The 1940s was an iconic year in the film industry as it focused on morale films for those serving in World War II and their families. War films made extensive use of models and miniature photography.
New techniques were developed to create realistic naval battles in films like Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944). Other techniques using wires was used to depict two dozen model aircraft taking off in precise formation. Miniature explosions were needed for model destructions.
These techniques helped further the development within the film industry. By the end of the 40s during post-war, there was a decline in those going to the theater. This was due to the expansion of suburban housing as well as growing availability of televisions in homes.
20. The Ox-Bow Incident, Amazon (1943)
Based on the 1940 western novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark sharing the same name, The Ox-Bow Incident was directed by William A. Wellman. It was well received when released and was even nominated for the Oscar of Best Picture, however it lost to Casablanca.
The story follows two cowboys who arrive in a Western town. When news arrives that a local rancher has been murdered and his cattle stolen, the townspeople, along with the two cowboys, form a posse to catch the perpetrators.
They find three men in possession of the cattle, and the posse is determined to see justice down on the spot. This is by far one of the best 40s movies that you need to check out.
19. Children of Paradise, Amazon (1945)
Children of Paradise is a two-part French romantic drama by Marcel Carne, produced under war conditions in 1943 through 1945 in both Vichy France and Occupied France. It received universal critical acclaim upon release and is considered one of the best films.
The story follows Garance, a graceful and elusive courtesan during the 1830s who finds herself wrongfully accused of pickpocketing. Amongst the busy street full of jugglers, performers and streetwalkers, a silent mime, Baptist, comes to her rescue, only to hopelessly fall for her.
However, the love quickly shatters into sorrow when Baptiste realizes she can never be his, as so many have tried but failed.
18. How Green Was My Valley, Amazon (1941)
This drama film is set in Wales and is directed by John Ford, based on the bestselling 1939 novel sharing the same name by Richard Llewellyn. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won five, famously beating Citizen Kane, Sergeant York and the Maltese Falcon for Best Picture.
The story follows the Morgans, a hard-working Welsh mining family, all from the point of view of the youngest child, Huw. He lives with affectionate and kind parents, his sister and five brothers in the South Wales Valleys during the late Victorian era.
The author claimed that the book was based on his own experiences, and the film captures that by chronicling the life of Huw and the different ways life effected their family.
17. Sullivan’s Travels, Amazon (1941)
This comedy film was written and directed by Preston Sturges and is a satire on the film industry. The film received disparate critical reception upon release. Over time, however, the film’s reputation improved tremendously, as it now considered a classic.
The film follows a famous Hollywood comedy director who is spoiled, naive and successful, who has directed fluffy films. However, he’s longing to make a socially relevant drama, sets out to live as a tramp to gain life experience for his upcoming film. Along the way, he unites with a poor aspiring actress who accompanies him.
16. Brief Encounter, Max (1945)
This British romantic drama was directed by David Lean based on the 1936 one-act play Still Life. The film stars Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway and Joyce Carey and is considered one of the greatest films of all time, with the British Film Institute ranking it the second-greatest British film in 1999.
The story follows a passionate extramarital relationship in England shortly before World War II. The protagonist, Laura, is a married woman with children whose conventional life becomes increasingly complicated after a chance meeting at a railway station with a married stranger with whom she falls in love with.
They continue to meet every Thursday in a small cafe, although they know that their love in impossible. If you’re wanting to explore more films, this is by far one of the best 40s movies to try.
15. The Third Man, Amazon (1949)
This British-American film noir was directed by Carol Reed and written by Graham Greene. Greene wrote a novella about the film to prepare for the screenplay. This film is considered one of the best British films of all time.
It’s set in postwar Vienna and centers on American Holly Martins who arrives in the city to accept a job with his friend Harry Lime, only to learn that Lime has died. Thinking the death was suspicious, he decides to stay in Vienna to investigate. Holly Martin is a pulp novelist and uses his knowledge to figure out information.
When speaking to friends and associates of Lime’s, he realizes that stories are inconsistent and is determined to discover what really happened to his friend.
14. The Best Years of Our Lives, Amazon (1946)
Another drama film, this one was directed by William Wyler starring Myrna Loy, Fredrick March, Dana Andrews and more. This is one of the many war films that were released during this time and focuses on social re-adjustment.
The film is about three United States servicemen re-adjusting to societal changes and civilian life after coming home from World War II. The three men come from different services with different ranks that do not correspond with their civilian social class backgrounds.
Fred Derry is an ordinary working man who finds it difficult to hold down a job. Homer Parrish, who lost both hands, is unsure of his fiancée’s feelings. Al Stephenson comes back with an influential banking position but finds it hard to reconcile with his loyalties to ex-servicemen with new commercial realities.
13. The Grapes of Wrath, Amazon (1940)
Break out your book reports because this 1949 drama film directed by John Ford should be pretty familiar as it’s based on John Steinbeck’s 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel sharing the same name.
The film tells the story of the Joads, an Oklahoma family of sharecroppers, who, after losing their farm to increased mechanization during the Great Depression in the 1930s, become migrant workers, ending up in California.
The film details their journey across the Unites States as they travel in search of work and opportunities for the family members. The film is widely considered one of the best films of all time, along with the book that is still talked about in great detail today.
12. The Red Shoes, Max (1948)
This is a British drama film written, directed and produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Once released, the movie received critical acclaim, especially in the U.S. and received a total of five Academy Award nominations.
The story follows Victoria Page who is an aspiring ballerino who joins the world-renowned Ballet Lermontov, owned and operated by Boris Lermontov. Under his obsessive guidance, she is poised for superstardom, but eventually earns his scorn when she falls in love.
Lermontov tests her dedication to the ballet by making her choose between her career and her romance with composer Julian Craster. Will Page be able to follow her heart, or be stuck with the demands of others? This is just one of the many best 40s movies to watch.
11. The Lost Weekend, Amazon (1945)
This is a drama film noir that is directed by Billy Wilder and stars Ray Milland and Jane Wyman. It’s based on Charles R. Jackson’s 1944 novel sharing the same name about an alcoholic writer. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four.
The story follows Don Birnam, a long-time alcoholic who has been “on the wagon” for ten days and seems to be over the worst; but his craving has just become more insidious.
After he evades a planned weekend with his brother and girlfriend, Don begins a four-day bender. During this time, we flashback of past events that have all gone bad because of his drinking habits. And unfortunately, this bout is about to be his last, one way or another.
10. Laura, Amazon (1944)
This film noir was produced and directed by Otto Preminger starring Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb. The movie is based on the 1943 novel Laura by Vera Caspary.
The film follows New York City Police Department Detective Mark McPherson who is investigating the murder of young, beautiful and highly successful advertising executive, Laura Hunt, who was killed by a shotgun blast to the face just inside her apartment. McPherson interviews several people and starts to paint a mental picture of her in his head.
While he’s wondering who would want to kill someone so talented and beautiful, he begins to fall under her spell, and then one night, something bizarre happens during the investigation that makes him re-think his whole case.
9. Casablanca, Max (1942)
This romantic drama was directed by Michael Curtiz and stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid.
It’s filmed and set during World War II and focuses on an American expatriate, Rich Blaine, who must choose between his love for a woman and helping her husband, a Czechoslovak resistance leader, escape the Vichy-controlled city of Casablanca to continue his fight against the Germans.
Rick owns a nightclub and gambling den in Casablanca that attracts various clientele, including Vichy French and Nazi German officials, refugees and those who prey on them. When his former lover, however, enters with her current husband, he has to put his feelings aside to help them escape.
8. It’s a Wonderful Life, Amazon (1946)
It’s a Wonderful Life is actually one of my favorite Christmas movies that I watch frequently. It’s also a supernatural drama that is produced and directed by Frank Capra and is based on the short story and booklet The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1943.
The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his personal dreams in order to help others in his community. The film centers around Bailey who has thoughts of suicide on Christmas. The film is set in Bedford Falls, New York.
As Baily contemplates ending his life, his prayers about his family reach Heaven where a guardian angel, Clarence Odbody, is assigned to George to not only save Baily and show him why he should stay, but also get his wings. Clarence shows Baily life as if he never existed, and thus Bailey realizes how amazing his life truly is.
7. Citizen Kane, Amazon (1941)
Citizen Kane is a drama film directed, produced and starring Orson Welles and is his first feature film along with one of the best 40s movies. This movie is often considered one of the greatest films ever made, and for 50 consecutive years, it stood at number one in the British Film Institutes.
The story follows a group of reporters who are trying to decipher the last word ever spoke by Charles Foster Kane, the millionaire newspaper tycoon. It begins with a news reel detailing Kane’s life for the masses, and then from there, viewers are shown flashbacks from Kane’s life.
As the investigation moves further, viewers are able to see the fascinating life that the man lived as he rose to fame and eventually fell from his throne.
6. Arsenic and Old Lace, Amazon (1944)
Three-time Best Director Oscar winner Frank Capra directed this adaptation of the 1941 play. The dark comedy stars Cary Grant in rare form, and his famous line, “Insanity runs in my family — it practically gallops” is a fitting summary of the film.
The premise revolves around a writer named Mortimer Brewster (Grant). He has to deal with his aunts who lure lonely bachelors to rent a room in their home and kill them to put them out of their misery.
It sounds crazy, but with a game cast, Capra’s trademark direction, and Grant shining in the central role, Arsenic and Old Lace stand the test of time.
5. The Big Sleep, Amazon (1946)
An incredible writing team made this Howard Hawks-directed noir happen. Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner William Faulkner had credit, as well as prolific screenwriter Jules Furthman. Leigh Brackett was also credited; she penned the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back.
In spite of all that, The Big Sleep‘s complicated plot even confused the screenwriters. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall co-starred and had such good chemistry that Warner Bros. heavily altered the theatrical release to focus more on their relationship.
This is an excellent, golden age of Hollywood showcase for the stars. It’s fun to pull apart the murder mystery and draw your own conclusions.
4. The Letter, Max (1940)
Nominated for seven Academy Awards, The Letter stars Bette Davis in one of her most acclaimed roles. She plays Leslie Crosbie, who shoots a man (revealed to be her lover) dead within the opening minutes of the movie.
What follows is a fascinating yarn in which Leslie successfully argues self-defense. Her ulterior motives and manipulative actions throughout make it a performance that holds up to this day.
It doesn’t sound like Davis’ adulterous, murdering character is likeable, yet she pulls it off. The Letter features an exceptional score that feeds into the melodrama of this twisted story.
3. The Maltese Falcon, Amazon (1941)
One of the most intricately plotted movies of all time, this is another Bogart classic noir. The source material comes from arguably the best-hardboiled detective novelist ever Dashiel Hammett.
This marked John Huston’s directorial debut, and he earned a third Oscar nomination as a screenwriter for his phenomenal script. All these factors make The Maltese Falcon iconic in a multitude of ways.
Bogart’s Sam Spade is a private investigator who’s implicated as a murderer. Then, the titular MacGuffin drives the rest of the thrilling plot, which wraps in a complex, compelling conclusion, making it one of the best 40s movies.
2. Now, Voyager, Amazon (1942)
It’s Bette Davis again! However, she’s not a killer this time, but a repressed, lovesick protagonist named Charlotte who’s easy to empathize with.
She takes a long, oceanic voyage and falls in love with Paul Henreid’s Jerry. Although they don’t really wind up together in the end, it’s a great story of Charlotte finding her self-confidence and independence.
Now, Voyager features the famous scene in which Jerry lights his and Charlotte’s cigarettes, and ranks No. 23 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Passions” among U.S. cinema’s best love stories.
1. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Amazon (1948)
Huston won Oscars for writing and directing in this Bogart-led feature, which is a departure from the star’s previously mentioned noirs.
Set in Mexico, Bogart’s Fred C. Dobbs and his partner Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) join forces with the writer-directors father Walter Huston, who plays a gold prospector named Howard. Fred spent his last money on a lottery ticket and won! Thus, they go off in search of gold.
Mixing in humor and irony to a desperate situation of thematic avarice, Huston and Co. deliver a magnificent classic, making this the best 40s movie to watch.
Famous Actors/Actresses During this Time?
The actors and actresses truly make or break the films that we love today. Who were some of the top ones during this decade?
Granted, we have seen several movies featuring these stars, but let’s just take a look at a quick list of who were the best ones and what they’re most famous for.
– Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca)
– Katharine Hepburn (The Lion in Water)
– Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird)
– Gary Cooper (High Noon)
– Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca)
– Judy Garland (The Wizard of Oz)
– John Wayne (True Grit)
– Cary Grant (Charade)
– James Stewart (It’s a Wonderful Life)
What Were the Classic Films from 1940 to 1949?
Every decade has some classic films that you might reference when thinking about that time period. Whether you think of A Clockwork Orange during the 70s, Pulp Fiction in the 90s, Blade Runner in the 80s or maybe Napoleon Dynamite in the 2000s.
Whatever the case may be, there are several cult classics that even non-movie buffs could probably recognize. So, what are considered the classics during the 40s?
– Casablanca is an iconic film that deserves a spot on the roster here. The romantic drama set in World War II is a must see for anyone watching through the decade.
– It’s A Wonderful Life should also be added in my opinion. Even if you don’t like Christmas movies, this is a great film that makes you think, plus everyone can reference when they hear a bell ringing.
– The Maltese Falcon is another addition. The crime film noir is one of the top movies in the 40s and is definitely a classic when it comes to movies from this decade.
What is the Best Horror from the 40s?
Most of the entries listed are based around crime dramas, romance and war films. But what about movie buffs that want to explore the decade with a bit more variety? Let’s check out a couple of the best horror movies from the 40s.
– The Wolf Man (1941): Larry Talbot returns to his father’s castle in Wales and meets a beautiful woman. One fateful night, Talbot escorts her to a local carnival where they meet a mysterious gypsy fortune teller.
– Cat People (1942): An American man marries a Serbian immigrant who fears that she will turn into the cat person of her homeland’s fables if they are intimate together.
What is the Best Science Fiction from the 40s?
But horror isn’t all that there is. For sci-fi lovers that want to see some of the special effects that the 40s had to offer, check out these great recommendations for some diverse viewing pleasures.
– House of Dracula (1945): The Wolf Man and Count Dracula beg Dr. Edelman to cure them of their killing instincts but Dracula schemes to seduce the doctor’s nurse.
– The Invisible Man Returns (1940): The owner of a coal mining operation, falsely imprisoned for fratricide, takes a drug to make him invisible, despite its side effect: gradual madness.
– The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942): Dr. Frankentein’s plans to replace the brain of his monster are hijacked by his scheming and malevolent assistant Ygor.
Best Subscription Service for 40s Movies?
For the majority of the movies above as well as other classic movies, you’ll want to join Amazon Prime in order to get the most out of your viewing.
Amazon Prime Video has a wide selection of movies and shows to choose from and is a great service overall to get, but specifically if you’re trying to find classic movies that are otherwise not common on other platforms such as Netflix or Hulu.
What do you Get with Prime?
Thankfully, though, those that get Amazon Prime will be able to have access to several other features. You have access to free two-day, one-day, and same-day delivery on orders as well as fast Grubhub+ food delivery for groceries.
You’ll also have access to exclusive Prime deals and discounts that will help you save money even further.
For students, you’ll also get a discounted membership rate with one month of free homework help with live tutors, as well as a free 3-month Premium subscription to Calm.
Along with movies and television, you have access to music and Prime gaming for endless hours of entertainment.
Prime Membership Information
For a month-to-month subscription for all of the above, it’ll only cost $14.99, or $7.49 for students.
You can also opt for a yearly plan with is $139 annually.
They also offer a 7-day free-trial period for those that want to test it out.
You can cancel at any time or change your membership, making it a super easy experience for those that want to test it.