You can learn a lot about a person and the types of movies they love. You ask 3 people what the best movie they have ever seen is, and you are likely to get three different movies.
Like a dog whistle or a typical Sam Smith song, movies speak a note whose unique resonation can only be heard by that specific person based on their life experiences.
Now, you can look at a movie clinically, and make arguments like “The acting from the two lead actors is sub-optimal based on these theories of acting studies I read” or “the story didn’t have a proper character arc” or anything else you can read in the annals of Rotten Tomatoes. These critiques are interesting, but also pointless, for two reasons:
1) Not for nothing™ (trademarked by our editor in chief, thanks Chris!) people look to movies for very different things. Some people want to learn something from it. Others just want to have some thrills. Some people (including maybe possibly yours truly) just want to watch Nicolas Cage save the world over and over
2) Cinema is art. Art ultimately is not to be judged clinically. My daughter’s drawings from day care is more beautiful to me than any Van Gogh painting because of what it means TO ME.
Now bear with me as I get off this high horse I’ve been riding so far. Horse is very tired and needs some rest.……hang on almost there, nearly tripped on the stirrups…………………….....ok there.
Now, where was I? Just because the value of art may be relative to the person enjoying the art, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a need to quantify movie excellence in some way. Sports have a hall of fame as a way to persevere for generations the best the sport had to offer from its history. Movies need something similar: a club where my great-great grandchildren can look to and say “that movie achieved a level of excellence, it MEANS something”
Some say the Oscars serve this purpose, to which I say it is partly true that what the Academy thinks has a role in this. But we also should not have to be bound to a criterion where “Dances With Wolves” is recognized for greatness over “Goodfellas” and “Forrest Gump” is recognized over “Shawshank Redemption”. We need a system that takes into account overall movie productivity along with the reception amongst the people.
How do we accomplish this? Sports have any number of metrics to evaluate players, movies have very few metrics, some of which have only been employed within the last 30-40 years. This actually serves to be a blessing, as it makes the formulation much simpler.
Fundamentally, there are only three things that matter for a movie:
1) The audience likes it
2) The critics like it
3) The Academy likes it
So a movie should hit all three marks to achieve eternal recognition. How do we measure this? I propose three metrics:
1) Movie Tickets Sold: due to inflation, using box office dollars is problematic, and we would need to scale the benchmarks every few years to match inflation of movie ticket prices. For this, we would need to rely on the number of movie tickets sold to quantify the demand of the audience
2) Rotten Tomato Score: Still the most objective way to quantify critical reaction to a movie. Is it flawed? Sure. Is there a better way to gauge the critics? No way.
3) Oscar wins. Oscars are still the gold standard for how the industry insiders view exceptional movies. They don’t get the only say, because they have clear biases in favor of movies that cater to the Hollywood old farts, but they do get a say.
These three metrics lead to the 2095 Club. A movie is deemed as truly elite if they pass each of the following three criteria:
1) 20 million tickets sold (according to boxofficemojo.com)
2) 90% Rotten Tomato Score (according to rottentomatoes.com)
3) At least 5 Oscar wins
How do I know this is the correct criteria? Because in the history* of movies only 8 movies pass all 3 criteria. A good club is extremely reserved in who it lets in. The fewer the members, the more prestigious the club. Who are the members of the 2095 club? The following movies:
*(Please note, due to the sample size limitations of Rotten Tomatoes in the 70s, and the likely high margin of error for box office reporting before then, the cutoff to make the club was 1977. Sorry Godfather Part II, you didn’t make the club for this reason. You are still amazing)
1) Lord of The Rings: Return of the King (61.5 million tickets, 93% RT, 11 Oscars)
a. This won 11 Oscars in part because the first two movies of the trilogy were nominated but largely ignored in the Oscar category. This year was considered the year the Academy was going to honor the entire LOTR trilogy by giving “Return of the King” all of its Oscars. That said, it was a satisfying end to one of the most beloved trilogies ever, it deserves to be in the club.
2) Schindler’s List (23.0 million tickets, 97% RT, 7 Oscars)
a. Was surprised in researching this list that Schindler’s List surpassed 20 million tickets sold. Sadly, if this movie were released in 2019, we’d have boycotts from all sorts of kooky political groups. Luckily for us, Schindler’s place in the 2095 club is sealed forever.
3) Gravity: (32.9 million tickets, 96% RT, 7 Oscars)
a. Our first mini surprise of the club, this is also our first entrant who did NOT win Best Picture (and won’t be the last). I’m comfortable with this being in the club due to Cuaron utilizing the full effects of the Imax experience with this movie about basically one person’s escape from Space. It deserved the audience, the critical reception, and the Oscars
4) Star Wars: (142.7 million tickets, 93% RT, 6 Oscars)
a. Jaws was the first Summer blockbuster, but Star Wars set the scene for all future blockbusters to come. It deserves its place in the club for that reason (even if it didn’t win Best Picture)
5) Raiders of the Lost Ark (77.2 million tickets, 95% RT, 5 Oscar)
a. The Gold standard of Adventure movies
6) Saving Private Ryan (45.7 million tickets, 93% RT, 5 Oscar)
a. We may as well rename this club “The Spielberg”.
7) Silence of the Lambs (31.1 million tickets, 96% RT, 5 Oscars)
a. I was really glad to see this make the cut, because it was quite an achievement to make a movie about a cannibal with hardly any special effects win 5 Oscars AND be a crowd pleaser.
8) Kramer vs Kramer (43.0 million tickets, 91% RT, 5 Oscars)
a. Look……every club has its Fredo Corleone. It wouldn’t be a club without the red-headed step child, ok??? And how did a divorce movie sell 43 million tickets???????? What was going on in the 70’s?????????
Being an honest man full of integrity, I must mention there are two main flaws to the club:
1) As noted in the asterisk above, the club starts at 1977. I’d love to go backwards to include Godfather II, but, as Confucius once said, “You can’t make everyone happy!!”
2) The criteria make it almost impossible for an animated movie to make it. An animated movie cannot be nominated for any of the acting categories, and would be nearly impossible for a director to be nominated. Animated movies have only ever been nominated in 9 total categories in the history of the Oscars (not including Best Animated Picture)
a. Conversely, based on what I consider to be low expectations for most critics, it is really hard for an animated movie to get below 50% (I can only think of a handful). So it would be far easier for an animated movie to get above 90% than a typical movie. Combine this with a fact that animated movies also have an advantage of catering to an inherently bigger audience, I will sleep well knowing that animated movies have an uphill battle to enter the 2095 club.
The flaws such as they are, the 2095 club represents an elite party, filled with 8 movies that most of us recognize as truly special movies that will live on for generations (well except Kramer vs Kramer). Movies across all sorts of genres and decades are represented too, validating the criteria further in my mind.
Does the club represent the 8 best movies ever? Of course not. But gaining the highest level of audience, critic, and academy satisfaction is a true achievement unto itself that requires recognition.
Some interesting movies that juuuuuuuuuuuuuuust missed the club:
Titanic: A whisper away from the club with an 89% Rotten Tomato Score. (128.3 million tickets, 10 Oscars)
Terms of Endearment: Another near miss due to RT score of 88%. (32.9 million tickets, 5 Oscars)
Shakespeare in Love: Another movie that was literally a company outing away from the 2095 club, with 19.8 million tickets sold. (92% RT, 7 Oscars)
Slumdog Millionaire: Missed due to selling “only” 19.0 million tickets. (91% RT, 8 Oscars)
American Beauty: Missed due to its 88% RT score (24.9 million tickets, 5 Oscars)
Of those 5, I feel only Titanic deserves a spot in the 2095 club (and there’s still time!), otherwise, there is justice in its thresholds for admittance.
Are there any movies coming up that could gain entry into the club? Let’s look at the three top contenders:
1) Avengers: EndGame: There currently aren’t any MCU movies in the 2095 club (which again, feels just), but Avengers will certainly sell 20 million tickets by opening weekend, and have a fair chance at 90% or more RT, which a few MCU movies have already done. The challenge will be the Oscars: only Black Panther has won Oscars among all the movies in the MCU. If the academy treats “End Game” like it treated “LOTR: Return of the King”, it has a chance to get into the club, but it would have to run the table in all of the visual/sound categories at minimum, and, I just don’t see it happening.
2) Us: The Academy is also not a fan of horror movies in addition to comic book movies, but Jordan Peele is going to be hard to ignore if this movie is as good as early reviews indicate. Get Out was nominated for 4 Oscars, won 1, and probably should have won Best Picture as well. Get Out sold 19.9 million tickets, so as long as Us continues the amazing reviews it should get there from a box office POV. Keep an eye out for this one for the 2095 Club
3) Star Wars Episode IX: I bring this up because its Star Wars, but it would need a serious reversal of fortune from the Academy for it to be rewarded. Episode VIII, The Last Jedi, which I believe based on its story and structure was made in part to generate Oscar attention, received 4 nominations and 0 wins. Episode IX will surely be made to be more fan friendly by JJ Abrams (what with a new theme park opening imminently), so the chances for it to be even nominated for 5 awards have to be slim.
Who else will get a ticket to the club in the next 5-10 years?? We will have to wait and see. Until then, get some popcorn, pull up a showing of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and enjoy greatness.