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A course in culture through film

Elvi and I have spent the last few months considering a cultural education for our kids. Specifically, we want to teach them the culture our generation gleaned from film. We want them to see movies that explain where we come from, that explain where our sayings come from.

To this end, we’ve built a list of movies that we are renting for our children to watch. The criteria for the list is cultural significance, to us. That doesn’t mean good movies, or any genre of film. We’ve discarded many great films because they have no impact on our culture.

Take “Annie Hall”, for example. It is a great movie. It has that famous lobster scene. If we lived in New York City, it would probably make our list. But neither Elvi nor I make any reference to it in our lives, and neither does any of the media we’re exposed to. It’s simply not relevant enough. You could make the same argument against “All That Jazz” – unquestionably a fine film but who refers to it these days?

On the other hand, who gets through a day without telling someone, “That’s why I’m going to kill you last.”?

Here’s our list of approved cinematic cultural phenomena:

  • 2001, a Space Odyssey
  • Airplane!, Airplane II: The Sequel
  • Alien
  • Apocalypse Now
  • Babe
  • Back to School
  • The Bad News Bears
  • Blazing Saddles
  • The Blues Brothers
  • Caddyshack
  • Casablanca
  • Commando
  • Conan the Barbarian
  • Crocodile Dundee
  • Deliverance
  • Die Hard
  • Dirty Dancing
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  • Ghostbusters
  • The Godfather
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
  • History of the World: Part I
  • Jaws
  • A League of Their Own
  • Lethal Weapon
  • Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
  • Major League
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  • Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life
  • The Pink Panther series
  • Planes, Trains & Automobiles
  • The Princess Bride
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Risky Business
  • Robocop
  • Rocky
  • Slap Shot
  • Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi
  • Taxi Driver
  • Terminator
  • This Is Spinal Tap
  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • Young Frankenstein

Here are films that didn’t make the cut:

  • An American Werewolf in London
  • Annie Hall
  • Big
  • The Breakfast Club
  • Dead Poets Society
  • The Exorcist
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  • Jerry Maguire
  • Life of Brian
  • Meatballs
  • Pretty in Pink
  • Pretty Woman
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Stripes
  • Top Gun
  • Trading Places

I guess this post is begging for comments. I also guess it won’t get many.

7 Responses to “A course in culture through film”

  • 1. I’m stealing your list.

    2. I’ve been trying to make a list of “Must see” movies but your approach is better – I don’t need to watch it if no one talks about it!

    3. I think Pretty Woman comes up often in comparisons. And “Show Me the Money!” is important too. Everyone talks about that one scene in Pulp Fiction (which I haven’t seen).

    Movies that made my list but aren’t on yours? (And I think might be discussing)

    -Gone With The Wind
    -Sound of Music
    -It’s a Wonderful Life
    -Dancing With Wolves

  • Child 2:

    Movies I’ve seen (* means only parts):

    Young Frankenstein*
    The Wizard of Oz
    Star Wars
    Monty Python and the Holy Grail
    Monty Python and the Meaning of Life
    Raiders of the Lost Ark
    The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (most of it)
    Princess Bride
    Pink Panther*
    Ferris Bueller

    Maybe Alien and Bad News Bears, not really sure.

    You’re on your way.

  • Webs:

    Naila, we eliminated Pretty Woman because there’s nothing lasting from the film. We can’t name a memorable line from it. Jerry Maguire and Pulp Fiction we left off because they’re too recent for us old farts.

    Gone with the Wind should be there, but it’s so long….

  • Elvi:

    As I recall, you also rejected my “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Sting” suggestions. I guess I don’t really say “who are those guys” all THAT often, but I do say it… I think you’re just jealous of a dead guy. Yeah, that’s it.

  • liz:

    Big, the Breakfast Club, Indiana Jones AND Dead Poets Society?!?!?! Maybe you’re just that little bit older than me, but these are classics! And should therefore be seen by all regardless of their cultural influence!

  • Webs:

    LIz, I don’t deny that they’re classics and are worth watching, but watching them won’t help my kids understand us better.

  • Alex2:


    your “approved” list is very impressive, and certainly good in terms of shared references. Of all of them, the ones that I haven’t seen are

    A League of Their Own,
    Major League, and
    When Harry Met Sally.

    I’m surprised that “American Werewolf” and “Top Gun” were relegated to the B-tier. Who has not said, “Oh, be serious, would you?” in response to a silly question about needing a silver bullet, or, “I feel the need… the need for speed!”…?

    I would have added

    Bringing Up Baby
    Duck You Sucker
    Groundhog Day
    The Maltese Falcon
    Moon Over Parador

    as I am always quoting lines from those…

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