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.
The Double Life of Veronique (1991)
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.
24 thoughts on “Top 15 Movies That Demand Repeat Viewings”
Oh god I can never watch Mulholland Drive and Cache again. The only ones I can watch repeatedly from this list are Pulp Fiction and Memento. I guess that’s because I don’t really like watching serious stuff on repeat. Having said that, I have watched films like The Hour and The Pianist far too many times for how sad they make me.
One film I can watch on repeat till I die is Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Everytime, there is something new, I swear.
*The Hours. And by “on repeat” I mean repeated viewings.
Mulholland Dr., really?! Ahh, that one gets SO much better with repeated viewings, but it’s all good, we like what we like. Love The Pianist; seen it many times. I’ve actually only seen The Hours all the way through once. Time for me to revisit that.
Never heard of Cache Alex, but I’ll be on the lookout. In the meantime, I HAVE watched almost all the rest more than once. In the case of Pulp Fiction and Big Lebowski, we’re talking double figures! 😀
Oh man, I highly recommend Cache (and all of Michael Haneke’s films, in fact). Cache is such a twisty little thriller – great stuff.
LOVE hearing that Pulp and Big Lebowski reach double digits for you. That’s awesome.
I definitely agree with Mulholland Drive. Once you knew the turning point (shall I say), it demands a rewatch to try to understand further everything that came before it.
On the copy of Memento I have there is a secret easter egg option to watch the movie in the opposite order. So you see everything unfold. After watching this movie for the first time I immediately watched it the other way. It was really interesting and showed that there were no holes along the way that Nolan missed.
Off the top of my head would be Inception but I’m sure I could think of even better ones.
I’ve scoped out that DVD special feature as well, and, in addition to what you said about there definitely not being holes, it was cool to see that the film could work chronologically. Not AS well… but well.
Inception is a great pick too. Just wanted to do one Nolan flick though!
I totally agree with you on all of the films w/ the exception of “Irreversible” which shocked me from start to finish. I’m not sure if I want to see it again. I like the film but it was extreme. Especially that rape scene.
Yeah that was a risky inclusion here, but for me personally, I was so repulsed by that film when I first saw it, and for whatever reason, I gave it another go and realized how much I appreciate it. Tough, tough movie, but a necessary one.
I normally don’t see Double Life of Veronique on lists like this, but you’re so, so right. I enjoyed it upon first viewing, but seeing it more and more times have just left me with more awe with each subsequent viewing.
So glad you agree there. I honestly don’t think Veronique gets discussed enough period, you know? Such a remarkable film that should be mentioned more in general.
I put it on my Top 10 o the 90s list earlier. I truly adore it, and all the Kieslowski I’ve seen in general.
Ooh, good list, Alex. I’ve seen most of these films (fittingly only once) and I should re-watch them in the near future.
Thanks Anna! Have fun rewatching… there’s so much more to gain.
Super Troopers! THAT movie as some serious shit to wade through…
Did you say Yeah, sure, or Yes, sir?
Nice List !! You know I saw Irreversible recently and I have no
intention of going back to it again. Like Jess said below, I would love
to see Memento in order, you know, just for fun; to see how it works.
Love likes of Rashomon, Pulp Fiction on the list. I have seen them few
times each and you certainly find something to admire in them every
Curiously, two movies I’ll add to the list have the same
story. 8 1/2 and Discreet Charm of Bourgeois. For some reason the first
time I watched them, I had no idea what the hell was happening in it. In
the last scene, something happened and I suddenly realized what’s
happening. I watched them both again and they make so much more sense.
P.S.: For that matter, like Bergman or Lynch, wouldn’t ANY Bunuel also do? 🙂
Thanks man. 8 1/2, Discreet Charm, and ANY Buñuel are all great picks. I get more from those movies everytime I take them in.
I recently posted an identical list on my blog… No similarities to yours, but it all depends on the person: http://averageisbetter.blogspot.com/2013/03/repeat.html
That sentence was just awful… The list is identical in topic but not in selection of movies
Ha, gotcha. Gonna check out your post soon!
Irreversible is a bold pick — I like it. While I have yet to brave the film a second time, I definitely get what you’re saying. Noe made an amazing film, but damn if it isn’t hard to watch.
Thanks for that comment, Eric. I’m definitely not a sadist, I promise. I’ve just always felt that there is more going on in that film.
Am I the only that has gotten tired of Pulp Fiction? I honestly have no interest in ever seeing it again. I could probably name 50 movies more rewatchable. Sorry.