Specific Time Compared to AFI Top 100


In response to my recent writing of the specific time periods in movies, I’m going to put it to the test against the greatest, most scientifically tested “Best Of” list there is, the AFI Top 100. Yes, a list so great it doesn’t include any non-American movies and they saw fit to excise “Fargo” from their update to make room for… I dunno. Take your pick. I just refuse to believe there are 99 American movies better than “Fargo.”

There are four possible categories: The Past, the Present, the Future, and Another World. I know the difference when I see it.

Also note: I have not seen all of these movies, and I don’t feel like doing research. So when it came to ones I don’t know, I fell on the side of present.

Anyway, here’s how it breaks down…

“Citizen Kane” – some in the “present,” but mostly told in flashbacks. So Past.

“The Godfather*” – Past.

“Casablanca” – Slight past. Past enough to know exactly how we feel about WWII.

“Raging Bull” – Past.

“Singin’ In the Rain” – Past.

“Gone With the Wind” – Big-time Past.

“Lawrence of Arabia” – Past.

“Schindler’s List” – Past.

“Vertigo” – present, but maybe another world? You could argue a lot of stuff with that one. Let’s just stick with “present.”**

“The Wizard of Oz” – Past and Far Away World.

“City Lights” – I really don’t know. Present?

“The Searchers” – Past.

“Star Wars” – “Past.”

“Psycho” – present.  You see what I mean about Hitchcock?

“2001: A Space Odyssey” – Way past, then the future (for 1968), then Another World.

“Sunset Boulevard” – present.

“The Graduate” – the mopey present.

“The General” – Past.

“On the Waterfront” – present.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” – mostly-past.

“Chinatown” – Past.

“Some Like It Hot” – Past.

“The Grapes of Wrath” – Past.

“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” – present

“To Kill a Mockingbird” – Past.

“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” – present.

“High Noon” – Past.

“All About Eve” – mostly past.

“Double Indemnity” – technically the present, but it’s being narrated by a character, so it’s technically the near past.

“Apocalypse Now” – Past.

“The Maltese Falcon” – present… I think?

“The Godfather Part II” – Past.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” – present

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” – Past and Another World.

“Annie Hall” – present.

“The Bridge on the River Kwai” – Past.

“The Best Years of Our Lives” – Past, I think.

“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” – Past.

“Dr. Strangelove…” – present, technically.

“The Sound of Music” – Past.

“King Kong” – present, but Another World mostly.

“Bonnie and Clyde” – Past.

“Midnight Cowboy” – present (and exactly midnight)

“The Philadelphia Story” – present.

“Shane” – Past.

“It Happened One Night” – despite the past-tense title, present.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” – Past, I think.

“Rear Window” – present.

“Intolerance” – Past, I think.

“LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring” – middle-past and Another World.

“West Side Story” – …present, but it’s based on “Romeo and Juliet.”

“Taxi Driver” – present.

“The Deer Hunter” – Past.

“MASH” – Past.

“North by Northwest” – present

“Jaws” – present.

“Rocky” – present.

“The Gold Rush” – Past.

“Nashville” – long rambly mumble present.

“Duck Soup” – Past.

“Sullivan’s Travels” – Past, I think.

“American Graffiti” – the nostalgic past.

“Cabaret” – Past.

“Network” – present.

“The African Queen” – Past, I think.

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” – Past.

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” – present, I think.

“Unforgiven” – Past.

“Tootsie” – present.

“A Clockwork Orange” – the future.

“Saving Private Ryan” – Past.

“The Shawshank Redemption” – Past.

“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” – Past.

“The Silence of the Lambs” – present.

“In the Heat of the Night” – present, I’m pretty certain.

“Forrest Gump***” – mostly past.

“All the President’s Men” – Past.

“Modern Times” – Past.

“The Wild Bunch” – Past.

“The Apartment” – present.

“Spartacus” – Past.

“Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” – I dunno.

“Titanic” – Past.

“Easy Rider” – present.

“A Night at the Opera” – present, I think.

“Platoon” – Past.

“12 Angry Men” – kind of the past, but I may be saying that just because it was based on a play, so it had to have taken place “earlier.”

“Bringing Up Baby” – present.

“The Sixth Sense” – present.

“Swing Time” – present.

“Sophie’s Choice” – Past  and I don’t wanna talk about it.

“Goodfellas” – mostly past.

“The French Connection” – present, I believe.

“Pulp Fiction” – present, but more Another World. 

“The Last Picture Show” – present, I think.

“Do the Right Thing” – Past. Near past, but based on a specific recent event.

“Blade Runner” – the future.

“Yankee Doodle Dandy” – Past, I think.

“Toy Story” – present, but Another World.

“Ben Hur” – Past.

So of the 100 movies on that 2007 list, only 36 are set in the cold-hard “present,” when I give the ones I don’t know the benefit of the present-doubt. A handful are of the “qualified present,” which is to say they’re set in another world of some sort.

The rest are all set in the past or future. And many set decades apart.

This isn’t to say that setting a script in the past is the key to great success. But I think it only goes to prove that specificity counts for everything in writing.

I’m still thinking about this…

*I was just thinking this recently, but how great is it that Captain McClusky apologizes to Michael before they get to the restaurant. It’s a little thing, but it gives such a wonderful color to the scene and the characters. The best.

**EDITED TO ADD: “Vertigo” might qualify as “Another World” since it’s largely a nightmare. A nightmare in the real world, but still, it’s not the regular world.

***I’m not a “Forrest” hater, but if you watched that movie and then “Fargo”… how could you possibly think “Forrest” is superior?


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