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10 Iconic Films that Inspired Filmmakers to Make Movies



Great directors generally make great movies. But have you ever wondered what movies inspired these great directors to make films? From Martin Scorsese to Akira Kurosawa, each has been influenced by iconic films, elements of which they’ve incorporated into their works at some point in their cinematic career.



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These movies are not mainstream Hollywood blockbusters; most are foreign films. Nonetheless, they both changed the face of cinema generally and influenced the vision of contemporary directors who pay homage to them through their works.

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‘Seven Samurai’ (1954)

The epic drama Seven Samurai (Japanese: Shichinin no samurai) was co-written, edited, and directed by Akira Kurosawa. In addition to being the longest, most expensive Japanese movie ever made at the time, it was (and continues to be) highly regarded by critics and directors alike, garnering a near-perfect Metascore of 98.

Aside from a loose remake for American audiences — John SturgesThe Magnificent Seven — which replaced the samurai with cowboys, films like John LandisThree Amigos! (1986), John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton’s A Bug’s Life, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s The Matrix Revolutions, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, and George LucasStar Wars franchise have each given the nod to Kurosawa’s masterful camera tricks and framing techniques.


‘The 400 Blows’ (1959)

François Truffaut — himself influenced by the films of Alfred Hitchcock — made his groundbreaking directorial debut with the coming-of-age film The 400 Blows (French: Les quatre cents coups). He won the Best Director award at Cannes and paved the way for the French New Wave movement.

The movie is considered by filmmakers Luis Buñuel (Belle de jour) and Satyajit Ray to be one of their favorites. Martin Scorsese includes it in his list of essential foreign films, and Akira Kurosawa called it “one of the most beautiful films” he’d ever seen. Woody Allen and Sam Mendes voted for it in the British Film Institute’s (BFI) Directors’ 100 Greatest Films of All Time, ranking the film 13th. John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood, Tom Twyker’s Run Lola Run, and Alfonso Cuarón’s Y tu mama también contain scenes that mimic The 400 Blows.

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‘8½’ (1963)

The surrealist dramedy (Italian: Otto e mezzo) is a benchmark Arthouse film by Italian director Federico Fellini that is regularly praised for its cinematic brilliance. So much so that 40 directors voted for it in the BFI’s 100 Greatest Films of All Time poll, ranking it fourth. It also won Oscars for Best Foreign Film and Best Costume Design.

Whether in subject matter or style, the following directors borrowed from Fellini’s masterpiece: Woody Allen, Stardust Memories; Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, New York; Todd Haynes, I’m Not There; Bob Fosse, All That Jazz; Peter Greenaway, 8½ Women; François Truffaut, Day for Night; and Terry Gilliam, Brazil.


‘The Seventh Seal’ (1957)

Contemporary directors Michael Apted (Gorillas in the Mist, Gorky Park), Woody Allen, and Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi voted for Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman’s historical fantasy The Seventh Seal (Swedish: Det sjunde inseglet) in the BFI Directors’ Greatest Films poll.

An existentialist film about the conflict between darkness and light, The Seventh Seal, helped launch the international Arthouse movement, and its stark cinematography has influenced filmmakers since. Subsequent, diverse directors — including Martin Scorsese, Guillermo del Toro (Nightmare Alley), and Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Showgirls) — have looked to this classic for inspiration. The iconic scene in which Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) plays chess with Death (Bengt Ekerot) was parodied by Peter Hewitt in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.


‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ (1948)

With a Metascore of 98, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre by director John Huston set the benchmark for Westerns. Its restrained, uncomplicated camera work and the slow burn towards total uneasiness have been referenced by numerous directors.

Stanley Kubrick named The Treasure of the Sierra Madre his fourth favorite film of all time and mirrored its dramatic ending in his movie The Killing. The protagonist’s (Humphrey Bogart) fedora and unshaven appearance were borrowed by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to create the character of Indiana Jones. Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood utilizes the movie’s theme of the corrupting influence of greed. And the climax of David Fincher’s Panic Room uses imagery similar to that of Huston.

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‘Breathless’ (1960)

The crime drama Breathless (French: À bout de souffle) by director Jean-Luc Godard — along with François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows — brought international attention to new styles of French filmmaking, including the then-unconventional use of jump cuts and breaking the fourth wall.

Jim McBride made a remake in 1983 but works by fellow directors Jim Jarmusch (Stranger Than Paradise), Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde), Martin Scorsese (Mean Streets), and Steven Soderbergh (Schizopolis) have all looked to Godard’s New Wave classic for inspiration.

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‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ (1966)

Extreme close-ups, expansive wide angles, tight editing, and Ennio Morricone’s score make Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Italian: Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo) a masterpiece. Leone’s depiction of the Wild West as brutal, morally ambiguous, and populated with antiheroes resonated with audiences and future directors alike.

Leone has been a dominant influence in Quentin Tarantino’s movies. Indeed, Tarantino cites The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as “the most influential to me in my work,” calling it “the greatest achievement in the history of cinema.” Tarantino paid homage to the film in Reservoir Dogs’ standoff scene and hired Morricone to produce the soundtrack to his later film, The Hateful Eight. The works of Robert Zemeckis, Sam Raimi, and Robert Rodriguez have also been inspired by The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

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‘Pather Panchali’ (1955)

Making his directorial debut with Pather Panchali, Satyajit Ray created a brutally honest, humanist portrayal of 1920s life in an impoverished rural Bengali village. In making the film, Ray was himself influenced by Italian director Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist movie Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette) (1948).

The beauty and pathos of Pather Panchali inspired Wes Anderson’s preoccupation with India, evident in his film The Darjeeling Limited. In a 2007 interview with the Indian newspaper, The Statesman, Anderson relayed that he’d dedicated Darjeeling to the Bengali director. Christopher Nolan has called Pather Panchali “one of the best films ever made. It is an extraordinary piece of work.” And Akira Kurosawa has said, somewhat poetically, that “Not to have seen the cinema of Satyajit Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.”

‘Battleship Potemkin’ (1925)

A silent film now almost one hundred years old, Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (Russian: Bronenosets Potemkin), a dramatization of the mutiny on the titular Imperial Russian Navy ship, has been referenced by many contemporary directors, especially the iconic Odessa Steps scene.

The Odessa Steps scene was recreated by Terry Gilliam in Brazil, Brian De Palma in The Untouchables, and George Lucas in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, as well as being parodied by Woody Allen in Bananas and Love and Death.

‘Citizen Kane’ (1941)

A quadruple-threat writer, producer, director, and star Orson Welles made his directorial debut with Citizen Kane at the age of 25. With it, Welles unleashed an array of cinematic innovations from the movie’s pieced-together flashback narrative structure to its deep-focus camera work that contributed to the movie’s rare Metascore of a 100, indicating universal acclaim.

The list of directors who have admired and emulated Citizen Kane is long. John Huston used similar cinematography in The Maltese Falcon and copied its long takes in The Asphalt Jungle; David Lean adopted Welles’ narrative approach in Lawrence of Arabia. Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia are often compared to Citizen Kane in terms of their complex plot structures, told via multiple characters. For Martin Scorsese, the titular Charles Foster Kane influenced Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in The Godfather and Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) in Raging Bull. Kenneth Branagh (Death on the Nile) has called the movie “Cinema aspiring to great art, political import — and delivered with unabashed showmanship.”

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