Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you the responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week's question:
Q: "When I've got time off for a holiday like the one we just had, I find myself relaxing by returning to movies I've seen a million times. So this week, I want to know: what movie have you seen more than any other?"
The critics' answers:
"There's something fascinating about movies we can watch into the double digits isn't there? They hit that sweet spot between familiarity so vivid that it should be banal and a freshness that renews itself automatically. The movies that spring to mind instantly are 'The General' (which is in double digits), 'Jurassic Park' (which I've seen at least 20 times), 'Fight Club' (which I've watched once a year since its release) and 'North By Northwest' (which defies counting). However, it's 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' that earns a special mental award (which means I don't have to pitch in for an actual trophy) because not only have I seen it countless times while quoting along, it's the only movie I've seen twice in one day. It's pure cinematic comfort food."
"I've seen 'Heathers' much more than any other movie. I lost count over a decade ago, but it's definitely in the hundreds. I loved that movie so much, so immediately, that I recorded the audio onto a tape and listened to it incessantly when I first got my driver's license. So if we include those aural moments, I'm sure the 'view' count is near triple digits."
"'Goodfellas' is the film that I return to more than any other. And it's apt really, given that it was a late-night screening of the film at far too young an age that kicked off my interest in cinema. For me 'Goodfellas' is that rare sort of film that manages to balance sheer enjoyment with a level of technique so impressive that it remains nigh on awe-inspiring no matter how often one takes it in."
"I don't remember if it was WWOR or WPIX, but one or the other of them used to show 'The Maltese Falcon' (1941) seemingly every Saturday in the 80s. One time when I was fairly young and visiting family up in Boston, and 'The Maltese Falcon' wasn't on one Saturday I began to protest indignantly, only to be told that 'The Maltese Falcon' was only on every Saturday in New York. This, more than any Yankees/Red Sox nonsense, served to instill a deep suspicion that something was simply not right with the city of Boston and its people for not rising as one and demanding their Saturday Spade/O'Shaughnessy. Once we got cable, I taped 'The Maltese Falcon' as soon as I could and watched it a whole bunch more times, and have it on DVD and am probably going to watch it again, now that I'm thinking about it. There may be movies that reach greater artistic heights, but few with the polish and swagger of John Huston's debut as director. I still haven't seen the 1931 version or the Bette Davis version, strictly for emotional attachment reasons, though if I ever do and end up writing about them, the disclaimer about my attachment to the '41 version is probably going to be the longest part of the piece."
"There are a small handful of movies that I've seen so many times that I can no longer identify when it was I saw them for the first time. They may as well have been playing while I was in the womb so that they are now hardwired into my psyche. Chief among these is one that is particularly appropriate to the July 4th holiday: 'Jaws.' Some movies, when you randomly run across them on cable while scanning through the channels on a Saturday afternoon, you always wind up watching through to the end, no matter how much you've missed. Then there are the ones you find yourself reaching for when you don't know what else to watch. 'Jaws' exists in a spot where, if I happen to catch it on TV, I'll watch five minutes, stop, put the DVD in, and watch it from beginning to end. I'm long past the point of being able to recite the film's dialogue; by now I can call the camera moves and edits before they even happen. As a critic, I try to be judicious about throwing around the P-word, lest it become meaningless, but I have no issue applying it to 'Jaws.' It's capital-P Perfect."
"I've seen director Stephen Frears' film 'High Fidelity' so many times, I'm already on my second DVD copy — the first one literally burned out! It's one of those rare films that's better than the book it's based on; author Nick Hornby's Rob Fleming is whiny and unappealing, whereas John Cusack brilliantly portrays Rob's quirks and angst in lovable fashion. This movie is Cusack at his man-boy best, and it also features an on-the-cusp-of-fame Jack Black as Rob's ornery record store employee Barry. Imagine seeing this movie right before Tenacious D's heyday, when Black's on-screen voices and mannerisms were fresh. It's pretty special stuff — thanks to his performance, I'm incapable of commenting on an unflattering piece of knitwear without screaming, "That's a Cosby sweater!" complete with Barry intonation. 'High Fidelity' is also one of those rare movies about relationships that really resonates; there's a plot line for every manner of breakup or drama you've experienced, and it's all treated with a poignant-yet-funny bent. To boot, it's rife with pitch-perfect one-liners, quotable and classic moments. The snobbish, frenemy-style chemistry between Rob, Barry and Championship Vinyl colleague Dick instantly transport me back to my days as a video store clerk (the, 'You guys are snobs' scene may be the most perfect microcosm of elitist fandom ever portrayed on film). Bonus points for the fabulous female cast, including Lisa Bonet, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Lili Taylor. And the Tim Robbins reveal gets… me… every… time. This movie is celluloid fine wine: it ages with the best of 'em. And now, apropos of writing all these words about it, I'm off to re-watch 'High Fidelity' post haste."
"I don’t want to exclude myself from this week’s survey even if I might be an exception, but honestly I tend not to return to movies unless it’s for professional or academic reasons. And I rarely (once in five years?) buy movies or re-rent stuff I’ve already seen. There are too many other movies, new and old, I haven’t seen and usually prefer to watch something new to me. That said, there are plenty of titles I watched a lot as a kid ('Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,' 'Wargames,' 'The Goonies') that I don’t think relevant for this question and a few films that I’ll always watch — though not in their entirety — if I come across them on television ('North by Northwest,' 'Duck Soup' and 'The Thin Man' being three I can think of at the moment). If I had to take a guess or make a wish for what I saw more than any other, I’ll say 'Heathers.' It was a big deal when I was in high school."
"I doubt it will be an original answer, but I've probably seen 'Star Wars' more times than any other movie. The first time, I was 6 years old, and my parents allowed me to stay up late to watch it when it aired on CBS. (We taped it, too, and the late '80s ads from that airing are burned into my brain.) A couple years later, my dad rented the entire trilogy and watched it with me. We eventually bought our own copies, and I practically wore them out. Then there were the cable re-airings, and the 1997 re-releases, and the various home video versions. 'Star Wars' is just one of those movies I keep coming back to, for better or worse, in sickness or in health. Watching it means tapping into a kind of relaxed, childlike state where I don't have to think much, and I'm not even paying much attention to the movie. I'm aware of it on narrative and artistic levels, but it's more like I'm just letting it happen to me. It's the ultimate comfort food."
"I don't know about most times seen ever, but I've seen 'How to Train Your Dragon' 7 times in IMAX. When a 3D experience that good comes along, the home video version just can't possibly compete, hence why I felt the need to get out to the theater so many times while it was still available."
"That would have to be 'The Matrix.' At the risk of revealing my age, I first caught the film at the age of eleven, and it absolutely captured my imagination. Between multiple rewatches through my pre-teen and teenage years, as well as being forced to study it in both high school and first year university philosophy classes, I've probably watched the movie at least twenty to twenty-five times. Miraculously, it still holds up as one of my very favorites."
"In his New Cult Canon column, The A.V. Club's Scott Tobias made a spectacular case for 'Anaconda' on the basis that it's a basic cable classic that 'has the power to freeze even the twitchiest of thumbs,' and attract viewers through a combination of brilliantly terrible B-Movie CGI effects and ridiculous performances from otherwise respectable actors. I'm certainly a guilty member of the twitchy thumb club when it comes to channel surfing, but I think Tobias is on to something when it comes to certain basic cable classics that are seemingly always playing on some channel at any given time. And I can never turn away when I come across them. In addition to 'Anaconda,' I'd argue that films like 'Con Air,' 'The Fifth Element,' 'Saving Silverman,' and 'Joe Dirt' are magnificent pieces of cinematic trash that I can never turn off when I stumble across them. All of my film education has taught me that I shouldn't like these films, yet I've probably seen them more than any other films (save for maybe 'Star Wars' or 'Alien'). I should note that I don't — and never have — owned any of these films. So why do I consistently subject myself to these films whenever they're on, especially when there's probably a wealth of better things I could be watching? They're fun, safe, comforting, and the perfect thing to watch when I just want to turn my brain off and consume. They're not good films by all standards, but I'll be damned if I don't get immensely giddy watching Nicolas Cage in all his Cagey glory, or the 'Blade Runner'-esque hyper-stylization of 'The Fifth Element.' And in terms of gut-wrenchingly funny dumb comedies, it doesn't get much better than watching Kid Rock's pathetic character in 'Joe Dirt,' or Steve Zahn, Jack Black, and Jason Biggs as street performers in a Neil Diamond cover band."
"What movie have I seen more than any other? The question speaks less to films one considers to be among the best they've seen and more to beloved favorites or cinematic comfort food. Having grown up with 'Star Trek' as my sort of gateway into science fiction, TV, and eventually cinema, it shouldn't be too surprising that the movie I've seen the most is 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.' Released 30 years ago this summer, critics at the time praised it for revitalizing a franchise on the verge of death. But they also knocked it for basically blowing up the TV series' sensibilities into a feature film-sized aspect ratio. I've always disagreed. Here was an operatic duel between the larger-than-life Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Khan Noonian Singh (Ricardo Montalban) with chills (creepy earwigs), family dynamics (Kirk has a son?), and the death of its most beloved character skillfully played out on claustrophobic ship interiors worthy of the best submarine war films. These once vital heroes were beginning to feel their age, but 'Star Trek II,' for better or worse, served as a template for the franchise as it boldy went in a new direction. And for the 10-year-old me, and the 10-year-old in me, it still evokes the feeling of adventure, spectacle, and familiarity I crave in a summer blockbuster."
"The two films I've seen more than any others are 'Star Wars' and 'The Big Lebowski.' While I racked up multiple viewings from earlier eras in my film education ('Star Wars' as a child and 'The Big Lebowski' as a teen), I have no shame declaring myself a fan of these two films today. It bugs me when certain cult movies are slighted by grumpy grownups, and the fact remains that both 'Star Wars' and 'The Big Lebowski' hold up extremely well. As I've grown as a film watcher, I've abandoned many old favorites, but these two have always stuck with me."
"I'd love to say that it was my #1 movie of all time, Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil,' but more than likely it's one of the 'Final Destination' movies, probably 2 or 3, because I became quite obsessed with them at a certain point and I tend to always watch them whenever they're on TV or cable, which is a lot. I don't even care if I'm watching a ridiculously censored version on a network or basic cable; there's something about the premise that fascinates me. I must have seen both of them at least 6 times, maybe more. They'd probably tie with Judd Apatow's 'The 40 Year Old Virgin,' which I always watch if it's on TV. I know probably every line by heart at this point."
"The first movie I remember seeing in the theater is also the one I've seen the most, mainly because I got re-obsessed with it in college and watched it countless times — 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.' It was probably the first film where I realized that kids can perceive art on one level and give it a completely different reading as an adult. The fact that the songs are terrific certainly helps. And Gene Wilder is the best."
"'Die Hard,' probably. John McTiernan's action classic was one of the earliest films I ever watched (yes, my parents were fairly lenient when it came to movies I watched on video at home), and back when I was a young and up-and-coming cinephile, when I really truly enjoyed something, I had a habit of watching it, either in toto or in parts, as often as possible. It's not that I expected to glean any hidden depths on repeated viewings of either all or parts of the film (although, in the case of 'Die Hard,' I would argue that there are some worth gleaning); most of the time, such re-watching functioned as the cinematic equivalent of comfort food: you know what you're getting, and if you enjoy it, you'll gladly have more of it. Many other films have fulfilled this function for me—films as disparate in style and quality as the subsequent two 'Die Hard' sequels, 'Cliffhanger,' 'Pulp Fiction,' 'Mean Streets,' 'Goodfellas,' 'Fallen Angels,' 'Band of Outsiders,' the first four 'Friday the 13th' films. But 'Die Hard' is, I believe, the one I've watched more than all of them (in fact, a screening of the film has become something of a Christmas tradition for me, thus boosting my viewing numbers)."
"My current favorite repeat viewing is the Wes Anderson stop-motion animation new classic, 'Fantastic Mr Fox' on Blu-ray. I would say I've seen it around 50 or so times and every time I watch, I inevitably catch something I've never seen before. It's beautiful, innovative and the voices are such a perfect mix."
"The film I've seen most has as much to do with timing as it does my love for it. The Hoffmans got their first VHS player around May of 1982. The very first blank tape we got (a TDK with a cream case) was used to record the 1982 Stanley Cup victory of the New York Islanders over the Vancouver Canucks. I know this because I would fast forward past it all the time to get to the second thing we ever taped, an ABC broadcast of Mark Rydell's 1976 oddball vaudeville caper flick 'Harry and Walter Go to New York.' Here's what's in this movie: James Caan and Elliot Gould as song and dance men slash crooks in the gay gaslight era opposite evil aristocratic safe cracker Michael Caine (based on an actual historic figure Adam Worth). Along for the ride are Diane Keaton as a pamphleteering Red, Charles Durning as a corrupt bank manager, Lesley Ann Warren as the stage ingenue, Carol Kane, Dennis Dugan, Burt Young, Bert Remsen, John Gilford and… need I go on? It was co-written by Dean Devlin's father! In between cartoonish jailbreaks and burglaries there are bizarre musical numbers with obscure 19th century references. It is one of the strangest films ever made. And, since it happened to be the first movie we had on tape, I watched it every day after school for years. Still have it memorized."
"I did find myself returning to some much-watched films this July 4th holiday, which I extended by taking off Thursday and Friday. If you didn't have the foresight to do the same I am very, very sorry. While wallowing in my own cinematic protoplasm I revisited 'Se7en,' 'Boogie Nights,' and 'Resevoir Dogs.' These are films I've seen at least a hundred times each and believe me it is not an exaggeration. Though if you're a dedicated Indiewire reader I assume you are familiar with the pleasures of watching a film, by ordinary standards, one time too many. But the reigning champion would have to be 'Ghostbusters.' There was a period where I watched that film almost everyday. And I still like it. That reminds me, I've got to go watch 'Ghostbusters' for the 456th time."
"It's pretty much a dead heat between 'Psycho,' 'Citizen Kane,' and 'Alphaville.' At least a dozen times for each."
"I saw 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' in the theater five times in the summer of 1991, which stands as my personal record. On home video, the comfort-food films I return to again and again are 'The Third Man,' 'Chinatown,' 'Blade Runner,' 'Aliens,' and 'The Blues Brothers.' I'm probably in the double-digits on all of those."
"My most-watched movie ever is a holiday film, but not a summery one: It's 'A Christmas Story' (1983), directed by Bob Clark, the auteur behind 'Porky's.' Despite its cold-weather setting, though, my first memories of watching it take place on a summer vacation, at my grandparents' house in Joplin, Missouri. My Uncle Mike lived with his parents and, in lieu of rent, paid for a monstrous satellite dish in the backyard that captured Cardinals broadcasts and many (as yet unscrambled) movie channels. Mike had taped hundreds of movies off HBO and The Movie Channel and TBS on Betamax tapes, and so my early cinematic education came from sampling that collection — everything from 'An Affair to Remember' to John Ford Westerns to 'Ghostbusters.' But one summer, maybe 1985 or 1986, I watched 'A Christmas Story' every afternoon for 14 consecutive days. Something about that movie's sharper-than-expected sensibility, its Midwestern fatalism, its stupid sight gags, completely spoke to me. When we had to drive back to Milwaukee and leave the tape behind, I was really angry. 'Fudge!' I yelled. But I didn't say 'fudge.' I expect, with Christmas-season viewings added in, I've seen that movie between 20 and 25 times."
"Call me a Paulette or what have you, but I don't revisit even my favorite films that often. When I was younger I used to let a lot of films play in the background while I was working on this or that, but now I'd rather let my favorite films live in my head, only revisiting them when they aren't fresh anymore so I can feel surprised by certain shots or narrative elements. That being said, since seeing it at the New York Film Festival back in 2010, I rewatched Abbas Kiarostami's 'Certified Copy' at least five or six times, not counting rewatching individual parts as I put together my video essay on it earlier this year."
"'The Running Man,' 'Superman II' or 'Clue.' Movies I watched incessantly on VHS when I was a kid; I'd watch them, rewind them and watch them again."
"Has to be 'The Breakfast Club.' Very important during my formative years, being a child of the '80s and all. I won't try to estimate how many times I've seen it but I'd venture to say I know every word by heart, from the very beginning: 'Saturday, March 24, 1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois 60062.'"
"'Bloodsport.' It's the original basic cable classic that seemed to magically appear on TV after cartoons ended and would lead into Kevin Sorbo and Lucy Lawless' hour of bastardized Greek myth. The story of Van Damme becoming a major box office figure also turned the epitome of the 80s when it came to branching off to other 80s tropes like 'Revenge of the Nerds' or 'Platoon.' Or even how Bolo Yeung was over 40 years old at the time of shooting this and could still kick ass. And if you had to ask, I've seen it nearly 40 times since I was eight."
"The movie I've seen more than any other in my life is actually the Mel Brooks classic 'Young Frankenstein' (though historically it's always been followed shortly by a viewing of 'Blazing Saddles,' so it could be almost a tie, with 'The Shawshank Redemption' close behind). I grew up on Brooks' comedies, and this one has always been the most quotable one in my family, leading to countless revisits. Considering I first saw the film almost 2 decades ago, and I watch it at least a few times a year, I may very well be approaching my 100th session with Dr. Fronkensteen in the near future…"
"Unlike some people, I don't have any movies that I've seen a really excessive number of times. There are, however, two films that I've seen about 17 or 18 times each. The first is 'Grease.' When I saw it theatrically in 1978, I became obsessed with it. The film started playing on HBO a year later, and I made a vow to watch it every single time it was on that first month. If it was on at 2:00 AM, I set my alarm and got up in the middle of the night to watch it. If it was on three times a day, I watched it three times a day. About 12 of my viewings were in that month alone. I once met the film's director, Randal Kleiser, and told him of my 'Grease' viewing spree. He seemed simultaneously amused and frightened. My other most-seen movie is 'Fletch,' which is my favorite comedy ever and which never fails to make me laugh, despite the fact that I almost literally know every single line by heart. But hey, it's all ball bearings nowadays, right?"
"Being that my cinema gods are Jean-Luc Godard, Orson Welles and Bela Tarr, it might come as a surprise that the movie I've seen the most is not 'Citizen Kane' or 'Breathless,' but a little-known 1948 black-and-white comedy from Hollywood, 'Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.' Directed by the forgotten H.C. Potter, it stars Cary Grant and Myrna Loy as Jim and Muriel Blandings, a Manhattan couple (he's an advertising executive who earns the then-enormous sum of $15,000 a year) who decide to move to an ramshackle house in Connecticut and fix it up. Melvin Douglas provides support as their friend and lawyer, who cautions them against the purchase. They do it anyway. There's nothing especially original about the story — as you'd expect, everything that could possible go wrong does — and Potter's direction is mediocre. But the cast is sturdy, and the movie makes me feel all snuggly and secure. So I watch it every chance I get."
"Though 'The Big Lebowski' comes close — my friends and I used to watch it at least once a month during our senior year of high school — I doubt anything will ever dethrone 'Milo and Otis,' which was the official movie of my childhood. I'd be hard pressed to put a precise number to it, but it's well over 25. This all predates my full-fledged cinephilia, however, and I know I've seen 'The Thin Red Line' at least nine times in the last three-and-a-half years."
"I've watched 'The Empire Strikes Back' more than any other film I've ever seen. The first time I watched it was when it was constantly airing on HBO in the mid-eighties. I was a six year old kid looking for some excitement and well, find something I did, I would say, hmmm? I guess there weren't enough scoundrels in my life. How many times have I watched it? At least a couple of hundred. What are the odds I'll watch it whenever I see it on TV? Never tell me the odds. Seriously though, I try and watch it every chance I get. I know, I know…there is no try."
"Without a doubt, 'Heat.' I've seen it at least 30 times from beginning to end. 'Almost Famous' and 'Se7en' are tied for second…"
"I credit my sister, and her childhood penchant for watching movies over and over again, for answering this one with 'Home Alone.' Not exactly the best basis for a career in film writing, and not even a movie I would have chosen for myself, but family is family."
"'The Wizard of Oz.'"
"I think the movie I've seen the most isn't some recent popcorn-pleaser — although I'll throw on 'The Rundown' or Zack Snyder's 'Dawn of the Dead' at the drop of a hat — but, rather, 'The Court Jester,' a 1957 Paramount musical-comedy spoof of period action pieces like 'Robin Hood' starring Danny Kaye. Kaye is a rebel against an unjust king, but assigned to jobs like entertaining the men and caring for the infant true heir; Kaye gets the chance to take the place of the evil King's new court jester to enter the castle and end the rebellion in a day, not knowing that the new Jester is actually an assassin hired by the usurper King's right hand man Basil Rathbone to kill the tyrant so that Rathbone might seize the crown. That synopsis does not do the film justice; it's got disguises, swordfights, hypnotism, lightning strikes, midgets and acrobatics and crazy-comedy wordplay and romance and signifying birthmarks and more. It was one of my mom's favorite films, and to me, it's really the proof of cinema as not just a thing of wonder and delight but also as a way to tell stories that couldn't be told any other way."
"This is where I'd like to write something smart, like, say, '8 ½.' Or at least something that sounds cool like 'The Empire Strikes Back' or 'Money Train.' But, for as much as I love 'The Empire Strikes Back,' the chances of it being my most watched film is slim. The reason being that, now, as an adult, I do not have as much free time to watch movies that I've already seen as I did when I was a seven year old with no brothers or sisters. So, my most watched film would most likely be a movie that I watched at that age, not now. Based on this, I'd have to say, with little doubt, that the movie I've watched the most in my life is 'Midnight Madness' — because that movie was on HBO incessantly. And I watched it every single time."
"The film I've seen more than any other is without a doubt 'Chungking Express.' The film was at the center of my bachelor's degree dissertation and so I spent many hours pouring over every detail in the film, watching it and re-watching it to fully unpack as much of it as I could. Whilst writing I also used to put the film on in the background, often on a loop for hours and hours, the images and sounds seeping in as I got lost in my writing. The film is also one that I still return to again and again, not to 'study' but for pleasure. Often when I speak to people about film criticism they comment that surely studying a film, dissecting it and discussing every aspect of it ultimately stops you from enjoying the experience. But even more than one hundred viewings on and and having written thousands of words on 'Chungking Express,' I still get the feel the same emotional tug watching the lovelorn Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) wander the streets and the same delight at watching Faye (Faye Wong) dancing as she works to the sounds of 'California Dreamin'.'"
"I have seen 'Pulp Fiction' at least two dozen times. It was my favorite movie for most of high school, and I took a special delight in sharing it with friends and family who hadn't seen it before. During college and my early twenties, I did not watch it as frequently, and I'm glad I took a break. When I rewatched 'Pulp Fiction' again this May, I found new quirks to appreciate, and the jokes still made me laugh. Like the best movies out there, it will always hold up."
"Like most kids, I fixated hard on one or two movies. I'd also buy movies on VHS that I hadn't seen, simply because I thought I had to. Three of those were 'Dazed and Confused,' 'Carrie,' 'Die Hard.' I'd imagine I've seen those more than anything else."
The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on July 9, 2012: