No matter how difficult it is to say, the name of Benedict Cumberbatch has been on everybody’s lips in recent years. Finding worldwide fame through a variety of projects, from TV’s Sherlock Holmes to his starring role in Jane Campion’s recent effort The Power of the Dog, Cumberbatch is one of Hollywood’s hottest tickets right now.
Having achieved such success by being a well-balanced, finely-tuned all-rounder, Cumberbatch is as happy in a comedic space as he is in a dramatic one, appearing as though he was always destined to have a starring role in life. Amid a generation of keenly devoted actors, Cumberbatch can look back to his more prevalent influences and inspirations as the reasoning behind his critical and commercial success. One way of neatly doing that is looking back at the movies that inspired and continue to influence him.
We can trace most of our most cherished life experiences through the art that backdropped those moments. Whether it is our adoration of comic books or the music that was playing during your first kiss, art, in any of its forms, always has a habit of not only sticking in the memories of your past but illuminating the pathways of your future. Described as the movies that Cumberbatch “can’t stop thinking about”, the actor shared six films that live on with him from across his lifetime when speaking to A Frame.
The first of his six selections comes from 1993 and the Jane Campion-directed The Piano, a film that was essential for Cumberbatch’s understanding of his new directorial partner: “It really had a seismic effect on me,” he said. “The last time I saw it was before my first meeting with Jane [Campion], and it’s a transformative experience for a viewer. I remember when I first saw it being blown away by how overloaded sensorially I felt. It felt like five-dimensional movie experience.”
Next up on the actor’s list of incredible films is Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece The Shining. For the Sherlock Holmes actor, it was an awakening artistic moment: “I’m a huge Kubrick fan. The Shining, to me, is such a titanic film in my life. It’s where I really began to understand the cinematic craft [and] the ability of the camera to be not just a witness but an onerous presence.”
For Cumberbatch, the film wasn’t just a good film to entertain the masses but a moment in cinematic history that pointed a mirror both at the horror genre and society at large: “It just took the genre of horror to another level. Yes, it’s got jump scares and elevators of blood and mummified corpses staggering towards you,” he commented. “But it spoke to society about things that were well beyond just being a scare story, that was much to do with the breakdown of the nuclear family and the position of the patriarchy in this new order and capitalism gone wrong and the failures of the American Dream. It is as much about the emotion and psyche of a man and the terror that he then brings to his family, as it was an all-out horror.”
Cumberbatch is clearly an admirer of both the stories cinema tells and the way they are told, picking out Terence Malick’s 1973 film Badlands, Cumberbatch says: “I’m a huge Terrence Malick fan. I think, like Jane and like great filmmakers who integrate nature and landscape, there’s a wonderful philosophy to that, to seeing the detail of us as a species and not just focusing on the human condition. And he manages to do all of it with such elegiac beauty and poetic poise cinematically. He’s a poet of cinema.”
1973 may well have been a rich year for Cumberbatch, as he also picked out Paper Moon, released in the same year. “Paper Moon just blew me away,” the actor confirmed. “The composition of shots, the music, the performances—the naturalism and just how charming and quick and fast and funny and believable that relationship is between Tatum and Ryan [O’Neal]. And giving equal tradeoffs between this small orphan girl and this vagabond, Bible-selling trickster, it’s just magic to watch those two on screen together.”
One film on Cumberbatch’s list that few will take umbrage with is the simply iconic There Will be Blood from Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Daniel Day-Lewis in one of his defining roles. The Dr Strange actor was full of praise for the project and those involved: “Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the all-time greats for me. What he’s managed to tackle thematically in terms of these grandiose themes of capitalism, of love, of the California experience is, both now and before, is extraordinary. With this film, in particular, it’s the isolation of a man, what it is to be a pioneer in that landscape, the risks involved and the great riches that it brought people who dared. And how that wealth corrupts—the great tragedy is whilst he has everything at the end, he’s incapable of love and being loved.”
The final pick from Cumberbatch is another legendary title, Taxi Driver, starring Robert De Niro and directed by Martin Scorsese. For Cumberbatch, the film is a classic piece of cinema: “It’s Scorsese and De Niro and Paul Schrader and Jodie Foster and Cybill Shepherd. And the slo-mo shots of the yellow taxi with that voiceover and steam coming up through the vents in the ground, it is quintessential New York. It transported me to that era. I mean, it is such an incredible feat of cinematography.”
“But at the centre of it is this masterclass,” confirms the actor. “We can talk about Brando and Day-Lewis, but for me, De Niro in this film does something extraordinary. He grabs you by the throat and the heart.”
Benedict Cumberbatch’s favourite films:
- The Piano – Jane Campion
- The Shining – Stanley Kubrick
- Badlands – Terence Malick
- Paper Moon – Peter Bogdanovich
- There Will Be Blood – Paul Thomas Anderson
- Taxi Driver – Martin Scorsese
It’s a list of films positively brimming with heavyweight talent and cultural gravitas. These may not be the films that confirmed Cumberbatch as an icon. However, they certainly played a role in him getting to where he is today. Without these six films, Benedict Cumberbatch would not be living the same life he is today.