Founded in 1988, the National Film Registry exists to preserve “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” American films. Every year, the Registry adds up to 25 new films to be preserved for the American public, and 2017’s inductee films have just been announced.
Some of the additions to the registry which are more recent and still well-cemented in pop culture are The Goonies (1985), a good old treasure hunt, Die Hard (1988), which pits a NYPD officer against a foreign terrorist, and Titanic (1997), a doomed love story which takes place on a doomed luxury cruise ship.
Some other inducted films that remain popular or are more commonly-known include the animated Disney film Dumbo (1941), a cute story about a flying elephant, Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960), a retelling of a slave rebellion in ancient Rome, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), a film considered groundbreaking at its release for its portrayal of interracial marriage, Superman (1978), the first of the Christopher Reeve Superman flicks, Field of Dreams (1989), which involves ghosts returning to this plane for a game of baseball, and Memento (2000), which follows a man struggling with his goals in life, which is hampered by his short-term memory loss.
The other, lesser-known films showcase a wide variety of cinema. Some films, like Ace in the Hole (1951; also known as The Big Carnival) may not be recognized by name alone, but have made tropes in the film industry: a troubled reporter finds out about a man trapped in a cave, and he manipulates the situation in order to sensationalize it in an attempt to revive his own career. The cynicism was surprising to fifties audiences, but we would bet you’ve seen the same kind of story in more recent films, on TV, and even in real life.
Other films that may look familiar upon watching are Boulevard Nights (1979), a story of gang life’s affect on Hispanic youth in East Los Angeles, Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), where a magazine writer poses as a Jewish man to investigate antisemitism and finds it all around him, and He Who Gets Slapped (1924), a highly profitable early MGM film that helped “Man of a Thousand Faces” Lon Chaney become even more well-known. Even Only Angels Have Wings (1939) may seem familiar, as it inspired an eighties adventure television show called Tales of the Golden Monkey, which in turn is said to have inspired the 1990 Disney Afternoon cartoon TaleSpin.
There are many historical and documentary films on this list as well. Spike Lee’s 4 Little Girls (1997) contains interviews with family members and witnesses of the 1963 firebombing of the 16th street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four young girls, and Time and Dreams (1976) is a document of the civil rights movement and its results and reactions, filmed in his hometown of Green County, Alabama. Thelonius Monk: Straight, No Chaser (1988), the third documentary added, features performance footage and interviews with and regarding musician Thelonius Monk. Finally, With the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain (1937-1938) documents the work of a North American militia during the Spanish Civil War.
La Bamba (1987) is a biopic of Ritchie Valens, a talented musician whose career is now perhaps overshadowed by the plane crash that killed him, the same which took both Buddy Holly’s and the Big Bopper’s lives in 1959–known today as “The Day the Music Died.” Wanda (1970) is not exactly a documentary or a biopic, but it is partially based on writer and star Barbara Loden’s life.
There is also a film package being added to the archive, listed as the Fuentes Family Home Movie Collection. This is a series of home movies shot by the Fuentes family, who lived in Texas near the US-Mexico border in the twenties and thirties. In a similar vein is the film Interior New York Subway, 14th Street to 42nd Street” (1905), a short silent film of a subway ride from Union Square to Grand Central station.
An interesting pseudo-newsreel piece/documentary added to the registry is The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918), which “captured” the moment a German submarine torpedoed and sank the RMS Lusitania, a non-military British ship, in 1915. In reality, there were no cameras present at the fatal moment during World War I, and Winsor McCay, the cartoonist and animator behind Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), stepped into recreate the events with his pen. It was meant to be a propaganda film to incite American sentiments against Germany, but by the time the film came out, America was already heavily involved in and exhausted by the war.
Finally, the films Lives of Performers (1972) and To Sleep With Anger (1990) represent the accumulation of honed work by talented filmmakers Yvonne Rainer and Charles Burnett, respectively. Rainer’s film is a drama of a man torn between two women, and draws on her background in theatre and dance. Burnett’s film excels as a character study and domestic drama, following a man who returns to his old hometown after many years and stirs up old tensions upon his arrival.
The addition of these films mark 725 films in the Registry. There is an easy-to-navigate archive of the complete National Film Registry listing here, which already has this year’s new movies added. There is also an index of brief descriptions and film essays on the movies already inducted if you’re curious about any of them.
Nominations for next year’s additions to the National Film Registry can be made already at the Library of Congress’s nomination page. Keep in mind that a film can only be nominated if it has been around for at least ten years, that it must be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” and that individuals may only nominate fifty titles per year. However, the registry considers all nominations, regardless of genre, length, and medium, so there is a lot of freedom within these parameters.
You can refer to the archive of titles linked above to see what has already made the preservation list so you don’t waste any of your fifty votes. The Registry also gives some “recommendations” for films that could fit into the archive, being that they are well-known and do hold significance in some way, to help a potential nominator get into the mindset of choosing movies. Of course, write-in votes are allowed and encouraged, and films from 2007 are now eligible to be nominated.