Best Classic Movies for People Who Don’t Watch Older Films

Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)

A recent article (based on a very unscientific poll) argued that millennials don’t really care about old movies. Maybe that’s true, and maybe it isn’t, but the fact remains that many people disregard classic cinema on principle. These people are missing out, but it only takes one film — the right film — to change their minds and forever alter their viewing habits.

This week’s question: What is one classic film you would recommend to someone who doesn’t watch them?

“Rebel Without a Cause.” I’ll out myself by saying that I’ve only recently seen this film for the first time over the last two years. I remain so surprised by how layered and relevant it still is. Audiences who’ve grown up with teen movies like “She’s All That,” “Clueless,” and even “The Hunger Games,” which explore classism among the younger generation in a way that is instantly digestible yet still meaningful, can appreciate this 1955 classic led by a sublime James Dean for its searing portrayal of teen angst and repression. “Rebel Without a Cause” transcends era and does what every great teen film should do; give young characters full agency in a story that is uniquely and profoundly their own.

Being a millennial myself, I could feel attacked by this article claiming that my kind doesn’t care much for old movies. But in my experience  — outside of my “beloved” Film Twitter- it is kind of true! Depending on where the youngsters live, how old they actually are, etc, the answers vary of course, but I will never forget that time when my then-17-year-old cousin from Bosnia refused to watch “Tootsie” because it was ‘old’ (we still speak, but I don’t think she takes me too seriously ever since I got mad at her about that).

Generally, when a person around my age and who isn’t really into movies asks me for recommendations, I try to get a sense of their taste first -or I just recommend my favorite movies, however weird they might be, because they’re my favorites and everyone should watch them. Thanks.

If some youth came up to me with bad words for the movies of yore, however, I would have to wring their heartstrings properly. Everyone has at least heard of Marilyn Monroe, and teens might enjoy finally understanding where Madonna’s video for Material Girl took its style from, so “Some Like it Hot” might do the trick. Seduced by the very salacious title and its star, the millennial would then be immediately enraptured by the film’s dynamic opening sequence and its engrossing mixture of tones, from bleak film noir to comedy to action (without needing to register them!). This 1959 movie is not slow and boring! There’s even sexy music with a ukulele!

I don’t think it could suffer too badly from the attacks of woke readings either. Sure, it’s fucked up to dress as a woman to get a job, then to become a woman’s best girlfriend while also seducing her as a man who isn’t even your real self, and have to console her when you yourself have treated her badly while dressed as a man. But these men are so completely overwhelmed by the situation in which they have found themselves in by their own damn fault, you end up laughing more at them than at anyone else!

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