Not many directors are responsible for a single massive horror franchise. James Wan has three under his belt. Since his 2004 feature debut “Saw,” the Australian filmmaker and founder of the Atomic Monster production company has had a hand in creating some of the most influential horror movies of the 21st century. He’s shown no signs of stopping anytime soon.
Born in Malaysia and raised in Australia since age 7, Wan graduated with a degree in Media from RMIT University in 1999. In 2004, he headed to Hollywood with his friend Leigh Whannell, directing Whannell’s nasty script about a killer who uses deadly games to torment those he deems necessary to punish. Released by Lionsgate, the first “Saw” movie was a ridiculously profitable success, grossing over $103 million on a $1 million budget. It spawned a franchise with a truly intense, labyrinthine mythology and a dedicated fanbase. Although he’s never directed or written a followup, Wan remains an executive producer on every film up to the 10th.
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Following that mic drop of a directorial debut, the remainder of Wan’s aughts were quiet, releasing two underperforming films in “Dead Silence” and “Death Sentence” — both in 2007. But the next decade saw Wan strike again with two major horror hits, first via 2010’s “Insidious”: his first collaboration with his frequent scream king Patrick Wilson. A lean film about a young boy who becomes a vessel for demons, the movie repeated the original “Saw’s” remarkable profitability by managing $100 million on a $1.5 million budget, and has since spawned five movies.
Even more successful was Wan’s re-team with Wilson in 2013, “The Conjuring.” Starring Wilson and Vera Farmiga as paranormal investigators, the movie is one of the highest-grossing horror films ever, making $319.5 million globally. It has since spawned two sequels, and a variety of side spinoff films, including “The Nun” and “Annabelle,” with Wan producing each and every single one. Consider that between “Saw X,” “The Nun II,” and “Insidious: The Red Door,” all of Wan’s horror franchises have released an installment in 2023.
Since he gained three highly successful franchises as lucrative nest eggs, Wan has been free to pursue his passion as a horror director, with frequently interesting results. He’s produced some interesting underdog works, like “Lights Out” or 2023’s viral hit “M3gan.” In 2021, he made the wildest movie of his career when he helmed “Malignant,” a psychological thriller and giallo throwback that went to truly weird, twisted places over the course of its runtime. And he’s branched out of horror and gone into directing mainstream action juggernauts, like the seventh “Fast and the Furious” film and the first “Aquaman.” His sequel to that 2018 DC blockbuster, “The Lost Kingdom,” is slated for release this December.
With such a huge track record in the horror space, it’s no surprise that Wan is a massive buff and fan of the genre. His influences range from cult classics like “The Frighteners,” foreign cinema like the original “Ring,” and mainstream studio horror like “Poltergeist.” And of course, he has favorite films he loves that don’t fit into his preferred genre, including a surprising appreciation for the Disney animated canon. In celebration of Halloween, we combed through Wan’s interviews over the years to find the movies that the director most feverishly recommends. Read on for a list of Wan’s 10 favorite movies, listed in no particular order.
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