What London Watches: Ten Films That Shook
Our World

Last year, we asked Londoners, 'what film shook your world and why?'
These are the stories behind the films you chose...

We wanted to create a unique crowd-sourced film season to represent London’s diverse communities on the big screen:What London Watches: Ten Films that Shook Our World.

Your films dated from 1902 to 2017, but the 2000s were your favourite decade.

Your films spanned romance, drama, documentary, science fiction, animation and everything in between. Your favourite genre was drama.

With the support of London’s community groups, we received entries from across London’s boroughs, across the ages and backgrounds and the films and stories you shared represented just that.

Here are the ten films that shook London’s world…


Cabaret (15)

Director: Bob Fosse
Country: US
Year: 1972

‘The moment that Michael York realises that both he and Liza Minelli had been having sex with the same man...

I was young, 15 years old, Asian and not sure, a bit confused and scared about my feelings and sexuality.
My older siblings were not sure if I should see it.
It woke me up. ‘

D, Camden

While the Nazi Party rises to power, Englishman Brian Roberts (Michael York) moves to Berlin to complete his German studies. In his rooming house he meets Sally Bowles (Liza Minelli), a bohemian singer at the decadent Kit Kat Club. With the all-seeing Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey) as our guide, we witness Sally and Brian as their friendship blossoms into an affair, with the chilling spectre of Nazism hanging over them, alongside wonderful cinematography and show-stopping dance sequences.

Trailer for Cabaret

Law of Desire

Law of Desire (18)

Director: Pedro Almodovar
Country: Spain
Year: 1987

‘It was the 80s, I was coming out and to have murder-mystery where you encounter many gay characters living and enjoying life normal, or as normal as it can be, was a very liberating thing.

I got hooked on it, and kept going back for more when London discovered Almodovar in the early 90s.

I remember not missing many of the Almodovar all night screenings at the Scala Cinema Club in Kings Cross.’

Francisco, Lewisham

One of the landmarks of queer cinema, this raunchy tale of a love triangle-turned-deadly succeeded in launching Pedro Almodóvar onto the international filmmaking scene.

Successful film director Pablo (Eusebio Poncela) finds himself discontent with his relationship with his younger lover Juan (Miguel Molina). Focusing on his latest project, a play starring his transgender sister Tina (Carmen Maura), Pablo sends Juan packing and hooks up with the young dashing Antonio (Antonio Banderas). But things turn dark when Antonio becomes obsessed with Pablo and Antonio is forced to choose between a man who loves too little, and a man who loves too much.

Trailer for Law of Desire

Kiki’s Delivery Service

Kiki’s Delivery Service (U)

Director: Hayoa Miyazaki
Country: Japan
Year: 1989

‘I love this film because she goes everywhere.

The cat was very funny as well.

It is all about Japan and I want to go there one day’

Imogen, Islington (age 6)


One of Studio-Ghibli’s most loved films, this heart-warming parable follows the adventures of Kiki, a headstrong young witch who is trying to make her way in the world.

Sent to live alone for a year, in accordance to her village’s tradition for witches in training, Kiki packs her belongings and heads to a European seaside town with her talking cat Jiji. Taken in by a kind bakery owner, Kiki earns her keep by delivering cakes by broom and takes the seaside town by storm.

Trailer for Kiki's Delivery Service


Sholay (PG)

Director: Ramesh Sippy
Country: India
Year: 1975

‘I saw this movie in 1980, it was an avant-garde movie in Bollywood at that time.

It had scenes which were so disturbing regarding a bandit called Gabbar Singh they still scare me today as a 45 year old man. This movie is still running in cinemas 41 years after its initial release. It shook my world then as it does now every time I watch it.

More than 2 billion people have watched this movie worldwide and it has not dated.
I still hum its songs and idolise its heroines.’

Bobby, Enfield

Dubbed The Godfather of Bollywood films, Sholay topped the Indian box office for 19 years after it was originally released in 1975.

Set in the small village of Ramgarh, Sanjeev Kumar plays Thakur, a retired police chief who enlists the help of two criminals, to bring down Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan), a notorious bandit who murdered his family and terrorised the region.

Opening with one of the most memorable action sequences in film history, it’s clear to see why this breathless action-adventure has left an impact on Indian cinema like no other.

The Life and Times
of Rosie the Riveter

The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (#)

Director: Connie Field
Country: US
Year: 1980

‘This is the film that made me a feminist.

I emerged from the cinema seething with anger at the way in which the women involved had worked so hard and then been discarded and encouraged to return to their previous pre-war roles.

This was also the film that began my love affair with documentaries, which has continued to this day.’

Anne, Westminster

Connie Field’s celebrated documentary focuses on the women who took factory jobs during the Second World War, using the recollections and voices of the women themselves. The film puts real propaganda films, with their jingoistic exertions and cheery attitudes, with real newsreel footage and anecdotes about working in the factories at the time. Facing real sexual and racial discrimination, women workers banded together to make progress in the workplace, often with a huge sense of humour and tough spirit.


Casablanca (U)

Director: Michael Curtiz
Country: US
Year: 1942

‘1942, London was being blitzed. Distraction came via a weekly visit to the cinema. It took us into a world of fantasy. 'Casablanca' was on at the local Odeon. As the famous words 'Play it again’ were about to be spoken, the air-raid sirens sounded. On the screen appeared the words 'Raid in progress. Leave cinema immediately'.

The war moved on.

It was 1944. 'Casablanca' was showing at the Odeon Marble Arch. We decided to try again, and just as the words were about to be uttered, enormous explosions shattered the quiet. The air raid sirens sounded 'Leave the cinema immediately' flashed on the screen. Everyone rushed for the safety of the tube station. The night was illuminated by dozens of rockets being fired from guns stationed in Hyde Park.

1950 - the war was over and we were seated in front of a tiny TV my father had purchased. 'Casablanca' was on. A moment before we would hear those famous words a sense of foreboding overcame me and the hairs on my neck began to stand up. I felt sure Russians bombers were about to take over from the Germans. But there were no bombs, and I finally heard Sam being asked to play it again.

Another saying came to mind 'If at first you don't succeed…’

Geoffrey, London

Humphrey Bogart is Rick, the cynical and heartsick American expat holed up in his bar in Casablanca. Ingrid Bergman is Ilsa, the ex-lover he’s still pining for, unexpectedly walking back into his life. And Paul Henreid is her husband, a Czech Resistance fighter, who she previously thought was dead. Set amid the backdrop of WWII – and a time when the future was uncertain – it’s a film full of hard-boiled resolve, bittersweet romance, and endlessly quotable lines. Play it again.

Trailer from Casablanca


Threads (15)

Director: Mick Jackson
Country: UK
Year: 1984

'I was 11 and I'd only recently found out about nuclear weapons before this came along and gave me nightmares for months. It makes 'The Road' look like Mary Poppins by comparison.

This marked the end of childhood for me, suddenly waking up to the horrors of the adult world. Nothing like it had ever been attempted before and nothing was left to the imagination. I've not had the guts to re-watch it since as the image of a woman giving birth and cutting her own cord with her teeth is still burned into my mind for ever.

Brutal, but no regrets I saw it.

Nuclear weapons are still just as abundant today as in 1984 and with North Korea in 2016, maybe it’s time this got a timely reissue?'

Ian, Islington

A devastating speculative account of the effects of a nuclear attack on Sheffield at the onset of World War III, BBC drama Threads was nominated for seven BAFTA awards after its 1984 release.

Preparing for their marriage, Jimmy and Ruth (Reece Dinsdale and Karen Meagher) are almost oblivious to the international political tensions caused by the USSR’s invasion of Iran. But when Sheffield – home to vast resources and an RAF base – is bombed by a thermonuclear device, they must learn to survive as their home is turned into a desolate wasteland.

An Angel At My Table

An Angel at My Table (15)

Director: Jane Campion
Country: New Zealand
Year: 1990

‘This film changed my outlook on, awareness of, empathy for understanding of mental health issues, treatments available and attitudes towards them and just really made me actually think about the people concerned.

So empathetically acted.’

Judith, Tower Hamlets

An early feature-length from celebrated director Jane Campion, An Angel at My Table adapts the autobiography of acclaimed New Zealand author, Janet Frame.

With three actors taking the role of Janet at various stages in her life, follows her through the deprived childhood through to her confinement in a mental institution, and the solace, escape – and eventual success – she finds through writing. Rich with human detail, this is a moving, captivating film from a visionary director.

Trailer for An Angel At My Table

Set It Off

Set It Off (15)

Director: F Gary Gray
Country: US
Year: 1996

‘The multiple strikes a black woman has to endure from society's heavy hand, 'Set It Off' is a gripping tale that showed me, a carefree 15 year old teen, the harsh climate of western society.

Four women with achievable dreams, only one got out. 'Set It Off' exposed the reality of the black female struggle not only in the 90s in America but through the ages and all over the world.

This film gave me strength to straighten my back, keep my chin up and face the daily fight every person of colour has to endure.’

Okechukwu, London

Bank employee Frankie (Vivica A Fox) is unjustly fired from her job after a robbery, due to her acquaintance with the perpetrator. Upset, she joins her best friends Cleo (Latifah), Stony (Pinkett Smith) and Tisean (Kimberly Elise) to work for disrespectful boss Luther (Thomas Jefferson Byrd) at a janitorial service, all scraping by on the little pay he gives them. Desperate to escape their situations, they hatch a plan to hold up a bank themselves.

Trailer for Set It Off

In association with The New Black Film Collective

The Great Dictator

The Great Dictator (PG)

Director: Charles Chaplin
Country: US
Year: 1940

‘The first time I understood that satire and humour could debunk dangerous demagogues and prejudice.’

Benedick, Islington

Charlie Chaplin’s greatest commercial hit was this 1940 tragi-comic satire; his first ‘talkie’ and the last outing for his famous Little Tramp persona. Chaplin plays both an unnamed Jewish barber and tyrant Adenoid Hynkel, dictator of Tomania (based on one A. Hitler).

After a series of events – which include a rescue, amnesia, an act of mercy and a boating accident – a case of mistaken identity means that our barber begins to live the life of Hynkel.

The film skewers and deflates Hitler’s pomposity and grandstanding throughout; there are some excellent comic sequences, which include spaghetti, barber's chairs, pudding and a globe – though, not all at the same time. What's more, Hynkel’s faux decorum is contrasted with the buffoonish energy of ally Napaloni (ruler of neighbouring Bacteria), with the ridiculousness of both dictators exposed for all to see.

Trailer for The Great Dictator

What London Watches: Ten Films That Shook Our World took place at the Barbican from 6–13 April 2017.

Part of Film in Focus, a year celebrating the power of the moving image and its influence across the arts.

With thanks to Film London, Film Hub London and BFI Film Audience Network.