For today’s challenge, our writers ponder on the significance of the films that changed their lives.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)
Sure, there are a multitude of better movies I could’ve picked. Frankly, it was hard to choose. However, none have contributed more to my life than Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
As my entry to the ‘Harry Potter’ saga, I do not remember a time when I wasn’t obsessed with this world. Like so many of my age, I grew up with the characters, and the day they the screens almost felt surreal.
While reading the books deepened my love for this universe, the movies have been a constant in my life. I know most of them by heart (in two languages), have visited the studios in London and own not one but two Elder Wands. Growing up, I realized that this saga had become part of me. While my opinions about the characters changed drastically (yes, Snape deserves to rot in hell and Draco should’ve been redeemed), there was only one constant: I never stopped caring about them.
The first film is to credit for this. It captured the hopefulness of this story, of an underdog who finally found a place to call home. There is something eternally comforting about the final scene of Hagrid waving at the Hogwarts Express. If you are one of those rare few who has never seen or read Harry Potter (to my bafflement, such people still exist), you can make up for it. However, it will never quite be the same.
Because as the story drifts away from the person who created it, no tweet will ever replace what this first film has meant to me. From the friendships it has led me to form, to the simple joy of seeing a frizzy-haired girl on film (and yes, I am referring to Bellatrix), this film has given me too much for me not to put it on this list.
Back to the Future (1985)
Once upon a time when I was a wee lad, I was mere moments from inventing time travel. But then I decided to watch the movie Back to the Future with my dad. Upon watching it I realised the true dangers of time travel and my future endeavours could result in me no longer existing (which would be a tragedy for many I am sure). So, I gave up on my time machine and likely incredible wealth it would bring me, just going to show how powerful a movie can be.
Okay, yes that story might not be particularly true but Back to the Future is a great film and it has influenced some of my decisions over the years. It’s one of the best and most iconic science fiction films ever and when I first watched it, I instantly became obsessed with the epic time-traveling DeLorean. All the cool tech within the machine made me thinking “huh gadgets and gizmos are pretty neat”. Somewhere along the line, I think this film started getting me obsessed with technology and science and basically being a gigantic nerd. It’s a film apart of many that have helped navigate me towards my current career path. Will I invent time travel? Unlikely. But at least I now know how to turn a computer on.
The Kings of Summer (2013)
Three boys on the verge of adolescence decide to call it quits with the real word and their parents (played by the brilliant Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson), by running away to the forest and building their own home, with their own set of rules, all from scratch. Director Jordan-Vogt Roberts captures the trapped feeling that you can get growing up so well that it felt more like a 90 minute indie music video. You know that bit at the end of Call Me By Your Name (2017) that’s pure cinematographic magic and set to Sufjan Stevens ‘Mystery of Love’? That’s this whole goddamn film.
I stumbled across Kings of Summer when I was about 15 or 16, and really getting into film more than ever. The first episode of the Empire Podcast I listened to was with director Jordan Vogt-Roberts on Kong: Skull Island (2017) – up until then, film journalism was never a career I’d considered, let alone realised existed. Now it’s pretty much all I want to do. I’d never really been exposed to indie films either, I only really knew of blockbuster franchises where the box office ratings mattered more than the final product of the film itself. It was a weird awakening for me – having long decided my childhood dream career as an author was over, Kings of Summer made me realise that my future might actually be in films. I’ve since studied film, done academies with the BFI, and met my boyfriend writing about films at uni (although we often don’t agree on the ones to write about). Not to be really soppy but it has changed me. And if making a film like this meant Vogt-Roberts could go on to work with Tom Hiddleston…? Count me in.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
I found today’s task really hard as there are so many films that have affected me and my life in so many different ways. This film however had to be the one I featured as it is a film that perhaps changed me the most. Atticus Finch is defending a black man accused of the rape of a white girl in Alabama in 1932. This is no small task as he fights prejudice to do what is right. The most intriguing part of all this story is that it is told from the eyes of Scout, his young daughter, a perspective that is very hard to capture let alone in cinema. The reason this film changed me so much is the perspective, that no matter how small you are you can choose to do what is right. Thanks to Atticus Finch there was installed in me the belief that you could do anything no matter the pressures from society. Gregory Peck’s performance of Atticus did more than I ever thought could be done to embody this famous literary character, bringing to him the grace and integrity that is so beautifully written in the book. The adaptation from the book and the incredible casting of Scout endeared this film to me so much more; meaning that I’ve held it close throughout my life, letting it’s lessons guide me where they can.
Erin Brockovich (2000)
There are a lot of films that have inspired me throughout the years and helped me see a different perspective, there is The Help (2011), Hidden Figures (2016), Legally Blonde (2001), Good Will Hunting (1997), Spotlight (2015), and many more. And all these films sparked a drive within me and inspired me in more ways than one. From never giving up, to having a wider perspective and knowledge of the world. But one that has always inspired me and drives me is Erin Brockovich.
Erin Brockovich starring Julia Roberts is a dramatisation of the true story of Erin Brockovich. Erin, a single mother, gets a job as a legal assistant and comes across a case against energy corporation Pacific Gas and Electric, in which she discovers the company has been poisoning a city’s water supply, resulting in residents getting sick. So, she goes out to expose injustice and fight for clean water.
I first watched Erin Brockovich in my A-Level business class when we were looking at the ethics of a business. Even though we were supposed to be focusing on the morals and ethics of the energy corporation involved in the story I couldn’t help but focus on the character and drive of Erin.
The biographical film is a masterpiece. From Julia Robert’s outstanding portrayal of Erin to the story-telling of a woman who never gave up, didn’t take no for an answer and fought for fairness, justice, and unveiling the truth. It was her story that inspired me as a young 17-year-old girl to not give up my determination and drive.
The Hunger Games (2012)
I’ve always been a fan of films and go to the cinema pretty frequently (until recent times, because, y’know) but a film that really genuinely changed me was The Hunger Games.
To set the scene: I was 12, a Tumblr girl and therefore the perfect target for a YA film and book series. The effect that The Hunger Games had on me was immense. I loved the characters, I loved the world, I loved ripoff Battle Royale (2000) for teens. The love triangle of Katniss, Peeta and Gale? It destroyed me. I was blown away by it to such an extent that the day after I watched the film I bought all three books and some embarrassing merchandise from HMV, including some stickers I still have in a drawer because stickers stress me out. What if I didn’t like where I put Peeta’s face? Oh, to be 12 again.
The Hunger Games revived my love for reading (which has sadly died at the hands of the education system) and it was the YA series that followed me through my teens. I would wait for the trailers, I would watch livestreams of the world premieres, and I forced my family to see them all on the opening days. I literally watched the world premiere livestream of Mockingjay Part 2 (2015) in the middle of a field on Bonfire Night. The dedication was real.
I think the appeal of The Hunger Games was that it starred a female protagonist who was strong-willed and honestly quite terrifying. She wasn’t this perfect teen made by a man (cough, John Green). Katniss was flawed and full of trauma, and we all rooted for her. Many YA franchises tried to exist after The Hunger Games phenomenon, but little stood a chance. It’s quite weird how the series was such a giant thing in pop culture, yet it’s barely spoken about now. However, the lasting impression it had on me and the way it shaped me through my teens is unforgettable.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
When I saw that day 20 was a film that changed your life, I barely even had to give it any thought. Dead Poets Society popped into my head instantly, and I didn’t even question it. Directed by Peter Weir, this movie is set in a boarding school, and follows a group of boys as they get a new English professor, played by the incredible Robin Williams. He stirs them up with his strange teaching methods, and gets them excited about learning again.
I first watched this before I came to university, in an unsettled point in my life. So first and foremost, this film reminded me why I wanted to study English, and pursue becoming a writer. For three years now, I have had Professor Keating’s quote up on my wall: “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” If I ever need a little push, this film does that for me. I also just find Dead Poets Society to be absolutely beautiful. And that applies to how it is shot, the cinematography, the acting and the plot. It’s a coming of age tale like no other. People have often claimed that the ending let it down. Though it did make me cry (a lot), the ending makes sense to me. It’s just the right amount of dramatic that fits with a film all about poetry, Shakespeare and teenage-hood. It’s heartbreaking, but it represents a larger message. I will love Neil Perry until my dying day.
Dead Poets Society is one of the first films that left me speechless, and in complete awe at what cinema is able to achieve. It has inspired me endlessly, and one of the main reasons I’m so into film today.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
Portrait of a Lady on Fire somehow filled a piece within me that I didn’t know I was missing; it makes my heart literally and painfully ache, like it’s been chewed into a hundred tiny pieces and then lovingly spat back out again.
I went to see this three times in the cinema (it would’ve been countless more if it weren’t for l*ckdown), and I must have looked so emotionally wrecked afterwards that strangers on the street actually asked if I was ok. Visually, sonically, lyrically beautiful in every possible way, Céline Sciamma has made here a masterpiece, and honestly the most exquisite portrayal of love I have ever seen on screen.
It feels like my little queer heart had been subconsciously waiting to watch Portrait of a Lady on Fire my whole life, and so when I finally could, it was nothing short of heartbreakingly perfect.
“do all lovers feel they’re inventing something?”
Do you ever find yourself staring out the window in a car, zoning out and watching the scenery move around you…the trees, the houses, thinking about everything and anything. It’s a beautifully hypnotic experience and that’s exactly what watching a Portrait of a Lady on Fire is like. This film was so brilliantly hypnotic that I’m honestly a different, better, person since watching it.
Director Celine Sciamma packs every frame of this film with tangible emotion, all without a manipulative score. Music is used so sparingly that when it is used, it means so much more than just a backdrop. We know exactly what to feel at all times, purely on the merit of the leads’ magnetic performances and the beautiful cinematography. Adele Haenel’s facial expressions in particular are so captivating, she gives an incredible performance. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is remarkable in its simplicity; a fairytale, a love story. How was this, Parasite and The Lighthouse allowed out in the same year?
Watching this film changed me in a way that is difficult to describe…my body is still visibly shaken, I didn’t breathe for the last few minutes and I don’t think I’ve been this moved by a film in years. The emotional toll this film takes on you is almost damaging. You know a film has changed you if you find yourself thinking about it days after watching, if you find yourself still hurting, still crying over that ONE scene (or maybe the last TWO scenes). The last shot alone still haunts me now. THIS is cinema at its finest.
Last modified: 4th May 2020