Films That Define Us: The 2017 National Film Registry Movie Picks

Published: Thursday, December 21, 2017 - 4:42pm
Updated: Friday, December 22, 2017 - 9:24am
Audio icon Download mp3 (4.18 MB)
(Photo courtesy of Warner Bros/National Film Registry)
"Superman" (1978)
(Photo courtesy of Warner Bros./National Film Registry)
"The Goonies" (1985)
(Photo courtesy of NBC/Universal/National Film Registry)
"Spartacus" (1960)
(Photo courtesy of NBC/Universal/National Film Registry)
"Field of Dreams" (1989)
(Photo courtesy of Warner Bros./National Film Registry)
"He Who Gets Slapped" (1924)

We all have our favorite movies, films that touch our hearts or blew our minds. These are the movies we show to our friends and family as “the best” movies. Ever.

And chances are one of your favorite movies might be in the National Film Registry. The Registry is part of the Library of Congress, and the movies they pick are earmarked for preservation. Each year thousands of films are considered but only 25 are picked at a time.

This year we see the inclusion of “Spartacus,” “The Goonies,” “Die Hard” and “Field of Dreams.”

But just how do movies get picked and why?  Steve Leggett, the program coordinator for National Film Preservation Board, explains:

“The criteria are culturally historically or aesthetically significant which of course can mean almost anything. So we kind of like those broad guidelines. But it was intended to be films which have had an impact on American culture and history.”

The selection process begins with nominations by the public and the members of the national Film Preservation Board. Leggett says this year some 5200  pictures were nominated. Then the Film Preservation Board vote several times, narrowing down the list.

“The final selection rests with the Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden who makes the final selections based in large part on the board's input and also taking a look at  the public nominations as well,” Leggett says.

Beyond just Hollywood movies, the Preservation Board considers all kinds of films, including home movies or actuality films, which are like really early documentaries. This year, for example, they added a 1905 black-and-white video that shows off a then new section of the New York City Subway.

Diversity behind the camera as well as in front is a key component when selecting films.

“We try to have women directors, male directors, African-American directors, and just really reflect American culture and society in terms of who put the films together and made them and the subject interest,” Leggett says.

They really try to capture a snapshot of the culture of the United States.

This year saw the inclusion of the first ever superhero genre film: Richard Donner’s “Superman,” which came out in 1978 and starred Christopher Reeve.

“It really did kind of set the bar in terms of how you would do a superhero film. And in the special effects and just the whole of believing a man could fly.”

And one of the earliest “creepy clown” movies was also picked. In 1924 audiences experienced the thrill and terror of  “He Who Gets Slapped.”

“It’s got Lon Chaney, who was in a lot of horror films of the silent era and the early sound era. It's a horror film but it's also a psychological drama," Leggett says.

“He plays a scientist who has discovered a process and he's about to reveal it and someone else steals the information and steals his wife as well. So he's kind of down on his luck and he becomes a clown in a circus. And in one of the parts of his act is that the other clients come up and start slapping him. It's kind of a really weird movie. And then eventually the person who stole his ideas appears in the audience and then there's a lot of drama back and forth, but he basically unleashes lions on his tormentor,” Leggett says.

Below you can see all the 2017 inductees:

  1.     Ace in the Hole (aka Big Carnival) (1951)
  2.     Boulevard Nights (1979)
  3.     Die Hard (1988)
  4.     Dumbo (1941)
  5.     Field of Dreams (1989)
  6.     4 Little Girls (1997)
  7.     Fuentes Family Home Movies Collection (1920s and 1930s)
  8.     Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
  9.     The Goonies (1985)
  10.     Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
  11.     He Who Gets Slapped (1924)
  12.     Interior New York Subway, 14th Street to 42nd Street (1905)
  13.     La Bamba (1987)
  14.    Lives of Performers (1972)
  15.    Memento (2000)
  16.    Only Angels Have Wings (1939)
  17.    The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918)
  18.    Spartacus (1960)
  19.    Superman (1978)
  20.    Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (1988)
  21.    Time and Dreams (1976)
  22.    Titanic (1997)
  23.    To Sleep with Anger (1990)
  24.    Wanda (1971)
  25.    With the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain (1937-1938)

If you like this story, Donate Now!