As an actor, immersing yourself in the world of cinema is not only a source of entertainment but also a valuable learning experience. Watching exceptional films allows you to observe the mastery of storytelling, performances, and filmmaking techniques. In this article, we have curated a list of the Top 15 Films Every Actor Should Watch to gain insight, inspiration, and appreciation for the art of acting. To get you started, we polled 15 industry experts from cinema, television, and theatre to find out what they thought was the most crucial film for a working actor to see. Their selections varied from time-honored classics such as “The Godfather” to more contemporary releases such as “Whiplash”—and even “WALL-E.”
List Of Top 15 Films Every Actor Should Watch
“Sophie’s Choice” (1982)
Sophie’s Choice should be the first choice of the film every actor should watch. The picture has a frightening power that penetrates the core of everything human. The film’s outstanding acting captures such genuine reality that it serves as an invaluable education in character and script analysis. Joanne worked with Peter MacNicol on “The Ponder Heart,” and despite the fact that she made great friends with him and is extremely familiar with him, she still marvels at his outstanding portrayal as Stingo in this remarkable picture. His innocence, sweetness, and depth of feeling, combined with Meryl Streep’s tragic portrayal, make this a must-see picture. — Owners of the Baron Brown Studio, Joanne Baron and D.W. Brown
Without a doubt, every actor should watch “Whiplash.” First and foremost, because of the acting. Miles Teller’s performance is as captivating, complicated, and enthralling as J.K. Simmons’, for which he earned an Oscar. Second, because the ideas raised in the film resonate with the performers. How much longer must you suffer? How much are you willing to give up for success? When does it become excessive? Is it necessary to be battered down in order to create great art? Do you need to discover a teacher that will push you to your limits? Is it necessary to literally bleed in order to achieve excellence? It’s a film that will make artists consider how to be true to themselves while pursuing their artistic dreams. ― Michelle Danner, proprietor of Michelle Danner.
“The Godfather” (1972)
Every actor should see “The Godfather,” since it was shot without special effects and features a collection of many of our time’s best actors giving the performances of their life. It’s also a film that’s wonderfully filmed, rich of tradition and culture, but also laced with a lot of danger and anxiety. While there is minimal overt action and violence, the audience is enthralled and riveted by the story’s realism and superb acting. It’s a work of art. ― David Patrick Green, Hack Hollywood founder
Every professional actor should watch “The Godfather” twice. The entire piece is a masterclass in outstanding acting. — Pearlman Acting Academy was founded by Joseph Pearlman, an acting coach based in Los Angeles.
“Iron Will” (1994) and “Patch Adams” (1998)
The topic of what film should every actor see is intriguing. There are many exceptional films in cinema history, with numerous outstanding topics and performances. I propose a variety of films to my acting students, some generic and some unique to the actor. My pick for the film that every actor should see is a tie between “Patch Adams” and “Iron Will.”
“Iron Will” stars Kevin Spacey and tells the story of a young man who sacrifices everything to attain his dream. It’s motivating for anyone with a dream, especially actors who understand the analogy. Then “Patch Adams” since one of the key topics is excessive happiness. Actors have one of the most difficult occupations in the world. They have auditions and they don’t have auditions. They get callbacks but don’t get the part. However, if you can enjoy every minute of what you’re doing, you’ll get far further towards their goals. Happiness is contagious. – Ken Feinberg, Creative Studios of Atlanta’s founder and CEO
“The Hours” (2002)
Watch or re-watch “The Hours,” Stephen Daldry’s brilliant adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s exquisite novel. Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Toni Collette, Ed Harris, Allison Janney, Claire Danes, John C. Reilly, and a slew of other A-listers expertly navigate three time periods, multiple acting styles, plot explosions both large and small, personal, period, and contemporary dialogue, and an emotional truth prism. Streep delivers one of the best on-screen anxiety attacks in film history, a masterclass in nuance, restraint, humour, fear, and empathy. (“The Hours” also boasts a million-dollar aesthetic and a wonderful, melancholy score by Philip Glass.) — Atlanta-based specialist Clifton Guterman
“The Grapes of Wrath” (1940)
As an acting coach, I highly recommend the 1940 classic “The Grapes of Wrath.” It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best director (John Ford) and best actress (Jane Darwell, who played Ma Joad brilliantly). It’s difficult to overestimate this flick. Every actor can benefit from Henry Fonda’s simple, subtle voice and vivid internal life, which resulted in an amazing clarity of performance. Whether he’s speaking or not, we always know what he’s thinking. Darwell’s Ma Joad is a stunning study in strength and love that frequently moves beyond words. The rest of the ensemble is fantastic as well, especially John Carradine as Jim Casy, Charlie Grapewin as Grandpa, and John Qualen as Muley Bates.Its tale is pertinent to today’s migrants and marginalised people worldwide. — Philip Hernández, an audition coach based in New York City
“Captains Courageous” (1937)
I’d like to provide a film for each decade dating back 100 years, but that’s not what you asked, is it? So I’ll go with “Captains Courageous,” starring Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore, and Freddie Bartholomew as a child. Where this story begins is miles from where it finishes, thanks to Rudyard Kipling’s writing and Victor Fleming’s direction (who later went on to helm “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz”). It does not let you down. It’s entirely unexpected. Tracy received his first Academy Award nomination for best actor for this film. He had a terrible perm and an even worse Portuguese accent, but he was fantastic in this role. This film also received Oscar nominations for best picture, best editing, and best writing. And, like all great work, it has stood the test of time, even after 80 years. I dare you to seek it out and experience this great film for yourself. Excellent work. — Kate McClanaghan is a casting director working in Los Angeles.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966)
I don’t believe you can be an actor until you are intimately familiar with this film. After this, I believe everyone in Hollywood could have packed their belongings and left. I believe we could have ceased creating films! This film was executed flawlessly. Edward Albee is a master of dialogue, and this film’s casting was fantastic. Sandy Dennis is magnificent, and Elizabeth Taylor demonstrates why she was known as the “Queen of Motion Pictures.” The studio refused to recruit her for the picture because she was too young. She assured them that she would deliver, and she did! This film is required viewing for Killian’s Workshop. Killian McHugh is a commercial casting director and the owner of Killian’s Workshop and Actor’s Gym.
“All About Eve” (1950)
It’s the classic film about acting and theatre. It’s astute, witty, sharp, amusing, and devastating all at the same time. — JV Mercanti, director of acting for Pace University’s School of the Arts’ musical theatre programme.
I exited the theatre amazed at how much I could feel from a film about a little robot who only says two words the entire time. I’ve never seen a better example of showing rather than telling. As actors, you must constantly remind yourselves that it is not about you. It’s all about the plot. Everything we do should be done to further the story. — Shaan Sharma, a session director based in Los Angeles
“The Apartment” (1960)
It’s a lesson in both simplicity and how playing love in a scene is always more intriguing than playing wrath or the victim. Jack Lemmon’s acting is effortless; he flows and lets the script do the heavy lifting. Shirley MacLaine could easily play the bimbo, but instead she plays a lady desperate for love, which draws you right into her portrayal. You develop feelings for her. — Douglas Taurel, an actor-producer located in New York City
“The Conversation” (1974)
Some people dislike action or thriller films, so informing them that Gene Hackman’s “The Conversation” is a must-see would be a waste of time. Many others who enjoy such genres would never view a 1974 picture, despite the fact that it is one of the best they would ever see. It comes down to personal preference and curiosity.
Filmmaking has evolved significantly over the years, but one constant has been the sincere passion of great filmmaking vs the lazy rush of popular cultural schism. If you’re of the latter mind, see something from Marvel or DC, but don’t expect to have much of a conversation with any of the world’s genuinely great directors, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of film history and technique will considerably transcend yours.
If, on the other hand, you are interested in fantastic pictures by seminal directors, you will seek out your own “must-see” films by researching key filmmaking trends such as Italian Neo-Realism, French New Wave, Dogme 95, and New Hollywood. ― Paul Barry, acting teacher and creator of Acting 4 Camera in Los Angeles
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975)
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is an unforgettable film based on the novel by Ken Kesey. Jack Nicholson delivers a powerhouse performance as Randle McMurphy, a patient in a mental institution who rebels against authority. The film delves into themes of individualism, oppression, and the human spirit. Actors can study Nicholson’s exceptional portrayal of a charismatic and rebellious character, his ability to convey a wide range of emotions, and his mastery of screen presence.
“Taxi Driver” (1976)
“Taxi Driver,” directed by Martin Scorsese, features Robert De Niro in a captivating and haunting performance as Travis Bickle, a disillusioned and mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran. The film delves into themes of isolation, alienation, and moral decay. De Niro’s portrayal of Travis Bickle is a masterclass in character transformation and psychological depth. Aspiring actors can study his ability to convey inner turmoil, subtle facial expressions, and the portrayal of a troubled and complex protagonist.
Raging Bull” (1980)
“Raging Bull,” directed by Martin Scorsese, is a biographical drama that showcases Robert De Niro’s transformative performance as boxer Jake LaMotta. De Niro’s dedication to the role, both physically and emotionally, is awe-inspiring. The film delves into the psyche of its protagonist, exploring themes of self-destruction and redemption. Aspiring actors can study De Niro’s commitment to his craft, his portrayal of complex emotions, and the physicality he brings to the character.