My Completely Uninformed Take on the 10 Most Consequential Movies of the Past 30 Years

I largely stopped going to the movies when I left for college.  That is now going on (gulp!) 27 years ago.  And it wasn’t like I was even an average let alone avid movie-goer before then. 

It’s not for lack of appreciation of the art form.  In fact, I think movies are an incredible slice of culture to consume.  Think of how many layers there are to a good movie (and even to a bad one): acting, sound, visuals, effects, character development, and narrative trajectory.  To say nothing of the time capsule they represent, providing social commentary about the trends, issues, and moods of the moment. 

Someone my age would probably have seen a few hundred movies in their adult life.  I have probably seen a few dozen.  That’s a big gap in the consumption of a rich form of art and culture. 

Yes, I am busy.  And yes, I have chosen other forms of leisure over movies.  But, this gap pains me, and not just because movies are just so enjoyable to take in.  As a studier of pop culture and an absorber of social commentary, I feel acutely this void in content and in the resulting contemporary conversation at around it.  So while I’m not sure when I will have the time to rectify this void, I do want to at least develop a running list of movies I ought to see in order to properly touch this era in our society.

And so I ask you to help me by suggesting movies from the past 30 or so years that are of such consequence that to have not seen them is to be missing out on the consumption of our shared culture.  Or said another way, what would you put in a time capsule to help people understand this time period through the lens of movies?

Bear in mind that I’m not primarily interested in the quality or popularity of a movie, although obviously those aspects are in some way relevant to this discussion in that the best and most watched movies necessarily enter into our national discourse, whereas largely panned movies don't have enough conversational oxygen to be influential.   

Nor am I per se interested in the movies that moved the needle the most in terms of movies as an art form.  Although that too is interesting as a time capsule capturing the evolution of special effects and story-telling in the medium of movies, I'm more concerned with influence on society than on the craft.

What I am most curious to identify are flicks that tapped into and drove the national conversation at the time, and continue to do so to this day.  Though it isn’t just the purity and import of the social commentary itself, but how it was rendered to great effect through the mechanism of movies.  I’m looking for movies of consequence, rather than say what were the best documentaries.

Here would be my list, but as noted above this is not my area of expertise (I haven’t even seen all of these flicks, let alone the hundreds of other possible contenders).  I don’t know what I don’t know, so I am soliciting your additions and commentary.  What would make your list?  Why?

1.  Black Panther (2018). For me the only no-doubter of this list.  This has it all: it captured the moment, it was hugely popular, and it was gorgeously done.  We will be studying this flick until the end of time, and connecting it to everything we are talking about now.

2.  Selma (2014).  Timely and important, but was it watched broadly enough to register?

3.  The Social Network (2010).  Aging well because it’s more important now than when it first came out.

4.  An Inconvenient Truth (2006).  Agree or disagree with the science, this was a definitive contribution to one of our day’s great issues.

5.  The Passion of the Christ (2004).  A lightning rod, befitting its subject matter.

6.  Fight Club (1999).  Of all the mind-benders that came out around this time (e.g. Sixth Sense, Memento, Usual Suspects), this was the one that had the most cultural punch.

7.  The Matrix (1999).  Besides the special effects breakthrough, the notion of living in a simulation was fresh and mind-provoking.

8.   Philadelphia (1993).  May seem dated now, but that tells you what things were like for the LGBTQ community back then.

9.  Terminator 2 (1991).  Unprecedented action/effects + an early warning about AI.

10.  Do the Right Thing (1989).  Anticipating today’s police brutality incidents, but fresh back then too.

Honorable Mentions: Zero Dark Thirty (2012), Hurt Locker (2008), There Will Be Blood (2007), Requiem for a Dream (2000), Blair Witch Project (1999), Gattaca (1997), Boyz N the Hood (1991), Slacker (1990), Sex Lies &Videotape (1989), Wall Street (1988).

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