Here’s why the all-time most popular movie (in terms of tickets sold) was not on our original All-TIME 100 Movies list: it is indefensible as social history; it lags in its second half; it lacks a strong directorial signature. All that leaves is the film’s epic ambition, its steam train of story propulsion, a ravishing visual design by William Cameron Menzies and performances of glamour and power. Which makes this superproduction of the Margaret Mitchell book the definitive Hollywood movie. No question that this is a producer’s, not a director’s project; David O. Selznick’s grand and niggling obsession stamps the movie like Kong’s footprint, while Victor Fleming shared helming chores with George Cukor when he wasn’t off directing The Wizard of Oz. O.K., so what? In its first two hours, moving with whirring assurance, GWTW establishes three pairs of potent contradictions: the mercantile North vs. the farmland South, the white gentry vs. their black slaves and the rakish male (Clark Gable as Rhett Butler) vs. the ferocious female (Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara). The longest, most expensive film made to that time, from the best-selling novel of its day, was also the ultimate woman’s picture, fully attuned to Scarlett’s charms, furies, whims and indomitable will. Leigh, a 25-year-old British actress in her first American movie, gave a performance of spectacular drive, complexity and star quality — which, on its own, would earn GWTW a ticket to inclusion in the updated All-TIME 100 Movies list.
READ: Secrets of the new All-TIME 100 Movies list