Sunday, February 3, 2013

America in Film

A friend of mine who goes to grad school with a lot of foreign students recently discovered that most of them had never seen the Star Wars trilogy. While setting up a screening to correct this unforgivable lapse in their pop culture knowledge, he realized there must be lots of films they haven't seen that they should before they become Americans. So, he asked several of his friends for a list of films that are integral to American cultural history and films that helped shaped current pop culture.

It's an interesting question, really. How do you define America in a limited number of films? Is it the films you like best or the films that best known? What genres should get the most spots? What directors and actors do you include? For pop culture films, the list could be endless. It would be easier to just compile a playlist of scenes on YouTube. After all, no one should be forced to sit through Five Easy Pieces just to see the Chicken Salad Scene. So, after careful consideration, here are my lists:

How to Be an American in 10 Films:
1. Casablanca
2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
3. Gone with the Wind
4. The Wizard of Oz
5. To Kill a Mockingbird
6. Singin' in the Rain
7. The Godfather
8. Rear Window
9. Red River
10. The Maltese Falcon

How to Understand Americans in 10 Films:
1. Star Wars
2. Indiana Jones
3. Back to the Future
4. ET
5. Rocky
6. The Terminator
7. Nightmare Before Christmas
8. Pulp Fiction
9. Fight Club
10. Ghostbusters


  1. No Bugs Bunny? How can you be an American without exposure to Chuck Jones?

  2. Hannah thought of that ... you've got to have some Loony Tunes somehow.

  3. The first film I thought of when I got done with the lead-in but before I made it to the lists was "Casablanca."

    ...So, I'm happy.

    "Fight Club's" the most recent, correct? (Also, when you say "Indiana Jones" and "Back to the Future," are you thinking about the first films in those trilogies? Or the trilogies themselves.)

  4. I think it's necessary to see "The Patriot", to understand America's roots.

  5. Fight Club is the most recent mostly because I think it's difficult to judge a film's staying until some time has passed. And with Back to the Future, I think you probably only need to see the first one but Indiana Jones, you should probably see the Ark of the Covenant too.

    Looney Tunes is a good one, but TV is a whole nother can of worms. After all, can you really be an American without having seen I Love Lucy?