Most people who love making films have their favorites that made them want to enter the profession. Though many great films have been made, some stand out for their sheer brilliance. For film students or those who want to learn filmmaking, these are the top classic movies to watch.

Rear Window

A macabre crime thriller by the esteemed Alfred Hitchcock, the 1954 movie “Rear Window” offers a complete overview of all types of interpersonal and romantic relationships. All of this action is observed by the main protagonist, a wheelchair-bound photographer. It’s a study in human curiosity and voyeurism.

Citizen Kane

On just about every list of must-see movies, “Citizen Kane” is mentioned. By director Orson Welles, who was only 25 years old when it was made, it’s still as fresh as it was back in 1941. Another icon of film, Martin Scorsese, recommends the film as well, calling Welles a “force of nature”. Things to pay attention to include the film’s narrative structure, its cinematography, and its music. There’s overlapping dialogue, deep focus, rear projection, and close-up shots. For anyone who is interested in how films are assembled, it’s a masterclass.

The Third Man

“The Third Man” is on the list of films the New York Film Academy recommends watching before going to film school. It’s the ultimate lesson in film noir and the score is especially notable. The contrast of the jaunty yet humorless sound sets the tone. Welles appears in this film made eight years after his mainstream debut in Citizen Kane.

Taxi Driver

Scorsese enters the dark and twisted mind of a war veteran in the New York City slums in the classic 1976 movie “Taxi Driver”. The mentally unstable central character is brought to life by Robert De Niro. The movie was nominated a number of Oscars and changed film for good. It made the careers of both Scorsese and De Niro, who would go on to collaborate in future work. The movie examines themes such as corruption and decay, as well as loneliness, in particular, urban isolation. New York City is a character on its own, dirty, impersonal and violent. The shots of crowds emphasize this, each character in their own world, going in their own direction.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Color cinematography came into its own in the 1960s. Stanley Kubrick took the new technology and created “2001: A Space Odyssey”. His use of color, especially red, to ratchet up tension is especially notable. The film has little dialogue, yet manages to be impactful. Its execution, unique storyline, and the iconic shots all caused it to go down in film history. This was a beautiful film that was like no other space or science fiction movie ever made.

While the classic era of filmmaking has plenty to recommend it, more modern films also have their benefits as techniques developed and matured. In part two of this series, modern movies that film students should watch will be explored.