The Movies That Define Each Generation

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I recently started a podcast called Political Punks. The idea was born from this column I wrote for several months ago. My cohost is DC and Marvel comic book artist Brett Smith. He also happens to be a movie expert. It seems every conversation with him ends with me adding another movie to my watch list. (Among them: Mad Max, High Plains Drifter, Conan the Barbarian, Five Easy Pieces, Return of the Jedi, and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure).

One of the topics on our upcoming podcast this week is movies that define each generation. In making my picks, I didn’t look at the most popular movie among people of a certain generation. Instead, I thought about that generation’s experiences and attitudes and identified a popular movie that came out during that time period.

Generation time periods can be defined differently, so for the purpose of this article I’m going by the ages listed in this recent study.

Silent Generation

The Silent Generation is between the ages of 70-87. They’ve seen remarkable world and technological changes in their lifetimes. Though appreciative of the advancements, they’re still slightly nostalgic for the past. They are The Wizard of Oz (1939), experiencing life from black and white to Technicolor.   Like those on a Kansas farm, they associate a successful life with hard work and self-reliance. When I think of some of the popular lines from The Wizard of Oz they sound like pearls of wisdom from any grandmother named Pearl or grandfather named Earl.

For twenty-three years, I’ve been dying to tell you what I thought of you! And now… well, being a Christian woman, I can’t say it! 

Well, some people without brains do an awful lot of talking don’t they?

Baby Boomers

The definitive movie of the Baby Boomer generation is The Big Chill (1983). It was written to be. My cohost Brett notes, “Larry Kasdan, who wrote Return of the Jedi, Silverado and Wyatt Earp, is a great writer, but I think it’s a bit presumptuous to pay homage to your generation with a film when you are barely into your 40s. Oh, the hubris.”

It’s no surprise that Baby Boomers (those between 51 and 69) are most likely to identify with their generational label given their penchant to be so self-centered. Perhaps it helps them avoid comparing their accomplishments to the generation before them that eradicated totalitarianism. The Big Chill is filled with labels and stereotypes – tortured veteran/druggie, tortured feminist lawyer, tortured actor, tortured writer, tortured mother.

When college friends gather after the suicide of another friend from the group, we learn that while everyone is shocked by Alex’s suicide, they all move on rather quickly so they can unload their own baggage. They feel guilty about their success, but long for the life they thought they deserved.

The successful sitcom actor whines, “In Hollywood, I don’t know who to trust. I don’t know who likes me or why they even do like me.”

Alex’s much younger “widowed” girlfriend, Chloe, tells the group of tortured Baby Boomers, “[Alex] said we made a good couple because I had no expectations and he had too many.”

Who but Baby Boomers would expect the guarantee of a happy and fulfilling life? Though unlike their Millennial spawn, at least they were willing to put work into it.

Generation X

I am a proud Gen Xer. I fully admit that this article is biased. I’ve made it no secret that I’m done with Boomer politicians. Despite Gen Xers and Millennials making up a majority of workers, Boomers hold the largest percentage of federal government (non-military) jobs in DC (40%).

You might expect me to pick a John Hughes movie for Gen Xers. While many are certainly classics, there is a non-Hughes movie that I think best represents the current attitude of Gen Xers – Risky Business. Many of us raised ourselves, so why not a movie where the parents are absent?

When Joel’s parents leave for the weekend, his friend convinces him to have some fun. He tells Joel, “Every now and then you have to say ‘What the f—?’ ‘What the f—?’ gives you freedom. Freedom brings opportunity.”

Gen Xers didn’t seek out comfortable government jobs or corporate jobs. We wanted to make our own opportunities. The highest number (55%) of start-up founders come from Generation X. We are about making our own opportunities. Think of the scene in Risky Business in which Joel and his friend decide to take his father’s Porsche out for a spin. When some other kids pull up next to them in an older, less impressive car, one of them yells to Joel, “A couple of boys in daddy’s car!”

I image that’s the exact moment Joel (and others watching) realized that having a car that’s your own is so much sweeter than driving a nicer car. In this respect, Gen Xers are a lot closer to the Silent Generation in their attitudes. Those in both generations prefer what is real and earned to what is easy.


A note to all of those sensitive Millennials who consider everything a microaggression: I’m not talking about you, but those other Millennials.

I had to Google popular Millennial movies to confirm I actually new a few to pull from. My suspicions about their distorted view of themselves were confirmed. Among the movies Millennials said most represented their generation were The Hunger Games, The Social Network, The Avengers, and The Wolf of Wall Street. Seriously? They couldn’t be more different from the heroes in these movies.

If we ever need to fill time on our Political Punks show, all I need to do is bring up the M-word with my cohost. On Millennials and their choice of movies, he told me, “They want to be seen as those heroes, but without actually incorporating the qualities and effort of the heroes into their own lives. Millennials are phony. Most of the time they’re like a bunch of academics who never ventured outside the classroom to actually produce or do something where there was risk involved.”

So, what movie do I think represents Millennials? Well, it has to be one that values inclusion above all else, shirks responsibility, values personal choices above the safety of others, and has the emotional range of a maudlin teenager. So, the Twilight series. It makes sense – Millennials have exchanged the vampire coffins for the hip tiny houses and smart cars.

Isabella, the main female character in the movie, allows her emotions to control her. Like the Millennials who experience 27 microagressions a day, every decision is based on feelings, not facts. Take this exchange between Twilight’s characters:

Isabella Swan: It’s like diamonds… you’re beautiful.

Edward Cullen: Beautiful? This is the skin of a killer, Bella… I’m a killer.

Isabella Swan: I don’t believe that.

Edward Cullen: That’s because you believe only the lies… the camouflage. I’m the world’s most dangerous predator, Bella. Every thing about me invites you in. My voice, my face, even my smell. As if I would need any of that… as if you could out run me… as if you could fight me off. I’m designed to kill.

Isabella Swan: I don’t care.

Edward Cullen: I’ve killed people before.

Isabella Swan: It does not matter.

But despite my cynical, Gen Xer attitude, I do have hope for Millennials. As they move closer to marriage and starting a family, they’ll (hopefully) realize that the world doesn’t revolve around them and their feelings. Also, their parental safety net won’t be around forever. Another thing that gives me hope? A recent study found that only 40% of Millennials embrace that label. So, perhaps they’re self-aware enough to know the label doesn’t have the best reputation.


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