The term may well be of utmost relevance to cinephiles and movie lovers the world over but, unless you ingratiate yourself within the beating heartbeat of cinematic culture, chances are, you won’t know exactly who the ‘Movie Brats’ were. In fact, it’s a little more complicated than that. You’ll know every single member of the ‘Movie Brats’ but perhaps not as their collective moniker. But, rest assured, few movements in the history of cinema have shifted Hollywood as seismically as this group of upstarts.
Named the ‘Movie Brats’ within a critical essay by Michael Pye and Linda Myles, the movement reflected the end of an era for Hollywood as the studio system began to crumble around them. It was, therefore, down to a group of young and rebellious filmmakers to pick up the slack and storm the gates.
The group of filmmakers were the first not to be tarnished by the studio system and so came to Hollywood with a fresh approach. This, coupled with their education being heavily supplemented by television and cinema in a then-unprecedented manner, saw artists such as Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, John Milius, George Lucas and Brian De Palma reign supreme over the new landscape of cinema.
Of course, the group would arrive not only with a brand new perspective but with a studious education in everything to do with the silver screen. The first generation of filmmakers to have access to movies in a modern capacity, the group were fearless in their direction but also perfectly aware of the path already carved. Many of the directors would pay homage to their heroes, De Palma displayed many Hitchcockian tendencies, Milius was an avid fan of Akira Kurosawa, and George Lucas was almost continually inspired by Disney.
It meant that some of the movies the group made are still considered the finest of all time to this day. They managed to strike a balance that will never be achieved again. Never again will directors have the golden age of Hollywood within touching distance while also being slowly introduced to the technological advancements of the 20th and 21st centuries.
The group were notorious for happily sharing their projects. Screenwriter Paul Schrader, for example, worked with many of the directors while editor Marcia Lucas was another name heavily involved. George Lucas even worked as the second unit for Coppola’s iconic The Godfather; Spielberg helped out Scorsese on Taxi Driver, and pretty much everyone had a view on Lucas’ science-fiction pioneer Star Wars. However, today, we are pitting them against one another as we pick out the ten best films from the ‘Movie Brats’ movement.
10 best ‘Movie Brats’ films:
10. Schindler’s List – Steven Spielberg(1993)
One of the essential films of the last thirty years and undoubtedly Spielberg’s greatest, Schindler’s List follows the story of German businessman Oskar Schindler who starts out employing Jews in his factory to improve profit margins but ends up being moved by the horrific conditions they were in. He decides to take matters into his own hands and tries to save as many Jews as possible. Intimately filmed and powerfully direct, Schindler’s List is the crowning jewel of Spielberg’s filmography. Out of 12 Academy Award nominations, it won in seven categories, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography.
“When Schindler’s List was first published in 1982, Sid Sheinberg of MCA bought it for me to direct,” Spielberg said. “Although I had heard personal stories from the time I was a child, this was the most compelling, unique story. Here was this complex man who was not a survivor but a businessman, a Catholic, a member of the Nazi party who, for reasons we will never know for certain, saved the lives of over 1,100 Jews.”
According to him, he made the film because he wanted to spread awareness about the tragedy: “My primary purpose in making Schindler’s List was for education. The Holocaust had been treated as just a footnote in so many textbooks or not mentioned at all. Millions knew little if anything about it. Others tried to deny it happened at all.”
9. American Graffiti – George Lucas (1973)
A long time ago, in a bedroom far, far away, George Lucas was an aspiring filmmaker coming off the back of his commercially disappointing THX 1138, pondering his next steps into the industry. Co-founding production company American Zoetrope with Francis Ford Coppola during the making of his debut feature, it was during this time that Coppola challenged the writer and director to pen a script that would appeal to mainstream audiences.
Embracing this idea, Lucas would eventually create American Graffiti under his now-iconic production studio Lucasfilm, Ltd. Set in Modesto, California in 1962, American Graffiti was a film born from autobiographical experiences of the cruising and early rock ‘n’ roll cultures of George Lucas’ youth, telling the story of a group of teenagers and their adventures over the course of a night. “Cruising was gone, and I felt compelled to document the whole experience and what my generation used as a way of meeting girls,” Lucas explained.
In and of itself, the director’s second feature film is one of the most influential coming-of-age films ever made, a film suffused with nostalgia and teenage rebellion in the bittersweet final days of adolescent innocence. Collaborating a culturally resonant soundtrack together with a story that celebrated the liberty of youthful American nostalgia, and American Graffiti became a film of genuine sociological importance.
8. Scarface – Brian De Palma (1983)
Cuban refugee Tony Montana is granted a green card along with his friends Manny, Angel and Chi-Chi by the infamous Miami drug kingpin Frank Lopez in exchange for their loyal services where they are required to murder a former Cuban general. As Tony starts venturing into the Miami drug trade, he is ruthlessly merciless and kills anyone who stands an obstacle in his path to move forward. Slowly, he becomes a well-known drug lord and controls all cocaine operations; however, his drug-fuelled benders coupled with immense pressure from the police and their hostile relationship with the Colombian drug cartels threaten to ruin his empire.
Martin Scorsese allegedly told one of the actors that they needed to “be prepared because they’re going to hate it in Hollywood … because it’s about them.” The film sees Al Pacino revel in the glorious extravagance of the hypnotic Tony Montana – a role that seems to be tailored perfectly for him. The film boasts of ultra-violence while constantly drawing attention to the impending doom; raging cynicism thins out the line between morality and grandeur.
Pacino and De Palma together transcend the tropes of a conventional gangster film, producing a masterfully crafted story of violence and drugs that shall make the viewers shudder.
7. Jaws – Steven Spielberg (1975)
Based on Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel, Jaws is one of Spielberg’s most famous and brilliant works. It features a terrifying white shark who acts as a constant reminder of our mortality. Police chief Martin Brody, ichthyologist Matt Hooper and ship captain Quint team up to battle this threat, but fighting nature is always a losing battle. Spielberg tapped into the vulnerable psychology of fear, and the film’s impact was so great that many people avoided water bodies altogether!
“I was naive about the ocean, basically. I was pretty naive about mother nature, and the hubris of a filmmaker who thinks he can conquer the elements was foolhardy,” Spielberg reflected. “But I was too young to know I was being foolhardy when I demanded that we shoot the film in the Atlantic Ocean and not in a North Hollywood tank.
“But had I to do it all over again, I would have gone back to the sea because it was the only way for the audience to feel that these three men were cast adrift with a great white shark hunting them.”
6. Blow Out – Brian De Palma (1981)
Another De Palma film on our list and another twist in the tale for all those audience members expecting a classic John Travolta performance. Known by this point for his hip-swishing performance as Danny in Grease, to cast Travolta as the lead in this neo-noir psychological thriller was a bold move and precisely the kind of shift that De Palma has made his name on. As mentioned before, this was De Palma paying tribute to his ultimate directorial hero, Alfred Hitchcock.
Within Blow Out, De Palma displays all of the techniques that he has learned from the legend and shares a visual story that, despite meeting little fanfare on release, is the perfect reflection of De Palma’s talents. “Brian is a great director,” Scorsese once wrote.
“Nobody can interpret things visually like he does: telling a story through a lens […] What Brian does with it is tell the story, progressing the story within the shot.” As well as technique, Scorsese simply says: “Brian knows”.
5. Raging Bull – Martin Scorsese (1980)
Robert De Niro plays the protagonist Jake LaMotta, an Italian-American middleweight boxer. As he rises through the ranks to bag the crown, he falls in love and gets married to a beautiful girl. However, being overcome by psychological demons like self-destructive and uncontrollable rage, sexual jealousy and gluttony along with his general animosity severely affect his interpersonal relationships.
The brutal fight sequences coupled with a man’s wounded ego causing rifts in his relationships weigh heavily; the film is poetic and psychologically scarring at the same time with an intense and brutal script by the legendary Paul Schrader. Joe Pesci rose to prominence with this film as Jake LaMotta’s supportive brother Joey who tries hard to help his brother battle his inner demons. Jake’s slow and steady emotional degradation leads to his isolation; the beautiful monochromatic cinematography brilliantly captures the depressive and gloomy atmosphere that pervades through the screen. De Niro is explosive as the “unsympathetic hero” whose insecurity and obsession leads him to crave control over events inside as well as outside the boxing ring; he had even gobbled down a bowl of pasta to look like the middle-aged Jake.
Powerful with a brilliant character study, Raging Bull is one of Scorsese’s finest works to date.
4. Goodfellas – Martin Scorsese (1990)
Adapted from Nicholas Pileggi’s book Wiseguy, the film revolves around the lives of three pivotal figures and their lives as a part of the 1960s and ’70s New York mafia. It follows the journey of a young, petty criminal, Henry Hill, who, along with his friends, the jack-of-all-trades Jimmy Conway and the intimidating Tommy DeVito, ascends the organised crime ladder to live a life of luxury. Unbeknownst to him, the brutalities soon cause a sea change in their lives, bringing into the picture the question of survival.
An obvious fan favourite, this film made Scorsese the household name he is. The movie, which questions the extent of willful ignorance on the part of an individual towards his compatriot’s immorality, boasts an incredible ensemble comprising Robert De Niro, Jo Pesci, Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco and Paul Sorvino. The rehearsals led to a variety of improvs and ad-libs, which gave the actors creative freedom to express themselves and the best ones were retained in the improvised script. Deemed “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant”, Goodfellas is considered one of the greatest films of all time. Scorsese had used “all the basic tricks of the New Wave from around 1961” to create his masterpiece. Phenomenal performances and a crisp, gritting narrative make this Scorsese’s most fantastic film of all time.
3. Godfather – Francis Ford Coppola (1972)
Based on Mario Puzo’s best-selling 1969 novel of the same name, people dismissed the film as just another mafia flick when they first heard about it, but everything changed when audiences witnessed Coppola’s epic about American crime and the complicated issues it explored. Since then, it has become the definitive work of the genre and the yardstick against which every other crime film is measured (often unfavourably).
The film revolves around the Corleone crime family, headed by the patriarch Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), and shows how one of his sons (Al Pacino) rises to the occasion and becomes a ruthless Mafia boss himself. The film won the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Brando), and Best Adapted Screenplay (for Puzo and Coppola) and is correctly regarded as one of the most influential films of all time.
Coppola said, “The Mafia was romanticised in the book. And I was filming that book. To do a film about my real opinion of the Mafia would be another thing altogether. But it’s a mistake to think I was making a film about the Mafia. Godfather Part I is a romance about a king with three sons.
“It is a film about power. It could have been the Kennedys. The whole idea of a family living in a compound—that was all based on Hyannisport. Remember, it wasn’t a documentary about Mafia chief Vito Genovese. It was Marlon Brando with Kleenex in his mouth.”
2. Taxi Driver – Martin Scorsese (1976)
Travis Bickle, a Vietnam War veteran and now a taxi driver, leads a lonely and depressing life in the morally bankrupt New York City and he is infatuated with a campaign volunteer named Betsy. Disgusted and appalled by the degradation of New York City, plagued by forced prostitution, corruption and dysfunction, Travis’ descent into madness and frenzy motivated by violence causes him to be obsessed with the assassination of the Presidential candidate as well as the man who pimps out Idris, an underage prostitute and his friend.
Scorsese is at his best in this riveting film. Brutal violence and jarring characters add to the dysfunctional atmosphere of the film. Robert DeNiro delivers an outstanding and memorable performance as the angst-ridden Travis Bickles embarks on a death-defying tale of vigilante justice. He is relatable when he says, “I got some bad ideas in my head”, yet unfamiliar when his hands are soaked in blood. Travis attempts to be the “real rain” that will “wash away all this scum off the streets.” wonderful cinematography and intense dialogues coupled with powerful performances make Taxi Driver a brilliant yet nightmarish masterpiece, which will surely quench the thirst for madness and violence in the neo-noir aficionados.
1. Apocalypse Now – Francis Ford Coppola (1979)
Loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s famous 1902 novella Heart of Darkness, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 epic Apocalypse Now is arguably the most ambitious project in his extensive filmmaking career. It is a retelling of the problematic source text in the context of the Vietnam War, which allegorically deconstructs the evils of American interference, colonialism and the human capacity for unabashed hatred.
“What is considered avant-garde in one moment, 20 years later, is used for wallpaper and becomes part of the culture. It seemed that’s what had happened with [Apocalypse Now],” Coppola said. “When I was making this, I didn’t carry a script around. I carried a green Penguin paperback copy of Heart of Darkness with all my underlining in it. I made the movie from that.”
The result is perhaps the most refined distillation of what makes the ‘Movie Brats’ such an alluring prospect. Naturally, the film is guided by Coppola’s vision and his unwavering dedication to the project. But it is also keenly sculpted by the habits of the audience and designed to engage them at every step in the journey.
It’s a masterclass of direction and perseverance.