Each week, this column will cover one film on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, covering my general thoughts on the film and whether or not I think it belongs on the list. You can also see my personal ranking here. This week’s film is #25 on the list: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).
The bulk of To Kill a Mockingbird’s success can be attributed to the source material, Harper Lee’s widely acclaimed novel of the same name. But dismissing it merely as a solid adaptation of a great novel discounts Peck’s Academy Award-winning performance as Atticus Finch. Robert Mulligan’s adaptation doesn’t do the book justice in any sense—gliding over the details that make the characters and plot feel timeless and vibrant—but Peck brings Finch to life in a way that is remarkable, so much so that he ranks at the top of the AFI list for Best Heroes. The film’s courtroom scenes are compelling, though they make up a small portion of the runtime, but as a whole, it’s far from a necessary cinematic work. The fight for racial justice portrayed seems dated, especially when viewed through a modern lens, and ultimately the message seems simplistic and naive, even if the intention is sincere.
Does It Belong on the List?