Films That Shaped Me

There are hundreds of different factors that contribute to who we are; the friends we had at school, our hobbies (both loved and loathed), and our parents’ words of encouragement. Often overlooked, however, is the impact of popular media when it comes to forming an identity.

When we watch films, we’re looking for a bit of escapism – whether you are a self-confessed horror buff or a serial romantic looking for your next fairytale. However, these stories can often leave a lasting impact long after the credits have stopped rolling. They can help us learn more about the world, process complex emotions, or even provide us with positive role models. 

With that in mind, here are five movies that have shaped me – and why you should add them to your watchlist. 

Matilda (1996). I have always been a big fan of reading – a trait that my mum thinks started before I could even speak, as she would read out loud her favourite magazine articles, and it always looked as though I was following along with her. As a result, it’s no surprise that the character of Matilda struck a chord with me. After all, the pint-sized heroine is rarely seen on screen without a book in her hand. 

This is the first film I remember watching repeatedly on VHS tape when my parent’s finally let me have a TV in my room – watching it so frequently that it eventually wore out. 

I was jealous, not of her magical abilities, but of the number of books that she had read and that she could go to the library on her own. As a child, Matilda is a story of perseverance, proving ‘grown-ups’ wrong, and standing up for yourself. I don’t doubt that it helped develop a generation of headstrong women who could change the world between chapters of their latest read. 

As an adult, there’s a layer of melancholy over Matilda’s situation – which looks at the true strength of Roald Dahl’s writing. He told adult stories for children, where realistic struggles were packaged with magic and triumph over evil. 

Stand By Me (1986). Stand By Me remains my favourite film to date – and I first watched it a few weeks before starting High School. A tale of friendship and youth, it made me nostalgic for a period of my life that was not yet over, even though I could feel that its curtain would soon come down. It taught me to hold onto the moments in life that seem insignificant, playing out with my friends at dusk, sharing sticky sweets on the playground, and being both repulsed and endeared by the idea of adulthood.

Based on Stephen King’s novella, The Body (one of my favourites), the film follows four friends, Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern, on a macabre adventure to find the body of a young boy who was allegedly killed on a railroad track while picking berries. Themes of mortality and loss are not rarity’s in King’s fiction (in fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find one where they don’t get top-billing), but they feel less dramatic and more gentle here. They are handled with the innocence of children, which makes it that much more of a heartbreaking watch. 

However, the heavier themes are expertly balanced by moments of great joy and comedy, featuring the kind of conversations we all had with our friends when we were 12. 

Twilight (2008). I will be making no further comment – other than the fact that I had a Twilight-themed birthday party when I was 13. 

Legally Blonde (2001).

Legally Blonde has been given the kind of injustice that Elle Woods would gladly stand up to in court. Its often reduced to the term ‘chick’ flick, which is the media’s clever way to discredit female-geared entertainment as light, fluffy and lacking in substance. Not only is it time to stop using the term chick flick – but it’s also time to stop dolling this title onto Elle Woods.

The story of a beauty-queen turned hotshot lawyer helped thousands of young girls realise that they didn’t have to give up wearing pink to achieve their dreams. It also showcased how hard work and perseverance can buoy you towards your goals, with Elle earning both a coveted internship and a place at Harvard Law School (What, Like Its Hard?). It’s a story about sisterhood, embracing femininity, recognising your true potential and doing it all with style and grace.

Not only is Legally Blonde a cinematic hit, but it also spawned one of the better movie-to-musical adaptions of the 2000s (which is getting a west-end revival this summer with a stunningly diverse cast). 

Tick, Tick…. Boom (2021). A friend recommended Tick, Tick…. Boom to me because they thought that as an aspiring playwright trying to make it in a big city, I’d feel inspired by the story of another aspiring playwright trying to make it in a big city. Tick, Tick…. Boom is based on an autobiographical musical by Jonathan Larson, whose name is mostly known for his Pulitzer-prize-winning Musical, Rent.

However, it begins a great deal of time before Rent even reaches paper, showing the struggles of making it in the creative industry and the temptation to sacrifice passion for comfort. Andrew Garfield gives a truly stunning performance in his portrayal of Larson, a feat that also earned him a Golden Globe nomination. 

To put it simply, it hits a lot of sore spots for any aspiring creative, managing to be equal parts inspiring and terrifying. But, it has plenty of song numbers to break up the fear it induces. As a result, it earned a spot on my list – if only due to the fact that it encouraged me to actually put pen to paper and write. 

Image courtesy of Felix Mooneeram

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