At the heart of style and creativity lies a subtle technical side that is all too often overlooked. For this week’s “Movies with Style,” we move beyond fashionable aesthetics and smart narratives to take a closer look at why the classic summer blockbusters have continued to top must-watch lists for decades. To meet our criteria, the films on this list had to not only prove their creativity, but also pass the test of time. That’s why the youngest in the bunch is pushing 30. This week we’re asking: What is the particular creative innovation that keeps audiences coming back to these films again and again?
5. Jaws (1975)
When director Steven Spielberg created this film (based on a novel of the same name by Peter Benchley) the real challenge came in making a believable mechanical shark. Rather than relying too heavily on special effects, Spielberg opted for a more suggestive approach. He allowed the film’s signature score to drive the anticipation of an impending shark attack—creating an anxiety-ridden trip at the center of this thriller’s success. Jaws wasn’t without its fashionable points, either; if you’re looking to recreate its mid-’70s swimsuit style, our friends at ModCloth have you covered.
4. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
If watching Harrison Ford outwit Nazis in the Egyptian desert isn’t enticement enough, then consider that this film was born of executive director George Lucas’s desire to recreate the popular serial films of the 1930s and 1940s. That sense of period revival helped make this first installment in the Indiana Jones franchise an instant classic. Today, it remains one of the highest grossing films ever made. We also can’t resist the fiery spirit of Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) always keeping Indie (Ford) on his toes—the film wouldn’t have the same character-driven charm without her.
3. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
You could create a library out of the mass of books and web content devoted to the creative innovations of this film—the first in the original Star Wars trilogy. So we’ll consider the less obvious points of interest, like the fact that writer-director George Lucas based the story, in part, on The Hidden Fortress, created by Japanese filmmaking legend Akira Kurasawa. There’s also the use of models and motion control photography that made the creatures and technology of a galaxy far, far away seem so tangible and real. Then, of course, there are the robots. Who isn’t charmed by the lop-sided banter of C-3PO and R2-D2?
2. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
So maybe E.T. and his human friends don’t have a great sense of style. This film is important to us because of the imaginary potential built into its concept, which was based on director Steven Spielberg’s childhood imaginary friend, whom he created after his parents divorced in 1960. The touching nature of Elliott (Henry Thomas) and E.T.’s friendship paired with the masterful puppetry behind the extra-terrestrial make it a pathbreaking achievement. Considering it surpassed Star Wars to become the highest grossing film of its time, E.T. remains a feat of summer blockbuster creativity.
1. Back to the Future (1985)
The combination of coming-of-age growing pains and science-fiction excitement makes this film a fresh style favorite. It even inspired our New Year’s Eve party in the January/February issue. The film’s time-traveling mixture of 1980s flash and mid-century revival already makes it a style go-to. When it comes to innovation, though, it’s the repurposing of everything from a DeLorean to a food processor that pulls at our creative heartstrings. That, and the connection between Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), which offers a friendly reminder that great achievements come through well-matched partnerships. Can you imagine the creative possibilities with a mentor like Doc?