• Ilana Davis

What Should I Watch (Movie Edition)

Updated: Sep 5

Upon reconstructing the presumptive genres applied to television, I asked myself if I can do the same for films of the past and present. It was a daunting task - the narratives and themes found within movies span a variety of emotions, plots, and categories. 

But isn’t this the purpose of film, in its most basic form? Film allows us to observe a distinct set of characters, locations, problems, and solutions in a manner that serves to inspire, enlighten, and challenge our preconceived notions of the world. 


Each movie or series listed below is included in a long list of collections that I’ve not only watched numerous times, but have reflected upon as it relates to my own place in this world. 


The categories listed below are subject to debate and open for change. That is to say, film in particular allows for narratives to transcend one particular sense of purpose or delivery. A film can be both enlightening and traumatizing, horrific and beautiful. 

Requiem for a Dream, for example, is a film about love and loss, hopelessness and the mind’s ability to turn on itself. It is as beautiful as it is haunting. 


One of my favorite recent films, Into the Spiderverse, may very well be considered a Marvel film. It is, after all, a movie about this next generation’s Spiderman, a hero to the underdog and inspiration for the uninspired. I have it listed here as a family film due to themes within it and its animated delivery, but it is just as emotion evoking and even cerebral as any other title in these categories. 


But for now, these are the ways in which I categorize the films I see, and the way in which they manifest in my mind’s conceptualization of the world: 


Dark Comedy / Comedy


When there’s nothing in life to laugh at, laugh at yourself. Or others. Or oftentimes both in the case of dark comedies. Dinner For Schmucks is just as much a comedy as Jojo Rabbit, though the tones and takeaways of each are drastically different. While one uses humor as a mechanism for breaking up the tenseness of a family reunion, the other looks at a fictionalized historical event through a satirical and twisted lens. And both succeed in using humor as a means of explaining situations that are often less than. 

  • What we do in the shadows

  • The Interview

  • Scott Pilgrim V. The World

  • JoJo Rabbit

  • Dinner for Schmucks

  • Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

  • Elf

  • Groundhog Day

  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail

  • Between Two Ferns: The Movie

  • Palm Springs

  • American Ultra

  • Skeleton Twins

  • The Truman Show

  • American Pie

  • The Hangover

  • Spaceballs

  • Tropic Thunder

  • Stranger than Fiction

  • This is the End

  • The Simpson's Movie

  • Mac and Dennis Go to High School

  • Borat

  • The Oath

  • 5 Star Christmas

  • Super Intelligence

  • Heather's

  • Coming 2 America

  • Trial of the Chicago 7

  • America: The Motion Picture

Cult Classics


By definition, a Cult Classic is ‘A film with following, obscure or unpopular with mainstream audiences, and often revolutionary or ironically enjoyed.’ These movies transcend genre and theme, from Clockwork Orange which was filled with criticism, to Donnie Darko and his unanswered search for meaning. These films are irreverent, fresh and often intellectual in a way that leaves audiences with more questions rather than that feeling of satisfaction felt with most other films.

  • Donnie Darko

  • Withnail and I

  • Requiem For a Dream

  • A Clockwork Orange

  • Fight Club

  • Pulp Fiction

  • Idiocracy

  • Trainspotting

  • Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind

  • V for Vendetta

  • 2001: a Space Odyssey

Romance / Drama


There is something exhilarating about watching a story of love unfold on screen. 2:22 explores the concept of two star crossed lovers entrapped in an endless loop of trying to find one another before it's too late. Age of Adeline explores one young woman’s journey through the changing decades as she remains her same lonesome self. These movies explore the despair that leads to love and the everlasting euphoria that results. 

  • 365 Days

  • Fifty Shades of Grey

  • The Girl on the Train

  • Call Me By Your Name

  • Like Crazy

  • The Big Sick

  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

  • Charlie St. Cloud

  • Silver Linings Playbook

  • Age of Adeline

  • The Female Brain

  • Melancholia

  • Winter's Tale

  • 2:22

  • About Time

  • Romeo and Juliet (1992 Version)

  • Pretty Woman

  • Titanic

  • 500 Days of Summer

  • Safe Haven

  • Lovebirds

  • The Shape of Water

  • Remember Me

  • Sylvia Love

  • A Rainy Day in New York

  • Howl's Moving Castle

  • Happiest Season

  • The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

  • Sex and the City

  • The Devil Wears Prada

  • Untitled

Horror and Terror


These are the films that get under my skin, seep into my mind. Movies like Us, In the Tall Grass, or Insidious, which leaves me questioning if the woman in the mirror is in fact me, or if she is watching me. Horror films have surpassed the reliance on blood, gore, and grit - it's the fright of existing that this genre capitalizes on so successfully. 

  • Insidious

  • Midsommar

  • Get Out

  • Us

  • The Silence of the Lambs

  • Horns

  • Train to Busan

  • In the Tall Grass

  • Parasite

  • The Shining

  • The Devil All the Time

  • Run

  • The Other Lamb

  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2003 Version)

  • False Positive

Cerebral / Mind Bending


For when I am feeling existential and want to explore the meaning of life as it relates to the mind’s innermost desires and failures. These films come in many forms; the animated Waking Life explores the subconscious of a sleeping man through lucid interactions with random individuals around him. Inception offers a more structured, sleek vision of the layers within one’s mind, eventually leading to our deepest troubles that leads one to question reality itself.

  • Interstellar  

  • Inception

  • The Devil's Advocate

  • Selfless

  • I Lost My Body

  • Cosmo's Laundromat (Short Film)

  • Another Earth

  • Predestination

  • Sound of My Voice

  • Frequencies

  • I Origins

  • The Tree of Life

  • KPax

  • Momento

  • Waking Life

  • Being John Malkovich

  • Phantom of the Liberty

  • Tenet

  • Star Gate

Teenage 'Dramedies'


Often coined “Chick Flicks”, movies like Mean Girls and Clueless can be said to hold much more significance in the eyes of their audiences. The life of a teenage girl is fueled by endless uncertainty and confusion regarding boyfriends, parents, school, popularity, and so much more. These films offer the ideal depiction of teenage life, and serve as precedent for action during this period of life.

  • Pitch Perfect

  • Mean Girls

  • The Spectacular Now

  • Aquamarine

  • Lady Bird

  • Edge of Seventeen

  • Seventeen Again

  • Booksmart

  • Clueless

  • 10 Thins I Hate About You

  • Legally Blonde

  • Easy A

  • Dirty Dancing

  • 16 Candles

  • Diary of a Teenage Girl

  • Not Another Teen Movie

  • Holiday

  • Jennifer's Body

  • The Fault in Our Stars

  • Dr. Birds Advice For Sad Poets

  • He's All That

Emotion Evoking


These are the movies that make me feel. Whether I am left in tears by the cinematic montage at the end of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, or feeling inspired by watching the adventures in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Films that rely on emotional responses rather than reason have the power to influence the hearts of audiences everywhere, and inspire growth through onscreen challenges and success.

  • Good Will Hunting

  • Boyhood

  • Perks of Being a Wallflower

  • Manchester by the Sea

  • The Help

  • Boy

  • Hunt for the Wilder-People

  • Room

  • The Theory of Everything

  • To the Bone

  • The Two Popes

  • Instant Family

  • The Assistant

  • Boyhood

  • Dead Poet's Society

  • A Beautiful Mind

  • Into the Wild

  • Eat, Pray, Love

  • King of Staten Island

  • One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

  • The Only Living Boy in NY

  • Vanilla Sky

  • Honey Boy

  • The Life Ahead

  • Hillbilly Elegy

  • If Anything Happens I Love You (Short Film)

  • Let Them All Talk

  • It's Kind of a Funny Story

  • Penguin Bloom Stories

  • Malcolm and Marie

  • Captain Fantastic

  • Pursuit of Happyness

  • 2 Hearts

  • Fatherhood

  • Judas and the Black Messiah

Thrilling and Exciting


Classic thrillers left audiences in a state of heightened adrenaline through anxious situations, exciting scenes, and suspense-inducing cinematography. A film like Zodiac is just as thrilling and exciting as White House Down, both succeeding in deriving a state of suspense from viewers. These films can result in anything from the inspiration of one’s true purpose, or the darkened mind of a serial killer himself.

  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

  • Hugo

  • Zodiac

  • White House Down

  • The Social Network

  • The Cloverfield Paradox

  • Dallas Buyers Club

  • Olympus has Fallen

  • Shawshank Redemption

  • A Simple Favor

  • Tower Heist

  • The Wave

  • The Day After Tomorrow

  • American Psycho

  • The Da Vinci Code

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

  • The Prestige

  • Dunkirk

  • The Purge

  • Project Power

  • The Impossible

  • Before I Go to Sleep

  • The Departed

  • Little Things

  • The Happening

Epics/Sagas


Like the literary toils of Gilgamesh or the biblical building of the Ark by Noah, epics and sagas within film are stories about characters that span time and/or space. Both The Fountain and Cloud Atlas portray a stunning journey through the ages as a group of characters define their purpose in each one. In watching these movies, I can watch a lifetime itself play out as the environment around it changes. 

  • Cloud Atlas

  • The Fountain

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

  • Forrest Gump

  • Schindler's List

  • Life of Pi

  • Amadeus

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

  • Great Gatsby

  • Until the End of the World

  • Jungle Cruise

A Dystopian Vision Mixed with Sci-Fi


Think: The Matrix, 2012, War World Z - these films utilize the mind’s tendency to wander towards apocalyptic visions and the end of the world. Whether the movies’ plots center around the simulation, space travel hindered by the supernatural , or eerie glimpses at a world governed by lawlessness and ruthlessness, there is something comforting about watching dystopia of this magnitude unfold on the screen. 

  • Ex Machina

  • 2012

  • The Matrix

  • Annihilation

  • What Happened to Monday

  • Her

  • The Platform

  • The Mandela Affect

  • Other Life

  • Prometheus

  • Bladerunner

  • 1984

  • Tau

  • The Social Dilemma

  • Apocalypto

  • I Am Legend

Family


The categories of films listed above are ideal for teenagers, young adults, working men and women and older. But in many instances, families with young children often desire movies that are simpler in theme, more relatable in content to a younger audience of children. These movies can be viewed by anyone - to escape the mundanity of reality, dive deep into the beautiful story told in Smallfoot, of differing people coming together to challenge societal norms. These films can be classics from your own childhood, like Madagascar or Shrek

  • Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse

  • Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart

  • The Bee Movie

  • Madagascar

  • Peter Pan (2004 Live Action)

  • Shaun the Sheep

  • Pets

  • Smallfoot

  • Sinbad (Animated)

  • Prince of Egypt

  • Peter Pan

  • Zootopia

  • Brother Bear

  • Atlantis

  • Tarzan

  • Big Hero 6

  • The Lion King

  • Wreck-it-Ralph

  • Hercules

  • The Emperor's New Groove

  • The Nightmare Before Christmas

  • Shrek

  • Phineas and Ferb: Candace Against the Universe

  • Enola Holmes

  • The Princess Bride

  • The Sorcerer's Apprentice

  • The Secret Garden

  • Cruella

Musical Epics


Just as epics and sagas follow a set of characters across an elongated narrative, so too do Musical epics. There is no better way to portray the human experience than with song - as song is the medium that reveals the heart's greatest desires. From a rags to riches tale told in Burlesque, to the multigenerational tale of Les Miserables, these film grasp at the hearts of audiences with enticing soundtracks, clever choreography, and themes that resonate to greatly with viewers everywhere.

  • Les Miserables

  • The Greatest Showman

  • Into the Woods

  • Mamma Mia

  • The Phantom of the Opera

  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

  • Yesterday

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

  • Rocket Man

  • Burlesque

  • Moulin Rouge

  • Rent

  • Chicago

  • In The Heights

  • Cinderella

  • Annette

Documentary


What is real? What is fake? When fiction becomes too absurd and one must find solace in reality, the Documentary becomes the ideal medium for storytelling. These films and narratives can reflect upon the mundanity but interconnectivity of daily life around the world, like in Life in a Day. Or, it can explore the more absurd, odd phenomenon that occurs in the lives of strangers, like in Three Identical Strangers. These are films compiled of real footage, real people’s stories, and real framing of events that are meant to inspire or hinder audiences in some way. 

  • The American Meme

  • Ancient Aliens

  • Jonestown Paradise Lost

  • Three Identical Strangers

  • RBG

  • We Are One

  • Bigger Faster Stronger

  • The Coming Pandemic

  • My Life Animated

  • Life in a Day

  • RBG

  • Death to 2020

  • United States of Conspiracy

  • In and of Itself

  • Persona

  • Seaspiracy

  • Glitch in the Matrix

"The Following categories are compiled by subgenres, collections, or production companies. They need no introduction other than the fact that they are movies I have grown up on, enjoyed throughout childhood and until this day, and continue to find new meanings within them as I grow older."

Classics (1900-1990) 

  • A Trip to the Moon (1902) 

  • Metropolis (1927) 

  • The Wizard of Oz (1939) 

  • Gone With the Wind (1939) 

  • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington  (1939) 

  • Its A Wonderful Life (1946) 

  • Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

  • Vertigo (1958) 

  • Psycho (1960) 

  • West Side Story (1961) 

  • To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) 

  • Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)

  • The Graduate (1967)

  • Romeo and Juliet (1968) 

  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) 

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) 

  • Taxi Driver (1976) 

  • Apocalypse Now (1979)

  • The Elephant Man (1980) 

  • ET (1982) 

  • Back to the Future (1985) 

  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

The Avengers 

  • Iron Man 

  • The Incredible Hulk 

  • Iron Man 2 

  • Thor 

  • Captain America: The First Avenger 

  • Marvel’s the Avengers 

  • Iron Man 3

  • Thor: The Dark World 

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier 

  • Guardians of the Galaxy 

  • Avengers: Age of Ultron 

  • Ant Man 

  • Captain America: Civil War 

  • Doctor Strange 

  • Guardians of the Galaxies vol. 2

  • Spiderman: Homecoming 

  • Thor: Ragnarok

  • Black Panther 

  • The Avengers: Infinity War

  • Ant Man and the Wasp 

  • Captain Marvel 

  • Avengers: Endgame 

  • Spiderman: Far From Home

  • Black Widow


The Justice League 

  • The Dark Knight 

  • Watchmen 

  • Green Lantern 

  • The Dark Knight Rises 

  • Man of Steel 

  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice 

  • Suicide Squad 

  • Wonder Woman 

  • Justice League 

  •  Aquaman 

  • Shazam!

  • Joker 

  • Birds of Prey

  • Wonder Woman: 1984

  • Suicide Squad (2021)

X-Men 

  • X-Men 

  • X2

  • X-Men: The Last Stand 

  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine 

  • X-Men: First Class 

  • The Wolverine 

  • X-Men: Days of Future Past 

  • Deadpool 

  • X-Men: Apocalypse

  • Logan 

  • Deadpool 2

  • Dark Phoenix

Movie Series/Collections 

  • Alien 

  • Fast and Furious

  • Harry Potter 

  • 007: James Bond 

  • Pirates of the Caribbean 

  • Scary Movies

  • Star Wars 

  • Lord of the Rings 

  • The Hunger Games 

  • Twilight Saga  

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 

  • Shrek 

  • Indiana Jones

Pixar 

  • Cars 

  • The Good Dinosaur 

  • Coco

  • The Incredibles

  • Onward 

  • Inside Out 

  • Finding Nemo 

  • Finding Dory 

  • Monsters Inc 

  • Toy Story 

  • Ratatouille 

  • Up

  • Wall-E

  • Wreck it Ralph 

  • A Bug’s Life 

  • Soul

Disney’s Powerful Female Leads 

  • Brave

  • Frozen (1 and 2) 

  • The Little Mermaid 

  • Beauty and the Beast 

  • Alice in Wonderland 

  • Aladdin 

  • Cinderella 

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 

  • Sleeping Beauty 

  • Mulan

  • The Princess and the Frog 

  • Alice in Wonderland

Disney Channel Original Movies 

  • Let it Shine 

  • Lemonade Mouth 

  • Avalon High 

  • Starstruck 

  • Princess Protection Program 

  • The Cheetah Girls (1-3) 

  • Minutemen 

  • Twitches 

  • High School Musical (1-3) 

  • Jump In

  • Halloweentown (1-4) 

  • Cow Bells 

  • Go Figure 

  • Now You See It 

  • Tiger Cruise 

  • Stuck in the Suburbs

  • Zenon

  • Pixel Perfect 

  • Cadet Kelly 

  • Get a Clue 

  • The Thirteenth Year

  • The Color of Friendship 

  • Smart House 

  • Sharkboy and Lava Girl 















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