Movies are a truly unique art form and form of entertainment. At their best they’re entertaining, immersive, and just plain fun. Those of us who love them gobble them up like the scrummiest of snacks, often the same one over and over, until we can yell our favorite lines at the screen like a freelancing Rocky Horror fan.

And it shows. I’m not sure how long ago I really started noticing how familiar so many movies have become, but now that I’m aware of that glaringly obvious little fact it’s become almost annoyingly glaringly obvious. The concept caught my attention because of what an unrepentant channel flipper I am. What “they” say about men being the worst about it doesn’t mean they’re the only ones.  Many a beautifully manicured (not mine…I can’t type with long nails, so mine look like they’ve been ravaged by runaway clippers!) feminine hand belongs to a channel flipping virtuoso.

If I don’t have a regularly DVRed program lined up, or while said program is recording, I flip channels like a demographically enhanced automaton, landing on random stuff that catches my interest. My brain comes to rest on anything from Buffy to Twilight Zone to Everybody Loves Frasier. When those last two combined are on at the same time, I watch bits of both, only becoming confused if Hot in Cleveland is on too…since it has Daphne and sometimes Robert’s chain smoking mother-in-law, or to really make my head explode, Frasier’s dad appears in the mix. All I’m lacking is Eddie running through chasing Pumpernickel and George Clooney. And I don’t even normally watch Hot in Cleveland!

It’s surprising that, between the commercial skipping DVRed stuff and the wildly flipped across stuff, I ever even notice random movie landings. I do, though. I’m sure I’ve always done it, but it suddenly came to my attention one channel flippy night that I recognize a lot of movies almost instantly. Not just movies I’ve seen a zillion times either. Often it’s something I haven’t seen at all. That’s extremely telling about the movie industry’s deeply entrenched place in the collective consciousness.

Sure, you see a flash of a white T-shirt flaunting alarming blood spatter and catch a snatch of classical music, you know you’ve hit The Silence of the Lambs, without even a glimpse of those piercingly mad baby blues. Hear Judi Dench’s unmistakable accent/voice combo say the single letter “M” and you recognize a Bond movie with no Bond, James Bond in sight. Glimpse a golden ring engraved with Elvish words you can’t read yet know by heart, and you may not instantly know which individual movie it is, but you certainly nail the franchise it belongs to.

Somehow, though, so many movies creep or blast or FX their way into pop culture that mere snippets are familiar, even when you have never seen them. A lilting song, a maniacal laugh, such an iconic image that it practically reaches out of the screen and grabs your eyeballs. For instance, I’ve never seen The Shining, but I recognize those two girls when I see them. Even a simple looking corridor that “belongs” to that movie unmistakably. I haven’t seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (I have got to catch up on Nicholson movies!), yet the words Nurse Ratched, with or without a visual of the amazing Louise Fletcher (big fan from other things from Deep Space Nine to myriad movie roles spanning her stellar career) scream the title of that movie.

How is this possible? Because movies have a different influence over us than books or music or paintings. They engage multiple senses at once. They’re designed to pull us in and stay with us. They have a hold on us, whether it’s through multiple exposures to engaging, beloved stories or catch phrases and iconic images that command and demand their place in our gray matter.

We used to be limited to however many times we could manage to see a movie in a theater, but now technology has gifted us with limitless possibilities. Rent, stream, buy, YouTube, Netflix, even the public library…movies are everywhere, any time, all the time. It’s a gift. It’s a treasure. And, in the wee small channel flipping hours of the darkest night, a single cry from the speakers reminds me of yet another movie I’ve never seen, but want to: