Growing up as a film viewer, Peter Bogdanovich’s name was always somewhere in my consciousness. As a director, he was someone who made serious “adult” pictures. He was a director true “cinephiles” appreciated, and I wasn’t quite there yet. 

Over the early months of the pandemic, I started experimenting with his best-known works (namely Paper Moon). However, it wasn’t until the filmmaker passed away in January 2022 that I really dove into his career. 

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When I say dove in, I was hooked. Within a few short weeks, I’d finished his feature-length filmography. Though, there are admittedly a few TV movies still simmering on my watchlist. With more than fifty years behind the camera and more than 30 films, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into. 

With that, here are my Top 11 favorite Peter Bogdanovich movies… because I couldn’t pick just 10. 

11. The Last Picture Show (1971)

Jeff Bridges looks at Cybil Shepherd as she adjusts her make-up in Peter Bogdanovich's THE LAST PICTURE SHOW.

My number 11 choice is probably my hottest of hot takes. Most rank this one a lot higher. Culture recognizes The Last Picture Show as not only one of Bogdanovich’s best but also one of the best works of the 1970s. 

The Last Picture Show follows a group of teenagers coming of age in rural Texas during the late 1950s. There’s love, drama, heartbreak, and everything that implies. The movie features an all-star cast, including a “pre-most-things” Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, Cybill Shepherd (more on her later), Cloris Leachman, Eileen Brennan, and Ben Johnson (among others.) Bogdanovich directs the movie from a script he wrote with Larry McMurtry.

Coming in 1971, The Last Picture Show signaled Bogdanovich’s true arrival on the movie-making scene. His feature-length named debut came in 1968 with his work on Targets. However, it’s The Last Picture Show everyone talks about.

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It is certainly a deep film, and there’s a lot to sink your teeth into with this one. The Last Picture Show is a sleepy meditation on questions of nostalgia and adolescence and deals with some heavy themes like suicide and sexual assault. It is a hard movie, and while I respect it, I’ll admit this is a work I’ve had to grow to appreciate.

The Last Picture Show is widely available as a rental on digital platforms. 

10. Daisy Miller (1974)

Barry Brown and Cybill Shepherd look into the sun in Daisy Miller.

One name is going to pop up as many times in this article as Bogdanovich’s. That’s right, Cybill Shepherd. 

Those who remember (or can Google) the 1970s know that for much of the decade, the two were connected at the hip. To make a long story short, Bogdanovich ended his marriage to Polly Platt, his wife and creative collaborator, in order to begin a relationship with Sheperd while filming The Last Picture Show. However, that is a different and far more complicated write-up. 

Daisy Miller is based on the 1878 novella of the same name, following Frederick Winterbourne (Barry Brown) and his ongoing and tumultuous relationship with the lovely but flightly American socialite Daisy Miller (Shepherd). Bogdanovich directs the film from a script by Frederic Raphael

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Daisy Miller shows the Shepherd and Bogdanovich creative partnership riding its creative high. The role is a perfect one for Shepherd, who shines in the film. This is a glitzy, shiny movie from a director who couldn’t put a foot wrong at the time. It just stumbles a bit in such a crowded filmography. 

Daisy Miller is available as a rental through a variety of streaming platforms. 

9. Directed by John Ford (1971)

The poster for Directing John Ford.

The element which truly struck me about Peter Bogdanovich, his work, and his persona is his admiration of film history. In fact, before Bogdanovich made his first film, he worked as a film critic and journalist. As I’ve grown more familiar with his career, it’s abundantly clear just how powerful his love of film history was. The influence of classic Hollywood is all over his work.

Directed by John Ford comes early in the director’s career. In fact, it falls even before his mainstream directorial breakout on The Last Picture Show

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The documentary is a must-see for classic film fans bringing together many of the (then) living legends of cinema to talk about the work of legendary director John Ford. Some of the many contributors include John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda (to name a few.)

The film even features an interview with John Ford which will likely strike a chord with all journalists out there as the seemingly cantankerous filmmaker puts a very young Bogdanovich through his paces. It’s delightful yet painful to watch all at the same time. 

Directed by John Ford is easiest tracked down on physical media. 

8. Nickelodeon (1976)

Ryan O'Neal attempts to pull away from a crowd of men on courtrooms steps in Nickelodeon.

Nickelodeon is perhaps one of my more scandalous picks on this list. (Along with at least one more still to come!) The movie comes early into the second stage of Bogdanovich’s career as early success gave way to perceived failures. 

Nickelodeon features an all-star cast including Ryan O’Neal, Burt Reynolds, Tatum O’Neal, Brian Keith, Stella Stevens and John Ritter. The story follows a lawyer (O’Neal) leading a group of zany characters who get into movie production during the earliest days of the industry. Peter Bogdanovich directs the film from a script he co-wrote with W.D. Richter.

Nickelodeon is widely considered one of the biggest failures in Bogdanovich’s career, but hear me out! This movie is a little weird on the surface, but there’s more to this one than meets the eye. 

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In its current form, Nickelodeon doesn’t fully translate, and it’s difficult to figure out exactly why. It’s a strange blend of a silent film trapped in the late 1970s. Ultimately, what Bogdanovich brings to the screen is a well-crafted study of silent cinema and its physicality. When watching the movie with a very specific eye for this element, it shines through. He captures the era beautifully, but the movie looks too contemporary. 

I’ve read rumors of a mysterious, black-and-white director’s cut, and the thought of this sticks with me. I need this in my life. This would be the ultimate way to watch Nickelodeon

Nickelodeon tends to be a harder movie to find. At the time of writing, the movie is available to stream on Tubi. 

7. Saint Jack (1979)

Ben Gazzara and Peter Bogdanovich talk at a restaurant table in Saint Jack.

There is apparently something about Ben Gazzara that lives rent-free in my brain. Saint Jack directly paralleled the situation I found myself in with the actor’s 1976 teaming with John Cassavetes in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. I couldn’t stand these films initially, but after simmering on them for a while, they underwent a complete reappraisal. 

Saint Jack follows Jack (Gazzara), a hustler trying to get ahead in the seedy underbelly of the Singapore club scene. He plunges headfirst into this dangerous world only to eventually realize he may want something different in life. Denholm Elliot and Peter Bogdanovich co-star in the movie. Bogdanovich directed the film from a script he co-wrote with Howard Sackler and Paul Theroux. Roger Corman and Hugh Hefner (that one) produced the indie drama.  

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Saint Jack signifies the beginning of Bogdanovich’s many career reinventions. After a number of big-budget, critical failures, Saint Jack is smaller and far more gritty. There’s an emphasis on character rather than scale, which shows Bogdanovich returning to his independent filmmaking roots. He started with Roger Corman, after all.  

Saint Jack is currently streaming on Freevee. 

6. They All Laughed (1981)

John Ritter talks with Dorothy Stratten in They All Laughed.

As I said, something about Ben Gazzara simmers in my brain. We move from the gritty and edgy Saint Jack to Gazzara, helming a frothy return to Hollywood form for Bogdanovich in the lovable They All Laughed.

They All Laughed sees Bogdanovich back playing in territory he dearly loved gentle old Hollywood-style comedy. The film follows a team of private eyes who find themselves entangled with a group of lovely ladies. Audrey Hepburn, Ben Gazzara, John Ritter, Dorothy Stratten and Colleen Camp co-star in the movie. Peter Bogdanovich directs from a script he wrote with Blaine Novak. 

They All Laughed goes down real smooth. It’s essentially a late 1930s slapstick comedy through a 1981 lens. The cast is spot on. Hepburn and Gazzara are, of course, legends, while Ritter and (tragically) Stratten are luminescent on-screen. Colleen Camp is a flipping delight, and I’m currently on a quest to get more of her work in my life. 

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In a career dotted with struggles, They All Laughed is yet another. After the film’s lead Dorothy Stratten was murdered in 1980, the studio buried the film. It was assumed the tragedy surrounding 20 year old’s death would hang over the light comedy. Bogdanovich attempted to distribute the movie himself, but the effort was sadly and undeservedly marred in failure. This film deserves far more love than it gets.

They All Laughed is easiest found on physical media.   

5. At Long Last Love (1975)

Duilio Del Prete, Cybill Shepherd, Burt Reynolds and Madeline Kahn enjoy a drink in At Long Last Love.

Film fans, hear me out. At Long Last Love is another work from Bogdanovich with an absolutely toxic reputation, and I don’t understand it in the slightest. 

At Long Last Love is probably Bogdanvoich’s most starry-eyed love letter to the golden age of classic Hollywood. The movie is a bubbly, musical romantic comedy following three socialite friends in the 1930s. It features an all-star cast, including Cybill Shepherd (sensing a pattern here?), Burt Reynolds, Madeline Kahn, Eileen Brennan and John Hillerman

At Long Last Love is a frothy 1930s-era musical crafted to the work of Cole Porter. It is clear when watching the movie that in each and every frame, Bogdanovich is paying direct tribute to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Busby Berkeley and their contemporaries. His love for Hollywood’s Golden Age shines in every moment of At Long Last Love

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The film is, of course, not flawless. There are moments, particularly during the musical sequences, where some of the performers aren’t the most comfortable, Shepherd and Reynolds in particular.

Perhaps the movie was released too close to its source material, and the memory of Astaire and Rogers and the legends of the industry were still too fresh. While Bogdanovich’s music numbers don’t always bring the same effortlessness as those which inspired them, there’s a magic in this movie though. This is a fun one. Give it a chance. 

At Long Last Love is yet another hard one to track down. The movie is currently easiest to stream on YouTube.

4. The Great Buster (2018)

Buster Keaton looks up from a broken camera in The Great Buster.

Released in 2018, The Great Buster saw Bogdanovich returning to the documentary form to celebrate legendary silent film comedian Buster Keaton. Like Directed By John Ford, The Great Buster brings together pop culture figures, comedians and industry experts to discuss Keaton’s contribution to comedy as we know it today.

The Great Buster steps beyond the plethora of superficial research on Keaton and crafts a take showing the love, passion and depth Bogdanovich had for classic Hollywood. As mentioned, he was a film scholar at heart. Audiences are treated to a plethora of clips and interviews presenting a clear-eyed tribute to Keaton’s life. There’s an equal appreciation for his work and influence but also an understanding of the many extraneous factors complicating his career. It’s well thought out, well researched, and is a must-see for classic film fans. 

The Great Buster is widely available as a rental through streaming sites. 

3. Targets (1968)

Peter Bogdanovich talks with Boris Karloff and Nancy Hsueh in Targets.

Peter Bogdanovich was one of many filmmakers to begin their careers in the Roger Corman stable of talent. He assisted on many Corman projects and received his earliest directing credits from Corman. 

Targets is Bogdanovich’s first official directorial effort. The film follows two parallel stories as an aging movie star (Boris Karloff) attempts to reevaluate his life and career. At the same time, a young veteran (Tim O’Kelly) is losing control of his life and sanity. Bogdanovich directs (and co-stars in the movie) from a script he co-wrote with Polly Platt and Samuel Filler.

While Targets wasn’t the first Bogdanovich directorial effort I watched, it was the first which captivated me in the wake of his 2022 passing. I fell in love with this movie. 

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From the beginning of the film, Targets is a complex and tightly crafted gem. It’s certainly heavy due to the subject matter. However, the still-young Bogdanovich never feels constrained by the challenging narrative or the notoriously tight Corman budget.

In fact, Targets is the perfect first movie from the young film fan Bogdanovich. He directs with an effortless hand, juggling the Karloff story and the far more challenging veteran narrative. The director seems almost excited to be working with Karloff, who at this point was already a living Hollywood legend. The aged actor would pass away shortly after the film’s completion in 1969. 

Targets is available as a rental on online streaming sites. 

2. What’s Up Doc? (1972)

Ryan O'Neal and Barbra Streisand cuddle in What's Up Doc.

What’s Up Doc? is the middle work in Bogdanovich’s dynamic 1970s three-pete. The Last Picture Show, What’s Up Doc? and Paper Moon opened the decade for the young director and established him as a force to be reckoned with on the Hollywood scene. 

What’s Up Doc? is the first of Bogdanovich’s major works to show the director playing in his Old Hollywood happy place. It’s a special comedy and is always easy to find near the top of many classic comedy lists.

What’s Up Doc? follows the chaos at a San Francisco hotel when a number of overnight bags are mixed-up. It may sound boring, but au contraire. This simple plot point leads to theft, espionage and one of the best shopping cart chases to hit the silver screen. Barbra Streisand stars and is her usual delightful self, while Ryan O’Neal is rarely better than he is in this film. 

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What’s Up Doc? is Bogdanovich’s most successful effort to modernize a classic format. The movie is a very deliberate and effortlessly crafted modernization of Hawksian slapstick comedies like Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday. It’s rapid-fire fun which stands alongside its inspirational source material while carving its own path. 

What’s Up Doc? is widely available as a rental through streaming services. 

1. Paper Moon (1973)

Tatum O'Neal smokes a cigarette in Paper Moon.

It all comes to this! Like so many of these lists, it was quite the challenge to settle on a number one film. In truth, a number of these movies could potentially take the top spot. 

I was smitten with Paper Moon as soon as I watched it. If Bogdanovich has a flair for anything, it is making idealistic and lovable period pieces. This story of a con man (Ryan O’Neal) finding himself forced to bring a young girl (Tatum O’Neal) — who may or may not be his daughter– back to her relatives after the death of her mother certainly qualifies. 

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This film shines at a more personal level. While many of Bogdanovich’s movies are big and glitzy love letters to Old Hollywood, Paper Moon is more intimate. It certainly tackles questions of nostalgia, but at its roots, this is a story about a father and daughter.

Paper Moon is successful thanks to the bond between these two characters. It is perhaps made even more special due to the genius casting of Tatum O’Neal opposite her real-life father. The young actress was rewarded with an Oscar for her work in this film, and it is so easy to see why. 

Peter Bogdanovich finds a beautiful chemistry between his actors while at the same time juggling a potentially tricky tone. This movie is intimate and personal but is also delightfully funny. I mean, Madeline Kahn is in it. Enough said. This is a beautiful film that should not be missed. It is a classic and everything that implies. 

Paper Moon is widely available as a rental on most streaming sites. 

When All Is Said And Done

Peter Bogdanovich was undoubtedly a complicated figure, and this certainly plays into some of the reasons it took me so long to dive into his filmography. 

However, once I got there, I really wasn’t sure why it took me so long. There have really only been a few times when I’ve felt “seen” by the work of a director. Yes, Bogdanvocih was a director and a preeminent filmmaker. Before that, though, he was a student of film. More than that, in fact, he was a film fan. He lived movies, and he loved them, and it is so clear in his work. 

This is what struck me as I trudged my way through Bogdanovich’s filmography in the wake of his passing, and this is what I hope people see. While there are certain preconceived notions and challenging baggage hanging over his work, it’s difficult to think of many filmmakers who loved movies quite as much as he did. Movies were a labor of love for him, and it showed. 

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