Vince Gilligan has played a vital part in the evolution of television narratives through his magnum opus Breaking Bad which is nothing short of a cultural phenomenon. Often cited as one of the greatest achievements in the history of television, Breaking Bad carried the legacy of other brilliant shows such as The Sopranos and The Wire into a new era.
Even now, Breaking Bad remains one of the glittering monuments of American storytelling which is still being discovered by new generations of audiences. A visceral investigation of the acrid American Dream, the show chronicles the journey of a tired and defeated high-school chemistry teacher (Bryan Cranston) who embarks on a warpath to the top.
Maintaining the incredible momentum from the start to Breaking Bad’s spectacular ending, Gilligan produced some of the best television experiences in recent memory and he has gone on to do the same with other projects. When Better Call Saul was first announced, many feared it would be an uninspired spin-off but that can’t be further from the truth.
Over the course of Breaking Bad, many iconic films have been referenced throughout the series. While the themes of Breaking Bad are obviously inspired by masterpieces such as The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Gilligan has paid tributes to other classics through his cinematography as well as fleeting allusions such as the name of Saul Goodman’s holding company – Ice Station Zebra.
Gilligan has also been interested in other important critiques of the American Dream, especially Sweet Smell of Success which had a huge impact on him. While the film did not really do well when it came out, it is now considered to be one of the definitive masterpieces of the era which perfectly captured the revolting machinations of gossip columnists.
While discussing these films, Gilligan has also mentioned that he has been influenced by the works of Quentin Tarantino and Michael Mann. Even Dave Porter, the music composer of Breaking Bad, described the series as a “post-modern Western” which indicates that Gilligan definitely had Leone in his mind while conceptualising the whole thing.
Check the list below.
Vince Gilligan’s 10 favourite films:
- Goodbye, Mr. Chips (Sam Wood and Sidney Franklin, 1939)
- The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948)
- Bigger Than Life (Nicholas Ray, 1956)
- Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick, 1957)
- The Flight of the Phoenix (Robert Aldrich, 1965)
- Cool Hand Luke (Stuart Rosenberg, 1967)
- Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)
- The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
- Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
- Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)
In an interview, Gilligan also revealed that he learnt a lot from Michael Mann: “I learned a great lesson from Michael Mann years ago. I was working on a script for him that became Hancock.” He went up to Mann and asked him about the thematic elements he wanted in the script.
Mann’s advice was priceless, a tip that all aspiring screenwriters should keep in mind: “He just looked at me kind of blankly and said, “Vince, come up with a good character, tell the story, and keep the audience engaged. Themes are for professors with patches on their elbows'”.