For the last 50 years, every seventh year per decade has produced some of the best movies of all-time. Will 2017 follow suit?

By Sara Vilkomerson
August 29, 2017 at 11:42 AM EDT
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Let’s get this out of the way up front: It is too early to be talking about next year’s Oscars, which — thanks, in part, to the Winter Olympics — will push awards season into March. (What that means: Jordan Peele’s beloved blockbuster, Get Out, were it to be nominated, will have been part of the conversation for more than 13 months, owing to the fact that it premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in January.)

But on the other hand, what else are we supposed to talk about? Taylor Swift? The current state of political discourse in America? The New York Mets?

So, okay, how about a compromise: Let’s look at some Oscar patterns. In 2009, Mark Harris wrote an incredible book, Pictures of a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, which details the seismic shift in audiences’ tastes in the mid-1960s when it came to moviegoing. The 1968 Oscars crystallized and reflected back this cultural revolution with its best picture nominees — Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, and Doctor Doolittle. (If you haven’t read this book yet, you seriously should.)

Sure, the 1960s were a particularly explosive time of cultural upheaval, but it did get me thinking about other movie years that really encompassed the era in which they arrived. Years ago, I wrote this piece for The Awl about how we didn’t, at the time, appreciate 2007 as being a great movie year. It’s still true: The best picture nominees from that class were: Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country For Old Men (the eventual best picture winner), and There Will Be Blood. But those movies are but a handful of releases from 2007 that have since become classics in our hearts and minds: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Zodiac, Gone Baby Gone, and hell, even Knocked Up (which was a turning point for the reign of Apatow) and Superbad are remembered fondly in 2017.

So 1967 and 2007: great movie years indicative of the times in which they first premiered. This led to looking at other “7s” in a decade and guess what? Each year seemed to fit this pattern — particularly good movie years and ones that reflect the decade itself. Ahead, a look at the best picture nominees from 1977, 1987, and 1997 — plus some other movies worth noting from those 7s.

1977

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Annie Hall (winner)

The Goodbye Girl

Julia

Star Wars

The Turning Point

Other notable films to consider: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Eraserhead, The Late Show, Saturday Night Fever, Smokey and the Bandit

1987

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Broadcast News

Fatal Attraction

Hope and Glory

The Last Emperor (winner)

Moonstruck

Other notable films to consider: Dirty Dancing, Empire of the Sun, Full Metal Jacket, Good Morning Vietnam, My Life as a Dog, The Princess Bride, Radio Days, Raising Arizona, RoboCop, The Untouchables, Wall Street

1997

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As Good as it Gets

The Full Monty

Good Will Hunting

L.A. Confidential

Titanic (winner)

Other notable films to consider: Boogie Nights, The Fifth Element, Jackie Brown, Life is Beautiful, Starship Troopers (yes, really), The Sweet Hereafter, Wag the Dog,
The Wings of the Dove

So what are we to take from this? Could it be a five-decade string of coincidences that spectacularly good movie years fall in the 7th year in a decade? Could time and distance just make us a nostalgic for a year that includes Broadcast News, Fatal Attraction, AND Wall Street? Or is there something interesting that happens to creative people at the start of new decades and the gestation period of ideas and feelings from the time period around them? It’s hard to say. The real question is if 2017 can continue the trend — and as we head into the thick of Serious Movie Season we’re sure to find out.

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