10 movies that perfectly sum up the decade in which they were made

Movies are visual time capsules. We can look at them years later and be instantly transported to another time and place. It could be a time we once knew that feeds us with nostalgia and sentimentality. Or it could be a time we never experienced ourselves, although thanks to the film on our screen we feel we now know it. Some films capture their decade perfectly. The soundtracks, the look and feel, the themes, even the stars of the film – these aspects often reflect the time in which these films were made.

Let’s go back in time, starting with the ’50s, and take a look at ten films that perfectly sum up their decade.


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10 Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

James Dean as Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause
Warner Bros.

Rebelling for no reason is a typical film of the 1950s. Before that, mostly beautiful families and households were captured in films. Rebelling for no reason focused on dysfunctional families and the troubled suburban youth of the time, and highlighted the differences and conflicts between generations. These included high school auto racing and 1950s fashions, such as leather jackets and slicked-back hairstyles. Also starring was James Dean, who was Hollywood’s biggest actor in the 1950s with his good looks and signature charisma. Since his untimely death, he has been immortalized as one of Hollywood’s most legendary stars.

Related: Are Any ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ Cast Members Still Alive?

9 Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Bonnie and Clyde
Warner Bros.

Although Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde Set in the 1930’s, its style and execution are reminiscent of the 1960’s. Counterculture and sex were defining characteristics of this decade. Bonnie and Clyde reflects both, It follows the love story of two disaffected youngsters, Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty), who embark on a rebellious crime spree. It glorifies the murderous romance of gangsters by being the first film to combine violence with sex. This approach had a major impact on Hollywood, inspiring filmmakers to be more open about including sex and violence in their films. Bonnie and Clyde is not only one of the best true crime films ever. It is considered a groundbreaking film that ushered in the New Hollywood era, a cinematic movement of new filmmakers and styles that began in the 1960s.

8th Easy Rider (1969)

Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider
Columbia images

Easy Rider is so much more than a road trip film. The 1960s were a time of upheaval in America. There was great tension around the Vietnam War and civil rights, leading to protests, counterculture and the hippie movement. Drug use and communal lifestyles were rampant during this decade. Easy Rider captures it all. The film follows two outcasts (Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper) as they journey across the country on their motorcycles in search of freedom. Fonda and Hopper even used real drugs during the film. The montage, in which the two bikers ride through deserts and open country while Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” plays in the background, sums up this film and the 1960s perfectly.

7 Saturday Night Fever (1977)

John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever
Paramount Pictures

Saturday Night Fever captures the 1970s disco scene, a popular social trend that dominated the decade. Flashing lights, dance moves, disco balls – this film had it all. Saturday Night Fever also explored the disco subculture, including the flamboyant fashion style, drug use, and sexual promiscuity of the period. Even the soundtrack reflected the 1970s, featuring iconic hits from the disco kings themselves, the Bee Gees. Ironic, Saturday Night Fever helped make the disco scene even more popular. But be warned: this film hasn’t aged all that well. Its disco focus and misogyny might make it a difficult film for some modern viewers.

Related: 10 movies that capitalize on popular fads

6 The Breakfast Club (1985)

the cast of The Breakfast Club
Universal images

The 1980s is known for producing coming-of-age movies that capture teenage anxieties, such as comedies like Ferris turns blue to dramas like The Breakfast Club. Many of these films starred the same young stars such as Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall and Judd Nelson, all of whom starred in the films The Breakfast Club. This group became known as the Brat Pack, a reference to Frank Sinatra’s group The Rat Pack. Many of these coming-of-age films were directed by John Hughes, whose films from the 1980s shaped an entire generation.

The Breakfast Club brings together five seemingly disparate high school students who, over the course of a Saturday detention, learn they may have more in common than they realized. The film’s soundtrack is also undeniably 80’s in style. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” was written and recorded for The Breakfast Club and has since become something of an anthem for that decade.

5 Wall Street (1987)

Ranking of Michael-Douglas' best performances
20th Century Fox

The 1980s are also characterized by a flourishing economy. Despite a recession in the early years of the decade, the remainder of the 1980s saw a boom in housing, jobs and, most importantly, the stock market. Wall Street, the New York center of the American stock market, was booming. With that came immense wealth, corporate greed and morally gray stockbrokers. All of this is captured in Oliver Stone’s cult classic: Wall Street. Set in booming New York City, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) is an ignorant young stockbroker who falls under the wing of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), an iconic character in both film and real life. “Greed is, for lack of a better word, good,” Gekko tells us. This iconic line, and the film in general, symbolizes the excess that characterized the 1980s.

4 Clueless (1995)

Paramount Pictures

If you were a student in the ’90s, you know that it was impossible to walk the hallways without hearing one of the famous phrases from clueless. It is A classic teen comedy starring Alicia Silverstone that moves through high school drama and her search for love. clueless Is The Breakfast Club the 1990s. And how the breakfast club, it came to define a generation. It created iconic lines that every teenage girl would recite, like “Ugh, like” or “Whatever!” while forming their fingers in a W. clueless highlighted ’90s fashion and popular styles we’ve seen throughout the decade.

Related: The 10 Best Female-Led Comedies, Ranked

3 The Matrix (1999)

Keanu Reeves stops bullets
Warner Bros.

In the 1990s there was an enormous boom in technical progress. Cell phones were everywhere and this little thing called the internet was gaining traction. Even the visual effects in the film have been massively improved. Just compare the years from 1984 The Terminator with its 1991 sequel, and you’ll see what we’re talking about. But this increasing reliance on technology also fueled fear. Many people feared the year 2000 and were convinced that its arrival would cause computers to crash. Y2K they called it. The Matrix captures it all beautifully.

The Matrix depicts a dystopian world where humanity waged war against machines – and we lost. Technology has taken over, turning man into a source of energy and the world into a barren wasteland. What we see every day is nothing more than a computer-generated illusion modeled after the world in 1999. The actual date is estimated to be around the year 2199. With groundbreaking visual effects, this film created some of cinema’s most iconic moments, such as when its protagonist Neo (Keanu Reeves) uses groundbreaking moves to dodge his enemy’s bullets. The Matrix shaped the turn of the century and made viewers question the nature of their reality. Since its release in 1999 The Matrix is considered one of the greatest science fiction films of all time.

2 X Men (2000)

X-Men Hugh Jackman 2000 Marvel
Marvel Entertainment Group

You may be wondering how a superhero movie can sum up a decade. 2000s X-Men was the first modern superhero film. It combined an all-star cast and advanced CGI with a realistic, non-cheesy approach to comic book characters. The result was a tremendous critical and commercial success. For better or worse, it breathed new life into the superhero genre. 2000s movies like Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogyThe fantastic Four Movies and Christopher Nolans The dark knight trilogy were all born in the 2000s X-Men. Good as it is, this film is responsible for ushering in the age of the superhero movies, reboots and sequels that have come to dominate cinema. And we’re still seeing the effects of that over 20 years later in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe.

1 The Social Network (2010)

The Social Network – Jesse Eisenberg
Release of Sony images

Social media websites became increasingly important in the 2000s. And it all started with Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook. Originally designed for college students, Facebook has grown into something much bigger. And even more scandalous. David Fincher’s masterpiece The social network captures the rise of Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and Facebook.

It is arguably one of the most important films ever made. It shows how one student revolutionized our society and turned his small website into a multi-billion dollar company. Its emergence led to imitators on social media and transformed the way we interact and live. As Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) says in the film, “We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the internet!” And he’s right. Because of Facebook, we’ve become obsessed with social media, posting every picture on Instagram and every thought on Twitter. The social network summarizes this emerging trend that we saw in the 2010s and are still seeing today.

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