top ten films of the 1940s

Compiled by Brian Lister. 


The 1940s saw the world completely engulfed in a horrific war and attempting to recover and adjust to life in its aftermath. However, the 1940s was also a golden age of cinema not only in Hollywood, but also in Europe. 

It wasn't only that filmmakers completely embraced modern 'talkies', or films with sound, but it was also because they experimented with the cinematic arts through acting, storytelling, cinematography and many other areas. The decade of cinematic innovation created overnight stars like Humphrey Bogart and directors like Frank Capra and John Huston, as well as also producing some of the best films in cinema history that still stand the test of time today.

Here are our Top Ten Films of the 1940s. 


arsenic and old lace (1944)
the best years of our lives (1946)

A wonderfully, dark comedy starring Cary Grant as Mortimer who discovers, to his horror, that his seemingly sweet, elderly aunties are in fact murderers. 

Winner of seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, The Best Years of Our Lives explores the reality of life after the Second World War for three veterans returning to their small home town.

bicycle thieves (1948)

Bicycle Thieves follows the heartbreaking tale of a poor man searching Rome for his stolen bicycle in the aftermath of World War 2 which he needs to get to his job to support his family. 

casablanca (1942)

Arguably the best film of all time, Casablanca finds nightclub owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart) attempting to smuggle a resistance fighter out of German occupied Casablanca who happens to be the husband of Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), an old flame. Filled with romance, intrigue, and lines that are etched  into cinematic folklore, Casablanca is the definition of 'classic.'

citizen kane (1942)
the great dictator (1940)

Another 1940s film that has been called one of the best films of all time, Citizen Kane is the story of a reporter given the job of deciphering a newspaper magnates single dying word: 'Rosebud.'

 The film that launched Charlie Chaplin from silence into the age of cinematic sound, The Great Dictator is a satirical story about a Jewish barber afflicted by the ruthless rule of a dictator (both characters played by Chaplin). The Great Dictator succeeds in being both witty and funny while also providing a strong satirical statement against Nazi fascism. 

the maltese falcon (1941)
the red shoes (1948)

The directional debut of renowned director John Huston, The Maltese Falcon is a noir classic filled with murder, suspense, and action as detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) is entangled in a search for the priceless Maltese Falcon statuette. 

An aspiring ballerina must chose between the man she loves or her art as her impresario seeks to manipulate her. Beautiful and at times harrowing, The Red Shoes is a cinematic beauty. 

the third man (1949)
the treasure of sierra madre (1948)

The Third Man is a classic film noir that follows Holly Martin as he investigates the death of his friend in post war Vienna and the third man present at the time of the murder. Filled with brilliant performances and stunning cinematography, The Third Man is a gem
of 1940s cinema. 

Classic adventure film from director John Huston, The Treasure of Sierra Madre follows prospectors Dobbs and Curtin as they not only discover gold in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico but ruthless bandits and the overwhelming power of their own greed. 

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