The analyses used to create the master list have found that there are three well-defined tastes in film.
In many ways, the mainstream taste is the least interesting to write about. It falls between the other two tastes on most dimensions and is the taste that most closely resembles the master list. Video guides and other books aimed at a mass audience often reflect a mainstream taste.
The top-100 mainstream films include more films from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s than the top-100 highbrow films do, but not as many as the top-100 popular films do. On the other hand, the top-100 mainstream films include more films made before 1950 than the top-100 popular films do, but not as many as the top-100 highbrow films do.
For most genres, the top-100 mainstream films include as many or more films than do one of the other top-100 lists but as many or fewer films than the other top-100 list. One exception is that the top-100 mainsteam films include as many westerns as do the top-100 highbrow and top-100 popular films combined. The top-100 mainstream films includes two more films in languages other than English than the top-100 popular films include but fewer than the top-100 highbrow films include. Often, non-English language films are viewed as being just one genre rather than representing the work of speakers of every language spoken on this planet other than English.
People with highbrow tastes are often academics, professional critics, or filmmakers. In any case, they are people who are educated in film and the history of film. Sometimes, people with this taste come across as snobbish. Many believe that they alone have the right to determine which films are great. In fact, this taste might even be called the snobbish taste if there were not at least as many snobs with popular tastes who believe that only regular moviegoers have the right to determine which films are great.
In both what it includes and what it excludes, the highbrow taste is the opposite of the popular taste. The top-100 highbrow films include 12 silent films, whereas the top-100 popular films has just one. On the other hand, the top-100 highbrow films include very few recent films. The only films from the 21st century are Spirited Away (2001) and Mulholland Dr. (2001). There are 20 films from the 21st century among the top-100 popular films.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the highbrow taste is that nearly half of the top films are in languages other than English. The top-100 films for the other two tastes include only around a dozen films in languages other than English. There are more Italian-produced and Japanese-produced films and twice as many French-produced films in the top-100 highbrow films as there are in the top-100 films of the other two tastes combined.
There is little diversity in the genres of highbrow films. Of the top-100 highbrow films, over 3/4 are dramas, yet there are only eight action films and six science-fiction films. There are well over twice as many films in each of these genres among the top 100 popular films. The top-100 highbrow films also have half as many coming-of-age film, cult, and independent films as the top-100 popular films. Some people might be happy to learn that there are only five sequels and remakes among the top-100 highbrow films. There are almost three times as many among the top-100 popular films.
Popular films are the films most enjoyed by the regular moviegoer. Most popular lists come from large-sample polls. Although most of the respondents to these polls have popular tastes, people with mainstream and highbrow tastes undoubtedly participate as well. This probably weakens the differences found between the popular taste and the other two tastes. For example, the high ranking of Citizen Kane (1941) on the popular list is partly due to mainstream and highbrow voters rather than to regular moviegoers.
Some people say that most film fans believe that film started in 1977 with Star Wars. There is a bit of truth to this. Over 70% of the top-100 popular films were made after 1977, and there is only one film among the top-100 popular films made before 1939—City Lights (1931). Five of the top-100 mainstream films and 11 of the top-100 highbrow films were made before then. However, people with popular tastes make up for this by being more open to recent films than people with other tastes are. There are only six films from the 1990s and the 2000s among the top-100 highbrow films and only 20 from the 1990s and the 2000s among the top-100 mainstream films, with the latest made over ten years ago. There are 54 films from the 1990s and 2000s among the top-100 popular films.
People with popular tastes tend to ignore films in languages other than English. There are only eleven films in the top-100 popular films in other languages, and this includes spaghetti westerns that are dubbed into English. However, people with popular tastes tend to be more open to different genres of films than other people are. For example, the top-100 popular films include more science-fiction films and as many action films as the top-100 lists for the other two tastes combined. The top popular films also include more adventure, fantasy, and thriller films than the top-100 lists for either of the other two tastes as well as more coming-of-age, cult, and independent films than either of the other two lists.
People with a popular taste may not consider originality to be particularly important. The top-100 popular films contain more sequels and remakes as the other two lists combined.
The lists of "Top [blank] films" for each taste indicate what the list of top films would look like if they were made only by people with that taste. For example, a person with a mainstream taste in films would create a top 100 film list that is more similar to the Top Mainstream Films list than to the other top lists. These lists contain films that correspond to that taste, as well as films that are liked by people with that taste even if those films correspond more with one of the other two tastes.
TOP MAINSTREAM FILMS—The top mainstream films.
TOP HIGHBROW FILMS—The top highbrow films.
TOP POPULAR FILMS—The top popular films.
The lists of "Most [blank] films" indicate which films best epitomize the taste. For example, a person with a highbrow taste in films would view the Most Highbrow Films list as containing films that are largely underrated by people with other tastes. The majority of films on each of these lists are liked by people with that particular taste more than by other people, but the lists also include films that are like by people of all tastes.
MOST MAINSTREAM FILMS—The films that epitomize the mainstream taste the most.
MOST HIGHBROW FILMS—The films that epitomize the highbrow taste the most.
MOST POPULAR FILMS—The films that epitomize the popular taste the most.
The lists of "Least [blank] films" indicate films that epitomize the taste the least. For example, a person with a popular taste in films would view the Least Popular Films list as containing mostly overrated films. These lists include films that are liked by people with different tastes much more than by people with that particular taste.
LEAST MAINSTREAM FILMS—The films that epitomize the mainstream taste the least.
LEAST HIGHBROW FILMS—The films that epitomize the highbrow taste the least.
LEAST POPULAR FILMS—The films that epitomize the popular taste the least.