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Must-Watch Movies: A Guide for Tomorrow's Filmmakers

A graphic of a group of people on a set demonstrating a guide for tomorrow’s filmmakers

"I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse."

"I’ll have what she’s having."

"Here’s looking at you, kid."

Lines like these are instantly recognizable to most cinephiles, but have you seen all the movies they’re from? If not, you’re missing more than pop culture references. A thorough film education can transform your relationship with the medium — whether you’re a budding film buff or getting ready to enter the industry professionally.

50 Movies You Should Watch as a Film Student

Five industry professionals from the Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) community shared a list of essential movies for aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers to study. They include favorites that inspired each of their careers and movies that will teach you about the art of cinema.

Michael Amundsen  

Michael Amundsen, a screenwriting instructor at SNHUAn editor, screenwriter, director and documentarian, Michael Amundsen also teaches courses for the screenwriting concentration of SNHU’s master’s in English and creative writing. He's worked as an apprentice, assistant and then full editor on films like "Witness" (1985), "The Color Purple" (1985), "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" (1985) and "Midnight Run” (1988).

If you’re interested in learning more about cinema, Amundsen said to start by studying traditional Hollywood feature films, like:

  • "The Apartment" (1960)
  • "It Happened One Night" (1934)
  • "Quiz Show" (1994)
  • "Citizen Kane" (1941)
  • "Network" (1976)
  • "L.A. Confidential" (1997)

He said these films are especially worth studying:

A blue and white icon of a movie camera
  • "Tender Mercies" (1983)
    "Simplicity is deceptive," Amundsen said. "There is nothing harder to do than simplicity." This Oscar-winning screenplay by playwright Horton Foote is unique because of how spare its dialogue is, according to Amundsen.

  • "The Godfather" (1972)
    "Coppola and the Godfather movies were big influences on me for deciding to pursue filmmaking," he said. "The early 70s was a great time for American films that challenged the status quo."

When it comes to his favorite movies, Amundsen listed:

  • "Planet of the Apes" (1968)
  • "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1969)
  • "The Virgin Spring" (1960)

He noted that out of all these films, Ingmar Bergman’s "The Virgin Spring" had the most significant impact on his sensibilities.

Lauren A. Forry  

Lauren A. Forry, an MFA instructor at SNHUAn instructor of SNHU's Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing, Lauren A. Forry has interned for the Tribeca Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival and worked in assistant roles on movies, including “The Happening” (2008), “The Last Airbender” (2010) and “Limitless” (2011). She’s also an author with three mystery/thriller novels published and a fourth on the way.

These movies, she said, can teach you some valuable lessons about screenwriting:

  • "Up" (2009)
    "'Up' can teach you about traditional three-act structure and traditional storytelling — how to develop complex characters with strong internal conflicts, how to develop and present a clear theme, how to use external conflict to drive the plot," she said.

  • "Fight Club" (1999)
    According to Forry, "Fight Club" is the perfect movie to teach you how to adapt a novel for the screen.

  • "Anatomy of a Fall" (2023)
    "'Anatomy of a Fall' can teach you how to structure a movie outside of the traditional three-act structure and how to create strong subtext in character dialogue that relates to both the story’s plot as well as its theme,” Forry said.

As for her personal favorites? As a child of the 80s and 90s, she said these hits were among her favorites:

A blue and white icon of a director's slate
  • "The Little Mermaid" (1989)
  • "Ghostbusters" (1984)
  • "Back to the Future" (1985)
  • "Jurassic Park" (1993)
  • "Independence Day" (1996)

She said one 80s flick, in particular, was hugely influential for her career:

  • "Clue" (1985)
    "The 'Clue' movie was in constant rotation at our house and very much influenced my love for writing murder mysteries," she said.

Cynthia Savaglio  

Cynthia Savaglio, a screenwriting teacher at SNHUIn addition to teaching screenwriting at SNHU, Cynthia Savaglio is a film and television writer who has worked on projects for NBC, HBO Films and A&E Networks. She’s also written and produced independent films and has done promotional work in the industry.

Savaglio broke down her choices according to what each recommendation can teach you.

If you want to learn how to become a writer for the screen, it’s vital to learn how movies are structured. For learning the three-act structure, Savaglio said to study:

  • "Chinatown" (1974)
  • "The Verdict" (1982)

For learning the five-act structure, she recommended a well-loved romantic comedy:

  • "When Harry Met Sally" (1989)

To learn a two-act structure, Savaglio suggested Stanley Kubrick’s film about the Vietnam War:

  • "Full Metal Jacket" (1987)

Next, she offered a few more categorized recommendations for learning specific types of genres. For example, to learn the ins and outs of drama, she said to watch:

  • "Boyz n the Hood" (1991)
  • "The Big Short" (2015)

For science-fiction or horror, she recommended:

  • "Alien" (1979)
  • "Cloverfield" (2008)

To learn how to write original plots, she recommended a newer hit:

  • "Everything Everywhere All at Once" (2022)

In terms of Savaglio's favorites, she said many movies inspired and continue to inspire her, including:

A blue and white megaphone icon
  • "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962)
  • "Barbie" (2023)
  • "A Man for All Seasons" (1966)

But, her biggest inspiration wasn't a movie at all. "What really inspired me to want to become a screenwriter was an autobiographical book, not a film," Savaglio said. "It was William Goldman’s 'Adventures in the Screenwriting Trade.'"

Andrew Boutselis  

Andrew Boutselis, a 2015 bachelor's in communication SNHU graduateA graduate who combined professional experience with his bachelor’s in communication to get his start in film, Andrew Boutselis 15 has always been a fan of movies. In 2017, he started writing and producing short films. He's worked as a location scout for Netflix as well for locations for film and television on "Transformers 7" (2021),  "Pose" (2020-21), "The Watcher" (2021), "Suspicion" (2021), "Manifest" (2022) and "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (2023). Recently, he created his own production company, Studio 9A, which creates video content for nonprofits.

To learn more about filmmaking, Boutselis recommended watching:

  • "Taxi Driver" (1976)
    "'Taxi Driver' is a rite of passage for any hungry young filmmaker," Boutselis said. "It is a masterclass in character study and getting an audience to understand and ultimately sympathize with an unconventional and ultimately unlikeable protagonist."

  • "Yi Yi" (2020)
    Boutselis said this Taiwanese coming-of-age story transcends age and cultural boundaries. "It can show a filmmaker that the story of a film isn’t just about the destination of the characters or resolution, but just being along with them for the journey," he said.

  • "Apocalypse Now" (1979)
    According to Boutselis, director Francis Ford Coppola nearly lost it all making this film. "The result is nothing short of a spectacle," he said. "The set pieces, practical effects, and commitment to one character’s painful journey into darkness can teach a filmmaker to be relentless and unwavering in the commitment to their vision."

  • "Breathless" (1960)
    Boutselis said "Breathless" can teach you how to successfully break conventions. "It challenges conventional narrative filmmaking and shows a filmmaker that you don’t need to follow any rules in crafting your piece," he said.

The filmmaking duo Joel and Ethan Coen, known in the industry as the Coen Brothers, are behind some favorites that inspired his filmmaking path. For example:
A blue and white icon of a director's chair

  • "Fargo" (1996)
  • "The Big Lebowski" (1998)
  • "Raising Arizona" (1987)

If you intend to become a filmmaker, Boutselis emphasized the importance of immersing yourself in the world of storytelling. “You need to make sure you’re taking time to consume the arts if you want to make art,” he said.

Like Savaglio, he also recommended looking outside the medium of film for further education and inspiration.

Casey LaMarca 

Casey LaMarca, assistant creative director at SNHU and 2019 master's in communication SNHU graduateAn assistant creative director, Casey LaMarca ‘19G earned his master’s in communication from SNHU where he currently works and also teaches "Intro to Video Production" and "Documentary Filmmaking." LaMarca was a CBS Radio film critic for over a decade and has spent 15 years as a video professional with experience in screenwriting, directing, producing and editing.

His recommendations include:

  • "Casablanca" (1942)
    First, LaMarca recommended an iconically quotable classic. "When lines from a film stay within our cultural discourse over 80 years later, that's the power of screenwriting," he said.

  • "Sunset Boulevard" (1950)
    This film, about a former movie star who sucks a screenwriter into her world, first made LaMarca want to become a writer.

  • "Some Like It Hot" (1959)
    If you want to write comedy, he suggested this favorite starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon.

  • "All the President’s Men” (1976)
    LaMarca called "All the President's Men" one of the most influential screenplays of the century. "There's probably no (Aaron) Sorkin or movies like 'Spotlight' (2015) without this all-time classic," he said.

  • "Pulp Fiction" (1994)
    According to LaMarca, Quentin Tarantino broke down barriers with this crime thriller. "It's required viewing if you ever want to pursue screenwriting," he said.

  • "Being John Malkovich" (1999)
    This movie by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman oozes with uniqueness and creativity. "If you're the type of person who wants to write with absolutely no rules, this film is for you," LaMarca said.

  • "Memento" (2001)
    Christopher Nolan’s “Memento” is a masterclass in writing non-linear narratives, according to LaMarca.

  • "Lost in Translation" (2003)
    This screenplay is so spectacular, LaMarca said, because of how it interweaves with its setting.

  • "The Social Network" (2010)
    "The dialogue in this film is a drug," said LaMarca. "Addicting, intoxicating, and absolutely electric."

  • "Call Me by Your Name" (2017)
    LaMarca called this film devastatingly beautiful, noting that one monologue from the movie changed his perspective on life.

As for movies that inspired his film career, he pointed to just one:

  • "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (2003)
    "I walked out of the screening, got in the car with my family, and they asked why I was so quiet," LaMarca said. "It was because I couldn't stop thinking: 'I want to be in film for the rest of my life,'" he said.

How to Get Into the Film Industry

"No matter what aspect of the film industry interests you, there is always going to be this initial barrier to cross," Savaglio said.

So, what’s your next step once you complete your film education? "The best path is the same as every other field," said Boutselis. "Network."

A blue graphic with an icon of two white outlined hands shakingAmundsen, Savaglio, LaMarca and Forry all emphasized the importance of professional networking in the film industry, too. Along those lines, finding a mentor could also be an enormous boost to your career.

"Remember that you’re not in competition with other professionals," Forry said. "I’ve been helped in my career because I’ve tried to be a good, hard-working person that tries to help others when I have the chance."

In addition to film and TV jobs, there are also jobs in new media to consider, like working on video content for YouTube or TikTok. Savaglio suggested looking for internships, fellowships, apprenticeships and volunteer positions to get some initial experience on your resume, and LaMarca recommended creating a professional website to display your work to potential employers.

Finally, when trying to break into the world of film, it’s crucial to be patient and persistent. "It will not happen overnight," said Amundsen. "Don't worry about failure." He repeated a piece of wisdom he once received from a professor: Successful writers are the ones who never gave up.

So, keep watching and creating. Maybe future generations of cinephiles will find themselves quoting your films one day.

Discover more about SNHU’s Master of Arts in English and Creative Writing with a concentration in Screenwriting: Find out what courses you'll take, skills you’ll learn and how to request information about the program.

Mars Girolimon ’21 ’23G is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University where they earned their bachelor’s and master’s, both in English and creative writing. In addition to their work in higher education, Girolimon’s short fiction is published in the North American Review, So It Goes by The Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library, X-R-A-Y and more. To add to this list, they recommended the horror film “Peeping Tom” (1960).

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.