Parasite, Bong Joon-ho’s electrifying 2019 thriller, picked up the Oscar for Best Picture in 2020, but more importantly, was named one of Polygon’s top films of the year. And now it’s earned yet another honor. On Tuesday, Letterboxd, the social networking service dedicated to watchlists, ratings, and micro-movie-blogging, announced that Parasite was the first film in the service’s 11-year history to reach 1 million five-star reviews.
The milestone feels notable: With more than 4.4 million monthly visitors as of 2022, Letterboxd has become an influential cultural pillar — the producers of the 2023 Oscars even teamed up with the service to raise awareness of the telecast (and siphon the site’s cred with the younger generation). A movie like Parasite garnering that much attention on the platform, driving so many users to praise the film in their own ways, represents the crafting of a new canon that generations to come may look to for cinematic guidance. It’s a grand tradition.
There’s always been A Big List for budding cinephiles to hold up as a Bible. In the pre-internet age, the British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound top 100 films of all time list played that role for many — and with updates occuring every 10 years, it remains a source of inspiration for film-watchers. In 2022, a new cabal of film critics cast votes to name Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles the greatest film of all time, with Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, Yasujirō Ozu’s Tokyo Story, and Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love rounding out a top five. Currently, none of those films crack Letterboxd’s current top-rated list.
In the 1990s, the American Film Institute’s “100 Years… 100 Movies” may have been that monolith of must-watch homework. Updated in 2007, the list cements the usual suspects from the U.S. as all-timers; Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Casablanca, Raging Bull, and Singin’ in the Rain are the top five. This being the ’90s, the list was printed in tons of magazines so it could be easily ripped out and taken to Blockbuster. Simpler times.
But as moviegoers moved to the internet, a more Google-friendly list emerged: The IMDb top 250. Volatile and driven by commenter-brain, the list stands today as an ode to rewatchable cable-TV classics. Both Godfather movies rank in the top tier, alongside The Shawshank Redemption; The Dark Knight; The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King; Pulp Fiction; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Fight Club; Inception; and The Empire Strikes Back. While critics didn’t go for Avengers: Endgame or Joker in the 2022 Sight & Sound poll, IMDb’s user-generated list remains dedicated to #fans. Even the Disney Plus recording of Hamilton is on the list.
Which brings us to the Letterboxd top-rated list, which sloshes back and forth between arthouse hits, Basic Dramas, Euro highlights, and revered animation (a category under-praised in all the lists before it). Even though Parasite has hit a million five-star reviews, it’s still only the second highest-rated film on that list — the top honor goes to Elem Klimov’s legendary war film Come and See. How did a Soviet drama from 1985 achieve prominence? Letterboxd devotees speculate that it has everything to do with a Criterion re-release and perfect timing for a generation in need of a masterpiece.
But the entire top of the list is speckled with high art and pop hits. Guel Arraes’ 2000 Portuguese comedy O Auto da Compadecida sits next to The Godfather and Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 samurai drama Harakiri. Peak Dad Movie The Shawshank Redemption just boxes out Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away in the top 10. Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low is trailed by The Dark Knight and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse.
The list feels highfalutin, but earnest. Objectively global, but with undefinable taste. Unlike the IMDb’s top 250 list, Letterboxd’s audience seems to vote with heart and mind, thanks to the platform’s structure of encouraging a few words of explanation to go with the star ratings. And at this point, the site’s top-movies ranking feels as essential as all the lists that came before it — even if a million five-star reviews still means Parasite needs to settle for second place.