I heard a Peace Corps veteran speak recently who claimed the most popular movies worldwide are action films. Any movie with a good amount of dialogue is going to limit its world-wide audience as most people do not care for subtitles. And dubbing can be uneven at best. With the better action movies, you do not need to understand the dialogue, most of which tends to be trite anyways, to follow the plot. The veteran said that Rambo was very popular where she was stationed (small Pacific island), and heard that similar was true elsewhere from other veterans. I can easily understand why. Big guns, explosions, unimportant dialogue - hell, English-speakers can’t understand Stallone.
(She also told the story of a volunteer that went native, spending the majority of his time hanging out and drinking the local hooch. He was finally asked to resign. He did so, then went back on his own and opened a video rental shop.)
My best guess using the criteria of the OP, “Could you talk about this movie in a crowd of people you’ve never met, in any country on Earth, and have the vast, vast majority of people you are speaking to also have seen the movie?”
I would go with Jaws; Rambo; the Lion King; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (its home market is 1/6th to 1/5th of the world already.); The Wizard of Oz and Jurassic Park in no particular order.
Honorable mentions - where the vast majority know of the film even if they have not seen it:
Gone With The Wind
James Bond movies
I recall reading that Jackie Chan was the most popular actor in the world, followed by David Hasselhoff. Though that may have just been a bogus trivia list somewhere.YMMV.
I have to agree, though I suspect that Star Wars has sufficient crossover appeal to have been seen by a large swath of the population (both in the US and worldwide) that would otherwise not watch space opera. Chronos makes a good point that the films most widely seen are those that are cycled endlessly on broadcast television, though with the advent of cable the younger generation may have never sat through an entire viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life (a film I didn’t myself see until I was 17). Popular musicals, while widely known, only appeal to a limited subset of viewers; despite my aspirations toward comprehensive literacy in film history you’ll practically have to restrain me A Clockwork Orange-style to get me to sit through a musical (though I am partial to Singin’ In The Rain, more for its plot than the musical numbers). I’d put money on some of the Disney animations, especially Bambi and Snow White, as most people will see these in childhood regardless of age. (I assume, perhaps wrongly, that they have international appeal as well.)
As for classic films like Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Rear Window, et cetera, I find myself continually astonished at the number of people I meet who have never seen these films. Of course, Rear Window was out of circulation for a while, and Citizen Kane and Casablanca, while embedded in the public consciousness, were virtually unwatchable before their respective restorations. Other great classics like The Third Man, On The Waterfront, or Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, exist as vague memes in the collective cultural memory but very few people have actually watched them or even know the basic plot details. And a film like the Frankenheimer version of The Manchurian Candidate is virtually unseen thanks to being unavailable for so many years; unless you’re a film geek or are over sixty you’ve probably never seen a single frame. (Mores the pity; it’s a great Mamet-esque black satire.)
How about [thread=7302764]The Five Movies That Nearly Everyone On Earth Should See[/thread]?
John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants sent this as a footnote of one of TMBG’s email newsletters last year:
I have not seen any of these movies
* Star Wars
* The Matrix
* Pulp Fiction
* Blair Witch Project
* Silence of the Lambs
* On Golden Pond
* Back to the Future
* I Know What You Did Last Summer
* Die Hard
* Spider Man
* The Lion King
* Lord of the Rings
* Home Alone
* Saving Private Ryan
* Austin Powers
* Top Gun
* Rain Man
* My Big Fat Greek Wedding
* Pretty Woman
* Jerry McGuire
* Napoleon Dynamite
“I don’t think I have ever seen a movie with Tom Cruise or Bruce Willis except fragments on broadcast TV. I have, however, purchased almost every ZZ Top album since Eliminator. I have no explanation or excuse for this random behavior.”
At the risk of sidelining my own OP, there are quite a number of films mentioned here that I’ve never seen, including:
The Sound Of Music
Miracles on 34th St
It’s A Wonderful Life
The Ten Commandments
Singing In The Rain
Interesting that people think the list we came up with is “Geek Movies”- we all agreed we’d be pretty hard pressed to find people who hadn’t seen those five movies, even if it was a long time ago- but we’re all Male, Mid -20s, and generally well educated, which in hindsight may have skewed the perspectives a bit.
Titanic was deliberately left off the list because there are quite a few people (myself included) who’ve never seen it, and never intend to.
The Dirty Harry movies are surprisingly popular in some parts of the world, but most people around my age (24) have never seen one and have only the vaguest idea who the character is.
The Wizard of Oz probably should have been there, but you can bet that there are a LOT of people out there who think it has something to do with the HBO Prison Drama…
Although I’m a Netflix member, I’ve never watched The Matrix. I don’t think that most of the women that I know personally who are over sixty have seen it. Knowing how savvy older women Dopers are here, I’m sure many of them have.
I doubt that internationally women are all that delighted with action films. Perhaps they are just accomodating to their dates who want to see them. I would think that most women like to see characters they can identify with and with some exceptions, most actions films are about men and are too often shallow.
Since most movies are about men, give us something with meat in it – like The Godfather. I think that belongs on the list and it is one action film that belongs there. (Hey, mr. jp, I saw it in Odense.)