When you think about making a list of the films that had the greatest influence everyone most would lean towards high brow stuff. I’m here to tell you that is not necessarily the case. Sometimes it is obscure film that fans today have never even heard of that leave the biggest mark on the making of films. Here is my list of the ten films that had the biggest impact on the way films were seen and made:
10) Promises! Promises!: Director – King Donovan. Year Released – 1963. Just about as obscure as you can get this film happened on a cruise ship and involved a drunken spree in which two women find out they are pregnant so go about trying to figure out who the father of the babies are. Sounds like junk right? Well, for the most part it is. Why it became an important film was because it was the first to feature a well-known star in the nude. Jayne Mansfield. Nudity had been around for awhile but this was the benchmark film that opened the doors to using sex to sell a film.
9) Ocean’s 11: Director – Lewis Milestone. Year Released – 1960. The original Ocean’s 11 starring Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin was the first one to use the credits at the end of the film to give something to the moviegoer that would keep them in their seats. This is now common practice. This film did it rather subtly with just shots of Sinatra walking down the Vegas strip but it made enough of an impression for film makers to continue using it and audiences to stick around to see if anything was going to happen.
8) Star Wars: Director – George Lucas. Year Released – 1977. This film impacted the movie making world big time and in several ways. From its sets to the calibre of special effects used everything was a big step up. But the real big impact and impression it made was by simply playing the credits at the end rather than at the beginning. Such a different move that the Director’s Guild insisted that director George Lucas put the credits at the beginning. He refused and as a result was assessed a fine. This resulted in Lucas resigning from the Guild. The success of the film resulted in other filmmakers beginning to do the same.
7) Deep Throat: Director – Gerard Damiano. Year Released – 1972. Pornographic films had been made before Deep Throat but most of the time they were just a few minutes and not mainstream. Couples went to see this film at a regular theatre on a date. It made pornography more acceptable. When the police tried to confiscate the reels of the film from the theatres this made it even more popular. It became another important part of the sexual revolution happening at the time.
6) Snow White and the Seven Dwarves: Directors – William Cottrell, David Hand, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Ben Sharpsteen. Year Released – 1937. It was not the first animated feature film but it was the first one made in English and shot in Technicolor. This meant it was a big risk for Walt Disney as it cost plenty of dough to make. People had told him that no one would sit through a feature length animated film. His gamble paid off and even during the throes of the Great Depression the film made millions. This started a revolution in animation with other studios popping up and the beginnings of CGI animation happening.
5) Young Sherlock Holmes: Director – Barry Levinson. Year Released – 1985. Not the first film with computer animation. It was the first to have a realistic looking CGI character. It had to be both painted and scanned onto the film. Looking back it looks rather simple but it did lead to more advanced similar technology in films like Toy Story and Frozen. The animated knight was a creation of John Lasseter’s who went on to found Pixar.
4) The Birth of a Nation: Director – D.W. Griffith. Year Released – 1915. This was the first full-length film (it was three hours long) and demonstrated that rather than a bunch of scenes stuck together film could tell a story. Unfortunately the story is a rather racist one involving the South after the Civil War and the Klu Klux Klan. The filmmaking world saw the potential in the way it was shot and the fact that it had a story to tell thus began to copy that.
3) Midnight Cowboy: Director – John Schlesinger. Year Released – 1969. In 1969 with all the sex, drugs and nudity in the film the Motion Picture Association of America gave Midnight Cowboy an X rating. This was the first non-pornographic film to get this rating. Usually the kiss of death for film, against all odds Midnight Cowboy went on to earn seven Oscar Award nominations and win three awards. In 1970 MPAA downgraded the rating to R. All in all, the film sparked the debate over art vs. sex. It forced people not to dismiss outright films made in the future with adult content.
2) Greed: Director – Eric Von Stroheim. Year Released – 1924. This film was adapted from a novel. Usually details from the book are omitted for time and story fluidity sake. The director of this film Eric Von Stroheim decided not to leave out one iota of the book when he adapted it into a film. As a result it took him two years to finish the film. The film ended up being an unmanageable eight hours long. The studio refused to release it so Von Stroheim cut it down to four hours. Still the studio was not happy. They then hired a person who had not read the book to edit it down to two hours and fifteen minutes. This was an expensive lesson for them and one that future studios and filmmakers took notice of. Now films are just “based” upon novels.
1) The Great Train Robbery: Director: Edwin S. Porter (uncredited). Year Released – 1903. It is not overstating things to say that this twelve minute silent picture completely changed film. A big difference was that it told a story whereas previously films were just a series of scenes meant to make people laugh. Next up it featured realistic violence. Thirdly, there were some really simple special effects. Several filming techniques like panning the camera and using crosscutting to show simultaneous action were used for the first time. Lastly it was hugely popular and spurred on the entire film industry as a result.