226 Films for drama students

Acting for stage and acting for screen are two very different skills, and students at RCS explore both in detail as part of our undergraduate and postgraduate acting programmes. However one of the beauties of film is that great performances can be captured, preserved and studied much more readily than live theatre.

Associate Head of BA Acting, Ali De Souza keeps a running list of “must-see” films, chosen specifically from an acting point of view. He started compiling it in 2002 when he was a Lecturer in Screen Acting at Queen Margaret University and updates it 3 or 4 times throughout the year. Here, he shares the current list (226 films) and explains some of his criteria around it.

How many of Ali’s films have you seen? Read the full list below and take our quiz!

The Interview

You’ve been curating this list since 2002. Was there a specific reason you started it or did it just happen?
It started pretty organically. I often ask my students to bring in clips of what they consider good acting on screen, and we analyse these as a group. It opens up great debate about the art of screen acting versus acting for the stage. Sometimes there are brilliant clips from films I know but often the students will bring in stuff I haven’t seen or didn’t even know about, so I started to make a list of everything I consider excellent and of all the films I needed to see.

What are your criteria for inclusion on this list?
I try to pick films purely for the acting – the characterisation, the playing of subtext, the nuances, the complexities, and of course the direction – but it is very difficult not to get swayed by brilliant narrative, cinematography, lighting, music etc. There are many films which have all those things spot on that are not on the list because I’m focussing on the acting.

When analysing the films, I ask actors to watch what is not being said; the subtext. Also, moments of pure vulnerability, fierce intellect, quiet sensuality and unadulterated danger the camera loves all these qualities.

Do films translate well to the stage (and vice versa), or in your view should they always be two separate things?
Film is a visual medium and one shot can encompass a whole story, backstory and relationship. Stage relies more on words. There is crossover between artforms of course (and there should be RCS is all about collaboration). Film and theatre can learn a lot from each other and when they do the results can be terrific; I saw a stage version of Picnic at Hanging Rock (by renowned Australian theatre makers Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne and Black Swan State Theatre Company) that had all the haunting mystery and sexual undercurrents of the 1975 film.

How often do you go to the cinema? What are your cinema rituals?
I don’t go the cinema as often as I’d like it is too easy now to watch films on TV. When I do, I love going on my own to an early show, being immersed in something for two hours and then coming out into the sunshine it’s like coming out of a wonderful deep sleep.

Out of this list, which are YOUR top three?
Difficult question”¦ top three? Really? There are so many good films!! I never tire of watching Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (a great play made into a great film), Psycho, The Deer Hunter, Alien, Jean de Florette, Thelma and Louise, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2, Finding Nemo, Red Road, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”¦
I think that’s more than three”¦

If you could be an extra on one of these films, which one would it be?!
Can I be an extra in Blade Runner please? Or Birdman? Or It’s A Wonderful Life? Or”¦

The List

See the full list below and tick off the ones you’ve seen in our quiz.

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The Quiz


226 films every actor MUST see

Take the quiz

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