When I finish watching great films like The Godfather or The Deer Hunter, I feel like my mind has enjoyed a sumptuous meal. I’m completely satisfied, and I don’t feel the need to return to them and consume any more for a long time.
And then there are other amazing films like The Fugitive, WarGames, and Aliens. The moment the end credits roll on these films, I am both contented and hungry for more. I could watch them again right then and there, and I have on several occasions. Something about them draws me back in so that I’m never completely satisfied, but in a good way.
You probably have a list of films you can never get enough of, and it’s probably different than mine. What makes these movies endlessly rewatchable? I’ll answer this question based on the movies I love, so I won’t claim that it’s true for everyone.
First, a Clarification
When I say that a movie is endlessly rewatchable, I’m not talking about its complexity. This doesn’t come from a desire to discover all of the hidden details and Easter eggs that went unnoticed the first time through, as is the case with pretty much every Christopher Nolan film. It’s intellectually stimulating to pick apart the deeper meanings behind films and to analyze them obsessively, but what I’m talking about here is the kind of movie that doesn’t need to have a lot of symbolism or anything like that. Even if it does, that’s not the main draw. There’s something else that calls to me and makes me yearn to revisit certain movies on a regular basis. Let’s find out what that is.
Highs and Lows
Endlessly rewatchable movies take me on an emotional rollercoaster that goes to epic highs and crushing lows. More than the ideas explored in them, what stays with me after watching them are the feelings I experienced. I associate powerful emotions with them, and I want to enjoy them time and time again. That’s certainly the case with animated works of art like Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Kung Fu Panda 2. I’m absolutely devastated by the scenes where Belle leaves the Beast on their big night and when the Beast dies, but the film more than makes up for them with the Beast’s transformation and triumphant return. And the scene where Po relives his childhood trauma and comes to terms with all the resulting tragedy and joy in his life is a wonder to behold.
I need to be completely invested in the characters, so that I find myself liking them. The Fugitive does a masterful job of making me feel sorry for Richard Kimble from the start and then root for him because he constantly does the right thing, even at the peril of his life. It also makes me love Samuel Gerard for a completely different reason. He is unwilling to compromise. He has a job to do, and he’s going to see it through to the end, no matter the cost. There’s something truly compelling about his brand of ruthlessness for the cause of justice, and that’s part of what makes it so satisfying when he has a change of heart and comes to care about Richard.
Characters Act Rationally
I never find myself getting angry or frustrated with the characters in these films because of the decisions they make. Everyone acts in a rational manner in accordance with the information they have. Although I know the many twists and turns that are coming in the story, I’m still along for the ride because I care about the characters and I want to see them make it through to the end. I’m never shouting at them to grow a brain or stop being foolish. They’re doing their best to make the most of a bad situation. Think John McClane, Hans Gruber, and Al Powell in Die Hard. Every side character has at least one moment to shine. And I know the police chief Dwayne T. Robinson gets a lot of flak, but the more I watch the film, the more I sympathize with him and understand that he has every reason to be skeptical of the situation and to react the way he does.
Never Gets Old
Whether it’s the jokes, character interactions, action set pieces, or anything else in the film, they always feel fresh and never get old. There’s a timeless quality to their execution so that even though special effects have improved and we can expect greater spectacle from films today, older films still retain a charm because so much effort went into making them possible. For example, the technology in WarGames is dated, but the human drama and the possibility of a worldwide catastrophe (not related to the Cold War) remains in the realm of possibility. Plus, the idea of talking to a computer is still a cool concept. And then there’s Aliens. The level of intensity of that film’s many action sequences might never be topped. It manages to sustain a sense of dread, suspense, and excitement longer than any other action film before or since.
Nails the Ending
None of these movies overstay their welcome. They come to a happy conclusion, and they quickly end. I can’t think of any movie I would put on this list that has a sad ending, but maybe some people prefer downers. For me, the ending has to be uplifting to make me want to relive the journey leading up to it. It’s important for the film to end soon after its climax so that I’m left wanting more, but it shouldn’t be too abrupt or I’ll miss out on the catharsis of seeing the characters enjoy the fruits of their labors. One movie that does this very well is Tron. We get to see the villain devastated and the heroes enriched in a couple of brilliant callback scenes at the end.
This has been an interesting exercise in trying to pin down exactly what it is that makes me want to forever return to certain films. Hopefully I’ve been able to capture the essence of what makes some films endlessly rewatchable. What are some movies you could watch numerous times and never get tired of?
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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