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.)







* 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)*


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)


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)


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)


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.)


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)


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)


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)


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.


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)


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?

Voices from the Edge of Culture: Interview with MTV Writer Kevin Chesley

(Note: This interview was conducted before Hard Times‘ cancellation.)

MTV taught writer Kevin Chesley how to swim with the sharks at the cutting edge of culture. (He even brought one home!)

I can only hope that Randy Elrod‘s posts on edgy artists helped prepare you for today’s interview with Kevin Chesley, screen and television writer extraordinaire. Kevin’s current assignment is writing for MTV’s hit series The Hard Times of RJ Berger, whose Season 2 Premier is TONIGHT at 11pm.[1] describes The Hard Times of RJ Berger as orbiting the “hilariously-hellish lives of a deeply unpopular fifteen year-old (Paul Iacono) and his scheming, sex-obsessed best friend, Miles Jenner (Jareb Dauplaise).

Other than pining after the girl of his dreams, Jenny Swanson (Amber Lancaster), receiving daily beatings from the meanest jock in school, Max Owens (Jayson Blair), …there really isn’t much excitement in RJ’s life. That is, until his anatomical gift is accidentally exposed to the entire school.”

Yes, that is the show’s gimmick — the ultimate revenge of the nerds on the jock value system — and if your goal is to create a morality tale that reaches the youth demographic, then you have to say it works.

Warning: If you loved Rob and Laura Petrie’s twin beds in the The Dick Van Dyke Show, or thought Happy Days was racy, then you’re probably NOT part of the target audience for RJ Berger. (Uh… it follows MTV’s reality sensation Jersey Shore, so what does that tell you?)

'The Hard Times of RJ Berger' premieres TONIGHT (March 24th) at 11pm (EDT and PDT) after the 'Jersey Shore' finale.

It is not your typical “calling,” but Kevin has worked hard to become a respected voice on the cutting edge of culture. An alumnus of both Emerson College and the Act One screenwriting program, Kevin is a founding member of two sketch comedy groups: TROOP! and The Riot Act, and served for many years as the sole Writer’s Assistant for Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Robert Nelson Jacobs (Chocolat, The Water Horse, Extraordinary Measures).

Before getting his first staff writer position at MTV, Kevin sold short-form pieces to The Onion, Showtime, and National Lampoon and performed sketch comedy on stages like the UCB, Comedy Central Stage, and The Viper Room. He also directs The Apple Sisters – a live 1940’s radio show spoof currently in residency at Largo in Los Angeles.

Oh, and he’s also a new dad to the beautiful Lucy Chesley, thanks completely to his long-suffering and gorgeous wife, Heather. (Please pray for her.)

I asked Kevin if he would answer a few questions in honor of the season premier of RJ Berger tonight. He graciously agreed.

Voices from the Edge of Culture: Interview with Kevin Chesley

THW: What is the edgiest thing you’ve ever written, I mean besides RJ Berger?

KC: Just last year, the LA Times hired me to write a false cover for their newspaper featuring a hoax headline that described a city-wide attack by King Kong. (See story.)

Kevin made his "mark" in the LA Times, (and hastened the end of print media as we know it), with an Orson Welles-ish mock attack from King Kong

THW: How did that go?

KC: Well, Universal Studios (who purchased the ad space) likened me to a 2010 Orson Welles.

THW: That’s good.

KC: Yeah, but most readers dubbed me, “The End of Print Media”… which is probably why you’re writing this piece on the Internet.

THW: So that was your fault, huh?

KC: Sorry.

THW: So, then, what is it like working on ‘The Hard Times of RJ Berger?’

KC: It wasn’t lost on me how apropos it was to be working my first staff job on a show about the travails of high school.  While scripting the struggles of teens navigating the murky waters of early adulthood, sexuality, and identity – I was also getting my first taste of catering to network notes, plotting episodes, and just all around trying to not look like an idiot.

THW: How did that part go? I mean, not looking like an idiot?

KC: Not so well.

The tender-hearted RJ Berger (Paul Iacono) with his unrequited love-interest Jenny Walker (Amber Lancaster).

THW: Tonight is the Season Two premier. What was it like getting ready for a second season?

KC: Some of the work I did on Season Two was literally performed in a real high school cafeteria, breaking stories beneath paper banners announcing the theme of the next big school dance.  It couldn’t have been a better setting to display the excitement and fears of dipping my toe into professional screenwriting for the first time.

THW: Fun?

KC: I haven’t been this psyched and bewildered since Freshman Year. Which, to beat an analogy to a bloody pulp, is almost exactly what I’m experiencing all over again.

THW: So who are the cultural influencers we should blame… uh, I mean, credit for making you the writer you are today?

Under pressure, Kevin confesses the influence of comedy writing legends Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd.

KC: Wow! Let me think about that.

THW: Actually, I’m only giving you fifteen minutes to answer.

KC: That’s not a lot of time…

THW: The clock is running…

KC: (A look of deep concentration fills Kevin’s face, kinda like when Yoda raises Luke’s ship out of the swamp.) Ghostbusters, Roald Dahl, Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” C.S. Lewis,  The Goonies, Chris Claremont, Anne Lamott, Neil Gaiman, Star Wars (Episodes 4,5,6 only!), Led Zeppelin…

THW: Five minutes…

KC: (Sweat beings to trickle down Kevin’s brow.) Mary Poppins, Alan Moore, Monty Python, J.J. Abrams, H.P. Lovecraft!

THW: Time’s up!

KC: Wow! That happened really fast…

C.S. Lewis, one of the few comedy writers in history to land on the cover of Time (for 'The Screwtape Letters'), helped shape Kevin's understanding of comedy with a purpose.

THW: Any surprises?

KC: There’s almost NO TV on there!

THW: How does that make you feel?

KC: Mortified!

THW: Anything you want to retract?

KC: Looking back on it… No, that’s kind of right… that’s pretty much me… I’d better let you publish that before I start second-guessing everything.

THW: Wouldn’t want that now, would we?


Please join me in praying for Kevin and other two-handed warriors seeking to make a difference in a culture desperately in need of salt and light.

[1] The Hard Times of RJ Berger regular time slot is 10pm Monday nights.