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From Kubrick to Polanski: A list of the Coen Brothers' 30 favourite films

Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, more commonly known collectively as the directorial duo Coen Brothers, are a filmmaking duo whose genre-melding style has resulted in numerous critically acclaimed feature films and worldwide appreciation that few can match.

Their work, ranging from the likes of Miller’s CrossingFargoThe Big LebowskiNo Country for Old MenTrue Grit and, most recently, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, has displayed the creative duo’s ability to play between the lines of different cinematic themes and genres with seamless fluidity and enviable authenticity. It makes their own preferred watch list of films an essential curriculum for any budding filmmaker. Luckily, we have just that as we gather up the Coen Brothers’ 30 favourite films.

“People are always curious about brothers working together,” Ethan Coen once said, before adding: “We don’t outline, so we don’t have prospective tasks to divide up. It’s just, we start at the beginning and talk the first scene through, write it up, proceed to the next,” with an air of simplicity which doesn’t match up to the 13 Academy Award nominations the duo have earned, the Brothers are certainly one of the greatest directorial duos of all time.

Joel, more bluntly, is pleased to move away from the never-ending discussion about how the pair work as a creative entity: “I’d be perfectly happy never to have to answer anything again about how I work with Ethan, or whether we have arguments, or… you know what I mean? I’ve been answering those questions for 20 years. I suppose it’s interesting to people.” It’s hard not to see why the intrigue of two brothers working in tandem in a role usually occupied by a single person and perhaps that their discouragement may garner more as their career continues to evolve.

While the tiresome discussions about how Joel and Ethan work together will certainly drag on, the brothers have been more than happy to talk cinema and, more specifically, the types of film that have had a lasting impression on their own vision. Having been raised in a suburb of Minneapolis, a young Joel saved money that he made by mowing lawns to buy his first Super 8 camera, from there the Coen Brothers began to remake films around their home.

While the duo remain keen cinephiles, neither Ethan nor Joel has sat down to create a solid list of films which they would consider their ‘all-time favourites’—despite the huge amount of interest. That said, IMDb has managed to piece together a mountain of interviews conducted by the duo to forge a solid selection of 30 pictures that the filmmaking duo hold dearly.

Despite Joel Coen once stating: “In regards to whether our background influences our film making … who knows? We don’t think about it … There’s no doubt that our Jewish heritage affects how we see things,” there’s a clear pattern that follows.

The list pays homage to some big players of classic cinema including Roman Polanski, Stanley Kubrick, and Sergio Leone as well as some more contemporary pieces.

It makes for a perfect must-see list.

The Coen Brothers’ 30 favourite films:

  1. Dr. Strangelove – Stanley Kubrick, 1964.
  2. Chinatown – Roman Polanski, 1974.
  3. Repulsion – Roman Polanski, 1965.
  4. The Tenant – Roman Polanski, 1976.
  5. Rosemary’s Baby – Roman Polanski, 1968.
  6. Knife in the Water – Roman Polanski, 1962.
  7. The Palm Beach Story – Preston Sturges, 1942.
  8. High and Low – Akira Kurosawa, 1963.
  9. The Bad News Bears – Michael Ritchie, 1976.
  10. Dames – Ray Enright, Busby Berkeley, 1934.
  11. Where Eagles Dare – Brian G. Hutton, 1968.
  12. The Fortune – Mike Nichols, 1975.
  13. Brother’s Keeper – Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 1992.
  14. Il Bidone – Federico Fellini, 1955.
  15. Salesman – Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin, 1969.
  16. Once Upon a Time in the West – Sergio Leone, 1968.
  17. The Outlaw Josey Wales – Clint Eastwood, 1976.
  18. Greaser’s Palace – Robert Downey Sr., 1972.
  19. ‘Doc’ – Frank Perry, 1971.
  20. The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean – John Huston, 1972.
  21. The Guns of Navarone – J. Lee Thompson, 1961.
  22. The American Friend – Wim Wenders, 1977.
  23. Boeing, Boeing – John Rich, 1965.
  24. That Touch of Mink – Delbert Mann, 1962.
  25. A Global Affair – Jack Arnold, 1964.
  26. Pillow Talk – Michael Gordon, 1959.
  27. The Chapman Report – George Cukor, 1962.
  28. Detour – Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945.
  29. Tarzan’s New York Adventure – Richard Thorpe, 1942.
  30. Easy Rider – Dennis Hopper, 1969.