Everyone loves movies – they’re entertaining, they’re a good way to waste an afternoon and it sure beats the hell out of reading (hey, where are you going…?) But some movies are more than just a relaxing way to waste time. They become such a part of the public consciousness that to not see them is to miss out on something. They become cultural touchstones. There are just some movies that every dude should see at least once in their lifetimes. Otherwise, they miss out on jokes, references and all those little things that serve as signifiers that a fellow dude is alright. Now, this list could probably be 50 movies long, but we’ve done our best to narrow it down to these eleven movies that every guy should see at least once in his life. Enjoy.
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11 ‘Apocalypse Now’
Flight of the Valkyries, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”, “The horror…”
There are so many things about this movie that every dude should know, and so many famous quotes and scenes, that it’s possible for two guys to have a whole conversation consisting of nothing but Apocalypse Now references. But beyond that, this movie is all about the dark side of war, about that insane plunge into the hidden madness of man’s soul, about the blurring of that razor thin line that separates reason from madness, that line that war obliterates. It’s ugly, raw, and it’s insane. And to top it all off, you have Marlon Brando at his charismatic, bizarre best, his own performance perfectly mirroring the theme and feel of the movie as a whole. It’s hypnotic and when it’s over, you feel like you just survived your own war. Plus, Martin Sheen is a badass (the dude had a heart attack during filming but still finished the damn movie) and in the newer, longer cut of the movie, he gets f**ked up on opium and bones a French chick in the middle of a swampy jungle. Can’t beat that.
10 ‘Back to the Future’
I reference this movie all the time. I’m always making jokes about stealing Doc Brown’s DeLorean or making sure your parents make out at the Under the Sea Dance. You need to watch this just so you know what in the hell I’m talking about half the time. And really, that’s kind of the point – this movie has become so ingrained in the public consciousness that people don’t think twice about referencing it. It’s assumed that everyone knows what those references mean and if you don’t, well… I’d suggest stealing Doc Brown’s DeLorean, going back in time and watching this movie so that all those little references that you’ve missed for the last 25 years will make sense to you.
9 ‘Die Hard’
Come on, do I really need to explain this one? Wait, that’s my job? Okay then. This movie is about a seemingly ordinary blue-collar dude (well, he’s a cop but it’s not like he’s the pride of the force, you know?) who kicks the shit out of an entire band of heavily trained professional German terrorists. What’s not to like? Bruce Willis’ hero is both awesome and all too human, which is a tough trick to pull off. And Alan Rickman plays one of the best bad-guys in movie history. He’s a sleazy asshole but he’s also charismatic and smart as hell. You both love him and hate his guts, another tough trick to pull off. Add it all together and you get a movie that every guy absolutely needs to see.
8 ‘Field of Dreams’
Yeah, yeah, it’s sappy as hell and it’s fashionable these days to snigger and smirk at anyone who says they like this movie but to hell with all that. This is a movie about fathers and sons. Oh, and baseball. Can’t forget baseball. Sure, it’s overly manipulative and the cheese factor gets high at times but there is something undeniably honest about the movie too, something American that belongs to a different time, to a different era. Maybe that’s why it’s so easily mocked today, but all I know is that when I was eleven or twelve years old, watching this at home with my mom because my dad and I didn’t see each other too much after they divorced, the room got a bit dusty and some strange water began welling up in my eyes because Kevin Costner just wanted to play catch with his dad. Maybe that’s a too personal story for many of you, but that’s just the thing – it’s an all too common story, that alienation between father and son. It’s what the film banks on, and it’s what makes it work. Sure, it’s corny, but so what? So is real life sometimes.
7 ‘The Wild Bunch’
This movie isn’t about fathers and sons or about easily quotable scenes or any of that other nonsense. Instead, this movie is just full of a bunch of hard, badass dudes who just want to steal shit and kill people they don’t like. That’s it. The movie is just cool as hell, about dudes who are too badass for a suddenly all too civil world. It’s also violent as hell – I’m pretty sure more people get shot in this movie than in all of the actual Wild West. This is about the last ride of the American outlaw, the violent death of the wild, wild West, all so a new world could be born, one in which you could sit at your cubicle and play Solitaire on your computer all day. This is about the last gasp of unrestrained, completely amoral freedom, about the gunslinger going out in a blaze of glory and nothing is more ingrained – or revered – in the American man’s self-image than that.
6 ‘Animal House’
Not only is this movie John Belushi at his unhinged finest, it’s the archetype for just about every popular R-rated comedy that’s followed in the last 35 years. It’s the ultimate celebration of the party animal and of banding together to stick it to a bunch of uptight jackoffs. This movie will make you want to go out and get smashed with your friends, maybe steal a car or two, bang a few chicks under false pretenses and revel in the freedom of just being young and without a care in the world. I mean, there’s a reason I use a picture from Animal House in just about every article I write about drunken debauchery. Plus, you get to see Donald Sutherland’s naked ass. Wait…
Is this movie a war movie? A chick flick masquerading as a war movie? An espionage movie? It doesn’t matter, because at its heart, Casablanca is just an awesome movie about a dude burned by love just trying to make his way in the world while still being a stand-up guy. Well, as much as a stand-up guy as you can be dealing with Nazis every day. But that’s why it’s so cool. Bogart is just a dude trying to run a kick-ass nightclub in the middle of hell. There are scheming Nazis everywhere, friends he can’t trust, and a hot chick who stole what was left of his withered heart who has come bombing back into his life at the worst time. The dude can’t win and he knows it, but he’s still the coolest son of a bitch in town. The movie is pitch-perfect – maybe the best movie ever made – and if you’re a guy, well, Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine is the archetype for every single one of those characters you idolized growing up. He was Han Solo before Han Solo was even a shadow of a thought in George Lucas’ Jar-Jar Binks addled mind. He was the original Harrison Ford and tell me, what could be more badass than that?
4 ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’
Perhaps not quite as iconic as the other movies on this list – I mean, you’re not going to hear too many pop culture references to this movie – The Bridge on the River Kwai is nevertheless a movie every guy should see, and that’s because it’s the ultimate movie about brotherhood, about sticking together when the shit has just gotten way too deep. That’s not to say that the movie isn’t iconic. It is. The men whistling while on their way into the camp – a symbol of defiance and pure ballsy fortitude – remains potent to this day. If you’ve seen the movie – hell, maybe even if you haven’t – I can just about guarantee that you have that whistling theme running through your head right now.
Speaking of themes running through your head…
Rocky is the ultimate story of the underdog. It’s a movie that will push through all your jaded bullshit and have you rooting for a dumb Italian guy who sounds like he’s drunk every time he talks. And that’s because it hits every note perfectly. It appeals to that one in a million shot every guy dreams of in his heart, about rising beyond your own station to be somebody, about squeezing every last bit of life you can from this screwed up world. It’s about triumphing over yourself, about winning that battle between your dreams and the impulse to just give up and fade away into oblivion. I mean, there’s a reason why they play the theme song to this movie at just about every football stadium in America. It gets your blood pumping and your heart racing and it makes you feel like you can go out and fight the world. Call me crazy, but that sounds like a movie that guys would probably want to see.
2 ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’
Once again, if the theme song didn’t immediately run through your head, either you’re completely dead inside or you’ve never seen this movie. Which is a shame because this is not only the best Western ever made, it’s also the coolest. It’s got style on top of style. Sure, Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name is a total badass, but what really puts this movie over the top and separates it from every other iconic Western is Eli Wallach’s character, Tuco, who starts off the movie as the typical Clint antagonist and ends it as the character you’re rooting for to win. It’s just an awesome performance, a human performance, that blurs the lines between good and bad so effectively that in the end there’s only one word that can describe it: ugly. Along the way, thanks to Wallach’s performance, the movie manages to be a Western, a buddy movie, a revenge movie, a movie about a treasure hunt, a dark comedy, and just about anything else you can think of. But more than that, it’s just plain cool and if you don’t see this movie, well, you’re only cheating yourself.
1 ‘The Godfather’
Sure, this is a movie about family and loyalty and honor and blah, blah, blah but forget all that. The reason you have to see this movie is because it is loaded with so many scenes, so many quotes, that are part of the average dude’s cultural lexicon that to not see it is to risk looking like a complete doofus when other dudes start firing off lines or talking about their favorite scene. Plus, this is Marlon Brando at his most infamous, this is Al Pacino creating the legend of Al Pacino, this is James Caan being a crazy son of a bitch, this is… well, this is a cast full of legendary actors at their very best. Plus, a dude wakes up in bed next to a severed horse head, a bunch of guys get shot and a dude gets beaten half to death with a friggin’ trash can. What’s not to love?
(Originally published on May 1, 2012.)
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