“20 films that had an impact on you, for the next 20 days. Only post a pic. No film title or comment. #20MovieChallenge” – Ron Howard
When this challenge came across on my Twitter timeline, I knew I had to do it. I wanted to explore my psyche and discover what films made me the person I am today. The content creators I follow posted screencaps of either the classics (i.e. Jurassic Park and Back to the Future) or the modern art films praised in the critic circle (e.g. Her, and Lady Bird). In my case, these films that impacted me may not necessarily be critically favoured, but still influenced my day-to-day life.
Of course, I have completed this challenge now (by the time I have written this post, it was a while ago), but I wanted to take this opportunity and explain why these films impacted me the way they did. Some of them represent the very core of my being, some of them just gave some brilliant quotes to say at the dinner table at home. However, before I start explaining my choices for this challenge, I will express to you now that these are not in any particular order, and will evidently show. Some of these choices were me grabbing straws. When it’s 7am and you’ve got to go to work and won’t be back until 9pm and want to snooze your life away, your brain capacity when sifting through your favourite films is limited. In the end, if I am able to convince you to check out these works, then maybe this deep-dive into my noggin will be useful! With that said, let’s just jump into it.
1. Calendar Girls (2003)
(based on a true story, written by Juliette Towhidi and Tim Firth, directed by Nigel Cole)
Starting this challenge, my first choice had to be the 2003 drama starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters. Based on the true story of the women from Yorkshire deciding to do a nude calendar for charity, Towhidi and Firth use their artistic license to expand on themes of family, sexual liberation, and friendship. Their biggest influence on me would probably have been their witty banter, open-mindedness in regard to sex, and sensitive insight into grief, after Annie’s (Walters) husband, passed away due to cancer. Plus, considering it is set in Yorkshire, I think my brain subconsciously liked the idea of going to university in York.
I was obsessed with this film growing up, admittedly a bit too young to grasp the feminist agenda embedded in the text, but it did normalise the idea to me that women’s bodies come in different shapes and sizes and all women are beautiful no matter how different they may look to mainstream media. I still remember calling out a flatmate in my first year saying that our friend’s girlfriend was ugly due to their observation that she was plus-sized. I was hurt by it because I genuinely felt she was beautiful. If I had not grown up with this film, I doubt I would be as body-positive as I am now. Though it took a while for me to start loving my body the same way, I will stand by that Calendar Girls is an important film for feminism.
2. Ocean’s 8 (2018)
(written by Gary Ross and Olivia Milch, directed by Gary Ross)
There has been an uprise in female-centric films in the box-office, with the success of the all-female Ghostbusters in 2016, though receiving less-than-positive reviews by critics. In this case, Ocean’s 8 is a sequel to the Ocean’s 11 universe. My full review of the film and a description of the plot can be found here.
It was so refreshing seeing women at the helm of a stereotypically masculine genre, and not be floundering around for a love interest. The film gave me hope that things are changing in the film industry, that female stars can sell at the box-office, and have a diverse range of women. Though I wish the last third of the film was almost cut completely, as it derailed the fun of this carefully-executed heist, I still enjoyed it all the same.
3. Anastasia (1997)
(music and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, screenplay by Susan Gauthier, Bruce Graham, Bob Tzudiker, and Noni White, directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman)
My love for musical theatre, my hope for future romance, and so many memories have come from this film. Though it is notoriously inaccurate to the original story of the Romanov family, it still charmed audiences and has become a beloved film to many people, enough to have an amazing musical adaptation. I am so upset I won’t be able to see it before it closes on Broadway! The musical numbers are charming, and the characters, especially Anya (voiced by Meg Ryan with Liz Callaway as her singing voice), give vibrancy to the overall animation.
My sister and I grew up on this film, alongside many other Disney princess films, but Anastasia will always hold a key to my heart. I don’t know if that really makes sense but I really wanted to shoe-horn a reference in here somewhere.
4. Brother Bear (2003)
(screenplay by Tab Murphy, Lorne Cameron, David Hoselton, Steve Bencich, and Ron J. Friedman, directed by Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker)
This is my favourite Disney film of all time. Considering how much of a hard-core Disney fan I am, this means a lot. Brother Bear was released at a perfect time for me, I was 6 years old when it came out, and when my family got the DVD, I had it on repeat over the holidays. I still remember sitting in a room rewinding the DVD to listen to ‘On My Way’ again, which I watched with subtitles (and I still do with most content).
Even without the childhood nostalgia this film possesses, Brother Bear talks about important issues like grief, brotherhood, and redemption in a beautiful way. The visuals are stunning and I believe has one of the best soundtracks in Disney-millennial era, yes, including Tarzan. If you need proof of these statements, just watch the Transformation sequence online, sung by the Bulgarian Women’s Choir. In terms of how it impacted me I would say this film kickstarted my love for Disney, and also encouraged me to look into cultures I am not a part of.
5. Isle of Dogs (2018)
(written and directed by Wes Anderson)
I have already written my review for this film, and it was obvious that I loved this film (albeit the lack of strong female characters). The craftsmanship, the voice performances from every single cast member, the story, the unique score, almost everything about it I adored. In terms of how it impacted me, I would say it fully convinced me that Wes Anderson is my favourite director, but I would still kindly ask him to write female characters in the same standard as his male characters.
6. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (2005)
(based on the novel by C.S. Lewis, screenplay by Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely, directed by Andrew Adamson)
To be fair, I haven’t rewatched this film in ages. There is probably some part of me that is scared that my rose-tinted-nostalgia goggles will be removed and I’ll come to hate it. However, with an all-star supporting cast, and some charming kids as the leading Pevensies, surely it can’t be that bad?
Narnia is the epitome of my childhood, essentially. It started my love for fantasy and the film industry. I watched the hour-long behind the scenes documentary so many times that I think I memorised the entire sequence of clips used. Genuinely, you know the song ‘Shake Ya Ass’ by Mystikal? I didn’t, I only knew it as the ‘Check the gate, watch yourself’ song from this documentary (from what I remember, I think ‘check the gate’ means checking the footage on the camera, as presumably this film was not filmed digitally). I also remember my DVD had the wardrobe as the cover, and when you opened it, it would reveal Lucy by the lampost, and I found it so clever!
I think Narnia will hold a place in my heart with its whimsical charm. I did try to watch Prince Caspian and it just wasn’t the same. I did not even touch the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I loved Susan and Peter and now they’re gone there is no point!
7. Wonder Woman (2017)
(based on the original comic by William Moulton Marston, story by Zack Snyder, Allan Heinburg, and Jason Fuchs, screenplay by Allan Heinburg, directed by Patty Jenkins)
As I described in my introductory blog post, I went to see Wonder Woman on a date, I cried my eyes out watching it, and then never contacted that person again. Oops. But this film still is one of my favourite films I have ever seen (that are not related to childhood memories, I suppose).
I never realised how starved I was for a decent superhero film with a great female lead, and seeing Wonder Woman just touched that nerve. This film actually inspired me to write my dissertation at university, and I wanted to write on the two things I loved most; feminism, and film. I remember originally I wanted to write about the representation of disabled people in film and/or theatre, but I wanted to talk about Wonder Woman so much I changed it completely.
Gal Gadot and/or Patty Jenkins is probably not going to read this, but if they do, hypothetically, I want to say… Thank you, for inspiring me to be strong, vulnerable, or a mix of both, and stand my ground. Also, why did you let Zack Snyder ruin it with Justice League? Like why?
8. Nine (2009)
(based on the musical by Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston, screenplay by Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella, directed by Rob Marshall)
I totally missed a trick to make this my number nine spot, but we are going to roll with it.
The only reason I watched this was that Fergie was in it, and I was like… Fergie? In a musical? So I rented it on LoveFilm, for those too young to not know, essentially this was the Blockbuster of the internet where we rented DVDs. It closed down years ago because essentially online streaming is dominating everything.
I admit I was not wowed after my first viewing. I thought the songs were fun, and the performances were good, but that was that. However, over time, I became obsessed with it. Saraghina’s (Fergie) song ‘Be Italian‘ was my go-to belter with my musical theatre buddies, and I adored all these female characters that all impacted Guido Contini’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) life. It also is set behind-the-scenes of a failing film production, which appeals to my soul.
I think subconsciously, Nine taught me to celebrate my sensuality, and that being sexy should not devalue you. Again, bringing it back to Calendar Girls, it taught me that I am beautiful in my own way (even though, arguably, the film itself mostly has skinny women portrayed in a sensual light). Plus, it’s the only film I do not mind Daniel Day-Lewis in.
9. The Illusionist (2006)
(based on “Eisenheim the Illusionist” by Steven Millhauser, screenplay written and directed by Neil Burger)
Another LoveFilm entry to this list! Whenever I was on the site I would go down the rabbit-hole of focussing on one actor’s filmography and just looking at all the films available to rent, this lead to me trying to rent over 100 titles! I never watched them all, mind you, they closed down before I could…
Anyway, for some reason, I was clicking through the discography of Jessica Biel and came across The Illusionist. As a theatre lover and a sucker for magic, I rented this to see what I thought. From what I remember, I quite liked it, but it was one of those things where I kept thinking about it and inevitably gave in and bought the DVD to watch it again. I think I enjoyed it because of the nuanced romance, and also the great performances of Paul Giamatti and Edward Norton. However, I was probably more surprised than anything of seeing Max Branning (Jake Wood) in anything that wasn’t EastEnders!
10. The Swan Princess (1994)
(based on the ballet ‘Swan Lake’ by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, story by Brian Nissen and Richard Rich, screenplay written by Brian Nissen, and directed by Richard Rich)
To be frank, I know that this is a bad film, but the nostalgia is far greater than my inner critical film nerd. I rang my mum to ask the story as it why we found it, and she said she bought the VHS (yes, kids, those big tapes you inserted into the TV!) at the local newsagent when my mum owned a caravan in Weymouth, and my siblings and I seemed to enjoy it. She also got the other two films in the trilogy, which are decent but aren’t as good as the original. Now there are these terrible CGI sequels on Netflix that make me want to hurl.
If I were to watch it now, I would argue that the dialogue is cringe, and definitely a rip-off of Disney films. It does make sense as Richard Rich, director of the film, started his career at Disney originally working in the mail room to eventually becoming a first assistant director. The Fox and the Hound was his directorial debut, and he wrote and directed The Black Cauldron! After that, there were another nine years hiatus before The Swan Princess was released through his own animation company, Crest Animation Productions. Another little fact, when The Swan Princess was released, Disney ‘coincidentally’ rereleased The Lion King that same week, and tarnished Rich’s opening weekend. The savagery is real.
Nevertheless, The Swan Princess impacted my family in many ways, we sang the songs all the time and we still quote it at the dinner table to this day! I remember my sisters and my step-sisters and I would recite the song ‘This is My Idea‘ constantly. I loved the animation, and I still adore the transformation sequence when Odette turns into a swan – the colours and music are just delightful. I definitely inspired to be like Odette one day, especially with the bizarrely shaped hair, but I think I became Jeanbob. For my family, this is for you:
NOT YOU WESLEY, YOU’RE A RRRRRRABBIT!
11. The Shape of Water (2017)
(written by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, and directed by Guillermo del Toro)
As an autistic lass, the lack of representation of the disabled community has always frustrated me. So, seeing Sally Hawkins play a mute person, and the fact it added to the story yet not making it her sole characteristic was so wonderful.
I have seen loads of disabled people have their disability as the crux of their character, and almost never lead a film and only inspire and/or help the able-bodied protagonist to achieve their goal (and let’s not talk about the frankly offensive performance of Tom Hanks’s Forrest Gump). What was different about The Shape of Water was that Elisa (Hawkins) was deaf, and the society she lived in shunned her out and made her an introverted yet incredibly kind and fun character. Then, when she meets the ‘Amphibian Man’ (Doug Jones), to quote Wikipedia, she connects with him because she understands what it’s like to be isolated from society. This makes her speech to Richard (Michael Shannon) so touching because of this. And yet, the story makes it clear that Elisa is not sad about her disability, not at all, but it’s the social hierarchy that pushes her down that makes her sad. Just brilliant.
The Shape of Water has proved to Hollywood that leading characters that happen to be disabled is not that big of a deal! I hope for this kind of representation to come.
12. Les Misérables (2012)
(based on the musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, screenplay written by William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, and Herbert Kretzmer, and directed by Tom Hooper)
In hindsight, I would argue that the filmed 25th-anniversary concert of Les Mis might have impacted me more than the film adaptation, as it made me fall in love with musical theatre, but the film works too. When I started training at the BRIT School as a musical theatre performer… I actually wasn’t a fan of musical theatre. I only went for it because I wanted to be a singer, I wanted to work on my acting, and good lord I wanted to improve my dancing. Then, one day a teacher sat us all in a room and played the anniversary concert I mentioned. I wasn’t in love with it at first, but when I rented it again (you guessed it, LoveFilm) I became obsessed. I wanted to play Cosette so badly! I can still remember being taken aback by Lea Salonga’s ‘I Dreamed a Dream‘.
The film was released just after I became a Les Mis fanatic. I and my best friends at the time booked to see it on the day of release, something I hadn’t actually done before. I wasn’t more excited about anything ‘In My Life’ (I’m trash, I’m (not) sorry). Anne Hathaway, of course, is the standout performance of the film. However, upon reflection, I am not a fan of a few performances, including Hugh Jackman (fight me), Samantha Barks (wrestle me), and Russell Crowe (have a cup of tea with me). I still stand by Amanda Seyfried, though (shank me).
13. Legally Blonde (2001)
(based on the book by Amanda Brown, screenplay written by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, and directed by Robert Luketic)
Need I explain? Legally Blonde is a fundamental feminist film. It expresses that women should never try and ‘fit themselves in’ depending on the people surrounding you. So long as you stay true to yourself, and don’t let others try to shame you into being any different. In the final court scene, in my opinion, one of the most famous moments in cinematic history, you see that Elle Woods (an iconic performance from Reese Witherspoon) has not changed her appearance in order to be the successful lawyer she is. She continued to style herself in a hyper-feminine way and still finds her confidence in herself to win the case. It tells viewers that there are many different types of women in the world, whether it’s Elle Woods girly nature or the demure and cooler nature of Vivian, but all women can be ‘strong’ in their own way. Also, women should not settle for men who do not love them for who they are. #WarnerIsADouche.
14. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
(based on the book by J.K. Rowling, screenplay written by Steve Kloves, and directed by Alfonso Cuarón)
Fun fact, when I saw this in the cinema with my family, I demanded my dad to take me home because I was terrified by the dementors (I am very sorry, dad, I was a nightmare child). Now? It is my favourite Harry Potter film. I still have the odd fantasy of the idea of owning a Hippogriff…
I would argue, cinematically, one of the best in the series. It would have been a difficult book to adapt into a film, as it is the only one to not feature anything related to Voldemort storyline, and is solely focused on the constantly shifting relationship dynamics. Kloves did a flawless job with his screenplay effortlessly introducing new characters and magical mechanics, and always has the viewer questioning what is going on. Cuarón’s directing style perfectly suited this, as his unique vision acted as a bridge between Harry being a child and having these extraordinary adventures to then starting to realise the gravitas of the world he has been thrust into.
In the same vein as Narnia, I watched the behind the scenes videos on the DVD all the time, and the interviews, and the games… I just loved it. Can you tell?
15. The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall (2011)
(based on the book by Gaston Leroux, based on the musical with the book by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe, stage direction by Laurence Connor and filming direction by Nick Morris)
When I said these films had to impact me… I never specified I had to like it.
To be clear, when I first watched this, I adored it. Sierra Boggess became my musical theatre idol from that point on. When I went to New York with my school, she happened to be starring in It Shoulda Been You, I bought my ticket to see it and I wrote her a letter saying all the cliched things you would expect from a fan letter! I think this production is excellent, and the costumes and staging are astounding.
However, when I wanted to write about it for my application for the University of York, I decided to tackle an issue that had been festering in my mind for a while. I then realised when watching it again how toxic it is. It romanticises a man that literally murders people and brainwashes a vulnerable woman into thinking he is her ‘angel of music’. Even when we see that he is a terrible human being, he still gets the big, romantic sad songs that make the audience sob in sympathy. Like, no. Just because this man has a disability and has been hard done by socially does not give him an excuse to around murdering people and nearly blackmailing the woman he loves into marrying him. In terms of the writing, yes, ultimately he is condemned and he doesn’t get what he wants, BUT with giving him so much stage time and iconic music making him appear as the antihero of the story heavily counteracts it. Ugh. The Phantom, in a nutshell, is literal garbage. Don’t even get me started on Raoul.
To give credit where it is due if it wasn’t for Phantom I might have not written as strong of an essay as I did for UoY. Maybe I would not have even gotten in, who knows. However, present-Carrie appreciates the time past-Carrie loved this show, but now present-Carrie despises it.
16. Mamma Mia! (2008)
(based on the musical with the book by Catherine Johnson, music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, screenplay by Catherine Johnson, directed by Phyllida Lloyd)
Surrounded by my mum’s pals, I watched Mamma Mia! in the cinema, and had the time of my life (you knew I had to do it). I wasn’t even an ABBA fan but because the story and the characters contain such banter and fun that I had a ball. At one time, I even argued it was the best adaptation of a musical ever, which is probably a different discussion for another day.
I still watch it with a glass of red wine when I am back home and I have the house to myself. Maybe I will do this for the sequel, but the nostalgia keeps me from doing so. Honestly, the performances across the board are brilliant, whether it’s because of the irony that Pierce Brosnan is not a particularly strong singer or because Julie Walters just exudes joy and excitement whenever she’s on screen. If you haven’t watched it, and it sounds like your cup of tea, then bring some friends round and have a bottle of rose for the night. You will not regret it.
17. St. Trinian’s (2007)
(based on the comic strip by Ronald Searle, screenplay by Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft, and directed by Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson)
From the soundtrack to the rebellious characters, to the fun storyline, St. Trinian’s represents pure British pop culture in the mid-noughties. To be perfectly honest, I am struggling to think of how it impacted me apart from just loving these characters, particularly Kelly Jones (Gemma Arterton). Her confidence just captivates me. Might give it a rewatch soon.
18. Cinderella (2015)
(based on the Disney film in 1950 and the story Cendrillon by Charles Perrault, screenplay by Chris Weisz, and directed by Kenneth Branagh)
I have to be in a very specific mood to watch this, but when I am in the mood I am just in awe. I adore the costumes by Sandy Powell that make the piece seem timeless but also transports the audience in an old-fashioned period, and the music by Patrick Doyle is so schmaltzy! I listen to it whilst cooking and it takes me back to seeing Ella get out of the carriage and just swooning. Doyle’s music definitely made me fall in love with film scores, and I have never been more grateful for it.
It’s the bisexual dream, Lily James and Richard Madden. Like, they’re so hot. I love.
19. The Princess and the Frog (2009)
(based on The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker and The Frog Prince by Brothers Grimm, story by Ron Clements, John Musker, Greg Erb, and Jason Oremland, screenplay by Ron Clements, John Musker, and Rob Edwards, directed by Ron Clements and John Musker)
Even though Brother Bear is my favourite Disney film of all-time, Princess and the Frog is my favourite Disney princess film. This probably comes from when Brother Bear started encouraging me to like any form of content where it is about cultures that are unlike my own. I love the jazzy music by Randy Newman, and he is a perfect fit for this film. I also loved that Disney cast actors that maybe were not as famous, but were perfect for that role, like Anika Noni Rose and Bruno Campos. Even though the film is set in a world unlike my own, people of different cultures can still connect to the story of finding a balance between following your dream and finding happiness.
20. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)
(based on the novel by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, screenplay written and directed by Burr Steers)
When my sister, Juliet, and I were browsing through Netflix and found this adaptation of the parody novel, which was based on the Jane Austen classic, we expected it to be awful. We thought Darcy would be randomly making out with a random sister and the zombies would be just insignificant and in general, it would barstardise the novel we adored. However, we were pleasantly surprised! The film stays true to the story and does well maintaining the heart of the novel and the horror aspect was very well integrated into it. It’s Pride and Prejudice… with zombies! Plus, the casting is phenomenal; Matt Smith is the embodiment Mr. Collins, Lily James’s Elizabeth Bennet was a perfect choice for this film and Lena Headey as Lady Catherine? Ingenius! I could go on an on… seriously, watch it!
I could not have written my dissertation without this film and that’s why it has grabbed the last spot.
Phew! That was a monster to write! I started writing this on the 8th of February and only just finished it today. It was difficult to psychoanalyse myself and think of how all these films came to mind when mindlessly posting it on Twitter, but it was an intriguing task to do. In conclusion, I think a lot of these films inspired me to push myself beyond my comfort zone and be attentive to different cultures that are unlike my white-middle-class-cisgendered background, which I am grateful for. Plus, watching all of these strong, culturally diverse women growing up, it is no surprise as to why I became a feminist. Lastly, I’ll always be a sucker for a good romance.
I posted the original tweet here, and feel free to give it a follow! #ShamelessPlug