Americans like Gone With the Wind a lot, and seventy-five years only a fifth of people who've seen it still say it's one of the best films ever
Seventy five years ago this December, Gone With the Wind premiered in Atlanta. This weekend, the celebrations over its anniversary begin, with special screenings and a new video edition. The latest Economist/YouGov Poll suggests that the 1939 movie is still going strong, even when compared with some of the other exceptional movies made that year.
58% of Americans have seen the movie – a nearly four-hour long epic which tells a story of the antebellum South, a plantation named Tara, and the Civil War. It featured the first African-American actress to win an Oscar (Hattie McDaniel for her portrayal of Mammy), and starred Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh (who also won as Oscar) as Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. The percentage who have seen the movie dwarfs the 20% who claim to have read the book.
Many of those who have seen the movie rate it as either one of the best they’ve seen or as a very good movie. But there is a difference in the evaluations of whites and blacks. Two-thirds of whites who have seen the movie say it is very good or better; just a third of black viewers say that. Half of African-Americans say they have seen the movie. The film has been criticized for its more or less benign depiction of slavery, and the perpetuation of black stereotypes.
Just 30% of those under 30 have views the movie; that percentage rises dramatically with age.
When Gone With the Wind won the Oscar for Best Film of 1939, it competed against nine other films, most of which are still regarded today as exceptional movies. One of those movies, The Wizard of Oz, has been seen by 89% of today’s adults. But just four in ten have seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which featured Jimmy Stewart battling a corrupt Congress. Even fewer have ever seen the other nominees. For example, a third have seen Of Mice and Men, about a quarter Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Stagecoach, and Wuthering Heights. About one in ten have viewed Dark Victory or Love Affair. Just 7% have ever seen Ninotchka, the movie advertised with the tagline “Garbo laughs!”
Despite the popularity of The Wizard of Oz and the passage of time, Gone With the Wind is still seen as an important film. In a 1999 NBC/Wall St. Journal Poll, 28% rated Gone with the Wind as the best movie of the 20th century, over seven other acclaimed movies, some of which (but not all) have also carried off an Oscar: Titanic, Schindler’s List, Star Wars, Casablanca, The Godfather, Citizen Kane, and The Graduate.
Asked today which 1939 film should have won the Oscar, Gone With the Wind still edges out The Wizard of Oz.