What movie have you seen the most? That’s the question Slate asked a collection of filmmakers and critics, knowing that what’s addictive is different than what’s deemed the best. The answers vary from Ghostbusters to Dr. Zhivago, from Citizen Kane to Election.
Adam McKay, director, Anchorman
My movie would be Election: I think I’ve seen this movie 40 times. It’s a perfect movie. Seamless, hilarious, social, political, and yet local and specific. It’s intimidating it’s so good. I think because it’s funny and about a high school, people tend to treat it lightly, but I think it’s a heavy hitter masterpiece.
Paul Schrader, writer, Taxi Driver
Pickpocket. It was the first film that made me feel there might be a place for me in the world of filmmaking. I return to it when I have doubts about whether I should continue. The Conformist. A textbook of film style. It never fails to provide fresh visual inspiration. Same is true of Performance.
Liev Schreiber, director, Everything Is Illuminated
Citizen Kane. I’ve seen it two or three times because of my mother—I watched it as a kid. Then I probably watched it five or six times while I was getting ready to do a story about Orson Welles for HBO called RKO-281. So, I’ve probably watched it somewhere between eight or nine times total. As I watched, I started looking at the film for different things. I was looking for the performances, looking for [cinematographer] Gregg Toland’s work, looking with regard to [screenwriter] Herman Mankiewicz’s work. Other times I was listening to the score. There’s a lot in it.
Laura Ziskin, producer, Spider-Man
I am not much for re-watching movies I have already seen. But whenever All the President’s Men is on TV, if I happen past it, I always stop and end up watching the whole thing and marveling at what a great movie it is. When the movie came out, I, like everyone else, knew the story and the outcome. Nonetheless, it played with such suspense and tension. I have probably seen it at least 10 times, and I am always on the edge of my seat.
Peter Farrelly, director, There’s Something About Mary
I’ve seen Something Wild about 10 times. It’s not my all-time favorite movie, but it’s right up there. Something about the story and the people and the look of it comforts me. It’s a place I know, and it’s real, and it hasn’t been captured in many movies. I love the music. It’s the movie that inspired us to use Jeff Daniels in Dumb & Dumber. He’s hysterical here, and Ray Liotta couldn’t be cooler and more ominous—he just popped—and I think it’s the most interesting thing Melanie Griffith has done, as well. It was written by E. Max Frye and directed by Jonathan Demme, and Demme’s just hipper than shit. It’s the road stuff that I love the most, but Demme and Tak Fujimoto (the director of photography) managed to make even New York City seem bright and welcoming.
I’ve talked to people who said Something Wild felt like two movies, which they considered a flaw, but that’s what I loved about it. You’re going along on this dreamy little trip, and suddenly there’s a sharp tonal shift as reality kicks in and for the last 30 minutes, you’re sucked into something that you never saw coming. Quick story: About 15 years ago I drove straight through from L.A. to Albuquerque to attend a friend’s wedding. It’s about a 16-hour drive, but I floored it and, despite getting a bunch of tickets, made it in 13 hours, which gave me about 20 minutes to get ready for the ceremony. I took a quick shower, and as I was getting dressed, I flipped on the tube, and Something Wild was on. Anyway, I never made it to the church, and I was about 20 minutes late to the reception.
Judd Apatow, director, The 40-Year-Old Virgin
The movie I have seen the most is Bottle Rocket. I can’t see it enough. It is odd and sweet and original and contains some of my favorite performances of all time. Especially Kumar’s.
Phillip Lopate, editor, American Movie Critics: From the Silents Until Now
One of my favorite filmmakers is the Japanese director Mikio Naruse. I have watched his Flowing, for instance, four or five times, as I have his Late Chrysanthemums. I like the quiet, subtle, and engrossing quality of his small, intimate world, where I can never quite predict what is going to happen in a scene. I find that those movies I can watch again and again are not the most tragic or histrionic or even happily energetic, but the ones that fall into a middle emotional range: not La Strada but I Vitelloni, not Singin’ in the Rain but Meet Me in St. Louis.
Albert Maysles, cinematographer, Gimme Shelter
Rocco and His Brothers. I’ve seen it three times and it still brings tears. Italian neo-realism at its best. I have a passion for trains and for what happens when people get off trains (the subject of my next film).
Tony Hendra, actor, This Is Spinal Tap
Dr. Strangelove. It’s also one of the greatest satires of all time and pure satire, at that—never once dropping its mask of concerned sympathy for the military mind, however stark, raving mad it may be. Sterling Hayden’s Jack D. Ripper—fall-down funny with his “precious bodily fluids”; George C. Scott’s randy blowhard patriot Buck Turgidson, a hilarious preview of his “Patton” a couple of years later; Peter Sellers immortalized by the megalomaniacal Strangelove, but just as funny as the meek and waffly RAF officer Captain Mandrake upon whose ineffectual bravado the entire future of the human race depends. It may be set in the Cold War, but Dr. Strangelove reminds us, 40 years on, that for the military mind there’s always a War Against Something that must be won at any cost.
Michael Sragow, critic, the Baltimore Sun
It was my luck to see the greatest movie ever made, The Wild Bunch, shortly after it opened in the summer of 1969. I saw it six times the first week and may have seen it 50 times since. No other film has such an inside-outside reach. Sam Peckinpah took an oft-told, basic story about outlaws on their last run, turned it into a Homeric epic, and, just along the way, through total commitment and overwhelming talent, managed to express all the divisions of his heart and soul.
The movie’s size of spirit and vision as well as its physical scope made it a transcendent experience for a then-suburban kid like me.
Jake Kasdan, director, Orange County
Almost definitely, the movie I’ve seen the most is Ghostbusters. Don’t know how many times—triple digits, counting partial viewings. I know that when it came out, I saw it at least six times in the theater. I remember lying in bed, at age 10, cataloging my favorite jokes from the movie, in order of greatness (the order would change slightly with multiple viewings—what had seemed to be the fourth-best joke in the movie after the third viewing, might, in fact, turn out to be the second-best joke, after the fifth viewing. You never could tell …). And now, as a director, I’m trying to work with the entire cast. Harold Ramis is in my last movie, Orange County. Sigourney Weaver is in my new movie, The TV Set. Next … ? I don’t know. Ernie Hudson, maybe. Along totally different lines—and it’s a little bit uncomfortable to admit this—for some reason, Footloose is just endlessly watchable for me, forever. Bacon’s soooo cool (even with that skinny tie). Lori Singer’s soooo hot. The dancing is insane but … explosive! I can’t explain it. It’s a movie about the inalienable human right … to dance! As if that right were actually under attack in the mid-’80s. And yet it’s a message that carries incredible resonance, even today. Sort of … late at night … on cable …
Jonathan Rosenbaum, critic, Chicago Reader
I’m very fortunate in being able to cite Jacques Tati’s Playtimeas both the film I’ve seen the greatest number of times and my favorite movie. I first saw it 38 years ago and suspect I’ve seen it somewhere between 30 and 40 times. I like to see it again and again because I find it inexhaustible, the way a favorite piece of music is, and something that never looks exactly the same when I see it again because I watch it differently; each time, my gaze dances in a somewhat different way to Tati’s choreography.
Steven Kloves,writer, Harry Potter movies
I almost never see movies more than once. There is one, however, that I have sought out occasionally over the years and that I always pause over when I find it on television. Summer of ‘42. It was the first movie I saw as a kid that represented kids in a way I recognized. And there is that beautiful Francis Lai theme that plays throughout. And the final voice-over that stings every time I hear it.
Kathleen Kennedy, producer, Munich
I watched Doctor Zhivago more than 20 times. I actually went to the theater; there wasn’t DVD or tape at that time. Since then, I haven’t had the time or inclination to see a film that many times—only those I’ve seen parts of over and over with the kids.
Stacy Peralta, director, Dogtown and Z-Boys
Sexy Beastis the film I’ve seen the most. Maybe 50 times, maybe more. Rarely a month goes by without a viewing. Why? Because the script has dozens of classical lines, and the film is constructed in the most inventive way. The director’s understanding of camera lenses and his inventive work in the editing room are unparalleled in my opinion. But the biggest reason I’ve watched it so many times is because I long for the lifestyle of the characters in the film; a house in sunny Spain, lying poolside daily, permanent suntan, dinner with friends in great restaurants every night … without their gangster past, of course.
Paul Hirsch, editor, Star Wars
This question means something different to a film editor than to people in other professions. In the course of our work, we are required to watch a picture hundreds of times over, often to the point of near-insanity. The consequence for me is that I rarely watch any picture (other than the ones I work on) more than once. I remember being asked to host a screening of Steel Magnolias for Jack Valenti and a number of visiting D.C. lawmakers. I sat down with them in the screening room, and after a few minutes, I realized that I was just unable to watch the picture even once more. I got up and walked out.
When I was a child, living in Paris, I remember seeing An American in Paris more times than is probably healthy, probably because it is a love story between an American painter (like my father was) and a dancer (like my mother). In more recent memory, I guess I would have to say 2001, which struck me as a departure from all the films made before it.
Neil LaBute, writer and director, The Shape of Things
Outside of perennial holiday fare like The Wizard of Oz, It’s a Wonderful Life, or Salo, I think I’ve watched Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon more times than any other movie I can remember. (Warren Beatty’s Reds would give it a run for its money—I saw that 14 times in the theater!) For me, Barry Lyndon is the most distinctive and beautiful re-creation of period on film, bar none, and its leisurely pace and novelistic approaches to style—watch the way Kubrick slowly reverse zooms on the opening shot of many scenes, unveiling each new “chapter”—are pure cinematic pleasure. Plus, Ryan O’Neal kicks acting ass in this picture, swaggering through the proceedings with a brutish beauty, until he finally breaks your heart. Chilly and distancing? Sure. Long and filled with voluminous narration? Absolutely. It’s also grandly handsome and furiously savage, and lit by John Alcott with lightning from the gods. It is not to be missed.
Dana Stevens, movie critic, Slate
Leaving out the movies everyone’s seen countless times (The Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane, It’s a Wonderful Life), my candidate would have to be Nagisa Oshima’s erotic drama In the Realm of the Senses, which I’ve watched, in theaters and on home video, probably 10 times over a period of 15 years. In my early 20s I had an unfortunate habit of dragging prospective suitors to this movie, as some kind of litmus test of their cinematic stamina. Given that the film culminates (SPOILER ALERT) in a famously graphic scene of castration, it’s no wonder so few of those guys called me back.
When it was first released in 1976, Oshima’s movie provoked an international scandal and a pseudo-debate: art or pornography? Of course, the bright line between the two is not so easy to draw, and 30 years later this is still one of the few films I can think of that’s truly about sex. The story, based on real events, tells of a brothel owner and his prostitute mistress in prewar Japan who, in essence, screw themselves to death. In this movie, the carnal act is neither a narrative flourish nor a prurient reward; it’s the substance of the story, the only means we have to measure the lovers’ increasing ardor, perversity, and utter disregard for everyone but each other. I was not only floored by the film’s formal perfection and beauty, but fascinated (and, let’s face it, turned on) by the way it captures the centripetal logic of obsession, spiraling toward an ending that’s both squalid and deeply romantic. My apologies to all the guys I freaked out (I can think of at least one who’s probably still cowering in the men’s room of a movie theater in Paris), but I don’t think I could love anyone who didn’t love this movie.
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