Movies that Made Me: 9 Influential Films From My Childhood & Adolescence

Hieratic’s recent posts about LGBTQ exposure in the media have gotten me thinking about the movies and shows that have shaped me. I’ve seen so many incredible movies and shows over the course of my 28 years, and a few of them have had a huge impact on who I am today (for better or worse).

This list isn’t in order by most impactful, but in (rough) chronological order by when I might have viewed them for the first time. It’s behind the cut because it is a.) wicked long, and b.) includes lots of pictures (heh, that’s what he said).

1. Mary Poppins (1964)

There were a few movies that I watched daily as a very young child. I’m sure I drove my parents crazy always wanting to watch the same few movies, but I couldn’t help it– once I’d been drawn into a story I couldn’t let it be. Mary Poppins was one such movie for me. Mary Poppins taught me three things:

1. The importance of looking fabulous: Mary Poppins is not some rag-tag lady who drops from the sky all willy-nilly. She looks GOOD, though. She powders her nose as needed, drifts about on a chic umbrella and always maintains a composed demeanor.

2. The power of imagination. I can’t tell you how many times I imagined myself on one of the carousel horses that broke away to win the race. I still dream of owning a carpet bag that could carry any of my favorite things (I mean, really: Who DOESN’T need a floor lamp with them at all times?).

3. Adults have a nasty habit of caging themselves in. Take George Banks, for example: Bert explains to Jane that “They makes cages in all sizes and shapes, you know. Bank-shaped, some of ’em, carpets and all.” And it’s true: Mr. Banks, in the admirable pursuit of providing for his family, ended up caging himself in at a job that sucked the joy from his life (which affected his relationships, most notably with his children).

So the takeaways: Look good, use your imagination, and don’t let your job dictate your happiness.

2. Sound of Music (1965)

Man, The Sound of Music. It’s just epic, y’all. Beyond the fact that it brings more Julie Andrews to this list (she was apparently very influential on Young Dumpling), it also brings a lot of joy. There are many potential life lessons and cautionary tales one could take away from this film, but I’m interested in sharing one in particular: You can’t hurry love.

How do you solve a problem like Maria? You fucking DON’T. Why? Because she’s awesome. She is a free spirit searching for her lot in life, uncertain what her calling is after Mother Superior tells her she ain’t no nun. Maria ends up a nanny to the von Trapp family, and Papa von Trapp is a piece of work. But we all know how the story ends. Maria is a quirky late bloomer who is always herself. In some ways, a convent may have made sense for a strange character like her. But she was just as desirable as any other woman in the eyes of Captain von Trapp because she was unabashedly herself.

3. The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)

Growing up I loved just about everything Jim Hensen made. I watched Sesame Street religiously, I was in love with his Storyteller series (something I may touch on in a future blog post) and I absolutely loved The Muppets.

I always feel a little broken up whenever I think of some Jim Hensen shows or movies. While joyful, he never shied away from heartbreak (perhaps Jim Henson is like the gateway drug to Joss Whedon?). There’s a scene in The Muppets Take Manhattan when each of The Muppets must go their separate ways, and Miss Piggy leaves Kermit on a train whilst singing “Saying Goodbye.” I watched this movie multiple times a week and cried EVERY time this scene came on. Every. Single. Time.

Piggy: Saying goodbye, going away
Seems like goodbye’s such a hard thing to say
Kermit: Touching our hands, wondering why
Both: It’s time for saying goodbye.

I’ll stop there because I’m getting teary just typing that. Of course Miss Piggy and Kermit don’t stay apart forever: In the end the Muppets’ hard work pays off and they are all reunited in a grand production. None of it came easy, though, because change is hard. Sometimes we have to make decisions that result in giving something up. The moral of this story, however: It all seems to work out in the end.

4. Footloose (1984)

There are two types of people in this world: Those who swear by Dirty Dancing, and those who swear by Footloose. I’m obviously one of the latter. We can still be friends if you don’t agree, though it may take some time to repair the broken trust. Just saying.

Let’s just start with the obvious: Ren McCormack is a fucking BAD ASS. He may be wiry and wear skinny jeans, but he doesn’t give a FUCK what you think, alright? He’s going to do gymnastics and work at the flour mill and be super awesome while he listens to loud music and dances. When he gets mad he will do all of those things SIMULTANEOUSLY because his teenage angst CAN NOT be contained.

Ren McCormack will also not stand for bullshit ordinances that outlaw dancing. Dancing? Outlawed? Not in Ren McCormack’s Beaumont. He will fight tooth and nail (read: will show up to a town hall meeting and quote Bible verses) to get what he wants: A senior prom. BOOM.

What can we learn from Ren McCormack? I have a better question: What CAN’T we learn from Ren McCormack? I think that one line really sums up a lesson that I learned from this movie. When asked by his mom “Why this dance? Why this town?” Ren replies (after an anecdote about his father):

“I could really do something. I could really do something for me this time. Otherwise I’m just gonna disappear.”

Ren could be any other slacker kid in small-town America, smoking pot in daddy’s field and fucking around. But he’s not. Ren had a job, kept good enough grades to be on the gymnastics team AND decided to fight a major town rule. Y’know, no big whoop. He welcomed the hard work it took to stand by his principals. He didn’t back down, and he didn’t take an all-or-nothing attitude. In the end, Ren compromised enough to get what he wanted while allowing his opponent to save face. Also: He danced his ass off.

5. Anne of Green Gables & Anne of Avonlea (1985, 87)

Anne Shirley is an orphan mistakenly adopted by a brother and sister, Matthew and Marilla, who had intended to adopt a boy. People don’t find her very pretty, she can’t control her talkative nature, and she has a temper to match her red hair. With the exception of her friend Diana, Anne is essentially an outcast in a small, rural town.

But Anne is determined to be smarter and more well-rounded than the popular girls who make fun of her awkward nature. As Anne grows up she matures a bit, and the girl who had once been called homely grows into a beautiful young woman. She becomes the object of men’s affection because of her sassy-yet-dignified nature, but she is truly loved by a man who made the mistake of calling her “carrots” as a child and thus had to endure her wrath: Gilbert Blythe. Gilbert loves her even when Anne isn’t particularly loveable, and he helps Anne recognize how important it is to be true to herself and her Avonlea roots.

Anne is intelligent, stubborn, creative and motivated. She is hopelessly flawed and just as hopelessly loved by those around her. She learns that it’s important to stay true to her roots, no matter how awkward or weird they may be.

PS: There’s a great series of posts on Feministing about Anne as a stealth feminist that I recommend you check out if you’re interested in more Anne.

6. Wayne’s World (1992)

Wayne Campell and Garth Algar are hosts of a late-night public access show by the name of Wayne’s World. They make sex jokes, play air guitar, make fun of people, and talk about pop culture (Whoa. It’s just now occurring to me that Ain’t Nothin’ is like the Wayne’s World of the internet. Carry on.). A big-wig producer decides to buy Wayne’s World and exploit the show, all whilst meddling with Wayne’s relationship with his sexy girlfriend, Cassandra.

How is this movie influential? Well, I probably first saw this movie around the age of 12. It introduced me to big hair, loud music and the term “schwing” (something I didn’t fully understand until later, but that’s not the point). It also introduced me to sarcastic humor, funny social commentary (Product placement? Hot Asian girlfriends?), and general badassery.

The lesson? Wayne gets by because he has awesome friends. When shit hits the fan, Garth and the rest of their crew band together with Wayne to fight for their show and win Cassandra back. Wayne coudn’t have done it without them.

7. Philadelphia (1993)

Tom Hanks plays a lawyer who is wrongfully fired because he is 1.) Gay and 2.) has AIDS. He gets a lawyer he saw on TV (Denzel Washington) to represent him as he goes after the firm who fired him. Denzel Washington’s character has to face his own discomfort with gay men, his ignorance about AIDS and his own sexuality while he fights this case. Meanwhile, Tom Hanks’ character is losing his battle with AIDS. What did this movie teach me?

Gay people are just that: PEOPLE. All people deserve dignity and respect. As a child it didn’t seem weird to me to see two men who loved each other so completely; it seemed beautiful, natural and normal.

Straight people can’t be silent about gay rights. Today I consider myself to be an ally to the gay community, and I believe that early exposure to movies like Philadelphia influenced that for me. I know better than to think that the fight for gay rights is my fight– it isn’t. But it is my business to make sure that I’m working to dispel bullshit ideas and hate that come from other straight people. This movie taught me that straight people are just as critical to strengthening the gay rights movement as they could be to standing in it’s way.

8. Little Women (1994)

This story follows four sisters living in Concord, Massachusetts during the Civil War. The sisters’ relationships are complex and full of love (and sometimes hatred). Three things I learned from Little Women:

1. Women rock: Jo March (played by Winona Ryder) has to pretend to be a man to get her first manuscripts published, but she’s not above doing what she has to do to get started. Much like Anne of Green Gables, Jo is lucky enough to have a man who loves her enough to remind her not to loose sight of her roots. Jo eventually comes to terms with this, writing “Little Women” in her own name, and becoming published. When her aunt dies and bequeaths her house to Jo, she makes plans to turn it into a school where anyone can learn.

2. Sisters are precious: “I could never love anyone more than I love my sisters.” The March sisters definitely have their less-than-awesome moments together, but what sisters don’t? When it comes down to it, they love each other more than anything.

3. Christian Bale is adorable: My appreciation for The Bale really began with Newsies, but as awesome as that movie is, it really wasn’t as influential of a story for Young Dumpling. I’m not here to talk about him as a person (who knows how stellar he actually is). No, no. He is an attractive manz with some acting skillz, and for that I choose to ♥ him.

9. Contact (1997)

I’m not even going to explain the plot for this one. If you haven’t seen Contact, please just go do it, will ya? For me? You won’t regret it.

“If it is just us… Seems like an awful waste of space.”

This movie (based on a novel by Carl Sagan, The Biggest Bad Ass Known to Mankind) was incredibly formative for me for a number of reasons, but primarily because of it’s honest and (mostly) serious consideration of science and religion. My parents chose not to raise me with religion, but rather my mother taught me to live by The Golden Rule.

“So what’s more likely? That an all-powerful, mysterious God created the Universe, and decided not to give any proof of his existence? Or, that He simply doesn’t exist at all, and that we created Him, so that we wouldn’t have to feel so small and alone?”

As a teenager I watched my friends go to Christian youth group (and tagged along once) and felt confused by their need to attend. Watching Contact I felt an instant kinship with Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) because of this. She was confounded by people who needed to explain the world around them using scripture– isn’t that what scientific fact was for? She struggled with her feelings for Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey), a renowned Christian advisor and philospher, because of his belief in God.

“Because I can’t. I… had an experience… I can’t prove it, I can’t even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real! I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever… A vision… of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how… rare, and precious we all are!”

But something happens (go see the movie already, alright???) that rocks Ellie to her core. She can’t explain what she’s seen using science. She doesn’t have much evidence to bring back to prove what she experienced, and she’s left to fend for herself to explain what’s happened. It’s because of this experience that she discovers faith (not necessarily religious faith, but faith just the same).

So what did I take from Contact? Don’t fear being weird, don’t abandon what you believe in, and don’t be afraid to change your mind when you learn something new.


In a future post I’ll tackle influential films of my adult years (and potentially some television shows). In the meantime I’d love to know: What childhood movies shaped who you are?



Filed under Sara

2 responses to “Movies that Made Me: 9 Influential Films From My Childhood & Adolescence

  1. Straight people can’t be silent about gay rights.” Yes yes yes YES! I agree whole-heartedly. I believe that the struggle for LGBTQ rights is THE civil rights struggle for our age, and I refuse to sit on the sidelines just because I’m straight. I would differ on one thing, however: this struggle (especially for gay marriage) IS our fight. Because so long as things like getting married and being spared from job, housing, and other discrimination are seen as a “privilege” to be “granted” by the congress and society to LGBTQ among us, then they could be taken AWAY from any of us who aren’t white, conservative Christians. The struggle at hand is to re-affirm these things as being self-evident: that ALL are created with certain inalienable RIGHTS, like life, liberty, and the pursuit of HAPPINESS. So long as these things are denied to a few, they are tenuous for all. This is our struggle.

  2. Pingback: Ain’t Nothin’ | ain't nothin'.

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