John Carpenter’s Top 10

John Carpenter’s Top10

John Carpenter is an award-winning writer, director, and composer. Born in Kentucky, he studied film at the University of Southern California before making Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13. An internationally renowned master of the horror genre, Carpenter spawned the iconic Halloween movie franchise, as well as such classics as The Fog, Escape from New York, They Live, Christine, Starman, and Prince of Darkness. In addition to composing the music for his films, Carpenter has released a series of stand-alone albums in recent years (including the upcoming Lost Themes IV: Noir), made in collaboration with his son Cody Carpenter and his godson Daniel Davies.

Photo by Sophie Gransard

Apr 30, 2024
  • 1

    Billy Wilder

    Double Indemnity

    This is a legendary noir. I first saw it in the midseventies at a Billy Wilder festival in Los Angeles, alongside a number of his other films. I immediately fell in love with his directing style, especially in the early movies.

    Fred MacMurray, cast against type, stars as a doomed guy who falls for Barbara Stanwyck. She is really something in this movie with her blond wig. And of course, in classic noir fashion, they get together and murder her husband. The whole movie is just so moody. I just fell in love with it and thought, people don’t make ’em like this anymore. I want to see my darkness and my doomed characters on-screen!

  • 2

    Carol Reed

    The Third Man

    Oh, come on! You can’t get better than this movie. It’s essentially an international crime thriller, but it really has all the elements of a noir film. There’s an accident, a man is killed, and the third man turns out to be the bad guy, played by Orson Welles. The chase scenes in the sewers of Vienna are astonishing, and the use of shadows is brilliant and inspiring. It’s just an incredible movie, and once I start watching it I can’t stop—even though that zither drives me nuts.

  • 3

    Robert Siodmak

    The Killers

    All of Robert Siodmak’s films are great, but I really love his version of The Killers. It’s just fabulous. I love watching Burt Lancaster; he was the greatest. What an actor . . . and also a very nice man. His chemistry with Ava Gardner is unforgettable.

    Noirs like this, both their cinematic qualities and their evocative titles, inspire me a great deal. I’m in awe of this genre, which was born after the war and captured a feeling that hadn’t previously existed in cinema. I don’t know how widely beloved noir is nowadays, because audiences love happy endings—and some of these endings are really downers—but it’s all very attractive to me.

  • 4

    Robert Aldrich

    Kiss Me Deadly

    I love that opening scene with Cloris Leachman running down the highway. And Ralph Meeker’s performance. Just all of it! This film was really daring for its day, with its combination of a radioactive atomic drama with a crime thriller.

    Although it was based on a novel by the pulp writer Mickey Spillane, director Robert Aldrich didn’t want to stick too closely to the source. But one thing he was faithful to was “the great whatsit,” which is what they call the mysterious case that the atomic particle is kept in.

    I’d love to remake Kiss Me Deadly in some way, but I don’t even know if that would be possible. It has such a contemporary energy, but it’s ultimately so tied to the time in which it was made.

  • 5

    Howard Hawks

    Only Angels Have Wings

    Howard Hawks has always been a big influence on me and my work, and Only Angels Have Wings is my favorite movie of all time. What do I love about it? Everything. If you sit down and watch it and you don’t love it, then you can just forget Howard Hawks. Everything about him as a filmmaker is here: the relationships between men and women, the adventure, the mystery, the pleasure.

    Generally, Hawks made two kinds of movies. There are the dramas about daring men doing various adventurous things. Then there are the comedies, in which he takes his hero (usually played by Cary Grant) and humiliates him or brings out his goofier side, as when he dresses Grant in a nightgown in Bringing Up Baby. Only Angels Have Wings is unique in that it’s a movie in which men—in this case, pilots—risk their lives every day, with every flight, while darkness is all around them. They have their own codes and their own ideas of bravery.

  • 6

    Alfred Hitchcock


    It is impossible to not love Hitchcock. He was a master of cinema—we all know this! Of course he had an influence on me, and a lot of us in my generation who went to film school got to meet him. He showed up, and he talked to us.

    My favorite Hitchcock film will always be Vertigo, but Spellbound is so visually stunning. It fits right in here with all the other films on my list.

  • 7

    Alfred Hitchcock


    I also really love Rebecca. It has an incredible atmosphere of psychological unease that really appeals to me. It stars Joan Fontaine, and I’m fascinated by her. She gives a fantastic performance.

  • 8

    Michelangelo Antonioni


    This movie has such a particular mood and feeling that is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. I love it and admire Antonioni very much.

    Blow-Up is about questioning what’s real and what’s not. Both the viewer and the character wonder if there was really a murder in the park. And it’s all summarized in that final scene when we watch the mime troupe playing tennis with a ball that’s imaginary—and yet we hear it. It’s so weird but so great.

  • 9

    Billy Wilder

    Ace in the Hole

    What an incredible movie—and talk about a downer! It’s a treatise on human nature and a really tough movie, but it’s so great. Who could not be taken with Kirk Douglas in this? The real-life incident that Ace in the Hole was based on actually happened near where I grew up in Kentucky.

  • 10

    David Cronenberg

    Dead Ringers

    David Cronenberg is a friend of mine. His approach to his movies is very intellectual. He’s always thought everything out. I find Dead Ringers, with those horrible instruments and Jeremy Irons’s great dual performance, to actually be very funny. It all really works!