All-Time ‘Deep Culture Impact’ Films

Part of 13 series: Hollywood & Higher Education: Teaching Worldview Thru Academy Award-winning Film

I love The King’s Speech, and would vote for it as Best Picture (if  had a vote), but based upon what I’ve learned from past films, I suspect that another film will have greater ‘deep culture’ impact upon the next generation.

by Gary David Stratton, Senior Editor

Nearly two decades of using film to teach worldview to undergraduate students has resulted in a few surprises in which films have had the deepest cultural impact on a generation. (See, High Culture, Pop Culture, What about ‘Deep Culture’?)The list below is in no way infallible, but it sure could get a good conversation going.

Key: A-Action/Adventure, C-Comedy, D-Drama, F-Fantasy/Science Fiction, T-Thriller/Horror, *-Academy Award Winner

1939  The Wizard of Oz (F)

1943  Casablanca(D)*

1946  It’s a Wonderful Life(D)

1954Rear Window (T)

1959  Ben-Hur(D)*

1968  2001: A Space Odyssey (F),

1971 Fiddler on the Roof(M)

1972  The Godfather(D)* and The Godfather 2 (D)*

1973The Exorcist (T)

1973  The Sting (C)*[1]

1974  Chinatown (D)*

1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (D)*

1975  Jaws(D)


1977  Star Wars: A New Hope (F) & 1980  The Empire Strikes Back(F)

1979  Alien (T), and 1986 Aliens(T)

1981  Raiders of the Lost Ark(F) and 1989 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (F)

1981  Chariots of Fire(D)*

1982  E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial(F)

1982  The Godfather(D)*, and The Godfather 2 (D)*

1984  Amadeus (D)*

1984  Ghostbusters(C)

1986  Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (F) The of the best highly influential franchise… so far.

1987  The Princess Bride(C)

1989  Dead Poets Society(D)

1990  Dances with Wolves (D)*

1991 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (F)

1991  Beauty and the Beast (F)

1993  Groundhog Day(C)

1993  Schindler’s List (D)

1994  Forrest Gump(D)*

1994  Pulp Fiction (T)

1994  Shawshank Redemption(D)

1994  The Lion King(F)

1995  Braveheart (A)*

1997  Good Will Hunting (D)

1997  Titanic (D)*

1998  Saving Private Ryan(A)

1999  American Beauty (D)*

1999  Fight Club (A)

1999  The Matrix(F)

1999  The Sixth Sense(T)

2000  Gladiator(A)*

2001  The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: The Fellowship of the Ring(F), 2002  The Two Towers (F), and 2003  The Return of the King (F)*

2002  Spider-Man(F)

2004  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind(F)

2005  Crash (D)*

2008  Slumdog Millionaire(D)*

2008  The Dark Knight (F) and the entire Batman franchise [3]


And… drum roll please… my pick (educated guess) for which of the TEN films nominated for 2011 Best Picture will have the greatest long-term deep culture impact…

2010  Inception (F)

I love The King’s Speech, and would vote for it as Best Picture (if  had a vote), but based upon what I’ve learned from past films, I suspect that Inception’s imaginative story and evocative images have the best chance of actually shaping “the stories we live by” as a culture.

What films did I miss?


Next Post in Series: The Blind Side Leading the Blind: Better Faith-Based Filmmaking through Better Stories


[1] Probably should be a double mention for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid(1969), since I’m not sure The Sting would have won if voters hadn’t realized they blew it in the first Newman/Redford movie.

[2] Other than perhaps the J.J. Abrams’ updates.

[3] Honorable Mentions: Back to the Future (1985), Field of Dreams (1989), Pretty Woman (1990), A Few Good Men (1992), Jerry Maguire (1996), Independence Day (1996), A Knight’s Tale (2001), The Departed (2006)*, Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Juno(2007), Up in the Air (2009), Avatar(2009), Toy Story 3 and the entire Toy Story trilogy.

13 Replies to “All-Time ‘Deep Culture Impact’ Films”

  1. Groundhog Day is a great example how we get many chances in life to the right thing. Phil Conner got to relive this life over and over but because of his cynical ways he couldn’t move on from February 2nd. Everyday, Phil chose to make more mistakes and cause more harm than good. It was not until he felt in love with Rita that you see his character transforming. His worldview changed to wanting to help others and make others happy. Once he saw his world with different eyes, he was able to move on to February 3rd. What I noticed about this movie is that Phil is the hero and the enemy is Phil’s self-center attitude.

  2. The Princess Bride is one of my all time favorite love stories because it demonstrates the never ending power of love. People do amazing thing to demonstrate their love for another person. No mountain is to high or river to wide to keep love apart. This story demonstrates how far Wesley is willing to go (becoming a pirate) to have a chance to get back to his love Buttercup. He also fight a master swordsman, a giant and a genius. Talk about a worldview change. Most of us could never go so far even in the name of true love. It reminds me of God's unyielding love for man. He sacrificed his son because he loves us so much. God's love for us is so big that it makes me fell humbled. Wesley risks everything for love, maybe we should too!

    1. Dave, great analogy of Wesley’s love for Buttercup and God’s love for us! Wesley did everything possible for true love. God does the same thing for us day after day. I wish more people would accept God’s love. Wesley transformation went from a farm boy to a fighter. His worldview changed because Wesley found true love. If those who are lost could find God's love, then the world would be a better place for all.

  3. Fiddler on the Roof was very moving for me as I study worldview (including my family). All able movie watching members of my family experienced the struggles, harmony, and unity of a family with Christ as their center living in a world that is changing beyond their control, choice, or blessings in this film. The idea of living as a community and depending on a member of the community to deliver milk or butcher animals so their is food for the family every day; including the celebration of the Sabbath, is hard when society outside of the community challenges the idea which was more than an idea for the Jewish culture in Russia, it was their realilty. I learned life does change and the reality changes also. It is hard with teenagers because they want to be happy and this happiness is sometimes based on that changing society. My battle everyday with teens is keeping Christ as the center and keeping the Sabbath is hard at tmes, I am almost ashamed it is so hard.

    1. I agree. This movie is a great example of the struggles parents deal with every day with their teenagers. The kids want to make their own way despite traditions of the family or community. We see this in our world every day. I wish we only had the problems the papa has in the movie. Live would be much easier. In our society today the deck is stacked against parents and we have to fight for our children more then ever. With God's strength it can be done.

    2. Amy, Papa had to change while keeping his core traditions. Society is constantly changing along with the world while tradition changes too but slower. Tradition is every important but we have to be flexible to meet the needs that are occurring in the world and around us. We see that with religion and our option to choose the religion that fits our view or tradition. Then, within the same religion, every church is different even if they are in the same city.

  4. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is an excellent film and I actually love all of the Indiana Jones series. In this particular film I love how Indiana is still very much convinced that his father loves his work more than him or his mother and it really isn't until that get to the the holy grail that is worldview surrounding this is challenged. At the moment that the father can urge Indiana on to continue to try to reach for it while his father is holding on to him he choses rather to let the grail go in order to save his son's life. As with any good story, the character cannot change his worldview until he is forced to by having to face adversity and there is certainly enough of that to go around in this film!

    1. Debbie,
      So true I too like the Indiana series ththe Last Crusade particularliy. It shows the temptation and strength of religion and power. The pull of good verses evil when religion and power is the focus.
      When we do face adversity we do change and I liked how Donald Miller explains that someone does not understand what another is going through unless they go through it together. Thanks for sharing.

      1. Amy, you must be referring the adversity Miller talks with the bike race and that only those that rode together had a common bond of adversity. Indiana Jones faces adversity when he needs to save his father. He has to change his worldviews from facts and science to believe in faith. That’s a big transformation.

    2. A great point Debbie. Worldviews sometimes require very difficult problems to happen before they can change. I really enjoyed the fact that Indiana saves his father with the water from the grail. His father was not a shining example for Indiana but Indiana loved him anyway and had to save his father. Love is key.

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