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Which Oscar Movies Have Pop Culture Staying Power?

Last night Slumdog Millionaire became the 81st movie to win the Academy’s award for Best Picture. That solidifies its place in history, doesn’t it? Not so fast. It solidifies its place on the Academy’s list of past best picture winners page, but becoming a movie that sticks around with us, means something, becomes a permanent part of our cultural consciousness takes something else. Winning an Oscar is great, but what really matters is the movies we’ll still be talking about and thinking about ten, twenty, and thirty years from now. Will anyone remember Slumdog Millionaire when it comes time for the 2019 Oscars? When we’re talking about the great movies of 2009 in the year 2029, will Slumdog Millionaire, or for that matter any of the year’s other Oscar contenders even be mentioned?

In 1998 Shakespeare in Love won Best Picture, beating out Saving Private Ryan. Even now, eleven years later, how many people have actually seen Shakespeare in Love? Or of those who have seen it, how many actually remember it? Very few. It’s Saving Private Ryan that has made its mark as the most significant film of that crop of nominees. When people talk about 1998, they talk about movies like Ryan, The Big Lebowski, Blade, Dark City, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Gods and Monsters, Rushmore, The Truman Show, and The Wedding Singer. Almost none of those movies were even nominated.

Sometimes though, the Academy gets it right. Titanic won in 1997 and like it or not, it’s a permanent part of the cultural landscape. No one is every going to forget Schindler’s List, which won in 1993. But for every Schindler there’s an English Patient or an Out of Africa gummed up in the mix; movies which caught some strange, momentary trade wind which gusted at just the right moment, and then quickly blew itself out.

So which of this year’s crop of Oscar movies are most likely to be remembered? Which will we have forgotten about, a mere decade from now? Which is destined to become a cultural landmark, a movie we’ll keep watching with our friends or showing to our kids for years to come. Here’s my prognostication. Check back a decade from now to see how wrong I was.



It’s based on a real life figure, who meant a lot to a lot of people. That’s always a longevity bonus. Perhaps even more importantly, where its endurance is concerned, Milk is about a guy fighting for the very civil rights which remain such a heavy point of contention today. The fight for gay equality isn’t going to be over any time soon, and as long as there’s still a battle to be fought people will remember Harvey Milk, and when people think of Harvey Milk, they’ll think of Milk. Sean Penn’s biopic is here to stay, as significant in cinematic pop culture as Harvey himself was in the fight for gay rights.

The Dark Knight

Look, a movie doesn’t make more than a billion dollars worldwide and then just fade away. But even without the box office, The Dark Knight is almost unquestionably the greatest superhero movie ever made. That’s something people will be talking about and debating on geek-ridden message boards from here to eternity. It’s also the last, complete film of a much loved, gone too soon performer. You can’t talk about Heath Ledger without talking about his turn as the Joker. The Dark Knight isn’t just certain to be remembered, it’s destined become something of a shared, cultural touchstone. Whether or not it won Best Picture, it’s the one 2008 movie which everyone will remember, forever.

Vicky Christina Barcelona

Woody Allen’s movies, his good ones anyway, have a way of hanging around. Vicky Christina Barcelona isn’t just one of his good ones, it’s one of his best ones in a long career of very good movies. In particular it stands out, coming as it does, in the twilight of Woody’s career when the quality of his films has lagged and his abilities seem to have lost consistency. Put up against Scoop for instance, Vicky Christina looks goddamn brilliant. It’s Woody Allen and it’s pretty good. Vicky Christina Barcelona will come up over and over and over again any time someone wants to justify Woody’s continued existence. His fans aren’t going to let you forget it.

Tropic Thunder

No brainer. Robert Downey Jr. played an Australian in blackface and I’m sorry there’s just no way to forget that shot of Jack Black pulling a pistol out of his underpants It’s a movie packed with unforgettable moments from huge, massive named stars like Tom Cruise and Matthew McConaughey. When people talk Tom Cruise, they’ll talk Les Grossman and when people talk Robert Downey Jr. they’ll talk about that time he played a dude disguised as a dude playing another dude. It’s a movie too outrageous to go away; filled with actors who on their own, whether we want them or not, are a permanent part of American pop culture. Now, go get drunk and take credit at all the parties.


Pixar movies stand the test of time. They’re instant classics. WALL-E’s going right up on your shelf along with Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Cars and The Incredibles. Besides, even if you hate it you know your kids are going to want to watch it… over and over and over and over again. And when they get older their kids will want to watch it, and they’ll bring it over to Grandma and Grandpa’s house where they’ll watch it over and over and over again. I hope you liked WALL-E, because this little robot is moving in.

Kung Fu Panda

DreamWorks films aren’t the instant classics that Pixar’s have been. Shrek’s star for instance, is already fading and falling off the map of our cultural consciousness. But unlike most of DreamWorks’ other movies, Kung Fu Panda is timeless. It tells a classic story built on the foundation of familiar archetypes, and it does it without dated Paris Hilton references or more than one or two jokes about farting. Kids born 20 years from now will still get it, and because of that it’ll stick around just as long as the year’s other great animated movies will. Skadoosh!


Another amazing kid’s movie. These are really a given. 2008 gave us three, fantastic animated movies which children in need of entertainment will keep alive for a very, very long time. Sure maybe they’ll watch Space Chimps too, but movies like Bolt, WALL-E, and Kung Fu Panda are good enough that when these kids get older they’ll still enjoy them, and then in turn show them to their kids allowing these great animated films a second, third, and fourth life as they’re watched over and over in people’s homes with the kind of regularity no other type of movie could ever hope to achieve. Now might be a good time to buy stock in Disney.


Slumdog Millionaire

Danny Boyle’s movies have a way of being forgotten. Anyone remember Sunshine? Millions? Hey I liked that one that had zombies in it. If Slumdog Millionaire is going to stick around in our cultural consciousness, then the cult-like, devoted fervor which has sprung up around its supporters will have to endure. Will it seem as joyous, celebratory, and uplifting in better times or is it simply the product of people in tough times looking for a light at the end of the tunnel? Without bankable stars to stick around and remind us of their resume or anything else about it which stands out, Slumdog will need ardent supporters if anyone is going to remember it more than a year or two from now.


Why re-watch Frost/Nixon when you can simply pop in a DVD and watch the real interview? I wouldn’t be surprised to see Frost/Nixon find new life in high school classrooms, shown alongside Glory and PG-13 movies about the holocaust, but unless you’re a teacher I can’t think of any reason why anyone might ever mention this movie again. Yeah we saw it. Yeah we liked it. That Frank whatshisname guy was good. Hey did you hear he’s in the next Superman?

The Wrestler

I can easily see myself re-watching The Wrestler, but it’s a film defined by one, singular performance. Maybe if Mickey Rourke actually achieves the comeback everyone keeps talking about, then we’ll look back on The Wrestler years from now as the movie that launched it all. But if he doesn’t, it’s easy to imagine this one slipping by the wayside, especially when compared about the riskier, more controversial, discussion-worthy movies on director Darren Aronofsky’s IMDB page. Everyone can nod their head and agree that The Wrestler was nice, but fanboys will argue the merits of pairing Jennifer Connelly with a double dildo in Requiem till the end of time.


The Visitor

I loved The Visitor but it’s a quiet, little low-key movie starring a quiet, low-key actor who has made his way in this world by not being noticed. Richard Jenkins has shunned notoriety in favor of simply showing up and delivering brilliant performances his entire career and The Visitor is a reflection of his place in this world. He’ll forever be the guy who nobody remembers and The Visitor is, unfortunately, already all but forgotten.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Benjamin Button might have made a case for itself by winning something significant at the Oscars, but technical achievements alone aren’t enough to earn a three hour movie which nobody seems to like a permanent place on the bookshelf of pop-culture immortality. Besides, it’s basically just Forest Gump, and the world really only had one opening for a movie about a peculiar guy wandering the world and getting involved in mildly interesting adventures. Nobody’s likely to name a seafood restaurant after Brad Pitt’s creepy, wizened old man.


The pedophile priest movie has never been done better than this, but it’s a genre so cluttered with entries it’s almost a cliché. Will Doubt still stand out from the pack 20 years from now? I doubt it. Will the presence of Meryl Streep make it memorable? Have you seen her resume? By Meryl Streep standards it’s barely a blip. It doesn’t exactly help that it didn’t win at the game of Oscar either. Good though it is, Doubt is probably all but forgotten. Put it in that stack over there, next to the equally excellent Kevin Bacon movie which no one remembers, The Woodsman.

The Reader

It may be one of the worst reviewed and least watched movies ever nominated for Best Picture. No one can remember it if they haven’t seen it and they’re certainly not going to keep talking about it and sharing it with their friends over the years to come, if they don’t even like it. The Reader is dead on arrival. At least Kate Winslet finally got her much deserved Oscar out of it.


It’s not even the most memorable Clint Eastwood movie this year (that nod goes to Gran Torino), it’s just the one that, for some inexplicable reason, got consideration from Oscar. Eastwood, Jolie, and everyone involved in it has done better work and in the coming years we’re all certain to spend our time reliving those movies instead.

Rachel Getting Married

Jonathan Demme’s film is unique, beautiful, and underappreciated. It earned Anne Hathaway a much deserved Best Actress nomination, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the kind of movie I plan to foist on my friends for years to come… unfortunately I’ll probably be the only one pushing it. In the minds of most people this is yet another film defined by a single performance. Anne Hathaway will go on to bigger and better things propelled by the serious acting momentum she got from Rachel while the film itself, will be left by the wayside.

Revolutionary Road

Like The Reader and Benjamin Button it never seemed all that well liked by anyone outside of awards voters. It takes a special kind of forgetability for a movie re-pairing the dynamic Titanic duo of Kate and Leo to be passed over by mainstream audiences, but Revolutionary Road is that movie. If the world was going to sit up and take notice, it would have happened by now. No Oscar wins and almost no buzz among the average moviegoer means Revolutionary Road is on the road to cultural irrelevance. Sorry Kate & Leo, it was fun while it lasted.