The Lucky 7: Top Irish Movies

bill bodkin celebrates his cultural and cinematic roots

I love being Irish. The music, the food, the beer, the customs and traditions and of course all Irish pubs along the Jersey Shore. Yes, working in an area dubbed “The Irish Riveria” has definitely bolstered my love of my Celtic roots. However, the seeds of this Irish love were planted when I was but a wee lad. The film — 1959’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People, starring a young Sean Connery. I had pretty much erased this film from my mind until my cousin brought it up the other day. It scared the shamrocks out of me, as there’s a horrifying scene with a banshee. It still creeps me out, but then luckily for me my “Irish” film experiences have been nothing solid gold ever since. So for all my fellow Irish and all those who are only Irish on March 17 here are some emerald isle inspired films to check out this March.

1. The Quiet Man (1952)
Starring: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Victor McLaglen, Ward Bond
Director: John Ford
This movie started it all for me. John Wayne plays, disgraced Irish-American boxer Sean Thornton, who has retired from the ring after accidentally killing his opponent. This the heaviest part movie for as soon as Wayne hits the Emerald Isle, the film becomes a rollicking punch-in-the-face, raise-a-pint and woo-your-bonny-lass film created by the king of the Western, John Ford. This film was my inspiration for my love of tweed Irish hats (which are oh-so trendy these days).

2. The Departed (2006)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg
Director: Martin Scorsese
It’s ironic that two extremely Italian artists- Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese, created not one, but two great films about the Irish. This film, based on the Asian crime dramas The Infernal Affairs, revolves around two South Bostonians (DiCaprio and Damon) who are working as moles for the State Police and the Irish mob respectively. Brilliant camera work, dynamite acting and enough classic rock and Dropkick Murphy’s music to make Guinness course through your veins, make this not only a classic Irish film, but a highly re-watchable Scorsese flick.

3. Gangs of New York (2002)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Brendan Gleeson
Director: Martin Scorsese
Three words: Daniel.Day.Lewis. His portrayal of Bill the Butcher is one of the most brilliant, consuming and charismatic performances ever to grace to the silver screen, second only to his own performance in There Will Be Blood. Of course, Leo’s no slouch here either and neither is the brilliant supporting cast, highlighted by Irish actors Liam Neeson and Brendan Gleeson.

4. Boondock Saints (1999)
Starring: Sean Patrick Flannery, Norman Reedus, Billy Connolly, Willem Dafoe
Director: Troy Duffy
Okay, this isn’t Citizen Kane, but what Boondock Saints is, is a blood and guts, run and gun, smart alecky, over-the-top action thriller that has captivated the hearts and minds of college students across the US. Laced with bucket of bullets and blood, Roman Catholic quotations and in-your-face swagger to it, it’s hard not to love it.

5. Michael Collins (1996)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Julia Roberts, Alan Rickman, Stephen Rea
Director: Neil Jordan
If Gangs of New York is all about Daniel Day-Lewis, Michael Collins is all about Liam Neeson. Watching the stoic, intense and always awesome Neeson give speeches in a town square sends chills down your spine. If you’re an Irish history buff this is a good piece to enjoy. Alan Rickman’s Eamon de Valera is also another reason to check this film out.

6. Patriot Games (1992)
Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Bean, Anne Archer, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Phillip Noyce
Probably one of Harrison Ford’s last great movies (The Fugitive being his last). Here, Ford debuts as CIA analyst Jack Ryan, who has become a reluctant hero after defusing an IRA attempt to assassinate a British noble. All seems well and good, but a rogue IRA maniac (the excellent Sean Bean) is hellbent on taking Ryan and his family out as payback for killing his little brother. Featuring an awesome “night vision” sequence, this is a tough, masculine action flick that is definitely worth watching.

7. Blown Away (1994)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Tommy Lee Jones, Lloyd Bridges, Forrest Whitaker
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Most people forget about this 1994 action flick, probably because it came out during the Speed phenomenon. This film revolves are Boston bomb squad ace James Dove (Jeff Bridges) whose crew is being systematically taken out by IRA bomber Ryan Gaerity (Tommy Lee Jones), a man from Dove’s past. Thrilling action sequences, a salty performance from Llyod Bridges and a U2-heavy soundtrack make this a really good sleeper film.

*Special Mention for the Lassies:
P.S. I Love (2007)
Starring: Hillary Swank, Gerard Butler, Harry Connick Jr., Kathy Bates
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Like any good Irish comedy, P.S. I Love You is sad, cute, fun, charming and rough around the edges. New York widow Holly (Swank) is sent letters from her deceased husband (Butler) that instruct her on how to lead a happy life without her. Butler’s funny and macho performance combined with the rolling hills of Ireland and a pretty solid script make the film one any couple can watch on a romantic St. Patty’s night.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites


  1. You missed Darby O’Gill and The Little People. It has Sean Connery singing and leprechauns!! Extreme points for having The Quiet Man as the #1!

  2. Wow, can’t believe someone already beat me to Darby O’Gill. You’d be missing out not to watch that on St. Patty’s Day. It’s got the Banshee and everything!

    • “Finian’s Rainbow”
      Finian’s Rainbow is a 1968 American musical film directed by Francis Ford Coppola that stars Fred Astaire and Petula Clark. The screenplay by E. Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy is based on their 1947 stage musical of the same name.

  3. i did mention darby o’gill in the first paragraph…and it scared the living shiiite out of me as a child. it’s one of those movies i completely buried until my cousin mike mentioned it to me.

  4. To bad you never got to see “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”,”The Fighting 69th”, “Rosie O’Grady”, “Finnegan’s Wake”, etc. They used to show all the Irish movies during St. Patrick’s week on TV, in fact during any holiday you were treated to movies about those holidays but I guess TV land has figured they either don’t want to show them or we have lost all our traditions. Very good article by the way.

  5. I’d recommend The Rising of the Moon (1957) by John Ford…it’s got at-mus-fere..three short films..narrated by Tyrone Power.

    Tim in Chicago

  6. not really irish films – irish films would need to be made and funded in ireland to be irish. these films reflect more of the irish culture. films such as Bloody Sunday, The Snapper, In America, Intermission, The General and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, funded in Ireland straaing irish actors. your selections are American backed movies starring American actors which don t really portray the irish at all.

  7. Not forgetting
    “The Field”,
    “My Left Foot”,
    “In the name of the Father”,
    “The Commitments”,
    “The Crying Game”,
    to name but a few.

  8. The quite man is an absolute joke of a movie and makes Irish people look like ****heads! It portrays the typical view of Ireland that most Americans have – that we’re ‘simple folk’, do nothing but drink, live in fields and are unaware of anything else going on in the world. Have you noticed that John Wayne’s character is the only one in the film that seems to have any sort of sense? I wonder is it just a coincidence that he’s the only American (essentially) in the film…hmmmm…. Everyone in the film seems to be all so jolly and delighted all the time! The 50s was a seriously tough period in Ireland so I don’t know what they’re so happy about. It’s just to make Americans (Irish-Americans mostly) feel more comfortable. I’m just very surprised Disney didn’t make this film!

    Oh yeah, and I’m sorry but no matter how much you want them to, no actual Irish person EVER uses the phrase ‘when I was a wee lad’. Scottish people say ‘wee’ and people from the North say ‘wee’, and even at that, they don’t say ‘when I was a wee lad’! And when you say things like ‘it scared the shamrocks out of me’, it makes us look like complete gobshites! (You might need to look that one up, it’s actual Irish slang).

    I appreciate your enthusiastic interest in Irish culture, but if you think The Quiet Man is a good film then you have some work to do. Whatever Irish blood you have in you has obviously been Americanised to f*** and you should try get a better idea of what we’re really like.

Comments are closed.