Whether you’re new to Indian cinema or simply looking to catch up, we’ve gathered a list that will help you navigate some of the best Bollywood’s movies.
25 Best Bollywood’s movies of all time
25 Best Bollywood movies of all time
India is a country with many different languages, subcultures, and traditions, yet they all have a strong affinity for movies in common. Bollywood, the nation’s Hindi-language film industry, is one of the most prolific in the world, producing more than 1,000 films annually (more than twice as many as Hollywood). What exactly makes Bollywood movies so epic and unique? Some claim that all-good Bollywood movie follows a tried-and-true formula: swoon-worthy romance, soaring music, outrageously handsome main actors, and narrative twists you can guess a mile away. Some claim that Bollywood’s secret is far simpler than that; it’s simply having a great time from start to end.
Best Bollywood movies that’ll sweep you away
1. Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! (1994)
Director: Sooraj R Barjatya
Cast: Madhuri Dixit, Salman Khan, Tuffy
Genre: Musical, Romance
This 1990s blockbuster was directly responsible for audiences in India and elsewhere returning to Bollywood after a drastic drop in attendance in the 1980s due to video piracy and disillusionment with the crude action films of that era. Expect 14 songs, two weddings, and a cremation. Nothing else happens, yet its shameless lavish depiction of every celebration of a perfect north Indian family, and especially their elaborate colorful Hindu wedding rituals, sucked audiences into cinemas again and again. ‘HAHK’, as it is known, is the film that kickstarted the global awareness of modern Bollywood.
2. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013)
Director: Ayan Mukherjee
Cast: Deepika Padukone, Ranbir Kapoor, Kalki Koechlin, Aditya Roy Kapoor
Genre: Romance, Comedy
This romantic and full comedy movie fits the Bollywood funny Hindi movie template perfectly: it boasts flamboyant colors, songs, dance, and, more importantly, a big fat Indian wedding. It tells of two characters, Bunny (Kapoor) and Naina (Padukone), and their group of friends, who we first meet as they leave university before the film flashes forward to the end of their twenties. What made the film doubly successful was that its two stars were former lovers in real life, lending them special chemistry onscreen.
3. Veer-Zaara (2004)
Director: Yash Chopra
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukherji
Yash Chopra, Bollywood’s most successful and respected director, delivers a groundbreaking musical romance on an epic scale. Will the Hindi love story that Indian Hindu Veer (Khan) and Pakistani Muslim Zaara (Zinta) feel for each other be able to overcome cross-cultural, emotional, and physical borders? Chopra employs his trademark ‘chiffon sari in the Swiss Alps’ style while including progressive political and social messages about Indo-Pak unity, women’s rights, inept justice and hope for the future. The late composer Madan Mohan and Lata Mangeshkar’s tunes achieve lyrical perfection. The result is an uplifting, colorful and soulful gem.
4. Umrao Jaan (1981)
Director: Muzaffar Ali
Cast: Rekha, Farouque Shaikh, Naseeruddin Shah
This is an adaptation of Mirza Hadi Ruswa’s well-known 1899 novel about a Lucknow courtesan called Umrao Jaan (Rekha) who fights to escape the profession she was kidnapped into by following the path of a true love story movie. The carefully crafted period setting captivated viewers and critics on its release, and the story was told again in 2006, this time with Aishwarya Rai in the title role.
5. Swades (2004)
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Gayatri Joshi, Kishori Balal
Genre: Drama, Romance, Musical
Pleasing audiences with a film so soon after the Oscar-nominated ‘Lagaan’ was always going to be tough for director Ashutosh Gowariker. And while ‘Swades’ underwhelmed those who compared it to ‘Lagaan’, it was still a solid film, and even better in some ways. Mohan Bhargav (Khan, in one of his best performances) is on a short break from his job at Nasa in the States and visits his hometown in India. The film focuses on Bhargav’s struggles with his country of birth, its inhabitants, and his own identity.
6. Gully Boy (2019)
Director: Zoya Akhtar
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Kalki Koechlin, Vijay Raaz, Kubra Sait
Genre: Drama, Musical
Like Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, this film is set in the vibrant Dharavi slums of Mumbai. Key protagonist Murad Ahmed, played to perfection by Ranveer Singh, goes on an Eminem, 8 Mile-style journey, honing his craft with Shrikant ‘MC Sher’ Bhosle (Siddhant Chaturvedi) and Shweta ‘Sky’ Mehta (Kalki Koechlin) as supporters, while tending to his overprotective, doctor-to-be girlfriend, Safeena Firdausi (Alia Bhatt). Performing in a concert to impress rapper Nas becomes Murad’s goal. We follow the twists and turns of how he aims to turn his musical dreams into a reality, battling more than just words, but people, staid office jobs, and social conventions that stand in his way
7. Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006)
Director: Rajkumar Hirani
Cast: Sanjay Dutt, Vidya Balan, Boman Irani
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Musical
Three years after making his debut with the sleeper hit, ‘Munna Bhai MBBS’, director Rajkumar Hirani brought back the lovable gangster Munna Bhai (Dutt) – for the best sequel ever made by Bollywood comedy. Munna starts brushing up on his knowledge about Gandhi to impress a radio host. Soon, Gandhi materializes before Munna and starts having conversations with him, leading everyone to believe he’s lost his mind. Theatre actor Dilip Prabhavalkar made a rare Hindi comedy movie appearance as Gandhi and nailed a character that’s always been tough to portray on screen
8. Hera Pheri (2000)
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Sunil Shetty, Paresh Rawal
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Musical
In this popular comedy, a nonsensical plot about a botched kidnapping and phone calls going to the wrong number is balanced by some fine acting from lead actors Kumar, Shetty and Rawal. The latter became an overnight star on the back of ‘Hera Pheri’ after being on the sidelines as a supporting actor for many years. His portrayal of an alcoholic, naïve, half-blind garage owner, who rents his home out to two young boys, brought the house down. The film remains enjoyable even after repeated viewings.
9. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013)
Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Sonam Kapoor
Genre: Biopic, Drama, Sports
Milkha Singh – known as The Flying Sikh – was a world-champion Olympic runner in the 1950s and 1960s, who infamously lost the most important race of his life. ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ shows us how he came to be one of India’s greatest runners, and how he overcame the demons of witnessing the massacre of his family during India’s partition. The success of the film comes from its strong attention to detail, a superb performance from Farhan Akhtar as Singh, and an inspiring story.
10. Dhobi Ghat (2011)
Director: Kiran Rao
Cast: Aamir Khan, Monica Dogra, Prateik Babbar
Genre: Romance, Drama, Musical
Kiran Rao broke into filmmaking with this film about five characters, the fifth being the city of Mumbai (the title translates as ‘Mumbai Diaries). Arun (Khan) is a reclusive painter who moves into a new apartment and finds video diaries left by the previous tenant, Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra). Shai (Dogra) is a photographer who befriends Munna (Babbar), a slum boy who hopes to break into Bollywood. Tushar Kanti Ray’s cinematography and Gustavo Santaolalla’s background score both beautifully complement this story about different classes of people co-existing in Mumbai.
11. Kati Patang (1970)
Director: Shakti Samanta
Cast: Rajesh Khanna, Asha Parekh, Prem Chopra
Genre: Romance, Musical, Drama
Inspired by the Hollywood weepie ‘No Man of Her Own (1950), Shakti Samanta’s film addresses the still-taboo theme of widows remarrying. The film goes out of its way to proclaim the untainted virgin status of its female lead, as Madhu (Parekh) only pretends to be a widow to assume a new identity. Complications follow when she is attracted to her ‘dead’ husband’s best mate (Khanna). The real superstar of this melodramatic film is RD Burman’s classic score: every track remains popular to this day.
12. Black Friday (2004)
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Cast: Aditya Srivastava, Kay Kay Menon, Pavan Malhotra
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Long before director Anurag Kashyap broke on to the international scene with films like 2012’s ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, he struggled to release this controversial real-life drama about the infamous 1993 bomb blasts in Mumbai – arguably his best film to date. Kashyap stuck to investigative journalist Hussain Zaidi’s version of the planning, execution, and aftermath of the explosions and extracted great performances from his ensemble cast. ‘Black Friday’ is a rare thing: an engaging best Hindi movie based on a true story.
13. Gangs of Wasseypur: Part One (2012)
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Cast: Manoj Bajpai, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Richa Chadda
Genre: Action, Thriller
Anurag Kashyap is Hindi cinema’s Quentin Tarantino, and this is his ‘Reservoir Dogs’, a bloody, brutal, and visually arresting gangster film that centers on feuding families and a coal-mining racket. Menacing mafia don Sardar Khan (Bajpai), and his Bollywood-loving, stoner son Faizal (Siddiqui), are both compelling screen presences. Kashyap rips to shreds Bollywood’s tradition of shooting airbrushed heroes and heroines in pristine locations. Instead, this oozes blood and black humour. Kashyap made ‘Part Two’ at the same time.
14. Dhoom (2004)
Director: Sanjay Gadhvi
Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Uday Chopra, John Abraham
Bollywood’s most successful modern franchise features stylish villains on the run from a lovable yet inept duo: policeman Dixit (Bachchan) and Ali (Chopra), a thief whose help he seeks out. So far there have been three ‘Dhoom’ movies, and in this first one, the villain was Kabir (Abraham), the head of a motorbike gang. The series is heavily defined by its stunt action set pieces and owes a big debt to the likes of ‘The Fast and the Furious and ‘Ocean’s Eleven.
15. Kahaani (2012)
Director: Sujoy Ghosh
Cast: Vidya Balan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Parambrata Chatterjee
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Director Sujoy Ghosh and writers Suresh Nair, Ritesh Shah, Advaita Kala and Nikhil Vyas crafted the near-perfect thriller with ‘Kahaani’ – straightforward, fast-moving and intelligent. Vidya Balan’s image, that of the rare female actor who could deliver hits on the strength of her reputation, got a further boost after the film’s release. She plays a pregnant woman, Vidya, who head to Kolkata in search of her missing husband. Great supporting acts by Siddiqui and Chatterjee and a late twist make ‘Kahaani’ extremely watchable.
16. Dabangg (2010)
Director: Abhinav Kashyap
Cast: Salman Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Sonu Sood
Genre: Action, Drama, Musical
Writer-director Abhinav Kashyap paid tribute to 1970s Hindi cinema with this entertaining action movie that gave actor Salman Khan’s stardom a boost, and revived the masala genre in a major way (not entirely a good thing). Khan plays the iconic Chulbul Pandey, a corrupt cop in north India who goes after politicians and gangsters and refers to himself as ‘Robin Hood’ Pandey. There are several plot holes, but the film rides on a breezy script, Khan’s charm and some well-choreographed action scenes.
17. Black (2005)
Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Cast: Rani Mukerji, Amitabh Bachchan
This drama about a deaf-mute woman, Michelle (Mukerji), and her struggle through education was loosely inspired by the true story of Helen Keller. Like most films directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali (‘Guzaarish’), ‘Black’ is at times uncomfortably manipulative and awkward in its attempt to inspire. But there’s no denying that Bhansali conjures up gorgeous worlds. Strong heroines and stories of female ambition are still fairly rare in Hindi movies, and it’s impossible not to cheer for the determined Michelle as she stumbles in the shadows.
18. Thappad (2020)
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Dia Mirza, Ratna Pathak Shah, Manav Kaul, Pavail Gulati
While older Indian cinema glorified this type of behavior, Thappad turns old tropes on the head, of how domestic violence should never be tolerated. Based in an educated, well to do setting, Amrita (Taapsee Pannu) and Vikram (Pavail Gulati) are pictures of marital bliss until he slaps her in front of his colleagues, at a house party. This shakes the core of her entire existence, and she moves in with her parents and seeks divorce. Patriarchal Society and her Mother tell her to let it go as an isolated incident, but she knows that she can’t live with a man who is capable of doing such a thing. Her Dad, played by Kumud Mishra, in a gentle and beautifully etched role, helps her arduous journey, where she is carrying the child of a man she cannot possibly live with.
19. Bandit Queen (1994)
Director: Shekhar Kapur
Cast: Seema Biswas
The novelist Arundhati Roy criticised Shekhar Kapur’s version of the life of Phoolan Devi (Biswas) for simplifying the criminal-turned-politician’s experiences to fit a typical rape-revenge story. Devi was a bandit who was jailed for acts of revenge against people who abused her as a child and who later became a politician. But ‘Bandit Queen’ remains a harrowing depiction of fearful and unforgiving lives in rural Uttar Pradesh. The film succeeds in making us all witnesses to its horrors – and complicit in them when, like so many of the characters, we say nothing.
20. Udaan (2010)
Director: Vikramaditya Motwane
Cast: Rajat Barmecha, Sanjay Gandhi
After spending eight years at a boarding school, 16-year-old Rohan (Barmecha) is expelled and returns home to Jamshedpur to discover that his father has remarried and been widowed a second time in his absence. Rohan also has a young stepbrother he knew nothing about. He dreams of becoming a writer, but instead, he’s forced to work in the family business and later attend engineering school. ‘Udaan’ offers a realistic set-up, a simple story familiar to many Indians and some superb, understated performances. This isn’t the classic idea of Bollywood, but it’s a strong film nevertheless.
21. Omkara (2006)
Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
Cast: Ajay Devgn, Kareena Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan
Vishal Bhardwaj’s modern ‘Othello’, set in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh, sidesteps Bollywood bombast and keeps its emotions in check. Bhardwaj extracts surprising performances from actors previously associated with more populist work: his cast displays real torment and depth, particularly Saif Ali Khan as a deformed, scheming ‘Iago’ (called Langda here). ‘Omkara’ is one of Bhardwaj’s three adaptations of Shakespeare for Hindi movie: 2003’s ‘Maqbool’ interpreted ‘Macbeth’, while 2014’s ‘Haider’ did the same for ‘Hamlet’.
22. Chhoti Si Baat (1975)
Director: Basu Chatterjee
Cast: Amol Palekar, Vidya Sinha, Ashok Kumar
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Musical
An expert at depicting the urban middle class, director Basu Chatterjee’s protagonist in ‘Chhoti Si Baat’ is once again a simple man (played expertly by Palekar) faced with simple problems and finding simple solutions to deal with them. Arun is an unconfident man who fantasises about wooing Prabha (Sinha). He is taken under the wing of a fun-loving colonel (Kumar), who helps young men overcome their shortcomings. An adaptation of ‘School for Scoundrels’, the film is best remembered for its portrayal of 1970s Bombay and its quirky humour.
23. Devdas (2002)
Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Madhuri Dixit, Jackie Shroff
Genre: Drama, Romance
Extravagant yet still full of heart: Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s opulent adaptation of Sarat Chandra’s simplistic novel marked a move into excessive theatricality for the director, whose films since include ‘Guzaarish’ and ‘Saawariya’. His style was at its most organic and daring in ‘Devdas’. Its main characters, Devdas (Khan) and Paro (Rai) are childhood lovers, but class differences and difficult parents cause them to separate. Full of spite, Devdas goes on a drinking binge and ends up in the arms of a dancing girl, Chandramukhi (Dixit). Chandramukhi falls in love with a broken Devdas, but he can’t think of anything beyond Paro, alcohol and death.
24. Sholay (1975)
Director: Ramesh Sippy
Cast: Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Amjad Khan
Genre: Action, Thriller, Western
This cult masala western sees escaped convicts Veeru (Dharmendra) and Jai (Bachchan) defend a village terrorized by bandits led by the maniacal Gabbar Singh (Khan). ‘Sholay’ has it all – epic dishum-dishum fight scenes, bromance, humor, memorable songs, plot twists, thrilling dance sequences and sparkling performances. The haunting score and Bollywood’s baddest villain are the icing on a rollicking, all-action cake.
25. Mughal-e-Azam (1960)
Director: K Asif
Cast: Prithviraj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Madhubala
Genre: Historical Romance
Translated as ‘Emperor of the Mughals’ and set in the late sixteenth century in India’s Mughal period, this is the doomed story of Prince Saleem (Kumar), son of the ruling Emperor Akbar (Kapoor), who falls in love with dancing slave girl Anarkali (Madhubala). This is true epic filmmaking, with magnificent sets, huge battle scenes with hundreds of real elephants, elaborate costumes, an evergreen score, and naturalistic acting. It remains a gorgeous evocation of a bygone era, and was one of the rare occasions when a film of the ‘Muslim social’ genre (i.e. interested in Muslim people and culture) became a blockbuster in Hindu-centric India.