Great Movies Every Man Should See, Why, and How They Should Be Watched
Like most men, I love action movies. There is something about them that is just hard to beat. Very few “Action” movies make it onto this list though. The thing about action movies is that they truly are a dime a dozen. There are at least a couple of decent ones out in theaters and on DVD every week these days. Truly great guy movies though, they only come around once every couple of years. In my opinion only one or two great films, for men, come out each. This is a list of twenty that I think every man should see at least once, although these are the types of films that warrant multiple viewings. Before we get to the list I’d like to explain why these films, in general, are so important and how you should go about watching them. This is not a top 20 list despite the title, rather a list of 20 important films. This list has been composed for variety sake and is in no particular order.
Let’s start with the word Film. You’ll notice I’ve used it several times already. There is a difference between movies and film. Movies are what people crows into the theaters week after week to see then quickly forget about, films often get overlooked at the box office, but then last for decades as part of our history, influencing film from that point on. The films in this list center around male centric themes. Typically issues only men deal with, which is why women often don’t understand them.
While many of these films are truly entertaining, I suggest you don’t watch them for entertainment purposes. Don’t go into these movies looking for explosions, blood and boobs. All three of those are found multiple times on this list, multiple times in a single title in some cases but that isn’t what these movies are about. That’s not why they are important or why they’ve lasted for so long. Also, get over black and white. I’ve never understood why people refuse to watch black and white films. Some of the greatest movies ever made were done before color film. Why deprive yourself of the amazing content in such films simply because they are not in color. In fact, old black and white films are much crisper than anything that came out in the 60s through the 90s. Only recently has color become as crisp as black and white film.
I recommend watching them alone for the first time. You’re bound to find a day when the wife is gone, or you have nothing to do. A rainy day or a quite weeknight is the perfect time to watch one of these films. The reason I say this is because it’s likely that anyone else watching the movie with you will detract from the experience. That’s right, I said “movie”. Odds are, unless you have a film buff as a friend, your viewing buddy is going to expect something from these films that isn’t there. They are not popcorn movies and shouldn’t be treated as such. I remember the first time I saw Pulp Fiction, it was still on VHS. I saw it by myself and loved it. In fact I loved everything about it. I loved it so much that I wanted to share it with people. As you can imagine I got mixed reviews. Some friends thought it was funny, but cheap looking and others downright hated it because it didn’t have the polish that modern movies have. They couldn’t see past it for some reason and their comments throughout ruined it. I had already had my solitary experience with it, so they did nothing to tarnish my view of the film, but I couldn’t help but think how they might have warped my perception had they sat through it with me on my first viewing.
Plan to watch it when you can devote the full-time slot to watching it. Start them and finish them in one sitting. These aren’t TV shows and shouldn’t be watched as such. The writers, directors, actors and crew went through a lot of trouble to bring you a story that takes place in a two-hour window, give or take. Take the time to watch it the way it was intended.
If you’re not used to watching and enjoying movies like this, take the following hint to heart. Everything in these films is not only done on purpose, it’s carefully thought out. This may seem like an obvious statement, but I want you to really consider what this means. The position of the camera in relation to the action on the screen, the colors used in the costumes and set design, the lighting, what is said, what isn’t said etc. All of these elements and hundreds more are painstakingly thought about by creative people, and carried out when the script is written, the picture is shot and when it’s edited. Truly well-made films give you gobs of sub-text and most of it happen off the page, meaning no one says it. The sub text is in the set design, the cinematography etc. Popcorn movies on the other hand, put the camera where it needs to be to make the explosions and crumbling buildings look the best. Yes cinematography plays a role but it’s the role of wow factor rather than art through film.
Now, here is the list…
The French Connection – One of my favorite films of all times for many reasons, but mainly because it was the first time I really noticed what a director was trying to do, and liked it. It makes the list because it’s essentially the portrait of a man, what he has devoted his life to and the blindness that can result from the passion of pursuit.
Raging Bull – One of the more obvious choices. I you haven’t seen it, watch it first. Even though it came out in 1984, it’s almost all in black and white. This gives us a feeling of the era in which it takes place but also boils the film down to the essentials which is once again a portrait of a man and how pride initiates success but leads to destruction.
Goodfellas – Easily my personal favorite film of all time. It has everything and every man should see it if not every one. Regarded as the best Mob movie of all time, Goodfellas entertains just as much as it teaches us. It’s about a group of men, again all striving for success. It’s about violence, a word that can almost be referred to as an emotion for many men. It’s also about addiction. Ultimately the movie is a struggle and one of the most entertaining ones I’ve ever seen.
Taxi Driver – The first on the list not based on a true story, but the 3rd Scorsese picture. We still have two more to go. This movie is still regarded as one of the greatest of all time. It’s about isolation and how that can lead to madness. This picture really hits home if you’ve ever lived alone in a new place where you didn’t know anyone. At least the first half does.
The Departed – Our 4th Scorsese picture on the list and a great companion to Goodfellas. They have a similar pace and structure. If you have a solid 5 hours to spare they would probably be great to watch back to back. While I feel The Departed is perfectly orchestrated and directed, Goodfellas still wins out as the better picture of the two.
Mean Streets – The fifth and final Martin Scorsese picture on the list is his first, well sort of his first. Mean Streets is slow and drawn out but really delivers a punch towards the end. Any man who loves Goodfellas needs to see Mean Streets and for any man raised as a Catholic, Mean Streets is a must see. The theme of atonement for one’s sins is prevalent throughout.
Drive – The most recent picture on the list. I’ve listed drive for several reasons. One is that I just wanted a new film on the list, but also because it’s a good surrogate for classics like Bullitt, and Point Blank. Both movies that easily fit on this list. It’s also a great companion to Taxi Driver in my opinion, very different story but very similar themes throughout. If you’ve seen both and love them, try watching them back to back to study the parallels.
Cool Hand Luke – Quintessential Paul Newman. Paul belongs on this list as much as DeNiro, and Eastwood. This is arguably one of his best pictures and certainly hold its own place in terms of what it means to be a man. Take away the prison walls and Cool Hand Luke is about what it takes to be an influence in the world, and the weight that can thrust on your shoulders.
Citizen Kane – The oldest film on the list and regarded my many film critics as the greatest movie ever made. Citizen Kane is about a man, perhaps the most successful man in the world. It’s about the roots of happiness and the dangers of early success. A must watch for all film buffs as it was the first time many things were done.
Once Upon A Time in the West – I didn’t want to flush the list out with a rush of westerns, although they definitely belong here and there would no doubt be many more if this were a list of 100 titles, maybe some day. Once Upon a Time in the West is my choice for THE Western to watch. It features detailed character studies of 3 very different men and is shot remarkably well for its time.
Bellflower – The low-budget film in the bunch and a must watch. It was shot by a group of friends on basically no budget. It is literally about what it is to be a man. Notice I said what it is, not what it means. Bellflower is about the dark side of masculinity and what happens when you fail to bridle it successfully.
There Will Be Blood – Looked over, but easily one of the best films of its kind since Citizen Kane. If you’ve never seen There Will Be Blood, don’t expect much blood, but there will be some. There Will Be Blood has far too many layers to go into here, but maybe another day. It’s beautifully shot, and is about a very masculine but fairly unlikable man played by the great Daniel-Day Lewis. (His performance here is far better than his Lincoln in my opinion.)
Good Will Hunting – A great movie that most people in the late 90s saw. It has carried an audience for over 10 years though. It’s one of the most well written films on the list and about the confusion and misdirection of a younger man being forced into manhood.
Thief – One of Michael Mann’s first films, back when he was still working on the Miami Vice TV series in the 80s, Thief is a super cool story about a jewel thief. While Heat is one of my favorite movies it seemed like an obvious choice and Thief is most likely one readers haven’t seen. If you loved Michael Mann’s heat, check out Thief. A film that may have missed its moment.
Love the Beast – The only documentary on the list, Love the Beast is a great film directed by the actor Eric Bana. It chronicles his relationship with his first car, a Ford Falcon that has been built and rebuilt multiple times as a professional race car. When he’s not acting Bana is an avid racer. His documentary is a great portrait of man’s connection to machine. Car lovers one and all, men and women should take time to watch this movie.
Apocalypse Now – If it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, watch it again based on my recommendations at the beginning of the article. Also, note that it’s the only Coppola movie on the list. He made a host of films that almost made the list, “the Godfather” included, but I felt this was the best one for this list. Mainly because even if you’ve seen it before, you likely haven’t seen it the way I recommended. Watch it alone and pay close attention. Pass on the redux version, they just waste a bunch of extra time for no reason. Not only is it the only Francis Ford movie on the list, it’s the only war movie. Most critically acclaimed war pictures are ones men should watch, but this one seemed to capture elements from many of them. So, it made the list and they didn’t.
Wake in Fright – If you’re a big film buff and you’ve seen everything else on the list. Odds are you haven’t seen Wake in Fright. If you have, comment below and tell me you’ve seen it. This one is unique and a great piece of Australian film making. It’s purely about masculinity run wild. There is lots of drinking and fighting. If you pay close attention it’s an amazing portrait of the animal inside all of us.
Sexy Beast – Second to Wake in Fright, Sexy Best is another foreign film you likely haven’t seen. Yeah, it’s from the UK but that still counts as foreign, as do Australian films. If you want to get into foreign films start with the UK and Australia. You’ll feel cultured and there’s no need for subtitles, plus we Americans just love those accents for some reason. Sexy Beast isn’t what it sounds like. All I’ll say is that it’s a post mob lifestyle story and to me it was about dealing with mistakes you’ve made in the past, as they are bound to come back to haunt you. Plus it has one of the coolest opening sequences in a movie I’ve ever seen.
Reservoir Dogs – Another obvious choice, I felt that Tarantino needed to be included on the list. This is the best choice. If you break my recommendations and watch any one of these movies with a group, make it this one. It’s a good watch and stands on its own as a great indie film. If features nothing but men, and each character is wildly different from the next.
The Royal Tenenbaums – The only film on the list that could be considered a comedy. The Royal Tenenbaums, directed by Wes Anderson, is arguably one of his best works. It’s reason for being on this list is that it deals a lot with a man’s relationship with his father and how that relationship shapes him into who he is and how he behaves as a father.
So that’s the list. If you read the entire article, Thank You. I hope you at least enjoy watching some of these movies. Even if you’ve seen them leave a comment and let me know what you think.
- Did you Like any of the recommendations? Did you not like any of the recommended films?
- Do you have any additional recommendations?
- Did you have a different experience if you watched any of them for the second time after reading the article?