2016 Movies and TV Reflect Americans’ Changing Relationship with Faith, by Alissa Wilkinson

From Sausage Party to Silence, it was a banner year for religion onscreen.

by Alissa Wilkinson in Vox @alissamariealissa@vox.com

Religion, doubt, and the conflict of cultures is a major theme in Martin Scorsese’s SILENCE

I started 2016 as chief film critic at Christianity Today and ended it on staff here at Vox. Religion and pop culture has been my beat for a long while. So it’s not surprising I spot it around every corner.

But even by my heightened radar’s standards, 2016 feels like a banner year for onscreen treatments of religion. I don’t mean what we’ve come to consider “Christian movies,” though there were a few of those, most notably the moderately commercially successful God’s Not Dead 2 and the crashing box office failure Ben-Hur (executive produced, by the way, by Mark Burnett of The Apprentice). “Christian films” are made for a sizable but still niche market and bent to the tastes of that segment: biblical or inspirational tales, or (in the case of the God’s Not Dead franchise) legends of the culture wars. They’re meant to preach to — or shore up — the choir.

“Christian movies” had their most recent heyday in 2014 and 2015 and seem to be tapering off, at least in terms of box office returns. But 2016 belonged to a different kind of onscreen religion, aimed at mainstream audiences. In 2016, films and TV shows that portrayed religion — organized or not — were less interested in preaching or caricaturing and more in exploring how faith and (especially) doubt fit into the frameworks of people’s lives today.

Religion showed up onscreen in everything from dark, gritty dramas to dirty animated fables

2016 started with the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar, a comedy about competing ideologies (Hollywood capitalism, Marxism, and Christian faith) that is explicitly modeled on a passion play.

George Clooney in Hail Caesar
In the Coen brothers’ HAIL CAESAR, George Clooney played a Roman centurion in the film-within-a-film.

And now the year is ending with Martin Scorsese’s Silence, perhaps the most stirring, perceptive film about belief and doubt in decades.

The months between yielded movies about pluralism and agnosticism (Sausage Party), the mysterious, doubtable supernatural (Midnight Special), and entering and escaping cults (Holy Hell). In The Birth of a Nation, the Bible acts as impetus for violent action in pursuit of justice; in Hacksaw Ridge, it motivates nonviolence and heroism.

Jane the Virgin
Jane the Virgin has frequently built characters’ faith into its stories.

In A Quiet Passion (which played at festivals in 2016 and will open in theaters next year), Terence Davies uses Emily Dickinson’s life to plumb the space that might best be described as believing unbelief. The Witch artfully poses a conflict between stringent Puritan faith and witchcraft in colonial New England. Knight of Cups positioned its narrator on the road to faith (modeled explicitly on both tarot and Pilgrim’s Progress). The documentary The Illinois Parables reads the complicated matter of religion and historical conflict into the landscape of Illinois. In Queen of Katwe, a Christian missionary brings opportunity to illiterate children in the slums he came from.

Beyoncé’s magnum opus Lemonade explicitly drew on religious imagery in its proclamation of freedom for its creator and women like her. The Innocents, like Silence, grapples with faith cracked by doubt in the face of unthinkable violence to the bodies of the devout — in this case, the brutal rape of nuns.

That Christianity is the organized belief system of interest in most of these projects isn’t surprising. They’re mostly American productions, and Christianity is still the dominant religion practiced in America — though I suspect that onscreen organized religion will expand in the next few years to include a higher number of serious treatments of Judaism, Islam, and other religions.

Still, attentive moviegoers could have caught Under the Shadow, a stellar Iranian political horror film, which borrows on concepts from Islamic folklore to explore the fallout from the Iran-Iraq War. And Tikkun, an Israeli horror film, navigated the complexities of bodies and souls in contemporary Orthodox Judaism.

Meanwhile, on TV, Rectify (about guilt, forgiveness, and redemption in small-town America) and The Americans (about religion as a competitor to nationalist ideologies) topped critics’ lists, while The Path and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt looked at the complicated reasons people enter, leave, remain in, and recover from oppressive systems of belief.

The Path
Michelle Monaghan and Hugh Dancy in The Path, Hulu’s show about a cult called the Meyerists. Hulu

For a pretty goofy show, Lucifer featured a surprisingly nuanced account of evil and fate, while on Daredevil, Matt Murdock’s Catholicism is a central part of his character. Preacher took as its starting point the conflation of pastorly authority and possession by something evil. On both Jane the Virgin and The Jim Gaffigan Show, Catholic faith is also part of characters’ identities and influences the decisions they make.

While Black-ish usually treats Grandma Ruby’s (Jenifer Lewis) outspoken religion as just one of her wacky character details, it nonetheless has aired several episodes dealing with the role of church and belief in God in its larger exploration of black identity in America. The Night Of portrays American Muslims whose character arcs aren’t just a vehicle for a story about terrorism or war. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) regularly consults his friend, the cool, collar-wearing minister Father Brah (Rene Gube). And Transparent — which has been called “the most Jewish show on television” — features a rabbi among its main cast.

This isn’t even an exhaustive list — that would be impossible to compile — and leaves out a lot of what’s happening in genres like horror and in independent and niche film. But as close watchers of the industry can attest, these certainly constitute an observable uptick in religiously oriented content for mainstream audiences.

Religion is part of characters’ identities in 2016, but not their only defining feature

It’s too early in this groundswell to sort out exactly why or how this happened in 2016. It can’t really be attributed to the US election — most of these movies and shows were finished or in development before the race even took shape. But there are some commonalities worth noting.

One notable trend is a growing interest in taking religious belief to be part of, but not the entirety of, a character’s identity. In other words, religious characters are growing more complex.

Aden Young as Daniel Holden in Rectify
Aden Young in Rectify, one of the most religion-soaked shows on television. Sundance

Religion has at times operated as a negative character-defining trait in onscreen stories: Sometimes the religious character’s faith is played off as just a quirk or an outright flaw, a writing shorthand for being bad, weak, hypocritical, or strange. (Think of Angela in the early seasons of The Office, Shirley Bennett on Community, or Vice President Sally Langston on Scandal.) But Rectify, The Americans, Daredevil, Jane the Virgin, The Night Of, Transparent, and The Jim Gaffigan Show, among others, all have characters who are religious, but who say and do lots of things that aren’t explicitly tied to their faith. They aren’t trotted on to be the token clergy or judgy friend; they’re just people who go to church and believe in God, and also have other interests, views, and friends. Their faith is one among many defining traits, but one that is ever-present (as opposed to, for instance, Agent Dana Scully on The X-Files, whose Catholicism seemed to crop up only when it suited the story).

These sorts of characters can be hard to write for a mainstream audience, because fleshing them out often requires personal experience that busts up easy stereotypes. A sort of prototypical religious character, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip’s Harriet Hayes, was based on creator Aaron Sorkin’s real-life ex-girlfriend, the outspoken Christian Kristin Chenoweth; another Sorkin character, the very Catholic President Jed Bartlet from West Wing, also belongs to this category. We especially see this in TV — most writers’ rooms aren’t noted for their diversity, and sometimes religion has been pretty one-note on screen. And flatly written secondary characters have a way of standing out more starkly in TV’s longform storytelling.

But perhaps recognizing that a myopic view of religious people results in underwritten characters, many shows have developed the sense that, as with gender or race, a character’s religion is part of their identity, one in a series of overlapping layers. A white Southerner’s Christianity looks different from that of a Catholic comedian living in New York City or a black marketing executive in Southern California. Not all Muslims look like they do on Homeland. Religious people look, sound, and act differently from one another. Their political and social views may differ. Even if they belong to an organized religion, the way they express and live that faith is unique.

The Innocents takes place in a Polish convent during World War II.
The Innocents takes place in a Polish convent during World War II.

In her film The Innocents, French director Anne Fontaine elected to dramatize a spectrum of faith in characters that on first blush look very much alike: a group of Polish nuns who, during World War II, are raped by a group of passing Russian soldiers. When the film begins, a French Red Cross doctor (who is an avowed atheist, a fact that does not change throughout the film) is called to the convent, where she discovers that many of the nuns are in advanced stages of pregnancy.

It’s tempting to see a convent full of nuns as a homogeneous group: all Polish women, living together, having taken the same vows, following the same rituals together every day, professing the same belief, experiencing the same violence. But The Innocents recognizes that women have individual responses to severe trauma, and their responses are complex and different from one another. It’s a remarkable exploration of shades of belief and doubt rooted in the different ways that different people internalize and express faith.

Some religious storylines incorporate the supernatural, to great effect

Another striking trend in onscreen religion showed up in two places in 2016: Jeff Nichols’s film Midnight Special and the Hulu TV series The Path, something echoed in the HBO drama The Leftovers (which aired the final episodes of its second season in December 2015 and will premiere its third season in 2017)…

Continue reading on Vox

 

See also:

I’m a Christian and I Hate Christian Movies, by Alissa Wilkinson

The Americans
The Jenningses in The Americans. FX

 

I’m a Christian and I Hate Christian Movies, by Alissa Wilkinson

Part of ongoing series: The Future of Faith-Based Filmmaking

Some of the most popular faith-based movies today aren’t just sub-par entertainment — they’re anti-Christian.

by Alissa Wilkinson

We need more depictions of complicated, interesting Christian characters and media that explores difficult, complicated matters of belief. GND2 is anything but.
We need more depictions of complicated, interesting Christian characters and media that explores difficult, complicated matters of belief. GND2 is neither.

It’s a frustrating time to love movies and God. As a lifelong evangelical and a Christian film critic, I’m constantly alerted to the next faith-based movie. You know, your near-death experience drama, your Kirk Cameron vehicles, your God’s Not Dead franchise (see “part two” in theaters this week!) — “Christian films. Which, for someone who turns to movies for a dose of culture, often look like a pile of cheap cash-ins that make me break out in hives.

Hollywood’s definition of the “faith audience” boils down to churchgoers, often Evangelical Protestants, well enough off to afford a night at the movies, interested in inspirational Biblical adaptations and movies about heaven, family, and genial, good neighbors, and highly critical of any sexuality or bad language. If you’re not devout, you probably miss these movies entirely. But they’re a big business: in the last three years, low-budget Christian-themed films have earned over $445 million at the US box office.

A lot of these are basically well-intentioned kitsch, innocuous in the manner of a lousy conventional rom-com or inept indie drama. But they can be worse than that. I can excuse (or ignore) a poorly made movie. But some of the most popular faith-based movies today aren’t just sub-par entertainment — they’re anti-Christian.

Continue reading

Alissa Wilkinson is critic at large for Christianity Today, an assistant professor of English and humanities at The King’s College in New York City, and usually a pretty sunny cinematic omnivore. Follow her weeks-late TV tweets and exhausted festival updates at @alissamarie.

See Also

Current Films by Act One Graduates Reveal Strange Dichotomy in Box Office Mojo’s ‘Christian Movie’ Category

Why Evangelical Films Fail, by Peter J. Leithart

The Future of Faith in Film? Youth and Evangelicals Outstrip All Other Movie-going Audiences, by David Kinnaman

The Blind Side Leading the Blind: Better Faith-Based Filmmaking by Living Better Stories

Thirty Favorite Christmas Movies and TV Specials

We compiled our list from Stratton family favorites and suggestions from the Two Handed Warrior community. Did we miss your favorite?

by Gary & Sue Stratton

If the stable teaches us anything it’s that you can’t always judge a Christmas classic by its humble beginning. The highest-rated Christmas movie of all time, It’s a Wonderful Life, was known as Frank Capra’s greatest failure until countless TV reruns brought it back to life.  CBS executives nearly killed the most-watched Christmas special of all time, A Charlie Brown Christmas, because they feared it was too ‘sacred.’  With a worldwide audience of over 2 billion, the BBC calls Jesus (1979)  “the most watched movie” of all time, yet most Americans have never heard of it. The most-watched opera in television history, Amahl and the Night Visitors, may never recover its audience after a tiff between composer Gian Carlo Menotti and NBC kept it off the air for over three decades.

So Sue and I put together our own list of favorites in hopes of inspiring your search for true greatness. Some are well-known. Some are secret treasures. We categorized the films/shows between those with a more-or-less ‘sacred’ view of Christmas (focused more on the birth of Jesus), and ‘secular’ offerings (focused more on Santa Claus). Then we listed them chronologically within each group.

We hope they inspire as much holiday cheer in your household as they do in ours.

Merry Christmas!

Gary & Sue

 

GREAT Films with a More (or Less) ‘Sacred’ View of Christmas

A Christmas staple Menotti's 'Amahl and the Night Visitors' is worth finding in a local live performance or the original video
The most viewed opera in TV history, Menotti’s powerful ‘Amahl and the Night Visitors’ is well worth the search to find it

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Frank Capra’s masterpiece is not just a great Christmas movie, both the WGA  and AMI list it as one of the twenty best films ever made.

Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951) Gian Carlo Menotti’s most popular opera was originally written for NBC as a one-hour Christmas Eve TV broadcast. Find a local live performance if you can, but the hilarious and inspiring original is also available on DVD.

Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) Charles Schultz’s enduring glimpse at Charlie Brown’s search for the true meaning of Christmas. CBS feared it was ‘too sacred’ for prime time.

The Nativity (1987)  This Hanna-Barbera Greatest Adventures of the Bible video is hard to find, but worth it for your kids. We found a couple of YouTube links, but, uh …they might be bootleg.

The Nativity Story (2006) Not everything you’d hope it would be, but does a marvelous job of capturing the incredible faith (and sacrifice) of Mary and Joseph.

 

GREAT Films with a ‘Sacred’ View of Christmas as Part of  a Larger Movie

078nativity
Zeffirelli’s Juliet (Olivia Hussey) makes a breathtaking Mary in Jesus of Nazareth

Ben-Hur (1959) At least one wise man continues his search for Jesus as Charlton Heston’s title character strives to put his life back together after profound betrayal. Also, on the AMI list of best films ever made. As an added plus, that chariot scene can really get you in the mood to face Christmas traffic.

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) Jean Negulesco directed this understated and haunting Nativity sequence.

Jesus of Nazareth (1977) Franco Zeffirelli’s masterful TV mini-series. Incredibly complex and textured. Get Episode 1 for the Nativity scene.

Jesus (1979) A clear and compelling account of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. Our normally chatty group of friends didn’t speak for a full hour after watching it together.

The Gospel According to Matthew (1996) The Visual Bible‘s straightforward retelling of the birth of Christ from Matthew’s perspective. Watching Luke (Jesus, 1979) and Matthew’s narrative back-to-back creates a marvelous disequilibrium. Throw in the prologue from The Gospel of John (2003), with LOST’s Henry Ian Cusick as Jesus, to complete a remarkable Christmas trifecta.

 

GOOD Movies with a ‘Sacred’ View of Christmas

Bill Murray at his comedic best
Bill Murray at his comedic best

A Christmas Carol (1951) When you hear them singing The Most Wonderful Time of the Year in the Mall, you know it’s time for “scary ghost stories.”  You don’t get any scarier than the original adaptation of this “Dickens Horror Picture Show.”

Scrooged (1988) A snide and cynical take on Dickens tale with the inimitable Bill Murray as Scrooge himself.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)  Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and the gang in an offbeat, but faithful retelling of Dickens’ classic.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Okay, it’s cheating a bit, but there is a Christ figure, and a Christmas, and presents, and everything. Just don’t let the White Witch hear you talking about it.

Silver Bells (2013) When a scuffle with the ref at his son’s basketball game lands an ambitious television sportscaster in serious trouble he finally encounters the true meaning of Christmas.  Act One graduate Andrea Gyertson Nasfell‘s third Christmas movie, after Christmas with a Capital C (2011) and Christmas Angel (2012), not to mention her 2014 hit Mom’s Night Out.

 

GREAT Films with a “Secular” View of Christmas

A Christmas Story ( ) somehow manages to hit the mark with holiday perfection
A Christmas Story (1983) somehow manages to hit the mark with holiday perfection

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) Classic, “Do you believe in something you can’t prove” premise.  Many remakes, none come close to the original.

White Christmas (1954) Not much Jesus (or Santa), but a wonderful tale of friendship and loyalty. We watch it every year as it chokes us up every time.

A Christmas Story (1983) I don’t know why we all get such a kick out of this admittedly B movie.  A pitch-perfect coming-of-age story surrounding the hopes and fears of a nine-year-old boy. Just don’t shoot your eye out.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1996) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) Both the television classic and Jim Carrey’s (over the top) psycho-drama-remake are well worth an evening. “I’m feeling!”

Elf (2003) Perhaps  Will Ferrell’s best movie. The story of Buddy the Elf is an irresistible recasting of the Santa story.  Zooey Deschanel‘s sterling role doesn’t hurt one bit.

 

GOOD Films with ‘Secular’ View of Christmas

Tim Allen featured in Bill O'Reilly's new book, Killing Santa
Tim Allen to be featured in Bill O’Reilly’s new book, Killing Santa?

Christmas in Connecticut (1945) A New York food writer’s personal brand as the perfect housewife is in danger of being exposed as a sham when her boss invites a returning war hero for a traditional family Christmas at her home in Connecticut. Only one problem, she doesn’t have a home in Connecticut.

Christmas Vacation (1989) Didn’t get enough of Chevy Chase on Community? This is the movie for you. The Griswold family’s big Christmas turns out to be “nuts’?

Home Alone (1990) A zany battle against the world’s least scary criminals. It made the list this year because so many THW conversation partners mentioned how the strangely moving church scene (which wasn’t even part of the original script) added much needed gravitas to the moral premise of a very silly movie.

Prancer (1989) A bittersweet, but poignant tale of loss and redemption. One girl’s desperate faith changes her life and her father.

The Santa Clause (1994) Can you be drafted into the ranks of Father Christmas? Apparently, yes. Tim Allen’s best role since Home Improvement.

 

GREAT Films set During the Christmas Season (but, uh, not all are kid-friendly)

If you like Christmas RomComs, but hate the Hallmark Channel, While you were Sleeping is for you
If you love Christmas RomComs, but hate the Hallmark Channel, While you were Sleeping is for you

While You Were Sleeping (1995) A touching and laugh-out-loud funny tale for anyone who ever cherished a secret love (or faced a Christmas alone). Might be Sandra Bullock’s best role before The Blind Side.

Die Hard (1988)  Police Officer John McClain thwarts a ring of Euro-terrorists who crash a corporate Christmas party. Bruce Willis is his smarmy best, but Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber almost steals the show… and the dough.

Family Man (2000)  Turns the “what if” premise of It’s a Wonderful Life on its head. With Don Cheadle as an angel on the edge, and some of the best acting of (Madam Secretary)  Tea Leoni and Nicholas Cage‘s and careers. Sue and I watch it every year and ponder our own “what if?”

Joyeux Noel (‘Merry Christmas’ in French, 2005) The remarkable true story of the WWI Christmas truce. German, French, and Scottish soldiers lay down their arms for a day of celebration and wind up friends with the ‘enemy’ on the opposite side of a brutal war.  A powerful expression of both the spirit of Christmas and the power of friendship. (Subtitles.)

Children of Men (2006) Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece confronts us with a tale of a miraculously pregnant unwed mother and her reluctant protector set amidst the most horrific violence an empire can throw at them: in short, a stark retelling of the Christmas story.

.

See also:

It’s a Wonderful Life and the Courage to Live (and Create Art) Idealistically

Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Children of Men’ (2006): A Stark Retelling of the Christmas Story

All-Time Top Films for Deep Culture Impact

Part four in series: The Oscar “Huh?!” Factor: Why Academy Voters Usually Pick the Wrong Film

Two decades of using film in the classroom has resulted in quite a few surprises in the stories with the deepest cultural impact on this generation.

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor

The list below is in no way infallible, but it sure could get a good Oscar weekend conversation going.  (See Deep Culture Impact Films for the ever-evolving DCI criteria.)

Key

Action/Adventure/Western

Comedy/Musical/Animated

Drama

Fantasy/SciFi

Thriller/Horror

* Indicates Academy Award Winner

url-51933  King Kong (F)

1936  Modern Times (C)

1937  Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (C)

1939  The Wizard of Oz (F)

1939  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (D)

1939  Gone with the Wind (D)*

1940 Fantasia (C)

1941  Citizen Kane (D)

1943  Casablanca (D)*

url-4

1946  It’s a Wonderful Life (D)

1951  The African Queen (D)

1952  Singin’ In The Rain (C)

1954  Rear Window (T)

1954  On the Waterfront (D)*

1955  Rebel Without a Cause (D)

1954  Seven Samurai (D)

1956  The Ten Commandments (D)

1957  The Bridge on the River Kwai (D)*

20121210051712!Sleeping_beauty_disney1957  12 Angry Men (D)

1958  Vertigo (T)

1959  Ben-Hur (A)*

1959  Sleeping Beauty (C)

1960  Psycho (T)

1961  West Side Story (C)*

1961  101 Dalmatians (C)

1961  Breakfast at Tiffany’s (D)

1962  To Kill a Mockingbird (D)

Screen shot 2013-02-23 at 6.03.20 PM

1962  Lawrence of Arabia (D)*

1964  Mary Poppins (C)

1964  My Fair Lady (C)*

1964  Dr. Strangelove (C)

1964 Goldfinger (A) and the entire Bond franchise, especially 1965 Thunderball (A) and 2006  Casino Royale (A)

1965  The Sound of Music (C)*

1966 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (D)

1967  Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (D)

1967  The Graduate (D)

url-6

1967  The Jungle Book (C)

1968  2001: A Space Odyssey (F)

1969  In the Heat of the Night (D)*

1969  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (A)

1971  Fiddler on the Roof (C)

1972  The Godfather (D) and 1974 The Godfather 2 (D)

1973  The Exorcist (T)

1973  The Sting (C)*

1973  American Graffiti (D)

url-7

1974  Chinatown (D)*

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

1975  Jaws (F)

1976  Monty Python and the Holy Grail (C)

1976  Rocky (D),* as well as 2006 Rocky Balboa (D) and 2015 Creed (D)

1976  Taxi Driver (D)

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

1977  Annie Hall (C)*

raiders_of_the_lost_ark_ver1_xlg1978  National Lampoon’s Animal House (C)

1979  Apocalypse Now (D)

1979  Alien (F) and even better 1986 Aliens (F)

1980  Raging Bull (D)

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

1981  Chariots of Fire (D)*

1982  Blade Runner (T)

1982  Tootsie (C)

url-8

1982  E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial (F)

1984  Amadeus (D)*

1984  Beverly Hills Cop (C)

1984  Ghostbusters (C)

1985 The Breakfast Club (D)

1985  Back to the Future (C)

1985  The Color Purple (D)

1986  Top Gun (A)

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

schindlers_list

1986  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off  (C)

1987  The Princess Bride (C)

1988  Rain Man (D)*

1989  Dead Poets Society (D)

1989  Field of Dreams (F)

1989  Do the Right Thing (D)

1989  Driving Miss Daisy (D)*

1990  Dances with Wolves (D)*

1990  Pretty Woman (D)

url-9

1991  Terminator 2: Judgment Day (F)

1991  Beauty and the Beast (F)

1991  The Silence of the Lambs (D)*

1992  A Few Good Men (D)

1992  Unforgiven (A)*

1993  Groundhog Day (C)

1993  Jurassic Park (F)

1993  Schindler’s List (D)*

1994  Forrest Gump (D)*

Screenshot 2014-03-02 23.59.401994  Pulp Fiction (D)

1994  Shawshank Redemption (D)

1994  The Lion King (C)

1995  Braveheart (A)*

1995 The Usual Suspects (D)

1995  Toy Story (C) and the entire Toy Story trilogy.

1996  Jerry Maguire (D)

1996  Fargo (D)

1998  Saving Private Ryan (A)

AmericanBeauty

1996  Independence Day (T)

1997  Men in Black (C)

1997  Good Will Hunting (D)

1997  Titanic (D)*

1998  American History X  (D)

1999  American Beauty (D)*

1999  Fight Club (A)

1999  The Matrix (F)

1999  The Sixth Sense (T)

url-10

2000  Gladiator (A)*

2000 Memento (D)

2001  Shrek (C) and the entire Shrek franchise.

2001  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (F) and the entire Harry Potter series.

2001 Serendipity (C)

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

2003  Finding Nemo (C)

2003  Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl  (A) at least as part of the entire Pirates franchise.

url-1

2004  Spider-Man 2 (F), the entire Spider-Man Trilogy and even the new franchise starting with 2012 The Amazing Spider-Man (F) series.

2004  The Passion of the Christ (D)

2004  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (F)

2008  The Dark Knight (F) and the entire Dark Knight trilogy is definitely going to make the DCI list.

 

Films on the Deeper Culture Impact ‘watch list’

I suspect many of these movies will prove to be DCI films, but it is still too early to tell. 

2005  Crash (D)*

2006  The Departed (D)*

2012  The Avengers (F) and the entire Marvel Avengers franchise, especially 2008 IronScreen shot 2013-02-24 at 12.58.13 PM
Man (F), 2013 Iron Man 3 (F), and 2011 Thor (F)

2007  No Country for Old Men (D)*

2007  Juno (D)

2008  Slumdog Millionaire (D)*

2009  The Hangover (C)

2009  Avatar (F)

2009  The Blind Side (D)

2010 Inception (F)

2011 The Help (D)

2012 Django Unchained (D)12YAS-Poster-Art

2012 Life of Pi (F)

2012 The Hunger Games (F), and and most likely the entire Hunger Games series.

2013 12 Years a Slave (D)*

2013 Frozen (F)

2013 American Hustle (D)

2013 Gravity (D)

2014 American Sniper (D)

2014 Selma (D)

MV5BMTAwMjU5OTgxNjZeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDUxNDYxODEx._V1_SX214_AL_

2014 The Imitation Game (D)

2014 Guardians of the Galaxy (F)

2015 Spotlight (D)*

2015 Inside Out (A)

2016 Zootopia (A)

2016 La La Land (M)

2016 Arrival (F)

* Indicates Academy Award Winner

 

What films did I miss?

High Culture? Pop Culture? Shouldn’t a Great Film Impact DEEP Culture?

Part two in series: The Oscar “Huh?!” Factor: Why Academy Voters Usually Pick the Wrong Film

The root-level memes underlying our worldview are so subtle and pervasive we are often deeply impacted by the stories found in films we have barely even watched.

by Gary David Stratton, Ph.D. • Senior Editor

2010 Oscar winner ‘Hurt Locker’ won critical acclaim, but with a paltry $17M domestic box office, never attracted a broad enough audience for ‘deep culture’ impact

The criteria used by Academy voters to decide their choice for “Best Picture” remains a complete mystery to the viewing public. Is it Story? Acting? Directing? Artistic merit? Political perspective? Personal taste? Who knows? No two years are the same, and no doubt this year could be a surprise as well.

Since there are no objective standards for art, each year is fraught with controversy and the kind of unwinnable arguments that make for great public interest.

However, as a college professor who selects films for use in teaching philosophy and spirituality, I am looking for something more specific. I want to know if a given film is likely to be one of the “stories my students live by.” (See, Casablanca and the Four Levels of Worldview). Since people don’t always “choose” the stories that shape them, just asking students to name their favorite movies can be very deceptive. In fact, the root-level stories that form the foundation of our worldview (or our culture’s) can be so subtle and pervasive, students can be deeply impacted by the stories and/or memes in films they have never even watched. (See, Crash Goes the Worldview.)

After a great deal of thought, I’ve decided that what I am really looking for is films that have achieved what I refer to as “deep culture” impact upon a generation. (As opposed to “Pop” culture or “High” culture.) Granted, this too can be a very subjective call. Measuring “impact” is one of the trickiest problems in modern historiography. Yet, sheer necessity has led me to developed my own informal (and often intuitive) system for finding worldview-shaping films.

One helpful (but fallible) way to estimate deep culture impact is to look for films that have achieved success what at what Hollywood sometimes calls the “double bottom-line.” Films that have:1) Celebrated Critical Acclaim, and 2) Broad Popular Appeal. It may be simplistic, but for the most part, I use these categories when considering a film for use with students: (See chart below.)

Category

A: Critical Acclaim = “High” Culture Impact

B: Broad Appeal = “Pop” Culture Impact

C: Critical Acclaim + Broad Appeal = “Deep Culture” Impact

 

A #27 ranking on the WGA list of all-time best screenplays tipped me off to its possible culture making power

Category A – Critical Acclaim

In determining whether or not a film has achieved critical acclaim I look for:

1) an Academy Award win or nomination for a Best Picture, and/or an Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay or Adapted Screenplay,

2) a place on the American Film Institute (AFI) 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time; and/or

3) selection to the Writers’ Guild of America’s (WGA) 101 Greatest Screenplays.

I often find unexpected worldview gems in these lists. For instance, I might have missed the culture-making power of Groundhog Day (1993) if not for its #27 ranking on the WGA list of all-time best screenplays.

The same goes for underachieving box office comedy The Princess Bride (1987), a film that many students have memorized word for word.

Category B – Broad Appeal

Popularity doesn’t guarantee deep cultural impact, but it doesn’t hurt.

In determining if a film has broad appeal I look for at least one of the following:

1) a spot in the Top 100 all-time box office films,

2) a spot in the Top 100 grossing movies of all-time when adjusted for inflation; and/or,

3) a place on the Internet Movie Data Base’s (IMDB) Top 250 All-Time Films as voted by their readers.

Broad popular appeal can be a sign of deep culture impact even without critical acclaim. For instance, George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg’s only joint project–The Indiana Jones series–was an Oscar bust. Yet few would doubt the culture-making power of  Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), and not surprisingly, each rank in the IMDB top 100.

Category C – Deep Culture Impact

While imperfect, my system seems somewhat vindicated when even Oscar snubs like Lucas’s culture-impacting powerhouse come out on top

Films that do well in all both critical acclaim and broad appeal fit my elusive Category C: films of deep cultural impact. For instance, Casablanca (1942) won the Oscar for both Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay, is #1 on the WGA list, #3 on the AFI Top 100, and voted #16 by IMDB readers. Star Wars (1977) failed to bring home a Best Picture or Original Screenplay Oscar, but took in the second highest box office of all time (adjusted for inflation), and is #15 on the AFI all-time great list.

Getting into Category C is no easy task. In the past 25 years only THREE Oscar winners have managed to crack the top 50 all-time box office hits. Care to guess who they are?  (I’ll reveal that answer tomorrow in Why ‘Deep Culture Impact’ Films are so Rare.)

Even more remarkable, only nine films have achieved both an AFI 100 top all-time ranking and a top 65 all-time box office adjusted for inflation (and only three of them won *Oscars):

*Gone With the Wind (1939)

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Jaws (1975)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

*Ben-Hur (1959)

The Graduate (1967)

Fantasia (1940)

*The Godfather (1972)

It would be hard to argue that any of these 9 films don’t belong among the small canon of motion pictures that have achieved “Deep Culture Impact” (DPI).

Of course, the system isn’t perfect.  While my 2011 pick for “Deep Culture Movie of the Year,” Inception seems solid–it didn’t win Best Picture yet it is currently ahead of all 2011 nominees in its IMDB rating (#12 All-Time!), my 2012 pick, The Help, is dropping fast in IMDB ratings without garnering a great deal of longterm critical acclaim. Which only emphasizes how important it is to wait at least twelve years before trying to measure a films DPI.

Still, by focusing on critically acclaimed films that also achieved broad popular appeal I am hoping to discover films that have most deeply impacted culture …and my students.

So why are they so hard to find?

Tomorrow: Why Films with ‘Deep Culture Impact’ are so Rare

 

Thirty Good to Great Christmas Movies for 2014, by Gary and Sue Stratton

Our annual Christmas movie extravaganza compiled from our family’s favorite Christmas movies of all time and suggestions from members of the THW community.

by Gary & Sue Stratton

charlie-brown-christmas2
The #1 Made-for-TV Christmas movie of all time almost never aired because CBS doubted its ‘sacred’ view of Christmas would draw a large enough audience.

What better way to get in the holiday spirit than to fire up the DVD, Blu-Ray, Tivo, Wii, XBox, Laptop, IPad, Kindle, Smart Phone, Hulu, NetFlix, Roku, Amazon Prime, etc. and watch your favorite Christmas films.

We divided our list between good and great films and categorized them with either a ‘sacred’ view of Christmas (focused more on the birth of Jesus), or a ‘secular’ version (focused more on Santa Claus). Then we listed them chronologically within each group.

We hope they inspire as much holiday cheer in your household as they do in ours.

Merry Christmas!

Gary & Sue

 

GREAT Films with a More (or Less) ‘Sacred’ View of Christmas

v46844fsvew
The toughest on the list to find, but worth the search if you want to talk about the real meaning of Christmas with your kids.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Frank Capra’s masterpiece is not just a great Christmas movie, it is one of the ten best films ever made.

Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) Charles Schultz’s enduring glimpse at the meaning of Christmas. Set the DVR and experience the least commercial Christmas tale ever told on network TV.

The Nativity (1987)  This Hanna-Barbera Greatest Adventures of the Bible video is hard to find, but worth it for your kids. We found a couple of YouTube links, but, uh …they might be bootleg.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Okay, it’s cheating a bit, but there is a Christ figure, and a Christmas, and presents, and everything. Just don’t let the White Witch hear you talking about it.

The Nativity Story (2006) Not everything you’d hope it would be, but does a marvelous job of capturing the incredible faith (and sacrifice) of Mary and Joseph.

GREAT Films with a ‘Sacred’ View of Christmas as Part of  a Larger Movie

078nativity
Zeffirelli’s Juliet (Olivia Hussey) makes a breathtaking Mary in Jesus of Nazareth

Ben-Hur (1959) Charlton Heston’s character’s life parallel’s the life of Jesus, (even if he actually misses his birth). Also, one of the best films ever made. As an added plus, that chariot scene can really get you in the mood to face the mall.

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) Jean Negulesco directed this understated and haunting Nativity sequence.

Jesus of Nazareth (1977) Franco Zeffirelli’s masterful TV mini-series. Incredibly complex and textured. Get Episode 1 for the Nativity scene.

Jesus (1979) A clear and compelling account of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. With a worldwide audience of over 2 billion, the BBC calls Jesus “the most watched” movie of all-time.

The Gospel According to Matthew (1996) The Visual Bible‘s straightforward retelling of the birth of Christ from Matthew’s perspective.

GOOD Movies with a ‘Sacred’ View of Christmas

Muppet Christmas Carol: A scary ghost story for the PG set.

The Bishop’s Wife (1947) Samuel Goldwyn’s romantic comedy about a Bishop’s fundraising prayer that nets a lot more than cash. Cary Grant plays the angel with more on his mind than money. (The 1996 remake, The Preacher’s Wife, featuring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston isn’t bad at all.)

A Christmas Carol (1951) When you hear them singing The Most Wonderful Time of the Year in the Mall, you know it’s time for “scary ghost stories.”  You don’t get any scarier than the original adaptation of this “Dickens Horror Picture Show.”

Scrooged (1988) A snide and cynical take on Dickens tale with the inimitable Bill Murray as Scrooge himself.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)  Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and the gang in an offbeat, but faithful retelling of Dickens’ classic.

Silver Bells (2013) Bruce Dalt (Bruce Boxleitner) is an ambitious television sportscaster who approaches the holidays as he does life – competitively. But when a scuffle with the ref at his son’s basketball game leads to serious consequences Bruce finally encounters the true meaning of Christmas and hope.  Act One graduate Andrea Gyertson Nasfell’s third Christmas movie, after Christmas with a Capital C (2011) and Christmas Angel (2012), not to mention her 2014 hit Mom’s Night Out.

GREAT Films with a “Secular” View of Christmas

MV5BMjA0Mzg0OTU0OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNTM4MjY5._V1_SX640_SY720_
We watch it as a family every year as we decorate the tree. And every year we say, “They just don’t make ’em like that anymore.”

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) Classic, “Do you believe in something you can’t prove” premise.  Many remakes, none come close to the original.

White Christmas (1954) Not much Jesus (or Santa), but a wonderful tale of friendship and loyalty. We watch it every year as it chokes us up every time.

A Christmas Story (1983) I don’t know why we all get such a kick out of this admittedly B movie.  A pitch-perfect coming-of-age story surrounding the hopes and fears of a nine-year-old boy. Just don’t shoot your eye out.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1996) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) Both the television classic and Jim Carrey’s (over the top) psycho-drama-remake are well worth an evening. “I’m feeling!”

Elf (2003) Perhaps  Will Ferrell’s best movie. The story of Buddy the Elf is an irresistible recasting of the Santa story.  Zooey Deschanel‘s sterling role doesn’t hurt one bit.

GOOD Films with ‘Secular’ View of Christmas

MV5BMTUzMzg4MTg2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDM4OTk4._V1_SY317_CR6,0,214,317_
Totally idiotic and totally entertaining.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945) A New York food writer’s false personal brand as the perfect housewife is in danger of being exposed as a sham when her boss invites a returning war hero for a traditional family Christmas at her home in Connecticut. Only one problem, she doesn’t have a home n Connecticut.

Christmas Vacation (1989) Didn’t get enough of Chevy Chase on Community?  This is the movie for you.  The Griswold family’s plan for a big Christmas turns out to be “nuts’?

Prancer (1989) A bittersweet, but poignant tale of loss and redemption. One girl’s desperate faith changes her life and her father.

Home Alone (1990) A zany battle against the world’s least scary criminals. It made the list this year because so many THW conversation partners mentioned how strangely moving church scene (which wasn’t even part of the original script) added much needed gravitas to the moral premise of a very silly movie.

The Santa Clause (1994) Can you be drafted into the ranks of Father Christmas? Apparently, yes. Tim Allen’s best role since Home Improvement.

GREAT Films set During the Christmas Season (but, uh, not all are kid friendly)

children_of_men
Long before last year’s Oscar nominee GRAVITY, Alfonso Cuarón was shedding new light on stories of faith, like Christmas.

Die Hard (1988)  Police Officer John McClain thwarts a ring of Euro-terrorists who crash a corporate Christmas party. Bruce Willis is at his smarmy best, but Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber almost steals the show… and the dough.

While You Were Sleeping (1995) A touching and laugh-out-loud funny tale for anyone who has ever had a secret love or faced a Christmas alone. Sandra Bullock’s best role before Blind Side..

Family Man (2000)  Turns the “what if” premise of It’s a Wonderful Life on its head. With Don Cheadle as an angel on the edge, and some of the best acting of Nicholas Cage and Tea Leoni’s careers. We watch it every year and ponder our own what if?

Joyeux Noel (‘Merry Christmas’ in French, 2005) The remarkable true story of the WWI Christmas truce. German, French, and Scottish soldiers lay down their arms for a day of celebration and wind up friends with the ‘enemy’ on the opposite side of a brutal war.  A powerful expression of both the spirit of Christmas and the power of friendship. (Subtitles.)

Children of Men (2006) Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece confronts us with a tale of a miraculously pregnant unwed mother and her reluctant protector set amidst the most horrific violence an empire can throw at them: in short, a stark retelling of the Christmas story.

.

See also:

Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Children of Men’ (2006): A Stark Retelling of the Christmas Story

100+ All-Time Top ‘Deep Culture Impact’ Films (2014)

Part four in 2014 Oscar Week Series: Twelve Years a Slave to History: Why Academy Voters Often Miss the Real Best Picture.

Two decades of using film in the classroom has resulted in quite a few surprises in the stories with the deepest cultural impact on this generation.

by Gary David Stratton, PhD • Senior Editor

The list below is in no way infallible, but it sure could get a good Oscar weekend conversation going.  (See Deep Culture Impact Films to view my evolving DCI criteria.)

Key: Action/Adventure/Western • Comedy/Musical/Animated • Drama • Fantasy/SciFi • Thriller/Horror

* Indicates Academy Award Winner  – @Indicates NEW for 2014

king-kong-poster1933  King Kong (F)

1936  Modern Times (C)

1937  Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (C)

1939  The Wizard of Oz (F)

1939  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (D)

1939  Gone with the Wind (D)*

1940 Fantasia (C)

1941  Citizen Kane (D)

1943  Casablanca (D)*

url-4

1946  It’s a Wonderful Life (D)

1951  The African Queen (D)

1952  Singin’ In The Rain (C)

1954  Rear Window (T)

1954  On the Waterfront (D)*

1955  Rebel Without a Cause (D)

1954  Seven Samurai (D)@

1956  The Ten Commandments (D)

1957  The Bridge on the River Kwai (D)*

20121210051712!Sleeping_beauty_disney1957  12 Angry Men (D)

1958  Vertigo (T)

1959  Ben-Hur (A)*

1959  Sleeping Beauty (C)

1960  Psycho (T)

1961  West Side Story (C)*

1961  101 Dalmatians (C)

1961  Breakfast at Tiffany’s (D)

1962  To Kill a Mockingbird (D)

Screen shot 2013-02-23 at 6.03.20 PM

1962  Lawrence of Arabia (D)*

1964  Mary Poppins (C)

1964  My Fair Lady (C)*

1964  Dr. Strangelove (C)

1964 Goldfinger (A) and the entire Bond franchise, especially 1965 Thunderball (A) and 2006  Casino Royale (A)

1965  The Sound of Music (C)*

1966 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (D)

1967  Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (D)

1967  The Graduate (D)

url-6

1967  The Jungle Book (C)

1968  2001: A Space Odyssey (F)

1969  In the Heat of the Night (D)*

1969  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (A)

1971  Fiddler on the Roof (C)

1972  The Godfather (D)* and 1974 The Godfather 2 (D)*

1973  The Exorcist (T)

1973  The Sting (C)*

1973  American Graffiti (D)

url-7

1974  Chinatown (D)*

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

1975  Jaws (F)

1976  Monty Python and the Holy Grail (C)

1976  Rocky (D)*

1976  Taxi Driver (D)

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

1977  Annie Hall (C)*

raiders_of_the_lost_ark_ver1_xlg1978  National Lampoon’s Animal House (C)

1979  Apocalypse Now (D)

1979  Alien (F) and 1986 Aliens (F)

1980  Raging Bull (D)

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

1981  Chariots of Fire (D)*

1982  Blade Runner (T)

1982  Tootsie (C)

url-8

1982  E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial (F)

1984  Amadeus (D)*

1984  Beverly Hills Cop (C)

1984  Ghostbusters (C)

1985 The Breakfast Club (D)@

1985  Back to the Future (C)

1985  The Color Purple (D)

1986  Top Gun (A)

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

schindlers_list

1986  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off  (C)

1987  The Princess Bride (C)

1988  Rain Man (D)*

1989  Dead Poets Society (D)

1989  Field of Dreams (F)

1989  Do the Right Thing (D)

1989  Driving Miss Daisy (D)*

1990  Dances with Wolves (D)*

1990  Pretty Woman (D)

url-9

1991  Terminator 2: Judgment Day (F)

1991  Beauty and the Beast (F)

1991  The Silence of the Lambs (D)*

1992  A Few Good Men (D)

1992  Unforgiven (A)*

1993  Groundhog Day (C)

1993  Jurassic Park (F)

1993  Schindler’s List (D)*

1994  Forrest Gump (D)*

Screenshot 2014-03-02 23.59.401994  Pulp Fiction (D)

1994  Shawshank Redemption (D)

1994  The Lion King (C)

1995  Braveheart (A)*

1995 The Usual Suspects (D) @

1995  Toy Story (C) and the entire Toy Story trilogy.

1996  Jerry Maguire (D)

1996  Fargo (D)

1998  Saving Private Ryan (A)

AmericanBeauty

1996  Independence Day (T)

1997  Men in Black (C)

1997  Good Will Hunting (D)

1997  Titanic (D)*

1998  American History X  (D)

1999  American Beauty (D)*

1999  Fight Club (A)

1999  The Matrix (F)

1999  The Sixth Sense (T)

url-10

2000  Gladiator (A)*

2000 Memento (D)@

2001  Shrek (C) and the entire Shrek franchise.

2001  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (F) and the entire Harry Potter series.

2001 Serendipity (C)@

2003 The Return of the King (F)* and the rest of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: 2001 The Fellowship of the Ring (F) and 2002 The Two Towers (F). (Okay, it’s only been 11 years since the last LOTR film, but I think it’s safe to say that Peter Jackson’s majestic adaptation of Tolkien’s classic will hit a very high DCI mark. )

 

Films on the Deeper Culture Impact ‘watch list’

Screen shot 2013-02-24 at 12.58.13 PMI suspect many of these films will grow into DCI films, but it is still too early to tell. After all, we have to wait at least twelve years!

2002  My Big Fat Greek Wedding (C)

2002  Spider-Man (F), the entire Spider-Man Trilogy and even the new franchise starting with 2012 The Amazing Spider-Man (F) series.

2003  Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl  (A) at least as part of the entire Pirates franchise.

2003  Finding Nemo (C)

2004  The Passion of the Christ (D)

url-1

2004  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (F)2005  Crash (D)*

2005  The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (F) (The weakness of the other completed films in the franchise stands in the way of Chronicles (the movie) having the same high DCI as Lewis’s books.)

2006  The Departed (D)*

2007  No Country for Old Men (D)*

2007  Juno (D) (If the Juno Effect has cultural staying power this could end up being one of the top DCI films of all time.)

2008  The Dark Knight (F) and the entire Dark Knight trilogy is definitely going to make the DCI list.

Inception poster

2008  Slumdog Millionaire (D)*

2009  The Hangover (C)

2009  Avatar (F)

2009  The Blind Side (D)

2010 Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (C)@

2010  Inception (F)

2011  The Help (D)

2011 The Intouchables (D)@

2012  The Avengers (F) and the entire Marvel Avengers franchise, especially 2008 Iron Man (F), 2013 Iron Man 3 (F), 2011 Thor (F), and 2013 Thor II: The Dark World (F)

2012  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and 2013 The Desolation of Smaug (F)

2012 Django Unchained (D)

2012 Life of Pi (F)

2012 The Hunger Games (F), 2013 The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and most likely the entire series.

 

 

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)

1976Rocky(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.

High Culture, Pop Culture, What About Films that Impact ‘Deep Culture’?

Part of 11 series: Hollywood & Higher Education: Teaching Worldview Thru Academy Award-winning Film

In the past 25 years only THREE Oscar winners have managed to crack the top 50 all-time box office hits.

by Gary David Stratton, Senior Editor

2010 Oscar winner ‘Hurt Locker’ won critical acclaim, but with a paltry $17M domestic box office, never attracted a broad enough audience for ‘deep culture’ impact

The personal criteria Academy voters use to cast their vote for “Best Picture” remains a complete and total mystery. Story? Acting? Directing? Artistic merit? Political perspective? Personal taste? Since there are no objective standards for art, each year is fraught with controversy and the kind of unwinnable arguments that make for great public interest.

When I choose a movie for my students to view I am looking for something more specific. I want to know if a given film is likely to be one of the “stories my students live by.” (See, Casablanca and the Four Levels of Worldview). Since people don’t always “choose” the stories that shape them, just asking students to name their favorite movies can be very deceptive. In fact, the root-level stories that form the foundation of our worldview (or our culture’s) can be so subtle and pervasive, students can be deeply impacted by the stories and/or memes in films they have never even watched. (See, Crash Goes the Worldview.)

After a great deal of thought, I’ve decided that what I am really looking for is films that have achieved what I refer to as “deep culture” impact upon a generation. (As opposed to “Pop” culture or “High” culture.) Granted, this too can be a very subjective call. Measuring “impact” is one of the trickiest problems in modern historiography. Yet, sheer necessity has led me to developed my own informal (and often intuitive) system for finding worldview-shaping films.

One helpful (but fallible) way to estimate deep culture impact is to look for films that have achieved success what at what Hollywood sometimes calls the “double bottom-line.” Films that have:1) Celebrated Critical Acclaim, and 2) Broad Popular Appeal. It may be simplistic, but for the most part, I use these categories when considering a film for use with students: (See chart below.)

Category

A: Critical Acclaim = “High” Culture Impact

B: Broad Appeal = “Pop” Culture Impact

C: Critical Acclaim + Broad Appeal = “Deep Culture” Impact

.

A #27 ranking on the WGA list of all-time best screenplays tipped me off to its possible culture making power

Category A – Critical Acclaim: In determining whether or not a film has achieved critical acclaim I look for:

1) an Academy Award win or nomination for a Best Picture, and/or an Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay or Adapted Screenplay,

2) a place on the American Film Institute (AFI) 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time; and/or

3) selection to the Writers’ Guild of America’s (WGA) 101 Greatest Screenplays.

I often find unexpected worldview gems in these lists. For instance, I might have missed the culture-making power of Groundhog Day (1993) if not for its #27 ranking on the WGA list of all-time best screenplays. The same goes for underachieving box office comedy The Princess Bride (1987), a film that many students have memorized word for word.

.

Popularity doesn’t guarantee deep cultural impact, but it doesn’t hurt.

Category B – Broad Appeal: In determining if a film has broad appeal I look for at least one of the following:

1) a spot in the Top 100 all-time box office films,

2) a spot in the Top 100 grossing movies of all-time when adjusted for inflation; and/or,

3) a place on the Internet Movie Data Base’s (IMDB) Top 250 All-Time Films as voted by their readers.

Broad popular appeal can be a sign of deep culture impact even without critical acclaim. For instance, few would doubt their culture-making power of Lucas and Spielberg’s only joint project. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) were both Oscar busts, yet each rank in the IMDB top 100.

.

While imperfect, my system seems somewhat vindicated when even Oscar snubs like Lucas’s culture-impacting powerhouse come out on top

Category C – Deep Culture Impact: Films that do well in all both critical acclaim and broad appeal fit my elusive Category C: films of deep cultural impact. For instance, Casablanca (1942) won the Oscar for both Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay, is #1 on the WGA list, #3 on the AFI Top 100, and voted #16 by IMDB readers. Star Wars (1977) failed to bring home a Best Picture or Original Screenplay Oscar, but took in the second highest box office of all time (adjusted for inflation), and is #15 on the AFI all-time great list.

Getting into Category C is no easy task. In the past 25 years only THREE Oscar winners have managed to crack the top 50 all-time box office hits. Care to guess who they are?  (I’ll reveal that answer tomorrow.)

Even more remarkable, over 100 years of filmmaking has produced only 9 films that have achieved both AFI 100 top all-time ranking and a top 65 all-time box office (adjusted for inflation):

Gone With the Wind (1939)

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Jaws (1975)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Ben-Hur (1959)

The Graduate (1967)

Fantasia (1940)

The Godfather (1972)

While my system is imperfect, it would be hard to argue that any of these 9 films don’t belong among the small canon of motion pictures that have achieved “deep culture” impact.

By focusing on critically acclaimed films that also achieved broad popular appeal I am hoping to discover films that have most deeply impacted culture …and my students.

So why are they so hard to find?

.

Next Post in Series: Why Making Films ‘Deep Culture’ Films is so Elusive.