What Makes a Classic a Classic: Musings on Movies

You know the feeling all too well; it’s a Friday night and after a long week at work you finally have some downtime. You pop the popcorn, throw on some comfy clothes and pop in the same movie you’ve watched 100 times before. Hey, it’s a classic! But what does that mean, exactly? What separates “Gone with the Wind” from the movies relegated to the $5 bin at Wal-Mart. It takes specific components to turn a flick from passing film to bonified watch-again-and-again classic. Hype, there’s a reason that “Mac and Me” never released an anniversary edition.

It’s Re-watchable

There’s no way a movie is going to become a classic if you can’t watch it again and again without getting bored. While there are movies that get great critical acclaim while in the theaters, they’re later released and never thought of again. However, a true classic – say, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” can be watched over and over without any hint of boredom. Of course, these tastes vary from person to person, so a classic to your brother might be a forgettable film to you. Still, some movies are universally re-watchable, solidifying their classic status.

Critics Love or Hate it

Usually, a good critical review is a sign of success, whether or not it translates to ticket sales. Still, critical hatred might be just as much of an indication of a classic in the making is acclaim. For instance, did you know that “The Wizard of Oz” didn’t do very well with critics or movie-goers? It was never considered a commercial success, yet it’s on the DVD shelves of millions across America as an ultimate classic.

They Feature Perfect Performances

Everyone knows the “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” line from “Gone with the Wind.” Why; because of the performance by Clark Gable against Vivien Leigh. It’s all about the actors when separating the classics from the forgettable and you can start to tell already which modern actors will become classical actors in the future. Kate Winslet or Daniel Day Lewis will probably be more watchable in the future when compared to the likes of Adam Sandler or Kristin Dunst.

There’s a Franchise

Now, this is not to say that all franchises are worthy. There is no reason that we should ever have to sit through four “Spy Kids” or “Step Up” movies. But most franchises mean instant classics, like “Star Wars,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and the “Harry Potter” series point toward a group of movies becoming near-instant classics and leaving viewers begging for more and a nicely wrapped box set for Christmas.

It’s Timeless

The themes behind a classic movie still apply today, even if the flick was filmed in the ’80s. Take the movies from the Brat Pack, for instance. Teens still clamor to watch “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink” because the themes of feeling awkward, confused and emotional as a teen still apply. When a movie can be watched by an entire generation and still appreciated and understood in a completely different time, you can consider it a homerun classic.

Not all movies are destined to become the classics that line your DVD shelves and be offered up to friends as “the best movie ever!”  But the point is that classics are sometimes widely appreciated and sometimes only appreciated by you. The deciding factor is that feeling that you get when you pop the worn DVD into your player and curl up on a Friday night. You should feel comfortable and nostalgic, not embarrassed that you’re spending your weekend at home with your cat.


Stephanie Caldwell is a writer from Utah who writes for Her plans for tonight include a television, a blanket, and a cat.


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Tags : ClassicsGreat MoviesStar Wars