question of the day: What is so genuinely special about ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ and ‘Back to the Future’?

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones

An essay by Tim Walker at The Independent called “No more heroes: Why no one else can make films like Steven Spielberg” made me cry yesterday. For a lot of reasons. For how it reminded me how the movies of my childhood made me fall in love with movies. For suggesting that such movies may never come again. For how it prompted me to compare today’s movies with those yet again… and see today’s movies coming up short. A taste:

Spielberg was a singular talent, whose personal successes altered the entire business. Summer was thought of as a fallow season for Hollywood until Jaws chewed up the 1975 box office, creating the blockbuster market that we live with today. Geoff Boucher is the man behind Hero Complex, the Los Angeles Times’s renowned “fanboy” movie blog, which hosted this week’s 30th anniversary screening of Raiders. “If you really love the big summer adventure movies,” he says, “then the run of films released between 1977 and 1985 is just staggering. Those were the first generation of blockbusters, and maybe it’s a sector that could only have so many years of real creative invigoration. They went down a list: ‘we can do a World War Two movie, a space movie, a time-travel movie…’, but there aren’t a whole lot of genres to go through before things start to feel derivative.”

“It seems as if summer blockbusters have got worse,” agrees Tom Shone, the author of Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer. “You compare the artistry and craftsmanship of a movie like Close Encounters to the machine-tooled franchise films that get churned out now, and it seems a galaxy away. But even back then there were only a couple of guys capable of making those movies: Spielberg and Lucas. The competition for Raiders in 1981 was cheesy things like The Cannonball Run and For Your Eyes Only. Before Spielberg, blockbusters came once in a generation. Then there were one or possibly two a year after Jaws and Star Wars. Now, they’re every week, banked up behind each other like aircraft waiting to land. So there are many more bad movies made. But the regularity of the really good movies is the same: about once every year.”

It’s almost as if Walker doesn’t quite get what he himself is saying, for he swings from

Audiences still hold those films in disproportionate affection


[I]t seems unlikely that any of these will still have a hold over our imaginations, three decades hence, as strong as Star Wars or Back to the Future or Indiana Jones.

So here’s the question:

What is so genuinely special about Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Back to the Future? Is it just that they were the first in what became derivative genres? Is there more to it? Or are we looking at them through rose-colored glasses?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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