The effect of the incidence angle of energetic carbon ions on the thickness, topography, and structure of ultrathin amorphous carbon (a-C) films synthesized by filtered cathodic vacuum arc (FCVA) was examined in the context of numerical and experimental results. The thickness of a-C films deposited at different incidence angles was investigated in the light of Monte Carlo simulations, and the calculated depth profiles were compared with those obtained from high-resolution transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The topography and structure of the a-C films were studied by atomic force microscopy (AFM) and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), respectively. The film thickness decreased with the increase of the incidence angle, while the surface roughness increased and the content of tetrahedral carbon hybridization (sp 3) decreased significantly with the increase of the incidence angle above 45° , measured from the surface normal. TEM, AFM, and XPS results indicate that the smoothest and thinnest a-C films with the highest content of sp 3 carbon bonding were produced for an incidence angle of 45°. The findings of this study have direct implications in ultrahigh-density magnetic recording, where ultrathin and smooth a-C films with high sp 3 contents are of critical importance. © 2012 IEEE.