Watching Gone With the Wind at the age of seven was a life-changing moment for Irwin Winkler. "I was entranced," the Oscar-winning producer recalls. "They would release it every five years, and I waited every five years. Gone With the Wind was the one that did it for me."
At the 49th Oscars, producers Winkler and Robert Chartoff took home Best Picture for the boxing drama, Rocky. "It was an out-of-body experience," he says. "You never really think you're going to catch a star while it's glittering." Even all these years later, Winkler has a clear memory of pulling star Sylvester Stallone onstage with them. "In those days, only the producer would accept the award," he explains. "We wanted to share it with him."
These days, Winkler keeps his Oscar on the mantle in his sitting room ("You can't miss it when you're coming in") as a reminder of what is possible: "The competition at the time was pretty crazy! The other four films that were nominated were All the President's Men, Bound for Glory, Network, and Marty's movie, Taxi Driver," he rattles off. "We made a movie for no money, shot it in 28 days, with an unknown actor, and it all came together. It's a story about a million-to-one chance of a guy succeeding in life, and it turned out, it's the story of Stallone as well."
Winkler has earned additional Best Picture nominations for Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980), for Philip Kaufman's The Right Stuff (1983), and for Goodfellas (1990), also by Scorsese. Now in his 90s, Winkler is still producing, including the Rocky spin-off franchise, Creed. (He produced all three Creed films.) And he has continued to work with Scorsese, having produced Silence (2016) and The Irishman (2019) in recent years. After decades in the industry, what he looks for in a project has never changed.
"I remember talking to Chuck Yeager when we were on the set of The Right Stuff, and I said to him, 'How does it feel to go up there in space and break the sound barrier?' And he said, 'You know what? I get out there every day, and I just do it,'" Winkler recounts. "That's really how I look upon my producing. And you're lucky if you manage to get it on the screen, and you're even luckier that people like it."
Below, Winkler shares with A.frame five films that had a profound impact on him, including the eight-time Oscar-winning masterpiece that he says inspired Rocky.
Directed by: Alexander Mackendrick | Written by: Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman
Sweet Smell of Success is one of the smartest films I've seen, and it shows how a writer can write a script that is sparkling in comment about a bunch of unseemly characters. That is one that I've always really, really admired a great deal.
Directed by: Elia Kazan | Written by: Budd Schulberg
On The Waterfront, to me, is one of the great movies. I didn't see it when it first came out. Somehow, it was under the radar. But it has a great score by Leonard Bernstein, which by the way, is one of the only scores he ever wrote for a movie. The story itself — Marlon Brando standing up against corruption — is timeless. And the acting is great. Brando was really just starting out, and that performance was great. Eva Marie Saint was brilliant. Lee Cobb was great.
That's a film that I have always admired a great deal. In a way, it inspired the Rocky character. Marlon Brando said, 'I could have been a contender. I could have been somebody,' to his brother, [played by] Rod Steiger, and that's really what Rocky was about. Out of a great career, that is one of the greatest films that Kazan made.
Directed by: Carol Reed | Written by: Graham Greene
The Third Man is one of the best films I've ever seen. Brilliantly written, brilliantly photographed, the music was very specific. It's a really terrific story about post-war Vienna, and the dialogue that Orson Welles gives as Harry Lime, when he's up in the Ferris wheel, is great. And then it has probably the greatest ending of a movie I can remember — when Anna walks past Joseph Cotten and just keeps walking. The guts of the director!
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola | Written by: Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo
The Godfather II is right up there with the all-time greats. I thought that Coppola had done such a great job on The Godfather that nothing could beat it. And then I saw Godfather II, and it did beat it. I thought De Niro was just brilliant playing the young Marlon Brando, and Al [Pacino] was great, too. The story itself was just so intriguing. It influenced me at a time that I thought I had seen everything.
Directed by: Steven Spielberg | Written by: Robert Rodat
I thought Tom Hanks' acting was superb, and it was an important story to tell. For me, it was about the futility of it all. And Spielberg didn't shortchange you. At the end, you were hoping Tom Hanks' character would live, but he didn't. It was in a time when people were looking for happy endings, and what Spielberg proved is that you could have a satisfactory ending, or a proper ending, that doesn't have to be the happy one.