Top 10 Films to Watch Before Going to Film School

The “reading list” for film students. Are you about to attend film school? Or are you thinking about a career in the movie-making business? The following ten films are essential viewing…

Anybody who has attended university will know about reading lists. For first timers it can seem daunting. Before you start your classes the tutors send a list of recommended reading as an introduction to learning for the upcoming year of tuition. But when attending film school there’s another list attached – recommended viewing.

It makes total sense since film is a visual medium. Indeed, it seems entirely appropriate to put the Watch list ahead of the Read list. In compiling this top ten I wanted to look at films that have influenced cinema, notably American cinema. I also wanted to look at examples of film that pushed the boundaries of the medium, developed new techniques in cinematography, camera movement, editing, sound and special visual effects.

And I wanted to look at genuine classics – filmmaking at its best from masterful film directors. The following list features ten filmmaking geniuses: Fritz Lang, Sergie Eisenstein, John Cassavetes, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick, Carol Reed, Alfred Hitchcock, Sidney Lumet, Jean Luc Godard and Orson Welles. But it was so difficult deciding on just ten, having to leave off other auteurs like David Lean, Sam Peckinpah, Francois Truffaut, Akira Kurosawa, Francis Ford Coppola, Frank Capra, Charlie Chaplin, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Jean Renoir, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and others. But it would have been easy to list twenty or thirty films. Picking just ten made the task much harder but helped focus on the films and the filmmakers that, without doubt, have changed cinema for the better.

The following ten films should be watched (preferably more than once) by anyone preparing to or already studying film.

10. The Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein, Russia, 1925)

battleship potemkin, film education, studies,

The Battleship Potemkin has been hailed as the most influential propaganda film of all time. Eisenstein’s look at the 1905 incident in which sailors mutinied against their Tsarist officers was banned in Britain until the 1950s when it received an X-rated certification. The film is renowned for its montage editing, most significantly in its most talked about sequence on the Odessa Steps. Here, the Tsar’s Cossack’s massacre civilians. Eisenstein wanted to use the experimental editing techniques he studied at the Kuleshov school of filmmaking to influence the audience. Here, editing is strategically used to place the audience’s sympathy within the plight of the rebellious sailors and against the ruling officials.

Eisenstein therefore invented montage editing where bold, dramatic images assume greater power through the way in which they are juxtaposed together. His work had a huge influence on many filmmakers around the world, not least Alfred Hitchcock who would use montage editing techniques in such sequences as the Psycho shower scene.

9. Shadows (Cassavetes, USA, 1959)

shadows, cassavetes, american new wave cinema,

John Cassavetes 1959 film was the precursor to the Easy Riders, Raging Bulls generation of filmmaking that formed the American new wave of the late 1960s and 1970s. Cassavetes, inspired by the authenticity seen in European cinema as film cameras left the studios in favour of on-location shooting, made the film on a tiny budget, using handheld photography with 16mm film on the streets of New York. When Hollywood was still stuck in the studios, throwing huge budgets at lavish productions such as poorly conceived musicals that failed at the box office, Cassavetes was taking to the streets. Encouraged by his European contemporaries, Cassavetes shot the film quickly, with a small crew and a tiny budget. Much of the film was improvised and its story of an interracial relationship was considered taboo at the time. The plot only highlights further how the film was way ahead of its time. Without Shadows we may never have got Easy Rider or a whole host of European cinema-inspired work during the 1970s. Leonard Maltin said the film was “a watershed in the birth of American independent cinema.”

8. Sunset Boulevard (Wilder, USA, 1950)

sunset boulevard, film school, billy wilder

Billy Wilder had to be on this list somewhere. I genius writer-director, Wilder’s best film is the fabulous romantic comedy The Apartment, however, Sunset Boulevard, like so much of his work, is a masterpiece to be cherished (see also Some Like It Hot which appears in our Top 25 Films to Make You Happy). This is a great film to see before studying cinema because it is about the film business – celebrity and star power, the industry itself and the filmmaking process, the introduction of sound, and the Hollywood lifestyle during the studio era. The whole thing is held together by the relationship between a struggling screenwriter and an aged Hollywood silent film starlet who wishes for a triumphant return to the big screen. The film is widely praised by critics as one of the finest American films ever made.

7. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, USA, 1968)

2001, space odyssey, film school, education, university,

It is difficult to explain what Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is about but that is part of its appeal. Kubrick’s film is an intriguing cinematic experience that affects every viewer in a different way. Its biggest influence was on science-fiction because it took the genre away from the campy “us versus them” alien invasion movies of the 1950s. It gave the genre the same sort of authenticity that science-fiction literature had bestowed on it for many years. Spacecraft were not silly flying saucers but huge mechanical creations that looked much more realistic. The science behind the fiction was exactly that and much of what was envisaged by Kubrick and the film’s production and special-effects staff was based on intelligent projections of how technology could one day be used. Without 2001 it is unlikely we would have seen Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien and host of other modern science-fiction movies.

6. The Third Man (Reed, UK, 1949)

the third man, british film, carol reed, orson welles,

Carol Reed’s 1949 film about an American searching for the killer of his best friend in post-war Vienna is widely considered the greatest British film ever made. Starring Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles, The Third Man is still as vividly mesmerising as it was on its release. It is an important film in many ways, not least for its use of Vienna as a location, its rugged and dishevelled buildings displaying the wounds of war. It is also renowned for Welles’ fleeting performance.

5. Psycho (Hitchcock, USA, 1960)

psycho, alfred hitchcock, film studies,

Watching an Alfred Hitchcock film is a must before studying the medium at university. Most of his films are worthy of seeing but Psycho is perhaps the most obvious. Whether you’ve seen Psycho or not, you will know about the shower scene and may have seen it as a clip on YouTube or a film documentary. Hitchcock’s expert use of montage editing, sound design and framing is a masterclass of direction. The film is also hugely entertaining with Hitchcock making use of classical Hollywood narrative to formulate a suspenseful thriller with a terrific twist ending. See our top 10 Alfred Hitchcock films here.

4. 12 Angry Men (Lumet, USA, 1957)

12 angry men, films to see before film school,

There are few films with a screenplay so precise, so perfectly developed, so full of character and great dialogue. 12 Angry Men is a how-to when it comes to writing for film. Lumet’s drama is simple in its set-up (twelve jurors retire to the jury room to decide the fate of a man accused of murder) and sparse in its locale (the characters leave the jury room only to use the bathroom). That essentially means there is no action scene to fall back on, and no sub-plot to cut away to in order to propel the momentum of the story. The script has to hold the audience’s attention through well-rounded characters that are seamlessly developed through a story driven by character interaction and conversation. The film’s quality is also testament to Lumet’s skill as a director – his control of character and his skilful use of the camera within the limited physical space available. 12 Angry Men is one of the best American films ever made, and one of the most enjoyable.

3. Breathless aka À bout de soufflé (Godard, France, 1960)

breathless, french new wave, nouvelle vague,

The French new wave had a marked influence on the American film industry. Friedkin, Scorsese, Bogdanovich, Cassavetes, Hopper, Scorsese and many more have all spoken about how French film during the 1950s and 1960s breathed new life into cinema. These films directly influenced the American new wave period beginning in 1967 with Bonnie and Clyde.

One of the biggest features of the French new wave, which was adapted for movies made in American, was the use of location shooting taking the need for a formal studio out of the equation. It meant filmmakers didn’t need huge budgets to shoot their films, opening the medium to a host of creative people who wouldn’t ordinarily have had the opportunity to make movies. Because of the low budget, films were often made with friends taking key roles on the film crew and non-actors appearing in front of the camera. Director’s had to improvise as well, for example, moving shots had no cranes or camera tracks so shooting out of car windows or hand-holding the camera was needed.

Breathless appears on this list because it is arguably the best film to come out of the French nouvelle vague. The film was shot on location in Paris with a documentary, handheld style, and with a largely improvised script. The film is also known for its use of jump cuts. Peter Bradshaw enthused: “There is simply no other film which demonstrates so perfectly what it feels like to be young and in love.” See our Top 10 Jean Luc Godard films here.

2. Metropolis (Lang, Germany, 1927)

metropolis, german expressionism

Metropolis appeared during the time of the German expressionism era of filmmaking during the 1920s and 1930s. Other notable films of the period worth checking out include The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Nosferatu (1922) and M (1931). The films, especially Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, featured hallucinogenic visuals produced through lavish and unrealistic set designs thanks to large budgets and the visual eccentricities of the filmmakers. German expressionism tried to comment on society in a way that went beyond typical genre convention, and the films have been categorised by their use of lighting to enhance mood such as contrasting light and harsh shadow. This era of filmmaking in Germany can be seen most significantly in the horror and film noir genres in 1930s Hollywood film and beyond. The techniques and styles were quickly embraced in Hollywood, a transition made much easier because so many German filmmakers emigrated to the USA after the Nazi’s took control. Notable filmmakers such as Lang, Billy Wilder and Otto Preminger introduced America to this visionary style of filmmaking in the proceeding years.

1. Citizen Kane (Welles, USA, 1943)

citizen kane, film, orson welles,

Orson Welles was 25 years old when he wrote, directed and starred in Citizen Kane. It doesn’t seem possible that such a young and inexperienced actor could create arguably the most iconic American film ever made. But it is testament to his talent not only as an actor but as a writer and director. Citizen Kane is not only the most praised movie ever made, it is also the most analysed. It features on nearly every film course simply because it is as good as the critics say.

Some acknowledge it as the first time movies became “cinematic”. Welles, who had spent a number of years in theatre and radio productions (most notably the 1938 War of the World’s broadcast), dazzled audiences with his innovative cinematography (the use of deep focus photography making the foreground and background appear in clear focus, as well as low angle shots that had not been widely used in Hollywood film previously), stylish storytelling technique (non-linear narrative with the story told in flashback from different perspectives, and montage editing) and the use of the latest technology (as well as use of current technology and creative editing to make the film appear more expensive than it was) to propel the film industry into the next stage of its development. It remains one of the most influential Hollywood films and simply has to be seen by anyone thinking about film school (especially in the key disciplines of screenwriting, editing, cinematography and direction).

Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens.

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. James Blake Ewing Reply

    A lot of great picks there. Hopefully, most film students will see these as a result of class, but I’m astounded by how many of my fellow film students haven’t seen some of the more glaringly obvious and influential features.

    While I agree it’s hard to narrow it down to ten, the truth is that plenty of film students probably haven’t gotten even this far, I myself haven’t seen Shadows (or actually any Cassavetes yet). There’s always gaps to fill, more movies to see and more classics to catch up with.

  2. Shubhajit Lahiri Reply

    Ah, what a great collection of films! Though my list would have been a tad different, but that’s beside the point. Any film enthusiast will learn more from these films than from books and journals.

  3. amy Reply

    four out of 10 for me, not bad for not majoring on film xD I have been meaning to catch Metropolis for a while now…

  4. Rodney Reply

    What’s amazing to me is that 2001: A Space Odyssey is the “youngest” of all these films – what does that tell you about cinema nowadays?

    Great list, Dan. I socred 4.5/10, since I only watched the first half of The Third Man.

  5. Dan Reply

    @James: Thanks James. Although similar lists may slightly differ in order and content, I’d like to think most of these film would crop up on the majority of top 10 lists.

    @Shubhajit: That was exactly my point with this list. These films are important for a multitude of reasons and anyone serious about studying cinema would learn a lot from them.

    @Amy: One of the things I did try to do with this list was include films that have seen wide popularity rather than just a bunch of historically important films no one has ever seen. A list I’m working on at the moment may learn more to the ‘films no one has seen’ because it looks at the most influential movies of all time.

    @Rodney: Only the first half of the Third Man. Time to dust off the DVD I think. I will get around to a list that looks at influential films made post-1970 such as the American new wave directors like Scorsese, Spielberg and Lucas and then onwards to Tarantino, Fincher, Cameron, Nolan etc. Come to think of it, that list would be harder to put together.

  6. Rodney Reply

    George Lucas on that list? Man….. I’d have gone for Irwin Kirshner for the perfect sequel, alongside Cameron.

  7. Dan Reply

    @Rodney: Yeah, Lucas has to be given credit for conceiving of Star Wars and the progression in terms of special-effects. So many films copied the formula. He isn’t the greatest film director by any stretch of the imagination but he is one of the Super Producers.

  8. Johan Reply

    Citi<en Kane i such a booooring film that offer nothing to me

    • Dan Reply

      That was my reaction when I saw it in a film class as a teenager. But I think it can get a bad reputation because it becomes the scholarly face of cinema when it is actually an entertaining, deliciously offbeat film.

  9. Ady Reply

    Great list. Shadows and Kane are the two most important American films of all time to me. One point tho; Welles was five days short of his 26th birthday when Kane premiered on May 1st 1941. All the more impressive I guess.

    • Dan Reply

      I don’t think Shadows quite gets the plaudits it deserves. Hopefully this list will encourage more people to see it.

  10. Jason Reply

    good list. 8.5/10

    I have seen “Faces” not “Shadows” that should count.

    Buster Keaton or Dryer should be on the list though.

  11. JC Reply

    What about Seven Samurai?

    • Dan Reply

      I made mention to Akira Kurasawa but sadly didn’t find a place for Seven Samurai on the list. In fact, thinking of Asian cinema, I was leaning more towards including Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story than Seven Samurai.

  12. John Wages Reply

    What happened to Fellini, Resnais, Olmi, Rossellini and Bergman? Peckinpah? Ford? Huston?

    Kane is the worst thing in the world to show film students.

    Better to show them “The Asphalt Jungle” and teach them what can be done invisibly in the genre form rather than the greatest student film of all time.

    • Dan Reply

      I can’t agree that Citizen Kane is the worst thing to teach to film students. I think if any of said students are doing what Welles was doing at 25 years of age then the teacher has done a fine job. It has so much to tell students from the use of the camera (focusing, movement) to the make-up of the screenplay and the creative use of narrative construction to acting, editing, music…

      I appreciate your list of fine filmmakers but had I included them at the expense of the above would you have been calling for Eisenstein, Lang, Cassavetes, Godard, Hitchcock..?

  13. Noah Reply

    I’m 15 and I’ve seen 7 out of 10 of these films. By the end of the first week of July, I’ll have seen the last three. 10 films is not enough, especially when these films are only the beginning. Don’t forget about Birth of a Nation (or Intolerance), The Godfather, Schindler’s List, and Apocalypse Now. All of which are very important for multiple reasons.

    *Apocalypse Now is not included for its epic-ness, but rather for it showing that a story can be taken from one thing, and put into another. Heart of Darkness was not set during the Vietnam War, which was 70 years away when it was published at the turn of the century.

    • Dan Reply

      The Birth of a Nation was a definite consideration. Influential – absolutely, important – of course, painful to watch for the wrong reasons – unfortunately, yes.

  14. Film(not in the)Buff Reply

    I can argue that every film you chose belongs there, but my own list would be quite different. I’ve yet to see ‘Shadows’, but I have 8 of the other 9 on my personal “100 Favorite Films”. This month anyway…

    (I love Psycho, but it is wavers between 4th place & 5th place on my list of Hitchcock films..)

    No matter my choices, I would happily recommend all 10 of your selections to any who dream of studying film.

  15. Nel Reply

    I’ve seen a few. When I was in theatre class in high school my teacher said that we should all watch The Godfather. And I saw 12 Angry Men in English as part of an assignment.

    • Dan Reply

      12 Angry Men is great for screenwriting I think. But it’s also a fascinating film with brilliant direction from Sidney Lumet.

  16. Rossen Reply

    Agreed with Dan on Lucas. But – no Bergman, no Tarkovsky and no Bunuel?

    • Dan Reply

      Bergman was a definite consideration.

  17. Kindra Reply

    La passion de Jeanne d’Arc by Carl Theodor Dreyer

  18. Dan Reply

    Unfortunately so many great and important films had to be left off the list. The mentions above of some truly incredible filmmakers only highlights further how difficult it was to choose just ten. But I’d definitely stand by my choice for number 1 – Citizen Kane is not only important, influential and brilliantly constructed, it’s also entertaining.

  19. Alex Reply

    Where’s The Passion of Joan of Arc? I’d also add Aguirre: The Wraith of God, Un Chien Andalou/L’Age D’or, Eraserhead, El Topo, Jigoku (1960), Freaks, The Great Dictator, The Seventh Seal, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, and Emanuelle in America.

    • Dan Reply

      Emanuelle in America – interesting one (wasn’t that more inspired-by than inspirational). Would have loved to include a Charlie Chaplin film, especially The Great Dictator but I may have gone for one of his earlier silent films.

  20. Custard Reply

    To be Fair to you Dan, this is a great list but I really can’t see how anyone can wittle this list down to 10.

    As you say there are too many greats out there that you need to see.

    I watched I am Cuba today from 1964, I was amazed that this little bit of propoganda had some of the best tracking shots I have seen in film ever!!

    Really clever stuff!!

    Great list as always matey

    C

  21. Richard Reply

    Really great list, Dan, but a mere 10 was always going to be lacking. I think a few more modern classics would have rounded it out a little better. It’s easy to bemoan modern cinema but in 50 years time, who knows what would be appearing on a list like this.

    I’ve seen them all except one, but I’m not saying which one. 😉

  22. Richard Reply

    And why do I keep getting assaulted by tennis balls every time I open your site? Spooky.

  23. Dan Reply

    @Richard and @Custard: Thanks for the comments guys. It is almost impossible to pick just ten but it was fun trying.

    …the tennis ball will be gone by Friday!

  24. Robinopoly Reply

    What? No McG?? But Charlie’s Angels is, like, the best film ever.

    I’ve got 4/10. I struggled badly with Citizen Kane. Was 15 when I watched it though so maybe I should give it another go. And I was bewildered by the ending to 2001.

    Definitely seems to be very focused on older films. Surely there must have been one film from the last 30 years that has had a more significant influence on cinema? Most modern film directors are probably not drawing on influences from films from the 1920’s. In fact, I’d wager that they’re probably not watching them either.

  25. Rodney Reply

    Das Boot?

    Amelie?

    Lawrence Of Arabia?

    Just couple more into the mill!!

    • Dan Reply

      Lawrence of Arabia did cross my thinking. Das Boot is another great film.

  26. Dan Reply

    @Robinoploy: Give Citizen Kane another go. I saw it at a young age and didn’t enjoy it. But watching it again showed me just how great it is.

    In regards to film made over the last 10/20 years – they are all influenced in some way by the films featured above. You have to go back to early cinema to see where the inspiration for the way movies work today came from. Since the late 1970s (after Jaws and Star Wars), film became less a work of art and more a commodity to make lots of money. Therefore, films were much less daring and innovative, utilising tried and trusted formulas. Those formulas, those dramatic techniques, those editing nuances and photographic flourishes were all invented years ago by the likes of Welles, Godard, Hitchcock, Lang, Eisenstein, Kurasawa and a whole host of others, many of which are mentioned in the comments above.

    I am, however, working on a list of influential films made since 1980 which could prove interesting.

  27. Dan Reply

    @Alex: Excellent choices, Alex. I wanted to get both Bergman and Chaplin in there but failed in the end. What was important to me when putting this top 10 list together was that these films were also very accessible. Perhaps I should have dropped Wilder for Bergman or Lumet for Tod Browning but I wanted to get films in there that were important but also fulfilling in an entertaining way.

  28. Greg Reply

    I’m gonna have to say VERTIGO is more of a “film school” film than PSYCHO even if it’s less popular with casual film fans. THE THIRD MAN is a great choice. I’m surprised that 8 1/2 isn’t here as it’s become a favorite of film buffs, although for some reason it seems to appeal more to snobs in recent years who claim they “understand” it when they don’t (it’s like a David Foster Wallace novel–no one is meant to understand it). Regardless, it’s impact on navel-gazing cinema is unquestionable. I’d also throw JAWS on there as the most significant mainstream blockbuster; just because it isn’t as artsy as, say, BANDLANDS or something doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be studied. And it did have a resounding impact on film goers, as did THE EXORCIST in the horror department, a film that’s been mentioned in every film class I’ve taken. Lastly, I think THE MALTESE FALCON deserves a mention as it was the inaugural film noir and really displayed how metaphoric and meaningful mise en scene could be.
    Great list! This seems like an excellent and thought-provoking blog.

  29. Dan Reply

    @Greg: Thanks for stopping by. Some mention some well worthy choices. Every time someone mentions a film on my short list I wonder whether I should have found a place for it (that is certainly true of 8 1/2).

    I agree that Vertigo has become the Hitchcock film most widely studied (perhaps because people have become bored of talking about Psycho) but I think Psycho influenced the horror genre as much as it highlighted the technical skill of its director. But, you could make a case for many of Hitchcock’s films being studied. My personal favourite is Rear Window which I think is a brilliant portrayal of point of view, brilliant composed cinematography and dramatic narrative. Yet, it was North By Northwest that I seemed to study most at school, and I’m sure many film school’s look at his early work with sound.

    I totally agree about Jaws and The Exorcist. Jaws is the most influential film of the last 35+ years, with Star Wars not far behind.

    Thanks for mentioning The Maltese Falcon. Another great, must-see film.

  30. Max Covill Reply

    7 / 10

    Haven’t seen 10,9, or 2. All Great films.

  31. Paragraph Film Reviews Reply

    Love it! 6/10 of those appeared in my first two years of film at University (European Cinema and Hollywood through the decades)

  32. Derdriu Reply

    Lovely to see the film noir films in there 🙂

    I admit, I’ve only watched three of the above, 12 Angry Men, The Third Man and Sunset Boulevard. 12 Angry Men is an absolute favourite, an incredible piece of writing (to the credit of the playwright) and subtlety strung together. All of the acting was top notch too. The director didn’t waste his fortunes.

    I second Le Chien Andalou to be on there. I’m surprised Akira Kurosawa didn’t make the cut for the top ten, both in concept and in execution his films are brilliant. For his talent, dedication, construction and breadth of work, he’s an inspiration to all artists.

    For something from the modern times, I think Angels in America with the screenplay by Tony Kushner (always great when the playwright adapts the work, yay) is an exceptional piece of work. It’s a shame though, nowadays I don’t think anyone can doubt that mainstream American filmmaking has shot down the crapper. Still, maybe it’s time for other countries to tell their own stories more loudly and I think there’s more of a chance for “foreign” films now. Like Nury Vittachi and many others have pointed out, the bare bones of the mainstream Western stories are very similar. Perhaps the current creative bankruptcy in the art business will mean people will look beyond the Western viewpoint.

  33. Arash Reply

    Thanks Dan; anyone having tried knows how hard is it to collect just 10, and at last, the collection is a work of art per se.
    However, as must-sees to recommend to cinema students, I would agree only with your 1, 2, 4, 5, 7 and 10. (In fact, I had not yet the chance to see #6!) The reason is that except for these six, the other ones are not typical of what can be taught or learnt, notwithstanding the fact that they are historical masterpieces of cinematography, script and so on. My all time favorite is Raging Bull, but it ain’t no cinema teacher either compared to Citizen Kane or the Space Odyssey; it is more of an artwork of feelings and passion, and these things are rather hard to teach.
    Instead of the other four, I would have put The Seventh Seal, City Lights, Seven Samurai and Singing In The Rain in the list.

  34. niels Reply

    It’s 8 out of 10 for me in terms of the films I have seen, missing “Shadows” and “Sunset Boulevard”. The latter has been on my list of films to watch for a while now. It is time I get to it!

    From the film classes I have taken, a lot of time has been devoted to some other films you haven’t included like: “Pick Pocket” by Bresson, “M” by Fritz Lang, “The Seventh Seal” by Bergman, “One Week” and “The General” by Buster Keaton and especially to “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” by Robert Wiene.

    Great list in any case !

    Niels

  35. David Reply

    Excellent list!

  36. Eric Reply

    Great list, Dan. Most of these were mentioned/shown in my lone film class, and I have seen 7/10 myself. I really need to see some of Cassavetes’ work.

  37. mark Reply

    Interesting list – haven’t seen Shadows; nor the BW version of Metropolis.

    Rossen above makes a good point – no Tarkovsky? Andrei Roublev is arguably one of the greatest films of all time. Ivan’s Childhood is also a masterpiece (as is Solaris).

    There are other possible omissions … some obvious, some not. In the US, Apocalypse Now comes to mind; Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch is another; meanwhile, The French Connection is one of the few best picture oscar winners from the 60s/70s which hasn’t dated. And of course Scorsese’s Goodfellas.

    Also in the US, if Kane really is a robust lesson in composition and expressionist BW lighting, what about Frankie Coppola’s Rumble Fish? Another stand out in this vein is In Cold Blood, which arguably puts Richard Brooks in the auteur class. Another overlooked director is Robert Aldrich, particularly with Kiss Me Deadly (admittedly most of his good stuff is pretty flawed, sometimes in the same way as Oliver Stone’s, but his body of work is intriguing – the ending of Twilight’s Last Gleaming, when Lancaster and Winfield are leading the prez from the missile bunker, is a hoot).

    Speaking of flawed, what about De Palma? Carlito’s Way is difficult one to ignore.

    Then there’s some of the the foreign stuff – Clouzot’s Wages of Fear; Lang’s M; the more modern Turkish film Yol; or the even more modern City of Life and Death, an account of the rape of Nanking which comes across as a kind of Chinese Schindler’s List.

    On a more personal level, the movie which convinced me to spend a few years at film school was Wenders’ The American Friend. Perhaps not a masterpiece, but one any student of the medium should enjoy.

  38. Remy Reply

    I’ve seen every single one of the ten films you chose except for 12 Angry Men. I’d say they’re all worth watching for sure, but as for Hitchcock I’d also throw in the underrated The Wrong Man. There’s also Nicholas Ray, and Antonioni, who I’m surprised don’t seem to have been mentioned in the comments on this page. My only criticism is that your list is a tad Anglo-centric with only three of the ten films being foreign, two of them silents. I’m just saying that film studies in America tends to be a bit on the Anglo-centric side, sometimes treating films from outside the English-speaking world as a diversion. Of course, everyone needs their Hawks, Chaplin, Hitchcock, Orson, etc. If you’re going to limit it to ten I’d make it more ethnically diverse. Perhaps two or three American films, two or three Franco-Italian films, a Japanese film, and perhaps some films from other parts of the world or a German silent as you already listed, so that’s fine. I think the best solution would be not to limit it to ten. If people are interested enough in film to go to film school they should want to watch tons of films and not just limit themselves to ten anyway. Besides, if someone is going to film school shouldn’t they want to watch Citizen Kane without being forced and guided to do so by others. I’m not criticizing you Dan, just throwing in some food for thought.

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  40. Dan Grant Reply

    I haven’t see half those films but two things:

    12 Angry Men is simply stunning and for all the reasons you mentioned.

    Citizen Kane is the most over rated and most sleep inducing film I have ever seen. It’s also very poorly acted by almost everyone except Welles.

    Star Wars should be on here, maybe even JAWS.

    Pulp Fiction should as well….imo.

  41. Neal Damiano Reply

    Fantastic list and a very hard one to make I would imagine. There are so many good films to see.

    I’m very glad 2001 A Space Odyssey is up here. Talk about a film that will teach one camera angles and themes!!

  42. Maurice Mitchell Reply

    What a great list since it has something from all the major genres except westerns. I’ve seen 7 out of 10. I can go to film school!

  43. Novroz Reply

    So far…I have only seen Psycho and The Third man. I like Psycho more.

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