Any reel librarians in the AFI Top 100 list?

Last week, when I was talking with librarian colleagues about movies, one colleague asked how many movies I had seen from the Top 100 list compiled by the American Film Institute (AFI).

The AFI compiles “best of” lists periodically, including a Top 100 movies list, which was determined by a jury of 1,500 film artists, critics, and historians. The AFI, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary this September, is a nonprofit educational arts organization that “provides leadership in film and television and is dedicated to initiatives that engage the past, the present and the future of the moving image arts.”

AFI logo

This conversation with a fellow librarian movie buff gave me the idea of comparing the AFI Top 100 list with my own Master List of reel librarian films — was there any overlap? Sometimes, an idea for a blog post is as simple as that. 😉

Good news, there ARE overlaps! I count 12 so far, but that comes with a caveat that I need to rewatch several of the films listed below to verify if there is actually a librarian (versus a library scene) in them or not.

Without further ado, below I’ve detailed the overlaps between the AFI Top 100 list and my own Master List. (Also, please note that the numbers on the list below correspond to that film’s ranking on the AFI Top 100 list.)


1. Citizen Kane (1941)

Citizen Kane is classic saga about the rise and fall of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane (played by Orson Welles). A reporter visits the Thatcher Memorial Library of Philadelphia to research Kane and runs into the steely, no-nonsense presence of the librarian. This library scene provides the structure for the entire film.

Posts or pages that include Citizen Kane:


17. The Graduate (1967)

I need to rewatch this film! The first time (and only time, thus far) I have watched this film was right before I went away to college, so… perhaps not the best timing or circumstances to watch and appreciate this movie! I do remember a major scene in the library, but I need to rewatch the film to see if there’s an actual librarian in the scene.

Here’s an excerpt from the film’s summary on the AFI site:

Benjamin Braddock, filled with doubts about his future, returns to his Los Angeles home after graduating from an Eastern college. His parents soon have a party so they can boast of their son’s academic achievements and his bright prospects in business. Mrs. Robinson, one of the guests, persuades Ben to drive her home and there tries to seduce him, but her overtures are interrupted by the sound of her husband’s car in the driveway. Blatant in her seductive maneuvers, she soon has the nervous and inexperienced Ben meeting her regularly at the Taft Hotel. As the summer passes, Benjamin becomes increasingly bored and listless; he frequently stays out overnight and returns home to loll around the pool.


20. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) falls on hard times and is granted the wish to experience life as if he’d never been born. In this alternate reality/nightmare, his lovely wife, Mary (Donna Reed), becomes an old maid librarian. The short scene in which George sees Mary as a librarian serves as the catalyst for wanting to return to his life.

Posts or pages that include It’s a Wonderful Life:


21. Chinatown (1974)

I also need to rewatch Chinatown! It’s on my Master List, but I don’t actually remember a librarian, or even a library scene, in this film. If you have seen this film and do remember, please leave a comment and share!

Here’s an excerpt from the film’s summary on the AFI site:

In 1937 Los Angeles, private detective J. J. “Jake” Gittes, who specializes in adultery cases, is hired by the well-dressed Mrs. Evelyn Mulwray to follow her husband Hollis, chief engineer for the Department of Water and Power.


44.  The Philadelphia Story (1940)

In The Philadelphia Story, a rich socialite’s (Katharine Hepburn) ex-husband (Cary Grant) and a reporter (Jimmy Stewart) show up right before her planned wedding, and romantic complications ensue. In one scene at the public library, Hepburn and Stewart discuss his book, and a Quaker librarian shushes them.

Posts or pages that include The Philadelphia Story:


50. The Lord of the Rings:  The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

The first in a film trilogy of the well-known saga of Middle Earth, involving a hobbit’s quest to destroy a powerful ring. In one brief but pivotal scene, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) visits the archives to research background info about the ring, and the Gondorian Archivist (Michael Elsworth) leads Gandalf down a winding staircase to the archives.

Posts or pages that include The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring:


63. Cabaret (1972)

This film is on my Master List, but I need to watch this film — which I’ve actually never seen all the way through — to see if there’s a library scene or librarian in it. If you have seen the film and do remember, please leave a comment and share!

Here’s an excerpt from the film’s summary on the AFI site:

In 1931, naïve Englishman Brian Roberts, seeking to broaden his experiences and further his education, arrives in Berlin, where he hopes to support himself by giving English lessons. Brian goes to the shabby boardinghouse run by Fraulein Schneider and there is greeted by Sally Bowles, an exuberant American singer. Sally, obsessed with becoming a movie star, is oblivious to the economic and political turmoil in Berlin, especially between the Nazis and Communists, and instead revels in the decadent atmosphere of alcohol, sex and excess.


70. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Another film I need to rewatch! I remember at least a mention of a prison library… If you have seen the film and do remember, please leave a comment and share.

Here’s an excerpt from the film’s summary on the AFI site:

Sometime in the not-to-distant future, gangs of teenage thugs roam rubble-strewn streets, terrorizing citizens who sequester themselves behind locked doors. Alex, the leader of one of the gangs, and his “droogs,” Pete, Georgie and Dim, distinguish themselves by wearing all-white, cod pieces, bowler hats and walking canes as the spend their nights committing rapes, muggings and beatings for entertainment.


72. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

In The Shawshank Redemption, young banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife. Andy maintains his innocence and plots to escape, with the help of fellow inmate Red (Morgan Freeman). Andy works as an assistant in the prison library and becomes friends with the prison librarian, Brooks (James Whitmore).

Posts or pages that include The Shawshank Redemption:


74. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Another film I need to rewatch! I remember research materials playing a pivotal role in this film — perhaps materials from the FBI Library? — but I need to rewatch it to doublecheck any scenes that include or mention a library or librarians. If you have seen this film and do remember, please leave a comment and share!

Posts or pages that include The Silence of the Lambs:


77. All the President’s Men (1976)

I recently rewatched All the President’s Men! This film follows the Watergate scandal uncovered by reporters Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford). After several attempts by the reporters to locate information, a library clerk at the Library of Congress helps by giving them library checkout slips.

Posts or pages that include All the President’s Men:


91. Sophie’s Choice (1982)

In Sophie’s Choice, a Southern writer (Peter MacNicol) moves to New York City, where he meets Sophie (Meryl Streep), a Holocaust survivor with a troubling past. In a flashback scene, Sophie goes to a library to look up works by Emily Dickinson; she faints after an unpleasant exchange with the librarian (John Rothman).

Posts or pages that include Sophie’s Choice:


And if you’re wondering about the question that started the idea of this whole post, I have so far seen 80 films on the Top 100 list, including 17 of the top 20 titles and 43 of the top 50 titles. Can you guess which titles I haven’t seen?

Please leave a comment and share how many of the AFI Top 100 films you’ve seen!

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2 comments on “Any reel librarians in the AFI Top 100 list?

  1. popegrutch says:

    Let’s see…I’ve watched “Chinatown” a few times, and I believe that Jake goes to a records office to get information about land ownership and possibly another office to get information about the water district administration. I think he speaks only to a records clerk or possibly an archivist, but that might be what you had in mind.
    In both the book and the movie for “A Clockwork Orange,” Alex does some work in the prison library, but I believe it is only the prison chaplin that we ever see working with him (perhaps he does double duty?).
    I’ve watched “Silence of the Lambs” a dozen times or more, but I can’t think of a librarian. I think we see Agent Starling using some microfilm to go over the details in the “Buffalo Bill” case, so I suppose that might be set in an FBI library of some kind.

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