Cinema is filled with powerful allegories and morality tales with visceral influence that continues to prevail to today’s audiences. The following are a list of films that although date back to 1927, remain relevant in contemporary social and political contexts. The following examples touch on issues of, modernity, civil rights, consumerism, war and gun violence. Covering a range of genres, from sci-fi to documentary, we will look at how films from the past 91 years continue to resonate with audiences today. Discussing how each film’s subject matter engages with present-day audiences and our own contextual issues.

They Live (1988)

John Carpenter’s They Live, starring professional Roddy Piper, a drifter who discovers those with wealth and power are aliens. Who are controlling the masses and keeping them compliant through mass media and consumerist living. Exposing, the power of advertisement, everyday propaganda and the class divide. Outdated visual effects aside, the film forces the audience to acknowledge the world in which ‘We Live’. The film has emerged into popular culture with the OBEY signs revealed on the billboards, that have become a successful clothing brand, making the film even more potent to modern audiences.

Do The Right Thing (1989)

This is a film that still resonates with you today and will continue to for a long time after the credits end. The film is set over one hot day on a Brooklyn street centred around Sal’s pizzeria. Written, directed by and starring Spike Lee, each character has clashing characteristics, qualities and complexities. The film demonstrates racial and cultural conflict, police brutality and gentrification. The film doesn’t provide answers to what the right thing is, but it ends on two still fitting quotes, one from Martin Luther King Jr. and another from Malcolm X, who although had different approaches, remain two of the most esteemed civil rights activists, whose messages, like the film’s are still pertinent.

Metropolis (1927)

Upon its initial realise over 90 years ago, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was said to be both admired by Hitler’s minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels and considered by others to contain communist messages. This epic, dystopian, German expressionist film, set in (the now not too distant future), 2026 has greatly influenced the science fiction genre. Lang’s vision of a futuristic city, gothic aesthetic and sexualised robot Maria, (or The Machine Man) is often connoted in contemporary sci-fi works. Nonetheless, the prominent and visualised class divide is still relevant to today’s society between the bourgeoisie elites and the workers. Wistfully, Metropolis suggests there is no space for social mobility. Although Metropolis provides a simplified allegory for the class divide, it is still a relevant commentary on society and the sci-fi genre.

The Great Dictator (1940)

Beyond the undeniable similarities with Nazi-era Germany, The Great Dictator shadows many more people in positions of great power. With all political satires, context is everything. Although the film was initially a response to Hitler’s dictatorship at the beginning of the second World War, the films iconic final speech, the first time audiences heard Charlie Chaplin speak onscreen, still resonates today. As Chaplin says; “the way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls – has barricaded the world with hate – has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.” Shot in a close-up, the words speak directly to the audience even now as Chaplin exclaims, “in the name of democracy, let us unite!”

Bowling for Columbine (2002)

Documentaries are often social commentaries, representing the big issues and contemporary discourses happening around the world. Reactionary against the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School, Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine explores the nature of gun violence in the United States. Regrettably, gun violence is still a prominent debate in America. On 14th Feburary 2018, a mass shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was the 8th fatal school shooting in the 45 days of 2018. Moore’s documentary could have been released this year as a response to a number of recent tragic shootings and a call for gun control.

Some other honourable mentions include, Handmaid’s Tale (1990) now, a hit TV show, Margret Atwood’s 1985 novel, of the same name, was first adapted into a film in 1990. Clueless (1995) stands the test of time as it remains a coming-of-age classic, with 90s fashion also making a comeback. Finally if ever The Truman Show (1998) is now most likely to become a reality, in today’s reality TV frenzy.

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About 

Louise is a Film and Screen Studies Student at the University of Brighton. She has a particular fondness for film archives, and their ever-changing ability to mould the narrative of film history. But also returns to the 21st century to enjoy contemporary cinema.