If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably seen a lot of films in your life. It’s estimated that there are more than half a million feature-length films in the world, and the number only grows by the day – if you wanted to, you could watch a new film every single day of your life without repeats. Yet people seem to restrict their selection unnecessarily, and often opt for old favourites if they have a few hours to kill. New films often come into prominence thanks to the cinema or streaming services, and it can be surprisingly tough to even give those a go.
There are many reasons for this. We rewatch films because we love them – I know I could watch Toy Story or The Mummy Returns repeatedly without getting tired. Sometimes it’s a matter of availability – if you’re watching the same channels, you’re likely to find the same films on repeat, and it’s easy to fall into watching them. Then there’s the question of films being a time sink. They’re so long, and I struggle with the idea of investing three hours of my life into a film I may not like.
These films are a mix of culturally important, fun or interesting, and there’s a selection of genuine crowd pleasers in the mix too
There’s nothing wrong with any of these reasons, or whatever else causes you to stick with the same films. But after falling into a rut of never watching new films and realising that there were so many classics that I’d never touched, I decided to expand my horizons. That’s when I happened upon a very well-known book titled 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, and I decided to take on the challenge.
It’s a book in which critics, journalists and academics select 1,001 films they think you must watch as a filmgoer – these films are a mix of culturally important, fun or interesting, and there’s a selection of genuine crowd pleasers in the mix too. These date from the birth of cinema to the modern day, and the list is revised most years to include the most significant releases of the past 12 months (as a result, if you check out the list on Letterboxd, the total is now around 1,300).
I printed out a copy of the list years back (I think it was the 2017 edition), and went through it, crossing off everything I’d seen. This amounted to around 170 films at the time (I’ve since seen another 100, according to Letterboxd), and there were some giant gaps. If you’re doing it now, find the list on Letterboxd, since you can filter it in terms of decades, genres, countries of origin, etc., and see what you’re missing!
If you’re struggling for something to watch, check out the list and give an unfamiliar film a go
It was simply a matter of trying new films – if I had a spare night with time to kill, I’d pick a film off the list and give it a go. My biases tended to get in the way, and so I’d incline towards horror films and westerns (exactly the kind of stuff I’d be watching anyway). That said, I’ve still experienced some right crackers, including High Noon and The Ox-Bow Incident. I know a lot of film scholars on Twitter, so I’d put up polls and let them choose from a random selection – that way, I saw Robert Mitchum’s terrifying turn in The Night of the Hunter and the German classic Pandora’s Box. And sometimes, of course, the films just happen to be on, as they were with my first viewing of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Although I’m enjoying the process, I know that there will be some bumps to come. I barely touch war films, and so watching some of those will be painful. I don’t like long films or fantasy, but I know that the Lord of the Rings will eventually come up, and I will try it. I’ve sat through and really enjoyed films I never expected I would and have been able to appreciate the ones I didn’t like, so none of these watches have been a waste. I’m seeing so much more cinema, from different decades and nations and genres, and it’s proving a fantastic learning experience. If you’re struggling for something to watch, check out the list and give an unfamiliar film a go – who knows, you may find your new favourite.