The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Aug 202009

What are the movies that best represent a generation? I have drafted the following list by free-association, with no reference to any sources and in no particular order. I’m doing this just to provoke comment.

I finesse two questions that I guess should be addressed in lists of this kind: Do we just focus on films of “generational” interest per se—as opposed to films that were simply very popular with the generation in question? (e.g., The Godfather was very popular among young Boomer (born 1943-1960)… but was not really a generational film.) And do we focus only on films that appear when the generation in question is coming of age? (e.g., The Big Chill appeared in 1983, when even the youngest Boomers were adults… but it is very much a generational film.)

Anyway, here goes:


  1. The Graduate
  2. Goodbye Columbus
  3. Deerhunter
  4. Apocalypse Now
  5. Easy Rider
  6. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  7. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  8. Yellow Submarine
  9. Alice’s Restaurant
  10. The Big Chill
  11. Woodstock
  12. American Graffiti
  13. M*A*S*H
  14. Annie Hall
  15. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  16. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  17. Saturday Night Fever
Be Sociable, Share!
  • Farrah A

    For films that were just very poular with the generation there should should be a separate list that specifies the criteria used in choosing them. It would be useful and interesting for several reasons: first, simply as a way to look at one of the many products consumed by the generation; second, as a measure of how much of this product that the generation likes is actually representative of it; third, as a measure of how much of this product that the generation likes was made by members of the same generation; fourth, how do the second and third measures compare with those measures for other generations.

  • tom

    People who have time go to the movies. Some movies are bigger DVD rentals because that audience can't get to the movies but the film is good. Right now the two groups that go to the movies, boomer & Millennials. So when you look at popular movies at the box office, you need to look who like the movie by age. Look at today; "District 9" & "Julie & Julia" are top 3. xer's are in midlife with kids. do you think they even make it to the movie? Top DVD rental: "I love you man" and "17 again" (Xer movies). So top movies of a generation continue to change as they move through life.

  • @tom – yeah, I agree with you. As a Gen X'er with two youngish kids, we go to the movies a couple times a year. Now, we rent (from Netflix) on a very regular basis, sometimes up to 4 or 5 movies a week. I had not considered how that might affect the numbers before. Great point.

  • Just about all of the movies listed are by Silents, star Silents, and/or the person most associated with it is a Silent. Which happens to be a trait shared with most of the New Hollywood films, which era appears to be the Silents having their brief but glorious moment of brilliance between the dominance of the G.I.s (from Citizen Kane to Jungle Book) and the blockbusters of the Boomers (Jaws/Rocky/Star Wars). Sure to The Big Chill, American Graffiti (Lucas, 1944), and Annie Hall (but only because the titular character happens to be a Boomer – it's more about exceptionally Silent Alvy Singer's generational interactions). However, I think of Boomer movies as those where Boomers are more directly involved – and usually those where moral relativism isn't an issue: The filmmaker has a moral compass that you'll be following from beginning to end.

    The Terminator series (James Cameron, 1954) deserves a mention for the downright prescient generational breakdown between the absolutism of the title character, the pragmatism of Xer Sarah Conner, and the literal Hero status of her son John. My list would definitely include Platoon and Wall Street (Oliver Stone, 1946), and perhaps Back to the Future. Forrest Gump should be there as well, a full-on love letter by, to and for Boomers.

    Ultimately, depends on what you mean by "represent": The initial list is certainly Major Influences, which almost by definition won't include Primary Representatives (like Lucas and Stone, Cameron and Spielberg). Best Representations – i.e. of actual Boomers – would certainly include Platoon and Forrest Gump, while Boomer Themes should probably include Animal House, Groundhog Day, and Good Morning Vietnam.

  • Why hello swain forum people! I well-grounded wanted to introduce myself here as this looks like a sheer attractive forum! I myself am engrossing in things like writeing and computer revamping so if anyoune needs help forgive me differentiate! I also Suffer from Sciatica so if you aslo include this infection let me have knowledge of so we can share out some stretches!

  • I want to come too! I have fond memories of drive in movies as a kid. We had so much fun sitting in convertibles and watching movies. Good times!