Movie List

A conversation

Scene: son Tim and I, in line at a McDonald’s, on our way back to his college campus.

TIM: I don’t understand this text from Isaac.  (Isaac is a college friend)

GENE: What’s it say?

TIM: He’s on the train. Something about the conductor going to eleven.

GENE: Spinal Tap reference.

TIM: I don’t think Isaac knows what Spinal Tap is.

GENE: How is that possible?  Who raised these children?

TIM: This is what I’ve been telling you.  None of these people know anything about movies.  I just showed him Pulp Fiction last week.  By the way, I can’t believe you let me watch that movie.  What was I, nine?  It’s a good thing I didn’t understand most of it.

GENE: (Tacitly not answering question) Okay, here’s what I don’t get.  These friends of yours, most of them have never even seen Jaws.  What are the cultural touchstone films for these people?  Every generation has canonical movies, right?

TIM: Bad movies.  My generation is the High School Musical and Twilight generation.

GENE: That’s so sad.

TIM: You should make a movie list.

End scene

And so shall it be

The conversation above took place almost entirely as reported, and there have been six or seven other such conversation with both Tim and daughter Becky in the past few years.  A few variants include: “[name of friend] doesn’t know how to watch movies.  She keeps asking questions during the film” and “this movie is too complicated for [name of friend].”

I am deeply, deeply horrified by the lack of awareness of decent films among the peers of my children.  We consciously introduced our kids to films of increasing complexity because it was important to us, and also because we wanted to see good movies in the theater that weren’t animated.  Clearly we were alone in this.

Herewith, then, is a list of films.  Not all of them have actually been seen by my own children, but now that they are away at school– and are asking for film suggestions on a semi-regular basis– I’m going to assume they can find the movies themselves.

This is not a Best-Of list.  It largely consists of films that were released in my personal lifetime, and my rules for inclusion are entirely subjective, random, and largely inexplicable.  Re-watchability is weighted heavily, as is “Holy fuck, I can’t believe you never saw that”-ness.  There are groupings, but no particular order.

Mandatory cultural touchstone films

  • Jaws
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Star Wars Trilogy (the real one)
  • Pulp Fiction
  • The Godfather I and II
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  • Silence of the Lambs

Films you need to see right away

  • Goodfellas
  • Se7en
  • Heathers
  • Die Hard
  • Dog Day Afternoon
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Alien and Aliens
  • Grosse Pointe Blank
  • Schindler’s List
  • The Sting
  • Fight Club
  • Raging Bull
  • Unforgiven
  • Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2
  • Miller’s Crossing
  • Crimes and Misdemeanors
  • Straw Dogs
  • Groundhog Day
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Raising Arizona
  • Taxi Driver
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Roxanne
  • Children of Men
  • A Time To Kill
  • Say Anything…
  • Terminator
  • Fargo
  • Jerry Maguire
  • There’s Something About Mary
  • The Lord of the Rings (all three)
  • Road to Perdition
  • The Princess Bride
  • High Fidelity
  • Notting Hill
  • The Bourne Identity
  • Stand By Me
  • Clueless
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Serenity
  • Out of Sight
  • Memento
  • Spy Game
  • The Fifth Element
  • The Sixth Sense
  • A History of Violence
  • Apollo 13

These might just be me

  • This Is Spinal Tap
  • Brazil
  • Manhunter
  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles
  • Music and Lyrics
  • Mulholland Drive
  • Shakespeare In Love
  • Pink Floyd: The Wall
  • The Commitments
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Anchorman
  • Swimming to Cambodia
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • About A Boy
  • Barton Fink


You may note that comedy is underrepresented.  This is because comedy does not generally age well.  There was a time when I thought Ruthless People was the funniest movie I’d ever seen.  A decade later it hardly made me laugh at all.  And there’s nothing worse than showing someone a movie and saying “no, you have to see this it’s really funny!” and having them not find it at all amusing.

You will also find recent movies underrepresented.  This is intentional: I figure there’s no reason to argue someone should have absolutely seen a film if that film has only recently been released.  Thus The Social Network and Black Swan are absent, but would appear on this list if I were doing it in five years.

Also: this list totally got out of control.  Sorry about that.  Despite which, if you can think of movies I’ve neglected, feel free to add your own in the comments section.

Liked it? Take a second to support Gene Doucette on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

No Comments

  1. Donna on March 29, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Does it count if I read movie reviews and decide that it’s enough to know the plot but thank you I would rather not see Silence of the Lambs and its ilk?

    No comedy, huh? I think Undercover Blues because of “morty” just might qualify for that performance alone.

    And how come Sound of Music isn’t on there??

  2. genedoucette on March 29, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Sound of Music doesn’t meet the “in my lifetime” test. If I skipped that I’d have to add about thirty movies: All About Eve, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, Psycho, Citizen Kane, Casablanca…

  3. Darren on March 29, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    I’ve seen lots of these, and saw a few I’ve been meaning to get to. Thanks for the reminder.

    I would like to add The Hollywood Knights and Reservoir Dogs, just two that popped into my head.

    • genedoucette on March 29, 2011 at 3:17 pm

      Reservoir Dogs received brief consideration, but I decided against it. I think Tarantino is well-represented on the list already. I’ve never heard of Hollywood Knights. (!)

  4. Jaleta Clegg on March 29, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    I had to stop to stare at my DVD collection. I have a shelf stretching all the way across the support beam in my family room. There are a couple hundred movies, most of them obscure science fiction and fantasy. I own them because I love them and they are very hard to find. Well, most of them.

    I’d add at least one Mel Brooks film to your list – my choice would be Men in Tights.

    I also heartily recommend Spacehunter in the Forbidden Zone. My personal favorite movie of all time.

    • genedoucette on March 29, 2011 at 7:17 pm

      I had someone on Facebook suggest Young Frankenstein. If there was going to be any Mel Brooks on the list that’s what it’d just about have to be.

  5. Julirose on April 2, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    No comedy? Has no one told you that The Fifth Element is a comedy? Seriously? And you have listed Groundhog Day… not nearly as funny as Caddyshack (it’s all about Bill Murry and the gopher)!

    Well, it is your list.

    • genedoucette on April 2, 2011 at 2:30 pm

      I didn’t say no comedy. I said they were underrepresented, which is a different thing entirely. And Groundhog Day is a much better film, and much more than just a comedy.

  6. Lisa on April 17, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    So…I may be alone among this group, but I will ALWAYS love Back To The Future. The first one is my favorite and it goes downhill from there.

    • genedoucette on April 18, 2011 at 2:20 pm

      Ironic to say this about a time travel movie, but I think it’s dated.

Leave a Comment