As a movie fan, and a guy who does a comic strip revolved around movies, I frequently ask people, “What’s your favorite movie?” It usually tells me a lot about that person and helps me get to know them better.  Unfortunately, I’ve found that there are too many qualifications revolved around this question, and I end up having to explain my own favorite movie to people.

It seems, when you ask someone what their favorite movie is, that person is almost never on the same wavelength as you.  Unless people have had a movie that completely wowed them or spoke to them, they don’t have an outright favorite and probably haven’t systematically ranked all the movies they have ever seen in their lives, much less set up an excel spreadsheet to rank them like some people I know.

Because most people are put on the spot by this question of a favorite movie, they then have to come up with a good answer.  And watching someone come up with an answer on the spot is usually about as impressive as someone telling you about the dream they had the night before. Once they start to see that you don’t care, they try even harder to make it sound more appealing, and you usually end up with an awkward situation for all parties.

Here are a few of the situations that come about when a person is confronted with the question, “What’s your favorite movie?”

1) They try to think of the last good movie they saw. This is usually the answer reserved for relatives older than you who never go to the movies, or your friends who can’t remember the names of movies or actors.  You get a lot of, “That one that came out last summer with the guy who used to date that singer” type of answers.  This response usually tells me that they don’t know much about movies, and I was better off not asking the question in the first place.  Even if they do know the title of a recent movie they liked, I sometimes think there should be a six to nine month waiting period, and at the very least a second viewing, for a movie to become your favorite. This type of thinking is also the reason why movies like The Dark Knight sit atop the IMDb Top 250 the first few weeks it comes out before people have time to sit back and realize where it really sits in their personal rankings.

2) They come up with a really lame movie. This is usually the answer you get from people who haven’t yet graduated high school and people who have graduated from high school who act like they haven’t.  A few years back, my friend’s four-year-old niece looked us dead in the eye with all seriousness and said, “You should see The Pacifier.  It’s really good.” I can’t blame her because she was a little kid and that movie was targeted to her, but it’s times like that where I’m reminded why a studio can spend millions of dollars to make a lame movie.

Another time, and I will never forget this, I was staying at a lake house with some friends one weekend in college. My friend brought a girl he was seeing at the time, and I asked this new lady-friend what was her favorite movie. She seriously told me, “The Thomas Crown Affair.”  Taken aback, I asked her if she meant the original one.  No, she meant the 1999 remake with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo.  And she gave no reason as to why she liked it.  I mean, the beginning and ending scenes were all right, but how can you go around telling people that The Thomas Crown Affair is your favorite movie of all time without some backup reasoning?

3) They give you one of the all-time greats. This is usually the answer you get from someone who has looked at the IMDb Top 250 Movies of all Time, or a surprise answer from your parents.  It’s almost too easy these days to claim The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather, or The Usual Suspects as your favorite movie.  While these are all-time greats, I usually look at these answers as showing a lack of effort unless it is accompanied by a good, personal explanation.  As far as the surprising parent answers, my dad is the one who introduced me to The Godfather and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and I love that my mom is a fan of John Wayne movies.  Sometimes your parents know what they’re talking about kids.

4) They answer with a movie choice that you respect. This is the answer I get from more people than I let on.  I actually respect a lot of people’s favorite movies so long as they have a solid reason.  A friend of mine once told me her favorite movie was Love Actually because it made her feel like love did actually exist, while in the real world, we are let down so many times by other people.  Now that’s a favorite movie.  It doesn’t matter how artistic it is, how entertaining it is, or how many awards it’s won.  If it invokes deep-down feelings when you watch it, that’s what makes it your favorite.

So what’s my answer to this question?  Well, I have a straight answer but I usually cheat because I give people my three favorite movies.  They are Adaptation, Shakespeare In Love, and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.  These movies are favorites for me because while they are different stories, they all have main characters who continuously strive to be better people despite numerous setbacks.  Also, they all have some humor, and they deal with the creative minds of a screenwriter, a playwright, and an explorer/documentary filmmaker.  As a creative person who is striving for great things, these movies definitely speak to me.  But when push comes to shove, I usually say The Life Aquatic is my favorite movie, even though I know for a fact that Wes Anderson’s movies invoke a love it or hate it response.  At least I told you something unique, and I had a reason for why it is special to me.

So maybe next time you’ll think twice about your favorite movie when confronted with this question.  The person who asks may be judging you by your taste in movies, and I don’t know about you, but I’d want to fall in the fourth category when I answer.