J.A. Bayona has been in love with movies for as long as he can remember. Born and raised in Barcelona, Spain, his earliest memory in life is watching Superman on television, an experience that sparked a love for cinema that still burns more than 40 years later. "It's very difficult for me to separate my life from movies," the filmmaker reflects.
Bayona broke out on the international film scene with his feature debut, the 2007 gothic horror film The Orphanage, and in the years since, he's helmed 2012's The Impossible, for which Naomi Watts was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role; 2016's A Monster Calls; and 2018's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
His latest film is the Spanish-language survival thriller, Society of the Snow, about the Andes flight disaster of 1972. At the 96th Oscars, the film is nominated for Best International Feature Film, as the official selection of Spain, and Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling.
"We are happy to be able to tell this story that, through the power of cinema, aims to show how, in the worst moments, we can give the best of ourselves," Bayona says of the nominations. "I share the Best International Film nomination with the entire Spanish film industry, our Uruguayan, Argentinian and Chilean crew and all the human group behind the society of the snow. Like the Andes odyssey, it has been a collective effort. I share the joy with all of them. Vamo' arriba!"
Below, Bayona shares with A.frame five of the films that had the biggest impact on him as a child.
This article was originally published on Dec. 7, 2023.
Directed by: Richard Donner | Written by: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman and Robert Benton
My first memory in life is a shot from Superman. I was 3 years old, and I remember watching Christopher Reeve flying across the screen. It's funny, because in my mind, that scene is composed as a medium shot, but when you watch the film, it's a wide shot. I imagine I was sitting very close to the screen at the time, and seeing Superman fly in front of me really made me believe that a man could fly, like they said on the film's poster. Ever since I saw that image, it's been very difficult for me to separate cinema from the sense of wonder I felt in that moment. Even when I do realistic movies now, I always find a way to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, because that's the first image I remember in my life.
Directed by: Richard Thorpe | Written by: Myles Connolly and William R. Lipman
When I was 6 or 7 years old, I remember sitting at home with my father watching Tarzan's New York Adventure. The climax of the film is Johnny Weissmuller being chased by police, and he's at the top of the Brooklyn Bridge and police are coming from the left and the right, and in that moment, I was so into the film. I watched Johnny Weissmuller suddenly jump from the top of the bridge and I was astonished! I had such a sense of awe. Then my father turned to me and said, 'If someone jumps from that high, my son, he will die!' I was like, 'What?!' That was really the moment when I realized that I prefer fantasy over reality. It's when I realized, 'So what if what I’m watching isn't real.' That's a feeling I can still very vividly remember.
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock | Written by: Joseph Stefano
I still remember when I started to realize that there were these things called horror movies. They used to play them on TV in Spain when I was growing up. Every Monday night, there was this show that presented a horror film, and every time one started to play, I'd run into my room, because I didn't want to know anything about it! But when they showed Psycho, I remember being in my bed listening to the shower scene and hearing Janet Leigh's screams and Bernard Herrmann's music. Just listening to it in that moment was scarier than watching it, because I was imagining what was happening. That actually taught me a very good lesson about horror filmmaking.
Directed by: James Whale | Written by: Garrett Fort and Francis Edward Faragoh
The first time I went on a school field trip, me and my classmates went to the Pyrenees and we slept in an old house. There were around 30 of us, and our teacher was a huge, huge cinephile. So, he decided to screen a movie for us on 16mm. He chose Frankenstein, and before the screening, I remember he told us, 'You're going to see a film now. It's from 1931, it's directed by James Whale, and there is a man at the very beginning who makes a speech about how the movie is about creating life, but the only being who can create life is God.' He then went out of his way to tell us, 'I want you to know that the director didn't want to include that speech at the beginning. It was the studio who forced him to do it.'
I was like, 'Wow, so there's a studio that the director has to listen to?' I remember that moment very clearly, because my teacher insisted that his students understand that the first section of Frankenstein was something the studio forced James Whale to shoot.
Directed by: François Truffaut | Written by: François Truffaut & Jean Gruault
It's probably because the kid in it was my age, but one of the movies that I remember very well from my childhood is The Wild Child. It had a huge impact on me. Getting to know a character that was my age and seeing the relationship that François Truffaut's character has with him in the film was hugely impactful. One of the great things about growing up in Spain was that we only had one TV station when I was a child, so you could only ever watch what was playing on that station. Fortunately, they'd play everything from American movies and French movies to Japanese movies — Hitchcock movies, Kurosawa movies, and Truffaut movies.
I'm very lucky that I discovered all those films in that way when I was a kid. Some of them had a huge impact on me, including other Truffaut movies that they showed, like Small Change. That's a beautiful, beautiful movie about childhood, and it features some of the best child performances ever captured on-screen. Truffaut was one of the directors whose work I latched onto early in my life. That was probably because he was actually making movies about childhood the same way that I've tried to in my career.