What defines classic movies? Movies are an art form, a source of entertainment, and a way to spend an hour or so in another world or looking through the eyes of another person. There are movies for teens, for female audiences, for "guy" guys, and for every conceivable demographic. Most, however, simply aren't very good. What is it then that defines the movies we remember forever and consider a cut above all the rest?
Defining Classic Movies
Classic movies are a completely different animal than the run of the mill films that Hollywood churns out with such alarming regularity. They may be very good, as in the case of classic movies like Gone With The Wind or The Wizard of Oz. They may simply be different than anything seen before, like 2001: A Space Odyssey and 8 1/2. And sometimes they are steeped so strongly in the classic movies which came before them that they are instantly destined to become classics themselves. Star Wars Episode Four: A New Hope is a good example of this as it borrows heavily from Kurosawa's Japanese Samurai classic The Great Fortress yet was so fresh and innovative that those of us who were able to see it in its original release (nearly thirty years ago!) will always remember the first time we saw it.
Sometimes all it takes is a single scene to make a film into a classic. No one who saw the shower scene in Psycho on the big screen in 1960 will ever forget that movie. Those who hurled their popcorn when the creature burst from John Hurt's chest in Alien will never forget that moment. No one who saw Mia Farrow as Rosemary Woodhouse give in and accept her baby, horns and all, will forever remember the mixture of emotions that scene conjures. Considered sensational or even over the top and offensive at the time, those films are now considered classics. Moments like the ones described have a lot to do with it.
Sometimes dialogue makes a run of the mill movie into a classic. Quentin Tarrantino's Pulp Fiction may not be considered a classic just yet, but lines like "I'm gonna get medieval on your ass" and Samuel L. Jackson's recitation of Ezekiel 25:17 will definitely help it achieve that status. Sometimes the most classic lines in classic movies are ad-libbed by the actors. Such is the case with Roy Schider's infamous line "You're gonna need a bigger boat" in Jaws and Dustin Hoffman's incomparable Rizzo Ratso shouting "Can't you see I'm WALKIN' HERE!?!" at a New York City motorist in Midnight Cowboy.
Modern Movie Classics
It is generally considered that time is the biggest factor in creating a classic. Psycho was probably not considered a classic when it was released in 1960, but now, 45 years later it is undeniably so. Still, film experts pretty much saw it coming, as did anyone who watched it at the time. Today we have movies like Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Ridley Scott's Gladiator and Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, all films containing elements that may well make them classics in the future.