Edgar Wright is the ultimate pop culture omnivore. The British director is one of the most outspoken film and music fans of his generation, taking every opportunity to bring up his favorite artists in interviews and reference them in his films. He rarely differentiates by genre and expresses equal admiration for art films and mainstream blockbusters.
This passion for all things fun is reflected in Wright’s eclectic filmography, which ranges from zombie comedies to video game-influenced breakup sagas to car chase musicals without missing a beat. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a distinctive style, as all of his films feature his famously playful camerawork and trademark sense of humor. But rather than limit himself to one genre — or even a few genres — Wright seems determined to apply his filmmaking sensibilities to any cinematic niche he finds remotely interesting.
The sheer breadth of Wright’s cinematic knowledge can be overwhelming: the guy once had guts list his top 1000 movies without a hint of irony. No matter how young you are, it’s almost certainly too late to work your way through every movie Wright ever enjoyed.
This is where Sight & Sound comes into play. Once a year, the magazine’s Best Movies of All Time poll allows participants to pick their ten favorite films (unless you’re Martin Scorsese, whose status as the godfather of cinephilia ensures that no one questions when you submit 20). If you want to dive into your favorite Wright films, the films on Sight & Sound’s ballot are the perfect place to start.
Wright has made it clear that he can discuss obscure cultural oddities with the best of them, but Sight & Sound’s list largely sticks to the arguably great classics. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you phoned between your choices. Wright’s comments on the vote reflect a deep appreciation for the filmmakers who came before him. Collectively, Wright’s ten favorite films reflect the “crowd-pleasing genre fare executed at the highest possible standard” that has defined his entire career.
Read on to see the 10 films that made it to Wright’s Sight & Sound poll and everything he wrote about each.
“Singin’ in the Rain”
Edgar Wright’s love of movies is perhaps second only to his love of music. The director is famous for his impeccable skill in needle drops, so it is hardly surprising that he loves one of Hollywood’s most famous musicals.
Commenting on Sight & Sound, Wright described Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s Singin’ In the Rain: “Undeniably magical cinema, enraptured and captivated by every single viewer who watches it. It’s fascinating that what is ostensibly both a satire of the tricky transition period from silent films to talkies and a celebration of the back catalog of songs of the time, turns out to be perhaps the most famous Hollywood film of all.”
“Madame De’s earrings…”
Max Ophüls’ landmark French romance has been on many leading directors’ Sight & Sound lists, and Wright was no exception.
“If we only dazzle the screen with Max Ophüls’ exquisite Fabergé eggs, we deny not only their honest emotional power, but countless other aspects as well,” he wrote. “Madame De… is a film about love, loss and wild chance that is at once romantic, playful, tragic, strikingly self-reflexive and (yes) about as ornate and breathtakingly elaborate as cinema gets.”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
Wright made some of the most visually stunning, impeccably edited action films of his generation. So of course the Sight & Sound ballot had to include what many believe to be the the most visually stunning, impeccably edited action film of its generation: “Mad Max: Fury Road”.
“We live in an age where most of the films released by the major studios are so homogenized in tone and execution that the word ‘content’ is sadly apt to describe them,” Wright wrote of George Miller’s modern classic. “And then, racing out of the desert comes a wildcard masterpiece so unique it seems amazing it even exists. George Miller’s visual wonder of an action film is both excitingly modern and a glorious homage to engines of pure cinema like The General and Stagecoach. We should all be grateful that this film was made at all.”
“Don’t Look Now”
Wright has recently become more interested in horror films, directing “Last Night in Soho” and developing a remake of Stephen King’s “The Running Man.” In a poll by Sight & Sound, he singled out Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now” as a horror film that shaped him.
“A horror masterpiece that combines the theme of precognition with the enchanting wonders of associative editing,” he wrote. “Colors, shapes, patterns, action and sounds all blend together to form a beautifully nightmarish palindrome.”
Like the great filmmakers of his time, Edgar Wright has a soft spot for Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.
“An existential journey into hell is so vividly portrayed that I am captivated not only by the fate of the characters, but by the well-being of everyone involved in making it,” wrote Wright on the 2022 Sight & Sound ballot. “The enduring mystery of Taxi Driver is how such a dark and ugly spiral is electrifyingly compelling, willingly dragging the mesmerized viewer into a waking nightmare.”
Edgar Wright can go toe-to-toe with just about anyone when it comes to obscure film knowledge. But sometimes you just can’t beat the classics. Wright acknowledged as much when he included Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” on the Sight & Sound ballot.
“Perhaps the most influential and indelible film of them all, its shocking subversions of the genre at the time have since become well-worn tropes,” he wrote. But even after sixty years he can hypnotize. And it’s not just the shower scene. “Psycho” lures you into a lucid dream from the first bleakly beautiful monochrome frame.”
“An American Werewolf in London”
While many of Wright’s Sight & Sounds were arguably classics, he was a wild card when he included John Landis’ horror comedy An American Werewolf in London on his ballot. In his comments explaining the choice, he acknowledged the controversial nature of his choice.
“I fully expect to be the only one to pick this movie as a top ten, and that would make it a more subjective choice than ‘greatest movie of all time,'” Wright wrote. “However, this would negate the idea that the perfect film is sometimes the result of sheer alchemy. It’s not clear to me that a film that combines comedy, horror, pathos, groundbreaking effects, vivid gore, great location work, inspired casting, Buñuel-inspired dream logic, moon-related soundtrack choices, and British jokes about TV, why the art form deserves the top spot, but I’ve never spent a more enjoyable 97 minutes in a movie theater, and that alone earns a spot on my list.”
Due to changing box office trends and Hollywood’s increasing focus on television, theatrical comedies have not really taken off recently. Wright is one of the few directors who still manages to make relatively big comedies, and he has a lot of respect for those who do.
He included the Coen Brothers’ ‘Raising Arizona’ on the Sight & Sound ballot, writing: ‘Doing comedy is hard. When a movie is very funny, the word “light” is often used. But that belies the fact that any great comedy is a herculean task, requiring scriptwriting, performance, direction, composition, skillful editing, and frankly, every department of the crew to hit a moving target. The fact that “Raising Arizona” also includes exceptional action raises this level to “crazy ambitious”. We describe this, and all comedy classics, as “supernaturally funny.”
“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”
Wright’s first film as a director was the little-seen 1995 spaghetti western parody Fistful of Fingers. So it’s fitting that he used Sight & Sound’s list to honor the genre he once lampooned.
“It’s fitting that an Italian version of an American genre should give us the most operative filmmaking,” wrote Wright. “Sergio Leone’s visual storytelling and Ennio Morricone’s score become absolutely divine at the film’s climax, elevating the scene of the three men standing in the cemetery to transcendent art. It was one of the first films I saw again after cinemas reopened during the pandemic, and it left me reeling and floating in the sheer beauty of the cinema.”
“2001: A Space Odyssey”
Wright has spent his entire career making genre films that are as impeccably crafted as anything you’ll find at your local art house. So it’s only fitting that Sight & Sound honored ‘2001’ – one of the first genre films to be considered high art – on its ballot.
“Over the past decade, Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece has become the film I’ve seen the most on the big screen,” Wright wrote. “The reason I keep coming back is that the further you get from it in time and space, the more fascinating it becomes. It was groundbreaking in its day, but if anything, it’s even more confusing now. When a docking spaceship is heard by the Blue Danube, I’m in heaven. Will we ever see a big studio film like this again?”