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American Literature & Culture: American Films

Themes in American Films

This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but a couple of trends I've noticed over the past several decades. 

  • Suburban culture. The suburbs have been an important part of American society since the 1950s and represent half of the American population.  Early on, they were seen as a sign of promise. Now, as more people move back to the city, they are seen as a place of complacency, and for some, desperation.  While people can be very comfortable there and live the "American dream," for younger people they represent a trap, loneliness, alienation, and a place to escape. 
  • American family dynamics.  American families have become increasingly nuclear, isolated, and closed over the past several decades.  It's common for American children to move out at age 18 and for the parents to "convert the bedroom to an office or painting space." American parents don't rely on their children to care for them in their old age; at the same time, an increasing divorce rate and blended families, as well as the legalization of gay marriage in some states, combined with the influx of adopted children from Asian countries have significantly altered the American family dynamic.
  • Integration of immigrants into American society.  Immigrants are accepted into American society; they have been since the start of the country and seeing someone from Romania or Uganda doesn't surprise most people, at least in urban areas. However, they are still different than Americans and this clash of cultures, especially for children of immigrants, presents a conflicting dichotomy.
  • Corporate Culture. American corporate culture is made up of people who work hard and who want to reach the top, sometimes at any cost.  It's also made up of people who sit in cubicles every day wondering if they're wasting their lives.
  • Use of medication. The increased use of medication for new diagnoses such as anxiety, depression, and ADD has seen increased attention in American society. Included in this bucket is plastic surgery.   There are many people who debate its benefits and just as many who wholeheartedly subscribe to the medicines.
  • American optimism and can-do attitude. Americans as individuals have a different philosophy than most other nationals in the world simply because of America's history of going at it alone and achieving alone.  The individual is valued just as much as, or even more than the family at certain times, and success stories of individuals overcoming great odds are celebrated.
  • Ability to laugh at ourselves- Americans love humor and satire, and never pass up a chance at self-examination.

American Classics

The Wizard of Oz

2001: Space Odyssey

Pulp Fiction

Natural Born Killers

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


North by Northwest

Forrest Gump

Planet of the Apes


La La Land

Back to the Future

Top Gun

Say Anything

Ghost Busters

The Shining

Rear Window

A Streetcar Named Desire

Annie Hall

The Graduate


Raiders of the Lost Ark

The Shawshank Redemption

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

American Films on Social Issues

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Away We Go

Revolutionary Road 

Wall Street

Coming to America

The Godfather

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

West Side Story

Joy Luck Club

Real Women Have Curves

Maria Full of Grace

Captain Fantastic

Truman Show


Do the Right Thing

Thelma & Louise


Fight Club

LA Confidential

Some Like it Hote

Trans America


Straight Outta Compton


Midnight Cowboy

Historical American Films

American movies and clips from series to compliment:
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Great short film compilation on Netflix)

Dances with Wolves

Desperate Crossing - The True Story of the Mayflower (2006)
Cold Mountain
12 Years a Slave
The Patriot
Amazing Grace
Birth of a Nation
The Last of the Mohicans
Gone with the Wind
The Crucible
American Lit II
Gangs of New York
Legends of the Fall
To Kill a Mocking Bird
The Color Purple
Age of Innocence
Little Women
Great Gatsby
Meet me in St. Louis
The Color Purple
A River Runs Through it
Driving Miss Daisy
Some Like it Hot
Citizen Kane

Documentaries on American Culture

Super Size Me

Michael Moore

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (2017)

Food, Inc.

An Inconvenient Truth



I Am Not Your Negro

The Words That Built America


Grey Gardens

Dark Money

Hoop Dreams

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Parts

The Invisible War

The Death And Life of Marsha P. Johnson


Cocaine Cowboys

Harlan County U.S.A.

Films on American Sports

The Wrestler

Black Swan


A League of Their Own


Varsity Blue

Friday Lights

American Films

Coming of Age

Little Miss Sunshine



The Breakfast Club

Napolean Dynamite

Rebel Without a Cause


American History X

Requiem for a Dream

American Beauty

Garden State