Being born into Generation X, it was almost a given that I would be raised in front of a television. Pop culture was just as much a part of my daily upbringing as school work. Much of who I am today is a product of what I watched growing up. Narrowing down a list of ten films that had a profound effect on me during my childhood was a difficult task. I love so many movies, it’s obscene. And surely, this list could go on and on, and with great reasons for each entry.
But for the sake of brevity, may I present–off the top of my head and in no particular order–ten films that shaped my life:
- Stand By Me–Thanks to my mother sharing her love of books with me at an early age, I had read Stephen King’s short story “The Body”. But nothing could prepare me for how beautiful this movie would be. To this day, I still cry when I watch it. “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” This movie touched my soul.
- Dawn of the Dead–Along with a love of books, my mother also had a love of horror films. She also had very poor judgment when it came to deciding what a child should and should not watch. I was exposed to countless horror classics (and rightfully traumatized as a result). Night of the Living Dead had already scared the bejeezus out of me. But, when Dawn was released? In color! Set in my home away from home: the shopping mall! Ruined! I was–and still am–ruined for zombies!
- Grease–I was so young when I first saw this movie. But my brother watched it with me every time it was on. This was one of the first films that made me want to sing and dance. It would be followed by Annie, Little Shop of Horrors, and of course, my first Broadway experience…CATS. (I would dance around my bedroom in a leotard listening to the cast album–which I still have, btw–pretending to be a feline). Grease made me want to be a star. Okay, so maybe not a star…but drama club and community theatre have been pretty spectacular. And I did get to do the show!
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show–Speaking of singing and dancing…my brother played “Riff Raff” in the shadow cast midnight showings at our local theatre. I was probably the only kid in kindergarten who knew every word to “Sweet Transvestite.” This show did something to me. It stayed with me and never left, and it’s a show I’ve done numerous times, onstage and off. It firmly planted the pole from which I would let my freak flag fly.”Don’t dream it…be it.”
- The Star Wars Trilogy–The first movie I saw in a theatre was Star Wars. I was too young to understand it all, but I do have specific memories of the experience. I grew up with Empire Strikes Back. And I remember Return of the Jedi being the first time I stood in a line that wrapped around the building just to see a movie. And, oh how I cried when the Emperor was using his force lightning on Luke! It’s a trilogy, but I count it as one long film. It perfected what a sci-fi movie could be (as well as marketing genius with the toys!) Star Wars allowed me to embrace my nerd-dom.
- Rocky II–Okay, I’ll be honest. I really want to write Rocky I-IV. But if I had to choose, I would pick II. Yes, IV had an amazing soundtrack (and I truly believe Rocky Balboa ended the Cold War). But II was so poignant. The wedding, the baby, finally winning the title…I can deliver his victory speech verbatim and still cry through the fight scene! “His whole life was a one in a million chance”. That’s how I feel about my own life, especially with these lungs.
- Die Hard–I already loved Bruce Willis, as I was a devoted Moonlighting and Blind Date fan. But his portrayal of John McClane (coupled with my old love, Han Solo) fueled my fire for the anti-hero. He was just a regular guy, in the wrong place at the wrong time. “The monkey in the wrench, Hans, a fly in the ointment…” Damn, I love that movie.
- The Terminator–This movie terrified me. The idea that machines could become self aware and take over the world? And with each sequel the story only got better. How could I not love this series. Just as Dawn of the Dead made me start scanning rooms when I enter them, looking for a safe way to escape and/or fortify, Terminator made me wary of electronics. Obviously, I’ve backed off from that a tad, rolling with the times. But I still harbor a paranoia that can trace it’s roots back to this film. “Come with me if you want to live.”
- The Princess Bride–This movie had it all: comedy, adventure, romance, action…It is absolute perfection. And it made me hold onto the hope that your one true love was really out there, willing to go to battle to be with you. “As you wish.”
- The Breakfast Club–I know it word for word. I cry every time I watch it. When I first saw this movie, it scared me. Is that really what High School is like? If so, then I don’t want to go. I was too young to know the “cliques” yet. But by the time I reached HS, I’d seen the movie a number of times, and it began to resonate. I knew each one of those characters. And at different points in my life, I was each one of those characters. This movie hurt so good.
Like I said, there are too many others to name. But here are some runners up that almost made the cut: Back to the Future (for reinforcing my love of time travel), Raiders of the Lost Ark (for fulfilling my adventure needs), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (for defining what it meant to be a teen in the 80s), Labyrinth (for being the most magical time of my childhood), Red Dawn (for scaring the shit out of me because when it came out, that was still a relevant threat), Christmas Story (for becoming a family tradition), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (an oldie, but one that my mother introduced me to, and my brother watched with me…it made me want to command a room).
Not only did I watch each of these films dozens (some hundreds) of times, but they changed how I thought, how I felt, how I saw myself, and how I saw others. There have been countless films since then that have also left a mark on my soul. But these are among the ones that started it all.
What were YOUR favorite films growing up? What left a permanent fear within you? What inspired you?