Some movies, such as Star Wars, try to be as timeless as possible in their music, costumes, and sets. That way, they can be enjoyed by audiences for generation after generation and never get old.
Other films aim for a more contemporary approach. They embrace the culture of the moment and yet even after a few decades they still have a huge appeal because their stories are universally accessible and their dated qualities offer a snapshot of what life was like back then. They transcend their outmoded qualities and become something more than the sum of their parts.
Let’s take a look at eight of these timeless yet dated classics:
1. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
1982 was a gentler time, when kids sat around a table and played “Dungeons & Dragons” instead of going online, kids learned their vocabulary on a Speak and Spell toy instead of a tablet, and the suburbs were a novelty just waiting to be exploited in a film like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.
Yes, the technology in this film is behind the times, but it actually highlights the core problem of the film (E.T. getting home) to a modern audience even better than it originally did. We see how hard it must be to fashion an interstellar communication device out of such crude and obsolete equipment.
The friendship between Elliot and E.T. is one of the best things ever put to film, and that sense of childhood innocence and determination never gets old.
Travel to “the not-too-distant future” where people’s genes determine their fate, genetic manipulation is rampant, space travel is commonplace, and yet no one has figured out how to go paperless. Seriously, a woman goes to some kind of gene/bank teller and asks for an analysis of a hair she picked up and she gets a stack of papers in return. It may have looked impressive to audiences in 1997, but now it comes across as silly when basically all data can be transmitted digitally. And why is it that people going on a voyage across the solar system wear business suits like they’re heading to the office?
But little oddities like these don’t matter because Gattaca isn’t really about technology or space travel. It’s about a man who courageously defies an unfair system and beats the odds to achieve his dreams. The struggle between two brothers, one supposedly inferior to the other, isn’t solved by some battle of wits or anything involving technology, but a race to see who can swim the farthest from shore before turning back. And the “inferior” brother’s winning strategy has universal appeal: he doesn’t save any strength for the return swim.
Every James Bond movie is a product of its time. The Cold War was a big part of most of the entries from 1962 to 1987. 1989’s License to Kill had South American drug dealers, then GoldenEye dealt with sexism, political correctness, and other issues that were thrust to the forefront of our collective consciousness in the ‘90s. And so on.
1964’s Goldfinger is a unique entry in the series. Sure, it has its cringe-worthy moments (when Bond slaps a woman’s rear) and its outlandish technology (the laser and Oddjob’s razor-sharp hat). But this movie also has some of the most iconic and timeless moments of the series, like Bond pulling off his dry suit to reveal the immaculate tuxedo underneath, the suspenseful “interrogation” scene where Goldfinger tells Bond he doesn’t expect him to talk but simply to die, and the brutal fistfight between Bond and Oddjob in Fort Knox. This movie pushed the Bond series into the mainstream and it is still one of the most entertaining films in that series, no matter how old it gets.
4. The Karate Kid (1984)
Half of the original Karate Kid’s soundtrack is made up of nostalgic ‘80s tunes and the other half has a timeless Asian quality. Both are terrific in their own way. Who doesn’t come out of this movie singing, “You’re the best… around! No one’s ever gonna keep you down!”
This movie is daring enough to throw in the line when Daniel lets his girlfriend drive his classic car, “Sure, this is the ‘80s!” That instantly dates the movie, but it can be forgiven because the rest of the movie is so perfect. A kid trying to find his place in a new school, falling in love with a cute girl, suffering at the hands of a gang of bullies, and learning from a wise mentor how to overcome his problems. All of this adds up to an awesome experience that is both relatable and mythical at the same time.
5. Planet of the Apes (1968)
The original Planet of the Apes is a monument to great ‘60s filmmaking. It’s got crazy zooms to emphasize shocking moments, a bizarre soundtrack, and heavy-handed metaphors of religious zealotry, scientific progress, class warfare, and racial strife. At one point, the main character even tells a put-upon young ape, “Remember, never trust anybody over 30.”
But for all of its hippie sensibilities, Planet of the Apes still manages to weave together a gripping story of one man’s struggle to survive in an alien environment. The makeup effects hold up quite well; I never find myself thinking of the apes as actors in costumes. And this movie has one of the most famous twist endings of all time.
The first Rocky film has everything you could possibly want from an underdog drama story – a likable hero, a shy but supportive love interest, amazing supporting actors, a perfect ending, and so much more. But it definitely has its aspects that haven’t aged particularly well.
“Gonna Fly Now” may be the quintessential Rocky theme song, but man is it dated. However, when you hear that song, you don’t think about disco or how synthesized it sounds. Instead, you think of Rocky Balboa triumphantly running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. That music and that visual are inseparable. All of Rocky’s outdated qualities can either be overlooked or seen as part of the film’s charm.
7. The Ten Commandments (1956)
The production design, costumes, special effects, dialogue, music, and themes all scream 1950s. And yet Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments is arguably the best Biblical film ever made. It takes liberties with the source material that only add to the film’s drama and its central theme of freedom vs. oppression, such as the addition of the love triangle between Moses, Nefretiri, and Rameses, Moses killing an Egyptian to save Joshua instead of an unnamed Israelite, and so forth.
The film’s obvious stand against Soviet communism might seem antiquated at first. But when you realize that communism is just one form of oppression that the world has been grappling with over the millennia, you realize that this really is a timeless message for the ages.
8. The Towering Inferno
The first half of The Towering Inferno keeps reminding us that it’s set during the ‘70s. The carpets and walls are that weird orange color that seemed so prominent back then, the costumes are a bit old-fashioned, the cars are big and boxy, and the movie’s Oscar-nominated song “We May Never Love Like This Again” is not exactly on par with “Let It Go.”
But once the fire breaks out, all of those minor details are quickly forgotten. No one cares what color the carpets and walls were now that they’re engulfed in flames, the costumes get darkened and disheveled, the fire trucks look a lot like the ones we have today, and the music shifts to a more suspenseful tone and away from the groovy love themes.
Can’t Beat the Classics
Some of these movies have been remade in an attempt to update their old-fashioned special effects and/or story elements. But those remakes generally miss the point. These movies aren’t classics in spite of their outdated qualities, but because they embody a certain mentality of the era they sprung from.
We can watch them today with our own insights into how history has played out, and we can have fun seeing how these films compare to what we’re used to now. And I’m sure audiences far into the future will continue to do the same with these and many other timeless yet outdated classic films.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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Hi! Another great write! Your second criticism of Gattaca was what I thought was a genius of the film. Kind of like the use of Mustang cars to represent space ships in Alphaville. (I’m not a huge fan of Alphaville, its just a ferinstence…;>) They could convey the idea of space travel without spending a nickel on special sets and costumes because, as you say, the themes and ideas were much bigger than the details. They let me know that they were getting on a spaceship, so, ok, they’re getting on a spaceship! I didn’t have to see what happened once they went through the door at the top of the ramp. The basic simplicity of the sets enhanced the story and zillions of dollars of costumes, props, & special effects wouldn’t have added a thing. May have actually been a distraction. Beatle songs are the same way, there is a simplicity to the thing that makes me go “Why didn’t I think of that!”.
Oh, also, I was predisposed to like Gattaca because Ernie Borgnine was the janitor. They could’ve had a shark jumping contest & I still would’ve loved it. ;>)
I just watched “The Jazz Singer” for the first time and, until the blackface, it felt like a rock & roll story from the 60s. Who knew that teenagers were rebellious in 1920? Here’s a movie that is dated in the extreme but the dilemma facing Jakie is every bit as real and relevant today as ever.
Well, sorry for the length, I enjoy your insights! keep ’em coming!
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