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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

if you could save only 10 films for humanity, what would they be?


This week’s question was suggested by reader @potionstar:

If you could save only 10 films for humanity, what would they be?

I don’t know what the scenario is: Perhaps you’ve got 10 minutes to grab DVDs from your collection, or an hour to download 10 films, before the Vogon constructor fleet destroys Earth and you escape with Ford Prefect. So, what are the most essential films that would explain humanity to galactic civilization?

One of mine would definitely be the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera, for it’s sheer insanity. I’d want the aliens to know that we weren’t all wars and genocide and destroying our environment.

You? (It’s okay if you don’t have 10. Even one or two is fine.)

(If you have a suggestion for a Question, feel free to email me.)

  • Stephanie C.

    The films I’d use to explain humanity to galactic civilization are vastly different from the films I would take to keep myself from the crushing despair of being part of maybe a handful of people to escape a dying earth.

    The former list would be things like The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Vertigo, 2001,

    My list grabbed for *me* would be have Spinal Tap, Grosse Pointe Blank. One of Eddie Izzard’s concert films. Dogma, If we can go by ‘it’s in IMDB’, I’d grab Queen Live at Wembley.

    For both lists: The Princess Bride, Last Night (the good Canadian one), Star Wars, Lion in Winter, The King’s Speech, The Muppet Movie.

    That’s 11 on both lists. Oops.

  • Bluejay

    If I had to grab a DVD from my shelf to explain humanity to the rest of the universe — to describe our hopes and fears, our potential for tremendous progress or tremendous destruction, a little bit of our history, and what we’ve figured out about the universe so far — I’d go with my box set of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. And to put humanity in the context of the physical world we live in, I’d throw in my box set of the BBC’s Planet Earth.

    I’d leave the other slots open for people from eight or nine other cultures to suggest representative films that I probably haven’t heard of.

  • Stephanie C.

    Hmm. I dunno. I mean, I’d load up on Ken Burns series and the Entire runs of The West Wing and Buffy if that were acceptable, but MAJ did ask about films. I was wary of even including a concert film ;-)

  • Jim Mann

    I live the Marx Brothers, though I’d probably go with Duck Soup rather than A Night at the Opera.

    The list is a whole is hard, because first of all it depends upon what the base criteria are. Is just being a great film enough? How important is influence? How important is it to pick representatives of various styles, directors, periods, etc.?

    That being said, almost any list I could come up with would include Seven Samurai. I’d also probably include Citizen Kane and 2001.

    I’d want at least one noir film, probably the Maltese Falcon. Likewise, I’d want at least one screwball comedy, as they are an important part of film history (and besides, the best are still great fun to watch). I lean toward the Philadelphia Story, but any of several others would also work.

    How about Chaplin (CIty Lights?)?

    Hitchcock? (My favorite is North by Northwest.)

    King Kong belongs on the list, both because it remains a very good film but also it was historically important. (If the latter is an important criteria, Gone With the Wind probably needs consideration, though I think it’s overrated.)

    My own personal tastes would make me want to include several SF films — The Empire Strikes Back, Forbidden Planet, and Aliens, perhaps.

    And I’m leaving a lot out.


  • Bluejay

    Fair point.

  • amanohyo

    The lists would be different for humanity vs. for myself.
    Citizen Kane
    Seven Samurai
    Through a Glass Darkly
    Annie Hall
    Pandora’s Box
    Scenes From a Marriage
    The Sweet Hereafter
    Tokyo Story
    Groundhog Day
    The City of Lost Children
    My Neighbor Totoro
    The Wizard of Oz
    Blade Runner
    Spirited Away
    Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    an hour to download 10 films

    OK, sorry, what was the question?

  • althea

    I am a Tom Petty fan. One night I stumbled upon a concert on NPR, thought I’d watch a little while and go to bed. It was far longer than I expected, and since I couldn’t tear my eyes away from it, I think very likely it would be on my list to keep me entertained for my escape from Earth. As to posterity – don’t know if the rest of humanity would benefit as much as I would.

  • Stephanie C.

    yeah; there are other bands that I would want their music, but I do love Queen, and @Wembley is a really prime example of the concert film type.

  • Patrick

    Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

    If one absolutely needed a guide to building a new Earth from whatever smattering of surviving humans there would be, the philosophy of the two great ones should be its cornerstone: “Be Excellent To Each Other. Party On, Dudes!”

  • Stephanie C.

    It took me 6.5 minutes to get Indie Game the movie down to my computer while also watching House of Cards on Netflix…

  • Danielm80

    I’d include Beasts of the Southern Wild because–for me at least–it shows what it feels like to be a human being on this planet right now.

    I’d include a couple of movies about what it’s like to be in love, maybe High Fidelity and Before Sunrise, along with Before Midnight as a reminder that relationships aren’t easy, and that people age, even in movies.

    I’d include a couple of films with really beautiful images, like Moonrise Kingdom and Amelie, to show what we wanted the world to look like, even if we couldn’t always make it that way. I’d probably throw in a musical, too, like The Wizard of Oz.

    I’d include Superman: The Movie to show that we wanted to be heroic.

    And, obviously, I’d include The Princess Bride.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Great! Can I have your internet connection?

  • Stephanie C.

    anybody within about 50 yards of my house is free to hop on. :-)

  • Kirk Aplin

    To Kill a Mockingbird (to illustrate the justice and fair play humans aspire to but rarely reach)

    On The Beach (to illustrate how humans face oblivion – well and badly)

    2001: A Space Odyssey (to illustrate our capacity for going beyond today)

    Casablanca (to illustrate human capacity for love and sacrifice)

    It’s a Wonderful Life (to illustrate the interconnectedness of humanity)

    12 Angry Men (to illustrate the human capacity for reason)

    Singin’ In The Rain (to illustrate human capacity for music, laughter and joy)

    Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (to illustrate the strength of even a single human who is in the right)

    Arsenic and Old Lace (to illustrate the human capacity for silliness)

    Gandhi (to illustrate the heights to which humanness can rise)

  • FormerlyKnownAsBill

    i gave myself 10 minutes to come up with a list (only making the slightest effort to produce a list representative of…anything; mostly just being greedy), and this was the result:

    The Adventures of Prince Achmed
    The Wizard of Oz
    Seven Samurai
    The Seventh Seal
    The Time Machine (1960)
    Apocalypse Now
    Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
    My Dinner with Andre
    Pulp Fiction
    The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

    but now i’m kicking myself because i’m bouncing around the universe with no Monty Python and not one episode of The West Wing.

  • I haven’t tried that precisely, but the Internet is *much* faster in the UK than it is in the US. Could be doable on the wifi I’m using.

  • David N-T

    Seven Samurai: Pure 100% fun mixed with human tragedy and heroic self-sacrifice and standing up against all odds in a battle that cannot possibly bring glory and riches to the samurai. Lots of depth to boot.

    Hearts and Minds: Brings to life Hannah Arendt’s concept of banality of evil.

    The Corporation: Given that it’s today’s dominant institution, I think that it’s vital to understand it.

    Ikiru: Perhaps the most inspirational film I’ve ever seen.

    Blazing Saddles: Rarely seen a film that manages to fuse condemnation of racism with real humour, and with just an “aw shucks” sense of fun in it.

    Hara Kiri: A deeply humanist films about the difference between true morality and its meare appearance, and how social codes can be subverted to oppress.

    Dr Strangelove: A scathing critique of cold war paranoia and its insane logic.

    Aliens: Great action, great suspense, kickass strong female lead.

    Jackass: I’m not a fan of the films or TV series, but it is nevertheless a relevant cultural development. Hell, in a post-apocalyptic world, maybe it could provide useful clues as to what went wrong.

  • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

    And, uh… maybe Danny Boyle’s Sunshine?

  • singlestick

    Hmmm. 10 Films. OK,

    City Lights,


    Trouble in Paradise,
    Do the Right Thing,

    Children of Paradise,

    2001: A Space Odyssey,

    The 39 Steps,
    Star Wars,

    Schindler’s List

  • Hmmm…Which 10 Adam Sandler movies do I pick?

    Only if I wanted to show how insanely stupid humanity could be.

    I love the hell out of movies, but I really cant come up with a “best movies for humanity” list. Certainly not one any better than those already posted.
    Heck, I have a hard time coming up with a list of 10 movies to save for me. Personally, I’d rather have 10 new movies I’ve never seen before. I rarely watch a movie more than once, anyway.

  • Hank Graham

    The Treasure of the Sierra Madre–because we continually make our own problems in the universe, and this is the one that distills that story to its essence.
    Chinatown–because we have a remarkable capacity for casual corruption, and for going along with things we know we shouldn’t.
    Duck Soup–because you have to have one Marx Brothers film.
    The Godfather–because it’s one of the clearest evocations of how humanity deals with power.
    2001–because you have to have one Kubrick film.
    The Thief of Bagdad–because our dreams need to be acknowledged, too.
    Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind–because you have to have one Miyazaki film.
    All Quiet on the Western Front–because we keep going off to wars for reasons we don’t understand ourselves, and no one has ever dealt with it as well as this film from 1930, let alone any better.
    The General–because you have to have one Keaton film.
    Lawrence of Arabia–because. Just because.

    If I had an honorable mention list, it would stretch to hundreds.

    So, MAJ, are you going to give a list?

  • Matt Clayton

    The Lion in Winter
    Children of Paradise
    Adventures of Robin Hood
    Spirited Away
    Before Sunrise
    Blade Runner
    Midnight in Paris
    The Wizard of Oz
    House (Hausu)*

    * = Just to show how bonkers cinema can get.

  • singlestick

    Just for grins, an Essential 10 all featuring films of Daniel Day Lewis.

    My Beautiful Laundrette

    The Unbearable Lightness of Being

    My Left Foot

    The Last of the Mohicans

    The Age of Innocence

    In the Name of the Father

    The Boxer

    Gangs of New York

    There Will Be Blood


  • Mike Long

    Spirit of the Beehive
    Tokyo Story
    Christmas in July
    Do the Right Thing
    What Time is it There?
    Last Life in the Universe
    City Lights
    Where is the Friend’s House?
    Children of Paradise

  • RWG

    Back to the Future
    Star Trek : Wraith of Khan
    King Kong
    Slumdog Millionaire
    City of God
    Enter the Dragon
    Hidden Fortress
    This is kinda cheating but a bundle of short Clips from Loony Tunes

  • Tonio Kruger

    The choice is obvious. There is only one film that comes to mind that embodies the very essence of the human condition and that film — and that film alone — deserves to be saved. I am referring of course to that classic motion picture: Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure

  • Tonio Kruger

    On a more serious note:

    I would also like to see the following saved:

    Modern Times
    Animal Crackers
    The Shop Around the Corner
    Gold Diggers of 1933
    Shall We Dance (1937)

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