101 Films That Influenced Me As a Writer

Some movies capture the imagination (sorry, no Star Wars on the list) and some entertain (no Disney either, even though I adore their films). The post today is not about my favourite movies or the greatest movies of all time or movies you should see before you die – even though there is obviously overlap. The purpose of the post today is to highlight 101 movies that I, as a cinephile and writer, watched and walked away contemplating my approach to storytelling.

The influences vary. Some are specific to character, others to structure and timeline. Some have a premise or philosophy that spoke to me. Some are the standard bearers for their genre while others broke all the rules.

With all of these variations, the fairest way to proceed felt like either alphabetical or chronological (as no definitive ranking was possible), and chronology felt more illuminating. Without further ado, the list:

  1. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) Dir. Frank Capra; Written by Sidney Buchman and Lewis R. FosterBrace yourself for a lot of Jimmy Stewart early on this list. He was my gateway to earlier cinema because I related to him so well.
  2. The Great Dictator (1940) Dir. Charles Chaplin; Written by Charles Chaplin
  3. The Philadelphia Story (1940) Dir. George Cukor; Written by Donald Ogden Stewart and Philip Barry
  4. Citizen Kane (1941) Dir. Orson Welles; Written by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles
  5. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Dir. Frank Capra; Written by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, and Frank Capra
  6. Rope (1948) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock; Written by Hume Cronyn and Patrick Hamilton
  7. Harvey (1950) Dir. Henry Koster; Written by Mary Chase, Oscar Brodney, and Myles Connolly
  8. High Noon (1952) Dir. Fred Zinnemann; Written by Carl Foreman and John W. CunninghamPay attention to appearance of Westerns on this list – there are several and quite a gap in the middle.
  9. Rear Window (1954) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock; Written by John Michael Hayes and Cornell Woolrich
  10. 12 Angry Men (1957) Dir. Sidney Lumet; Written by Reginald Rose
  11. The Seventh Seal (1957) Dir. Ingmar Bergman; Written by Ingmar Bergman
  12. The Magnificent Seven (1960) Dir. John Sturges; Written by William RobertsCinephiles, I know – Seven Samurai. I saw this movie first and it seems only fair to say that it influenced my writing.
  13. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) Dir. Blake Edwards; Written by Truman Capote and George AxelrodFirst appearance of an Audrey Hepburn film, Queen of the Silver Screen
  14. Charade (1963) Dir. Stanley Donen; Written by Peter Stone and Marc Behm
  15. Dr. Strangelove…(1964) Dir. Stanley Kubrick; Written by Stanley Kubrick and Terry Southern
  16. The Good, the Bad & the Ugly (1966) Dir. Sergio Leone; Written by Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Leone
  17. Cool Hand Luke (1967) Dir. Stuart Rosenberg; Written by Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson
  18. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) Dir. Sergio Leone; Written by Sergio Donati, Sergio Leone, Dario Argento, and Bernardo Bertolucci
  19. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) Dir. George Roy Hill; Written by William Goldman
  20. The Godfather, Part I (1972) Dir. Francis Ford Coppola; Written by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford CoppolaThis marks a transition away from Westerns and into the gangster film for me.
  21. The Godfather, Part II (1974) Dir. Francis Ford Coppola; Written by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola
  22. Murder on the Orient Express (1974) Dir. Sidney Lumet; Written by Paul Dehn
  23. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) Dir. Milos Forman; Written by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman
  24. Network (1976) Dir. Sidney Lumet; Written by Paddy Chayefsky
  25. Taxi Driver (1976) Dir. Martin Scorsese; Written by Paul SchraderFirst appearance of Martin Scorsese on the list. Be ready for several.
  26. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) Dir. Terry Jones; Written by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin
  27. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Dir. Steven Spielberg; Written by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas
  28. Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) Dir. John Hughes; Written by John HughesFirst film on the list released during my life – fitting it should be John Hughes. It’s the first comedy I saw that seemed to have heart as well as laughs.
  29. The Princess Bride (1987) Dir. Rob Reiner; Written by William Goldman
  30. Die Hard (1988) Dir. John McTiernan; Written by Roderick Thorp, Jeb Stuart, and Steven E. de SouzaThe quintessential action film, I think it’s important to remember that it was anything but at the time of its release. Die Hard specifically rejected a lot of the standards of the action film, including hypermasculinity.
  31. A Fish Called Wanda (1988) Dir. Charles Crichton; Written by John Cleese and Charles Crichton
  32. Goodfellas (1990) Dir. Martin Scorsese; Written by Nicholas Pileggi
  33. Cape Fear (1991) Dir. Martin Scorsese; Written by John D. MacDonald and James R. Webb
  34. City Slickers (1991) Dir. Ron Underwood; Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel
  35. Father of the Bride (1991) Dir. Charles Shyer; Written by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Nancy Myers, and Charles Shyer
  36. The Fisher King (1991) Dir. Terry Gilliam; Written by Richard LaGravenese
  37. Chaplin (1992) Dir. Richard Attenborough; Written by David Robinson, Charles Chaplin, Diana Hawkins, William Boyd, Bryan Forbes, and William GodmanFirst film on the list about one of the writers/stars of another film on the list.
  38. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) Dir. James Foley; Written by David Mamet
  39. Reservoir Dogs (1992) Dir. Quentin Tarantino; Written by Quentin Tarantino
  40. Unforgiven (1992) Dir. Clint Eastwood; Written by David Webb PeoplesFirst western of note during my life – it caused me to go back and explore older westerns after I had concluded that they were boring and repetitive.
  41. Dave (1993) Dir. Ivan Reitman; Written by Gary Ross
  42. Groundhog Day (1993) Dir. Harold Ramis; Written by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis
  43. Schindler’s List (1993) Dir. Steven Spielberg; Written by Thomas Keneally and Steven Zaillian
  44. Little Women (1994) Dir. Gillian Armstrong; Written by Louisa May Alcott and Robin SwicordFirst all-woman feature and the first appearance of a Christian Bale (another favourite) film on the list.
  45. Shawshank Redemption (1994) Dir. Frank Darabont; Written by Frank Darabont and Stephen KingAs noted in the opening, these are the most influential films on my writing. Stephen King is a major literary influence, but the films often fail to capture his imagination.
  46. Casino (1995) Dir. Martin Scorsese; Written by Nicholas Pileggi
  47. Heat (1995) Dir. Michael Mann; Written by Michael Mann
  48. Sense and Sensibility (1995) Dir. Ang Lee; Written by Jane Austen and Emma ThompsonFirst Jane Austen-related film on the list, one of my principal literary influences.
  49. The Birdcage (1996) Dir. Mike Nichols; Written by Jean Poiret, Francis Veber, Marcello Danon, and Elaine May
  50. The Cable Guy (1996) Dir. Ben Stiller; Written by Lou Holtz, Jr.
  51. Fargo (1996) Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen; Written by Joel and Ethan CoenEnter the Coen brothers. I did not care much about specific directors or the Coen brother films at this point, but later in life with a greater sense of appreciation for movies (No Country For Old Men), I returned.
  52. Devil’s Advocate (1997) Dir. Taylor Hackford; Written by Andrew Neiderman and Jonathan Lemkin
  53. Good Will Hunting (1997) Dir. Gus Van Sant; Written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck
  54. The Big Lebowski (1998) Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen; Written by Joel and Ethan Coen
  55. Saving Private Ryan (1998) Dir. Steven Spielberg; Written by Robert Rodat
  56. The Truman Show (1998) Dir. Peter Weir; Written by Andrew Niccol
  57. What Dreams May Come (1998) Dir. Vincent Ward; Written by Richard Matheson and Ronald Bass
  58. Gangs of New York (2002) Dir. Martin Scorsese; Written by Jay Cocks
  59. Insomnia (2002) Dir. Christopher Nolan; Written by Hillary Seitz and Nikolaj FrobeniusFirst appearance of Christopher Nolan on the list, whose films never disappoint.
  60. Road to Perdition (2002) Dir. Sam Mendes; Written by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner
  61. Big Fish (2003) Dir. Tim Burton; Written by Daniel Wallace and John August
  62. Love Me If You Dare (2003) Dir. Yann Samuell; Written by Yann SamuellFirst French language film on the list and one of two foreign films – noteworthy as foreign films do appear regularly on my favourite films list.
  63. Mystic River (2003) Dir. Clint Eastwood; Written by Brian Helgeland and Dennis Lehane
  64. Enduring Love (2004) Dir. Marc Forster; Written by Ian McEwan and Joe PenhallFirst Ian McEwan-based film on the list; possibly the biggest literature-to-film influence in my writing.
  65. Finding Neverland (2004) Dir. Marc Forster; Written by Allan Knee and David MageeSir James M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” was my first literary love.
  66. Layer Cake (2004) Dir. Matthew Vaughn; Written by J.J. Connolly
  67. The Terminal (2004) Dir. Steven Spielberg; Written by Andrew Niccol and Sacha Gervasi
  68. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) Dir. Shane Black; Written by Brett Halliday and Shane Black
  69. The Devil Wears Prada (2006) Dir. David Frankel; Written by Aline Brosh McKenna and Lauren Weisberger
  70. The Prestige (2006) Dir. Christopher Nolan; Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
  71. 3:10 to Yuma (2007) Dir. James Mangold; Written by Halsted Welles and Michael BrandtThe 3:10 to Yuma remake opened the door for more westerns in my sphere, which would in turn reintroduce me to the Coen brothers who became massive influencers. I owe this film a lot for setting a storytelling course.
  72. Atonement (2007) Dir. Joe Wright; Written by Ian McEwan and Christopher HamptonFirst appearance of personal favourite Saoirse Ronan, who I knew would become a star, and Benedict Cumberbatch, who I hated for years because of this character in this movie.
  73. Becoming Jane (2007) Dir. Julian Jarrold; Written by Jane Austen and Kevin HoodAs mentioned, Jane Austen is the preeminent influence on my writing. Her biopic, featuring favourite talent James McAvoy and Anne Hathaway paired with the “Pride and Prejudice” paralleled story, was destined to be a fave.
  74. No Country For Old Men (2007) Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen; Written by Joel and Ethan CoenMy writing used to focus on a plot and the characters within. This movie awoke me to the concept of premise (I know, odd at #74 on the list) and dramatically changed the way I viewed storytelling. I began to see those elements more clearly in other films and novels.
  75. There Will Be Blood (2007) Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson; Written by Paul Thomas Anderson and Upton Sinclair
  76. The Dark Knight (2008) Dir. Christopher Nolan; Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
  77. In Bruges (2008) Dir. Martin McDonagh; Written by Martin McDonagh
  78. Rachel Getting Married (2008) Dir. Jonathan Demme; Written by Jenny Lumet
  79. Public Enemies (2009) Dir. Michael Mann; Written by Ronan Bennett and Michael Mann
  80. The Fighter (2010) Dir. David O. Russell; Written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson
  81. True Grit (2010) Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen; Written by Joel and Ethan CoenYep, the remake. I don’t care for John Wayne. Don’t @ me.
  82. Carnage (2011) Dir. Roman Polanski; Written by Yasmina Reza
  83. Midnight in Paris (2011) Dir. Woody Allen; Written by Woody Allen
  84. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) Dir. Christopher Nolan; Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher NolanYes, this movie. It catches a lot of flak from the graphic novel culture, but Bruce Wayne in this movie reflected to me a hero with OCPD.
  85. Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) Dir. Stephen Chobosky; Written by Stephen ChoboskyFirst appearance of my absolute favourite, Emma Watson.
  86. Her (2013) Dir. Spike Jonze; Written by Spike Jonze
  87. Ex Machina (2014) Dir. Alex Garland; Written by Alex Garland
  88. The Imitation Game (2014) Dir. Morten Tyldum; Written by Graham Moore and Andrew Hodges
  89. The Big Short (2013) Dir. Adam McKay; Written by Charles Randolph and Adam McKayThe only appearance of Adam McKay on the list, but one should make an effort to explore his greater filmography.
  90. Brooklyn (2015) Dir. John Crowley; Written by Nick Hornby and Colm Toibin
  91. Regression (2015) Dir. Alejandro Amenabar; Written by Alejandro Amenabar
  92. Hostiles (2017) Dir. Scott Cooper; Written by Scott Cooper and Donald E. Stewart
  93. Lady Bird (2017) Dir. Greta Gerwig; Written by Greta Gerwig
  94. On Chesil Beach (2017) Dir. Dominic Cooke; Written by Ian McEwan
  95. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen; Written by Joel and Ethan Coen
  96. Colette (2018) Dir. Wash Westmoreland; Written by Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland, and Rebecca Lenkiewicz
  97. Look Away (2018) Dir. Assaf Bernstein; Written by Assaf Bernstein
  98. Perfection (2018) Dir. Richard Shepard; Written by Eric C. Charmelo and Richard Shepard
  99. The Highwaymen (2019) Dir. John Lee Hancock; Written by John Fusco
  100. The Irishman (2019) Dir. Martin Scorsese; Written by Charles Brandt and Steven Zaillian
  101. Little Women (2019) Dir. Greta Gerwig; Written by Louisa May Alcott and Greta GerwigYeah, I know – it hasn’t been released yet. It’s Greta Gerwig. Doing Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”. With Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothee Chalamet, Meryl Streep, and Laura Dern. There’s a reason I expanded this from 100 to 101 – an arbitrary excuse to give a nod to how great this film ought to be.


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