Billy Wilder is one of our great film directors, an artist whose track record speaks for itself, a guy who somehow made multiple genre-defining-and-modifying masterpieces one after the other like some kind of incredible filmic assembly line. For any sincere fan or creator of cinema, Wilder’s work is simply essential.
Born in 1906 in the Austria-Hungarian Empire (what we now know as Poland), Wilder began his career in Berlin, working first as a journalist and then eventually as a screenwriter. The traumas of the Holocaust affected Wilder’s family tragically — his mother, grandmother, and stepfather were murdered in different concentration camps. To escape the horrors of Nazi Germany, Wilder fled to Paris, where he directed his first film Mauvaise Graine (Bad Seed). After that, he moved to the United States, became an American citizen, and began his sterling work in the Hollywood film industry. Wilder directed 27 films in his lifetime, won six Oscars, received many lifetime achievement awards, and had 10 of his films preserved in the National Film Registry by Congress. He died in 2002 at the age of 95.
In chronological order, here are 10 essential Billy Wilder films for you to crack into for the first time, or revisit for the umpteenth. Even in our modern day content overload, they still remain entertaining, fiery, passionate, immaculately constructed, and always empathetic pieces of work. And if you don’t like one of them, well, nobody’s perfect.