You Haven’t Seen That?!?

2010 August 12

I recently learned of the existence of a human being who hadn’t seen Die Hard until recently when forced to watch it by someone who loves the movie almost as much as I do.

In this person’s defense, this obviously uncultured human being happens to be a female. Granted, she’s a female who’s in her mid-20s — which makes the situation less understandable than if she were still a teenager — but a female nonetheless. Women simply don’t sit around and watch Die Hard just because they came across it on Fox Movie Channel, or have discussions about Die Hard that end up with someone — I’m not naming names — smashing a beer can on the ground in anger, or make appreciation threads about the original trilogy.

But even cured of this deficiency, she still hasn’t seen Robocop, Lethal Weapon, or Raiders of the Lost Ark. Her not seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark is particularly shocking since it’s such a classic, mainstream film. She might as well have told me she hasn’t seen Star Wars. It’s not even about the quality of Raiders of the Lost Ark (or any similar movie), but about its pervasiveness in popular culture. In some way this person AVOIDED seeing this movie.

I’m not immune to this phenomenon. The very person who hadn’t seen Die Hard was shocked, appalled, and disappointed to learn that the only David Lynch I had seen was the first hour or so of Dune (which was absolutely atrocious). But I’d argue that Lynch is not a mainstream figure, especially with my age group. Mullohand Drive is not airing on TNT or FX or some other cable channel every other week. Not that I’d want to watch it on these cable channels anyway (I’ve made a point of not watching any R-rated movies for the first time on cable for a long, long time now).

So no, I don’t think that’s the biggest hole in my film-watching history. In terms of popularity, it HAS to be It’s A Wonderful Life. I have never seen it, and that’s because I have never ever made it a priority — I might even avoid it. Perhaps my assumptions are wrong, but I don’t feel like watching some sappy crap on Christmas. I rather watch Die Hard.

Then there’s Lawrence of Arabia, a movie renowned for its cinematography — which is my reason for waiting until it hits Blu-ray. There I said it. I want it to be as beautiful as possible the first time. I’m saving myself.

But I don’t mean for this post to be about me or some poor Bruce Willis-deprived girl. I want this to be about the movies families sit around and watch, movies that teachers show their students, movies that both hipsters and dudebros have seen.

Unfortunately, a problem arises when I attempt to answer this question. I’m pretty sure that in my mind “universal” translates to “universal for 20-something-year-old male white Westerners”. So how do I approach the task of coming up with a list of these movies? First off, I’m going to make the uncontroversial statement that there are different lists for different groups. The list of definitive movies for my parents’ generation is going to be much different. But then again, aren’t I supposed to be talking about the movies that transcend all these generational and cultural boundaries? But I only truly know my own experiences, along with those of the people I interact with. So it goes in a massive loop, like this paragraph.

So you know what? I’m not going to bother trying to come up with some list of universal movies, because that’s just going to end up turning into a typical list of classic movies. Sure the most embarrassing holes in my movie knowledge are classics, but that’s me, a stupid wannabe blogger trying to know everything about everything (except anime). So I’m going to attempt to come up with some definitive list for the generation that grew up parallel to the internet; the generation born in the 80s; the generation that grew up with Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

There’s a reason why Forrest Gump and Shawshank Redemption are staples of cable television. I’m not even sure I need to explain why stories featuring likable characters overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds are loved so much. The third film in the 1994 Oscar argument trifecta — Pulp Fiction – I don’t believe stands up to the other two in universal appeal nor cultural saturation. I have no doubt there are Christian sects out there who forbid their members to watch anything by Quentin Tarantino.

Then there’s two series that I can’t imagine anyone has avoided completely. The first would be the James Bond collection of movies and then the animated movies that fall under the “Pixar” label. I’m definitely stretching it a bit with the latter, but I think it’s pretty easy to lump them all together.

If someone didn’t see an older Connery or Dalton or Moore Bond film with their dad growing up, they probably saw Goldeneye, and if not then, they almost certainly saw Casino Royale. Even the ladies got in on that action, right? Daniel Craig had to pull in that demographic.

And Pixar? There’s Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Toy Story 2, and even Cars for redneck children! Ok, that’s unfair — rednecks born in the 80s were 15 when it came out. Among the people that didn’t see Toy Story when it came out, I bet a lot of them now have kids and leave Pixar movies in the DVD player for easy on-child’s-demand viewing.

Getting back to singular movies, Jurassic Park. That’s it. That’s the movie I’ve been trying to think of. It has goddamn DINOSAURS. And it’s the perfect year for 80s children. The age range goes from 13 to 3, with myself falling pretty much right in the middle. The first movie theater experience I can remember. It was fucking awesome and I’m sure any kid from 13 to 3, from whatever cultural background, would have eaten it up as well. Even for adults there’s a sense of wonder in the movie that, despite some definite issues with the movie, must have made that inital viewing extremely enjoyable. And what other movie has engrained in the collective consciousness what something should look like? Perhaps not intellectually, but at the most basic level, I truly believe Steven Spielberg’s idea of what dinosaurs look like is what they REALLY looked like. Anything else looks strange and wrong.

I can’t even think of something to compete with that. Sure, there are movies like The Matrix and Gladiator, but they still skew toward adolescent males. Hmm, Groundhog Day is a legitimate competitor. Something about it just lends itself to being watched over and over…

I think I’m about done with this disgustingly long, aimless blog post. I can’t even bring myself to wrap it up with some sort of meaningful or amusing conclusion. Just add your suggestions in the comments, alright?

No related posts.

  • shorty me

    I would say pass on Its a Wonderful Life. My mother made me watch that shit every year at Christmas and I’d rather watch Die Hard. Yes, I just said that.

    Jurassic Park scarred me for life. I’m 1.5 yrs away from 30 and I have an irrational fear of dinosaurs. But thanks for saying mid 20′s. That was nice of you :)

    I will add more to this once I’ve read this over a few times.

    • CajoleJuice

      And you didn’t even like Die Hard that much!

      That scary huh? I saw it when I was 7 and it made me LOVE dinosaurs.

      I think the guy below you has got the “adding” covered.

  • James K.

    I’d also throw “Quiz Show” in the 1994 Oscar discussion. Underrated and maybe a legit Best Picture contender in a down year.

    As for movie suggestions, here are a few, most of which came out in the ’90s:

    Dumb & Dumber
    Air Force One (skews toward males I guess)
    Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
    Mrs. Doubtfire
    Billy Madison
    Can’t Hardly Wait
    Cast Away
    Clueless (skews female)
    Dazed and Confused
    Fargo (maybe?)
    A Few Good Men
    Good Will Hunting
    Heavyweights (ha)
    Independence Day
    Men In Black
    The Fugitive
    There’s Something About Mary
    Little Giants
    Liar Liar
    Mr. Holland’s Opus (or, Forrest Gump 2 as I call it)
    My Cousin Vinny
    Reservoir Dogs
    The Truman Show

    Wow, long list. Probably more from the 2000s but I’m sleepy.

    • CajoleJuice

      Uhhh, wow. Awesome list. And I haven’t seen Quiz Show, although I’ve only heard good things.

      Dumb and Dumber is my favorite comedy, but I’d probably take My Cousin Vinny out of that entire list for the purpose of this “thought exercise”. And that has nothing to do with Marisa Tomei. Nope.

      You even alphabetized that list for the most part. Damn.

  • lordoftherink

    My Christmas watching = Muppet Christmas Carol+It’s A Wonderful Life+Die Hard. Best of all worlds.

    I still haven’t seen Gladiator all the way through.

    • CajoleJuice

      Seems like a good lineup to me. I would probably add Bad Santa, as I meant to insert that in the post after I mentioned Die Hard as my Christmas movie of choice.

  • shorty me

    I’ve seen every movie on that list. What do I win?

    And lordoftherink Muppet Christmas Carol, its a must! Nice dude.