Back to IndieWire

The Criticwire Survey: One Movie to Save Humanity

The Criticwire Survey: One Movie to Save Humanity

Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you their 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: Aliens invade earth and announce their plan to destroy the entire planet — unless we show them a movie that proves our culture has value to the universe. What movie do you pick to justify our existence?

The critics’ answers:

Alan ZilbermanBrightest Young Things/Tiny Mix Tapes:

“I would show the aliens ‘The General.’ Even they would be impressed by Buster Keaton, and the easiest way to prove our cultural value would be to make them laugh.”

Mark YoungSound on Sight/New York Movie Klub:

“I would show the aliens the Spike Jonze film ‘Adaptation,’ and then say to them, ‘Yeah, the masturbation was kind of unsettling. But if you look past it you see that there are a few billion people on this planet living just like those characters: searching for meaning, or at least for another person to search alongside them. In the meantime, they tell each other stories, stories both trite and gorgeous, and every so often those stories will give them the faintest glimpse of the meaning they’re looking for. So please, do not annihilate all those searches and all those stories in service of the ‘aliens demand humanity to justify itself’ plot. That is SO unoriginal.”

Stephen WhittyThe Star-Ledger:

“‘Jackass.’ But I’ve been in a rather self-destructive mood lately.”

Scott WeinbergTwitch/Movies.com:

“‘The Princess Bride‘ — It shows love, humor, compassion, wit, warmth, decency, and (most of all) how much fun humans can be.”

“Well, if ‘Spring Breakers’ is an accurate representation of Generation YOLO and Earth’s future, I might show it to these aliens and then help them destroy the planet. But if it’s up to one film to prevent our ultimate destruction, my first thought might be something beautiful and inspiring, both cinematically and thematically — like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ or ‘Schindler’s List’ — to prove to them humanity’s ability for compassion and artistic expression. But when it came down to it, I think I’d end up showing them ‘Mars Attacks.'”

“Leo McCarey’s Marx Brothers’ high jinks in ‘Duck Soup‘ to explain how we humans ‘put the world back into rational perspective’ on a double bill with Woody Allen’s ‘Hannah and Her Sisters.’ Dianne Wiest’s Holly: Don’t you just love songs about extra-terrestrial life? Woody Allen’s Mickey: Not if they’re sung by extra-terrestrials. If the aliens don’t like ‘Duck Soup,’ there is no hope for communication.”

“Given the specifics of the hypothetical, as opposed to going for the most purely artistic work of cinema, I think I’d want to show them ‘12 Angry Men.’ If you’ve seen it, I think you know why. Of course I’m assuming that a race which can develop space travel is smart enough to get the point — though that may be a stretch.”

“How better to convince a higher race of the value of humanity than with a movie that climaxes with that struggle? So I’m picking ‘A Matter of Life and Death,’ from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. This whimsical romance features a couple whose love is the stuff of fairy tales — an RAF pilot, whose plane is about to spiral out and crash, falls in love with the American radio operator to whom he’s transmitting his final message. But he survives when his assigned angel can’t find him or his plane through the thick English fog. As the pilot and radio operator fall in love, he’s brought to Heaven to argue his case to continue living with her — or he’s got a brain injury that will kill him if it’s not operated on soon. Powell and Pressburger blended color & black-and-white photography in AMOLAD, with the real world presented in the former, and Heaven in the latter; the romance is lovely and swooning, the performances vibrant and lively, and the matte-painting visuals stunning. Here is a film in which the living, the dead, and the spiritual are won over. I can’t imagine the aliens turning it down.”

“I am assuming that the aliens will not be able to understand any human language, so a pantomimed silent film would be one logical way to attempt to communicate with them. This logic leads me to choose Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times,’ because whose expressions and movements are more universal than Chaplin’s? Not only does ‘Modern Times’ beautifully portray humans’ abilities to love and laugh, but it also proves that humans are intelligent beings who can present complex political and social philosophies by way of pantomimed entertainment.”

“Derek Jarman’s ‘Wittgenstein.’ It demonstrates abstract thought, covers a good amount of history, is arch but not too overwhelming, features human-alien contact in an interesting way, and Tilda Swinton’s outfits are appropriately cosmic.”

“‘Fellini Satyricon.'”

“It would have to be something a) short, b) beyond language and c) positive (as one would probably not want to reveal we’re a bunch of whiny, belligerent malcontents — at least not right away). A lot of Norman McLaren films would fit that, and I would personally go with ‘Begone Dull Care,’ which in seven minutes plows through various styles and moods of animation, plus features the jazz stylings of the Oscar Peterson Trio. Or maybe I’d go with the energy jolts of Bruce Connor, either ‘Cosmic Ray’ or ‘Breakaway,’ as alien races would doubtless adore hyper-editing, Ray Charles and Toni Basil stripping. (This is provided you can wrestle a copy from the Bruce Conner foundation.)”

“‘The Shawshank Redemption.’ Besides the goal of this exercise being right in the title, the film shows us at our worst and our ability to overcome that with hope, trust and determination. Yeah it might look like we don’t deserve to live, but if you put our backs against the wall, sadly, that’s what it takes to get us to respond with the best of us. Plus, let’s see those aliens try and not cry at that reunion on the beach. (I admit to crying a lot in these surveys.)”

“Definitely not ‘E.T.’ — boy, does that make Earthlings look like jerks. I think aliens, especially judgmental planet-destroying aliens, won’t buy an argument that mankind has real value. Instead, I’d convince them that earth serves as an Icarus-like example of ambition gone awry. So: ‘Waterworld.’ Ideally, they’ll keep us around as a reminder that Centaurus A and then Andromeda Galaxy should never bet their space dollars on Kevin Costner. At worst, they’ll fly off shrugging that Earth will wind up killing itself anyway.”

“This question sparked some discussion at a bookstore (‘Wouldn’t a book be better? Uh, you want to make an alien find a translator?’) and I’m torn between a black and white classic, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and a science fiction classic ‘Star Trek IV.’ I’m assuming that the aliens are not color blind like dogs and have observed that humans are not color-blind in their friendships, living quarters and their political associations. George Bailey won’t help us there as he lives in a white neighborhood. For these reasons, I’d choose the 1986 ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.’ Directed by Leonard Nimoy, the movie doesn’t have an us-versus-them theme so much as a crew of friends trying to save the planet earth. The friends — Admiral James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, Montgomery Scott, Leonard McCoy, Hikaru Sulu, Pavel Chekov and Uhura — have an obvious affection for each other and are not only from different races and ethnic groups, but also different solar systems. The movie also shows an obvious concern for the environment. We still have William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, Walter Koenig and Nichelle Nichols with us. Shatner and Takei have become social media stars and they could help with this campaign to save earth. Both ‘The Voyage Home’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ have the theme that each being matters because each sentient being touches other’s lives in unexpected and hopefully wonderful ways by just being a nice. In the case of ‘The Voyage Home’ it is the whales, George and Gracie, who matter and will save the world. The aliens in their industrialization must have grappled with similar environmental problems that we earthlings now face and have yet to resolve. They perhaps better than humans would understand that the extinction of one animal causes nature’s balance to falter and even fail. In a similar manner, the annihilation of families, countries and continents, of a whole planet would have an effect on the galaxy that they might not be able to foresee at this time. By treating us well, even as a less advanced civilization, we could perhaps teach them something and in someway benefit the greater world, the great good, the expansive galaxy as they know it and as they have yet to discover. In seeking out new life and new civilizations, these aliens must go boldly where no man has gone before: Xenophilia without the colonial mentality.”

“Any film critic worth his/her salt knows the correct response to this situation would be to show the aliens ‘Independence Day’ so they will understand that we have Will Smith and are not to be messed with. Beyond that, my pick would be Pixar’s ‘Up.’ How could anyone, no matter what planet they are from, resist it? The aliens would be sobbing during that montage (yeah, you know the one), and we’d be safe from that point on. Besides, ‘Up’ is a really beautiful film, gorgeously animated and with a wonderful sense of humor. There’s no way they’d vaporize a planet that could produce such a touching, entertaining film. But keep the DVD of ‘Independence Day’ close by, just in case.”

“Well, I know I wouldn’t show them any alien invasion movies, since that would DEFINITELY send the wrong message. I figure, I either need to make them laugh or make them cry. If I went with the former, I’d show them the work of Mel Brooks, notably ‘Young Frankenstein.’ If I went with the latter, I think I’d try and lift their spirits and bring them to tears with ‘The Shawshank Redemption.’ Or, I could just try to counterpoint the bad alien flicks by showing them ‘Contact.'”

“An obvious one, but ‘The Shawshank Redemption‘ would be apt. A glowing example of the strength of the human spirit against insurmountable odds. Plus Morgan Freeman’s heart-rending voice over might make them think twice about attacking.”

“‘The Clock‘ and then admit they won’t really get it until they see every film referenced. That should buy us enough time to either kill the aliens or it’ll endear them to our quirky and hilariously uneducated concepts of time. Also if we announce aliens are going to see ‘The Clock’ the lines will be so long that the aliens will be stuck there for like 6 hours. So more time to plan.”

“‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.’ Maybe then they’d at least spare the children.”

“Your question begs the question: Would aliens really destroy the planet if they saw Adam Sandler’s ‘The Waterboy’ and not ‘Casablanca?’ Forgetting that no one film would please all audiences, I think that one would have to show something that is life-affirming. For me, that would be a film like ‘The Bridge,’ the remarkable documentary about suicide; for others, it’s more along the lines of ‘Schindler’s List.’ So, I’d answer this like Woody Allen might, and show them a Marx Brothers film. That way, if they didn’t laugh, at least I would, and there’s probably no better way to go. ‘Duck Soup.'”

“Isao Takahata’s ‘Grave of the Fireflies,’ because it captures the entire of gamut of human emotions and experiences; horror and cruelty and suffering and pettiness but also love and compassion and honor and beauty. Plus, while the aliens are distracted by their tears, we can counterattack.”

“Klaatu barada nikto, man! I’m going counter-intuitive with this space oddity, Captain Kirk rather than Mr. Spock, and suggesting ‘The Big Lebowski‘ is the best way to foil the marauding alien invaders. Exposure to primo Coen Brothers might convince the saucer people that we’re too dumb to bother wasting their dynamite on. Or maybe we can turn them on to White Russians, bowling (but not on Shabbos!) and mutual hatred of the fuckin’ Eagles. In which case, they’ll think we’re cool, and let us keep on abiding. And wouldn’t that really tie the galaxy together, am I wrong, Dude?”

“I am working under the assumption that these interstellar beings do not have access to a universal translator or some sort of Babelfish-like bio-mechanoid aid to understand any of our Earth languages. (However, since they’ve mastered faster-than-light travel, or, at least, have learned how to navigate wormholes, this may not be the case.) Nevertheless, Matt Singer, the answer to your question is Godfrey Reggio’s ‘Koyaanisqatsi.’ It will prove to our cousins from beyond the stars that we are a) quite capable of destroying the planet on our on and b) uniquely qualified to make sublime art about this very topic as we do so. The first step to self-improvement is at least acknowledging a problem, and Reggio’s film is big and bold enough to do that on behalf of our entire species.”

“Patrick Wang’s ‘In the Family,’ as a convincing example of our empathy, understanding, and ability to evolve. If that doesn’t work, then bust out Andrzej Wajda’s ‘Kanal‘ to prove our resilience and tenaciousness, and that we won’t go down without a fight.”

“‘The Tree of Life.’ I probably put too much thought into this, but if aliens don’t know our language, then they’ll need to see a movie that relies on emotion. With ‘The Tree of Life, ‘so much is conveyed in the body language and facial expressions. This or ‘BioDome.'”

“While ‘2001’ leapt to mind immediately, we might as well show them something pretty and informative — ‘Baraka,’ ‘Samsara,’ pretty much anything that Ron Fricke has ever done, these are all kind of obvious candidates to show off our natural and man-made worlds. Frankly, given that they clearly don’t mind wasting a bit of time given their interstellar travels, I’d show them a couple longer ‘films’ such as BBC’s ‘Planet Earth.’ First of all, it’s a stunning overview of what makes this planet unique, secondly I can’t think of a better ambassador for our entire orb than Sir David Attenborough. Plus, it’s a work that would surely translate better to an uninitiated audience than my usual go-to existential rejuvenation films such as ‘The Big Lebowski’ or ‘The Princess Bride.'”

“‘E.T.!’ It could set an example, showing that peace and friendship between human beings and extra-terrestrial creatures is possible. If nothing else they might at least decide to save the children after watching it. The small ones are kind and there’s the hope that they’ll remain decent once they grow up.”

“‘The Gang’s All Here,’ because if Carmen Miranda and ‘The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat’ aren’t enough to save us, we are doomed indeed.”

“John Waters’ ‘Pink Flamingos‘ because hopefully they’ll be so disgusted by humans, they’ll high tail it back to wherever they came from. Anyway, I’m not convinced our culture does have any value so I’ll just go with reverse psychology.”

“‘Independence Day.’ ‘Welcome to earth, bitch.’ Now someone go find Jeff Goldblum.”

“Since this is the week of a new Terrence Malick film, I’ll go with ‘The Tree of Life.’ No other film captures the cosmic ramifications of our own petty emotions and the interconnectedness of life. It shows the battle inside all of us — maybe even the aliens — to strive for good, and also has the honesty to admit that goodness might not always win out. Hopefully the aliens will appreciate that.”

“Sounds like I’d want to show these invaders the most humanistic film I can think of. And in my mind there’s no film that illustrates man’s compassion towards his brother more eloquently than Jean Renoir’s ‘La Grande Illusion.'”

“I would pick my favorite movie of all time, ‘The Shawshank Redemption.’ It demonstrates the will of human beings and their power to forgive, overcome, hope for and achieve a better tomorrow. It will show those aliens that we are people who can believe in and achieve better things in the face of adversity and injustice. It’s also a damn good movie and they’ll think that if we can produce a film that satisfying, moving and sheer brilliant then we can’t be that bad.”

“Let’s please not pick a sanctimonious 1950’s sci-fi fable, that stuff is so outdated. My pick is odd because I’m actually choosing a film that came out just last year — the outrage! the narrow-mindedness! — and it’s ‘Samsara.’ In a matter of seconds, any alien or outsider would be hooked. Ron Fricke is a hero of mine, he shot this film in 25 countries over a period of 5 years to come up with this wordless, all-music accompaniment documentary. It’s also a film that showed up on way too few critics’ ten best lists last year. If you want to see a film that shows we are precious people on an amazing planet, it’s here.”

“Since there’s no such thing as aliens, and the only people passionate enough to blow up the Earth unless we prove our cinephilic work are the French, I vote we show them ‘The Rules of the Game.’ You know, parry their effrontery with politeness.”

“Penn & Teller’s ‘Invisible Thread.’ How valuable is our culture? Our culture is so imaginative that we actually saw this situation coming. Beat that, Venusians!”

“Obviously, to justify the cultural value of the human race, we would need to show an even more malevolent species hellbent on destroying us something like ‘Schindler’s List‘ or ‘The Color Purple‘ or ‘Boys Don’t Cry‘— an example of the innate human ability to conquer, control, exploit, and abuse.”

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to plump for the obvious one, but alas, when it’s the very fate of the world at hand, one must resort to extremes. I’d show them ‘Citizen Kane.’ Not only does it show off what we’re capable of from a technique perspective, but it also charts the landscape of Man (‘a certain man’) in all its glory.”

“I’m not sure if the question is asking for a film whose subject matter justifies our existence (i.e. celebrates the human spirit) or for a film whose artistic accomplishments alone suggest that the human race is worth preserving. To cover both possibilities, I’m going with ‘Schindler’s List.'”

“Not a whole film, but Bill Pullman’s speech from ‘Independence Day.’ It will show them we mean business.”

The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on April 15th, 2013:
The Most Popular Response: “Upstream Color
Other Titles Receiving Multiple Votes: “The Place Beyond the Pines,” “To the Wonder,” “Spring Breakers.”

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: News and tagged

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox