Peter Bogdanovich started his work in the entertainment industry as a film journalist before being taken under the wing of trailblazing director Roger Corman. Following their early collaborations, Bogdanovich went on to have a long and storied career as an auteur, directing over 30 projects during his lifetime.
Alongside Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and other influential directors, Bogdanovich was responsible for helping bring about a Hollywood renaissance that lasted from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. These are the best films he’ll be remembered for.
10 Saint Jack (1979) – 7.0
Set in early 1970s Singapore, Saint Jack chronicles the adventures of an American hustler who’s a small-time pimp with dreams of opening his own brothel. During his time there, Jack (Ben Gazzara) befriends a traveling accountant, interacts with the CIA, and is a target of the Chinese triad.
Upon its initial release, the movie was banned in Singapore for excessive nudity. In addition to Ben Gazzara (Road House), the film also featured performances from Denholm Elliot (Indiana Jones franchise) and George Lazenby (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service).
9 Mask (1985) – 7.2
Mask follows the life of Rocky Dennis (Eric Stoltz), a kid whose rare bone disorder enlarges his skull. His family, made up of his mother Rusty (Cher), her boyfriend Gar (Sam Elliot), and his grandparents, work every day to give Rocky a good life, knowing that he may not have that much time left.
The film was a box office hit and went on to garner Golden Globe nominations for Eric Stoltz and Cher. A big part of its success was that audiences believed the movie’s convincing prosthetics, leading Mask to win the award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling at the Oscars.
8 Targets (1968) – 7.4
Bogdonavich’s first credited feature film, Targets simultaneously interweaves two storylines, that of an elderly horror film star making one last appearance before their retirement, and a disturbed Vietnam War veteran on a shooting spree, culminating in a confrontation at a drive-in movie theater.
The film acts in part as an homage to Boris Karloff, the actor who plays the film star and famously played Frankenstein’s Monster throughout the 1930s. The other part of the storyline acts as a social commentary on veterans’ mental health and the state of gun control in America.
7 The Great Buster: A Celebration (2018) – 7.5
The Great Buster: A Celebration is Bogdonavich’s final feature film, a documentary tracking the life and career of silent film star Buster Keaton, who was in some of the best Hollywood movies of the 1920s. Narrated by Bogdonavich, the film uses archival footage to display the impact Keaton had on Hollywood.
In addition to Bogdanovich’s narration, the film features interviews with Quentin Tarantino, Werner Herzog, and Carl Reiner, among others. The film won an award for Best Documentary on Cinema at the Venice Film Festival.
6 Noises Off (1992) – 7.5
An ensemble comedy, Noises Off is led by Michael Caine as Lloyd Fellowes, the head of a second-rate theatrical troupe bound for Broadway. The film opens with Fellowes trying to get everything under control during their dress rehearsal, to little success.
The rest of the cast includes Carol Burnett (Annie), Christopher Reeve (Superman), and John Ritter (Three’s Company) as eclectic members of the troupe, as well as the final film performance of Denholm Elliot in his second collaboration with Bogdanovich.
5 Directed By John Ford (1971) – 7.7
A documentary covering the life and films of the monolithic auteur, Directed By John Ford featured interviews with Henry Fonda, James Stewart, John Wayne, and the filmmaker himself.
Narrated by Orson Welles, one of the best directors of all time, the documentary was released in multiple versions, with a later version of Directed By John Ford filled with additional interviews from Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, and Walter Hill.
4 What’s Up, Doc? (1972) – 7.7
One of Bogdanovich’s more commercially successful films, What’s Up, Doc? is a romantic comedy that’s plot is instigated by the mix-up of four identical plaid bags at a swanky San Francisco hotel. Hijinks ensue, as the owner of each bag tries and recovers it from the others.
Inspired by the Bugs Bunny cartoons that the title comes from, What’s Up, Doc? starred Barbara Streisand (A Star Is Born) and Ryan O’Neal (Barry Lyndon), and featured the film debut of Madeline Kahn (Blazing Saddles).
3 The Last Picture Show (1971) – 8.0
Taking place in Anarene, an oil town on the decline in northern Texas during 1951, The Last Picture Show follows a group of high school seniors dealing with the end of local establishments, relationships, and childhood, as they approach graduation.
The film was nominated for eight Oscars, winning two, and featured performances from Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski), Cybil Shepard (Taxi Driver), Ellen Burstyn (Requiem For A Dream), and Cloris Leachman (Young Frankenstein).
2 Paper Moon (1973) – 8.1
Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, Paper Moon is the story of a con man who finds himself accompanying a young girl who may or may not be his daughter to Saint Joseph, Missouri. Despite the odds, the two form an unlikely bond.
Led by the father-daughter duo Ryan and Tatum O’Neal, the film was nominated for four Oscars, with Tatum winning Best Actress in a Supporting Role, thereby becoming the youngest actor ever to win an Oscar.
1 Runnin’ Down A Dream (2007) – 8.6
Examining the history of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the expansive four-hour documentary, Runnin’ Down A Dream, tracks the band from its inception up to its 30th anniversary.
In addition to footage of the band, the film includes interviews with George Harrison, Eddie Vedder, Dave Grohl, and Rick Rubin. Runnin’ Down A Dream was unanimously well-received by critics and won a Grammy for Best Music Film.
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