A surprising list of films that will spark your imagination.
Seen any good movies lately? If so, you’re not alone. Movies engage our hearts and minds in a powerful way by combining sight, sound, and story in a format that’s unlike anything else in the arts. Movies also happen to be one of the best ways to spur your creative thinking.
A while back I asked my Facebook friends to list the movies that inspired their creativity. As you can imagine, there was a wide range of responses. Although a few movies were mentioned more than once, most everyone had their own interpretation of what constitutes a “creative” movie.
That illustrates a simple point: Any attempt to rank movies (or music, or any creative expression) is automatically flawed because art is subjective. Who’s to say what’s the “best” in any category?
That being said, I’m going to give it a shot. Here are ten “must-see” movies that will spark your imagination and creativity. These are arranged by oldest to newest. (Some of them will surprise you!)
1. Metropolis (1927)
This was director Fritz Lang’s sci-fi masterpiece, set in a dystopian future where the world consists of a privileged upper class and the underground workers who serve them. The story centers around the privileged Freder and the poor Maria, and their attempt to bring their worlds together. Metropolis was the most expensive movie made up to that time, featuring strong German expressionism, huge sets, and special effects that are still effective today.
When the movie premiered in Berlin in 1927, it was deemed too long and about 30 minutes were cut from subsequent prints. The cut footage was considered lost for decades until a 16mm original-length print was found in Argentina in 2008. The Metropolis Restored version is the closest we’ll see to Fritz Lang’s original vision.
2. City Lights (1931)
By the late 1920’s, silent movies were on their way out and “talkies” were all the rage. Charlie Chaplin set out to buck the trend and gambled everything with City Lights, being forced to finance the picture himself. Though the story is fairly simple—a tramp falls in love with a blind girl—it’s the mixture of physical humor, sight gags, and one of the most touching endings in all of movies that makes City Lights a creative classic. No wonder Charlie Chaplain declared it his personal favorite among all his films.
3. Citizen Kane (1941)
Orson Welles peaked early—he was only 25 years old when he created this masterpiece that’s often referred to as the best movie of all time. The title refers to Charles Foster Kane, a wealthy newspaper man who was looking for love in all the wrong places.
Citizen Kane has more than earned its rightful place there due to its innovative visual effects, creative cinematography, non-linear storytelling (the movie begins with the death of the main character), surprise ending, and the gradual transformation of Welles into an old man.
The movie is great, but the backstory is even juicer. Citizen Kane is a thinly-veiled mockery of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst and Hollywood siren Marion Davies, his longtime mistress. Hearst was so angry about the film that he attempted to buy the negative so he could burn it.
Read more about Citizen Kane here and here. Watch a clip of the opening below. (Note how the light in the castle window stays in the same place as the camera moves in closer–one of the many indications that the filmmakers went the extra mile in adding interesting and innovate touches to their masterpiece.)
4. Dead Poets Society (1989)
This movie was mentioned multiple times in my Facebook poll. And no wonder: it features one of Robin Williams’ most beloved performances. He plays Professor Keating, an English teacher who inspires his students to buck the status quo and seize the day.
5. Toy Story Trilogy (1995—2010)
I’m putting Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and Toy Story 3 together because they are really three chapters in one long story. Plus, how is it possible to choose just one? Toy Story was the first full-length computer-animated film, as well as Pixar’s first feature film. But what’s most remarkable about these stories is how we come to care about Buzz, Woody, and the rest of the gang as they watch their owner Andy grow up.
As much as I admire the technical breakthroughs these films (and many of Pixar’s other films) represent, it’s the stories that matter most. The ending of Toy Story 3 is a bittersweet meditation on the universal themes of love, loss, and growing up. And you can’t help but get a little (or a lot) choked up.
6. The Sixth Sense (1999)
M. Night Shyamalan’s eerie tale of a young boy who sees dead people is still his best. It’s a horror movie that doesn’t rely on gross-out effects and cheap scares to get under the audience’s skin. Rather, it’s a gradual, atmospheric story that builds to one of the best surprise endings in movie history. (Be honest: did you see it coming?) Sixth Sense is a reminder that bigger is not always better.
7. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001—2003)
How do you even describe the vastness and scope of Peter Jackson’s magnum opus? It’s an amazing feat of big-canvas storytelling and visual effects. But yet it also an intimate tale about Frodo Baggins and the harrowing journey he must make to destroy the ring in the fires of Mount Doom. I never get tired of watching these movies.
I enjoyed the newer Hobbit movies, but they felt like a money grab (stretching what should have been one movie into three) and the story was not nearly as compelling as the Lord of the Rings films.
8. Russian Ark (2002)
Most people have never heard of this 2002 masterpiece that covers 300 years of Russian history. What makes this movie so notable is how it was filmed: it consists of a single, unbroken 99-minute shot that moves through 33 rooms of The Hermitage and involves 2,000 actors. Even if Russian history isn’t your thing, you can’t help but marvel at this technical achievement and the sheer audacity and creativity it took to pull it off.
9. Inception (2010)
Christopher Nolan’s mind-bender is all about dreams within dreams. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a thief who is hired to implant an idea into another person’s mind. As we go several levels deep in the world of dreams, the story is surprisingly easy to follow. This movie is a creative masterpiece because of the original story and innovative effects from one of the premier directors of our time.
10. The Tree of Life (2011)
On paper, the plot of The Tree of Life sounds simple: a 1950’s boy struggles to relate with his overbearing father and later comes to question the meaning of life. But the movie is more about visual poetry than plot. The Tree of Life is a meditation on life on both an intimate and a grand scale—so grand, in fact, that the movie features a long segment in the middle on the creation of the universe. The director, Terrence Malick, once again proves that cinema can be great art—beautiful, arresting, and drawing us into deep thoughts about the meaning of life itself.
Read more about The Three of Life here and here. Watch this clip of the “creation” sequence here. (An interesting companion piece is Noah‘s creation sequence. It’s not exactly faithful to the biblical narrative, but it’s imaginative nonetheless.)
These are films that didn’t make the cut of my Top Ten for various reasons (ask me why in the comments and I’ll elaborate). But they remain some of my favorite inspiring and creative movies:
- The General (1926)
- The Third Man (1949)
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969)
- The Right Stuff (1983)
- Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
- Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)
- Comedian (2002)
- August Rush (2007)
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
- Hugo (2011)
- Gravity (2013)
Great movies aren’t meant to just be watched. They are meant to inspire imagination and creativity, and ultimately change. These are a few takeaways that come to mind as I think about a number of the movies above:
- Don’t be afraid to disrupt the system. Be an agent of change.
- Be yourself.
- Reach, stretch, push yourself. Do something difficult, maybe even something no one has yet attempted.
- Take a risk. Sometimes it pays off handsomely.
- You’re never too young (or too old) to do something great.
Resources to Take You Further
If you’re a movie buff and want to dig a little deeper, check out these movies on Netflix:
- The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011). A 10-part history of film. Very well-done.
- Side By Side (2012). Keanu Reeves produced this fascinating documentary exploring the current debate between film and digital cinematography.
- That Guy … Who Was in That Thing (2012). Profiles 16 male character actors in Hollywood as they discuss career ups and downs.
- Drew: The Man Behind the Poster (2013). Profiles Drew Struzan, the artist behind many iconic movie posters.
I’d also encourage you to check out these great books:
- The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth by Mike Cosper
- Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment by Brian Godawa
- How Movies Helped Save My Soul by Gareth Higgins
Do you agree with my list? What movies would you add (or take out)?
This post originally appeared on KentSanders.net
Photo: Flickr/Breve Storia del Cinema
Would you like to help us shatter stereotypes about men?
Receive stories from The Good Men Project, delivered to your inbox daily or weekly.