Every now and then you get a film that changes the way films after it are made. But it’s not until years after it has come out that these influences start to have a noticeable affect on popular culture and the film industry. You can’t help but wonder if the film industry would still be where it is today if they never existed. These quintessential films have helped define a lot of what we see in theatres now, especially with action films, and they have helped push film technologies to new boundaries.
Here is a list of my top 10 game-changers.
#10 – The Great Train Robbery (1903)
Old films may not even be close to the calibre that films are today, but you still have to give them credit for the steps they took to get us here. The Great Train Robbery was revolutionary for its time as it incorporated many innovative aspects to filmmaking that never existed at the time and are fundamentally prominent in all forms of modern cinema. The camera movements and the assembly of the story in editing through jump cuts were innovational at the time and have become todays standard in storytelling. The colourization of the film negatives were also innovational at the time but was later replaced with colour film. The last shot of the film is referenced by Martin Scorsese in Goodfellas when Joe Peschi fires the gun directly at the camera.
#9 - Citizen Kane (1941)
Considered to many to be the greatest film ever made, Citizen Kane gave audiences an experience they had never seen before when it was first released. Orson Wells made the film at 25, and it was the film that made and nearly destroyed his career because of the social politics regarding the negative portrayal of William Randolph Hearst in the film. The film used innovational camera and special effect techniques that Wells and his cinematographer Gregg Toland developed to give higher production value to the film without overspending the low budget. This included the use of makeup to age characters dramatically, multiple narrators, and techniques like deep-focus cinematography – where the foreground, middle-ground, and background all in focus. The stylized cinematography and innovative use of special effects had never been seen before and it revolutionized the standard of filmmaking.
#8 – Star Wars (1977)
Star Wars was so popular at the time that it spawned a cult phenomenon the world had never been seen before. The action saga took aspects of Stanley Kubricks bizarre space exploration film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and applied them to a story about adventure, romance, and humanity. Audiences got to go on a journey only their imaginations could dream of. Geniuses became inspired and artist became enthused as many people could now see where the future of cinema was going. The technology to create these experiences through CGI, animation, and special effects only got better after George Lucas focused a lot of his attention on special effects.
#7 – 300 (2006)
This film may seem random to put on this list but it is the film that made stylized slow motion appealing in popular culture. After its box office success, it seemed that high speed slow motion was in and quickly becoming the newest fad to hit action films in a theatre near you – not to mention every music video going theses days. 300 made slow motion cool and gave camera companies a reason to start producing more cameras with higher frame rates. The film was also completely shot on a blue screen sound stage and rendered out to the surreal environment seen in the film, a technique Zach Snyder revolutionized.
#6 - Alien (1979)
Ridley Scott’s brilliant trailer made waves when it first came out and it still stands strong today. Drawing inspiration from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the films slow build into the chaotic climax gave viewers a thrilling look into the potential dangers of space travel and exploration unlike anything they’d ever seen. It took a much darker direction than Star Wars and is a pivotal film in the evolution of the monster horror genre. The inability to understand or predict our enemies is what we fear the most and Alien does that effectively.
#5 - Spiderman (2002)
Ten years have now passed and the fury of comic book, superhero, and graphic novel films have become one of the bigest industries in the world. Even though comic book films like Batman still existed in the 90′s, the 2000′s brought out a new era of technology that allowed films to go beyond the realm of possibility, showing people things they would never be able to film with a camera. The instant success of the film changed the movie theatre industry focus. The intermingling of baby boomers with generations X, Y, and Z made for a multi billion dollar industry that revolutionized the mainstream market for film production in North America.
#4 - Psycho (1960)
The Alfred Hitchcock classic was the first film to give theatre goers a run for their money and bring the theatre experience alive. The horror film was the first of its kind, paving the way for its predecessors. Before Psycho, the horror genre had a gothic/mythical orientation with films like Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Hitchcock himself was a game-changer but it was Psycho that started the frenzy. It wasn’t so much about monsters as it was about people, which is even scarier since people are real. His voyeuristic perspective was provocative at the time and showed a fresh perspective on what it is to be entertained at the theatre, changing cinema forever.
#3 - Avatar (2009)
James Cameron himself is a game-changer. Not only for his work on Avatar (The highest grossing movie of all time) but also Titanic (The second highest grossing film of all time), Terminator, Aliens, and The Abyss. He has managed to continually push the boundaries of technology and spectacle, giving audiences experienced they never even knew they wanted. His most recent innovations with 3D technology in Avatar have completely revolutionized the theatre experience and film market. The surge of 3D films after the success of Avatar is still in abundance, because even though 3D movies were around in the 70′s, Cameron developed new camera technologies to make 3D video production simpler and less complex process. Next step holograms?
#2 - The Matrix (1999)
I can’t watch an action movie today without seeing something The Matrix already did. That film revolutionized the action genre in a revitalizing way, nothing can really touch it anymore when it comes to creative technical innovations it accomplished. Today’s film technology is making it easier and easier to have things look better and better. The Matrix broke new grounds as to what could be done with a camera and how 24 frames per second can be manipulated to the best of its ability. The comic book influence and realistic graphic novel content of the film paved the way for the tidal wave of action/adventure films that followed its success and admiration.
#1 - 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Stanley Kubrick was a visionary when it came to the psychological thriller genre. 2001: A Space Odyssey conquers space travel with a beautiful rendition of what the potential future could have coming for us. Having already lived through 2001 myself, to watch this film now in 2012 and see how ahead of the time Kubrick was is astonishing as it could still even pass as a film produced in the past decade. The colourful art direction and bright patterning create unforgettable imagery and a theatre experience that left moviegoers in awe of the depth and complexity a film could have. It was revolutionary to what kind of stories could now be told on screen, leaving the possibility for any story to be told and any topic to be covered.
Even though I wasn’t alive for the release of 6 out of the 10 films I listed, I still get the felling that these films were important at the time because of how much they are still respected today. Not all films are timeless, but these ones are.