Think Tank: What makes a movie rewatchable?

Everyone has their own favorite movies they watch over and over again – but why THAT ONE?

Ben Adams: What made me think about this question was the other night when my wife and decided to rewatch “Rogue One.” I realized that I was looking forward to seeing it again – but that I had very little desire to rewatch Episode 7. And I liked Episode 7! It was a fun movie that I remember really enjoying. Heck, if you look at Rotten Tomatoes, Episode 7 actually has a higher score (93%) than Rogue One (85%).

So why do I really want to rewatch one, but not the other?

Moving out of Star Wars, I can think of other disparities – there are some so-so movies that I’ve seen a bunch of times, and some fantastic movies that I loved (and never want to see again). So what say you, Overthinkers? What makes a movie worth watching again?

Mark Lee: I have the opposite relationships with those two movies. I watch all of The Force Awakens every few months or so but have only rewatched the space battle sequence from Rogue One a couple times. If I had to point to a difference between the two, it’s the characters. Rogue One suffers from fewer plot weaknesses than The Force Awakens but has far fewer memorable characters that I want to spend more time with. Ben, what makes Rogue One more rewatchable for you?

Adams: Two elements stand out for me for Rogue One. First, which you already mentioned was the action sequences – each of the big action set pieces in R1 (the battle in the city streets, the battle in the rain and the battle on the beaches) had a really different vibe that really stands out in my memory. For whatever reason, TFA battles felt a little samey-same to me.

Second, the fact that it felt like something more of a self-contained story. TFA had so much of the JJ Abram mystery-box effect that I just found I don’t get into rewatching it quite as much. R1 has a clear mission as a story, and so from the standpoint of rewatching it, feels like a more complete experience.

Jordan Stokes: For me, it’s something quite different. I sometimes sit down and actually watch a movie that I’ve already seen, but I’m far more likely to put them on in the background while I do something else. I hear Mark saying that he rewatches movies for the characters, and Ben saying that he watches them for the plots — for me it’s much more about the general vibe of the movie. When I’m folding socks, I want something:

  • energetic
  • familiar
  • cool to look at
  • and ideally a little silly
  • but nothing so good that I’d be disrespectful for not watching it

So like Psycho is almost all of those things (even the silly bit, if we’re honest), but if I’m going to watch Psycho I want to WATCH it, you know?

Given the entire cinematic universe, the movie I would probably end up rewatching most often is National Treasure. TV schedules and streaming access being what they are, the one I’ve actually rewatched most is probably Underworld.

… Is there something wrong with me?


Amanda Jorda: Something’s Gotta Give? Most Nancy Meyers and Nancy Meyers-y movies. For Something’s Gotta Give specifically, the combination of beach house porn, Frances McDormand and Diane Keaton, plus Keanu Reeves being adorable makes for happy, relaxing, enjoyable, endless rewatches. I guess if I had to pick the most rewatchable movie genre, rom coms would definitely be it.

Peter Fenzel: I highly value moments of delight in my rewatches. I will rewatch some terrible movies to get to standout, delightful moments I really enjoy. Like Jordan I will keep these movies on in the background and only pay attention to them closely when my favorite moments come up.

I’ll share the most conspicuous of these moments in the last year or so, despite my shame.

You see, I love Count Dooku.

He is the best part of the Star Wars prequels: one of the greatest actors to ever live playing an utterly absurd character who has no business existing, but who invests every moment with an earnest formality it hardly deserves. He’s also ninety years old and doing lightsaber duels with CGI Muppets and cruising alien desert war zones in flying motorcycles, both in his best cape.

The point of no return for Darth Vader, as far as I’m concerned, is that Count Dooku doesn’t deserve to die. But even in dying, he is a delight. So theatrical!! That look of shock!!

So, in Attack of the Clones, which is a dumb bad movie, there is a throwaway scene that is my most rewatched movie scene of this year. I call it “The Tea Party” or “Dooku’s at a Meeting! Dooku’s at a Meeting!”

Obi-Wan Kenobi is sneaking into the separatist stronghold, and he manages to spy on Count Dooku from various hidden vantage points. The Count, leader of a war effort and a nascent body politic, is having serious conversations with the major stakeholders of the groups within the Separatists – the Trade Federation, the Banking Guild or what have you – you know, everything in the first ten minutes of The Phantom Menace that let you know all was not right at Skywalker Ranch.

So there’s this moment where Count Dooku is sitting at this giant round table, having a Very Serious Meeting with the a baker’s dozen of the dumbest CGI characters you have ever seen. And he turns respectfully and gestures to them in a dignified manner while Obi-Wan watches.

I cannot shake this interpretation that Count Dooku is sitting at what is basically a giant empty table what amounts to his stuffed animals having a tea party.

“Why yes, Trade Minister! But we must be careful! There you go! This scone is delicious! Drink your tea! Oh the Jedi are a problem! Yum yum yum!”

And I think I’ve watched it five times this year, just for that. It’s a delight!

Movies with delightful moments like this that I rewatch often include Armageddon, Zoolander, Willow, and the Scott Bakula/Sinbad football comedy Necessary Roughness. (edited)

There are two movies I have watched twice in a row, beginning to end, when TNT or TBS used to play movies twice in the same day, back to back. Both are kind of mediocre taken as wholes, but have delightful moments of a high order: The Hunt for Red October and The Devil’s Advocate.

I am not very interested in rewatching Rogue One or The Force Awakens, but I have rewatched the Kylo Ren/ Undercover Boss SNL sketch many many times.

Stokes: You take that back about Willow!

Here are the delightful moments in Willow that I will watch again and again:  all of it.

Fenzel:  Why isn’t Willow available on any of the major streaming services?!! Not just the free ones; you can’t even rent or buy it on iTunes, Google Play or Amazon.

This really bothers me, because before you can rewatch Willow, you have to watch it. And rewatching Willow is the best. So many people are living in deprivation!


3 Comments on “Think Tank: What makes a movie rewatchable?”

  1. Amanda M #

    Movies with high rewatchability for me are movies that aren’t strong on visuals. A movie that I don’t need to look at to enjoy – I’ll have Ocean’s 11 on a loop while I clean, because it’s jazzy, it’s humorous, and while there are some bits of visual humor, they’re accentuated by the music so well that I don’t need to be looking at the screen to know what’s going on.

    It’s an “18% grey” movie, for any photographers reading this – optimized blandness, perfect for background noise while you’re doing other things. :D


  2. mezdef #

    I think its worth noting a split in rewatchable movies between the things you throw on when you’re ironing (audibly dominant), things you’ll throw on when you sit down to watch and need comfort (visually dominant), and things you put on when you need to feel safe (emotionally dominant). At any rate…

    Rewatchable movies for me usually need some combination of 1. Pleasurable Dialog, 2. Narrative Simplicity, 3. Performance Watchability, 4. Aesthetic Interest, 5. Sonic Engagement, 6. Emotional Resonance, and 7. Personal Comfort.

    Pleasurable Dialog (PD) means I engage quickly with the dialog on a first viewing or I have some pre-knowledge of it via pop culture, which will then be reinforced on repeat viewings though ye olde dopamine hit of recognition. It also doesn’t hurt that good dialog just feels great to repeat along with the character (or out loud, you do you) in terms of rhythm and word-feel.

    Narrative Simplicity (NS) isn’t super important other than perhaps on first viewing—the other metrics matter more on n+1 viewings. Simplicity frees me up on an initial viewing to concentrate on other things, and means its more likely (on the whole) I’ll put a movie on for a second viewing because story isn’t the only or main pleasure of the movie.

    Performance Watchability (PW) is basically down to charismatic performances, usually of the scenery chewing variety (but not always). Performances that dominate the screen and follow the cadences make for great “Oh, that scene’s coming up, let me look up from whatever I’m doing to appreciate it”. This can be little moments as well.

    Aesthetic Interest (AI) is when the cinematography is so pleasing that you can look up at any moment and there will be a well-composed shot that you want to look at, when a movie has several iconic scenes/images that hit the brains pleasure sentences, or when the production details of a film are so interesting that you want to watch it over and over to notice everything.

    Sonic Engagement (SE) can be sound design, but usually comes in the form of themes that are strongly linked with moods or sequences. These make me hum along or prime my excitement for something.

    Emotional Resonance (ER) usually takes the form of either cathartic release (usually in the form of relief or redemption) for a character that makes you feel good.

    Personal Comfort (PC) is both about being comfortable watching the movie, in that it is easy for you to actually commit to putting it on, and about nostalgic fondness for the film.

    So, a few examples of things I can watch endlessly with subjective rankings for what I value in them for re-watchability purposes:

    Dazed and Confused: High PD, High NS, High PW, Low AI, High SE, High ER, Medium PC. This one is absolutely about the dialog for me, just amazingly quotable. Closely followed by everything else, this movie is just total pleasure (possibly almost because I didn’t grow up in the era or in the country).

    Aliens: High PD, High NS, High PW, High AI, Medium SE, Low ER, High PC. This one hits particularly high on the nostalgia (saw it young) and rewatched as I grew up. Performance, aesthetic, and dialog fronts all work for me making it endlessly rewatchable (particularly for discovering visual details).

    Devil’s Advocate: High PD, Medium NS, High PW, Low AI, Low SE, Low ER, Medium PC. Some of the horror elements make it slightly harder to pay a lot of attention to, but this one is really all about the hammy amazing performances and speeches. (all credit to OTI for turning me onto this one)

    Batman Begins / The Dark Knight: High PD, Medium NS, High PW, High AI, High SE, Low ER, High PC. These are, somewhat surprisingly, all about the music for me. The themes are so strong and hummable and they usual line up really well with great visual moments and bits of dialog, making it all flow together.

    Sing Street: Low PD, High NS, Low PW, Low AI, High SE, High ER, Medium PC. This one, as the movie says, has a lot of great happy-sad mixed with nostalgia. The music is also used very effectively (SE and ER tend to go hand-in-hand).

    Scott Pilgrim: High PD, High NS, Medium PW, Medium AI, High SE, Low ER, High PC. This one (despite the rankings) is kind of like the ultimate in re-watchability for me even if I don’t love this movie like I love others on this list. Ultimate comfort food.


  3. Three Act Destructure #

    There’s a parallel discussion here, I think, about videogames and replayability. Especially since the activities they combine with are so perfectly opposite. I don’t spend a lot of time rewatching movies while ironing (primarily because I’m more of a binger than a rewatcher) but I’m sure I’ve lost hundreds of hours to the combination of Overthinking It podcasts and Brutal Doom sessions.

    I don’t know, something about the combination of tactile and auditory stimulus just seems to work, doesn’t it? Especially if there’s a mindless activity involved so you can zone into what you’re hearing. The only thing I can compare it to is late-night driving when nobody else is on the road and the car speakers are cranked up real loud. Some part of you just zones out in a really satisfying way.

    I wonder how you’d feel if you watched Koyaanisqatsi or some Terence Malick joint while doing chores around the house.


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