It’s been well documented that TV is a time-suck. One reason: the repeat showings of movies, some of which, even if you’ve already seen them a hundred times (and you might even own on DVD), you will stick with for the duration, through commercials, bad cable edits and all. (Speaking of cable edits, was I the only one who didn’t know about that pubic hair on the pizza scene in She’s All That?!?) We asked an assortment of folks which movies never fail to suck them in.
Pretty much the only time I mindlessly flip TV channels these days is when I’m traveling alone and staying in a hotel, or my wife’s out of town. I guess probably Badlands, because it’s one of my favorite movies and the real-life story on which it’s based (young couple on a murder spree in Nebraska, where I grew up) is my earliest memory, from when I was 3. And almost any Bill Murray movie.
I realized that there are two things that stop me dead in my tracks when I notice they’re on:
Jaws 2: I lived in East Hampton full-time until I was 10, so the Jaws phenomenon affected me profoundly. (I told adults I wanted to be an ichthyologist specializing in sharks.) I wasn’t allowed to see the first one in the theater until its re-release the following summer—and I still don’t know why my parents allowed that—but by the time Jaws 2 rolled around in 1978, I went immediately. I argued passionately to my parents that it was better than Jaws. They laughed in my face. Now I see that it is terrible, but man, I cannot stop watching it whenever it’s on.
Jaws 3: I was nearing 14 in 1983 when Jaws 3 came out. And this I knew was horrific upon first viewing. The 3D is so, so bad. And yet, there are things I love about it, like the horrendous miscasting of Bess Armstrong as the grown-up Mike Brody’s (Dennis Quaid) girlfriend. God, I love it! I wish it were on right now. It’s awful.
Legends of the Fall: I’ve bailed on plans with friends multiple times when I’ve caught a glimpse of Samuel and Susannah playing tennis on that grass court and known I was now in(side) for the long haul. The only time I don’t stop is if I’ve gotten there AFTER Colonel Ludlow’s legendary chalkboard-swinging “AARGGSSCRRWWWUUJMM” scene, because if you’ve missed that one then what’s the point?
A League of Their Own: Someday I am going to produce a 10,000-word chapbook on why this is one of the (if not THE) greatest sports movies ever. And it’s worth watching all the way ‘til the end because the old lady casting is so completely sublime. I’d actually love to see someone do a side-by-side of each actress in, say, 15 years with her League of Their Own flash-forward counterpart. I feel like Madonna may have actually appeared in both roles.
Armageddon: And it doesn’t matter if I watch all 151 minutes or just the last ten, you can bet I will be choking back tears. (Also, I just went to IMDB to look up how many minutes the movie is—don’t worry, I’m not THAT much of a freak—and saw that it’s playing this [past] Saturday on FX. Setting my DVR now!)
I always hope to hit Goodfellas closer to the end than the beginning, because I had plans for those next three hours, but regardless of where I come in I’m stuck for the duration. And every time I land on Silence of the Lambs, I tell myself that I’ll turn it off after the “Goldberg Variations” scene where the face-eating happens, but I always get sucked in until the end.
I have been known to stop and sob throughout Father of the Bride (the Steve Martin one, YEP), can easily get pulled into two out of the three Bourne movies, The Upside of Anger (when it used to be on a lot), Gattaca, Funny People (if I catch it in its first two-thirds, before Adam Sandler and Leslie Mann do it), and, lately, that great Ethan Hawke-Philip Seymour Hoffman dysfunctional family thriller Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. But these are the three I’ve probably watched the most in the past few years:
Groundhog Day: Because it’s always good to be reminded that Bill Murray used to be actual funny, not Wes Anderson-funny, and actually moving, not Sofia Coppola-moving. And a great physical comedian. Also: weather humor, Andie MacDowell’s only good role.
The Heartbreak Kid: The Farrelly Brothers one. Starring Ben Stiller. It is such a bad movie I can’t defend myself but I have watched this thing maybe ten times? Sorry.
Role Models: A great David Wain comedy. Perfect Jane Lynch role. And an essential exhibit in the Case for Why Seann William Scott Should Be a Star. (see: The Dukes of Hazzard, Southland Tales) Pro tip: Whenever Ken Jeong is on screen, go scoop your ice cream.
Titanic, even if stretched to three or four hours on network television. The dresses! The cross-class romance! Billy Zane’s wig! Billy Zane’s maniacal exasperation (“I put the coat on her!”)! Just… Billy Zane. On a more personal note, this movie came along at exactly the right time in my life, saving me from Godard and insufferability. Popcorn is delicious, it whispered, and I ate it right up.
Speaking of popcorn, you know that part in Dirty Dancing, when Johnny Castle sexily plucks his air guitar, and then shows off some ideas to Neil for a new last dance—a cross between Cuban rhythms and soul—only to be snootily instructed that the last dance will in fact be a pachanga (can you imagine? A pachanga?!), and then also how when you pause the television just so, when Johnny is getting out of bed with Baby, you can maybe, just maybe, see something you aren’t supposed to see? Yeah. So maybe I’ve been watching this movie nonstop since I was twelve years old.
And finally: Go. I can’t believe that I have already lived through an entire subculture that has since disappeared. I mean, I wasn’t super rave-y, but I did wear a few pairs of ill-advised big jeans. Thank God I never got around to buying one of those teddy-bear backpacks. This movie rules, though, the film that launched a thousand Olyphanatics.
Vincent Price’s voice induces satori, so I will watch/listen to any movie in which he appears to the end, no matter when I came in.
Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle is the Ur-text of my personal ethics, a touchstone that repays close and frequent study. It teaches grace under pressure, tolerance, a philosophical submission to the cruel twists of fate and most of all, it shows us how to balance the demands of an independent mind with the responsibilities of brotherhood.
Any animation produced by the Fleischer brothers will also find me rooted to the spot for the duration.
Overboard: Kurt and Goldie have been together for nearly 30 years, and their real-life relationship is one of only two things that makes me believe true love is possible. The second thing is that Randy Newman song used during Overboard‘s end credits.
My Cousin Vinny: Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei) is one of my favorite movie characters, and denying myself the opportunity to hear her say, “I’m an out-of-work hairdresser” during that final courtroom scene is practically self-harm.
My picks are basically identical: early eighties L.A. noirs involving murders, heroes getting framed for murders, cruelly thwarted love and bonkers suntans. Against All Odds, with Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward, makes me nostalgic for the distant days when romantic leads had chemistry and SPF only went up to 8. Ditto for American Gigolo with Richard Gere and Lauren Hutton: lonely politician’s wife/gigolo patron Michelle is, inexplicably, the only decent role Hutton ever got, and Michelle’s to-die-for Ralph Lauren wardrobe, alone of all clothes ever, actually warrants the adjective timeless.
Tootsie; Jerry Maguire; Boiler Room: I don’t mindlessly flip very often, but somehow if I find one of these on, I believe it contains a topical message for me. I have to watch each one the end—again—to see what the message is. Message from Tootsie recently is a line of Michael Dorsey I missed the first 78 times I saw the movie. “It’s depressing to be disagreed with.” That’s just TRUE.
Groundhog Day always works. For obvious reasons, it’s a movie most conducive to tuning in at any point.
Almost 20 years later, I am still enough of a sucker for The Fugitive to watch it every time it’s on. In fact, I love coming across it about half an hour in, because the prologue is the weakest part.
Every time I find AMC showing Goodfellas, which is to say roughly once a week, I will drop everything and watch 15-20 minutes in yet another futile attempt to understand why it’s considered a great film.
Fargo, The Birdcage, Men in Black, Jackie Brown, Legally Blonde, Working Girl and Little Shop of Horrors.
As I am a dude, the answer is The Shawshank Redemption. Always. Every time. And then it gets so dusty in the TV room and my eyes water a lot, from the dust.
Also based on what is going on right now on HBOCOM, another answer is Say Anything.
It feels like the fourth Die Hard movie, Live Free or Die Hard, is on FX every other day, and I have probably now seen at least the Bruce Willis vs. Maggie Q. elevator shaft fight some twenty times. The line “Can I get another dead Asian hooker bitch” resounds.
I’ll watch any of the great mid-’90s John Grisham trilogy—The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client (never The Chamber)—whenever they’re on, but sadly they play them less and less the farther away they get.
Embarrassingly, almost any Julia Roberts movie merits a watch, whether it be Pretty Woman, Erin Brockovich, or Ocean’s Eleven (not really a Julia Roberts movie, but y’know). Like The Pelican Brief (another Julia Roberts movie), they don’t play Sleeping With the Enemy on TV near often enough anymore.
Love and Death: IFC plays this every month or so, and there is not a single frame of this movie that does not make me laugh like a buffoon. Woody Allen getting his old-school Bob Hope on.
Bull Durham: I feel like they used to show this a lot more than they do now; I blame Tim Robbins being obnoxious about his political opinions, and also table tennis. The only movie, still, that gets baseball right.
Jaws: My wife found out about my Jaws fetish before we were married, so it’s fair game. A lot of times we’ll be on our way to bed and she’ll come back to the living room and find me on the couch—“Sorry, Jaws is on, I’ll be an hour or so”—and like a heart surgeon’s wife, she understands.
Rudy: I’ve been flipping around, about ready to drop off, and clicked on Rudy—and thought, “Oh damn, here we go again.” This guy never quits getting beaten up and down the football field, the least I can do is sit here for another 90 minutes to support him. Just give up, Rudy, so I can go to bed.
Road House: I’m not sure why a movie about the world’s greatest bouncer always gets to me. If I ever were to become an accomplished bar fighter, I’d like to fashion my life after Dalton.
For some reason, I really like anything with Denzel Washington in it. I just find his movies consistently entertaining in that way you want a movie you probably shouldn’t be watching to be.
My boyfriend, Rob Guerin, says, Pretty in Pink, “because it’s dumb, and I’ve seen it.”
Neither of us would ever pass up the chance to watch Bring it On—it’s got a great color palette, a great fart joke, amazing dancing, the whole jazz hands thing, Ian Roberts as the evil choreographer may be the best character in a movie, ever.
“C.K. Dexter Haven! Oh, Mister C.K. Dexter Haven!” I will always stop for drunk Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story. He and Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant are all at their most beautiful and young Dinah rivals Groucho himself singing “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady.”
All About Eve: Thelma Ritter, George Sanders and the cattiest single-entendres ever! Yay! True story: a student once told me she hadn’t ever seen a black-and-white movie before and that she was surprised by how… “bitchy they were?” I asked. “Yes!” Silly girl—she thought her sorority sisters had invented backstabbing!
A tie (Can I have a tie? Please don’t ask me to choose.): Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and The Blues Brothers. I know every goddamn word. Every single music cue. SPOILER ALERT: There’s no basement in the Alamo. Also? Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman.
Tootsie: Every scene in that movie is funny. Except for the one where Jessica Lange talks about the flowered wallpaper, which is sweet and touching.
Broadcast News: Because of Albert Brooks imitating Schwarzenegger on TV, and the rant he gives about the devil, and the sweating newscast, and the part Holly Hunter walks through her perfume in the polka-dot dress and says defensively, “I read it in a magazine!” and all the other parts. I’m also a sucker for Shattered Glass and any other movie in which journalists are sassy yet horribly fucked up.
Daytrippers: I’ve watched it about 25 times so I might as well watch it again.
I have a deep aversion to watching edited-for-broadcast versions of R-rated movies I like (so like no Goodfellas on TNT or whatever for me) but there are a ton of heavy-rotation TCM movies that I regularly end up watching most of. (Like Ball of Fire, which I swear is on monthly.)
Also, for real: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. (Especially happy if I have already missed the slooow beginning.)
Around the tenth or twelfth time I watched The Big Sleep, I learned to stop worrying that it makes no sense. I stopped watching the movie and now just let the movie happen to me. It works well as both an ambient comfort and as an object to zone out on. It is a noir white-noise machine—zen in the zing of the gunshots, velvet unfolding from Vivian’s throat.
I was about to say I don’t watch movies on TV (I usually don’t), and then I remembered: Dazed and Confused. There was a stretch a while back when it was being rerun constantly on cable, and it’s it’s a movie I can easily pick up at any point. I have older siblings who were in high school in the ’70s, so it somehow makes me nostalgic for a time I didn’t actually experience. (Wet Hot American Summer = same deal, but don’t think it ever got rerun as much.) Funny, sweet movie.
Devil’s Advocate: Fully insane, and always on. I’ll never write my 3,500-word essay on the joys of Bad Pacino, but I don’t really have to, thanks to this. He’s all teeth and bellowing, everything else is as over-the-top as he is, and also apparently the Turner cable channels have some sort of deal requiring that this air every 48 hours, so my affection for it is refreshed constantly.
Super Troopers: I know, I know. The first time I saw this was years ago on HBO, fairly late at night. I wound up watching about 40 minutes standing up, waiting to turn the TV off as soon as I stopped being amused. Eventually I just sat down and watched it.
Exorcist III: Legion: This almost never happens, but it’s like a holiday when it does. William Peter Blatty writing wild and wildly metaphysical dialogue for a bunch of veteran character actors; Brad Dourif rants and raves with a weirdly pitch-shifted voice; there’s a dream sequence in DC’s Union Station that features Samuel L. Jackson, Fabio and Patrick Ewing. There is no other movie like this in the world, which is both sad and perfectly okay.
Not so long ago, a basic cable channel used to show an O.G. Star Wars marathon around Christmas. Nothing could be better than sitting around, sated with too many carbohydrates, watching light saber battles, and you could rest assured in the knowledge that the cable network wouldn’t bastardize the movies as much as George Lucas did.
Any Terminator movie, any time, will command my full attention. If there’s one principle that I’ve gleaned from watching hundreds of hours of science-fiction television and film, it’s that robots fighting are always cool.
I have maintained since childhood that, at any given point in time, Mrs. Doubtfire and/or Steel Magnolias is on somewhere in the world. I am actually convinced that when TV stations have an extra 10-15 minutes of airtime, they simply play a scene from one of those two movies to plug the hole. It’s like, “Oh, a boom fell on one of the Idol Top Twelve; cue Ouisa getting her mustache waxed.”
Never turn Baby Mama off in my presence. It’s one of the most underrated comedies ever. The scene in which Greg Kinnear surprises Amy Poehler by showing up at Tina Fey’s apartment is only slightly less funny than if Greg Kinnear surprised Amy Poehler by showing up at Tina Fey’s apartment in real life.
From Hell: It’s like a History Channel special with stars and a budget.
Anything with Matthew McConaughey: Too lumbering for sitcoms, too frequently oblivious for the big screen, but still our era’s single greatest poet of male dumbness. Only on basic cable does it feel as if he’s in on the joke.
Chinatown: I promise, I’m not trying to save face here. Chinatown is eternal because it can so easily be watched as trash.
Kill Bill, Gladiator, Overboard and, apparently, Back to the Future II. THIS WEEK.
Anything by Quentin Tarantino: I find the man’s output often overrated, but damned if it doesn’t make for perfect channel-surfing entertainment. There’s something about the way his movies feel like chopped up and reassembled versions of other movies that lends itself to casual drop-ins, even when the movie’s two-thirds over.
The Back To The Future trilogy: Perhaps the movies I watched more than any other at that pivotal age of 11. There’s something about them that remains undeniable to me, even as I’ve realized the sequels practice a law of diminishing returns.
His Girl Friday: The plot is so secondary to the real attraction here—rapid-fire wit and two people gradually re-falling in love—that I’ll gladly watch over and over and over again.
I hesitate to say this first one, at the risk of sounding high-falutin, but whenever AMC shows either of The Godfathers 1 or 2, I have a very hard time walking away. My favorite moment is either the smoking the cigarette scene on the steps of the hospital with the baker (“I am Enzo!”) or any time Sonny loses his shit.
Of course I am equally mesmerized by You’ve Got Mail, but I think that’s because there’s something so relaxing about it: pretty Upper West Side vistas, Meg Ryan’s perfect, pleated, Marc Jacobs wardrobe, and sunny apartment, and the shout-out to the NY Observer is always amusing.
Meg Ryan again for pick three! I can’t explain why I always stop for When a Man Loves a Woman, but I always do. I’m not even convinced it’s an all-that-good movie, and yet, here we are. Thanks Oxygen.
Honorable mentions: An American President, Two Weeks Notice and The Cutting Edge.
Related: What’s Your Most Played Song?
Nadia Chaudhury always stops to watch the Harry Potters, Never Been Kissed, and The Notebook (only for Gosling).