Never seen a film? Here's where to start

Our writers discuss their film recommendations they'd show to someone who has never seen a film before

multiple writers
23rd June 2020
Image Credit: IMDB

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

The Night of the Hunter is an expressionistic masterpiece that flirts with genre before disregarding it entirely in pursuit of its own twisted idiosyncratic vision. It’s an intrinsically cinematic rendering of the 1953 novel of the same title that encapsulates so much of what film really is; a doorway into another world that lifts you way up into the clouds and refuses to let you down. Inspired by the silent era and German experimental filmmaking of the 1920s, the ostensibly simple narrative set along the banks of the Ohio river follows a spurious preacher’s quest to find a sum of money in the possession of the Harper family. A summation of the plot only goes so far, however, as its brilliance lies in the visual originality and eccentricity that oozes from every shot. Moreover, the picture is groundbreakingly innovative and daringly ambitious in its synthesis of film’s stylistic history, and its rebuttal of accepted themes and morals in the studio system. 

Image Credit: IMDB

The release tells a tale of Hollywood also, echoing Orwellian undertones in its treatment of Charles Laughton, who was banished to directorial monogamy after the critical and commercial failure that surrounded the picture. It’s unfathomable to think Laughton never made another film, but worryingly predictable. So often have the creatives tirelessly fought against an industry overwhelmingly focused on margins rather than masterworks, and so regularly have they lost. The Night of the Hunter not only weaves an endlessly enchanting and frequently terrifying tale of good and evil in West Virginia, but its turbulent life acts as a metaphor for much of Hollywood’s treatment of art, and the artists behind it. 

Geordie Rivett-Carnac

The Truman Show (1998)

We live in a world where traditional films, with the exception of massive franchises, are on the decrease, and I think there’s a real chance that in 10, maybe 20 years’ time, there might be people in this country who have never seen a film. Ridiculous as it sounds, the rise of reality television has been so dramatic, that it might one day dwarf cinema as an industry and a medium of art.

For this reason, I would show definitely chose to show people The Truman Show. Not only does it uniquely criticise our culture of fetishizing stupidity and human conflict, and the cruel, exploitative medium through which this is conducted, but it does so without being preachy. The condemnation is not directed at the viewers, but their role in propagating the Truman Show is clear. They might cheer for his freedom, but they endorsed his imprisonment and torment.

Image Credit: IMDB

It’s also a really good film. Carrey is wasted as a slapstick comic, his performance as Truman is heart-breaking and joyous in equal measure, a feat very few actors can achieve. The jokes and characterization are really funny, and the premise, while haunting when the film was released, has aged like a fine wine, becoming more and more socially relevant as time goes on. The use of adverts weirdly predicts product placement in movies today.

The aesthetics are beautiful as well; in the scenes when the cast search for Truman, the German shepherds, tunnelling and searchlights are somewhat reminiscent of concentration camps. Truman’s mad abandon against the storm is a wonderful portrayal of the fight for freedom, and the human capacity to overcome obstacles.

Everything about The Truman Show is fantastic, and it was probably the first serious film I ever watched, as we studied it in Year Four (I’ve never worked out why – I went to a strange school). I never get over the feeling I had the first time I watched it, and since it’s due to be released on Netflix soon, I can’t wait to experience it all over again.

Alex Walker

Toy Story (1995)

As someone who is extremely passionate about film tasked with the responsibility of showing the power of films to someone who has never seen a film before, it's almost impossible to pick just one film. Are they a classic lover, someone who loves a little bit of action or perhaps maybe a thriller? We simply don't know yet. So, given the chance, I would have to introduce this somebody to the world of animation and Pixar with Toy Story (1995).

Image Credit: IMDB

Toy Story is a film that everyone loves and can get their teeth into no matter their age - 2 year olds, 12 year olds, adults, you name it. It perfectly blends all the genres together with a lil bit of comedy, action and drama all in one film. Filled with memorable characters, undeniably brilliant songs, groundbreaking special effects, Toy Story has a heart to it that will make anyone fall in love with the world of animation and the world of Pixar, setting up this somebody for a film journey that will undoubtedly change them forever.

Toy Story was also Pixar's film debut, thus having a historical significance and impact as the film is not only enjoyable but transformed the entire animation industry, setting a whole new standard for the genre with its incredibly original, innovative form of storytelling. Toy Story is filled to the brim with passion, originality and creativity, teaching this somebody what film is all about: the heart and soul of the characters, the themes and the production.

Most importantly, there are three more films which will excellently introduce this somebody to the idea that film sequels SUCK and should never be made from day 1 (trust me it will come in handy when we get to the Star Wars saga).

Lucy Lillystone

Inception (2010)

So, you come across someone who, somehow, has never watched a film. Be that they are an alien, someone from the past or someone living in a bunker since birth, they have never watched a motion picture. Of course, you must take them under your wing like a lost child and educate them, but where do you start? Well I think you should start with a bang. Choose something that is big, exciting and shows how you can accomplish anything with a film but also something that could only ever be accomplished on film. And what better film than Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010).

Image Credit: IMDB

Everything in this film works to bring you in not just to the film, but cinema in general. From its awesome premise, visuals, and cast to the epic action sequences, Inception hardly lets up throughout its runtime which is exactly what you want for a cinema virgin. You want their experience to be engaging from start to finish and don’t want them to lose interest halfway through and start playing flappy bird on their phone. Inception will do just that, everything about it will keep your eyes glued to the screen, and if all goes according to plan spark a love of cinema that may even rival my own.

George Bell

Mary Poppins (1964)

Now I know what you're thinking. Why, out of all the movies in the world would I show someone who has never seen a film before the 1964 Disney classic Mary Poppins? Am I trying to scare them off with Dick Van Dyke's 'Step in Time'? Well, not deliberately. Although don't blame me if they do get scared off. Because if you think about it - Mary Poppins is four genres rolled into one; musical, animation, drama and fantasy. There's even political themes discussed, since Mrs Banks is part of the suffragette protests. It's one of the films I really grew up with, and proves just how diverse and imaginative cinema can be, never-mind the fact it helped revolutionise the film industry by using animation and live action in the same scenes together. Sure, the penguins don't smile and wave, but they're cool enough for me.

Image Credit: IMDB

And off the back of the original film - there's two others. 2013's Saving Mr Banks, about the writer of the novel, Pamela Travers (played by Emma Thompson), and her reluctancy to allow Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) to make a film adaptation. It's heartbreaking in all the right ways - as is 2018's Mary Poppins Returns, which saw Emily Blunt take the Poppins mantle and Alexander Hamilton himself, Lin-Manuel Miranda, compose a new soundtrack.

But if they don't at least tear up a little bit at 'Let's Go Fly a Kite' then I'm turning it off.

Harriet Metcalfe

Chicken Run (2000)

With the sequel set to grace Netflix next year, what better film to start your cinematic journey with than the one and only Chicken Run?

In the two decades since its release in 2000, Chicken Run has cemented its place in animation history. A delight for children and adults alike, this Aardman-DreamWorks collaboration showcases the best that both studios have to offer, and has gone on to become the highest-grossing stop motion animated film in history.

Most viewers would admit that it is an excellent film, but many may be surprised by my inclusion of it on this list, but I can argue my case, and for the sake of this article I will name my movie newcomer Nigel. First and foremost, it is a brilliant introduction to the world of Aardman Animations. The studio has a very style of stop-motion clay animation which is just so instantly endearing and lends fantastic personality to its characters; it's hard to watch this without marvelling at the fantastic craftsmanship behind each shot and wondering whether Aardman had made any more. Nigel will thus be delighted to discover that Aardman boasts a fantastic collection of films, including the Wallace and Gromit franchise, Flushed Away and, for those of you old enough to remember, the TV series Creature Comforts. After watching Chicken Run as their first ever film, Nigel would immediately have a long watch-list of other Aardman films to view.

Image Credit: IMDB

Secondly, the timing of this couldn't be better, as the sequel is being released on Netflix next year. To enjoy this to its full extent, it's imperative to see the original. That Nigel will want to see this new release is beyond doubt, as he is one of the coolest kids on the block, but it would make no sense to see the sequel as his first ever film, so enjoying Chicken Run beforehand is essential.

Finally, the film is just so iconic that Nigel would struggle to make any long-lasting friendships without having seen it. He would never understand the intricacies of Chicken Run quotes or comprehend why the name Mrs Tweedy would strike fear into the heart of any cinephile. When his best friend has nightmares about being baked into a chicken pie, Nigel would struggle to wipe the tears away without any knowledge of the context. Relationships can rise and fall on the basis of Chicken Run discourse, but to never have seen the film would leave poor Nigel simply unable to create any meaningful bonds. If he hopes to ever fall in love, Nigel needs to understand why the chickens are revolting, and to do so he needs the first-hand story from Babs, Ginger and the gang.

Grace Dean

The Cat in the Hat (2003)

If someone had never seen a movie in their life, I would take the opportunity to corrupt their mind with The Cat in the Hat (2003), of course. It would be extremely fun to watch their reactions to this iconic film, from its grand total of zero funny jokes to the *cough* stunning CGI, and of course, its stellar colour palette throughout, which my wardrobe has certainly taken inspiration from.

Image Credit: IMDB

If you are unaware of The Cat in the Hat and live in a bubble where you haven't seen Mike Myers with nightmare fuel makeup doing a bad SNL impersonation (or maybe it's just SNL at this point) then you're in for a treat. The Cat in the Hat revolves around, not surprisingly, a cat who wears a hat that causes chaos wherever he goes. He visits Conrad (whose actor also starred in the equally wonderful Santa Clause 3) and Sally (who was eaten by a wolf in Twilight Breaking Dawn: Part 2) whilst they're home alone, and their family has never been the same since.

I think this would be a fun film for someone to watch as their first as it really is quite unique, I can genuinely say I have never seen a film like it before. It makes pretty much no sense, the colour scheme is an LSD trip, and it's actually impressive how little of the jokes land. Plus, Paris Hilton and Beans from Even Stevens make a cameo. What's not to love? Sure, it didn't win an Oscar, but it definitely leaves a haunting lasting impression. If they find it too weird, then they will appreciate any other film they will ever watch if they have the strength to carry on afterwards, if they aren't put off by the medium forever.

Sophie Hicks

Jurassic Park (1993)

To get someone interested in film, it is not merely about picking a good movie. Pick one that is overwhelming, like The Godfather (1972), and their expectations will forever be way too high. Pick one that is forgettable, like The Good Dinosaur (2015), and you will kill their interest in movies.

But how do you get someone who has never seen a film to understand why movies are special? How do you prove to them what sets cinema aside from other forms of entertainment? You turn to Spielberg. Maybe like no other, the legendary director creates films that go beyond entertainment to the very nature of movies: creating a communal experience.

Image Credit: IMDB

As one of the most universally beloved films to ever grace the screens, Jurassic Park perfectly encapsulates the best of blockbuster cinema. The simple premise is taken beyond what is expected with charismatic characters, clean storytelling, and ground-breaking special effects.

As we gaze upon extinct creatures, a timeless sense of wonder immerses the audience. From the perfectly executed blend of practical and CGI to the acting in reaction to them, the dinosaurs come alive, delivering on that much needed escapism cinema so perfectly provides.

However, what distinguishes Jurassic Park from other blockbusters is not only the effects: it is the storytelling. Never for a second will the audience be taken out of the film by a senseless characterization or a misplaced plot point. Stakes are set up and fulfilled without hesitation, the action progresses the story, rather than halting it. But even more commendable than this, the message of the film is never abandoned: the conflict between the ambition of men and the unstoppable course of nature is concisely delivered. In fact, it is this precision that elevates Jurassic Park from good to timeless.  

Elisabetta Pulcini

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