a man who is struggling with numerous odd circumstances that all, seemingly, point to him as the murderer of an affluent widow.

Why it’s a Major Movie:
Witness for the Prosecution stands as a fine example of how compelling and intelligent a courtroom drama can be. The sharp screenplay filled with unexpected twists and turns, keeps viewers on their toes until the end. Stellar performances by Charles Laughton and Marlene Dietrich add to the movie’s overall superiority and mastery in narration.

Why it’s a Major Movie:
Considered one of the finest courtroom dramas, the film stands out with its intricate story structure and high dramatic content. It excels enormously in keeping the audience perplexed with its twisted narrative and final reveal. The fantastic ensemble cast and clever direction from Wilder are among the many reasons that this film is ranked amongst the best of its genre.

6. Ace in the Hole (1951)

IMDB Rating: 8.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 90%

Storyline:
This film explores an unscrupulous journalist who exploits a story about a man trapped in a cave to re-jump start his career, but the situation quickly escalates into an out-of-control circus.

Why it’s a Major Movie:
Ace in the Hole is a wry critique of the manipulative media and the public’s insatiable appetite for sensational news. It’s a scathing satire that remains deeply relevant even today. Kirk Douglas’s performance as the ruthless reporter is absolutely entrancing and makes for a character that is both incredibly detestable and yet remarkably compelling.

Why it’s a Major Movie:
Despite its initial commercial failure, Ace in the Hole has since been re-evaluated as one of Wilder’s greatest films. Its critique of tabloid values and the public’s fascination with tragedy has only grown more pertinent with time. The movie’s enduring legacy and Wilder’s ability to blend dramatic storytelling with sociopolitical commentary is a testament to his skill as a director.

7. Stalag 17 (1953)

IMDB Rating: 8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 97%

Storyline:
Stalag 17 recounts the tale of a group of American airmen held in a German World War II prison camp, suspecting one of their members to be an informant.

Why it’s a Major Movie:
Stalag 17 represents the pinnacle of Wilder’s work in the war film genre. The combination of humor and serious themes brings about a unique and original take on the war narrative. The movie packs an emotional punch but also manages to entertain with Wilder’s signature humor.

Why it’s a Major Movie:
Widely regarded as one of the greatest prisoner-of-war movies, Stalag 17 excels in depicting the cruelties of war while balancing it perfectly with humor and camaraderie among the prisoners. The characters are relatable, and their dynamics are highly intriguing. The film showcases the reality of human resilience and spirit against adversity.

8. The Lost Weekend (1945)

IMDB Rating: 7.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 98%

Storyline:
This film explores the life of an alcoholic writer coming to terms with his addiction during a lost weekend of self-destructive binge drinking.

Why it’s a Major Movie:
The Lost Weekend depicts the horrors of alcoholism with stark realism that was far ahead of its time. Wilder’s exemplary storytelling, combined with Ray Milland’s Academy Award-winning performance, makes the film a poignant exploration of addiction and its destructive aftermath.

Why it’s a Major Movie:
A tour-de-force in filmmaking, The Lost Weekend was greatly admired for its uncompromising treatment of a then-taboo topic of addiction. Its raw depiction of the reality of alcoholism is complemented by the masterful direction of Wilder that culminates into an impactful cinematic experience. This movie remains one of the director’s most honest and stark film experiences to date.