What makes a film stand the test of time?

Some films that were highly praised in their time & are still named as classics simply do not resonate with today’s viewers. Others do. Why?
I contend one of the big reasons is the use of music (or lack thereof) in some older films. Today’s viewers have become used to continuous background melodies telling them how to feel at any moment. Without that, some newer viewers lose interest.
That’s only one reason. Like to hear other opinions.

Films often stand the test of time by being played a lot and watched by a lot of people multiple times. Ideally, this is because the film is Really Good and therefore People Like It and therefore It Gets Shown a Lot.
There are exceptions – Gone With the Wind did not get shown a lot on TV for many, many years. It has a solid rep as a well-made film. Even today it’s not shown on TV a lot, but it’s clearly stood the Test of Time.
Godzilla – the original one – stands the Test of Time because it was cheap and got shown a lot. More than The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which inspired it and is, IMHO, a better film in just about every way. Godzilla also has a cheese factor, the catchy name, and the aura of Total Destruction that previous and even later monster films lacked (But not the identification with Atomic Bombs – that’s something it lifted from TBf20kF). I really do think that, had the film not been a cheap rent and shown a zillion times on TV in the 1960s and 1970s, it wouldn’t have inspired so many sequels and become a household name. And, yes, I know it was big in Japan. But I;'m sure it was helped to that status by its success in US TV rentals, which enabled them to make more.

I tend to see it as the classic split between good writing and bad writing. Particularly between writing believable characters and cardboard characters.

Special effects, production values, and soundtrack styles, are going to change from generation to generation, but if I care about the characters and I don’t detect bullshit in their actions or dialog, then an old movie can hold up well.

Sometimes older films based on good books or plays hold up well, if the underlying strength of the writing isn’t completely jettisoned.

Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Third Man, Little Foxes. (Although probably the strength of Wizard of Oz isn’t primarily from the books.)

It was when it came out. The film was made because of the books (which were still immensely popular when it came out), not vice versa. There was a long history of stage shows based on the books, and it was preceded by Larry Semon’s silent version, short films made by Baum’s own company, and a few cartoon versions.
People’s perceptions of what the Wizard of Oz is has been completely altered by the film, but the film was started on its “timeless” status by the high regard for the books.

A lot comes down to this: how universal is the story?

A movie that deals with one of the burning issues of its time may be wonderful, but as time goes by, it becomes dated. To use one example, “Gentleman’s Agreement” won the Oscar as Best Picture, and was regarded as a bold, courageous statement against anti-Semitism. But six decades later, the sentiments it expresses are so widely accepted and uncontroversial that the movie seems like a dated, pompous, tepid snoozefest.

That’s a risk ANY topical filmmaker takes. IF, a few decades from now, gay marriage is legal, widespread and uncontroversial, a movie like “Brokeback Mountain” may seem dated and boring to viewers.

Beyond that, a movie aimed at an audience with a particular sensibility is likely to age poorly. A movie that deals sympathetically with youthful rebellion or adolescent angst may strike a chord with millions of young viewers… but when those young viewers are 40 or 50, will they STILL love those movies, or might they look at them with a jaundiced eye and think, “I was just a stupid kid when I loved that movie”?

A movie that has something to say to people of all ages and walks of life is bound to age better than one aimed at a specific group. Anyone who is NOT a Baby Boomer is likely to be baffled by “The Graduate,” for instance.

I find that acting styles, and the change in those over time, can change my reaction to characters too.

Re-watched The Longest Day (1962) recently and noticed again how some of the acting jarred. (I suppose it’s possible it jarred some viewers at the time it was made, but I’m guessing it’s more a matter of changing styles).

All IMHO of course, but I found that the more understated character portrayals stood up rather better than more flamboyant ones; Burton’s laconic pilot and Mitchum’s wry General Cota remained quite fresh while the acting styles of Red Buttons and John Wayne dated the movie more (for me).

The Third Man definitely holds up, what with its weird camera angles, snarky/deadpan humor, bleak ending and sympathetic characters. Yes, even Harry Lime had a valid point…

It’s also my favorite movie so I’m biased. :cool:

My feeling is the exact opposite. The soundtracks to many older films are now so incredibly over-the-top and melodramatic that they render scenes meant to be dramatic, emotional, or frightening, utterly ridiculous.

I think the movies that rely most heavily on strong scripts and camerawork hold up better than those that relied on special effects or a memorable soundtrack. Even then, older films can be inscrutable to a modern audience.

There are so few older films that are at all palatable to modern audiences who aren’t specifically interested in the artform that I’m not sure how many common threads we could find.

I loved Gallipoli when it came out. I thought the music was great. When I watch it now, the music bugs the hell out of me. (But the story is worth watching.)

I think shy guy is right for some not very good reasons.

Anything that is not critically acclaimed, and thereby maintains some remnant of an audience, quickly appears to be irrelevant crap no matter how “good” it might be.

This is true of music and literature as well as movies. The primary criterion is that a piece of work be sanctioned by relevant and authoritative tastemakers. Their power is social. Those who persist in appreciating unsanctioned work are typically antisocial - members of outgroups, or of no group at all.