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Here's a Compilation of Movies That Can Help Teach You the Craft of Filmmaking

05.17.13 @ 11:30PM Tags : , ,

Jack Perez - Movies to Learn CraftDirector Jack Perez (Some Guy Who Kills PeopleMega Shark vs. Giant Octopushas been making low-budget films for quite some time, and just a few months ago he sat down with the great people over at Film Courage to discuss the process of making movies and which are the best films to watch to help you learn the craft of filmmaking. Check out the list below, and be sure to head on down to the comments and add any that have helped you learn the craft.

Here is a complete list of the films he mentions (and a few more) as well as three major filmmakers he talks about:

Alfred Hitchcock

Martin Scorsese

Akira Kurosawa

One of the first films always mentioned when talking about the craft of filmmaking is usually Citizen Kane, directed by Orson Welles. If you haven’t seen it, you should probably stop what you’re doing right now and check it out. It’s arguably one of the greatest films of all time, but even if you’re not a fan (and I know many who aren’t), it is responsible for a lot of cinema that came after it.

There are usually far too many filmmakers to mention, and any list or person will probably leave out a few, so I’ll just give a few of my favorites that really opened to my eyes to what cinema could be:

Ingmar Bergman

Andrei Tarkovsky

What are some of your favorites that have really helped you to learn the craft of filmmaking? Feel free to share them below!

Link: Film Courage


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 82 COMMENTS

  • Terry Gilliam’s Brazil in the greatest movie ever made.

  • Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is the greatest movie ever made.

  • My first comment in fact does not exist.

  • The director I most look at to learn filmmaking after Hitchcock is Sidney Lumet. These are my favorite films by him that I would encourage people to watch and analyze.

    12 Angry Men
    Dog Day Afternoon
    The Verdict

    • And I’d like to add that his film book is one of the greatest filmmaking books I’ve ever read.

    • I’ve not seen all of Lumet’s films, but the ones I have seen I feel like they could just as comfortably play out on stage.

      • …which for me is a weakness of his films. Of the filmmakers mentioned above it is Tarkovsky, for me, who has come closest to creating a true cinematic language.

  • Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killers” and ” A Clockwork Orange”. One was made cheaply at the beginning of his career and the other was done on a modist budget at the hight of it.

  • correction- Killer’s Kiss.

  • Georgiy Daneliya’s “Kin-dza-dza”

  • In no particular order.
    Inherit the Wind – Stanley Kramer – 1960
    Paths of Glory – Stanley Kubric – 1957
    Pauline at the Beach – Eric Rohmer – 1983
    Diva – Jean-Jacques Beineix -1981
    Irreversible – Gaspar Noé -2002 NSFW You have been waened!
    El Topo- Alejandro Jodorowsky-1970
    Anything by Jean-Pierre Melville, Jean-Luc Godard or Don Siegel

  • How is Tarantino, Fincher or Speilberg not on this list?

    • I think mostly because they are still alive :D. (Yes, Scorsese is still alive too but they didn’t put his newer movies on here either…)

      • That’s stupid. lol. Just because someone’s dead means he/she’s a film maker to be studied above those who are still alive.

        • You cat-nt compare the work of Kurosawa, Bergman, Tarkovsky to
          Spielberg Fincher or tarantino, the 3 latter most likely learned a lot from them anyway.

          • What does it matter that they were influenced by those who came before them? Kurosawa was heavily influenced by John Ford, does that mean Kurosawa can’t compare with John Ford?

            I think the reason filmmakers like Tarantino, Fincher, and Speilberg don’t belong on a list like this is because they’re so obvious. It’s like when you take physics, they don’t bother teaching you arithmetic. It’s assumed you’re already more than aware two plus two is four.

            No aspiring filmmaker needs to be told about Pulp Fiction, regardless of Pulp Fiction’s artistic merit. But lots of aspring filmmakers may have overlooked Persona.

        • Tarentino is vastly overated, i promise when i watch a spoof/parody of one of his films i can not tell that it is a joke being told, the direction down to the blood splats are reminiscent ” to the tee” of his flicks.

    • Because this isn’t a college dorm room. Nothing against either of those three, but they are the safest, most obvious, borderline vanilla choices. Every film student on the planet is already circlejerking about that particular trio (with free reach-arounds for Nolan), so no need to include them on a list like this.

      Everyone’s going to watch Jaws and Pulp Fiction on their own, but a lot of young, aspiring artists need a little kick in the pants to discover guys like Tarkovsky, or to delve into art films that aren’t directed by Stanley Kubrick.

  • Manhattan- Woody Allen, Raging Bull – Martin Scorsese, 2001 – Stanley Kubrick, Blade Runner – Ridley Scott,

  • Andrei Rublev always gets overlooked when people talk about Tarkovsky. I think it’s one of his most beautiful films as well as his being his most accessible film. It’s also one of the best films I know about faith and what it means to be an artist.
    Robert Bresson, Carl Dreyer and Yasujiro Ozu are also directors that I people can learn a hell of a lot from watching their films. If I had to recommend a single film from each of their oeuvres I would choose A Man Escaped, Ordet and Late Spring.

    • … that I *think people…

      • Yes, Andrei Rublev is EXTRAORDINARY! The bell sequence is one of the most amazing cinematic sequences, in a film full of breathtaking cinematic sequences. Very emotional film too.

        But, Stalker will always be my favourite.

    • I’m not sure about Rublev being the most accessible of Tarkovsky’s work. Horse meat anyone? It’s epic in scope and rather complicated. Meaning, it ain’t fluff. Of his “mature” films, I would nominate Stalker for being the most accessible. It’s themes are spelled out, then illustrated. Pretty simple I think.

      Have you learned craft from the four giants of cinema you listed? I know they are the four most agreed upon transcendent filmmakers as tossed around by critics. But craft?

      • I respectfully disagree about Stalker. I think it is a brilliant film but some of those 5 min medium long shots where no one talks and nothing happens border on art-house cliche. I also don’t think you get to know or really care about any of the 3 main characters. This is almost certainly intentional on the part of Tarkovsky and or the Strugatsky brothers, nevertheless, I think it poses a barrier for the casual film watcher and I have, on several occasions, regretted showing it to people and realising halfway through that they are dying of boredom.
        I don’t personally hold Tarkovsky in the same regard as the other three directors I mentioned. I’m less interested in them for any transcendental reasons and think that all of the focus critics put on this (possible) aspect of their work actually distracts from the monumental levels of craft you find in their films. I think Ozu is the greatest craftsman to ever stand behind a camera. For me he has everything you could every hope to find in a filmmaker. You can look at any aspect of his films (storytelling, direction of actors, cinematography, editing, the use of music etc) and see how rigorous and experimental his approach is. He managed all of this without ever being pretentious and was commercially successful throughout his entire career.
        The way Dreyer uses space and the wonderful way he is able to control the pace and tone of his films has always amazed me. I agree with some of your comments below about Vertigo; for me the film really loses me when Hitchcock chooses to put that second brutally long following sequence in. I think it throws the pace of the film off completely and dissipates all of the tension that has been built up to that point. I challenge anyone to find a more beautifully paced film than Ordet.
        The way Bresson experimented with editing and actors performances offers a very strong counter-point to the kind of editing and character direction that generally comes out of most english language cinema and huge swathes of mainstream foreign cinema. I’d really love to get very specific and gives examples for everything that I have said above but I don’t want to write a page long post. If only nofilmschool had some sort of forum that we could use to discuss things in more detail ;)

        • I can only chuckle at Ozu as a master craftsman in all things cinema. The dude didn’t care about shot continuity at all. How is that rigorous? Everyone knows about emotional continuity. A lot of Ozu’s craftsmanship was getting rid of fluff of camera movements. Focusing down to human level. I like that he did that, but perhaps I’m not as easily impressed. I do love how he wrote and enjoy many of his movies. He understood people well.

          Are the five minute art house cliche shots in Stalker more cliche than the crucifixion found in Rublev? just wondering. Sure, I could see how they can turn a casual viewer off. But Rublev is so elliptical in its story, which takes place over years, and gets derailed by war and human baseness and pagans, and like you mentioned, it deals with the passion of an artist, and being a Christian etc, and all that becomes the movie. It tries to deal with life, witnessing it, and being a good person in a bad world and not embracing the annihilation of ones soul, still finding hope/passion for life. It’s a leap of faith. I will grant that many of the themes listed above are echoed in Stalker, which only makes sense because it is what Tarkovsky was interested in. I just think Rublev is a bit more complicated film than Stalker. Don’t get to know the characters in Stalker? What do you need to know about them that is not divulged? You learn enough. One is a Scientist, one a writer, and the Stalker is a Christian. The movie becomes a canned debate about which one of those is the proper way to live a life. Perhaps I oversimplify a bit? But I think that’s what it boils down to. And much of it is boring. Very boring. A lot of Tarkovsky is very very boring, purposefully boring. Because nothing happens until it does. But that is how he wanted his cinema to be. He makes you watch at his pace, which is not for everyone. Whatever.

          More beautifully paced film than Ordet = Raiders of the Lost Ark. Beauty being in the eye of the beholder and all that. I like Dryer, but perhaps not as much as you? My favorite of his films is Michael.

          So you admit a car ride in Vertigo is boring. I’m surprised the boring is less rare, after talking superlatively about other giants in cinema.

          • It would be more accurate to say that he cared about other things as much as continuity, and I’m not talking about cutting for emotion. His technique is extremely avant grade. Really, he was an experimental filmmaker working in a commercial industry. He was obsessed with graphical matching and spatial continuity. He invented his own system of coverage and editing and expanded on it over many decades. Some of his cutting on action is flawless; even when he jumps the axis you know exactly where you are in the space. If you pay really close attention Ozu offers endless formal rewards. There are shots where smoking cigarettes turn into smoking chimney stacks and and the liquid levels in bottles placed at different distances from the camera line up perfectly. He used to spend hours looking through the viewfinder and arranging objects in the frame. He managed to do all of this with detracting from the performances or the stories.
            To be fair, I haven’t watched Stalker in a very long time. I will have to revisit it and see if my old opinions hold up. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of my favourite films too. I think it’s possible to like all kinds of cinema; this website tends to be very Hollywood centric (which is absolutely fine; some of the best films and filmmakers have come out of the American studio system) which brings out my inner contrarian. Anyway, Ordet and Raiders sounds like the perfect double bill to me!!!
            Sorry, but I don’t understand your final paragraph?

        • . I challenge anyone to find a more beautifully paced film than Ordet.

  • Jerome (also..but not the other jerome) on 05.18.13 @ 3:45AM

    this dude teachers at the place i went to film school. haha

  • Sunrise by F.W. Murnau is just amazing !!!

    • yes! I was about to write a comment about this films, which I discovered relatively recently… such a beautifully shot film and well written.

      Silent era films can get overlooked by many, but some of late silent era films are insanely good and have so much to teach us. Once sound got introduced, because of the technical difficulties and constraints it broth along with it, it would take years for movie to get as interesting and daring.

      John Bailey ASC. says it in the sunrise commentary (worth listening), Silent movie started getting really interesting just as they where on their way out…

  • A number of David Lean films, but Lawrence of Arabia in particular.

  • For Horror/Suspense:
    ‘Halloween’ shows how very simple use of music and camera movement can hold the audience to the edge of the seat without much going on (actually nothing going on).
    Check 11:20 – 14:30 as an example

    For dramatic, suspensful lighting:
    The Godfather

    great examples how to light for shadows

  • In addition to Hitchcock and some others mentioned here, for me personally I would like to add Francis Ford Coppola to the list: Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, etc.

    • Walter Murch’s books are extremely helpful as well. Without him, I don’t think the design of Coppola’s films would have been as effective.

      • Murch’s “In the Blink of an Eye” is an excellent introduction to the philosophy and physical technique of film editing, written from his perch at the leading edge of the transition from snip-tape to click-drag.

        It’s one of those rare books that is practical for a vertical market and — if you pay attention — life-changing. It sure sharpened my enjoyment of movies. Murch makes remarkable observations about human nature and finding the organic moment cut.

        Murch also makes a passionate pitch for working standing up which I adopted some 10 years ago. A stand-up desk significantly improved my speed, quality, and interest in a job. Especially with multiple multiple monitors, zooming in on an image becomes not a passive software command but a actual physical act.

        Minor bonus: stronger body, fewer back pains.

  • The guy who made one of the worst movies ever wants to teach us the process of making movies. Thats a joke? :-) Who will come next? Ed Wood? :-)

    • I hear ya, but to be fair ORSON WELLS said that CITIZEN KANE was made out of pure ignorance, basically by mistake

      • But orson Welles was a guy who knew what he was doing and he made a lot of great movies. This guy is making only extremely bad movies. :-)

  • I think a lot of you are just listing favorite films.

    Talking about craft on individual filmaker level, I would list a lot of films that your favorite film makers studied. I’ve read Welles rewatched Stagecoach numerous times. Kurosawa and Ozu watched a lot of early John Ford westerns too. How they applied to Ozu is anybodies guess, but probably not to big a leap to see how Kurosawa used them.

    Hitchcock for craft I always like looking at his silent The Lodger, which to me is the movie where he figured out his schtick. Echoes of Murnaus The Last Laugh going on there too.

    • I think it took Hitchcock far longer than The Lodger to “figure out his schtick”. Have you seen Juno and the Paycock, The Farmer’s Wife or Number Seventeen? It’s kind of reassuring to know that even the master of suspense himself could make such god-awful films. I’d say he never really got going until The Lady Vanishes and even after that there were some weird misfires; from about ’43 – ’60 he is untouchable though… one of the most impressive hot streaks in cinema history.

      • I was referring to Hitch really getting suspense. Yes, Lodger is silent, but in my estimation one can tell he knew what he was doing, what he was going after suspense wise. He also took to sound like a duck to water, heightening suspense. Yes, he had misfires, and things didn’t always work smoothly, but I think anyone can see you can always tell what he was going for, it just didn’t always come together that well. Anyways, I’m no Hitchcock scholar and I don’t really care for his work much, it bores me. I think it often also bored him.

        • I see what you mean. Yes, what would come to be known as the Hitchcock style was certainly on full display in The Lodger. Obviously, all filmmakers have their hits and misses. It’s just nice to know that even Hitchcock had humble beginnings. I’m curious to know what bores you about his films? I’m definitely not a Hitchcock die-hard and think there are many directors who are easily as good as him, if not better when you start looking at entire filmographies, but I’ve rarely found him boring (even when he wasn’t firing on all cylinders).

          • His cinema bores me because I don’t find the stories compelling. I’m not interested in Birds attacking a town in California or wrong man spies or trying to figure out the psyche of a Psycho. So much of Hitch seems like a good little boy who wants to be naughty and has found a vicarious way to do it via cinema. Whatever. I do love me some Bernard Herrman. I don’t find any of the icy blonde fetish with underwear very interesting either. Most of his characters (male and female) seem two dimensional. There is a short list of why he bores me. I understand a lot of my complaints aren’t what interested him. Which is ok. I appreciate where he pushed some boundaries for cinema of his time in Hollywood. But I find many other filmmakers vastly more interesting.

          • He doesn’t deal with real human tragedy, only melodrama. He never tackled Westerns. He didn’t really do comedy. He did films he was comfortable with. Yes, his being at the top of the industry for so long is impressive. He made movies that were popular for their time for largely a blue collar audience and he slipped some sly innuendo, subterfuge, and subversion into them and many have become classics. But I wouldn’t call any of them deep. I just find his work lacking in what appeals to me. Hard to really explain. He’s impressive, yet he isn’t.

  • Truffaut’s Day for night! I quote this filn everyday. It is so fun to watch as it is a tribute to filmmaking.

  • Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari – 1920 – Robert Wiene
    Metropolis – 1927 – Fritz Lang
    La Haine – 1995 – Mathieu Kassovitz

  • Will Gilbey on 05.18.13 @ 2:10PM

    Robocop, Aliens, Lethal Weapon, Predator. Pure 80s class!

    • I approve!!

    • I haven’t seen a good ‘man vs. beast’ (singular) movie since Predator. The only thing Directors care about now is how much blood can they ‘shock’ the audience with. A cheap un-creative gag in opinion. But, I would argue that the American audience in large part can’t really be ‘shocked’ anymore. And, I hope this causes future directors to actually start us their brains and creative juices to make real suspense and character development.

  • From the man who brought us Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus…

  • I really think that Bèla Tarr’s “Werckmeister Harmonies” needs to be added to this list.

  • Comments here are far more useful than the article. The article is basically “learn to mimic these guys and the Roger Ebert crowd will always go thumbs-up.”

    I chuckle at Hitchcock fabulism. Vertigo ain’t that good. Melodramatic with many dead spots. As MST3K might put it, “No one will be seating during the Buick Driving Slowly Around San Francisco scenes!”

    I’d recommend picking a handful of films that have aged especially well — the original Manchurian Candidate comes to mind — and reverse-engineering their magic.

    • Agreed on Vertigo and the Hitchcock fan club. I’m not sure movies can get more contrived than Vertigo.

  • The Social Network definitely taught me the most about that craft of filmmaking. The bonus features on that DVD are incredible.

  • I’m surprised Jean-Luc Goddard is not on the list with films like “Breathless” “The Little Soldier” and “A Woman Is a Woman.”

  • Reading Kubrick biographies, he frequently watched film all throughout his life especially while working. It didn’t matter whether they were good films or bad films, he felt there was something to learn from everything.
    It just seems really stuck up to mention all these films to watch because they were “great” and he’s very general about it. There’s little mention of why these specifically, spoke to him or made him know the craft more.

    I’m skeptical about this man giving advice on filmmaking when his films don’t seem as critically acclaimed.

    What I try to do is look for the favorite films of good filmmakers to see where they get their influence.

  • Wow, unfortunate how many film snobs here are rejecting Spielberg and Tarantino. They’re incredible filmmakers. Don’t look down your nose at them just because they’re part of popular culture. It’s all about telling stories and they’re gifted storytellers. If you don’t think so, you’re only cheating yourself and I feel sorry for you.

  • funkydmunky on 05.24.13 @ 12:46AM

    I’m hopefully going a little outside the box. I thinking a varied example of film styles that show a film maker what can be done.

    Gumo – Harmony Korine
    Full Metal Jacket – Stanley Kubrick
    Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson
    Tampopo – Jûzô Itami
    Touch of evil – Orson Welles

    Personally I could care less if any individual dislikes any of these films. But from a filmmakers eye this is a broad spectrum. Each example has many things to teach about every aspect needed for a great film.

  • Thanks for suggesting great films to learn from.
    Now, how do I learn exactly what to look for in these films?
    What books do you suggest that show how to analyse these films?
    Are there good books that describe the techniques being used in a given scene that makes it outstanding?

  • i really appreciate you guys for every effort to see us grow in this field am a new student of animation and we have photography as one of the units done.i have been acting for like 10years and now i want to do something more than acting.whats you advise guys?

  • No Schidler’s list?

  • When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now
    each time a comment is added I get several emails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove people from that service?
    Thanks a lot!

  • À bout de souffle By Godard
    Le samouraï by Melville
    Rocco e i suoi fratelli by Visconti

  • When I started making short films myself, and even now, I had very little money. I watched films which were made by filmmakers who also had very limited means at the time. These kinds of films inspired me greatly to go out and see what I could do.

    ‘Stranger than paradise’
    ‘Shes gotta have it’
    ‘Mala noche’
    ‘El Mariachi’
    Early films of Jean-Luc Gorard
    Early films of Philippe Garrel
    Early films of Wim Wenders

    These films all showed me what was capable with very little money. These are not my favourite films, but they inspired me to make films much more than Kubrick or Tarkovsky did.

  • I will definitly bookmark this article and the comments for reference whenever needed, which could be quite often :) Seems that most people do not mention comtemporary films. But what do you think will be the influence of contemporary films e.g. Snowpiercer (which i consider one of the best films i have ever seen) in 10 or 20 years? I would probably acknowledge, that you couldn’t nail the brilliance of snowpiercer down to somethink that makes the film unique. But overall it’s just the whole thing which locked me in and made the film what it is: brilliant. But will it have heavy influence on future films? What do you think?

  • Leni Riefenstahl’s visual mastery in “Triumph of the Will” is riveting. I understand it was propaganda for Hitler’s horrible regime and it ruined her career after WWII, but her skill can’t be denied. Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream,” is powerfully visual and heartbreaking. “Blood Simple,” “Fargo,” “A Simple Plan,” Raimi, the Coen Brothers, “Oh Brother Where Art Thou.” Minghella’s “Cold Mountain” and “The English Patient.” Anything by David Lean and Carol Reed, especially “Lawrence of Arabia”/”Bridge on the River Kwai” and “The Third Man,” “Great Expectations (1946)/”Odd Man Out.” Roman Polanski’s “Knife in the Water,” “Repulsion,” “The Pianist.” Jiri Menzel’s “Closely Watched Trains.” Jean Renoir’s “Grand Illusion,” John Ford’s “The Searchers.” Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker.” “Atonement” – Joe Wright. Incredible visuals, sharp dialogue, the ridiculous and sublime, wordless moments that break your heart or laugh till you cry. Epics of all sizes.

  • And I forgot “The Rocking Horse Winner,” by Anthony Pelissier. A forgotten masterpiece from a D.H. Lawrence short story. And Lean’s “Ryan’s Daughter.” There are just too many to cite. Visual and mental cake!