The Wizard of Oz. Casablanca. Lawrence of Arabia. King Kong. Citizen Kane. What do they all have in common? They’re all at least fifty years old, and they all continue to exhibit substantial popularity. These are just a few of the classics that film fans pull off their DVD shelves to watch from time to time. They serve almost like comfort food. In the mood to see something legitimately, unquestionably great? These are your go-to titles. (See also: Singin’ in the Rain, Some Like It Hot, City Lights, and Vertigo.)
Have you ever wondered which movies from today will have the same long-term impact? We have, and we’ve made some educated guesses about which ones they’ll be. The titles we’ve chosen have all been released no earlier than 2012, with one exception that we’ll explain. A number of different genres are represented, because, let’s face it, classics come in all forms. Finally, for each entry, we’ll tell you why we think the film has what it takes to carry on.
Here are 15 Great Movies From Today That Will Be Classics In 50 Years.
15. Mad Max: Fury Road
In 1981, The Road Warrior blew audiences away. It was a sequel to a cult hit, Mad Max, but it stood on its own two feet. The action scenes incorporated camera movement in a way that really hadn’t been seen onscreen before. The cumulative impact was that viewers felt they were on those rusty vehicles racing through a post-apocalyptic desert, right alongside Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson). It raised the bar for what action cinema could be.
Thirty-four years and one so-so sequel (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) later, director George Miller raised the bar yet again with Mad Max: Fury Road. Taking full advantage of advancements in cinematography, stunt work, and CGI, he delivered a high-octane action movie that puts the pedal to the floor in the first five minutes and never lets up. Aside from the elaborate, thrilling action sequences, Fury Road also boasts a great performance from Charlize Theron, plus a surprisingly strong story that addresses themes of female empowerment over male dominators. In every regard, the movie is a game-changer, which should ensure its recognition for decades to come, just as The Road Warrior has maintained its own recognition.
Abraham Lincoln. The 16th President of the United States. A beloved and immensely important historical figure. School children will be learning about him until the end of time. As fascinating as history is, though, it can often be presented in dry manner. Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated Lincoln is special because it brings its subject alive in a way few films are able to achieve.
Part of that is due to Daniel Day-Lewis’s complete embodiment of the eponymous president. He so fully becomes Abe Lincoln (or at least channels him in a manner that feels totally authentic) that you forget you’re watching an actor. That quality pulls you in. The movie follows Honest Abe as he attempts to push through the 13th amendment. Spielberg shows how Lincoln uses different arguments to persuade different people to come around to his way of thinking. Enthusiastic storytelling combined with one of the most accomplished performances ever add up to a movie we think will serve to enlighten history students of all ages for at least another four score and seven years.
Spike Jonze’s Her is one of the most unusual love stories ever told. Joaquin Phoenix plays a guy reeling over his wife (Rooney Mara) divorcing him. He thought they would be together forever, so the fact that things didn’t work out is devastating to him. Afraid of getting his heart broken again, he finds companionship — and possibly even love — with his new computer operating system, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).
Her has many of the storytelling quirks one would expect from a Jonze film, but it also has uncommon depth. Aside from incisively looking at how modern technology has made it easy for people to become disconnected from one another, the story examines soul-crushing heartache and the pervasive fear that comes after experiencing it. Those ideas are so poignantly addressed that we think Her is going to resonate with viewers for a long, long time. Technology will continue to offer chances to escape personal interaction, and hearts will always be broken.
12. Goodnight Mommy
Every so often, a picture comes along that’s so disturbing, you just know it’s going to have a long shelf life. We think that’s the case with the German thriller Goodnight Mommy. Two ten-year-old twin boys become suspicious when their mother returns home from plastic surgery, her face bandaged up so they can’t see her. The brothers convince themselves that this woman is an imposter and decide to torment her until she comes clean. What follows is a series of ghastly events guaranteed to shock you.
Goodnight Mommy was a sort-of cult hit when it was released in 2015. That cult seems to be growing. People are beginning to discover the film, and once they’ve seen it, they immediately want to talk about it with others. When word-of-mouth like that starts to propel a movie, you know it’s having an impact. Co-directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala tell a twisted tale that we suspect will continue to grow in popularity as people tell their friends, and those friends tell their friends. Something this wicked doesn’t go away easily.
Like we said, most of the movies on this list came out no earlier than 2012. We’re making an exception for Bridesmaids, which came out in 2011. That’s because it’s the best representation of something very important that happened in cinema only within the last few years. Kristen Wiig co-wrote and stars in this comedy about an unhappy single woman whose life is turned upside down when her best friend gets married. Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Ellie Kemper, Wendi McLendon-Covey, and Melissa McCarthy co-star as the bride-to-be and the other bridesmaids, respectively.
This is one of the funniest and most popular comedies of recent times, which alone secures it a spot here. More than that, though, it represents a groundbreaking shift in big screen comedy, one whose reverberations will happily go on indefinitely. Once upon a time, movie comedies almost exclusively starred men. Women were seen as not bankable, because (supposedly) men wouldn’t go see movies about them. Bridesmaids helped open the door for an entire generation of deeply talented female comedians to headline their own movies and find massive success. It seriously broke down some walls. That’s going to keep it on the cinematic radar well into the future.
10. The Wolf of Wall Street
In The Wolf of Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, a guy who starts selling penny stocks and eventually ends up running one of the most lurative brokerage firms on Wall Street. He’s got money coming out his ears, a smoking hot wife (Margot Robbie), and every “toy” a grown man could possibly want. But he’s also a morally bankrupt idiot who indulges in so much unrepentant debauchery that you just know his whole world is going to cave in on him. Which it does.
DiCaprio has never been better, and that’s saying a lot. His performance, paired with the film’s intricately detailed look at a life ruled by avarice and greed, makes this one of director Martin Scorsese’s best films. That’s what is likely to turn it into an enduring classic. Scorsese’s movies often stand the test of time, getting discovered by new generations of hardcore cinema buffs and scholars. Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Mean Streets — all of them continue to attract viewers. (And if, for some reason, you’ve never seen his 1974 drama Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, by all means rectify that immediately.) A director of Scorsese’s calibre will always have their work studied and celebrated. The Wolf of Wall Street is very likely to have the same fate.
Whenever someone of massive talent dies prematurely, it tends to create a mystique around them. James Dean, Tupac Shakur, Kurt Cobain, and Aaliyah are just a few examples. They leave us with a finite body of work, meaning that we can only revisit what’s there and speculate on what they would have done had they not left us too soon. These celebrities also continue to amass new fans, who are drawn in by that mystique. Amy Winehouse is another amazing performer who tragically passed away long before she should have. The appropriately-titled documentary Amy will keep her legacy alive.
Very few documentaries have been able to achieve what this one does, which is to make you feel like you knew the central figure. Through the extensive use of personal home video, Amy provides an intimate portrait of Winehouse’s rise to fame and eventual downfall due to substance abuse. It’s a great look at her life and career, but also a really up-close exploration of who she was when she stepped out of the spotlight. Amy Winehouse’s distinct voice and confessional songs won’t fade from memory anytime soon. Amy is going to help future generations get to know the ill-fated powerhouse singer whose music remains captivating.
8. The Conjuring
Think about some of the all-time classic horror movies, such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and Psycho. What do they all have in common? Each one is a solidly-executed work that pays just as much attention to character and plot development as to creating scares. There’s always a market for such quality, which is why James Wan’s The Conjuring seems like it could enter the distinguished club those other pictures are part of.
The movie, which finds paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) helping out a family whose home is plagued by a malevolent demon, is astoundingly creepy. The scares are effective because we come to care about the family in question, but also because the story paints the Warrens as caring individuals dedicated to using their special talents to help out people with nowhere else to turn. The Conjuring‘s inventive scare scenes mix with compelling human drama in a fashion that will never go out of style.
Gravity is so many things all rolled into one. It’s a pulse-pounding adventure. It’s a touching drama about a grieving woman struggling to survive, both physically and emotionally. It’s a master class in special effects technology. It’s an example of how 3D can be used to enhance a story. No wonder the film was a box office blockbuster and a Best Picture Oscar nominee.
The outer space setting and its inherent hazards are so authentically depicted that you really feel as though you’re adrift right alongside Sandra Bullock. Many action, adventure, or sci-fi movies rely on (no pun intended) more down-to-earth types of thrills. People dangle from cliffs, face meteorological hazards, or find themselves in combat with a fearsome enemy. Gravity, on the other hand, is a total original. It’s one woman against the cosmos. FX advancements made this movie not only possible, but also palpable. The technical proficiency frames an intelligent survival tale that we’re guessing will never lose its power to transfix.
6. 12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave, which won the 2013 Academy Award for Best Picture, tells the harrowing true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man living in New York. He’s kidnapped and sold into slavery, eventually ending up on a plantation run by a sadistic master (Michael Fassbender). Northup tries to make contact with people who can help him regain his freedom, all while attempting to survive the daily physical and mental brutality inflicted upon him.
Lots of movies have been made about slavery, and for good reason: it’s such a shameful part of American history that we must ensure it is never forgotten. 12 Years a Slave tells one of the most powerful stories ever on the subject, which will give it ongoing value in the future. At the same time, it’s hard to deny that, although we’ve come a long way as a society, there are still racial inequalities that exist. As civil rights struggles continue, movies like 12 Years a Slave that address such themes will retain their importance.
Disney’s Frozen is one of the biggest hits of the last few years, earning $400 million in North America alone and over a billion dollars worldwide. It has spawned a hit soundtrack album and just about every piece of merchandising imaginable. Little girls dress up as Elsa and Anna to play, and boys and girls alike dig the meaningful story and colorful characters. Adults, meanwhile, may feel the urge to puke if they have to hear “Let It Go” one more time. (Oh, is that song stuck in your head now? We’re sorry. Do you want to build a snowman?)
Frozen is still going to be a classic in 50 years because, quite frankly, kids are absolutely obsessed with it. We don’t really believe in the concept of an “instant classic,” but it kind of applies in this case. Frozen fever hit so quickly and so powerfully that it immediately vaulted the film into the same space as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast. Given that the Disney classics just keep on going, it seems like a safe bet Frozen will, too.
4. Sing Street
In 1994, The Shawshank Redemption was released to theaters. Despite rave reviews, audiences ignored it. The box office take was just $28 million. Then it hit DVD and cable TV. People suddenly started discovering it. Today, the film is widely considered a classic. Finding someone who hasn’t seen it — or who doesn’t love it — is nearly impossible. Shawshank took quite a while to receive the recognition it deserved.
So what recent film is likely to have the same trajectory? Our money is on Sing Street. Director John Carney, helmer of Once and Begin Again, brings us another musical winner. Set in 1980s Ireland, it’s about a teen boy who starts a band in order to impress a local girl he has his eye on. Mentored by his rock-loving older brother, the kid’s band exhibits a series of style and musical influences, including The Cure, Duran Duran, and Hall & Oates. Filled with great original tunes and a winning story, Sing Street isn’t a feel-good movie, it’s a feel-great movie. People bypassed it theatrically, but we predict exposure in ancillary formats is going to help this one find a huge audience over time.
3. Inside Out
Pixar has made a lot of great movies, but Inside Out may be their best. And that’s no small feat, considering they also gave us Toy Story, Up, Wall-E, and The Incredibles. Much of the movie takes place inside a little girl’s head, as her varying emotions (Joy, Fear, Anger, Sadness, Disgust) attempt to process an abrupt move to a new city and all the changes that come with it.
The reason we think Inside Out will endure, aside from being a legitimately great motion picture, is that its themes will be eternally relevant. Children experience emotions very strongly, and when they’re young, it’s hard to make sense of them. The movie not only represents that idea in poignant fashion; it does a stellar job of helping younger viewers understand that the feelings swirling around inside can sometimes conflict with one another. In that sense, it will be kind of like The Breakfast Club, which still serves to assist adolescents in sorting out a specific period of life. And since every adult was once a child capable of remembering those times, Inside Out will always have wide-ranging appeal.
2. Ex Machina
After carving out a successful career writing movies like 28 Days Later and Dredd, Alex Garland took a try behind the camera, directing the super-intelligent science fiction-drama Ex Machina. Domhnall Gleeson plays a computer coder who is asked by his boss (the magnificent Oscar Isaac) to test his robotic creation, Ava (Alicia Vikander), to see if she is truly conscious. Of course, it’s not that simple and things go seriously wrong, especially once it becomes clear there’s more to Ava than meets the eye.
Ex Machina was a sleeper hit at the box office. Moreover, it is the kind of movie that inspires enthusiasm among those who see it. Garland understands that sci-fi is at its absolute best when encompassing big ideas. One of the film’s biggest is that true artificial intelligence would require building in human ambiguities and moral shortcomings. Everything about the way the movie addresses its themes is compelling. With A.I. increasingly becoming a reality, Ex Machina isn’t going to lose its relevance anytime soon. There are many people who still haven’t discovered this spellbinding work, meaning there is plenty of room for its fanbase to keep growing.
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a film like no other. The director took the unusual step of filming it over the course of almost twelve years, all the better to track its lead character, Mason (played by Ellar Coltrane), as he grows from a boy to a young man. The end result is that you quite literally watch Coltrane grow up on screen, while adult co-stars Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette visibly age, as well. This approach really drives home the movie’s look at what it means to evolve through the different stages of being a child. Some of the most powerful scenes find six-year-old Mason being exposed to adult viewpoints that, in the third act, have clearly influenced his 18-year-old worldview.
Because of its rather unique production and undeniable power, Boyhood is extremely likely to enthrall audiences for generations to come. There’s so much to chew on here that you virtually have to see the movie more than once to absorb it all. Linklater has given his masterpiece layers upon layers upon layers. Few movies are as innovative or well thought-out, and we’re certain Boyhood is always going to be a special gem.
Which recent movies do you think will stand the test of time? What do you believe audiences will still regard as a classic in fifty years? Tell us what and why in the comments.