Mike Nichols: 11 Essential Films

There are few filmmakers who have the same brand of theatrical warmth that Mike Nichols had. Nichols, a master director responsible for numerous award-winning classics, approached his films the same way he approached his plays: as sincere and unflinching character studies. He could work with light comedy, satire, horror, even outright politics, and still get under the skin of the material. He could dissect, examine, and intellectualize, all from within a warm, human skin. He was, in the truest sense, interested in people.

Nichols is often included with other members of his generation (including Sidney Lumet, Bob Rafelson, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese) as one of the vanguard of late ’60s and early ’70s cinema. Nichols’ 1967 effort The Graduate is often called one of the best of its decade, and the film’s frank depictions of sexuality, not to mention its wholly ambiguous views on romance, paved the way for the following dark wave of hard-hitting dramas that were to define the 1970s.


Related: R.I.P. Mike Nichols (1931 – 2014)


But Nichols (along with many of his contemporaries) was not confined to the 1970s “bleakness” movement, continuing to make interesting and successful – and often great – films in every decade. He was also much more adept at outright comedy than most of his contemporaries, infusing even his darker films with a casual form of interpersonal joy. Even though hearts may be breaking, Nichols was often able to wring the wry smirk out of the situation. Some of his films were outright tragic – social satire was his strongest suit – but the tragedy and cruelty on display were never included for the sake pity or cheap tears. Nichols was far too humane. He didn’t stiffarm us. He hugged us. Often in empathy.

Nichols directed 19 theatrical feature films in his career, one short film, one made-for-TV movie, and one miniseries. Each one is notable in its own way, but the following eleven selections are, I feel, a healthy and interesting cross-section of his body of work.


Slideshow: 11 Essential Mike Nichols Films 

Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can read his Trolling articles here on Crave, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.