The 10 Best Movies Directed By William Friedkin

5. Bug (2006)

Is “Bug” better than “Killer Joe”? This is up to debate, both are fantastic but it feels little more underrated in comparison. It’s been reported that in its Cannes Film Festival premiere, some left the screening in disgust. The man who terrified the entire world with “The Exorcist” did it again but the thing with Friedkin is that, he doesn’t go for cheap thrills or shocks. His films scare you beneath the surface and stay with you because you’ve never seen anything like this before and because Friedkin is not there to shock you with clichés, he has a thought-provoking themes to give you in the context of deeper subjects. Especially in this era where paranoid people are everywhere spreading their conspiracy theories like a virus, “Bug” feels very relevant and interesting.

Friedkin himself once called it a “romantic comedy” and maybe it’s not far-fetched to call it like that. Certainly a dark one but still. The movie works on every level possible, claustrophobic setting is brilliant and its lead actors – Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon are going to places most actors would afraid of going. Friedkin was always a risk taker and no wonder in his later career he kept making such intriguing, amazingly original films.


4. To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

To Live and Die in L.A.

This is simultaneously one of his most celebrated and most underrated films. It’s very well-known in film communities, if you’re a cinephile you had probably seen this or love it. It constantly shows up in the best action films of the 80s lists of various kinds but still it doesn’t feel like it ever got the recognition it deserved despite being no less stellar than “The French Connection”.

The story structure is surprising, especially how it avoids a major cliché in the end, the artist-villain character is one for the ages, stunts and the car chases are mind-blowingly good, very influential also. Just recently Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” had a car chase influenced by it. The use of music rocks also, and it came around the time when the soundtrack playing the key role in action films has not started yet, so according to Willem Dafoe, that aspect of the film didn’t work for the audiences yet and especially another reason why the film didn’t so well in its initial release was because the people “couldn’t find anyone to root for”.

Friedkin always hated how 80s cinema was full of “evil vs. good” stories, because he loved ambiguity. Speaking of Dafoe, it’s great that Friedkin brought him and William Petersen for the lead roles and they were not famous at all at the time, yet they delivered star-making performances. Everything is perfect about “To Live and Die in L.A.” from sensational cinematography to masterful editing. It also lives up to its title as it’s also one of the best films set in LA.


3. Sorcerer (1977)

Again, we should just be glad that Friedkin lived long enough to see “Cruising” and “Sorcerer” getting the appreciation they deserved in their initial releases. So many things went wrong with “Sorcerer”. The critics dismissed it as “just a remake of The Wages of Fear”, which annoyed Friedkin because he claims if you’re making an adaptation of a novel, you don’t “re-make” the previous film, you make your own version of the book and he has a good point there.

Its getting release around the same time with “Star Wars” also destroyed its box office chances. Luckily, lots of people – including Stephen King who calls it his favorite film ever – came to appreciate it over the years as one of the greatest suspense films ever lived. Seriously, even outside of the major brilliant sequence that is featured on the poster, everything is so amazing about “Sorcerer”.

Friedkin himself saw it as a statement on the current world politics, on how people and the nations can’t come together. Friedkin was often critical of many of his films but luckily, not “Sorcerer”. It’s a nail-bitter, masterclass at building suspense, and one of the greatest films of all time. Tangerine Dream score is something else as well. Another bit of trivia is since they knew Friedkin watches “The Simpsons”, they made a funny reference to the film over there.


2. The French Connection (1971)

The French Connection

Who knows how it plays with modern audiences these days but in the early 70s, there was nothing like “The French Connection”. Friedkin came from the world of documentaries, so it only made sense he brought such naturalism to the genre, with that gritty tone. Gene Hackman’s performance as Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, a cop character the people didn’t get use to see in movies, someone racist, hard-boiled, flawed anti-hero where the film made you confused if you have to root for him or not. That’s what made Friedkin special, he always loved ambiguity instead of “good vs. evil” stories in his movies.

The car chase, alongside with “Bullitt”, “Ronin” and Friedkin’s own “To Live and Die in L.A.” are some of the best ever. It’s insane that after all these years, it’s still mindblowing as ever. You can see how much control and confidence Friedkin had at every shot and he used the setting so well that it has now became the definitive New York crime film of the 70s.

There’s no false note here, that Don Ellis’ soundtrack is something else. The performances all stand out, especially Fernando Rey. There’s also a funny story behind his casting where you can check from Friedkin’s book. An absolute masterpiece that brought Friedkin his well-deserved “Best Director” Oscar.


1. The Exorcist (1973)

Friedkin’s Oscar for “The French Connection” was well-deserved but he arguably deserved it even more for “The Exorcist”. Yet, he ended up losing it to George Roy Hill for “The Sting”. The first horror film ever nominated for “Best Picture” but maybe the AMPAS was still not ready (and still is not seemingly) to embrace such a dark film? Friedkin refused to call it dark, because it ends with a hope and he never exactly saw it as a horror film but more of a drama about power of faith.

Once again, it’s hard to find something to say about “The Exorcist” that has not been said yet. It’s one of the best horror films of all time, if not THE best. It’s also one of the greatest films ever made. Just like some other films on the list, everything works here perfectly. From the cinematography to the settings to the score to the acting. Just brilliant all around. For a film about demon, you might need to have a faith in such things to get scared by it but no, Friedkin’s film terrifies you nevertheless. Since then, it’s been parodied, referenced and imitated countless of times, but it never ruins the experience.

Friedkin was not less talented than Sidney Lumet or Mike Nichols when it came adapting plays into movies as you could see from “The Birthday Party” to his last “Killer Joe”. So, no wonder he used claustrophobic settings brilliantly. After all these years, all the recognition, you still see it and say “it was worth all the hype”. One of the masterpieces of a master filmmaker. He’ll be missed.