Quintessential Autumn Movies, by Decade

After riding that summer high, autumn sweeps in like the angel of death, guiding us ever so gently into end times: morning frost, Closed for the Season signs, and sore throats. But it’s made digestible — even beautiful — by something as unlikely as dead leaves.

It’s also a season that may as well have been made for the movies.

From films depicting the first foliage-speckled months of the school year to scenes perfectly capturing the crisp coziness of sweater weather, Hollywood wears autumn well. It celebrates the demented frivolity of Halloween as much as it does Friday night games at a high school stadium, and this stroll down memory lane captures that cinematic love of the season in all its preternatural glory.

1950s: The Iron Giant

Cold War, cold breezes, an unlikely friendship between a boy and a giant space robot — Brad Bird’s nostalgic tour through small-town New England, unbridled friendship, and the ’50s is as warm and fuzzy as a foliage-hued flannel shirt.

Come for the robot, stay for the political paranoia and Superman references.

Runners Up: Far From Heaven, The Trouble with Harry, Dead Poet’s Society

1960s: Doubt

Catholicism, moral ambiguity, a nun out for blood to protect a boy who may or may not have been abused by a priest — John Patrick Shanley’s adaptation of his own award-winning play’s analysis of cynicism, doubt, and the ’60s is as merciless as fall’s sudden shift in temperature.

Come for the cast, stay for the banter and inner turmoil.

Runner Up: Rudy

1970s: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Spiked cider, Thanksgiving, a family of foxes on the run from three pugnacious farmers — this Roald Dahl adaptation’s venture into self-worth, family, and the ’70s is as satisfying as whipped cream on a slice of pumpkin pie.

Come for the color palette, stay for the cussing and masterly stop-motion.

Runner Up: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

1980s: When Harry Met Sally

Sex, friendly banter, the unofficial science of romantic inevitability — Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner’s examination of men and women, relationships, and the ‘80s is as fun and messy as a jack-o’-lantern carving party.

Come for the comedy, stay for the relatability and chemistry.

Runners Up: Donnie Darko, Hannah and Her Sisters, St. Elmo’s Fire

1990s: Hocus Pocus

Trick ‘r treating, Salem witch trials, Garry and Penny Marshall playing a convincing husband and wife — Disney’s low-grade-horror descent into witchcraft, growing up, and the ’90s is as mesmerizing as a haunted hayride in a moonlit cornfield.

Come for the dark magic, stay for the talking cat and nostalgia.

Runners Up: The Sixth Sense, Good Will Hunting, Rushmore

2000s: The Village

Good intentions, the power of fear, fabricated horror versus the real-life horrors of society — M. Night Shyamalan’s probe into isolation, blind trust, and the 2000s is as atmospheric as fog in a forest.

Come for the mystery, stay for James Newton Howard’s score and the ending.

Runners Up: Trick ‘r Treat, Silver Lining’s Playbook, Pieces of April

2010s: First Reformed

Dread, organized religion, Ethan Hawke testing his faith with barbed wire and drain cleaner — Paul Schrader’s cautionary tale about climate change, moral disengagement, and the 2010s is as foreboding as a cemetery on a moonless night.

Come for Schrader’s Oscar-nominated screenplay, stay for the psychedelia and grim insight.

Up: The Oath, Halloween

If this post makes you miss warmer days, get your summer fix with Quintessential Summer Movies, by Decade.

A writer and not the host of a podcast yet.

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