The year is 2116. A fully advanced, sentient and amiable alien race have made contact with Earth (think more E.T than Independence Day). The extra terrestrials are intrigued by our culture — hoverboards and self-tying laces included — and ask where they can educate themselves on the history of homo sapiens.
Of course they could always use their advanced technology to access Wikipedia, which'll no doubt still be functioning as a fountain of knowledge. But elsewhere, in the Washington D.C, lies a rich treasure trove of history in the form of motion pictures, spanning centuries: Alien (they'd love that one), Ghostbusters, Citizen Kane, The Exorcist, Pinocchio, the list is endless.
Culturally, Historically, Or Aesthetically Significant
Let's come back to present day, where I can answer the question of what the hell I'm talking about. Almost 30 years ago, the National Film Preservation Act of 1988 created the National Film Preservation Board, a conservation with the aim of preserving the rich heritage of film.
With over 50% of films made prior to 1950 perishing into nothingness, it was decided that some of the most important works of fiction and non-fiction would be safely stored, ready in hundreds of years when those aliens arrive.
Since its inception, each year the board will select 25 films, "showcasing the range and diversity of American film heritage." Anyone can nominate a film to be added to the esteemed list, with the chosen movies being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
A Wide Range Of Interesting Motion Pictures
Interesting, the criteria for entry is relaxed; aside from having to be at least 10 years old (the newest on the list is 13 Lakes, a documentary made in 2004) submissions aren't only feature-length films, with short clips home movies and newsreels all adding to an eclectic mix.
But let's time travel again (sorry) and head back to 2116. While our alien friends scan the back catalogue of motion pictures in the style of X-Men's En Sabah Nur, they should be pre-warned that, well, there's some pretty weird stuff in there.
Below are some of the most questionable, interesting and quirky entries in the National Film Registry that would make those metaphorical aliens feel a little odd:
1. Duck And Cover (1951)
The civil defense clip warns viewers of the perils of a nuclear attack, with the help of an anthropomorphic turtle called Bert. Part of the technique to avoid a cataclysmic nuclear explosion was to, erm..."duck and cover." I'm sure it's a completely foolproof response.
The clip, which was shown in schools from the '50s until 1991, is thought of by many as a form of propaganda.
2. The Story of Menstruation (1946)
Another educational video making the cut. The 10 minute animated Disney film informed school children of the menstrual cycle, and is believed to be the first video to say the word "vagina." Tehee.
Throughout its use, it's estimated the video has been seen by over 105 million American students.
3. Edison Kinetographic Record of a Sneeze (1894)
Running for only 5 seconds, this clip created by William K.L. Dickson was the first motion picture to be copyrighted in the US. It shows one of Thomas Edison's assistants, Fred Ott, making himself sneeze. Bless you.
4. Blacksmith Scene (1893)
Also created by William K.L. Dickson — the apprentice of Thomas Edison who created the first workable motion picture camera — the scene is recorded as being the earliest known example of actors playing make believe for a staged film.
5. Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB (1967)
This short film was made by George Lucas while he was studying at University of Southern California's film school.
The 15 minute clip depicted a man, known as THX 1138 4EB, trying to escape his future society. It was later turned into a full feature, THX 1138 (1971).
6. Jeffries-Johnson World Championship Boxing Contest (1910)
The hyped heavyweight boxing match between Jack Johnson and James J. Jeffries caused racial tension at the time, inciting race riots after African American Johnson won.
The film was banned in numerous cities in the US, as well as in South Africa. The coverage of the fight even encouraged ex-president Theodore Roosevelt to call for a ban on boxing, and any filming of the sport itself.
7. Let's All Go To The Lobby (1957)
Even this advertisement, shown prior to movies in the late '50s, makes the cut. The clip promoting the cinema's confectionary stand depicted a family deliciously guzzling and chomping away on sugary snacks, encouraged by walking, singing snacks — all remnant of a stoner's hallucination.
It was animated by Popeye and Betty Boop animator Dave Fleischer, who was famed for bringing inanimate items to life.
8. Michael Jackson's Thriller (1983)
The King of Pop marks the only entrance for a music video, added in 2009. The 13-minute clip is deeply iconic, not only because of it features a dancing, zombified MJ, but also because it was the first world premiere on MTV.
9. Zapruder Film (1963)
Still images from the morbid video of JFK's assassination are seared into the memory of millions. The clip was captured on a home-video camera, filming the gruesome event in November 1963.
The video itself — shot by Abraham Zapruder — was used in official investigations into the shooting.
10. Luxo Jr. (1986)
You'll no doubt recognize this lamp; it's featured jaunting around boisterously before all Pixar feature that succeeded this short film.
Created by animation guru John Lasseter, the 2 minute video won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film, becoming the first 3D, computer generated animation to do so.
Here's the full list of motion pictures added to the National Film Registry.