Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Bryce J. Renninger
July 26, 2013 1:50 PM
60 Comments
  • |

Spike Lee's List of Films All Aspiring Filmmakers Must See

Spike Lee Takes to Kickstarter

Spike Lee (who writes everything in title case but won't tell you the title of the film he's raising money for on Kickstarter) has just posted a list of the films every aspiring director must see to his Kickstarter campaign.  It's the list he gives to all of his students on the first day of classes at NYU.

Check out the Kickstarter campaign for "The Newest Hottest Spike Lee Joint here and check out this video of Spike explaining the list.

Here's The List In Its Entirety:

"Bad Lieutenant," Abel Ferara (1992)

"Rashomon," Akira Kurosawa (1950)

"Yojimbo," "Akira Kurosawa (1961)

"Ran," Akira Kurosawa (1985)

"Rear Window," Alfred Hitchcock (1954)

"Vertigo," Alfred Hitchcock (1958)

"North by Northwest," Alfred Hitchcock (1959)

"Bonnie and Clyde," Arthur Penn (1967)

"The Conformist," Bernardo Bertolucci (1970)

"Last Tango in Paris," Bernardo Bertolucci (1972)

"Ace in the Hole," Billy Wilder (1951)

"Some Like It Hot," Billy Wilder (1959)

"Killer of Sheep," Charles Burnett (1977)

"Night of the Hunter," Charles Laughton (1955)

"Raising Arizona," The Coen Brothers (1987)

"The Bridge on the River Kwai," David Lean (1954)

"Lawrence of Arabia," David Lean (1962)

"On the Waterfront," Elia Kazan (1954)

"A Face in the Crowd," Elia Kazan (1957)

"La Strada," Federico Fellini (1954)

"La Dolce Vita," Federico Fellini (1960)

"8 1/2," Federico Fellini (1963)

"City of God," Ferando Meirelles, Katia Lund (2002)

"The Godfather," Francis Ford Coppola (1972)

"The Godfather: Part II," Francis Ford Coppola (1974)

"400 Blows," Francois Truffaut (1959)

"Day for Night," Francois Truffaut (1973)

"Patton," Franklin J. Schnaffner (1970)

"Mad Max," George Miller (1979)

"The Road Warrior," George Miller (1981)

"Battle of Algiers," Gillo Pontecorvo (1966)

"The Last Detail," Hal Ashby (1973)

"Breathless," Jean-Luc Godard (1960)

"West Side Story," Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise (1961)

"Stranger than Paradise," Jim Jarmusch (1984)

"The Train," John Frankenheimer (1964)

"The Maltese Falcon," John Huston (1941)

"The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," John Huston (1948)

"Fat City," John Huston (1972)

"Midnight Cowboy," John Schlesinger (1969)

"Marathon Man," John Schlesinger (1969)

"Boyz n the Hood," John Singleton (1991)

"Los Olivdados," Luis Bunuel (1950)

"Black Orpheus," Marcel Camus (1959)

"Home of the Brave," Mark Robson (1949)

"Mean Streets," Martin Scorsese (1973)

"Raging Bull," Martin Scorsese (1980)

"Apocalypto," Mel Gibson (2006)

"Casablanca," Michael Curtiz (1942)

"Thief," Michael Mann (1981)

"The Red Shoes," Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger (1948)

"Coolie High," Michael Schultz (1975)

"I Am Cuba," Mikhail Kalatozov (1964)

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," Milos Forman (1975)

"District 9," Neill Blomkamp (2009)

"In the Heat of the Night," Norman Jewison (1967)

"Touch of Evil," Orson Welles (1958)

"Blue Collar," Paul Schrader (1978)

"White Heat," Raoul Walsh (1949)

"Is Paris Burning?," Rene Clement (1966)

"M*A*S*H," Robert Altman (1970)

"To Kill a Mockingbird," Robert Mulligan (1962)

"Rome Open City," Roberto Rossellini (1945)

"Paisan," Roberto Rossellini (1946)

"Chinatown," Roman Polanski (1974)

"Black Rain," Shohei Imamura (1989)

"Dog Day Afternoon," Sidney Lumet (1975)

"Singin' in the Rain," Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly (1952)

"Paths of Glory," Stanley Kubrick (1957)

"Spartacus," Stanley Kubrick (1960)

"Dr. Strangelove," Stanley Kubrick (1964)

"Kung Fu Hustle," Stephen Chow (2004)

"Dirty Pretty Things," Stephen Frears (2002)

"Hoop Dreams," Steve James (1984)

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind," Steven Spielberg (1977)

"Empire of the Sun," Steven Spielberg (1987)

"Cool Hand Luke," Stuart Rosenberg (1967)

"Badlands," Terrence Malick (1973)

"Days of Heaven," Terrence Malick (1978)

"The Wizard of Oz," Victor Fleming (1939)

"An American in Paris," Vincente Minnelli (1951)

"Lust for Life," Vincente Minnelli (1956)

"The Bicycle Thief," Vittorio De Sica (1948)

"Miracle in Milan," Vittorio De Sica (1951)

"Dead End," William Wyler (1937)

"Zelig," Woody Allen (1983)

You might also like:

60 Comments

  • Kurt | August 21, 2013 3:09 AMReply

    Not including Citizen Kane is the oddest decision. Even if you don't like it personally, it's unarguably essential for young film makers to see -- even if their reaction is to hate it.

  • Daniel Ferguson | August 20, 2013 2:45 PMReply

    A glaring omission: The Third Man.

  • Suki Yamaguchi | July 31, 2013 1:26 PMReply

    Comes across like a list of films for a lower level "film appreciation" class, which maybe it is. But to include Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto"? Sorry, that's just WRONG.

  • David Wong | July 29, 2013 12:23 PMReply

    Spike Lee is a mediocre filmmaker, and worse, a racist. His own films feature racist undertones. Sometimes not even undertones; openly racist themes. This was particularly obvious in "Do The Right Thing" in which the "right thing" was destroying a man's business because he was proud of being an Italian and did not suck up to racist blacks. I was not aware that Spike Lee has gotten an undeserved academic sinecure, but I am not surprised: affirmative action, like a cancer, spreads its destructive tentacles everywhere.

    As to his "list" probably just a knock off of someone else's list. I note that he is too lazy or dishonest to state any reason for each choice.

  • power | August 22, 2013 2:52 AM

    Mr. Wong, the suggestion that he has stolen someone else's list is malicious and slanderous, and the notion that he is 'lazy and dishonest' is flat-out pernicious racism.

  • Steve | August 7, 2013 7:26 AM

    David, I find your opinion to be just plain wong

  • Raivan Hall | July 30, 2013 11:37 AM

    This is vacuous commentary. The "cancer" you allude to is in itself the very contempt you foster in public discussion about Spike Lee. Wake up, Mr. Wong.

  • kira | July 28, 2013 2:09 PMReply

    I am quite impressed by this list. I have seen most of the films listed & agree that every movie lover/film enthusiast should see each one. I would add is Taxi Driver, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Easyrider, Five easy pieces, & Citizen Kane :)

  • Jonah Wright | August 10, 2013 2:35 AM

    do you find Tarantino racist Mr. Wong? just a question.

  • Chuck Mohan | July 28, 2013 1:44 AMReply

    What about "Lion of the Desert?

  • john grant | July 27, 2013 11:44 PMReply

    Did I see Persona? What about The Third Man? I've been a feminist and civil rights activist for 50 years, and the best movies have been made by men. Basically because almost all movies have been made by men. This is like asking who are the greatest chess players of all time. Guess what? No women. It was always a man's game, created by men, played by men. Spacial relations (not human relations) are a male strength. Fellini and Bergman, men. Can anyone honestly say they weren't feminists? Bergman's Persona? Fellini's Amarcord, perhaps the most human/humane film I've ever seen. I admire Spike Lee, but the problem with his list is it panders to the COMMERCIAL, not that it leaves out female directors. He's in Hollywood and he caters to Hollywood. I suppose has to! It's about making money. The most important distinction to me is Theatrical vs. Cinematic. Is it a stage play moved to film or is it an exposition of the director's imagination. My perfect example is Fellini's Satyricon; see it to believe it. No plot, images tell the story. What about "Le Chien Andalou" (The Andalousian Dog) (sp?), a real "eye opener", a must see. Lee seems to opt for the theatrical -- great films but not cinematic -- early Bertolucci and Fellini: theatrical not cinematic. Like Shakespeare putting plays into plays, Fellini puts theater into cinema. What about "Brazil" or "Baron Von Munchausen" by the Monty Python guy. Image and imagery, an understanding of the medium, not of the commercial marketplace. OK, I'm still a sucker for "Casablanca" anytime on TV and Lawrence of Arabia on the Super Big Screen. They have imagery and music and stories that are irresistible. But potential filmmakers need to see the bigger "picture". Shoot me.

  • Jonathan Woollen | July 28, 2013 2:21 PM

    This guy, everyone, this guy.

    Sorry Chantal Akerman, sorry Marguerite Duras, sorry Samira Makhmalbaf: let this feminist activist remind you spatial relations are a male strength. I mean, Spike Lee's list is his list, and that's alright, but these justifications...

  • M. | July 28, 2013 12:42 PM

    Theatrical v.s Cinematic? Um ... First of all every film is considered cinematic, to disagree with is just being a sophomoric elitist about it, movies are movies. If you really understood the MEDIUM than you'd have known that cinema from it's early inception (Edison, Kinetoscope) was always a commercialized product aimed to cater towards the masses. 'The Third Man' was one of the highest budgeted film's thus far, but does that refute it's credibility as a masterpiece? of course not. Same practicality towards other films, regardless of their economic means. Are you trying to say that commercialized film-making is non-artful? well that would be outright ludicrous. Art has always been commissioned one way or another, patrons are producers, painters are directors. The only TRUE dinstinction is that they're are good films and bad films, that is what separates a filmmaker from a pandering critic.

  • Carl White | July 27, 2013 11:41 PMReply

    I know this list will be dissected but its a pretty damn good list of films, not what I expected, and I am glad about that.

  • Gina | July 27, 2013 9:17 PMReply

    It is disappointing there aren't many women directors in the list. The fact that Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, or some other famous arthouse Europeans are not featured is not the end of the world. This is partly shaped by personal taste, partly by academic interests. Perhaps he finds those directors boring (I certainly find them boring, for example, except for sometimes Herzog), or he presumes that the pretentious film nerds entering his class will have already seen them. To those who complain about the dearth of silent films, perhaps that is because they will be addressed later. I personally really, really like this list overall.

  • M. | July 28, 2013 12:43 PM

    Pretentious film nerds? no those are hipsters.

  • James Jackson | July 27, 2013 4:30 PMReply

    No "All About Eve". Manckiewicz is a wonder and EVERY actor in this movie is beyond GREAT.

  • snoozebutton | July 27, 2013 12:34 PMReply

    For the record--

    There is one woman on this list, Katia Lund, City of God.

    I also know that Spike Lee is as committed to the work of his female film students as he is to that of his male students. He regularly employs many students on his productions, and many of them, women and men, start their careers on his films. He executive produced Dee Rees' movie "Pariah," about a young African American woman struggling with her sexual identity.

    That said--I would suggest some more recent movies: Meek's Cutoff, The Loneliest Planet, After Tiller. All are extremely inventive in terms of craft and deeply moving in terms of story.

  • Lars | July 27, 2013 7:31 AMReply

    God, what a bunch of babies. So he made a list of his personal essential films. All right, fine. Mine would be very different, as would many of yours. Let's go on about every great film ever made that didn't make the cut, let's whine about the lack of women directors who I guess he wasn't inspired by...the fact is that I sat down and read a Spike Lee "essential film" list and I don't give a rat's ass about any of yours. That says something.

  • thedudeabides | July 27, 2013 7:08 AMReply

    What a sap. He chose the one Kubrick film that even Kubrick thought wasn't his best work, aka Spartacus. Also, not seeing Lynch, Chaplin, Tarkovsky, Herzog, Antonioni, Ford or Bergman is a big no no for future filmmakers.

  • Jeff Winbush | July 27, 2013 5:46 AMReply

    I've seen about 40 of Spike's choices, but as you might expect, I'm scratching my head over some of the glaring omissions and odd inclusions. "Zelig" by Woody Allen (but not "Annie Hall?"). "Kung Fu Hustle" over "Enter the Dragon." NO Quentin Tarantino (you still mad, Spike?), but "District 9" and "Apocalypto?" I know how many movies were influenced by "Pulp Fiction," but who was influenced by "Apocalypto?"

    The absence of "Requiem For A Dream," "Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf," "Fargo" and "Apocalypse Now" is nuts.

    Ditto for "Do the Right Thing." Don't sleep on your own film, Spike.

  • Tavis | July 27, 2013 2:49 AMReply

    You forgot air bud 2

  • dmso | July 27, 2013 2:08 AMReply

    He mentioned "Goodfellas" in the video.

  • jean vigo | July 27, 2013 1:48 AMReply

    Folks, put this into proper context. Lee gives this list to his students. So, it may not necessarily be a list of all his personal "favorites" but films that he sees as having significance in terms of formal aesthetics (mise-en-scene, editing, etc.) thematic content, narrative structure, and so on.

    I had a prof who made us watch "The Sweetest Thing" - that "torture porn" piece with Cameron Diaz -TWICE in one class session. I learned more about filmmaking watching that than I did Citizen Kane.

  • wendy | July 26, 2013 11:56 PMReply

    no women ugh

  • Emma | July 26, 2013 11:37 PMReply

    The Philadelphia Story. Bringing Up Baby. Woman of the Year. Adam's Rib. Born Yesterday. I can go on... Okay, I will. What's Up, Doc (the last truly great screwball comedy).

  • DeeDee Halleck | July 26, 2013 11:25 PMReply

    Not one woman among them. Suggestions: The Connection by Shirley Clarke; Portrait of Jason by Shirley Clarke; Daughters of the Dust by Julie Dash; Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, by Chantal Ackerman; The Story of a Woman Who, by Yvonne Rainer; Born in Flames by Lizzie Borden, etc.

  • Brit | July 26, 2013 10:46 PMReply

    He came out and said he forgot films and invited additions. Don't just sniff, "No Bergman?" or "No woman directors?" -- as if THAT constitutes a point -- without suggesting a few for the admittedly incomplete list. Some people just can't take "Yes!" for an answer, I suppose. Join in!!!

  • Jenni Olson | July 27, 2013 2:07 AM

    With all due respect, the fact that there is not a single woman director on the list DOES constitute a point — call it sexism or misogyny or the old boy's club. I think most people could easily come up with more than a few great films by women directors off the top of their heads without me having to spend time telling you what they are.

  • Angela Thomas | July 26, 2013 10:46 PMReply

    Wow, he did not include Douglas Sirk's Imitation of life and John Berry's Claudine

  • Angela Thomas | July 26, 2013 10:43 PMReply

    Wow, he did not include Douglas Sirk's Imitation of life and John Berry's Claudine

  • Angela Thomas | July 26, 2013 10:42 PMReply

    Wow, he did not include Douglas Sirk's Imitation of life and John Berry's Claudine

  • Angela Thomas | July 26, 2013 10:42 PMReply

    Wow, he did not include Douglas Sirk's Imitation of life and John Berry's Claudine

  • Angela Thomas | July 26, 2013 10:40 PMReply

    Wow, he did not include Douglas Sirk's Imitation of life and John Berry's Claudine

  • Angela Thomas | July 26, 2013 10:38 PMReply

    Wow, he did not include Imitation of life and Claudine

  • Angela Thomas | July 26, 2013 10:38 PMReply

    Wow, he did not include Imitation of life and Claudine

  • Von | July 26, 2013 10:00 PMReply

    Surprised Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" wasn't on the list. Should have added "Sugar Cane Alley" director by Euzhan Palcy.

  • Von | July 26, 2013 9:59 PMReply

    Surprised Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" wasn't on the list. Should have added "Sugar Cane Alley" director by Euzhan Palcy.

  • Von | July 26, 2013 9:59 PMReply

    Surprised Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" wasn't on the list. Should have added "Sugar Cane Alley" director by Euzhan Palcy.

  • Von | July 26, 2013 9:59 PMReply

    Surprised Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" wasn't on the list. Should have added "Sugar Cane Alley" director by Euzhan Palcy.

  • Von | July 26, 2013 9:59 PMReply

    Surprised Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" wasn't on the list. Should have added "Sugar Cane Alley" director by Euzhan Palcy.

  • Von | July 26, 2013 9:58 PMReply

    Surprised Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" wasn't on the list. Should have added "Sugar Cane Alley" director by Euzhan Palcy.

  • Von | July 26, 2013 9:58 PMReply

    Surprised Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" wasn't on the list. Should have added "Sugar Cane Alley" director by Euzhan Palcy.

  • Von | July 26, 2013 9:58 PMReply

    Surprised Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" wasn't on the list. Should have added "Sugar Cane Alley" director by Euzhan Palcy.

  • Mike Swanson | July 26, 2013 6:03 PMReply

    No Peter Sellars. How about The Mouse that Roared, and Dr. Strangelove. Perhaps Mr. Lee is to young to remember those. -)

  • Dr. Wu | July 26, 2013 8:17 PM

    Dr. Strangelove is there.

  • Shiva | July 26, 2013 4:32 PMReply

    Quibbles no doubt there will be (Mine? PARIS, TEXAS, PERFORMANCE and THE PASSION OF ST. MATTHEW), but otherwise a great compilation.
    Did anyone else notice?
    1930s-2
    1940s-9
    1950s-20
    1960s-18
    1970s-20
    1980s-10
    1990s-2
    2000s-5
    2010-0
    Hmm, doth I see a pattern here? (And not one of the 2000s could be considered standard Hollywood fare).
    Not an original observation, but someone pointed contemporary Hollywood's most remarkable achievement is not box office smasheroos but using a combination of high ticket fees, ludicrous concession prices and repetitive formulaic movies with no emotional core to cure people over the age of 25 of their deep-seated compulsion to go to movie theatres.

  • EJ | July 26, 2013 3:22 PMReply

    Telling... not a single woman director. Lena Wurtmuler major oversight.

  • LeonRaymond | July 26, 2013 5:29 PM

    Not Telling at all EJ -The man has been and still is threatened by woman on a huge level

  • DJ | July 26, 2013 3:17 PMReply

    Bergman was a huge omission. Nothing from Rohmer, Kieślowski or Wenders.
    And not one film from Ozu?? (Spike, I would've picked at least one from Jane Campion's filmography, too.)

  • Ashley | July 26, 2013 3:08 PMReply

    I second "Snoozebutton." No woman directors.

  • Peter L. Stein | July 26, 2013 3:05 PMReply

    Great list, wouldn't quarrel with any of them...but since there are always limitations with any finite "Must-See" list, I will observe a few glaring omissions that would terrify me if an aspiring filmmaker were not familiar with them: Nothing by Ingmar Bergman (take your pick from among about a dozen masterpieces)? No silent classics (Eisenstein, Pabst, Murnau, Dreyer)? No Satyajit Ray or any non-Western directors besides Kurosawa? For a more diverse, if also idiosyncratic, grouping, spend 15 hours with Mark Cousins' "The Story of Film: An Odyssey" or at least check out his clip list, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Story_of_Film:_An_Odyssey.

    Finally: does Indiewire's list really have to be organized by director's first name? That feels cheesy, unless these directors are all your Facebook friends...

  • Jessica | July 26, 2013 2:53 PMReply

    Apparently for Lee film only began in 1937 and then just barely. Who needs Murnau, Eisenstein, Renoir, Lubitsch and of course nothing by Ford or Griffith. Why should student's study their films?

  • brian Godshall | July 26, 2013 2:43 PMReply

    I've seen 43 of these. God bless him for including some really great musicals - WSstory, W of Oz, Singin' in the Rain among them.

  • Mgodfather | July 26, 2013 2:43 PMReply

    No Bergman?

  • Scott | July 26, 2013 2:42 PMReply

    What a great list. I've seen a majority of these movies. It kind of proves that, contrary to the assumptions of various anonymous movie nerds on the internet, that Spike Lee isn't a racist.

  • snoozebutton | July 26, 2013 2:10 PMReply

    This is really cool, thank you to Spike Lee and indiewire.

    But I can't help but wish there was more than one woman director in a list of 86 films.

  • Brian Carver | July 27, 2013 10:31 AM

    It is a shame he included no female directors. "The Ascent", by Larisa Shepitko trumps about half the films on that list.

  • Huh? | July 26, 2013 11:44 PM

    Well its not like he's Snooky. And, its not like this is a list of his favorite desserts. He's famous for making films. He also teaches film at one of the most prestigious film schools in the country. Seems like a list of favorite films from a famous, award-winning director and film professor would mean something... to someone.

  • Yup | July 26, 2013 3:27 PM

    Beyond the "no women directors" complaint, this just generally feels like "hey everyone, these are my randomly favorite films!" If he wasn't famous, this list wouldn't mean a thing (and it feels kind of silly, as it is).