Movies do change over time for many reasons. When I first saw Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry back in 1997 – it was probably my second Allen movie after the previous year’s Everyone Says I Love You. I wouldn’t start going through his filmography until the following year. I enjoyed the film back in 1997 – but didn’t give it much thought. Revisiting it a few years ago – after watching all of Allen’s other films, and reading a lot of Philip Roth (on which the lead character is at least partially based - although there is a lot of Allen in him as well) – the film seemed angrier, courser and even funnier. It’s one of Allen’s masterpieces – but I didn’t realize it at the time, because I wasn’t coming at it with the right frame of reference.
Other movies change as well. The heroes of Kevin Smith’s early movies don’t seem quite as cool and funny to me as they did back when I was a teenager – luckily that seems to be the case with Smith as well, who deepened the characters in Clerk for its sequel (and will hopefully do the same for the third film, whenever he gets around to it). I feel far more sympathy for Matthew Broderick’s character in Election now than I did when I was a teenager and saw the film – at the time I loved the film, but thought it was about two equally horrible people. Now that I’m in my 30s, I understand what motivated Broderick a lot more.
The way we perceive movies change because we change – we come at them each time with a slightly different frame of reference, with a different maturity level, with more knowledge than we had in the past. That doesn’t necessarily mean they get better or worse, but they certainly change. When I read this question, I thought back to what Roger Ebert wrote about Fellini’s La Dolce Vita – that when he first saw it, it represented the world he wanted to enter, when it saw it later it was the world he was trapped in, and later still it was the world he left behind. He loved it all three times – but each time, it changed. If they don’t change, then there’s probably something wrong with you.