by Matt Abra
15) Mean Girls (2004)
When compiling this list, there was nothing else that met with such all-around agreement: Mean Girls needs to be on it. It is, unquestionably, the quintessential high-school movie of the 21st Century. Sure, it perfectly captures the sticky interpersonal politics of our formative years, but it’s the little things that make every scene spill to the next with near-perfect cleverness: no way is “fetch” going to be allowed to happen; most people “don’t actually make a speech”; and the girl who doesn’t even go there. It’s all, like, totally fetch. (It happened!)
14) Jurassic Park (1993)
For millennials born before 1990, in a way, this was our Star Wars—a trip to the movies that didn’t just impress our eyes, it took us somewhere. In this case, it was a tropical island where dinosaurs lived and breathed. And we believed in every acre of it. When we first saw that T-Rex, casually swallowing a goat’s entrails, we said, “This is the new standard for visual delight,” and we asked, “What will those visuals look like in 20 years?” The answer: about the same. That’s how amazing this movie was.
13) Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
From limbless black nights, fierce killer rabbits, and cattle tossing Frenchmen, Monty Python packed so much ridiculous comedy mayhem into their first motion picture that you have to wonder where they found the material for two more. At once an oafishly British farce and a deconstruction of dark aged chivalry, this is the Holy Grail of movie hilarity, and gets our vote as the best comedy of all time.
12) The Godfather (1972)
Yeah, there’s all that old stuff: Marlon Brando’s performance; the seamlessly human writing; the stunning cinematography. But may I be so bold as to say that The Godfather has entered this decade as a new generational touchstone? The movie is about the ugly side of the American dream, and millennials are just starting to learn those lessons themselves. The Godfather simplifies our cutthroat capitalist world into something simpler: it’s a crime movie where the violence is both real and metaphorical.
11) The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
It’s the movie that everyone loves, and the one that makes pretentious movie snobs hate them for it. I think the love for Shawshank can be explained pretty easily: it’s the rare movie that ceaselessly manipulates its viewer with violence and corruption and then actually rewards them for their endurance with a beautifully uplifting ending. But look closer and also see that it’s a fine-tuned period piece about dealing with overbearing authority, much like the world at the time dealt with the authority of racism and greed. That ending isn’t just for happy-tears, it’s also to convey progress, a better world forged from ill treatment and injustice.
10) Star Wars (1977)
They say that movies have never been the same after Star Wars, but for millennials, born after its release, they have always been very much the same. We shouldn’t take that for granted, because thanks to George Lucas and his cast of kooky characters in a galaxy far far away, we were incepted into a new plain of moviemaking, and it was a far greater one than any generation before us got to experience from day one.
9) Rear Window (1954)
Alas, after teasing you with four other Hitchcock films, we finally crown his greatest achievement. People often use the term Hitchcockian to mean unseen and mysterious, but, to us, the machinations of Rear Window is really what they mean—the camera as a character, a tool that doesn’t just show people but becomes them. It’s a tense and slow-burn thriller, with perfect performances from the timeless Jimmy Stewart and the incomparably beautiful Grace Kelly, but it’s also a conflicting study in voyeurism. Peeping is wrong, right? That is, until you use it to solve a murder.
8) Toy Story (1995)
For years, the Disney musical feature dominated animated cinema, until, one day, it didn’t. Thank Toy Story for that, the very first fully computer animated movie, and to this day, still the best. For millennials, Pixar is the status-quo for the computer animated revolution, and it all started here, with Buzz and Woody, two endearing toys who taught us a thing or two about what it is to be real: you just need a “friend in me.”
7) Citizen Kane (1941)
Look at any other list of the greatest movies of all time, and 99% of the time Orson Wells’ ageless classic is what sits atop the mountain. And it’s hard to argue. Citizen Kane is technically ground-breaking, seamlessly performed, and endlessly alive. But it’s hard for a millennial to put it at the top, mainly because we have to look at the film more as an objective document of film, not as an experience. But it’s still a beautiful portrayal of twenty-something ideological angst, something any millennial can appreciate. Or any generation, for that matter.
6) Jaws (1975)
The first “summer blockbuster,” and what’s maybe a little ironic about putting Steven Spielberg’s Jaws so high on the list is that it would appear to go against everything that millennial movie culture stands for. Today, summer tent-pole movies are all about quick pacing, imported CGI, and brands. To look at Jaws now, one might say, how dare it take 90 minutes to reveal the shark, or use practical effects, or not have a super hero in it. But we’re smarter than we look. We understand that Jaws is maybe the most eerily suspenseful movie ever made because it rarely ever shows the shark. The “slow build” is something criminally underused in movies nowadays, and we need movies like Jaws to remind us of what’s missing.
5) The Big Lebowski (1998)
Yet another movie that rose from the ashes of indie movie purgatory and became one of the most quoted and re-watched touchstones of a generation. There’s laughs a plenty, but The Big Lebowski is more charming for its pure abstractness – a nourish caper built on sloth and cynicism. I think millennials identify so well with the movie because it’s hero (or anti-hero), The Dude, amusingly reminds them of everything that older generations think they are—lazy malcontents who landed in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s a purveyor of the “millennial disease,” and The Big Lebowski is an unprofound middle finger to all those millennial haters and their disciplined ignorance.
4) The Shining (1980)
We’ve seen our share of horror films on this list, and we cap it off, naturally, with the greatest of them all. The Shining is like that car accident you barely avoided—you don’t realize how scared you were until you start shaking hours later. It’s a nice exploration of madness, it’s beautifully staged and shot, and it’s the movie that used isolation to the very best suspenseful effect. It’s that, and it’s so much more. Stanley Kubrick took all the best horror mythologies, philosophies, and textures and mixed them into a depraved bowl of soup. Or should I say, an elevator of blood.
3) The Dark Knight (2008)
The action, the intrigue, Heath Ledger’s incomparable performance as the Joker. Yeah, we know all that. But never forget about how perfectly The Dark Knight captured the sociological unease of its time (our time!), using a flight of imagination to make our world newly recognizable. It’s not just the greatest action movie ever made, it’s not just the greatest super hero movie ever made, it may very well be the best time capsule perspective of the post-9/11 world that became our generational identity. The Dark Knight examines the way fear can change the mood of an urban population, and the way politicians and outlaws can stoke and exploit that terror. Sounds strangely familiar. And did I mention Heath Ledger?
2) The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Yes, the original Star Wars may have been a more principal moment in movie history, but anyone with an undergrad in movie-watching knows that The Empire Strikes Back is actually the better movie. It’s moodier, sharper, and much more intimate. It took the standard of filmmaking that Star Wars ushered in and tinkered with the finer points until something miraculously flawless lay before our eyes. The magic we had seen; the totally involving story, we had not. And they don’t get more involving than this. The Empire Strikes Back is so incomprehensibly good, it’s hard to find the words. So we’ll just settle for the obvious one: perfection.
1) Pulp Fiction (1994)
I saw controversy on the horizon as soon as I added the numbers and discovered that Pulp Fiction was going to be number one. And that controversy, I decided, was going to come from a very simple place: Pulp Fiction is not for everyone. It’s violent; it’s postmodern; it’s about frenetic human beings. Since it’s measured so heavily based on taste, wouldn’t something more generally crowd-pleasing like Star Wars or The Wizard of Oz have been the safer choice? Well, yes, but in constructing this list, we had to look at everything, and there just was no movie that stood out as more inherently influential to, and symbolic of, millennial culture than Tarantino’s ripe masterpiece. The film is so ADD, it has to constantly mangle it’s own storyline just to interest itself; the film is so meta, it uses language like a Tate Modern art form. It mixes the noir with the ridiculous; the crime saga with a MacDonald’s commercial. In short, it took every great movie that came before it and entangled them into our impeding 21st century culture. One of the greatest compliments you can give a movie is to say that it made everything that came after it seem derivative, and how many times have we heard, “It’s kind of like Pulp Fiction”? But there’s only one Pulp Fiction, and it has stacked every piece of its brilliance into one newly declared conclusion: to millennials, it is the greatest movie ever made, whether they know it or not.