Which films will be remembered in 50 years?

Posted by · 9:33 am · August 14th, 2009

Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be BloodIt is nothing new for a film to be released, find no audience, no critical favor, and disappear to be discovered by a new generation and raised to the level of masterpiece. In fact, this has been going on since the silents.

Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece “City Lights” was released four years after the advent of sound, and though popular at the time with both audiences and critics, it was some years later that it was finally hailed as Chaplin’s finest work. “The Wizard of Oz,” one of the most beloved films of all time that celebrates a 70th anniversary this month, was a dismal box office flop when released in 1939.  It wasn’t terribly popular with the critics either, but years later it was finally championed as a work of art and, of course, now the film is considered one of the greatest films of all time and perhaps a more worthy Best Picture choice than the eventual winner that year, “Gone with the Wind.”

The “Citizen Kane” tale is so well documented I need not continue, and John Ford’s magnificent “The Searchers,” written off as just another John Wayne western, was discovered by film school professors who taught its brilliance to such young minds as Martin Scorsese, John Milius and Francis Coppola. Even Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” failed out of the gate with both audiences and critics, but within a year of its release, many of those same critics had changed their minds about the film.  Within 10 years it was being declared as important a film as “Citizen Kane.”

When “Gandhi” won eight Academy Awards in 1982, no one was terribly surprised. Yet within a year there were rumblings within the Academy that a mistake had been made and the rightful winner should have been “E.T. : The Extra-Terrestrial,” now recognized as a sublime work of art. And that same year, “Blade Runner” began its life as a major flop, only to re-discovered on home video over the years and become a cult classic.

Looking back over the last decade or so, which films released since will be recognized 50 years from now? Which films that were passed over by audiences, critics and/or the Oscars will be hailed as masterpieces in the years to come?  I took a stab as choosing a group of films I believe could fall under this label.

“There Will Be Blood” (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
No doubt about it.  The film is already headed there, in fact. The LA Film Critics agreed and it won two Academy Awards, but does anyone really believe “No Country for Old Men” was a better film? Well, of course there are plenty who do, but not me. Paul Anderson channels the spirits of Stevens, Ford, Antonioni and Scorsese while making this film somehow entirely his own. They will be discussing it for generations.

“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (Andrew Dominik, 2007)
One of the greatest American westerns ever made. Brad Pitt gives a brilliant performance as the psychotic, paranoid and merciless Jesse James, tormented by his inner demons in this curious dance towards death with Bob Ford, played with genius by Casey Affleck. It is incredibly involving, often deeply poignant as James seems to know it is Ford’s destiny to murder him. Haunting.

“King Kong” (Peter Jackson, 2005)
Yes, it made millions, and yes, critics loved it.  But in my opinion, not enough. This one was deserving of Best Picture and Best Director attention in my opinion, and in the years ahead will come to be regarded as an extraordinary work that blends visual effects with a heartbreaking story. Some bitched about the length, but I would have sat another hour. And Namoi Watts was robbed of a Best Actress nomination.  Maybe others will agree in years to come.

“The Passion of the Christ” (Mel Gibson, 2004)
“Why should I see this,” I was asked by a minister five years ago. I answered without hesitation, “Because you need to know and understand just what this poor man went through that you’ve dedicated your life to.”  I’ve talked at length about this already, but I think in the years to come, the unwarranted claims of anti-Semitism will fade away and the film will be recognized for the work of art that it is.

“Far From Heaven” (Todd Haynes, 2002)
Todd Haynes’s best work is an homage to the work of Douglas Sirk that caught the eye of the New York Film Critics Circle but not the Academy. This might have been the best film of its year.  With superb performances from Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Patricia Clarkson and Dennis Haybert. Beautifully shot, the film explores taboo relationships in the 1950s. Masterful.  It’s likely to be taught in film schools for decades.

“Minority Report” (Steven Spielberg, 2002)
A reasonably big hit at the box office, and Roger Ebert’s #1 movie of the year, the film never put up the numbers a Cruise-Spielberg film should and audiences never really adored it either. They should have, because Spielberg created one of his darkest films and a very nasty look at what the future might bring.  A noir anchored by a strong performance, it has never been far out of my mind when discussing Spielberg’s best.  Maybe others will agree in the future.

“Road to Perdition” (Sam Mendes, 2002)
Okay, some of this is “I hope,” but it comes from the heart. I loved Sam Mendes’ second film, believing it to be much better than the Oscar-winning “American Beauty.” Tom Hanks was outstanding as a gangster on the run from his own family, and Paul Newman quietly chilling as the leader of that mob. Mendes plunges us back in history with astonishing detail, but it is the performances and the superb cinematography that make the film the accomplishment that it is. How did Oscar miss this in a year that “Chicago” won best pic?  No bother, maybe audiences will one day circle back around to it.

“Magnolia” (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999)
Perhaps the most audacious, daring work of the 1990s, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson explores the lives of several LA residents in a day that will see their lives collide and change dramatically. It is Altman-esque, but still very much Anderson’s film as his firm hand guides these magnificent actors through some of the best work of their careers. Tom Cruise is scalding as a sex therapist training men to conquer woman, Julianne Moore heartbreaking as a drug addicted woman dealing with the guilt over her husband’s impending death, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Jason Robards, and the entire cast…this is why it will be studied.

“Happiness” (Todd Solondz, 1998)
Todd Solondz’s alarming study of three sisters and their very different lives is a tough film to watch, and even tougher to admit one admires. My God, the subject matter! One sister is married to a pedophile who has a conversation with his son about being as much (and liking it). Dylan Baker gives a courageous performance as the tormented pervert. Another sister is betrayed by seemingly everyone she encounters and yet another is stalked by her neighbor who will eventually strike up a friendship with a killer living next to him. Bizarre, but brilliant, and forever unsettling.

“The Truman Show” (Peter Weir, 1998)
Who would have thought this Peter Weir-directed, Jim Carrey film would predict the emergence of reality television several years before “Survivor?”  Carrey is Truman, the unknowing star of the biggest show on TV, where his every action, movement and word is captured on a live broadcast around the globe. Living in a massive bubble, his entire world is controlled by a genius producer who sees himself as God. “I am the creator…of a television show…”  Harris rules.  This one will have an impact for its prescience.

What about you?  Which films do you expect will get their due in the future?  Have your say in the comments section below!

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73 responses so far

  • 1 8-14-2009 at 6:08 pm

    Speaking English said...

    “Traffic” is a monster of a movie. It’s still sensationally powerful today, and I’m sure it will be fifty years down the line.

  • 2 8-14-2009 at 6:56 pm

    Louis said...

    In the Bedroom

  • 3 8-14-2009 at 7:40 pm

    Pauley said...

    I’m so happy others liked the Assasination of Jesse James as much as I did – I thought it was significan’tly better than both There Will be Blood and No Country for Old Men.

    I’m not to convinced on films like The Matrix. I personally love the first film, but it was groundbreaking mostly due to the special effects, and I’m pretty sure that special effects in 50 years are going to be pretty spectacular.

    Lord of the Rings is the one I would stake my fortune on.
    The Thin Red Line
    Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
    Sense and Sensibility
    Eyes Wide Shut
    Moulin Rouge
    Eternal Sunshine of the spotless mind

    Whoever said Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I’m totally there with you. It was the best film in the series so far and it’s highly unlikely that this series is going to be forgotten anytime soon whether you like it or not.

    It may be wishful thinking but I’m hoping Where the Wild Things can be added to the list.

    Finally with regards to the anti-semitism in The Passion of the Christ, I thought the film was beautifully done particularly the garden of gethsemane scene. But the fact that one of the prominent scenes of the movie has the devil standing behind the jewish elders speaks for itself – you couldn’t really get more anti-semetic.

  • 4 8-14-2009 at 8:32 pm

    decs said...

    Children of Men
    Pan’s Labyrinth
    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    Spirited Away
    City of God

    At least I hope so….

  • 5 8-14-2009 at 8:38 pm

    Frank Lee said...

    Why are so few comedies mentioned? I can’t think of many myself. I have to go back to the 1990s:

    Office Space
    Groundhog Day

    Among recent non-comedies:

    Mulholland Drive
    Match Point
    Bad Education

    No one asked me, but I would expect Far From Heaven, Magnolia, and The Truman Show to fade from view.

  • 6 8-14-2009 at 9:24 pm

    Mark Kratina said...

    Just throwing a few other titles out there that I don’t think have been mentioned yet:

    Enemy of the State

    The Last Samurai

    The Talented Mr. Ripley was mentioned earlier- very good flick.

  • 7 8-14-2009 at 9:43 pm

    SHAAAARK said...

    I seriously doubt King Kong, Minority Report, or Road to Perdition will be remembered very much. That’s blatant “I like this, so it will be remembered”.
    But, well, everyone else seems to have misunderstood the concept, too. Let’s see if we can’t get this back on track.
    So, the films that will be remembered in 50 years would have to be iconic, popular, critically revered, and have penetrated the popular consciousness in some way.

    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
    Toy Story
    The Dark Knight
    Fight Club
    The Matrix
    The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
    Spirited Away
    The Big Lebowski
    Children of Men
    Brokeback Mountain

    and…maybe District 9?

  • 8 8-14-2009 at 10:25 pm

    Hans said...

    Pauley: ITA with you regarding The Passion of the Christ, especially the Gethsemane scene and any time mother Mary was on the screen. However, I have to disagree with you on your interesting assessment about the devil being behind the Jewish elders equaling anti-semitism. In Christianity, Satan is a force tough to be reckoned with. There were other people in the scene besides Jewish elders, and these were people who just a week before were singing Hosannas as Jesus rode into Jerusalem in a triumphant parade. I believe the point of the scene was to show just what can happen when Satan really wants his (her?) way be done, and to what lengths he (she?) will go through, even by coaxing the crowd that once loved Jesus to put him to death.

  • 9 8-15-2009 at 12:21 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    @Louis: The only thing I’ll remember about that is what happened in MY bedroom the night before.

  • 10 8-15-2009 at 1:32 am

    Douglas said...

    I mean c’mon
    -Brilliant Performances
    -Brilliant Directing
    -Brilliant Cinematography
    -Brilliant Writing

    And everyone so far has just mentioned films that are already well-recieved by audiences and critics:
    the dark knight?
    fight club?
    lord of the rings???? (like a zillion oscars)

    the last time i checked this article was about films that haven’t had a great deal of achknowledgement and which will be remembered in years to come

  • 11 8-15-2009 at 9:03 am

    Lori H said...

    I, for one, keep the vote with No Country for Old Men. It reached a different set of synapses than any other film. When the lights came up, I remained breathless in my seat. When I did break my gaze, I could only text a friend and say, “You need to see this tomorrow. This film will change us.”

  • 12 8-15-2009 at 4:28 pm

    hernan said...

    Children of men is the XXI’s Blade runner!!
    Magnolia, Brockeback mountain, mulholland drive.

  • 13 8-15-2009 at 7:46 pm

    Fernando said...

    King kong? really I beg to differ..

    but I think there are some other great movies that will be loved in 50 years

    LOST IN TRANSLATION. Ok, it was kind of huge when it first released. but I think greatness is about a come. An amazing film. should have won best movie. Too bad they gave it to LOTR only to make it up to the fellowship who should have won in the first place.

    LITTLE CHILDREN. Amazing film. great acting. Great script. It was misunderstood back but I do believe it’ll gan notority as 21st century’s finest
    same will happen with REVOLUTIONARY ROAD

  • 14 8-15-2009 at 10:23 pm

    leocd said...


  • 15 8-16-2009 at 6:21 am

    Chris said...

    I’d throw in some I think haven’t been mentioned yet: “Punch-Drunk Love”, “Talk to Her”, “The Painted Veil” and “Atonement”, which I’m sure will still be remembered in 30 to 50 years for their brilliance.

    I’m not sure about “Road to Perdition”, it already seems to be nearly forgotten by many, and I know I’m in a minority there, but I myself feel it’s Sam Mendes’ weakest film. (“Away We Go” isn’t out yet in this part of the world.) As for “Magnolia” and “There Will Be Blood” I think they are already classics in a way.

  • 16 8-16-2009 at 2:15 pm

    John said...

    Well… My choices for the films that will be remebered as the greatest of their time 50 years from now are :

    The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
    Into the Wild
    Up (it’s from this year…but it just has the feel and look of a great classic)

    The Departed
    Gladiator (2 years after it came out and people from my town were still talking about how great it was )

    Talk to her
    Munich (so underrated)
    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    Children of Men
    Pan’s Labyrinth
    No Country for Old Men and There Will be Blood

    The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Howard Ford (definetly)

    King Kong

    The Lord of the Rings trilogy

    …and the Harry Potter films … just for the fun of it .


    Black Hawk Down .
    etc.. but the ones I wrote I think will definetly remain as classic in decades to come …

  • 17 8-16-2009 at 9:32 pm

    Neel Mehta said...

    Some very large leaps of faith on this thread.

    First, a look back. I’m not really sure how many films from the 1950s have endured or become more relevant 50 years later. I would imagine the odds now are roughly similar: a lot more avenues for films to be rewatched or discovered, but also a lot more product.

    Second, I agree with an earlier post that the comments here have devolved into personal lists of underrated and/or favorite films of the past 10 years, which have no objective value. Some of you are voicing a confidence that history is sure to prove you right, which is way premature and more than a little bizarre.

    We need more arguments here on why you think a particular film will be appreciated five decades later. It’s not enough to say “this film was the cultural touchstone of 2005” and leave it at that.

  • 18 8-17-2009 at 7:22 am

    Mike_M said...

    Jesse James, which was thrown aside by WB and it was such a shame…

    and then also There Will Be Blood, but I think it received a pretty good reception when it came out.

    @ Anthony: I think our solution to problem of the crappy Blu release is to hope Criterion gets the rights, makes a proper transfer and maybe includes the 5 hours cut (or whatever length the original one was).

  • 19 8-17-2009 at 11:26 am

    Ivan said...

    20 classics of this decade

    25TH HOUR

  • 20 8-17-2009 at 8:07 pm

    Andrew said...

    I’m shocked that no one has mentioned one film. It has one of the most acclaimed performances this decade. Pitch perfect direction. Haunting gazes of mid-west America. Gut wrenching, serene yet melancholy, digging into the moral paradox of journalism:


    Brilliant film.

  • 21 8-20-2009 at 11:58 pm

    Chris138 said...

    That would really suck if Wall-E was remembered and not The Dark Knight in 50 years.

    I do agree on There Will Be Blood, though. That film is most certainly a classic.

  • 22 8-26-2009 at 1:27 am

    Viagra said...

    I think the idea is good but you need to modify it a little.

  • 23 8-26-2009 at 1:46 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    Chris138: The best outcome would be if both The Dark Knight *and* WALL-E were both fondly remembered fifty years from now.