Movies have always provided lessons and morals for audiences to absorb and think about, long after the credits roll. It’s easy to view classic films as relics of the past, snapshots of a faraway time frame that have little impact on the modern problems of today.  

That is true for certain films of the time, but the best and most memorable movies continue to provide powerful messages that remain relevant today. Curious what we can learn from 125 years of film history? Let’s find out.  

The Wizard of Oz 

It is safe to say that The Wizard of Oz is one of the most popular films of all time. Released in 1939 by MGM™, you need to search far and wide to find someone who isn’t familiar with this classic musical adaptation of the book by Frank L. Baum. 

The movie follows Dorothy and her dog, Toto, as they are transported by a tornado to the wonderous and magical world of Oz. While there, they encounter many friends who help them on their journey, like the Tin Man who wants a heart, the Scarecrow who wants a brain, and the Cowardly Lion who wants courage. 

One of the many lessons presented in The Wizard of Oz is the idea that we possess all our dreams and desires inside us already. The characters voyage to the Emerald City in order to see the Wizard, so he can magically grant them their wishes. Once there, they discover that the Wizard is nothing more than a parlor trick and that he isn’t magic at all. Dorothy and her friends must find strength and power inside themselves to defeat the evil Wicked Witch of the West—something they are able to accomplish by demonstrating the aspects they long for most.  

Even when Dorothy returns home, she is told that, in fact, she never left at all. Dorothy and her friends were always capable of the things they did; they just didn’t realize it until they worked together. Sometimes we have all the makings of greatness inside us all along … we just need to discover it our own way. 

Jaws

When Jaws was released in 1975, it basically re-invented what the typical Hollywood blockbuster could be. It was an exciting and fast-paced thriller that remained a hit for decades to come, earning a whopping $472 million worldwide since its release. 

The movie follows Sheriff Brody of Amity Island as he hunts down a man-eating shark that is terrorizing the beach community. He must enlist the help of a local sea captain as well as a marine biologist to take down the beast. 

When the shark begins to attack people off the coast of the island, Brody pleads with the town’s mayor to shut down the beaches during the fourth of July, to keep the community safe. The mayor denies the threat, and because of this selfish action, a boater is eaten by the monster during the holiday celebration. 

This is a lesson that can be applied to many modern problems. Selfish acts are committed every day, many of which lead to very real consequences for innocent people. The movie’s sequel even stresses how often acts like this go unpunished, as the same mayor responsible for many of the deaths still holds office after being re-elected. 

Casablanca

This 1943 Best Picture winner features one of the most iconic scenes in Hollywood history. The image of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman embracing on an airport runway is one that will be burned into the minds of movie-going audiences for years to come.  

Casablanca is set amid World War II and tells the story of Rick Blaine, an expatriate who runs a popular nightclub in Casablanca. When his former lover comes to him asking for help in escaping Nazi powers, Rick must decide whether he is going to do what is right, or what is best for him. 

Rick is presented with a universally difficult decision that could be faced at any time in history. He does his best to remain neutral in the situation in Casablanca, because the last time he was passionate about “the cause” he was hurt. By helping his ex-lover, Ilsa, escape the country with her husband, he would be helping the revolution against the Nazis, but hurting himself in the process.  

In the end he realizes that the conflict is bigger than his own problems and decides to rejoin the fight. Choosing what’s right isn’t always the easiest path. 

Star Wars

If Jaws is the film that birthed the modern blockbuster, then Star Wars is the film that perfected it. George Lucas spent years developing his fantasy space epic, and when it was finally released in 1977, it was a sensation unlike anything the world had seen. It may have launched a decades-long franchise, but the original 1977 film is a classic all on its own. 

The original Star Wars is about as classic as it gets. Luke Skywalker sets out on a galactic adventure in order to save a princess from the evil Darth Vader and his empire of darkness.  

Star Wars is about many things, but mainly it is about the fight between good and evil, and the struggle toward “the dark.” Power can corrupt even the most innocent people, but with the right amount of hope, the light will always prevail. If that isn’t a universal lesson, what is? 

Even though movies have been around for over 100 years, we can still learn new things from classic movies every time we watch them. It is fun to look at the unique time periods and how different they can seem from today, but the next time you’re watching an old film, think about what the movie can still say about the modern world.

What’s your favorite classic film and what lessons did it teach you?