Friendship is one of the most important things in life. It is also a major theme and inspiration for beautiful and diverse films. From war movies to family comedies; they all draw some of the plot line’s backbone from this unique feeling that is friendship. Remember Red and Andy Dufresne sitting on the rooftop and drinking beer?
Remember Thelma and Louise in the car driving fast to an unknown destination? Remember the steel workers from the Pennsylvania hanging out in the bar having a sing-along to “Can’t Take My Eyes of You”? All of those memorable movie images remind us of the sheer joy of being with the people you love. We all love our friends even when we hate them; it’s the same in film as it is in life.
Here is a list of 25 movies about friendship that are worth at least one viewing. The films are in chronological order.
1. Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969)
The controversial “Midnight Cowboy” made a star out of Jon Voight and turned Dustin Hoffman into a serious actor. The story follows Joe Buck (Jon Voight), a young Texan who quits his job as a dish washer and goes to New York to become a playboy.
There he meets small time hustler Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) and the two of them become a team. Trying to make it big in New York Joe and Ratso face one disappointment after another as Buck’s career as a gigolo seems to be going nowhere and Rizzo’s health is deteriorating by the day.
Some people accuse this film as being to graphic or psychedelic. Others praise it for exactly the same reasons. But people often look past the fact that it is a great movie about friendship and loyalty towards friends. The unlikely but strong bond between Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo stands the test of time as one of world cinema’s greats. In the outskirts of society the two stick it out never abandoning each other even in the grimmest of conditions.
2. Husbands (John Cassavetes, 1970)
The master of minimalist cinema has pulled this one out of his hat. Casting, then unknowns, Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara alongside himself, Cassavetes made this film exactly the way he and his fans like it. The film is a powerful character study of three middle aged men who reunite at their friend’s funeral. It is there that they reconnect and their old friendship is reignited. It’s also there that the old feuds, jealousies and quarrels between them begin to resurface.
Harry (Ben Gazzara) is impulsive and aggressive. Archie (Peter Falk) is straightforward and always looking for an argument with one of the other two. Gus (John Cassavetes) is more of the quiet type but a little weird and somehow misunderstood. After facing the concept of mortality, alcohol and disagreements with their better halves the three, spontaneously, decide to go to London live one more adventure.
There they each meet woman with whom they end up spending the night. But the mindless enthusiasm from their so-called regained freedom makes the courtship of these three women akward and weird. Gus and Archie decide to go back home but Harry chooses to remain in London. In spite of the fact that their attempt to relive their younger days is a fiasco the bond between the three men never fades; more than that throughout the movie it becomes even stronger.
There is a wonderful, but kind of long, scene where the three are at the bar with some female friends and each them is taking turns in singing a song. The friendship conveyed in that scene is unparallelled and the cinéma vérité style in which it is shot makes the audience part of the singing competition.
Even when they are divided Gus and Archie wonder out loud what their friend is going to do without them. If you like Cassavetes give this movie a try. If you don’t know his work this is a very good introduction to his minimalistic, realist cinema.
3. American Graffiti (George Lucas, 1973)
This is the only non-SF made by George Lucas and it is so good that it makes you wonder why he didn’t do more films of this kind. It was the starting point for the careers of many actors that appear in it (including Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard and Harrison Ford). The film is a veritable piece of Americana and is hailed today as one of the best American youth films of all times.
In the early 60’s high school graduates and longtime friends Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) and Steve (Ron Howard) decide to have the night of their life before going off to college. Taking place in a typical USA small town it deals with all the troubles and joys of American teenagers at that time: having a girlfriend, having a car, going to college or getting a job, getting serious with your life or just keep partying to the day you die. When all said and done, this is an amazing film about loyalty and the importance of friends.
4. Soldaat Van Oranje (Paul Verhoeven, 1977)
This is one of Paul Verhoeven’s pre-Hollywood movies done in this native Holland. It was also the most expensive Dutch film at the time. The film follows a group of students who await the coming of World War II with different fears and expectations. Each of them has their own interpretation of the war and the role they must play and each of them hope that their contributions to this major event will change their lives and the fate of the country.
The film then splits into to following each member of the group and his role in the war. Some of them end up in the resistance others become collaborators. Erik (Rutger Hauer) and Guus (Jeroen Krabbe) go to England to fight alongside the allied forces. Alex (Derek De Lint) is at first drafted in the Dutch Army but after a brief period of time he joins the Germans as it is his belief that they will win the war.
Jan (Huib Rooymans) is a Jew and his life turns for the worse after he is captured by the SS. Even though the four men are separated at the beginning of the war chance still brings them together throughout the course of the film and those reunions make-up the film’s climaxes. Their lives may have followed very different paths but their friendship remains the same.
5. The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978)
In everyone’s mind “The Deer Hunter” is a war film. But the fact of the matter is that Cimino’s film is so much more. For the first third of the film the word war is hardly mentioned. All the audience knows is that the three friends (Mike, Nick and Stevie) have volunteered for the Vietnam War and that they are set to leave after Stevie’s wedding.
Of course once they get to Vietnam they experience the horrors of war and nothing will ever be the same again, but in the first act of the film “The Deer Hunter” is a wonderful and touching film about friendship. The way the three of them, alongside Stan and Axel, interact, make jokes, play tricks on each other is just lovely and sometimes funny to watch. If it wasn’t for that gloomy feeling that something awful is going to happen this film just might be viewed as buddy film.
The elaborate hunting scene and the even more elaborated wedding scene show the different personalities of the three friends and how each of them manages to complete the lacking of the other. Mike (Robert De Niro) is a serious character who doesn’t kid around, Stevie (John Savage) is the conformist and Nick (Christopher Walken) is the dreamer soft-spoken member of the bunch.
There is a wonderful scene in the first act in which the two, inebriated and excited about the future, crash their friends bar while singing and dancing to the classic feel-good song “Can’t Take My Eyes of You”. That scene perfectly illustrates the importance of the friendship aspect of this film. Of course their friendship is put to the test by the war and its effects but, as the film shows, not even war can bring down such a strong feeling.
6. Diner (Barry Levinson, 1982)
“Diner” is Barry Levinson’s debut film and the first of four that take place in Baltimore – his hometown. The plot follows and group of friends in their early 20’s who reunite in their home city of Baltimore for a wedding. Back in Baltimore they spend a lot time in their favorite diner where they just hangout talking about sports, music and girls.
Each of them is involved in a relationship but not sure where to take it. Their friend’s wedding gets them thinking about becoming serious with their life and give in to commitment. But in reality these men are actually just grown up boys. They want to go out every night and have a good time.
For them it’s important to know the scores in NFL and to know the songs on the flip side of a record. For their girlfriends these things are not important thus the result being a clash between sexes. But in the end – after all the fights, the disappointments and the fears of growing old and becoming responsible – all that matters is their friendship.
7. The Big Chill (Lawrence Kasdan, 1983)
Featuring the most prominent actors of the 80’s (Kevin Kline, William Hurt, Glenn Close, Tom Berenger, Mary Kay Place, Jeff Goldblum, Meg Tily and JoBeth Willliams), “The Big Chill” tells the story of seven former college friends who reunited for one of their friend’s funeral. After the funeral the friends plan a weekend college reunion at a Carolina winter house.
The film is soft spoken and melodramatic as it examines the fragile strings that hold friendships together. Not only does it feature a great cast (Kevin Costner was also cast as the friend whose funeral they all attend but his scenes were deleted) but it also has one of the coolest soundtracks ever compiled for a film: Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Temptations, Aretha Franklin, Rolling Stones, Three Dog Night, Marvin Gaye and many more. The weekend spent together reminds every one of the good times, now long gone, but also of the importance of friends.
8. Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984)
The inventor of the “once upon a time” term in film titles gives us one last more with this one. Sadly “Once Upon a Time in America” was Sergio Leone’s last film. But what a film! Running over three hours long the film tells the story of two kids from the Lower East Side of Manhattan who struggle to escape poverty and do something with their lives.
After Noodles (Robert De Niro) meets Max (James Woods) things would never be the same again for the two hustlers. They leave the small time thefts behind and get involved in the bootlegging industry during the prohibition. Money and fame tears the two apart and their relationship starts to decline.
Fate chooses different lives for the two who drift apart from each other. But in spite of all this the audience can plainly see the regret on their faces what they reminisce the times they had and the friendship they shared.