Five Favorite Films

Five Favorite Films with John Carpenter

The horror icon chats about the Coen brothers and his love for Westerns.

by | June 10, 2011 | Comments

(Photo by Gabriel Grams/Getty Images)

Writer-director-producer-composer (and occasional actor) John Carpenter is a modern horror icon whose keen sense of tension and terror has helped establish his work as some of the finest genre filmmaking to hit the big screen. His best known film is probably the 1978 slasher classic Halloween, but the ’80s — Carpenter’s most critically and commercially successful decade — brought forth other beloved gems like The Thing, Escape from New York, Starman, and the cult classic They Live. After 2001’s Ghosts of Mars capped off a rather less than auspicious decade of films for him, Carpenter fell silent for several years, choosing instead to work on smaller projects like Showtime’s Masters of Horror series.

RT recently got the opportunity to speak with Carpenter, who not only gave us his Five Favorites (and then some — more on that below) but also went on to chat about his deep love of Westerns and his opinion on the Coen brothers.

When asked specifically about his Five Favorite Films, Carpenter had this to say: “I have two different categories of favorite films. One is the emotional favorites, which means these are generally films that I saw when I was a kid. Anything you see in your formative years is more powerful, because it really stays with you forever. The second category is films that I saw while I was learning the craft of motion pictures. That’s a whole different ball game. I fell in love with them as a mature person.”

Since we only have room for one list, we’ll let you read about John Carpenter’s “mature” Five Favorite Films below. But before we get there, here’s what he said about his “emotional favorites,” which he rattled off in quick succession: “When I was a kid, I loved The Curse of Frankenstein, The Creeping Unknown, X: The Unknown. I love Forbidden Planet, The Thing from Another World. They were science fiction/horror movies, generally. A lot of them were Hammer films, and the music in those movies… One of my heroes is a composer named James Bernard, and oh my god… I can still listen to his music today and be stirred and moved by it. But I think that you fall in love with… Well, again, when you’re young, it really is more powerful. Much more terrifying.”


Only Angels Have Wings (1939) 100%


Now, my favorite films as a more mature person, when I was learning about what the director is and does, probably a lot of them were Howard Hawks movies, like Only Angels Have Wings and Rio Bravo. In Hawks’ world, Only Angels Have Wings and Rio Bravo are his visions of adventure stories with male groups, and men and women’s relationships, and life and death and danger. He’s developed that idea throughout his career. Those are just his beliefs.

Rio Bravo (1959) 100%


See Only Angels Have Wings above.

Citizen Kane (1941) 100%


I’d have to say, jeez… Citizen Kane is a great film. Like Hawks, this movie is a vision, primarily the director’s vision, of something that is whole and complete.

Vertigo (1958) 94%


Vertigo is a perfect nightmare. Perfect. It’s a dream, and it’s stunning. It’s so dark and obsessive, and it came from this director who claimed to only want to entertain the audiences. But that’s not true; it’s a masterpiece.

Blow-Up (1966) 88%


And let me throw in an oddball here: Blow-Up. That is a brilliant film. It’s kind of a perfect enigmatic example of a film. I just love that movie. I can’t get enough of it. It’s so strange! [laughs]

Ryan Fujitani for Rotten Tomatoes: It would be easy for someone to look at your list of early “emotional favorites” and say, “Well, no wonder he ended up making movies like Halloween or The Thing.”

John Carpenter: You could say that, but it would be wrong. I got in this business to make Westerns. I’m a Western fan. Loved Westerns… Loved them. I mean, huge love. I think my first love… Well, cinema’s my first love, but along with science fiction and horror, when I was a kid in the ’50s, I saw Westerns! I was at the theater in 1959, buying my ticket to Rio Bravo. They held it over two weeks in our town, because everybody was going. And I went back again. I was in the theater, buying popcorn, as a little kid. Oh, I’ve watched it too many times. [laughs] Too many times.

RT: There seems to have been somewhat of a revival of interest in the Western lately. What’s your take on why their popularity in Hollywod dwindled in the first place?

Carpenter: There are a number of reasons. Television did it to death. And then, as brilliant as they were, the Italian Westerns parodied it to death. I remember seeing Once Upon A Time in the West, and it was a jawdropping movie. I couldn’t believe that movie. But after that, what are you going to do? I mean, you can’t do a gunfight any better than Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson. You cannot do it any better. You cannot; there’s nothing you can do. You cannot do a revenge story — Bronson’s whole journey in that — any better. What are you going to do?

And then, you know, there’s a bunch of left-wing Westerns that came along that occasionally got made. The Dances with Wolves, Little Big Man, stuff like that. But I’m talking about traditional Westerns here. And I guess people are asking that question now because of the Coens’ movie True Grit.

RT: What did you think of that, compared to the John Wayne version?

Carpenter: Oh, I prefer the original. I thought that they missed out on something the original had that they didn’t have. There’s great stuff in it, no doubt. But they did not have an emotional ending that resolved the relationship. The most important scene in the original True Grit with John Wayne and Kim Darby was how they resolved their relationship. When he’s with her there at the cemetery, she says, “I want you to be buried next to me, Rooster.” And he jumps over the fence on the horse. [laughs] The audience has to have that. We need that. Now, in the Coens’ version, he dies offscreen? Huh? Really? Really… It just cheats me.

RT: It’s reminiscent of the complaint some had about Josh Brolin’s fate in No Country for Old Men.

Carpenter: They have third-act problems. Believe me, I’m a guy who has third-act problems; I’m familiar with it. But it’s odd. Why would you do that to me? After all this time I’ve been with you?

However, their comedies are unbelievable. A Serious Man? I cannot stop laughing at that film. That movie just put me away! It’s the craziest thing. I love that film. And they’re very nice people, too.

Tag Cloud

zombie scary movies Hear Us Out First Reviews Black Mirror cooking game of thrones BET Amazon Studios witnail classics WarnerMedia Holidays YouTube Red Star Wars screenings satire The Purge HBO Max 45 LGBT Funimation Horror Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Britbox Premiere Dates El Rey Ghostbusters cars National Geographic science fiction robots PlayStation anthology kids Cannes Disney+ Disney Plus what to watch Marvel Television Comedy Central Quiz TBS historical drama Reality Competition cartoon 2016 Action screen actors guild San Diego Comic-Con hollywood AMC Pet Sematary cults based on movie adaptation transformers hist blockbuster BBC One Television Academy TCA Nat Geo critics Captain marvel dragons versus diversity cinemax Creative Arts Emmys Lionsgate mission: impossible TLC Hallmark Christmas movies Mary Poppins Returns foreign BBC Nickelodeon facebook E3 Fantasy HBO Go Superheroe APB Sneak Peek TV Land Netflix Christmas movies Hallmark politics 2017 2015 biography boxoffice richard e. Grant rotten movies we love comedies teaser cancelled slashers American Society of Cinematographers Elton John USA stoner Emmys true crime crime thriller stop motion comiccon Infographic spider-man batman MTV Tumblr Reality History FX on Hulu IFC DC Universe Superheroes hispanic universal monsters superhero Winter TV Tomatazos CNN ITV BET Awards best Awards Tour revenge Comedy 2019 Sundance TV social media child's play movies GLAAD composers nature DC Comics Teen stand-up comedy TruTV Photos werewolf Turner Classic Movies Shondaland Polls and Games latino Mary poppins DGA Thanksgiving Lifetime movie television Crackle Epix Amazon Prime Video cancelled TV series YouTube Premium Dark Horse Comics Musical Winners CW Seed Heroines HBO reboot TCA Awards VH1 dceu Valentine's Day dogs strong female leads aliens harry potter Academy Awards Disney streaming service Disney CMT worst BBC America directors Drama elevated horror spinoff Film Rocketman GIFs Anna Paquin green book mutant DirecTV Masterpiece Box Office 71st Emmy Awards space FXX Marvel Studios Arrowverse emmy awards ghosts asian-american halloween franchise reviews See It Skip It Baby Yoda Countdown Paramount Network Emmy Nominations Syfy The Witch Cartoon Network TV renewals Tubi rotten Sundance Now sequel Rock Star Trek OWN chucky parents Music Discovery Channel Warner Bros. indiana jones Freeform a nightmare on elm street films MCU Watching Series joker south america Interview The Walking Dead cancelled TV shows Amazon Prime OneApp die hard video jamie lee curtis thriller Fox News obituary series ratings theme song streaming Nominations USA Network Lucasfilm renewed TV shows doctor who cops finale Character Guide Mystery NBC psycho Showtime psychological thriller Certified Fresh ABC Esquire Netflix TIFF YA Walt Disney Pictures The Arrangement Marvel casting Sundance disaster toy story natural history vampires Crunchyroll video on demand twilight YouTube TCA 2017 docudrama Video Games Christmas PaleyFest Writers Guild of America E! Song of Ice and Fire laika 2020 Amazon Country Trophy Talk game show documentary mockumentary Grammys Classic Film travel Podcast Ovation Spike indie TV Stephen King dark SDCC Biopics SXSW medical drama Vudu Set visit Year in Review Sony Pictures Schedule festivals Opinion name the review Extras TCM sports Calendar Binge Guide zombies 20th Century Fox crossover Trivia Pop TV Disney Plus canceled 21st Century Fox X-Men 4/20 Brie Larson romantic comedy independent CBS All Access A24 Women's History Month CBS spain Rocky free movies The CW period drama Spring TV Avengers ESPN Universal Logo technology Trailer political drama Apple TV+ Toys A&E FX Mindy Kaling 72 Emmy Awards sag awards crime christmas movies IFC Films 2018 book New York Comic Con Fall TV documentaries Martial Arts Apple Best and Worst Apple TV Plus cancelled television DC streaming service TNT Marathons VICE justice league BAFTA concert comic 24 frames talk show Family Comics on TV award winner singing competition Turner Kids & Family adventure Mary Tyler Moore Television Critics Association cats animated Bravo Hulu Summer spy thriller children's TV Sci-Fi Black History Month First Look crime drama Travel Channel unscripted dc Tarantino anime news GoT Western ABC Family Paramount 007 Starz Pride Month Awards Red Carpet Peacock Super Bowl Comic Book breaking bad TCA Winter 2020 golden globes Mudbound FOX Food Network Adult Swim serial killer miniseries Chernobyl Pirates blaxploitation President Shudder PBS Disney Channel MSNBC all-time SundanceTV Film Festival NYCC comics Oscars binge zero dark thirty criterion war spanish language dramedy romance Ellie Kemper canceled TV shows supernatural WGN Endgame quibi Acorn TV LGBTQ Pop Election fast and furious Lifetime Christmas movies RT21 nbcuniversal VOD Pixar Animation Musicals discovery Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Rom-Com Cosplay police drama RT History Columbia Pictures Holiday Spectrum Originals tv talk sitcom