As one of the most famous and influential filmmakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Orson Welles is a name that any movie fan will be familiar with, even if they’ve never seen any of his work. Over the course of his career, Welles operated in numerous avenues, he was an actor, director, writer, and producer, and he worked in any medium he could, ranging from film to radio, the stage, and television. He became a household name after his 1938 radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds inadvertently incited a mass panic and forever altered the regulations placed on radio stations. As a filmmaker, he also revolutionized cinema with his 1941 debut film, Citizen Kane, which is still widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.
Welles was active in Hollywood for over forty years, and he is credited as the writer and director on dozens of movies and featured as an actor in over 120 films. With a filmography that dense and extensive, it can be hard to know where to start if you’re unfamiliar with Welles’ work. Or, if you’ve only seen Citizen Kane, it could easy to be overwhelmed by the immense volume of the icon’s deeper catalog. Although Rotten Tomatoes is by no means a perfect standard, and it did not yet exist when Welles was working, the reviews and ratings for Welles films that have been retroactively aggregated on the site can be useful in highlighting which of Welles works are considered to be his best. With that said, here are the 10 highest-rated Orson Welles movies on Rotten Tomatoes:
10 A Man for All Seasons (1966) – 89%
One of Welles’ more famous supporting roles later in his career was in the 1966 film A Man for All Seasons. The film was directed by Fred Zinnemann and adapted from Robert Bolt’s 1960 play of the same name. The film was incredibly well-received upon its release, and it won six Academy Awards at the 1967 ceremony, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Paul Scofield) and Best Adapted Screenplay. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an 89% approval rating from 82 gathered critic reviews. Meanwhile, the audience score sits at 87% based on over 5,000 ratings.
9 The Immortal Story (1968) – 92%
A few years after A Man for All Seasons, Welles also co-starred in and directed the French film The Immortal Story. At only an hour long, the movie was originally produced exclusively to air on French television, but it has since gained a much larger audience as a result of Welles’ involvement. With just 13 reviews counted, The Immortal Story holds a 92% critic rating, while the audience score is over 20 points lower at 70% based on over 500 ratings. The Immortal Story is by no means Welles’ most famous film, but it is one of his most interesting, and it exists in its own interesting space in film history. In the mid-2010s, the film received an official release on physical media by way of it being added to the Criterion Collection, making it much more accessible to modern audiences.
8 Touch of Evil (1958) – 95%
10 years prior to The Immortal Story, Welles delivered one of his quintessential film noir movies, 1958’s Touch of Evil. He directed the film, wrote the screenplay for it, and played one of the key supporting roles. The rest of the cast consisted of Hollywood legends Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh in the two lead roles, while the rest of the supporting cast included other famous names like Marlene Dietrich, Joseph Calleia, and Akim Tamiroff. The film’s great reputation has done nothing but grow over the last 65 years. It holds a 95% approval from 87 critic reviews, while the audience score is a solid 92% based on over 25,000 reviews. The film was also selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in the early ‘90s.
7 Chimes at Midnight (1966) – 96%
Welles directed a handful of films that adapted the works of William Shakespeare over the years, but one of the most interesting examples came in 1966. That film was Chimes at Midnight, and it wasn’t the normal kind of Shakespeare adaptation. Instead of tackling one of the Bard’s famous stories, Welles focused on a single character that was featured on numerous occasions throughout several. That character was Sir John Falstaff, who was featured in Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and The Wives of Windsor. Welles plays the lead role in the movie, which he was also the sole screenwriter on.
Chimes at Midnight is widely considered to be one of Welles’ greatest achievements as a filmmaker, and even the director himself thought it was one of his best works. On Rotten Tomatoes, the movie holds a 96% approval from 51 critic reviews, while the audience score sits at 85%.
6 The Stranger (1946) – 97%
Welles’ third feature film was 1946’s The Stranger, which he (once again) directed, co-wrote, and co-starred in. Screenplay duties on the film were also shared among Anthony Veiller, Victor Trivas, Decla Dunning, and John Huston, with Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young also starring alongside Welles. The Stranger was the first film that Welles wrote and directed post-World War II, and that factored heavily into its story, which follows an investigator tracking down a Nazi fugitive who has gone into hiding in the United States. The film takes a lot of inspiration from other film noir pictures of the time, and it was regarded as a true successor to the brilliance of Citizen Kane. With 32 reviews counted, The Stranger holds a 97% approval rating from critics, and over 5,000 audience scores have averaged out to an 81% rating.
5 The Third Man (1949) – 99%
One of Welles’ most famous films that he did not actually direct was 1949’s The Third Man. Directed by Carol Reed and written by Graham Green, Welles co-stars in the film alongside the likes of Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli and Trevor Howard. The film is another dive into film noir, as it is a murder mystery film set in Austria following the Second World War. Like many of Welles’ films, The Third Man has developed an outstanding reputation over the years, and it is considered to be one of the best examples of film noir out there. It was nominated for several Academy Awards, winning one, and it has been listed as one of the best films of all time by organizations such as the British Film Institute, the American Film Institute, Total Film, and more. Based on 91 reviews, The Third Man holds a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 93% audience score based on over 50,000 ratings.
4 Citizen Kane (1941) – 99%
It’s no surprise that Citizen Kane is on this list, though it may be a shock to not see it at the #1 spot. Well, a couple of years ago, it did hold that #1 spot, though an unearthed negative review from when it was released resulted in the film losing its 100% rating. That doesn’t take away from how immensely and widely well-reviewed and regarded Citizen Kane is, though. There’s really nothing that can be said about the film at this point that hasn’t been said a million times before. It’s a masterpiece of filmmaking technique and creative writing, and it fundamentally altered how movies were made. With 131 reviews counted, Citizen Kane holds a 99% from critics, while over 100,000 user ratings have averaged out to a 90% audience score.
3 The New Deal for Artists (1979) – 100%
The three films that are above Citizen Kane on this list feel as if they only earned those top three spots on a technicality, as they have significantly fewer reviews counted, which in turn, makes it easier to maintain a perfect 100% rating. With that said, they are each still regarded as excellent cinematic achievements. Directed by Wieland Schulz-Kiel, The New Deal for Artists is a 1979 documentary that explores the impact that F.D.R.’s New Deal had on Hollywood and the American entertainment industry as a whole. Welles serves as the film’s narrator, which was a role he frequently filled throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s. With just seven reviews counted, The New Deal for Artists sits at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, though there aren’t enough ratings from general viewers to generate an audience score.
2 Compulsion (1959) – 100%
The 1959 film Compulsion was directed by Richard Fleischer, who had previously (and famously) directed the 1954 film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and would go on to direct outstanding films like 1966’s Fantastic Voyage, 1967’s Doctor Dolittle, and 1970’s Tora! Tora! Tora!. His film Compulsion was based on a 1956 novel of the same name, and it starred Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman, with Welles playing a key supporting role. It was very well-received upon its release, receiving accolades from the Cannes Film Festival, the BAFTAs, the DGA awards, and the WGA awards. The film holds a 100% score from 11 critic reviews, while its audience score sits at 85% based on over a thousand ratings.
1 Jane Eyre (1943) – 100%
Finally, Welles’ most highly-rated film on Rotten Tomatoes is the 1943 adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Released just a few years after Citizen Kane, Welles stars as Edward Rochester in the film, with the eponymous character played by Joan Fontaine. The film was written by John Houseman, Robert Stevenson, and, strangely enough, Brave New World author Aldous Huxley – who apparently had a short stint as a screenwriter in the early ‘40s. The film was well-reviewed as an adaptation of the classic novel upon its release, though it did not receive any recognition from the Academy Awards. It also holds a 100% critic approval based on 14 reviews, while over 5,000 users have given the film an 83% audience score.