Movies That Define America
Religion & Liberty Online

Movies That Define America

Don’t you love lists? Intercollegiate Press does too, and they’ve put together “12 Movies That Defined America.” Feel free to argue, debate, add on, cross off as you wish.

Here are just a couple of Intercollegiate Press’ choices:

The Birth of a Nation – 1915, silent. The first blockbuster, D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation was both celebrated as a great artistic achievement and denounced as racist for its vicious depiction of African Americans and homage to the KKK. President Woodrow Wilson’s praise of the spectacle as “history written with lightning” served to dignify the film, despite the fact that Wilson may never have said it.

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington – 1939. Can one man stand against a world of lies? Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), a former Boy Rangers leader, appears to be in over his head in the corrupt world of congressional politics, but that won’t stop him from filibustering a bill that would reward graft. Denounced as anti-American upon its release (but banned in fascist and Communist countries), Frank Capra’s fable came to canonize the lone voice that speaks truth to power regardless of the odds.

The Graduate – 1967. Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) has a new college degree and no ambition. Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), a family friend, offers to help stimulate him, but the ensuing affair proves a dark business. Only when his clueless parents and the equally unaware Mr. Robinson push Benjamin into a relationship with the Robinsons’ daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross), does he finally see the light—to Mrs. Robinson’s horror. Benjamin must now decide what, if anything, is worth fighting for. Director Mike Nichols’s final two-shot of Elaine and Benjamin, freed from their plastic world, has elicited the same question for decades: Freed to do what?

Malcolm X – 1992. Watch Malcolm Little (Denzel Washington), a small-time hoodlum, transform into Malcolm X, herald of the Nation of Islam’s black nationalism. Then watch Malcolm X become disillusioned as his mentor, Elijah Muhammad (Al Freeman Jr., in a remarkable performance), proves to be less than divine. A trip to Mecca leads the controversial civil rights icon to broaden his vision of race relations—and invoke the ire of his former coreligionists. This Spike Lee “joint” gave Washington his first lead actor Oscar nomination for bringing to life the man who, in very American fashion, crafted a unique identity by any means necessary.

The Dark Knight – 2008. Is Batman (Christian Bale) a Christ-like figure willing to endure public scorn to save his people or a vigilante with a messiah complex who spies on his fellow citizens 24/7, telling himself it’s for their own good? The film made a bid for all-time box office champ, demonstrating Americans’ love of supermen—and craving for security.

Read “12 Movies That Defined America” at Intercollegiate Review.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.