What is a Classic Movie?

By Lauren Cox

Sophomore, English major

“Here’s looking at you, kid.” Almost everyone can identify this much loved, lauded, and repeated line from Casablanca. But why is a 72-year-old film about a doomed love affair in World War II still relevant in today’s culture? Simple: It’s a classic.

Iman Lakhani, 22-year-old junior psychology major, says, “You can live out adventures on screen in Raiders of the Lost Ark, fall in love with Casablanca, laugh hysterically at Real Genius, and cover your eyes during Psycho.”

Okay, so then what is the best movie? Round up the usual suspects: AFI says Citizen Kane, Sight and Sound claims Vertigo (an honor formerly held by Citizen Kane, but Kane was dethroned in 2012, after 50 years at the top), and Empire declares The Godfather. In the words of Paul Newman’s character in the classic film Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” If you’re just interested in seeing how many classic movies you’ve actually seen, BuzzFeed has a quiz for that, of course.

Then there’s the weird stepchild of the classic movie, the cult classic. A cult classic is a film that usually did not succeed in its initial box-office run but has a small, dedicated fan base and often a festival devoted to it. Before the advent of DVDs and digital content, these movies were usually shown in theaters as midnight movies. But in the digital age, these films have become much more accessible and mainstream, which has become problematic for some true cult purists. These types of movies have even become so popular that Hollywood tries to market some new movies as having a “cult” status before they are even released. Some notable cult classics are The Big Lebowski, This is Spinal Tap, and The Room. A more comprehensive list of certified cult classics can be found here.

I asked some members of the Prism staff about what their favorite classic and cult classic movies are. For classic movies, the answers ranged from It’s a Wonderful Life, The Wizard of Oz, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and West Side Story to Schindler’s List, Star Wars, Forrest Gump, and even The Notebook. As for the cult classics, many staff members cited Pulp Fiction, Fight Club, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Troll 2, Labryinth, Donnie Darko, Heathers, and Mean Girls.

Classic films have more than just critical praise; classic films grab you from the beginning and never let you go. They become more than just a movie. They become an experience, and one that you aren’t likely to forget. Whether it’s Gone with the Wind or Blue Velvet, classic movies have a way of getting us and getting at us.

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