The Top 30 Greatest Classic Bollywood Films of All Time

The top 30 greatest classic Bollywood films have been selected. Which films made the list of Bollywood’s best?

Greatest Bollywood Films of All Time Guru Dutt Waheeda Rehman

Introduction

Mr. and Mrs. 55 – Classic Bollywood Revisited! at last present our definitive list of the Bollywood classics you absolutely must see before you die. Hundreds of films were scored and ranked across multiple dimensions of Bollywood cinema including: story, direction, performances, musical composition, as well as cultural impact and legacy. We included Hindi-language films made between the period of 1949-1979 on our list of the best classic Bollywood films ever made. Some on the list are beloved favorites of the industry, while others may surprise you.

Among the winners are directors Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy and Raj Kapoor–names synonymous with masterpiece Indian cinema–each with multiple films among Bollywood’s all-time greatest. Always wondered why a couple of young Harvard students like us love old Indian films so passionately? No matter what you think you know about Bollywood, the movies on this list will change your understanding of Indian films like never before. From village epics that grapple with our national identity to the nostalgic poetry of sudden disillusionment, classic Bollywood films transport us from the enchanting glamour of Bombay nightlife to the majestic gardens of Kashmir. They carry our souls through hardship and loss and revive our spirits with redemption.

This is cinema the way it was meant to be. This is classic Bollywood.

The top 30 Films from 30 years of classic Hindi cinema (1949-1979):

1. Pyaasa

Pyaasa Guru Dutt

Guru Dutt, 1957

Pyaasa, or “thirst,”is the story of one man’s search for compassion in the cold cynicism of post-independence Indian society. Vijay is an unpublished poet, dismissed by his own family and scorned by socialites and his colleagues. After befriending a prostitute who shelters him, Vijay is believed dead and his poetry “posthumously” lionized. He becomes an overnight sensation, mourned by fans across the country, and the true Vijay is labeled an imposter. India entered its golden age of filmmaking in the 1950s when its long-awaited freedom from England and the hopes of a new government created a social tinderbox of great expectations and disillusionment. Pioneering the technique of utilizing song lyrics as direct extensions of the film’s dialogue, Guru Dutt as the writer-producer-director-star paints a stirring portrait of the commodification of humanity.

2. Mughal-e-Azam

Mughal-e Azam K. Asif

Karimuddin Asif, 1961

At the turn of the 17th century, Prince Salim falls in love with the court dancer Anarkali and wages war against his own father, Emperor Akbar, in order to marry her. Director K. Asif’s enormous cast, opulent sets, intricately designed costumes and extravagantly staged battle scenes made the film the most expensive ever produced in India at the time. But despite of all the grandeur, the film has a warm heart, and the dangers of the romance between Salim and Anarkali are infused into each glance they share. Although the love story is the backbone of the film, it is Emperor Akbar, from whom the film derives its name (“the Great Mughal”), who takes center stage as he is torn between love for his only son and the unforgiving demands of the Mughal Empire. Every line of dialogue is written with the ornamentation of poetry, casting an elegance to Mughal-e Azam‘s thunderous power.

3. Pakeezah

Pakeezah Kamal Amrohi

Kamal Amrohi, 1971

In the grandeur of Muslim Lucknow at the turn of the century, Pakeezah is a courtesan and dancer who dreams of leaving her life behind when a stranger falls in love with her in a train compartment, not knowing her true profession. With swirling romanticism and languid, dream-like cinematography, Pakeezah instantly became one of the most extraordinary musicals ever made. Perfectionist director Kamal Amrohi, who also wrote the script and some of the lyrics, effectively transports the viewer into a wistful age of bygone formality and luxury. Each of Pakeezah‘s popular semi-classical songs illustrates the duality of a courtesan’s poetry, at once glamorizing the elaborate rituals of love and destroying the institutions that upheld them.

4. Mother India

Mother India Mehboob Khan

Mehboob Khan, 1957

With tragedy strikes her family, newlywed village belle Radha is determined to weather a crucible of social and personal adversities without compromising her honor. In doing so, she reinvents herself as a heavy-handed symbol of India’s own pride as an ancient culture and a new democracy. A defining film in the history of Bollywood, director Mehboob Khan’s iconic Mother India set the pattern for the more than 60 years of Bollywood film that followed it. A mythologization of traditional values and an homage to the beauty of Indian heritage, Mother India‘s unabashedly epic glorification of self-sacrifice and female empowerment was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1958.

5. Guide

Guide Vijay Anand

Vijay Anand, 1965

A corrupt businessman is transformed into a spiritual guide after a misunderstanding that leads to his idolization by a village besieged by drought. Based on the R.K. Narayan novel of the same name and bolstered by a stunning soundtrack, Guide explores a fundamental Vedic transformation from materialism to a release from worldly attachments in an extremely unlikely hero. A scandalous love story settles into the background as director Vijay Anand boldly deconstructs social taboos, from adultery and non-traditional gender roles to religious fraud, in a film that stirringly evolves into a philosophical awakening greater than the circumstances it portrays–a brilliant reflection of the double entendre intended by its title.

6. Kaaghaz Ke Phool

Kaagaz Ke Phool Guru Dutt

Guru Dutt, 1959

In the 1950s at the height of India’s golden age of film-making, a celebrated movie director feels uninspired by the tinsel-lined glitz of studio era Bollywood. When he discovers a new actress, innocent to the corruption of the industry, he believes he has found a muse to ease his restlessness. A elegiac behind-the-scenes film about film-making, Kaaghaz Ke Phool became a cult classic following the eerie semi-autobiographical death of its director Guru Dutt. Trapped in a world of pretense, Guru Dutt illustrates a kind of yearning that softly and slowly erodes the soul–a desperate hunt for a human connection. The real triumph is in the film’s stunning camerawork, gracefully gliding through the empty studio sets like a beautiful spectre of Dutt’s own shattered desires.

7. Awaara

Awaara Raj Kapoor

Raj Kapoor, 1951

A female lawyer is determined to prove her lover’s innocence in a murder attempt on the life of a respected judge. Structured in medias res, the film’s flashback reveals the injustice of her lover’s past when the very judge who condemns him proves to be his own father: a man who threw his wife onto the streets when he believed a criminal had raped her. Echoing the dark lessons of the ancient Ramayana, Awaara shatters the nature versus nurture debate with a showman’s flair and surrealist fantasy, including the film’s legendary dream sequence evoking a descent into Hell. Awaara launched Raj Kapoor’s famous Chaplin-esque hero for the first time, who resonated immensely across the Soviet Union and Communist China as the voice of a new generation.

8. Sahib, Bibi, Aur Ghulam

Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam Guru Dutt

Guru Dutt/Abrar Alvi, 1962

Desperate to save her marriage, the younger daughter-in-law of a wealthy family sacrifices her moral boundaries to win over her alcoholic husband. A nostalgic glimpse into the decaying Bengali feudal system, Sahib, Bibi, Aur Ghulam unravels a dazzling murder mystery at the heart of its progressive view of societal redemption. Seen from the perspective of a young factory worker lured into a stately mansion as an ally of its young mistress, Sahib, Bibi, Aur Ghulam hauntingly opens the doors to the hollowness of exterior splendor. Spiraling against her will with the collapse of Calcutta’s landed aristocracy, Meena Kumari’s portrayal of the tormented wife is forever considered among the most magnificent on-screen performances of Bollywood history.

9. Aradhana

Aradhana Shakti Samanta

Shakti Samanta, 1971

When her lover dies at war, an unwed mother gives up her son up for adoption, vowing to watch over him in secrecy as he grows up in the house of another. Her poignant worship, or aradhana, of her dead fiancé and their son became immortalized in the Indian cinematic psyche as an audacious struggle of traditional society confronted by changing modern values. Boasting one of the all-time greatest soundtracks of Indian cinema, Aradhana epitomizes the versatility and creativity of the era’s leading music directors. From the youthful joy of “Mere Sapno Ki Rani” to the grim Bardic undertones of “Safal Hogi Teri Aradhana” to the notoriously seductive “Roop Tera Mastana,” the film is as much remembered for its luminous performances as for exemplifying the golden age of Bollywood music.

10. Do Bigha Zameen

Do Bigha Zameen Bimal Roy

Bimal Roy, 1953

A farming family fights to save their ancestral land from a cunning mill owner. Do Bigha Zameen follows the father and son’s trip to Calcutta from their idyllic village to earn enough money to pay their debts–only to discover the miseries of urban poverty instead. Inspired by the work of Italian neorealism, Do Bigha Zameen pioneered early parallel cinema with a deliberate attention to the “everyday,” and the feeling of an invisible, unhurried camera whose shots and mis-en-scene are both carefully constructed and effortlessly fluid. Directed by Bengali auteur Bimal Roy, the film’s nationalistic electricity hit a broader audience, becoming the first Indian film to win the Prix Internationale at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival.

11. Bandini

bandini bimal roy

During the British Raj of the 1930s, a prison doctor falls in love with a convict who reveals the story of her tumultuous connection to a freedom fighter.

12. Madhumati

Madhumati Bimal roy

Bimal Roy, 1958

On a rainy night, a man enters an abandoned mansion where he is confronted by unfulfilled visions of his past life.

13. Shree 420

Shree 420 Raj Kapoor

Raj Kapoor, 1955

A country boy travels to Bombay to make his fortune where he is lured from the path of virtue into a thrilling life of deceit.

14. Sholay

sholay ramesh sippy

Ramesh Sippy, 1975

After his family is murdered by a notorious bandit, a former police officer enlists the help of two outlaws to capture him.

15. Ankur

shyam benegal Ankur

Shyam Benegal, 1974

The social hierarchies of rural India are disrupted when a landowner begins an affair with a poor farmer’s wife.

16. Hum Dono

Hum Dono vijay anand

Amarjeet, Vijay Anand (1961)

After returning from war, a soldier begins to lead a double-life when his doppelgänger’s family welcomes him home.

17. Barsaat (1949)

Barsaat raj kapoor

Raj Kapoor, 1949

Two men with different ideals of love search for answers with the coming of the monsoons.

18. Amar Akbar Anthony

Amar Akbar Anthony manmohan desai

Manmohan Desai, 1977

Three brothers are separated in childhood and eventually unite after one is brought up a Christian, one a Hindu, and one a Muslim.

19. Anand

Anand hrishikesh mukherjee

Hrishikesh Mukherjee, 1971

A doctor recounts the story of a terminally ill man who wishes to his live life to the fullest and spread happiness to those around him.

20. Haqeeqat

Haqeeqat chetan anand

Chetan Anand, 1964

A platoon of Indian soldiers leave their homes and loved ones to encounter the harsh realities of battle in the Indo-China War of 1962.

21. Don

Don 1978 chandra barot

Chandra Barot, 1978

A simpleton is trained to infiltrate the underworld by impersonating a criminal leader who has been killed in a police chase.

22. Mahal

Mahal kamal amrohi

Kamal Amrohi, 1949

A young lawyer is haunted by a ghostly woman in his new house, where the builder and his fiancée died shortly after it was built.

23. Sangam

Sangam raj kapoor

Raj Kapoor, 1964

An Indian Air Force Officer leaves for the Kashmiri front, entrusting his wife to the care of his best friend who has secretly always loved her.

24. Dosti

Dosti satyen bose

Satyen Bose, 1964

A penniless orphan makes the unexpected friendship of a blind boy who teaches him survival on the streets of Bombay.

25. Waqt

Waqt yash chopra

Yash Chopra, 1965

Natural disaster separates the members of a close-knit family who re-connect in a series of dramatic entanglements years later.

26. Deewar

Deewar yash chopra

Yash Chopra, 1975

A mother attempts to reunite her two estranged sons: one, a leading criminal of the underworld, and the other, an uprighteous policeman.

27. Kati Patang

Kati Patang shakti samanta

Shakti Samanta, 1970

As a promise to raise the child of her dying friend, a young woman risks starting a new life under a false identity.

28. Aandhi

Aandhi gulzar

Gulzar, 1975

A powerful politician struggles to reconcile her position with secrets from her past.

29. Purab Aur Paschim

Purab Aur Paschim major kumar

Manoj Kumar, 1970

East clashes with West when a traditional Indian student encounters swinging London society for the first time.

30. Bombai Ka Babu

Bombai Ka Babu Raj Khosla

Raj Khosla, 1960

A small-time thief is forced into a deadly web of deception when he gains the trust of his victim’s family.

Read more about these and other classic Bollywood films on our film pages! Which films do you consider among classic Bollywood’s all-time best and why? Leave us a comment and let us know!

– Mrs. 55

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54 thoughts on “The Top 30 Greatest Classic Bollywood Films of All Time

  1. Thanks for your list. I have watched just a few of these movies.

    But let me ask you a different question: how do these movies compare with the best of world movies, including the likes of Kurosawa, Hitchcock, etc? I don’t honestly know if it is worth watching these when I have the choice of spending 2-3 hours watching something better from Hollywood or Japanese or whatever.

    • It is art, completely subjective. There is no form better than the other. I would argue that there is a time and a place for everything, even something as lowly as Tees Maar Khan (alright, that last part may have been untrue). While you may think that you are watching something better, you may very well be missing out on your all time favorite film by not watching a Guru Dutt or Balraj Sahni film. I would suggest give everything a little time. Popular opinion may favor a Kurosawa or a Hitchcock, but you may like something with Dilip.

    • That is seriously some xenocentric bs, ok. A Guru Dutt or Raj Kapoor aren’t in any way inherently inferior to a Kurosawa or Hitchcock. Many of the movies listed here are very highly regarded by film lovers all over the world – several have, in fact, been included in lists documenting the best of world cinema by organizations like TIME and BFI. Perhaps examine why you feel like Indian movies are somehow always worse than something from ‘Hollywood, Japanese or whatever’.

    • Yes, there are many more good movies can be added to the above list like, phir subah hogi, chitralekha, Shikst, Jagte Raho, Teesri Kasam, garam hawa, khamoshi, Jahan Ara, Mirza Ghalib Sahib bibi aur gulaam

      • Truly agree with you Lekha. And also ‘seema’ – which gave Nutan her first filmfare and i guess a national award too.

  2. This is a great list! There are a few I’ve missed and now I will be sure to see them. I would have put Guide as Number 1, but that is a personal choice.

    • A couple of suggestions,replace barsat with tee sir kasam,Amar Akbar with the mother of all masala films– Teesri Manzil and Kati parang with Safar.

      • At the risk of irritating the younger generation ,let me state unequivocally —
        There is no movie in next 35 years that can replace the top 5 movies in the list

  3. Awesome list! I’ve seen most of the movies on this list, but there are a some that I have missed… I will definitely watch them when I have the time

    • Purab Aur Pashchim has a good concept, but had a not-so-good execution and drags in some parts, but don had a unique story. I guess a film that has unique story, good acting, a perfect screenplay and good dialogues should be included in such a list always – even if it is an out and out commercial film like sholay, waqt or amar akbar anthony.

  4. Thanks for this! I’ve been waiting with baited breath 🙂
    I think Pakeezah should be second. And its wonderful that Pyaasa is #1.
    This list is a great service. Thanks for taking the time to put it together, Mrs 55. Hope the wedding plans are going well. All the best.

  5. Nice list! I have not seen everything on it. I plan to watch Guru Dutt films before anything else from this list. I can argue against some films on the list but that’s personal choice for you. Oh and I would definitely include Andaaz (1949) on my list. Nargis was brilliant.

  6. DDLJ cultural phenomena. people talk to me about this film if they are from China or Egypt.

    Boot Polish 1954 what a simple non clichéd uplifting and life affirming movie.

  7. This list is a near-to-perfect balance of commercial and art-house Bollywood classics, a job well-done I must add, although I may not agree with the inclusion of one or two films in this list…personally, I would exclude Yashji’s Waqt and replace it with another film of his, namely the intensely suspenseful thriller Ittefaq (1969)…would also personally include Shyam Benegal’s Bhumika (1977), Mehboob Khan’s Andaaz (1949), Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977) and Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar (1946) in this list.

  8. Good list. I will not add Bombai ka babu. There are many other classics better than this move. For comedy there is Padosan, for classic movie there is Seema, Teesri Kasam, Satyakam, Anubhav. And newer films like Lagaan and Tare zameen par.

  9. The list of these classic films includes all the movies i have seen. some are my all time liked and left their foot print on mind as i had seen them in my childhood. In my opinion this list should include film produced and directed by V Shantaram ” Do Aankhe Barah Haath ” Film “.Parakh” and Dharmputra are also worth to be included.Can not be overlooked films ” Jailor” by Sohrab Modi ” .

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  11. Great list of the movies listed by you.. Some of them are seen by me but some are remaining..Surely will watch those movies..Thanks for the list…….!!!!!

  12. interesting to note that Balraj Sahni has featured in two great “nationalist” movies-namely DO BIGHA ZAMIN and GARAM HAWA,,,,,,,,,a fine thespian if ever there was one that graced Hindi cinema.

  13. The top 10 is almost impeccable but after that it looks like Vox Populi.
    Hrishikesh Da’s films like Satyakaam and Anupama definitely need to be there. I Know art is subjective and there is no definitieve, but its similar to how everyone thinks Pyaasa and Guide are brilliant.

    satyakaam in particular exemplifies the objectivism, so associated with West but reincarnated brilliantly by Dharmendra

    P.S. Sujatha, Boot Polish and Bandini too deserve a spot in top 30. 🙂

  14. Author has done a great Job for creating a list of Classic Films of Bollywood which we can never forgot and never miss to watch it again. The Current ara of bollywood films is totally different and now we miss this type of movies and even miss family movies like DDLJ,Hum Aapke Hai Kaun type.

    Kati Patang ,Deewar,Don,Sangam,Aawara,Mughal-E-Azam all are the best movies…

    Thanks for Creating the List of Classic Bollywood Films.

  15. Congrats for your wedding Mrs. 55! We atleast have teesri kasam in every comment regarding ‘that should’ve been included’. I would include Mera Gaon Mera Desh too (surprised, aren’t you?). Many of Sholay’s romantic and action scenes have been directly copied from it. It also has an unique and ‘unheard of before’ story. The list is perfect – I’ve either seen or heard of all these movies from my mother. Thank you so much for this awesome list!

  16. Very good List, but i Miss some real Classics.
    Baiju Bawra was a Classic Film which is in my opinion One of the best ever, as well was Gang jamuna and Even naya daur can Compare with any Hollywood Movie for all their attributes.

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  18. The list of classical hits certainly takes us in bak me memory lane . Nevertheless , some great movies cannot be forgotten i.e Devdas ( Dililip Kumar ) , jhanak jhanak PayPal baje , an rang , umrao jaan ( rekha ) and many other such movies . They remain feast for eyes and mind to relish and remember.

    • I have to agree with you. I loved the Devdas with Dilip Kumar and Vyjanthimala more than the one with SRK and Madhuri. Don’t get me wrong- I loved both of them- but I felt Dilip Kumar did better than SRK in the role of Devdas. Umrao Jaan was an excellent movie and Rekha did fabulous.

  19. ARDH SATYA

    But, was it post 79?
    Think it was. Or else would have been an obvious inclusion.
    A great movie to watch for someone who thinks western movies and actors r better.

    Btw
    Kurosawa said the following about Satyajit Ray, “Never having seen a Satyajit Ray film is like never having seen the sun or moon”.
    I also like Guru Dutt, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Gulzar, Bimal Roy, Shyam Benegal.
    It is also very true that we make a huge number of nonsense masala movies, but that’s true with Hollywood too. Infact these days it’s more true.

  20. This is a fabulous list! My personal favorite movie of ALL TIME is Anand, because I absolutely loved the pre-superstar performance of Amitabh Bachchan(still don’t know how it’s spelled) and Rajesh Khanna was brilliant. I love how simple Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s films are, yet they are so brilliant and touching and heartwarming. The ending always makes me cry. Kal Ho Naa Ho was similar to Anand, but it was an hour longer than Anand and it had lots of unnecessary characters that added to the humor, but some of the jokes were pretty perverted. Anand was an innocent movie and I loved that. Some other movies I absolutely adore from the list are Mother India, Dosti, Deewar, and Do Bigha Zameen. (Sorry, I don’t love romance movies but I did love romances like QSQT and such)

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  22. Great list except mahal, bombai ka babu, amar akbar anthony & purab aur paschim and may be shri 420. Top 5 can never be remade jus awesome

  23. Wow! A great list of classic movies that will be loved by every die-hard fan of Indian films. These movies have formed the identity of Hindi films on a global platform. Thanks a lot for sharing this amazing list with us.

  24. I also liked Gunga Jumna and I do agree Sujata should have been in the list. Another film that warrants a mention is Mere Naam Joker.

  25. Great collection. I have seen only half of them and will definitely see the others. I think the list needs to be expanded to 50 so that some more classics like Mera Saaya, Woh Kaun thi, Mera Naam Joker, Yadon ki baraat can find the place in the honor list.

  26. A very good list, but as said umpteen times here, its subjective, we always can differ and that’s the beauty of cinema. With every individual comment, a new classic will join the list. Personally I would like to have seen Shyam Benegal’s Junoon and also MS Sathy’s Garam Hawa in the list. They were artistically brilliant.

  27. wow! what’s a pleasant surprise for me on viewing ur collection, at the same time one must remember that Bollywood’s collection can never be confined into figures, we r fortunates to treasure such nice story, songs, stars and so on especially of 1960’s to early 80’s. Will u like to bloom ur list by knotting Anpadh, Aradhna, Amar Prem,Gumrah & Kanoon at present. lots of thanks.

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