Essays · Movies

When It Comes To Movie Taste, the Internet Is a College Freshman

By  · Published on August 17th, 2016

There are no surprises on the combined list of Twitter’s favorite films, and you know what? That’s OK.

Hey, remember when we all went onto Twitter and listed our seven favorite movies? What was that all about, am I right?

On Monday, just to help pass the time, Empire Magazine went on Twitter and asked their followers to list their favorite seven movies using the #fav7films hashtag. The Empire staff started things off with a few fun choices, but before long, people all around the world were throwing their own favorites into the mix. I contributed a list. You contributed a list. The entire Film School Rejects staff contributed a list. According to a Vulture article, each of these celebrities contributed a list. For whatever reason, the novelty of seven favorite film titles ‐ falling somewhere between the customary lists of five and ten ‐ caused the hashtag to catch fire and thousands of people to offer some old favorites in a brand new way.

And then something funny happened. Curious to see what our lists looked like in their aggregate form, pop culture website Mashable hired a digital media consulting firm to crunch the numbers and put together a list of the seven movies that appeared more than any others. Of course you’ll believe what happened next.

It turns out, when you combine the opinions and tastes of thousands of people on the internet, the resulting hivemind has the emotional intelligence of your average college freshman. Not only do these movies represent pretty much the biggest box office hits of the most recognizable directors working today, they also skew heavily towards cinematic examinations of masculinity and films released within the last twenty years. This is the kind of DVD collection you’d expect to see in the same dorm room as a Boondock Saints poster and a Bob Marley screen print.

And since most people spent the past 48 hours basking in the collective good taste of their immediate connections, the overall numbers tended to turn a few heads. I’ve seen some people on Twitter talk about these results with despair; several have even gone so far as to use these results as proof that we’ve collectively homogenized our movie tastes past the point of no return. And while I absolutely support the argument that we need more diversity in our collective taste ‐ be it gender, race, or even just the spoken language ‐ it’s also important to keep things like this in their proper context.

The first (and most obvious) point is regarding taste. It’s important to remember that personal taste is neither objective nor permanent. My own list of favorite movies varies wildly depending on the hour and the minute, but it is also contingent on what mood I am in or how long ago I watched a particular title. For example, James Cameron’s Aliens did not make my list of seven movies featured in the Film School Rejects piece, but that is one of the few movies I view as a channel stopper, a movie you stumble across while cycling through your cable guide and watch straight through to its conclusion every time. Maybe I left it off because I’d watched it recently and it felt a bit too familiar. Maybe I left it off because it seemed a little too obvious. Quite possibly I left it off because I was wary of having both The Thing and Aliens on the same list. All of these things factored into my decision, and none of them had anything to do with my love of the film itself.

The second (and less obvious) point is in regards to the composition of the list itself. This list was always going to bring together the biggest and most lucrative titles in movie history, because that’s how crowdsourcing works. Data mining wasn’t going to spit out the five most common titles and then a custom mix of indie sensations and foreign films meant to make us walk away from Film Twitter feeling good about ourselves. Instead, the #fav7films hashtag simply told us what the user scores at websites like IMDb and RottenTomatoes have been telling us for years: there are a handful of movies that currently stand as modern classics, and the burden is on us film critics to gently nudge people away from movies like The Dark Knight and Goodfellas. Most people don’t venture too far outside of their comfort zone because few people have the kind of free time to dedicate to movies that the rest of us do. When you’re only watching a handful of movies a month, you’re far more likely to watch the ones by filmmakers you know you’ll love.

What Are Your 7 Favorite Films?

I’ve told this story before in other places, but it bears repeating. When I was a freshman in college, I announced to my advisor that I had zero interest in watching “older” movies. I just didn’t think I had anything to learn from them; at that point, I was still pretty determined to become a professional singer, so watching and writing about movies was one or two steps removed from the all-consuming passion it became. Fast forward to my senior year of college and, a week before graduation, my adviser presents me with a photocopy featuring the most ignorant statement I’ve ever committed to a piece of paper. My advisor didn’t do this to shame me, but rather, to help me mark my own progress. It was one of those life lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

So no, I don’t consider the internet’s love of the same boring titles to be the death knell of cinema. Even if we weren’t just having a bit of fun, I see too much potential in that list ‐ too many small pivots to slightly darker, slightly smarter, slightly crazier movies ‐ to ever give up on film audiences completely. My own experiences have also reinforced the concept that one’s personal taste in film is a journey, not a destination. If my college advisor had rolled his eyes and told me that I was a lost cause all those years ago, perhaps I would have walked away thinking that I knew everything there was to know about good movies. Instead, he offered me every opportunity to move outside of my comfort zone, and that made me the person I am today: slightly contrarian, slightly populist, but a helluva lot more curious than I’ve ever been before.

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Matthew Monagle is an Austin-based film and culture critic. His work has appeared in a true hodgepodge of regional and national film publications. He is also the editor and co-founder of Certified Forgotten, an independent horror publication. Follow him on Twitter at @labsplice. (He/Him)