John Cassavetes was an American film director, producer and actor. He is best known for his films “Emile Hirsch: A Life” (2008), “Faces Places” (2017) and “John Cassavetes’s 9” (2018).

Cassavetes was born on February 6th, 1928 in Atherton, CA. He studied at the University of Southern California and worked as a freelance cameraman before he started making his own films in New York City during the late 1950’s.

He won an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium for his screenplay of “Shadows” (1959).

Cassavetes directed more than fifty feature films over his lifetime; many of these were low-budget independent films made with nonprofessional actors. His first major hit was Graffiti (1973),

which starred Peter Falk as a fast-talking detective tracking down a thief who has stolen his wife’s jewelry. Other hits include The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), West Side Story (1961), The Killing of a Snapping Turtle (1971) and Shadows (1959).

Best John Cassavetes Films

Let’s look at some of John Cassavetes’ best movies.

1. A Woman Under the Influence (1974)              

A Woman Under the Influence (1974) is a cinematic masterpiece that explores the complexities of mental illness and the toll it takes on a family. Gena Rowlands delivers a stunning performance as Mabel Longhetti, a wife and mother struggling to cope with her erratic behavior and emotional instability. Peter Falk gives a nuanced portrayal of her husband Nick, who is torn between his love for his wife and his frustration with her unpredictable behavior.

Director John Cassavetes’ raw and unflinching approach to storytelling is evident in every frame of the film. The camera lingers on the characters’ faces, capturing every nuance of emotion and offering an unfiltered glimpse into their inner turmoil. The result is a film that is both intimate and unsettling, leaving the viewer emotionally drained and deeply affected.

A Woman Under the Influence is not an easy film to watch, but its power lies in its unflinching honesty and its refusal to shy away from difficult subject matter. It is a film that demands to be seen, and its impact will stay with you long after the credits roll. Highly recommended for fans of intense character dramas and uncompromising filmmaking.

A Woman Under the Influence
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk (Actors)
  • John Cassavetes (Director) - John Cassavetes (Writer) - Sam Shaw (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

2. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) is a gritty and intense film that will leave you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. Directed by the legendary filmmaker John Cassavetes, this crime drama is a masterclass in character development and storytelling.

The film follows the story of Cosmo Vitelli, a strip club owner who finds himself in debt to a group of gangsters. In order to repay his debt, he is forced to carry out a hit on a Chinese bookie. What follows is a tense and suspenseful journey as Cosmo wrestles with his conscience and struggles to come to terms with the consequences of his actions.

One of the standout features of this film is its incredible performances. Ben Gazzara delivers a tour-de-force performance as Cosmo, bringing a depth and complexity to the character that is both captivating and heartbreaking. The supporting cast is equally impressive, with standout performances from Seymour Cassel and Timothy Carey.

The direction and cinematography are also noteworthy, with Cassavetes using his signature handheld camera style to create a sense of immediacy and intimacy with the characters. The film’s gritty and realistic portrayal of the seedy underworld of strip clubs and organized crime is both captivating and unnerving.

Overall, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a must-see for fans of crime dramas and character-driven storytelling. With its incredible performances, masterful direction, and intense storyline, this film is a true classic that stands the test of time.

Killing of a Chinese Bookie
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Ben Gazzara, Timothy Carey, Seymour Cassel (Actors)
  • John Cassavetes (Director) - John Cassavetes (Writer) - Al Ruban (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

3. Opening Night (1977)

Opening Night (1977) is a tour-de-force examination of the psyche of an aging actress who is grappling with the realities of her waning career. Directed by John Cassavetes and starring Gena Rowlands in the lead role, this film is a masterclass in acting and storytelling.

The film follows the character of Myrtle Gordon (Rowlands) as she prepares for a new play, only to witness the accidental death of a young fan outside of the theater. This event triggers a series of emotional breakdowns that force Myrtle to confront her own mortality and relevance in the industry.

Cassavetes’ direction is subtle and nuanced, allowing the performances to shine through. Rowlands is simply incredible in the lead role, delivering a raw and vulnerable portrayal of a woman on the brink. The supporting cast is equally impressive, including John Cassavetes himself as the director of the play and Ben Gazzara as the leading man.

The film’s themes of aging, mortality, and the search for meaning in life are timeless and resonate deeply. Cassavetes’ exploration of the human condition is both honest and unflinching, making Opening Night a truly unforgettable cinematic experience.

Overall, Opening Night is a must-see film for anyone interested in the art of acting and storytelling. It’s a powerful and emotional journey that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.

Opening Night
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara, John Cassavetes (Actors)
  • John Cassavetes (Director) - John Cassavetes (Writer) - Al Ruban (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

4. Husbands (1970)        

Husbands (1970) is a raw and unflinching depiction of masculinity in crisis. Directed by John Cassavetes, the film follows three middle-aged friends as they mourn the loss of a fourth friend and embark on a journey of self-discovery.

The performances by the lead actors, Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara, and Peter Falk, are nothing short of remarkable. Their characters are flawed and complex, struggling to come to terms with their own mortality and the responsibilities of adulthood. The chemistry between the three actors feels authentic and natural, making the emotional weight of their journey all the more palpable.

The cinematography is also noteworthy, with Cassavetes utilizing a handheld camera to capture the intimacy and immediacy of the characters’ experiences. The film’s climax, a drunken night out in London, is a masterclass in immersive filmmaking. The viewer is transported into the characters’ world, experiencing their joy, pain, and desperation firsthand.

Husbands is not an easy film to watch, but it is a necessary one. It lays bare the toxic masculinity that has long plagued our society, while also offering a glimmer of hope for redemption and growth. It is a film that will stay with you long after the credits roll. Highly recommended for fans of character-driven drama and raw, unfiltered filmmaking.

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5. Faces (1968) 

Faces (1968) is a raw and unflching examination of the disintegration of a marriage, told through the lens of a group of middle-aged friends who find themselves grappling with their own sense of purpose and identity. Directed by John Cassavetes, this film is a seminal work of American independent cinema, featuring a brilliant ensemble cast who deliver some of the most honest and emotionally charged performances you’ll ever see.

The film is shot in a vérité style, with long, unbroken takes and naturalistic dialogue that feels almost improvised at times, giving the viewer an unfiltered glimpse into the lives of these flawed and fascinating characters. Cassavetes’s camera lingers on their faces, capturing every nuance of their expressions and allowing us to see the pain, joy, and confusion etched into their features.

At times, the film can be difficult to watch, as it pulls no punches in its depiction of infidelity, alcoholism, and the general malaise that can come with middle age. But it is also a deeply humanistic work, full of compassion and empathy for its characters, even as it exposes their flaws and weaknesses.

Overall, Faces is a masterpiece of American cinema, a film that challenges us to confront the messy realities of human relationships and reminds us of the power of great acting and storytelling to capture the complexity of our lives. If you’re a fan of independent cinema or just appreciate great filmmaking, this is a must-see.

  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • John Marley, Gena Rowlands, Lynn Carlin (Actors)
  • John Cassavetes (Director) - John Cassavetes (Writer) - Maurice McEndree (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

6. Shadows (1958)          

Shadows is a raw and honest depiction of life in late 1950s New York City. Shot on a shoestring budget and featuring a cast of unknown actors, the film is a masterclass in independent filmmaking. Director John Cassavetes captures the gritty reality of the city streets and the complexities of human relationships with an unflinching eye.

The film follows three siblings of mixed race as they navigate their way through life and love. Lelia, a light-skinned African American, struggles with her identity and her relationship with her white boyfriend Tony. Meanwhile, her brother Benji is a struggling musician who finds himself drawn to a wealthy white woman, and their older brother Hugh is a successful jazz singer trying to balance his career with his personal life.

The performances in Shadows are raw and natural, with Cassavetes allowing his actors to improvise and explore their characters in the moment. The result is a film that feels authentic and true to life, with moments of humor, tenderness, and heartache.

While the film may not be for everyone, those who appreciate independent cinema and the art of storytelling will find much to admire in Shadows. It’s a powerful and poignant reflection of a bygone era, and a reminder of the enduring power of cinema to capture the human experience.

The Shadows, 1958
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • See, Orynge (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 48 Pages - 05/17/2015 (Publication Date)

7. Love Streams (1984)                 

Love Streams is a poignant and deeply human film that delves into the complexities of love, family, and mental illness. Directed by John Cassavetes, the film follows the lives of siblings Robert (played by Cassavetes himself) and Sarah (Gena Rowlands) as they navigate their own personal struggles while trying to connect with each other.

The film’s raw and unfiltered approach to its subject matter is both captivating and heartbreaking, as we see these two flawed and damaged characters try to find meaning in their lives. Cassavetes and Rowlands deliver powerful and emotionally charged performances, bringing a level of authenticity and vulnerability to their roles that is truly remarkable.

At times, Love Streams can be a difficult watch, as it tackles some heavy themes and doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of life. But it’s also a deeply rewarding experience, offering a unique and unflinching look at the human condition.

Overall, Love Streams is a masterful work of art that showcases Cassavetes’ unparalleled talent for capturing the complexities of the human experience. It’s a film that will stick with you long after the credits roll, and one that deserves to be seen by anyone who appreciates raw and honest storytelling.

Love Streams
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands, Diahnne Abbott (Actors)
  • John Cassavetes (Director) - Ted Allan (Writer) - Yoram Globus (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

8. Minnie and Moskowitz (1971)

Minnie and Moskowitz is a quirky and unconventional romantic comedy that explores the unlikely relationship between two misfits in Los Angeles. Written and directed by John Cassavetes, the film masterfully blends humor and heartbreak, creating an emotionally resonant and thought-provoking story.

Gena Rowlands delivers a standout performance as Minnie, a free-spirited and impulsive museum curator who seems to be always searching for something more in life. Seymour Cassel plays Moskowitz, a scrappy parking lot attendant who is initially abrasive and unlikable but gradually reveals a softer and more vulnerable side.


The chemistry between Rowlands and Cassel is electric, and their scenes together are both hilarious and poignant. The film also features a strong supporting cast, including Val Avery as Moskowitz’s cynical and bitter friend and Timothy Carey as a strange and unpredictable artist.

Cassavetes’ signature style of improvisational dialogue and naturalistic acting adds to the film’s authenticity and charm. The cinematography by Arthur J. Ornitz captures the grit and beauty of Los Angeles, and the soundtrack, featuring songs by Bo Harwood, perfectly complements the film’s mood.

Minnie and Moskowitz may not be a typical Hollywood romance, but its honest portrayal of two flawed and complex characters makes it a captivating and unforgettable film. It is a must-watch for fans of unconventional love stories and Cassavetes’ unique brand of filmmaking.

Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import - Belgium ]
  • Minnie and Moskowitz (1971)
  • Minnie and Moskowitz (1971)
  • Gena Rowlands, Seymour Cassel, Val Avery (Actors)
  • John Cassavetes (Director) - Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) (Producer)
  • Spanish (Subtitle)

9. Gloria (1980)

Gloria (1980) is a gripping and film that follows the story of Gloria Swenson, a tough-talking and independent woman who finds herself in the middle of a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with the mob. Directed by John Cassavetes, the film is a masterclass in suspenseful storytelling and features a standout performance from Gena Rowlands as the titular character.

Rowlands brings a raw and unflinching energy to the role of Gloria, perfectly capturing the character’s mixture of strength and vulnerability. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and watching her navigate the dangerous world she finds herself in is both thrilling and heart-wrenching.

The film’s gritty, urban setting adds to the tension, with the seedy streets of New York City serving as a backdrop for the action. Cassavetes’ direction is masterful, and he expertly ratchets up the suspense as the film progresses. By the time the thrilling climax arrives, you’ll be on the edge of your seat.

Overall, Gloria is a must-see for fans of suspenseful thrillers and anyone looking for a powerful performance from one of cinema’s greatest actresses. It’s a film that will stick with you long after the credits roll.

  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Gena Rowlands, Buck Henry, Julie Carmen (Actors)
  • John Cassavetes (Director) - John Cassavetes (Writer) - Sam Shaw (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

10. A Child Is Waiting (1963)

“A Child Is Waiting” (1963) is a touching drama that explores the lives of children with intellectual disabilities and the challenges they face in a society that often fails to understand and support them. The film is a powerful portrayal of the efforts of a dedicated teacher, played brilliantly by Judy Garland, who passionately works to provide these children with the care and education they deserve.

The film’s direction by John Cassavetes is both compassionate and insightful, skillfully capturing the emotional complexity of the children and their families. The performances of the young actors portraying the children are truly remarkable, capturing the pain and joy of their characters with authenticity and heart.

While the film is often difficult to watch, it ultimately leaves a lasting impact on its viewers, challenging them to confront their own prejudices and biases towards those with disabilities. “A Child Is Waiting” is a timeless classic that deserves to be seen by audiences today, and a testament to the power of cinema to inspire change and empathy in its viewers.

Child is Waiting, A
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Burt Lancaster, Judy Garland, Gena Rowlands (Actors)
  • Cassavetes,John (Director) - Abby Mann (Writer) - Stanley Kramer (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Characteristics of John Cassavetes Films

 The most important characteristic of John Cassavetes’ films is the fact that they are very realistic. This means that they have no happy endings and no heroic characters. His characters are people who are real, who make real mistakes, who fall in love and get married, who fight with their families, and so on.

Another characteristic of John Cassavetes’ films is that they are very emotional. There are many scenes in his movies where you can really feel what the actors feel at that moment in their lives. For example, when the father dies in “A Woman Under the Influence”, you really feel for these people because you know how much their father meant to them and how much this death affected their lives greatly.

A third characteristic of John Cassavetes’ films is that they have a lot of action in them. This makes them exciting because it makes it seem like something exciting is happening every minute of every day.

In fact, there may not be any action at all but instead there may be just one scene after another where something happens between two people or groups of people that creates conflict between them.”

Best John Cassavetes Films – Wrapping Up

John Cassavetes’ work has been described as an “intensely personal style”, and the director’s own words echo those descriptions.

In a 1971 interview with the New York Times, he stated that he was “trying to make a film about life, not about me or my family or my friends, but about people.

That’s why I put myself in the middle of it. It’s a way of trying to get at what it is to be alive” (The New York Times).

Cassavetes’ films are often considered to be among the most original and influential in modern American cinema.

The director’s style is often characterized by a combination of improvisational techniques and highly personal direction that led many critics to compare him to filmmakers such as Orson Welles, Jean-Luc Godard and Michelangelo Antonioni. His best known films include Opening Night (1977), A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Husbands (1992).


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