We just spotted a piece by Kristen Sturt on Grandparents.com about ten classic movies about baby boomers. Well, that’s a natural for BoomerCafé. For those of you who somehow missed out on a few of these boomer icons, beware: spoilers ahead!
The Big Chill (1983)
Starring: Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt
What it’s about: Old college buddies, now parents and professionals, come together for a weekend after a friend commits suicide. Mucho bed-hopping ensues.
Why it resonates: Let’s put the grooving Motown soundtrack aside for a minute, and concentrate on The Big Chill’s keen insight into adult relationships; that they grow more complex as we age, that romance and practicality are always at odds, and that that no one understands you like old friends.
Hey! It’s that guy!: Why, yes, you DO recognize that corpse. It’s Kevin Costner, in his first film. His face is never shown.
Working Girl (1988)
Starring: Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver
What it’s about: Tess (Griffith) is a Staten Island secretary with big hair and bigger dreams, who secretly steps in for her manipulative boss, Katharine (Weaver), while she’s away on vacation. Finally given access to places of power, Tess scores a promising corporate gig and a sexy new lover (Ford, at his most charming)—but not without some problems, of course.
Why it resonates: Who doesn’t dream of being recognized for their talents? Funny, smart, cynical, and ultimately optimistic, “Working Girl” gets everything right about the hierarchy of corporate life. Plus, Joan Cusack as Tess’ best friend, Cyn, is a hoot.
Hey! It’s that guy!: Who’s that coke-addled scumbag Tess is conned into dating? It’s Kevin “House of Cards” Spacey, in his second movie part.
Starring: Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger
What it’s about: Partly based on director Oliver Stone’s own Vietnam experience, the film follows young, inexperienced Chris Taylor (Sheen) through the war-torn jungle of Southeast Asia, where his soul is up for grabs between violent, battle-scarred Sgt. Barnes (Berenger) and peace-loving father figure Sgt. Elias (Dafoe).
Why it resonates: Beyond its representative cast (black, white, draftee, volunteer, etc.) and realistic depiction of combat, Platoon captures the ambivalence surrounding Vietnam, and asks a big question about the nature of war: How hard must we become to survive?
Hey! It’s that guy!: Look for Johnny Depp in one of his first screen roles, as (incredibly good-looking) interpreter Lerner.
The Graduate (1967)
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross
What it’s about: Plastics. Just kidding. Really, it’s about aimless college grad Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman), who starts an affair with Mrs. Robinson (Bancroft), a married friend of his parents. Alas, he falls in love with her daughter, Elaine, causing heartbreak and utter chaos among both families. Best of all, it’s set to Simon and Garfunkel.
Why it resonates: Frequently ranked among the greatest films of all time – it’s #17 on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 list – Mike Nichols’ masterpiece is a funny, insightful look at young adulthood adrift and upper-middle class ennui. You remember.
Hey! It’s that guy!: “The Graduate” was Dustin Hoffman’s first major onscreen role (and second overall), and Nichols’ second movie after “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Love Story (1970)
Starring: Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal
What it’s about: Boy meets Girl. Boy and Girl fall in love. Boy marries Girl, is cut off financially by angry dad. Boy and Girl try to have kids, find out Girl has terminal leukemia. Girl dies. Everybody bawls forever.
Why it resonates: Forty-four years later, have you stopped crying yet?
Hey! It’s that guy!: Look for an almost youthful-looking/slightly less craggy Tommy Lee Jones in his movie debut, as Hank Simpson.
Animal House (1978)
Starring: Tom Hulce, Stephen Furst, Karen Allen, and some guy named John Belushi.
What it’s about: Chaotic and slovenly, Delta Tau Chi is the worst fraternity at Faber College, on the verge of being expelled by the imperious Dean Wormer (John Vernon). Aided by new pledges Pinto (Hulce) and Flounder (Furst), the brothers rebel … um, somewhat unsuccessfully… but there are food fights, toga parties, and a positively anarchic parade along the way.
Why it resonates: Though set in 1962, it abounds with Boomer sensibilities, like:“TOGA! TOGA!” “Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!” “My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.” And so on and so forth.
Hey! It’s that guy!: Animal House isn’t just a classic comedy; it’s the birthplace of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. The baby-faced Footloose star made his film debut playing jerky Omega pledge Chip Diller.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Starring: John Travolta and his incredible leisure suit
What it’s about: Every weekend, Tony Manero (Travolta) breaks out of his hardscrabble neighborhood and go-nowhere existence to become lord of the dance. But can he ever truly escape? What’s more, does he want to?
Why it resonates: Today, it’s remembered as The Movie Where John Travolta Does the Hustle. (Who among us doesn’t have that soundtrack … on vinyl?) But back then, “Saturday Night Fever” was a surprisingly dark look at everything from race to rape, suicide to generational conflicts between early- and late-era Boomers.
Hey! It’s that guy!: Don’t blink, or you’ll miss a teenage Fran Drescher in her movie debut as hot-to-trot dancer Connie.
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman
What it’s about: When Joanna Kramer (Streep) leaves her workaholic husband Ted (Hoffman), he must care for their young son, Billy (Henry), for the first time. He finally gets pretty good at it, when she initiates a custody battle.
Why it resonates: The 1980 Oscar winner for Best Picture, “Kramer vs. Kramer” is one of the first films to really take divorce by the horns. In his 1979 review, Roger Ebert noted, “It begins with a marriage filled with a lot of unhappiness, ego and selfishness, and ends with two single people who have both learned important things about the ways they want to behave.”
Hey! It’s that guy!: It was his first role, and he was just six years old during filming, but that didn’t stop Henry from becoming the youngest Academy Award nominee ever, for Best Supporting Actor.
American Graffiti (1973)
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, and many more
What it’s about: One night in the life of Boomer teenagers cruising around Modesto, California, in 1962.
Why it resonates: Nostalgia, nostalgia, nostalgia. Directed by George Lucas (whose next movie would be Star Wars), this sweet and funny picture harkens to a more innocent America – a time when kids could be preoccupied by cars, dating, and little else. Still, it captures the angsty decisions universal to all teens, across the generations: Who am I? What am I going to do with my life?
Hey! It’s that guy!: The blonde in the T-Bird is none other than Suzanne Somers, in her first credited role. (P.S. We’re not being reductive. She’s officially billed as “Blonde in T-Bird.”)
Easy Rider (1969)
Easy Rider is a 1969 American road movie written by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Terry Southern, produced by Fonda and directed by Hopper. It tells the story of two bikers (played by Fonda and Hopper) who travel through the American Southwest and South. The success of Easy Rider helped spark the New Hollywood phase of filmmaking during the early 1970s. The film was added to the Library of Congress National Registry in 1998.
A landmark counterculture film, and a “touchstone for a generation” that “captured the national imagination,” Easy Rider explores the societal landscape, issues, and tensions in the United States during the 1960s, such as the rise and fall of the hippie movement, drug use, and communal lifestyle. In Easy Rider, real drugs were used in scenes showing the use of marijuana and other substances.
[Editor’s note: We edited the original story to include “Easy Rider.”]