Most great movies get better with subsequent viewings. But why? Is it because of their raw, unique narration? The advancement of their humor? Or even the slightly diluted shock of their violence? For whatever reason(s), the films below are the 15 I think most demand a second viewing. And a third. And a fourth. And on and on.
Note: Because so many directors love to live in a world of complexity, I’m only including one film by any given director. Names like Lynch and Kubrick could occupy this list alone, so let’s spread the wealth.
The narrative hook to this Kurosawa masterpiece is a simple one: recount the same crime, from four different points of view, and let us decide which is the most accurate. I’ve always found Rashomon to be one of the very best cinematic examples of the false reliability of memory. If four people witness the same event, are their stories guaranteed to match? Everyone remembers differently, and I never grow tired of watching that concept come to life via this film. Hell, the movie itself had an entire narrative technique named after it.
All of Ingmar Bergman’s best films could easily make this list, but I’m going with my personal favorite; the twisty, abstract fever dream, Persona. The best way I can summarize this film’s demand of being rewatched is with a story. The first time I watched Persona was during a hazy morning before work a few years ago. When it finished, I called out sick, and immediately put the film on again. I had never seen anything remotely like it before. Which, in fact, rings true today.
Much like Bergman’s work, it would be appropriate to list any of Kubrick’s films here. A little secret about me: I have never loved a Kubrick film on first viewing. You have to take them in, contemplate, discuss, rewatch. And the fact that I now love every film Kubrick ever made is a real testament to the man’s impeccable craft. 2001 speaks best to this. It’s so evolved and profound – so riddled with complexity, that it truly demands to be taken in, contemplated, discussed and rewatched. Again, and again, and again.
What is Chinatown about? I mean, what’s the real plot to the movie? The plot that propels J.J. Gittes to find the real Evelyn Mulwray? In fact, who is the fake Evelyn Mulwray, and why is she pretending to be someone else?
I love asking even the most dedicated fans of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown such questions. There is so much going on here (and so many memorable scenes to chew over) that much of the film is often overlooked or forgotten completely. But the only reason it works is because there is so much going on. A deceptively complicated thriller that I always get more out of.
Krzysztof Kieślowski liked to do things a little differently. And for this winding romance (actually, is it even a romance…?) he cast the same actress (the astonishing Irène Jacob) in two different roles, playing two different women living thousands of miles apart. When one of Jacob’s characters is affected by something, the other feels it, in an inexplicable way. Or is that far too literal an interruption of such a uniquely captivating film? Yeah, probably. Watch again and tell me.
Most of the films on this list demand to be reseen because of their unique narratives. The distinct way in which they choose to tell their story forces you to look again, and look closer. JFK is different. Oliver Stone’s epic masterpiece is here because it’s Just. So. Big. Clocking in at nine minutes over three hours, I can think of plenty longer films than Stone’s, but few are so briskly paced as this one. The way Stone cuts his footage with a type of frenzied, caffeinated appeal, implores us to stop, rewind, repeat. I’ve seen this film a handful of times, and never once been bored by it.
Pulp Fiction is the most rewacthable film I have ever seen, for many reasons. If this list were ranked, it would’ve easily clocked in at number one. Enough said.
I hated The Big Lebowski the first time I saw it. I was stunned by the countless claims that it was one of the funniest films of all time. Really? Where’s the humor? I couldn’t see it. Blame it on being too young (probably true), too literal (definitely true), too whatever – it just wasn’t for me. And then I rewatched again. And again. And then I got it, and now I see. Those Coen brothers, man, they’re just so… advanced.
Malick must make an appearance, and although his transformative visual poem The Tree of Life may be better suited here, I feel more compelled to make a case for The Thin Red Line. Malick’s films have their detractors, and that’s fair enough. It’s never my intention to convince someone who doesn’t like a film to indeed like it. But, for those who don’t necessarily enjoy The Thin Red Line, I may simply suggest that you give it another go. That you accept the sprawling narration, and understand that it doesn’t matter who is talking, but rather what their talking represents. It doesn’t matter how long a character is on screen, or how much backstory we’re provided. War is the character here, the actors are just faces expressing the same thing.
When someone tells me that they’ve watched Traffic for the first time, I like to ask them a few questions, one is what they thought of the news segment being silently subtitled while other action takes place on the screen. Many don’t remember that sequence, to which I say: exactly. Traffic is so layered and experimental, so grand and bold, that certain aspects are bound to be missed on the first go. And that, I suspect, is precisely what Steven Soderbergh was hoping for.
I had no idea what Memento was about the first time I saw it, and was certainly unaware of its reverse chronological narrative. It took me damn near 30 minutes to catch on, and I knew right then that I would be seeing the film again as soon as possible. And I did. And I often still am.
Like Bergman, Kubrick, and Malick, no list of this sort would be complete without a Lynch flick. And what better film to represent rewatchability than his masterful, purposefully confounding horror dream, Mulholland Dr.? I truly believe that no one person can ever see this film enough. There’s always a new puzzle piece to be discovered.
Okay, just hear me out. Irréversible stings, right? It’s a rough movie, from story to execution to – well, everything about it cuts damn deep. But when you watch it the second time, the film’s pain is slightly lessened, if for no other reason than you know what to expect. Maybe you fast-forward, maybe you look away, maybe you force yourself to really watch. Whatever your tactic, maybe upon rewatching, you’re able to actually appreciate what director Gaspar Noé was doing here. Or, maybe, that’s just me.
I’ve seen Shane Carruth’s Primer three times, and I have grown more confused by it with each passing viewing. And, believe me, the fact that I’m still able to enjoy it really says something about its overall charm. I’m certainly no fan of time travel movies, because I constantly bog myself down with questions and contractions. The difference here is that Carruth wants you to question. He wants you to find faults and holes. But are there any? Hell if I know, I could watch the film 12 more times trying to answer that, and probably end up more confused then when I began.
If there’s a theme to this list, it’s that the work of certain directors simply gets better with age. The more I watch any of Michael Haneke’s films, the more I become entranced by them. Caché is the Haneke film I’ve seen the most, and everytime I venture into its hypnotic world, I find something new to latch onto and pick apart. Hell, I’ve talked to people who absolutely love this movie and still haven’t seen what the final shot wants you to see. There’s always more.
There are plenty more to choose from here, so feel free to share some films that you feel demand to be viewed again in the comment section below.