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The 50 greatest films of the 1940s

If the 1930s consolidated many of the innovations of cinema that we know and recognise today, then the 1940s built upon such changes with remarkable proficiency, as cinema became a popular art form across the world, even during the Second World War from 1939-1945. 

Ramping up production of their animated classics, Disney followed up their groundbreaking debut feature, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs with the likes of Fantasia and Bambi, whilst Hollywood flourished with romance and the stylish beauty of film noir from Double Indemnity to Casablanca and more. Overseas, European cinema was blossoming too, with Italian neorealism taking off thanks to filmmakers such as Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini who charmed the world with innovative works, Rome, Open City and Bicycle Thieves

Many of these films are still considered to be some of the greatest of all time, consolidating a filmmaking style that would be popularised in the late 20th century. 

From De Sica and Rossellini to Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Carol Reed, Yasujirō Ozu, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the 1940s was famous for a wealth of filmmaking talent. Whilst a list of several hundred could be made to celebrate the cinematic feats of the 1940s, we only had space for just 50. Feast your eyes, below.

The 50 greatest films of the 1940s:

50. Pinocchio (Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, T. Hee, 1940)

Disney enjoyed a marvellous amount of success in the 1940s, as their revolutionary hand-drawn animation style compelled audiences across the world. Pinocchio was the second animated feature film to be released under the Disney name following Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 and remains an utter classic for its spellbinding visual style and timeless story that is being reimagined in two separate films in 2022. 

Telling the story of a living puppet who becomes a real boy with the help of a small cricket, Pinocchio typifies the alluring cinematic magic that Disney has become so famous for.

49. I Walked With A Zombie (Jacques Tourneur, 1943)

A brilliant horror film by Jacques Tourneur, I Walked With A Zombie tells the story of a young nurse who travels to the Caribbean to attend to the sick wife of a plantation owner. However, her experiences in that region make her question her fundamental beliefs.

After watching the performance of voodoo rituals, she becomes convinced that unnatural events are taking place all around her involving the resurrection of the walking dead. While it was rejected at the time, the film is now considered to be one of the greatest of the zombie genre.

48. Drunken Angel (Akira Kurosawa, 1948)

Akira Kurosawa is known as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time for a reason, well-known for his iconic samurai movies Seven Samurai in 1954 and Yojimbo in 1961. Long before this, however, Kurosawa was making crime films, with his 1948 movie Drunken Angel being one of his most underappreciated, telling the story of a drunken doctor with a hot temper who makes friends with a violent gangster.

Starring Takashi Shimura and Toshirô Mifune, Drunken Angel is a thrilling drama and surprising romance that helped to consolidate Kurosawa’s name in world cinema.

47. Spring in a Small Town (Fei Mu, 1948)

Directed by the pre-Communist era filmmaker Fei Mu, this 1948 masterpiece was actually voted the greatest Chinese film in history. Although it was a low-budget production, Spring in a Small Town transcends those concerns.

Featuring just five characters, the film revolves around the struggles of a married couple who are subjected to unforeseen difficulties. The Communist Party rejected the film for its lack of political messaging but it has survived the test of time.

46. Fantasia (James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Ford Beebe Jr., 1940)

Coming shortly after the release of Pinocchio, Fantasia wasn’t exactly a conventional Disney movie, with the film following a collection of animated interpretations of great works of Western classical music. Such short sequences range from strange and abstract fantastical stories as well as supernatural tales that bring on a flurry of psychedelic imagery that is still referenced to this very day.

A masterful feat of animation that is constructed without the need for dialogue, Fantasia brings together some of music’s mightiest names, including Leopold Stokowski, Deems Taylor and The Philadelphia Orchestra.

45. The Killers (Robert Siodmak, 1946)

Ernest Hemingway famously disliked Hollywood’s attempts at adapting his stories for the big screen but this 1946 effort by Robert Siodmak was the only adaptation that Hemingway enjoyed. Based on one of his short stories, this is a film noir classic.

It follows the journey of an insurance investigator who tries to uncover what happened to an ex-boxer who was terminated in a brutal murder, slowly discovering the full picture containing elements of love, deceit, violence and passion.

44. Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)

There were few directors in the 1940s as significant as Alfred Hitchcock, with the iconic British filmmaker having already made Rebecca, Lifeboat and Spellbound by the time Notorious was released in 1946. Starring the iconic duo Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, Notorious is one of Hitchcock’s very best, telling the story of a wartime romance that helps to form one of the most compelling love stories of the 20th century. 

The film itself follows the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy who is asked by American agents to gather information on a ring of German scientists in South America, it’s a classic film-noir.

43. The Pearl (Emilio Fernández, 1947)

An adaptation of the eponymous novella by John Steinbeck, The Pearl chronicles the anguish of a poor fisherman who discovers an invaluable pearl in his village which sets off a chain of events that leads to complete devastation.

A stinging critique of greed and capital, the film deconstructs the common fantasy of getting rich quick by showing us the horrifying consequences of such a fate – being mobbed by greedy agents of capitalism who will stop at nothing to get what they want.

42. Meet Me in St. Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944)

A classic family film crafted in vibrant colour, Meet Me in St. Louis by Vincente Minnelli has been considered a great for many decades thanks to several rousing performances from the likes of Judy Garland, Mary Astor and Margaret O’Brien. The story itself is a simple one, following a young family at the turn of the 20th century and the children’s attempts to mature amid young love and irrational fears.

Glittering with Western optimism and technicolour, the modern movie musical has the grand spectacle of Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis to thank.

41. Aniki-Bóbó (Manoel de Oliveira, 1942)

The first feature-length work by Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira, Aniki-Bóbó actually features children from the filmmaker’s own hometown. Dismissed at the time of its release, it has only continued to grow in stature in the years that have followed.

Presented within the aesthetic structures of documentary filmmaking, it actually predates many of the elements that would dominate later Italian neorealist films and is now considered by scholars to be among the most important Portuguese masterpieces.

40. Under the Bridges (Helmut Käutner, 1946)

Helmed by the German filmmaker Helmut Käutner shortly after WWII, Under the Bridges tells the story of two barge skippers who fall in love with the same woman. Showing shades of Max Ophüls, this 1946 movie is a beautifully shot romance that well balances a genuine emotional heart with delicate humour, making the love between the lead characters seem genuine, affectionate and tangible. 

Featuring Hannelore Schroth, Carl Raddatz and Gustav Knuth, Under the Bridges was celebrated a little after the release of the movie in 1946.

39. A Day in the Country (Jean Renoir, 1946)

Although it was shot ten years earlier, French maestro Jean Renoir was unable to release A Day in the Country at the time because the film wasn’t finished due to various disruptions. Thankfully, producer Pierre Braunberger collected the existing footage and released it in 1946.

Based on a story by Guy de Maupassant, the film tells the story of a Parisian businessman’s daughter who ends up falling in love with a stranger during a summer trip. A majestic vision of youth and love by Renoir, this is a sublime featurette.

38. Una familia de tantas (Alejandro Galindo, 1949)

Written and directed by the Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Galindo, this 1949 film tells the story of a strict patriarch who exercises military control over his family, using his power to impose his vision of conservative family values. A groundbreaking drama, Una familia de tantas explores sexuality, teenage deviance and the structure of the traditional family, as the father of the household begins to lose his grip on those around him.

Illustrating the inherent issue with control and power, Alejandro Galindo is a classic of the era that deserves far more appreciation.

37. Children of the Beehive (Hiroshi Shimizu, 1948)

One of the greatest films ever made about children, this 1948 gem explores the struggles of ten orphans in Japan who try and survive by doing what they can in a society that is completely hostile to their presence as well as their very existence.

Initially recruited by a tramp to do black market work, the children find more comfort in the leadership of a soldier who shoulders the responsibility of taking care of them while trying to find his way back to the roots of his own childhood as an orphan.

36. A Hometown in Heart (Yong-Gyu Yoon, 1949)

Korean cinema is known for its profound sensitivity, often telling stories that explore the family dynamic and the struggles of adolescence. Yong-Gyu Yoon’s 1949 film A Hometown in Heart dabbles with similar themes, telling the story of Do-seong, a child monk who lives at a small mountain temple with the head monk only to become attached to a young widow who regularly comes to pray at the temple. 

An emotional tale told with genuine melodrama, A Hometown in Heart is a compelling coming-of-age tale that explores how the myth of childhood can so often clash with the harsh realities of life.

35. Stray Dog (Akira Kurosawa, 1949)

One of the best films of the iconic film noir quartet made by Akira Kurosawa, Stray Dog contains many of the elements that make Japanese film noir so unique. The film explores the sociopolitical condition of post-war Japan in incisive and powerful ways.

It stars Toshiro Mifune as a young detective whose gun is stolen by a pickpocket while travelling on a bus. Fearing that it will be sold on the black market, he goes undercover to retrieve it but is shocked by the thin line separating him from the criminal.

34. Le Corbeau (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1943)

Fun, thrilling and masterfully told, Le Corbeau from Henri-Georges Clouzot is a crime mystery following a French village doctor who becomes the target of poison-pen letters sent to village leaders, accusing him of affairs. Revelling in its own central mystery, Clouzot creates a polished suspenseful thriller that is innovative beyond its years in form and style, looking like a sleek modern thriller. 

With a twisting and contorting plot, featuring compelling performances from Pierre Fresnay, Ginette Leclerc and Micheline Francey, Le Corbeau should be considered an iconic crime drama.

33. The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940)

Among George Cukor’s most well-known works, The Philadelphia Story has a fantastic cast containing James Stewart, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn among others. It revolves around a socialite whose wedding plans are jeopardised by sudden developments.

Although she was set to marry a member of the nouveau riche cabal, everything is disrupted when her ex-husband (played by Cary Grant) arrives on the scene as well as a journalist (Stewart) who is tasked with the responsibility of covering the wedding.

32. Rope (Alfred Hitchcock, 1948)

Alfred Hitchcock shared a close fondness for the concept of suspense, with no film illustrating this better than his 1948 movie Rope, which constructs palpable tension in one central contained location throughout its runtime.

Hitchcock’s film has been ripped and copied numerous times throughout TV and cinema history, depicting a suspenseful thriller in which two friends murder a fellow student before hiding the body in a wooden chest and then playing host to the victim’s relatives. All captured in one devious take, Hitchcock’s bold vision has influenced filmmakers across the world, with the crux of the mystery hidden right under the character’s noses throughout this 1948 classic.

31. The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940)

This 1940 masterpiece is one of those rare instances when a seminal literary opus finds an equally competent cinematic translation which becomes a timeless classic as well. John Ford was the perfect director to embark on this legendary endeavour.

Chronicling the hardships of a poor family in Oklahoma who are destroyed by the economic consequences of the Great Depression, The Grapes of Wrath conducts an unflinching analysis of a world where the poor and the oppressed are discarded without hesitation.

30. Laura (Otto Preminger, 1944)

A well-known pioneering film of the film-noir genre, Otto Preminger’s Laura tells the story of a police detective who falls in love with the woman whose murder he is investigating. Strange, alluring and gripping, Preminger’s movie is a hypnotic experience to behold, exploring both the dangers and thrills of obsession as Laura’s protagonist falls deeper into love with a constructed memory of a murdered woman.

An intriguing premise carried out with great aplomb by Preminger, Laura is undoubtedly elevated by the performances of  Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews in the lead roles.

29. Ivan the Terrible, Part 1 (Sergei Eisenstein, 1944)

Experimental pioneer Sergei Eisenstein directed several important films over the course of his career but his 1944 work – Ivan the Terrible, Part 1 – occupies a very special place in the minds of film fans who are fascinated by cinematic evolution.

One of the greatest historical biopics ever made, the film about the titular ruler whose legacy is complex and extensive. Although Eisenstein wanted to make a trilogy, he ended up making only two instalments and the second wasn’t released until 1958 because it was banned by Stalin.

28. The 47 Ronin (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1941)

Celebrated across Japan, filmmaker Kenji Mizoguchi doesn’t get the appreciation he deserves in the western world, particularly as many of his films have inspired Hollywood remakes and re-imaginings. His 1941 movie, The 47 Ronin tells the legendary story of the 47 plot to avenge the death of their lord, Asano Naganori, by killing Kira Yoshinaka, a shogunate official. Told with an astonishing visual style that would break new ground upon its release at the start of the decade, Mizoguchi is an incomparable samurai movie like no other. 

Though somewhat slow and muted, Mizoguchi has a masterful control of pacing, cranking the tension till the thrilling conclusion that presents several fascinating questions about the spirit of such samurai warriors. 

27. Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1947)

An indispensable film noir by Tourneur, this film features Robert Mitchum in one of the greatest performances of his career. Complemented perfectly by the brilliant cinematography of Nicholas Musuraca, Out of the Past is Tourneur’s crowning achievement.

It revolves around a private detective who decides to renounce the past by moving to a remote area where he runs a gas station and lives in relative isolation in order to escape something. However, he soon finds out that the past always catches up to you.

26. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)

Containing all the magic and morality of an iconic Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life is well known as one of the finest festive films of all time, inspiring the blueprint for what is now considered a classic of the genre. 
Loosely adapted from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Frank Capra’s film stars James Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore and tells the story of a businessman who is shown the bright side of life by an angel sent from heaven.

Voted as the most inspiring movie of all time by the American Film Institute, It’s a Wonderful Life is a rousing story of hope, faith and family in an ever-consumerist world that shines as a totem to American optimism.

25. White Heat (Raoul Walsh, 1949)

Raoul Walsh’s unforgettable 1949 gem White Heat is another important part of the film noir output that dominated much of American filmmaking during this decade. An interesting addition to the oeuvre, Walsh’s vision has proven to be fascinating for younger generations as well.

Voted as one of the finest gangster movies of all time, the film stars the inimitable James Cagney as a bonafide psychopath with severe mommy issues. After breaking out of prison, he returns to his old ways by planning another dangerous heist.

24. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)

Rarely do comedies from the 1940s stand up to the test of time better than the Howard Hawks movie, His Girl Friday, a fast and vigorously entertaining movie that follows a newspaper editor who uses several smart tricks to keep his reporter ex-wife from remarrying. Fluid, dynamic, bright and spritely, Hawks’ movie is an iconic comedy that helped to establish the filmmaker as one of the very best of the era. 

The wisecracking flirtation seems to come naturally to the Hollywood superstars Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, who help to elevate this movie into something far more memorable.

23. Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943)

One of the most influential experimental films ever made, Meshes of the Afternoon is a highly innovative exploration by the wife-and-husband duo which incorporates symbolism in order to ask larger questions about human psychology.

For the most part, it was Deren who came up with the pioneering techniques which would later form a crucial part of her own understanding of cinema. Having inspired the likes of David Lynch, few experimental films have remained as important as this work.

22. Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)

Based on the one-act play Still Life, the 1945 film Brief Encounter became one of David Lean’s greatest ever pictures, with the film following a woman who meets a mysterious stranger who tempts her to cheat on her husband. Starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, the film won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, with the director picking up his very first Academy Award nomination for Best Director. 

Regarded as one of the best British films of all time, Brief Encounter shows off the true mastery of David Lean, creating an enthralling film that entrances the audiences thanks to the performances of Johnson, Howard and Celia Johnson’s heart-aching voiceover narration.

21. Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940)

Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography is full of interesting thrillers and other genre pieces that have continued to dominate the discourse surrounding the genre. Rebecca is Hitchcock at his finest, presenting a cinematic atmosphere that is truly immersive and terrifying.

Laurence Olivier plays the role of a widower who gets married to a woman after seriously considering the possibility of suicide. However, his new wife soon discovers that her new home with Olivier’s character is haunted by the presence of his ex-wife who passed away mysteriously.

20. The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941)

Starring Humphrey Bogart in one of his finest ever performances, John Huston’s classic 1941 crime film tells the story of a San Francisco private detective named Sam Spade who takes on a case that involves him with three eccentric criminals as they each hunt for a treasured statuette. Also starring Peter Lorre, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Ward Bond and other iconic actors of the ‘40s, The Maltese Falcon became a generational classic for a reason.

A suspenseful, thrilling and complex crime drama that is built from a complex maze of interlinking plots and characters, Huston creates a dreamlike feel to his mythical drama about a frantic rat race.

19. Day of Wrath (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1943)

A powerful drama by Danish master Carl Theodor Dreyer, Day of Wrath is actually based on a theatrical work by Hans Wiers-Jenssen. Made during the Nazi occupation of his country, Dreyer was forced to go abroad in order to actually release the film.

Dreyer’s proto-feminist sensibilities are evident in many of his projects and Day of Wrath is no exception, telling the story of a woman who is forced to marry an old pastor due to accusations against her mother for witchcraft but she ends up falling in love with his son.

18. Black Narcissus (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 1947)

Well recognised as two of the finest British filmmakers of all time, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger released one of their most prominent films in 1947 in the form of the dark drama, Black Narcissus. The compelling tale follows a group of nuns who struggle to establish a convent in the Himalayas, as the isolation, altitude and clash of characters turn them each mad with desperation. 

Creating an unearthly setting that boasts an extravagant visual style, Powell and Pressburger use pathetic fallacy in the best way possible in this tale of voracious energy.

17. The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946)

Many have claimed that Humphrey Bogart is the greatest Philip Marlowe based on his performance in The Big Sleep and there might be some truth to that. A very confusing adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel, this one’s magic lies in the cinematic experience instead of the narrative.

Starring Bogart alongside Lauren Bacall, The Big Sleep follows Marlowe as he embarks on a dangerous journey in order to uncover more details about his investigations regarding a rich man’s daughter which gets him into trouble on numerous occasions.

16. Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau, 1946)

Before the well-known Disney adaptation was the majestic French tale of Beauty and the Beast by director Jean Cocteau. The story itself follows a beautiful young woman who takes her father’s place as the prisoner of a mysterious beast, who wishes to marry her, with the magical tale being brought to life with charming optical effects and surreal storytelling from Cocteau who directs the film and pens the script. 

Far more of a profound take than the Disney version, Cocteau’s film manages to explore the concepts of love, art and the darkness of humankind, all from the source material of a fairytale.

15. Letter From an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, 1948)

Max Ophüls’ 1948 film Letter From and Unknown Woman is another classic gem which deserves to be watched even after the many decades that have passed since its release. An adaptation of Stefan Zweig’s eponymous novella, it is among Ophüls’ finest.

Set in Vienna during the early 20th century, it features the bizarre events in the life of a man who wants to get out of the city in order to avoid a duel. However, everything is complicated when he receives an anonymous love letter from a mysterious woman.

14. The Great Dictator (Charlie Chaplin, 1940)

Released amid the terrors of WWII, Charlie Chaplin’s sharp-witted The Great Dictator sees the influential comedian depict a Jewish lookalike of Germany’s tyrannical leader, delivering an inspiring speech at the film’s close. 

Having long been dissected and explored, the speech itself is long and broad, speaking to the great successes of the human race in the light of the imminent horrors of WWII. For an actor who had made his name in the silent era, this was the very first time Charlie Chaplin was heard on screen, as well as one of the last as his fame quickly declined after the 1940s. Whilst the speech has made the movie iconic, there is much more to be had from this riveting satire that tugs on the heartstrings and tickles the ribs.

13. Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941)

A moving masterpiece by the great Preston Sturges, Sullivan’s Travels is the perfect representation of the gaping disconnect between wealthy artists who try and explore subjects such as oppression and their subjects who are actually oppressed.

It follows a successful director who tries to live among the poor in order to make a serious film about poverty but when he is removed from the safety nets of wealth and influence, he realises that comedy is much more impactful in giving the oppressed some sort of comfort.

12. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)

Classically referred to as ‘the greatest director you never heard of’, Michael Curtiz is responsible for some of the greatest films of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Partnering with Warner Brothers in 1926, Curtiz created Angels with Dirty Faces, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and, most significantly, Casablanca. The iconic 1942 film, starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Peter Lorre is an indelible American classic that remains one of the greatest romance tales of western cinema. 

Telling the story of a cynical expatriate American cafe owner who must decide whether to help with former lover and her new husband escape the Nazis in French Morocco, this war drama teems with scintillating style and brooding emotion, making it an undisputed 1940s classic.

11. Rome, Open City (Roberto Rossellini, 1945)

One of the key works that defined the Italian neorealist movement, Rome, Open City is a part of Rossellini’s great Neorealist Trilogy. Set in Rome in 1944, it explores the destruction under the Nazi regime through the lives of multiple characters.

Revolving around a leader of the Resistance against the Nazi occupation, it follows him as he tries to escape the city through various connections while the authorities start a campaign to hunt him down and kill him in order to send a message to other fighters.

10. The Red Shoes (Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell, 1948)

Powell and Pressburger have made a fair few classics, but The Red Shoes may just be their magnum opus, with the 1948 classic telling the story of a young ballet dancer who is torn between the man she loves and her pursuit to become a prima ballerina. An exquisite, dazzling work of art, this classic was created using a unique form of Technicolour that hasn’t been used since, making it a beautiful cinematic oddity. 

Starring the likes of Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring, Moira Shearer and Robert Helpmann, The Red Shoes is considered a majestic masterpiece to this very day.

9. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)

A towering piece of achievement by Billy Wilder which had a huge impact on American film noir, Double Indemnity is about an insurance salesman who hatches a plan with a housewife in order to successfully make a large insurance claim.

Although he thinks that everything will be alright after her husband is murdered, things keep taking a turn for the worse as their lies close in on them and the police as well as the insurance investigators keep trying to prove the truth.

8. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948)

A western movie like no other, John Huston’s iconic movie follows two down-on-their-luck Americans searching for work in 1920s Mexico who convince an old prospector to help them mine for gold in the Sierra Madre Mountains. A riveting, gripping adventure, Huston’s film explores its subjects with careful analysis, making Humphrey Bogart’s Fred C. Dobbs into one of the genre’s most memorable characters. 

A resonant moral tale that drips with the style of the ‘40s western genre, Huston’s story is a smart and utterly compelling one that is a joy to watch unfold.

7. Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer, 1949)

A hilarious exposé of the banality of nobility, Kind Hearts and Coronets delivers an uncompromising critique of the monarchy. It presents the case of a young man who has been robbed of his aristocratic rights because his mother had been disowned by the family.

In order to take revenge on those who wronged his mother, he embarks on a killing spree to eliminate all the aristocrats who are in line before him to receive the royal title. Although he starts out by putting up a resistance against the elite, he soon mimics their inhumanity.

6. Children of Paradise (Marcel Carné, 1945)

Clocking in at over three hours, this French epic from Marcel Carné doesn’t make for casual viewing, but if you commit to its length, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning, poetic illustration of early French cinema at its very best. Detailing the theatrical life of a beautiful courtesan in 1830s Paris and the four men who love her, director Marcel Carné uses wit and stunning visual magic to create a joyous romance.

Filming throughout WWII, this is a baffling melodrama created in a tumultuous era that coincided with the height of French cinema’s Golden Age.

5. To Be Or Not To Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942)

Among the funniest American comedies of all time, To Be Or Not To Be is one of those strange artefacts that has not lost its magic with time. It possesses the capacity to make people laugh uncontrollably, irrespective of their backgrounds.

It is even more strange when you consider the fact that it’s actually a comedy based on a subject as dark and grim as the Second World War. The film follows a group of actors in Nazi-occupied Warsaw who engage in all kinds of bizarre antics just to save their own lives, finally putting their acting abilities to good use.

4. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)

Regularly finding its way to the top of movie ‘best ever’ lists, Orsen Welles’ 1941 masterpiece following a publishing tycoon and his troubled past is a wealthy illustration of the American Dream in all its glory and shortcomings. 

A newspaper magnate who bought the world but failed to save himself is now known as one of the most memorable indictments of the mythological American Dream. Presenting a deeply flawed lead character, it is Kane’s own destructive narcissism, fueled by the allure of the national dream that leads to his lonely demise. In this undisputed classic Welles launches an attack on American values questioning the morals of a country constantly striving for success.

3. Late Spring (Yasujirô Ozu, 1949)

Japanese master Yasujirō Ozu’s 1949 film is a deceptively simple drama about a retired professor who is constantly worried about the possibility that his devoted daughter will never get married which is why he pretends to consider getting married himself.

A part of Ozu’s larger meditations on the human condition and the various stages of an individual’s life cycle, Late Spring is an extremely powerful philosophical meditation which serves as an insightful critique of the patriarchal institution of marriage as well.

2. Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948)

European cinema blossomed in the 1940s, all whilst much focus was still being held on Hollywood, with Italian neorealism taking off thanks to filmmakers such as Vittorio De Sica and his innovative film Bicycle Thieves. Often cited as one of cinema’s greatest ever films, De Sica’s film is a simple drama set in post-war Italy, in which a working-class man’s bike is stolen, encouraging him and his son to find it. 

A straightforward, poetic story that resonates with audiences worldwide, this 1948 story is a profound tale about ordinary people and their everyday dilemmas, told with pure cinematic beauty.

1. The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)

From this list, it is pretty evident that the 1940s played a huge part in the evolution of cinema and its output contained one masterpiece after another. However, one film will always stand out as the finest piece of film art that emerged from the decade.

Very films have managed to become as influential as Carol Reed’s 1949 film noir The Third Man, a dizzyingly engaging work focusing on the strange misadventures of an American in postwar Vienna who tries to find out more about the death of his friend (brilliantly portrayed by Orson Welles).