Essays · Movies

Millennials Do Care About Classic Movies, But Need More Exposure to Them

Maybe we should talk about solutions, not just problems.
Gone With The Wind
By  · Published on August 24th, 2017

The first thing I think when someone makes a big deal over the fact that I haven’t seen a specific movie is, “Well, now I’m definitely not going to watch it.” It’s a hard-headed trait I’m not proud of, but I think it’s something I share with a lot of young people.

Articles like this one that claims Millennials are killing industries are nothing new. Usually written to scare older generations that mediocre aspects of society are changing because of young people, they ridiculously blame one generation for businesses failing as if it hasn’t happened before us. Recently though, this mentality is seeping its way into the subject of film.

The New York Post published “Millennials really don’t care about classic movies” last week. It goes into stating statistics that are supposed to prove that young people hate the old movies of generations before them. Only 30% of the young people surveyed haven’t seen a black and white film, but when compared to the 85% of people over 50 who have, it seems like a lot. The way it’s presented is pretty misleading, not ever looking at the fact that 70% of the young people have seen a black and white film. Ignoring the millennials who do love classic film was a bad decision on their part. Most of the backlash the article received was from young classic film fans on social media.

Perhaps the most telling statistic in the article is that “30 percent admit to having felt social pressure to lie that they have seen an old classic in its entirety – compared to just three percent of over-50s.” It’s no wonder they feel the need to say they’ve seen a movie when articles like this are published. Shaming young people for not doing something is the sure-fire way to make them not do it. None of the questions go into why some young people don’t watch classic movies because the article isn’t interested in changing these statistics, only proving young people are ruining another aspect of society.

None of the questions go into why some young people don’t watch classic movies because the article isn’t interested in changing these statistics, only proving young people are ruining another aspect of society. As a young person who loves classic movies, I want to go into why young people may be overlooking older films and how we can change that.

Classic movies are exactly what they seem–they’re old. Although it may feel trivial to watch movies about the past when there are great movies about right now, they’re worth it. The thing about great storytelling is that it can transcend time. Great characters are ones that even 50 years later, we can still identify with. The despair George Bailey (James Stewart) feels with his life in It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t limited to those living in the 1940s. Jim Stark (James Dean) feels the same restlessness in Rebel Without a Cause that some teenagers do now.

If you’re an aspiring filmmaker or if you’re interested in film at all, classic movies are so beneficial. Learning from the greats is the best way to become better at writing or watching movies. The great directors you love now like Wes Anderson or Martin Scorsese were inspired by these older films. Having seen the films they reference makes watching their movies so much more enjoyable.

Just as seeing our society’s problems in fantastical and fictional worlds can help us better understand them, it can help to see them in the past too. The underlying anti-Semitism in Gentleman’s Agreement and racism in In the Heat of the Night are still very present today. Sometimes realizing that we are dealing with issues that happened long before us can be a rude awakening. Older movies have a lot to teach us about how we got to where we are now, not just in film but in society too.

The NY Post did have another interesting statistic that showed 72% of millennials get their movies from streaming services, which include Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. These services pride themselves in providing the latest content, so that leaves little room for older films, especially on Netflix. One of the reasons young people don’t watch older films is because the place millennials watch movies the most isn’t providing any exposure to older films. Our own Ciara Wardlow wrote about Netflix’s classic movie problem in depth.

Lucky for those who don’t know where to start, there are plenty of better services that do expose you to older great films. Cable TV station Turner Classic Movies is how I got into older films when I was flipping through the channels one day. I stopped when I saw something Christmas related and ended up watching I’ll be Seeing You all the way through. They give great context to the movies they show that is so helpful when you’re a newbie to classic film. For those who don’t like watching real TV anymore, they have all the movies they play on demand as well. TCM also teamed up with the Criterion Collection to create Filmstruck, the holy grail streaming service for classic movies of all genres.

Free options include Kanopy, a streaming service free with a library card or most school logins. If you want to build a watch list while learning about the history and scandals of classic film, listen to the podcast You Must Remember This. It covers everything from Marilyn Monroe’s life to the movies that were the result of the Hollywood Blacklist. Just like any interest, social media is a wonderful place to be exposed to classic film. Twitter users like @NitrateDiva and @oldfilmsflicker exposed me to other older films I wouldn’t have known if not for them.

Young people really just need more exposure to classic film in the places they frequent and in a way that doesn’t make it seem like classic movies are the only good movies. There are aspects of older films that are certainly lacking compared to modern films, including diversity with actors and stories. How can Millennials be guilty of choosing not to watch older films if the only time they are exposed to them is to write an article about how they don’t care about them? Older generations are guilty of sticking to what they know too, as 80% of the people over 50 admitted to the NY Post, but that’s not what’s in the headline. Targeting and shaming millennials for their interests isn’t welcome in film journalism.

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Emily Kubincanek is a Senior Contributor for Film School Rejects and resident classic Hollywood fan. When she's not writing about old films, she works as a librarian and film archivist. You can find her tweeting about Cary Grant and hockey here: @emilykub_