“It really depends,” he told us. “What I do know is that this question is supposed to be argued over, and it’s supposed to be argued over passionately.”
So we decided to give our readers the opportunity to weigh in.
Hundreds of people responded, and the suggestions ranged from the expected — movies like “The Godfather,” “Casablanca” and “The Shawshank Redemption” all made the list — to the truly surprising.
We’ve collected a sample of your more off-the-beaten-path answers below, and we thank everyone who took the time to consider the question. We hope we didn’t start too many arguments :).
Editor’s note: The responses below have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Shortly after going through a divorce that cut me deeply and reduced my time with the children I raised to alternating weekends, I was given a free pass to a movie that I could take my 13-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son to.
My kids and I cried together and laughed together and today, almost 30 years later, we all still talk about it. How else would you define a classic?
I avoid horror films at all costs. Why would anyone want to voluntarily be terrified for two hours?! I don’t even remember why I decided watching this film was a good idea, but nonetheless, I did.
By the end, I was thoroughly terrified. But I also remember feeling oddly liberated. It was like I was part of the masterpiece itself. And I think that’s why I consider it a classic film. Whether you’re terrified of the genre or are completely indifferent to the story, actors, direction, score, etc., if you can feel so alive and immersed after watching it, that’s a classic.
I first saw this movie when I was about 5 years old, sitting in the living room with my parents, and I was mesmerized.
It was long before I ever knew about things like directing styles, sharp writing, or what good acting was; I only knew that I loved it. I saw it again in my teens and then searched for it in later years at various revival houses in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
And although I own the DVD, I still enjoy seeing it with a movie audience, especially those experiencing it for the first time, and hearing the same laughter and gasps that I made at 5.
It’s the story of every person’s journey through life, really. We should all be so lucky as Phil, but many never are. I think of it as one of the great redemption stories.
All of this wrapped in a package of seeming silliness, which is perhaps its greatest achievement as filmmaking craft. [Bill] Murray should have won an Oscar for this, by the way.
As a black woman living in the South at the time (1990s), this movie was breathtaking.
The first of many great African-American achievements, I felt inspired, renewed and all-powerful afterward. The cast and direction are superb, and the story of women I know and love were cast in this piece. I felt seen and valuable.
Some movies make me smile, others make me cry; this one was religious and spiritual and phenomenal. I can only watch every so often because it touches me so deeply.
Red Oak, Texas
It’s a romanticized ideal of childhood summers that still resonates today.
Great friends. Sports. Funny nicknames. New freedoms. A grade-school crush. Mischief. Americana. Urban legends. And s’mores!
The cherry on top? Its soundtrack scores a bullseye. It’s timed perfectly, and captures the exact mood and energy level of each scene.
As “The Babe” said, “Heroes get remembered, but legends (and legendary movies) never die.”
I’ve seen the movie a dozen times and it still makes me cry.
It is a classic because it looks unflinchingly at the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters. Every woman I know who has seen the movie has identified with one of the characters. It was an emotional upheaval for me to see my difficult childhood portrayed so accurately.
Any movie that can speak to half of the population in such a beautiful, strong way deserves to be called a classic.
Buffalo, New York
Not only did Jane Darwell and Henry Fonda play their respective roles perfectly, but it also is a great history lesson about the bond of family and the role of migrant labor in our country. It seems we still have not learned much in the 79 years since its release.
I can literally watch this movie over and over again.
Dripping Springs, Texas
The best scene is when Atticus is talking with Scout before bed, and he tells her he has nothing much of value to pass on to her other than her mother’s pearls. But the honesty and courage that he passes on to her has more value than all the pearls and gold he could consider.
The movie being shot in black and white when color was standard makes a bold statement about the cultures in conflict, and the fact that choosing the right path is as simple as black and white.
San Jose, California
What makes a movie a classic? I believe it’s telling a story that challenges our beliefs in politics, religion and society … a movie that drives you to action.
Why? A rare collection of great acting talent — Douglas, Laughton, Olivier, Ustinov, Simmons, Curtis — each of which is given meaty lines and a distinct role in propelling the story to its conclusion.
The directorial mastery of Kubrick in his prime. An example of what the Hollywood studio system at its zenith could produce — a spectacle on a grand scale, with acting, production, and supporting talent at every level. It’s arguably the finest film Universal Studios ever made.
Who can pick just one?
As a 19-year-old film buff, I’ve seen a lot of ‘good movies.’ But there is a very small group of movies that I would consider to be future classics.
When I first saw each of those films, I felt like I got lost in something totally new and that connected with me in one way or another. All of these films made me look at a certain genre in a totally new light. For that reason, they’re all soon to be cinematic touchstones, at least in my mind.