What is the best film of all time?
Most film scholars (and wanna-be film scholars) proclaim that it’s Citizen Kane, Orson Welles’s 1941 masterpiece that inarguably changed filmmaking forever. Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, The Godfather, and Gone with the Wind are often in the conversation as well.
Excluding The Godfather, how many times have you heard someone mention one of those films as their absolute favorite? How many are populating a casual filmgoer’s top five? How many Lawrence of Arabia conversations have you experienced in your life?
Conversely, Adam Sandler has been a critical punching bag for decades, but his films almost always make Brinks trucks-full of money and live on for years with repeated viewings on cable and streaming. I’ve met plenty of people that claim Sandler is either their favorite actor or one of his works is their favorite movie.
I’m a perfect example of this myself. While my personal top ten is full of undisputed classics that redefined the genre — Goodfellas; Se7en — I also love other films that others find forgettable or downright bad. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of the most polarizing films of the past decade. I love it, but it was eviscerated by critics and people argue about it to this day.
For a time, before I was a teenager, Young Guns II was my favorite film. To this day, I love that movie. I have a nostalgic and sentimental attachment to it. I would never write a ten-thousand word treatise on why it is the greatest film ever made, but catch me on the right day and I’ll still proclaim it as one of my favorites.
Not best, but favorite.
Think about it: what’s the best film you’ve ever seen? Is that the same as your favorite film? What are in your personal top five? Are any of them in the American Film Institute’s top ten?
The answer is probably no.
I’ve often said that Twitter’s “reply” button should be renamed “Well, actually” because that’s how so many responses on that app begin.
The internet, and especially social media, has turned into a place where people disparage you while also try to correct your opinions. You can tweet about your favorite drink or meal or season or shirt and, inevitably, someone will come along to inform you that your personal preference is complete shit and you should really know better, which is to like what they like.
Your favorite should be the same as their favorite. If it’s not, there’s a problem.
My favorite musical album is the Wu-Tang Clan’s sophomore double album, Wu-Tang Forever. I personally like it more than the Clan’s debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). While I acknowledge 36 Chambers is flawless and influenced a generation of hip-hop artists, I have a deeper personal connection with Wu-Tang Forever for a variety of reasons.
Every time I (stupidly) announce this, I get a flood of responses that are incredulous. Surely I’m confused or mistaken or haven’t even heard the group’s first album because no one with two ears and even half of a brain could like Forever more than 36 Chambers.
My opinion, in other words, is wrong.
Something I did not think was even possible.
Pop culture is one thing —it’s wholly subjective. What about sports?
If the best were always everyone’s favorite, sports would be pretty boring. Favoritism is what makes sports great. First of all, there would be no home field advantage. Everyone would root for the team with the better record, regardless of their hometown allegiance, history with their teams, favorite players, or anything else. Also, there would be no possibility of the joy of watching your favorite team overcome odds and pundit predictions and history to finally win. Without favorites, we wouldn’t be able to watch long-suffering Cubs fans celebrate a World Series title they thought would never happen or Cleveland die-hards finally experience a championship after a miserable half-century.
Watching your favorite team become the best team or, even more satisfyingly, beat the best team? That’s the ultimate as a fan.
If best was the same as favorite, everything we love about sports would be minimized if not decimated completely.
The same is true of the players themselves.
In professional sports leagues like the NBA and NFL, a player is crowned the MVP, marking that player as the best in the sport, if only for that one season. Jordan won five MVPs and deserved at least two more; James has won four and also should have and additional two or three, and they are also the two most popular basketball players of the past forty years, global superstars that even non-basketball fans can identify.
In their primes, MJ and ’Bron were both the best and most popular.
However, that is not always the case.
Moses Malone is an all-time great, a twelve-time all-star and three-time MVP who was the deciding factor in the Philadelphia 76ers finally breaking through and winning a championship by sweeping the vaunted Los Angeles Lakers after having lost in the Finals three times in the previous six years. Moses was a beast, a genius in the paint that still ranks in the top ten in league history in scoring and top five in rebounding. For at least a half-decade, he could’ve been considered the best player in the world. Yet for how many basketball fans was Moses Malone their favorite player? Surely a lot, but I don’t think anyone would argue that he reached the popularity of Magic Johnson or Larry Bird, not to mention Isiah Thomas, Julius Erving, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The reverse is also true. Kyrie Irving has amazing handles and is a thrilling player to watch, but no intelligent observer would claim he is the best overall player in the NBA. Is he in the top twenty? Maybe. But his popularity is undeniable — both his jersey and his shoes land in the top ten of sales year in and year out. Kyrie may not be the best, but for millions of fans, he’s their favorite.
Jordan was the best and most popular player in the 1990s, but that doesn’t mean he was everyone’s favorite. Far from it. Millions of people preferred Charles Barkley or Patrick Ewing or Hakeem Olajuwon or Karl Malone or Grant Hill or Shaquille O’Neal any other number of players. The best player wasn’t their favorite. Those fans gravitated towards a player other than Jordan for some personal reason.
And that’s ultimately the point.
Someone or something can be your favorite even if it — or they — are not the best. In fact, it’s probably better that way. It’s what leads to variety and differing opinions and, ultimately, new experiences.
Maybe that person, that song, that film, that snack speaks to you in a way that others don’t. It hits your soul and touches you in new and profound ways. Or you just prefer it over all others. It doesn’t have to be objectively better than anything else, it just has to be better for you.
Best is universal; favorite is personal.
Have you ever listened as someone lovingly gushed about something that meant the world to them but was unknown to you? That’s the definition of a revelation.
It’s how word of mouth works.
And that’s what helps make this thing we call living a little more interesting.
Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.