Italy Declares War on Austria-Hungary

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 183rd installment in the series.

May 23, 1915: Italy Declares War on Austria-Hungary

While soldiers endured hardships on every front of the Great War, the prize for worst physical conditions probably goes to the Italian front, where the basic miseries of trench warfare were translated to Alpine terrain, alternating seasonally between bare rock and snow and ice. In addition to the obvious threat posed by hypothermia, in this extreme environment artillery duels produced disproportionate casualties thanks to clouds of razor-sharp fragments of shattered stone.

The Waiting Game

Considering the huge losses already suffered by all the belligerent nations, in retrospect it seems insane for any neutral country to voluntarily embroil itself in the maelstrom of the First World War, as Italy did with its declaration of war against Austria-Hungary on May 23, 1915. However Italian leaders believed the Allies were winning the war, and reasoned that they could both speed the final decision and pick up territory along the way. Nor were they alone: in 1915 and 1916 Italy would be joined by Bulgaria and Romania, which waded in (on opposing sides) motivated by similar dreams of aggrandizement. All would pay for their ambitions with rivers of blood.

Before the war Italy was technically aligned with Austria-Hungary in the defensive Triple Alliance with Germany, but their relationship was complicated by the presence of ethnic Italian populations in the Dual Monarchy, including the provinces of Trentino and Trieste. Italian nationalists had long called for the “redemption” of these territories, meaning unification with the rest of Italy by dismemberment of the Habsburg realm.

As tensions mounted in July 1914, Italian Foreign Minister San Giuliano tried to use the crisis to extract territorial concessions from Vienna, warning that Rome couldn’t accept Austro-Hungarian aggression against Serbia unless it received compensation in the form of the Italian provinces. However Emperor Franz Josef refused to negotiate (after all, the whole point of the war was keeping the empire in one piece) and Italy remained neutral.

The majority of the Italian public supported the decision to remain neutral, but a vocal minority favored intervention on the side of the Allies, arguing that now was the time to wrest the Italian provinces from Austria-Hungary and liberate their ethnic kinsmen. Matters were further complicated by the deaths of chief of the general staff Alberto Pollio, who suffered a heart attack on the day Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and San Giuliano, who died of gout on October 16, 1914. In this confused situation Prime Minister Antonio Salandra (below, left), a foreign policy novice, cautiously embraced a policy of “sacro egoismo,” or “sacred selfishness,” which in effect meant playing the Allies and Central Powers off each other to create a bidding war for Italy’s allegiance.

Wikimedia Commons [1,2]

Behind the scenes both sides were wooing Italy with promises of post-war territorial gains, sincere or otherwise. In the first months of 1915 Austria-Hungary, bowing to German pressure, finally agreed to cede part of the Trentino – but the Allies, already happily slicing up their opponent, countered with offers of the Tyrol and Trieste, and also threw in the Dalmatian coast for good measure (conveniently ignoring the fact that most of the inhabitants here were Slavs, not to mention that they had already promised it to Serbia). Salandra and his cynical Foreign Minister Sidney Sonnino (above, right) were also impressed by the Allied assault on the Dardanelles, which they believed was about to end the war – meaning their window of opportunity was closing.

Glorifying Violence

In early 1915 the Italian government also came under intense political pressure from extreme nationalist, populist, and rightwing groups, including many figures who would later play a key role in the rise of Fascism. Indeed, political violence was becoming commonplace, reflecting the brutal worldview of men like Benito Mussolini, a rabble-rousing journalist who renounced socialism because of its pacifist ideals and founded his own newspaper, Popolo d’Italia, to publicize his pro-intervention views (below, left, Mussolini, with cane, standing next to Filippo Corridoni, another prominent pro-war activist).

In 1915 Mussolini called for war in a series of articles glorifying violence and vilifying political opponents, whom he accused of being paid agents of Austria-Hungary (a nice bit of hypocrisy, as his newspaper was funded by the French government; in 1916, a French government official recalled that Mussolini had “rendered us great service in the spring of 1915.”). Amid mass demonstrations by pro-interventionists, on May 11 Mussolini encouraged attacks against anti-war members of parliament, writing, “for the health of Italy a few dozen deputies should be shot: I repeat shot in the back.” Three days later he predicted chaos if Italy stayed out of the war: “An epoch of individual and collective retaliations will begin. The traitors will pay for their crime in blood.”

Mussolini sounded positively reasonable next to Gabriele D’Annunzio (above, right), an ultra-nationalist author already famous for his sensuous, intoxicating poetry and serial womanizing. After leaving Italy for self-imposed exile in France to escape his debts in 1910, in the spring of 1915 D’Annunzio returned with help from the French government and gave a series of inflammatory speeches, which were republished in the leading rightwing newspaper, Corriere della Serra. In a speech on May 6, 1915, he amplified Mussolini’s calls for attacks against anti-war activists:

If it is a crime to incite the citizens to violence, then I boast of committing that crime. Today the treachery is blatant. We don’t only breathe in its horrid stench, we feel all its appalling weight. And the treachery is being committed in Rome, city of the soul, city of life.

In another speech on May 13, 1915 he returned to the theme, unapologetically inciting criminal violence (below, D’Annunzio addressed the crowd):

If it is considered a crime to incite the citizenry to violence, I glory in that crime, I take it upon myself alone…Every excess of force is allowable, if it avails to prevent the loss of our Fatherland. You have to prevent a handful of pimps and swindlers from sullying and losing Italy.

Secret Treaty, Public Disorder

Unbeknownst to most of D’Annunzio’s listeners, the Italian government had already committed itself to join the Allies with the signing of the Pact of London on April 26, 1915 – the day after the Allied landing at Gallipoli, but well before any news of the disaster started trickling out.

Believing the Allies were about to storm Constantinople, Salandra and Sonnino rushed to sign Italy up before it was too late. In the secret treaty the Allies confirmed their extravagant promises of territory and agreed to loan Italy £50 million on generous terms, along with assurances of war indemnities from the defeated Central Powers. After the war Britain and France came up short on the territory, embittering the Italian elite and setting the stage for the rise of Mussolini’s Fascists – but in the short term they got Italy to sign on the dotted line, opening another front against the Central Powers.

In a typically high-handed move, Salandra and Sonnino had committed Italy to war without consulting Parliament, knowing full well that most ordinary Italians still opposed the idea. However they had some political advantages working for them: for one thing, the Italian constitution technically granted sweeping powers to the king, Victor Emmanuel III, even if he generally chose not to exercise them. Meanwhile the different anti-war groups, including the Liberals led by former Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti, the socialists, and the Vatican, proved totally unable to set aside their differences in order to present a united front. Simple threats of violence finished the job: amid mounting public disorder anti-war members of Parliament, already labeled traitors by the pro-war demagogues, feared for their own physical safety and that of their families.

On May 20, 1915, with many anti-war members cowed into silence and Giolitti unwilling to challenge the king, Parliament voted 407 to 74 to grant the government authority to finance the war, clearing the way for a declaration of war. On May 22 the government ordered mobilization, and the following day Italian diplomats delivered the final ultimatum to Austria-Hungary – at this point a mere formality. At midnight on May 23 Italy was formally at war.

Thus the Italian government deliberately led the country into the inferno despite the fact that a majority of the public opposed it, as Mussolini himself frankly admitted years later, during the Second World War: “The people’s heart is never in any war. Was the people’s heart in the 1915-1918 war, by any chance? Not in the least. The people were dragged into that war by a minority.”

An Uninspiring Start

Considering how long they had to prepare for it – chief of the general staff Luigi Cadorna started drawing up plans to attack Austria-Hungary in December 1914 – the Italian military’s opening performance in the First World War was unimpressive, if not downright disgraceful. Apparently unable to appreciate the hard lessons learned by other belligerents in the first ten months of the war, Cadorna believed the same tactics of mass infantry assaults would carry the Italians all the way to Vienna in less than two months. This was soon revealed to be a ludicrous fantasy (below, Italian troops leaving Venice).

The initial Italian invasion of Austria was dubbed the “Primo Sbalzo” or “First Leap” but hardly lived up to the name. When fighting began four Italian armies containing around 400,000 men – out of a total mobilized strength of 1.2 million, on paper at least – faced just two Austrian divisions, numbering 25,000 men. But the Italians, believing the Austrians had four times that number, proceeded cautiously at first, giving Austrian chief of the general staff Conrad von Hötzendorf time to rush more defenders to the area from the Balkan front, quiet since the Serbian victory at Kolubara (the Serbs were busy preparing for a long anticipated attack from Bulgaria).


After the declaration of war the Austrians swiftly withdrew to heavily fortified defensive lines, previously prepared some miles from the border at the order of Conrad (who long viewed war with Italy as inevitable), and allowed the enemy to creep forward unopposed. The main advance was left to the Italian Third Army, under the command of General Luigi Zuccari until May 27, when he was abruptly relieved by Cadorna and replaced by Emanuele Filiberto, the Duke of Aosta – the first of literally hundreds of Italian commanders to be cashiered in this fashion by Cadorna, who shared French chief of the general staff Joseph Joffre’s mania for firing unsatisfactory commanders. By the end of May Aosta had advanced to the River Isonzo, fated to be the scene of eleven bloody battles in coming years, but failed to capture the crucial bridges over the river, which were blown up by the retreating Austrians.

To the north the Second Army under Pietro Frugoni, hindered by a lack of artillery, occupied the basin around Caporetto (later the scene of a disastrous Italian defeat in October 1917) but failed to seize the strategic ridges beneath the Carnic Alps. Further west, the Italian First Army under Roberto Brusati launched an ill-advised attack on Austrian defenses along the strategic heights around the city of Trent (which gave its name to the region Trentino) but immediately ran out of steam. Meanwhile the Italian Fourth Army under Luigi Nava occupied the town of Cortina, but for some reason didn’t launch a concerted offensive until the first week of June.

By the time the Italians arrived at the real Austrian defensive lines, Conrad had managed to transfer around 80,000 more troops to the area, which would soon be organized in three defensive formations – a new Austrian Fifth Army guarding the Isonzo River front under a Croatian general, Svetozar Boroević von Bojna, who soon showed himself one of Austria-Hungary’s most talented commanders (above, Austrian troops climbing near the Isonzo); Army Group Rohr, named for its commander General Franz Rohr, who’d been the main organizer of Austrian defenses on the Italian front in April-May 1915; and Home Defense Group Tyrol, under Victor Dankl von Krasnik (below, Austrian troops dug in on the Tyrol).

By mid-June the Italian advance had come to a sudden and inglorious halt at a cost of 11,000 casualties – a relatively modest figure, by the standards of the Great War, but one that was about to spiral out of control. The real bloodshed would begin with the First Battle of the Isonzo from June 23-July 7, 1915.


Political Casualties

In the second half of May 1915 the Great War claimed some of its most prominent political casualties yet, as the Gallipoli debacle and a growing scandal over munitions shortages forced British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith to form a new government and replace Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty.

As First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill had been one of the most prominent figures associated with the Allied campaign to capture the Turkish straits, first with a naval assault and then later with the amphibious landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula. In fact, behind closed doors Churchill had prevailed upon First Sea Lord Jackie Fisher, the operational commander of the Royal Navy, to go along with the original plan despite his misgivings. Now both men would pay the price.

Following a bitter dispute at a meeting of the War Council on May 14, 1914, on May 15, Fisher handed in his resignation, to be replaced by Sir Henry Jackson, previously the Third Sea Lord, responsible for naval supplies. Two days later, on May 17 Churchill offered his resignation as First Lord of the Admiralty, and on May 21 Asquith accepted, although Churchill remained in the cabinet as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, a ceremonial position that however allowed him to listen in on debates. On May 25 Asquith appointed Arthur Balfour, a Conservative former prime minister, as First Lord of the Admiralty as part of a new coalition government.

Asquith was forced to form a new government by public anger over the munitions crisis or “Shell Scandal,” which rocked the British political scene beginning with the publication of a controversial article in The Times on May 14, following the British defeat at Aubers Ridge, which the newspaper attributed to the lack of artillery shells. This in turn raised the issue of the government’s alleged mismanagement of shell production from both public and private manufacturers; Lord Northcliffe, the newspaper titan who owned The Times, was distraught over the death of his nephew at Neuve Chapelle, and personally blamed Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener for the loss.

Although public opinion rallied around Kitchener for the most part, the enmity of Britain’s most powerful news publisher helped force Asquith to form a new cabinet that included David Lloyd George (above), the Welsh Radical politician and orator who’d previously served as Chancellor of the Exchequer and also criticized Kitchener as old and out of touch. Lloyd George joined the government in the newly created position of Minister of Munitions, with responsibility for speeding up shell production. From here he would rise to become the next Secretary of State for War, and eventually replace Asquith as Prime Minister.

See the previous installment or all entries.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The 45 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Ryan Gosling stars in Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive (2011).
Ryan Gosling stars in Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive (2011).
FilmDistrict

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 45 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Uncut Gems (2019)

Adam Sandler is Howard Ratner, a gambling addict who sees opportunity in every game and in every customer who walks into his Diamond District jewelry store. When NBA player Kevin Garnett insists on taking a rare opal out on loan and giving his championship ring as collateral, Howard can't resist the urge to use it as fuel for his vice. Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie, the film has been called among the best of Sandler's career. —Jake Rossen

2. The Irishman (2019)

Martin Scorsese’s long-in-the-making epic brings together three of the mob genre’s heaviest hitters in Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. But the story of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), who alleged he befriended and then betrayed union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), isn’t your typical organized crime movie. It takes its time to examine the toll of a criminal life, from the alienation of Sheeran’s family to the fate that awaits old men no longer capable of resolving their problems with violence. The de-aging effects aren’t always convincing, but Scorsese’s ability to weave a captivating gangster tale remains timeless. —JR

3. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family. —JR

4. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators. —JR

5. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

Fans of the Coen brothers get a trail mix of stories in this anthology set in the Old West. A gunslinger (Tim Blake Nelson) proves to be a little too arrogant when it comes to his skills; an armless and legless man (Harry Melling) who recites Shakespeare for awed onlookers begins to grow suspicious of his caretaker’s motives; a dog causes unexpected grief while following a wagon train. Knitted together, the six stories total are probably the closest we’ll get to a Coen serialized television series that this feature was once rumored to be. —JR

6. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may have been in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town. —JR

7. Roma (2018)

Alfonso Cuarón’s tribute to his upbringing in 1970s Mexico City tells the story of a housekeeper (Yalitza Aparicio) watching over the children of her employers after their father runs off with his mistress. Cuarón’s film is a living photograph, an intensely personal story that holds no major surprises aside from the sheer craft it took to make it a reality. —JR

8. Shot Caller (2017)

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) stars as a man who undergoes a startling transformation from meek inmate to violent and hardened criminal in this hard-boiled crime tale. —JR

9. Lady Bird (2017)

Greta Gerwig received acclaim—and two Oscar nominations—for her directorial debut about a young woman (Saoirse Ronan) who struggles with family commitments and a desire to head to college across the country. —JR

10. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) turns in a reserved performance in this quiet character drama about a broken-down rodeo rider who manages a motel in Alaska. When a killer (Christopher Abbott) comes to town, Bernthal will have to find the courage to protect the life he's built for himself. —JR

11. Molly's Game (2017)

Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) adapted the book by Molly Bloom, a former Olympic skier who shifted her focus to high-stakes card games for Hollywood's elite. Jessica Chastain is a force as Bloom, who orchestrates a thriving underground business before she's forced to orchestrate a way out of the legal consequences. Idris Elba co-stars as the lawyer who assists her. —JR

12. Okja (2017)

If you didn’t think the adventure of a young girl and her super pig could make you pump your fist in the air, it’s time to check out this quirky firecracker from Parasite director Bong Joon-ho. Thought-provoking and breathtaking? That’ll do, super pig. —Scott Beggs

13. Green Room (2016)

Here's a film that starts with an uncomfortable arrangement (a young punk band has booked a gig for a den of Nazi skinheads) and descends from there into expertly crafted cold-sweat terror. Though it's primarily a siege scenario, the band barricading themselves in the dressing room after witnessing a skinhead-on-skinhead murder, the story goes in more directions (figuratively and geographically) than you'd expect. Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier never lets it get stagnant. He barely lets you catch your breath. —Eric D. Snider

14. Moonlight (2016)

Barry Jenkins’s trailblazing film, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, chronicles the life of Chiron (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes each play the character at different ages) as he grows up under the burden of his own and others’ responses to his homosexuality. It’s a stirring portrait anchored by phenomenal performances (including an Oscar-earning turn from Mahershala Ali). —SB

15. Swiss Army Man (2016)

Vibrant, effervescent, and deeply weird, Paul Dano stars in this musical collage as a depressed loner stranded on an island until he finds a talking, farting corpse played by a very post-Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe. They save one another and, together, attempt to get back to civilization while singing the praises of Jurassic Park. —SB

16. The Witch (2015)

Delicately crafted with an eye toward historical accuracy, this existential horror film focuses on a New England farming family in the wilds of 1630 who believe a witch has cursed them. Anya Taylor-Joy’s standout performance acts as a guide through the possessed-goat-filled insanity. —SB

17. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks. —JR

18. Snowpiercer (2013)

Years before Bong Joon-ho made Oscar history in 2020 with Parasite, he adapted French graphic novel Le Transperceneige into Snowpiercer (which was recently turned into a television series with Jennifer Connelly). In a dystopian future—in sci-fi, there may not be any other kind—a train carrying cars separated by social class circles the globe. Soon, the have-nots (led by Chris Evans) decide to defy authority and get answers from those in charge. —JR

19. The Master (2012)

Director Paul Thomas Anderson delivers a steady but absorbing tale of a World War II veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls under the spell of a charismatic philosopher (Philip Seymour Hoffman) whose teachings soon become the focus of a cult movement. Both Phoenix and Hoffman were nominated for Academy Awards. Of the films he has directed, which include 1997’s Boogie Nights and 2004’s There Will Be Blood, Anderson has said The Master is his favorite. —JR

20. Drive (2011)

On paper (like in the pulp novel it's based on), Nicolas Winding Refn's tale of a taciturn getaway driver whose life spins out of control is familiar. But on the screen, the combination is uniquely intoxicating—a fresh, lurid, melancholy neo-noir with a hint of existential crime thriller and, for some reason, an '80s-ish techno-pop soundtrack. Spinning its uncommonly entertaining yarn out of perilous characters and nightmarish scenarios, it feels dazzlingly original. —EDS

21. The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

Matthew McConaughey is Mick Haller, a lawyer who likes doing most of his business from the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car. When he accepts a case involving the son of a wealthy family, Haller discovers some disturbing similarities with an older case. —JR

22. The Town (2010)

Ben Affleck stars in and directs this deftly-constructed heist film about a career criminal who puts his team at risk when he begins a relationship with the employee of a bank he recently robbed. Going straight won't be easy—not with a Fenway Park robbery on deck. —JR

23. The Social Network (2010)

This exhilarating account of how a total jerk started Facebook is even more alarming given what we've learned about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook since then. Jesse Eisenberg's crisp lead performance, Aaron Sorkin's verbose dialogue, and David Fincher's energetic direction combine to make this a cautionary tale of Shakespearean proportions. It might be the best document of how the internet and social media have fundamentally changed us. —EDS

24. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

A rare adaptation for writer/director Edgar Wright brings Bryan Lee O’Malley’s popular graphic novel series to life. Michael Cera is perfectly cast in the title role as an awkward young man who is determined to win the heart of the woman he loves (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) by literally winning video game-style battles against her “Seven Evil Exes.” Wright throws every trick in his book at the screen, and the result is a film you can watch again and again. —Matthew Jackson

25. A Single Man (2009)

Fashion designer Tom Ford turned in an impressive directorial debut about a closeted gay man (Colin Firth) in 1962 California who tries to keep himself together after the death of his longtime companion. Firth is incredible as an aching heart who can't bear to share the truth of his life in a world quick to judge him. —JR

26. A Serious Man (2009)

Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a man whose faith is being tested at home, at work, and all points in between. A Serious Man is equal parts dark comedy and existential drama, and it’s a perfect encapsulation of why the Coen brothers are masters at their craft. —Jay Serafino

27. An Education (2009)

Romance and regret intertwine in this lush period drama about a young woman (Carey Mulligan) who falls for a man with a murky past (Peter Sarsgaard) in 1960s London. —JR

28. There Will Be Blood (2007)

It was Citizen Kane for the new century: a sprawling epic about a flawed, wealthy man who lets his own power destroy him, directed by a wunderkind already revered by most of Hollywood. Paul Thomas Anderson and stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano all do some of their best work in the story of a duplicitous oilman who meets his match in the fiery son of a preacher. —EDS

29. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Following the end of the Spanish Civil War, a young girl (Ivana Baquero) escapes the turmoil of her militant stepfather and ill mother by exploring a hidden labyrinth that houses a variety of strange creatures. Director Guillermo del Toro was praised for his specialty: weaving a fairy tale with sharp edges. —JR

30. Inside Man (2006)

Director Spike Lee puts a spin on the heist film genre: Clive Owen is a bank robber who has a plan for getting out of a bank surrounded by cops, including hostage negotiator Denzel Washington. —JR

31. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Writer Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry collaborated on this deeply affecting story of a man (Jim Carrey) who realizes he can cure his heartbreak over a lost love (Kate Winslet) by having the same memory-erasing procedure she had. But affairs of the heart aren't so easily dismissed. Kaufman won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. —JR

32. The Notebook (2004)

Ryan Gosling developed a reputation for charming audiences in this adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel. When Gosling and Rachel McAdams fall in love, class separation keeps them apart. —JR

33. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Clint Eastwood directs and stars in this film about a talented boxer (Hilary Swank) who rises through the ranks to become an accomplished fighter. Both she and her coach (Eastwood) soon find themselves in a different kind of fight. —JR

34. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)

The controversially sensual road movie that put Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna on the international map scored an Oscar nomination for writer/director Alfonso Cuarón. It's hard to believe he followed up this drug-and-sex-filled coming-of-age trip with a Harry Potter movie. —SB

35. Being John Malkovich (1999)

Writer Charlie Kaufman reached new dimensions of absurdist humor with this tale of a puppeteer (John Cusack) who finds a portal leading to the mind of celebrated actor John Malkovich (John Malkovich). Naturally, Cusack decides to charge admission for the privilege of being Malkovich for 15 minutes at a time. As always, being inside Kaufman's brain is the real attraction. —JR

36. Donnie Brasco (1997)

Johnny Depp and Al Pacino give knockout performances in this film based on the real-life exploits of Joseph Pistone, an FBI agent sent undercover to gain the trust of the mafia. His way in is Lefty Ruggiero (Pacino), a floundering criminal who puts his trust in Pistone. Their friendship—always with the undercurrent of Pistone's inevitable betrayal—makes for a movie that transcends its mafia genre trappings. —JR

37. Jurassic Park (1993)

Weird science brings dinosaurs back to life in this classic monster film from Steven Spielberg. Charging through the rain, the rampaging Tyrannosaurus rex is as formidable a natural disaster as the director's infamous shark. —JR

38. Schindler's List (1993)

Steven Spielberg won a long-overdue Academy Award for this harrowing chronicle of the Holocaust told through the eyes of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a German who listens to his conscience and rescues Jewish prisoners destined for the gas chambers by redirecting them to his factories. —JR

39. The Firm (1993)

Tom Cruise leads an impressive cast—including Gene Hackman and the late Wilford Brimley—in this adaptation of the John Grisham novel. Fresh out of law school, Mitch McDeere (Cruise) takes a lucrative job with a high-powered legal firm without realizing the partners don't necessarily obey the laws they practice. —JR

40. Howards End (1992)

James Ivory's adaptation of E.M. Forster's 1910 novel tells the story of free-spirited Londoner Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson) who befriends a dying woman, Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave), who ends up bequeathing Margaret her beloved country home, Howards End. It's a stroke of luck for Margaret, who is about to be ousted from the home she has leased for years, but the Wilcox family feels that something is amiss. As Ruth's widower (Anthony Hopkins) attempts to investigate the situation, he finds himself falling under Margaret's spell. —Jennifer M. Wood

41. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Not only did a gory horror film win Best Picture at the Oscars in 1992, it also won the other four top categories—Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay—a feat achieved only twice before (by It Happened One Night and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest). Turns out America has a taste for cannibalism when it’s impeccably acted, smartly directed (by Jonathan Demme), and creepy as all hell. It remains one of the best examples of "art-house" horror. —EDS

42. She's Gotta Have It (1986)

Spike Lee’s feature directorial debut also sees him playing one of three men under the thumb of Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns). None of them can stand Nola’s gender-reversing approach to casual relationships, and the three hope to goad her into living a monogamous life. Nola, however, wants to pursue happiness on her own terms, not society’s. Lee’s love letter to Brooklyn is still a standout in his filmography, which quickly grew to include 1989’s Do the Right Thing and 1992’s Malcom X. —JR

43. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

All four Indiana Jones movies are on Netflix, but the original still stands its ground as the best in the series and one of the finest action movies ever made. Indy (Harrison Ford) pursues the Lost Ark of the Covenant while evading and diverting Nazis chasing the power the Ark is believed to contain. —JR

44. Taxi Driver (1976)

Robert De Niro drew justifiable accolades for his portrayal of Travis Bickle, a mentally askew cab driver in the hellscape of 1970s New York City in director Martin Scorsese's gutter noir masterpiece. —JR

45. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

The Monty Python team delivers their best-known work, a silly and sharply satirical feature that uses the King Arthur legend as a springboard for sequences that feature brave-but-armless knights and highly aggressive rabbits. Opening to mixed reviews, it has since become a perennial entry in lists of the best comedies ever made. —JR