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The Forbidden Karate Kid: Jackie Chan films about Western youth improving themselves through martial arts — ideal for an evening in with your fellow training-montage fans and cartons of Chinese takeout.
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Hosting a good double feature, like assembling a good mix tape, is an art form. Sure, you could theoretically pick any two movies based on random selection or convenience and watch them together, but if you’re going to sit down with your friends and spend four to five hours staring at the same screen together, you might as well take a little extra time to plan. You could take any of several different approaches in picking which movies to watch and what order to watch them in, depending on the situation.

Let’s pick a genre

Like writers and public speakers, a good movie host should know his audience, who will probably be the biggest factor in movie selection. In theory, you could match your movie selection with...

…your audience. This should be a no–brainer, if you know what your audience likes. You’re watching with your fantasy football league, you pick sports movies. You’re watching with a significant other, you ideally pick movies you both like — or, barring that, movies he/she likes. If you’re watching with a random sampling of MIT students and are hoping for passersby to join you, escapist fantasy with positively–portrayed nerd characters is hard to beat. In related news, Back to the Future has a new box set out.

…your mood. You’re the host, you should get to pick. If you’re feeling happy, watch comedies. If you’re feeling depressed, period drama — the grayer the period, the better. If you’re feeling vulnerable, it’s a good time for horror. And if you’re under the influence of recreational hallucinogens, Fantasia and Yellow Submarine.

…the dinner you just ate. Most movie nights fit around or after dinner, and the particularly perceptive guests will appreciate the cohesiveness of the evening. Chinese food means kung fu films, authentic or semi–authentic Italian food means crime drama (the cheesier the better), fast food goes with beefy action films, and the ever–versatile pizza lends itself to just about anything. That being said, bonus points go to the person who organizes a 7–hour Ninja Turtles marathon.

Line up your selections

Once you’ve selected a genre, there are a number of methods for picking the films themselves:

The Big Lazy: Pick movie. Add sequel. For variety, sequel may be replaced with a remake, or a subsequent work by same production team in similar idiom, like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

The Kevin Bacon: Movies are linked by a common actor. See also the Kevin Bacon, Once Removed, where movies are linked by actors in a common work. I’m personally fond of double features built around former Firefly cast members.

The Daily Dose of Irony: Otherwise dissimilar movies are connected by a common feature. In Bruges and Death at a Funeral both feature dwarfs under varying degrees of drug intoxication and in varying levels of peril, for instance. If I had the nervous constitution for horror films, I’d consider showing Carrie and Matilda as the “Telekinetic Woman Scorned” double feature.

The CinePun: Word play is always fun. Just the other week, I went to my friends’ showing of “Tron Air.” Once I manage to put together a showing of “Run Fatboy Run Lola Run,” I look forward to hanging out with them in the little known two–and–a–halfth circle of the Inferno reserved for those who make bad puns.

The Siskel and Ebert: Movies are matched by collective agreement of their quality. This is especially common around Oscar season, when people gather to watch nominees. On the other end of the spectrum are the hilariously bad movies, which is why I purchased both Plan 9 From Outer Space and Manos: The Hands of Fate, although buying the Mystery Science Theater 3000 box set probably could have saved me the trouble.

Who’s on first?

The last thing to consider is in what order to play your films. Movie night, like the ancient Greek theatre, should seek audience catharsis, and playing your double feature in reverse can have the exact opposite of the intended effect. Fortunately, this step tends to be pretty straightforward. If you’re dealing with sequels, the order of release usually works fine, although prequels have the option of chronological order, as well.

If you want to be able to sleep at a reasonable hour that night, put any long epic first, so people can leave after the bulk of the night’s programming. A friend of mine once paired Lawrence of Arabia (216 minutes) with Reservoir Dogs (99 minutes), although why you’d have to pair Lawrence of Arabia with anything is beyond me. A Gone With The Wind/Titanic double feature is similarly ill–advised for a multitude of reasons, only some of which are time–related.

And if you want to sleep at all, I recommend putting the lighter or funnier film second. Ending on a high note is more than an operatic tendency, it’s also useful movie night philosophy. The last thought of the evening will be sitting in the back of your guests’ heads until bedtime (or if they get really involved, breakfast), and if the parting shot is of a sequel hook or a final scare, their unsettled mental state is your responsibility. I typically prefer to tie up loose ends and finish with a smile, but that’s mostly a matter of personal preference. Explosions can work just as well, but my DVD collection includes no Michael Bay.

The end of the semester approaches. Movies are an excellent way to relax flexibly and without much travel time. Feel free to do the math (unless you’re course 18, in which case you may prefer to rest). Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to try and find something to pair with Caddyshack that isn’t 18 consecutive showings of Holes.