8 Movies Every Man Needs To Watch
There are many great films for men to watch, but few make you question what it means to be a man.
You’ve all seen the usual suggestions. Star Wars, The Godfather, Predator, Saving Private Ryan, Die Hard, The Dark Knight – but what are the films that, when it comes to questioning what it means to be a man, provide the most compelling and instructive answer?
It turns out, it’s mostly (if not entirely) the classics.
A masterless samurai is wandering through Japan when he comes across a village that is set upon by two rival gangs. Finding the local population terrified, the samurai concocts a scheme to free the town from the gangs once and for all.
Toshiro Mifune, one of Japan’s all-time greatest actors, plays the nameless samurai. He is cunning and vicious, but also good-hearted and noble. His character is almost entirely expressed through the actions he takes, and in many ways, he set the template for not just Japanese action heroes, but all action heroes worldwide. A template that Clint Eastwood openly acknowledged.
Unlike most movies, where the hero is given a tragic backstory or some kind of tangible motivation for doing what he does – the nameless samurai has neither. He simply does it because that’s what he does and it’s the right thing to do.
After all, what other reason is necessary?
One of Stanley Kubrick’s earlier films, Paths of Glory tells the story of fighting men in World War 1 who are sentenced to death for crimes they didn’t commit. Ordered to undertake an impossible attack, the men are soon to be killed for little more than their humanity.
Kirk Douglas plays their Colonel, a good and upright man who knows that the men are innocent and victims of the vain and stupid bureaucracy of his commanding officers. An ex-lawyer, he attempts to defend their innocence in court.
Paths of Glory is a simple story told incredibly well. At its heart is a basic principle. That vanity, greed, and ambition must always be cast aside when it comes to the greater good – but very rarely is.
Like Mifune’s nameless Samurai, Kirk Douglas’s Colonel embodies a heroic moral core – standing up to an immoral society, no matter how much it alienates you.
In post World War 2 Rome, a poor father searches for his stolen bicycle, the loss of which means he is soon to be deprived of the job that will save his family.
The Bicycle Thief is almost fable-like in its simplicity but tells a haunting story. At its core is the question of just how far one will stretch their morality to survive, even if it spits in the face of their conscience. It’s a film that addresses a fundamental human flaw:
We all have values, but how many of us actually live by them?
Widely regarded as one the greatest movies ever made, it’s one of those simple films that you never forget, and helps you to question your own actions.
Everyone knows who Gandhi is, but not enough people know the full story of his struggles, and even more importantly, the heart of his message.
Often characterized as a sensitive pacifist, many are surprised to learn just how rigidly masculine Gandhi was.
To him, bravery was everything.
Rather than avoiding violence, Gandhi felt that meeting it head on without defense was the ultimate act of courage. To him, avoiding violence out of cowardice was despicable, and violence itself was preferable.
Gandhi came to understand a simple spiritual truth – that resisting violence without returning it was an act of dignity that stirred the conscience of your attacker and moved them to sympathy.
Where many biopics linger on the minutia of a figure’s life, Gandhi instead captures the man himself, and the beliefs I outlined above.
Radical and fascinating, Gandhi helps to call into question just how a life ought to be lived.
Often hailed as the greatest movie ever made, Citizen Kane tells the story of a man who is consumed by his ambition.
Setting the template for every character study that followed it (The Godfather, The Wolf of Wall Street), Citizen Kane shows us a man who takes on the world of success and wins, but ultimately, achieves nothing important to him.
Centered around the mystery of his famous last words, Citizen Kane aims to demonstrate what matters in life is less than our ambition would have us believe.
Similar to Gandhi (albeit, more violent), Lawrence of Arabia tells us the story of a man who lived a life like no other.
The film follows an educated and insolent lieutenant who travels across the deserts of Arabia fighting in resistance against the Ottoman empire. The more he fights, the more he is exposed to and seduced by the violence of war.
A strange and enigmatic character, you’re never quite sure what Lawrence is motivated by. Is it his ego? The goodness of his heart? Of has he simply out of his depth? At one point, after executing a man who betrayed him, a horrified Lawrence admits to enjoying it.
Either way, in the breadth and scope of his enormous life, the movie never loses its focus on him, and by reflecting on his actions, you might just get a little insight into your own.
Yes, another samurai movie. And yes, another samurai movie starring Toshiro Mifune.
But where Yojimbo had a lone samurai saving a village, this one has a bunch (well, seven) protecting a village from violent bandit raids.
Arguably the most influential action movie ever made, Seven Samurai presents us with a simple situation:
A group of harmless villagers who don’t want to be attacked. A party of savage bandits who have no qualms killing for what they want. And a small band of dysfunctional samurai, trying to work together to do good.
The film presents all the action you’d want in a “defend the town” scenario, but more importantly, helps to show the reality of violence, not just through the perpetrators who are shocked when it doesn’t live up to their expectation – but by the truth that to the harmless villagers, violence is violence, and they don’t want it anywhere near their town.
Even if you’re a hero.
Rightly seen as something of a tragedy, the tragedy is less of those lost in combat, but more of the life these men have chosen for themselves.
The last film on my list is without a doubt the most starkly contrasted with the others. While each film deals with grand ambitions, conflicts, or despair – Tokyo Story tells a small, quiet story, about small, quiet people.
Y’know… like you, me, and everyone else.
It’s easy to get swept up in your own ambitions or self-interests and forget what matters in life – that being the small personal connections with everyone around you.
More than any other movie, Tokyo Story demonstrates this.
Men are incredibly motivated to become great, capable versions of themselves, but it’s important to remember that the best version of yourself is the one who takes in the people around him, and realizes what actually matters in his own life.
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About John Matich John is a writer from the UK who splits his time between travelling the world and trying to find unconventional solutions to dating and personal development. You can find more from him at www.lifeuncivilized.com.