Joseph McBride

Film historian and professor

Voted for

The Magnificent Ambersons1942Orson Welles
Wagon Master1950John Ford
Trouble in Paradise1932Ernst Lubitsch
Tokyo Story1953Yasujirō Ozu
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans1927F.W. Murnau
A Star Is Born1954George Cukor
7 Women1965John Ford
Avanti!1972Billy Wilder
The Thin Blue Line1988Errol Morris
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND1970-2018Orson Welles


The Magnificent Ambersons

1942 USA

Quite possibly the greatest film ever made before RKO started hacking it up, Ambersons is still my favourite film. Capturing the dark essence of my native Midwest, this film about a rich boy killing his mother and destroying his family as his town falls apart looks like no other film; Welles directed in the freshest and most innovative of styles. And as this list shows, I feel protective toward a film maudit. Welles adapted the novel by Booth Tarkington.

Wagon Master

1950 USA

My ideal film – going out in the desert with a little money and only eight wagons, a few horses, and a small group of friends to celebrate both pioneers and Native Americans while decrying intolerance against them and some raffish show folk. Screenplay by Frank S. Nugent and Patrick Ford.

Trouble in Paradise

1932 USA

A perfect film and the ultimate romantic comedy, the epitome of Lubitsch’s style. The bittersweet, graceful farewell from Kay Francis to Herbert Marshall is sublime; you can’t choose between Francis and the equally appealing Miriam Hopkins. Screenplay by Samson Raphaelson, adaptation by Grover Jones, from the play A Becsuletes Megtalalo/The Honest Finder by Aladár László.

Tokyo Story

1953 Japan

It’s hard to pick one film by Ozu and his writing collaborator Kôgo Noda, but this sublime masterpiece sums up their work. The ultimate movie about the consolations and debacles of family life, in which all viewers will see themselves. And it has the most profound dialogue exchange in cinema: “Isn’t life disappointing? – Yes; it is.”

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

1927 USA

The summit of the new art form, reached near the end of the silent period thanks to a German master working in Hollywood. Since then, in so many ways, it’s been a downhill road for American filmmaking. Screenplay by Carl Mayer, from the story Die Reise nach Tilsit/The Trip to Tilsit by Hermann Sudermann.

A Star Is Born

1954 USA

Another mutilated masterpiece, Cukor’s harrowing but visually dazzling musical about the temptations and pitfalls of show business shows how the alluring dream can descend into nightmare. James Mason and Judy Garland give soul-baring, career-best performances. Screenplay by Moss Hart, based on the 1937 screenplay by Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell.

7 Women

1965 USA

John Ford’s farewell to the art form of which he was the consummate master is as bleak an apocalyptic vision (“So long, ya bastard”) as the cinema has given us. Although scorned by myopic reviewers and audiences in its native land (Ford told me: “It was over their heads”), 7 Women keeps growing in stature. Screenplay by Janet Green and John McCormick, based on the short story Chinese Finale by Norah Lofts.


1972 USA, Italy

Wilder and writing partner I.A.L. Diamond offered a richly modern Lubitschean romantic comedy in an inopportune time when love and sex were considered antithetical. Their joyous comedy about defiance of death and celebration of the humanistic values of the past has stood the test of time. Based on the play Avanti! Or a Very Uncomplicated Girl by Samuel Taylor.

The Thin Blue Line

1988 USA, United Kingdom

Morris’s hauntingly poetic meditation on a monstrous but all-too-common injustice in the 'hell on earth' of Dallas, Texas freed a man unjustly convicted to life in prison, while also expanding our view of the scope of the documentary genre.



Welles’s artistic testament – on which I, along with numerous others, laboured for decades – is still ahead of its time in its daring experimental approach to cinematic storytelling (with endlessly inventive cinematography by Gary Graver). This trenchant deconstruction of the world of filmmaking (and of what Welles called Hollywood’s “Twilight in the Smog”) is a cautionary tale I failed to heed when I began acting in Other Wind during my first week in Hollywood. Screenplay by Welles and Oja Kodar.

Further remarks

Rather than crediting only directors, I made a point of also crediting the writers of these films

and their source material.