The top ten films of Greek cinema are hard to define because, although many may not know it, the Greek film industry is one of the oldest and best. It took root in the early 1900s. WWI, the wars between Greece and Turkey, WWII, and the Greek Civil War brought its early beginnings to a halt, however. Later on, the Junta’s censorship policies and ensuing political instability also compounded the problem.
Yet, it has had international success. Past productions such as Michael Cacoyannis’ Stella (1955) and A Girl in Black (1956), for example, both received Golden Globe Awards. Later, Never on a Sunday (1960) and, of course, Zorba the Greek (1964) were both recipients of Academy Awards.
More recently, Greek films such as Dogtooth and The Lobster by Yorgos Lanthimos, a Greek director, film producer, and screenwriter have also been applauded at awards ceremonies such as the Cannes Film Festival. The former was awarded in 2009 with Prix Un Certain Regard while the latter received a Jury Prize in 2015. More recently, this year, five Greek films were also chosen to enter the famous French film festival. Netflix has also just released Athena, another stellar film production by Greek-French filmmaker Romain Gavras.
History of the Greek film industry
The history of Greek cinema began in the spring of 1897, when Athenians got to watch the first short film. The Manakis brothers, Yanaki and Milton, established the Greek movie industry. They used the first film camera to create a feature-length motion picture in Manastir. The Weavers, as it was called, was an hour-long documentary on their grandmother, who was a weaver and spinner.
The 1950s and 1960s were the Golden Age of Greek cinema, according to most critics. Greek actors, directors, writers, and producers received international attention for the first time and won critical acclaim. More than fifty films were produced each year, in particular in the film noir genre.
After the fall of the Junta in the year 1974, the Greek movie industry had its renaissance with films such as Micheal Cacoyannis’ Iphigenia winning an Oscar nomination. Melina Mercouri, one of Greece’s most beloved actresses, became Minister of Culture and was able to gain more government financial support for the Greek film industry. She created connections in the movie world abroad. Those efforts paved the path for newer, younger generations of Greek filmmakers and writers. Today, they have begun to employ their skills in a new genre called the Greek Weird Wave, which arose from the economic struggles of the country. The films of Yorgos Lanthimos best define it and is one of its most illustrious directors.
The top ten films
Today, as we know, Greece has become the new Hollywood of Europe, drawing directors and filmmakers from around the globe. Greek cinema and Greek cinematic artists are also continuing to making waves. This brings us to the top ten Greek films.
Never on Sunday (1950) was produced by Jules Dassin for his wife, Melina Mercouri. She stars as a strong-willed, independent prostitute.
Stella (1955) is a modern Greek tragedy written by Michael Cacoyannis and starring Melina Melincouri. It tells the story of a free-spirited woman forced into marriage.
The Counterfeit Coin (1955) is Giorgos Tzavella’s Greek comedy-drama about a coin maker and a banker who decided to mint counterfeit coins.
O Drakos (1956), by Nikos Koundouros, tells the tale of a gangster’s doppelgänger drawn into the murky waters of the criminal world.
The Red Lanterns (1963), by Vasili Georgiadis, is an unorthodox presentation of 1960 society and religion through the eyes of female sex workers.
Phaedra (1962), another film by Jules Dassin, stars Melina Mercouri. Melina Mercouri plays the 2nd wife of a shipping tycoon, who falls in love with his son.
The Travelling Players (1975) is Theo Angelopoulos’ history of Greece through the eyes of a traveling troupe of actors.
Voyage to Cythera (1984), another Angelopoulos film, enters around the life of an elderly Greek exiled after the Civil War and his return to his homeland.
Dogtooth (2009) is Yorgos Lanthimos’ forage into Greek Weird Wave cinema. Lanthimos’ film centers around a family trapped on an island whose isolation leads to terrifying consequences.
Plato’s Academy (2009) is Filippos Tsitos’ study of the conflict between nationalism and multiculturalism in Greece.