The 67 Most Influential Films Ever Made
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From 1895-1999: 67 Influential Films
Workers Leaving the Factory (1895)
Also Known as: Exiting the Factory
Influential, How? Cinema arrives!
Citizen Kane. Top Gun. The Hottie & The Nottie. The common thread? They’re all descendents of cine-pioneer Louis Lumière’s La Sortie Des Usines Lumière - no less than the first motion picture ever made.
Fifty seconds long, it captures in real time workers spilling from the gates of Lyon’s Lumiere Factory.
A precursor to everything, it particularly anticipates the work of George Lucas: there are three versions in existence – you can tell ’em apart by the number of horses (one, two or none).
Money Shot: The bit where men enter the factory. Plot hole!
Original Title: L'assassinat du duc de Guise
Influential, How? First movie with a score.
A notorious event in French history, a 15-minute costume drama directed by André Calmettes – and, to provide the first ever specially composed orchestral movie score, the 73-year-old doyen of composers, Camille Saint-Saëns.
Money Shot: De Guise is stabbed by thugs as Saint-Saëns’ music rises to a frenzy.
Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)
Influential, How? Movies get animated.
"The two most important people in animation are Winsor McCay and Walt Disney," said legendary Warner Bros. animation director Chuck Jones. "I'm not sure who should go first."
Put it this way: Walt was just eight when McCay's lovable dinosaur called Gertie was born. Mickey, Bugs and Nemo are evolution's children...
Money Shot: Check it out on YouTube and pick your own...
Influential, How? Movies get big.
Even in our CG age of copy’n’paste armies, Cabiria is staggering. Shot across six months, the three-hour Italian silent set the benchmark for epic filmmaking.
DW Griffith saw it a year after he made The Birth Of A Nation - which suddenly didn’t seem so big and clever.
Money Shot: Innovative camera-dollies over huge sets, dubbed “Cabiria movements”.
Influential, How? Cinema's language is written.
DW Griffith’s Civil War epic is shockingly racist but it integrated formative film grammar into narrative like no movie before.
Here, America embraced a three-hour movie for the first time - one that tethered a thrusting story to close-ups, iris shots, historical authenticity, impressively mounted battle sequences and cross-cutting between parallel action.
Money Shot: Over to critic James Agee: “The most beautiful single shot I have seen in any movie is the battle charge…”
Original Title: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari
Influential, How? Cinema goes insane.
The senile granddaddy of the modern horror film, Caligari relates a chilling tale of murder through painted sets, high-contrast chiaroscuro lighting and a modern dance-like performance style.
In a more naturalistic form, these expressionist effects remain central to horror films.
Money Shot: The reveal, when we discover Dr Caligari’s true calling.
Influential, How? Cinema goes on the record.
Without Nanook, there'd be no documentary cinema, no Paul Greengrass, no Roger & Me, no Nobel Peace Prize for Al Gore...
Part real, part faked, Robert J Flaherty’s pioneering silent film about Inuit life in the Canadian arctic kick-started the documentary genre.
Accusations that key scenes were staged sparked a debate about keeping it real that still rages now.
Money Shot: Nanook and Co hunting angry walruses with harpoons.
Influential, How? The stuff of fantasy.
From magic carpets to invisibility cloaks, winged horses to giant spiders, Raoul Walsh’s ‘fantasy’ film used every single dollar of its then-unprecedented $1m budget to show silent audiences just how fantastical celluloid could be.
Every fantasy film since owes it a big debt.
Money Shot: The flying carpet ride over a fairytale Bagdad...
Original Title: Der letzte Mann
Influential, How? The first true 'motion' picture.
FW Murnau is remembered for Nosferatu and Sunrise but this is his landmark film, an allegory about a proud hotel porter humiliated in old age.
Murnau dispenses with subtitles and tells the story through a grand visual design and a free-flowing, mobile camera.
Money Shot: The camera’s tipsy pan to express the porter’s drunken state.
Becky Sharp (1935)
Influential, How? The Dawn Of Colour.
Goodbye, grey... shot on three-strip Technicolor, this adap of Thackeray's Vanity Fair wowed audiences and subtly used colour stock for dramatic effect.
"The greatest achievement in motion pictures since the advent of sound!" claimed the trailers. They weren't exaggerating.
Money Shot: A lavish ballroom dancing sequence showcases the Technicolor tech.
Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Original Title: Броненосец Потёмкин/Bronenosets Potyomkin
Influential, How? Meaning through montage.
Deemed a threat to the capitalist order, Eisenstein’s recreation of a 1905 incident in which sailors mutinied against their Czarist officers was banned throughout Europe.
But the film is less important for its radical politics than its radical syntax.
A gifted cartoonist, Eisenstein composed bold, dramatic images, but realised that they assumed far greater power through the rhythm and rhetoric of their juxtaposition.
Eisenstein invented 'montage', and his theories became a foundation of film teaching, with Potemkin a seminal influence on the likes of Hitchcock.
Money Shot: The Odessa steps sequence - copied and parodied many times (most famously in De Palma’s The Untouchables)...
Original Title: Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed
Influential, How? The first animated feature pioneer – and still unchallenged reigning queen – of silhouette animation, director Lotte Reiniger beat Disney to the punch by a dozen years or more.
Weaving together stories from the Arabian Nights and adding her own brand of wit and poetry, Reiniger set the template for telling fairy stories in a way that would enchant the kids, while packing in enough sophistication to keep grown-ups entertained.
Everyone from Disney and Chuck Jones to Hanna-Barbera and Pixar owes her a debt.
As for Achmed itself? “A masterpiece!” said Jean Renoir. Who could disagree?
Money Shot: The Spirit Battle of Waq Waq: Achmed does valiant battle with monsters and demons.
The Jazz Singer (1927)
Influential, How? Movies get mouthy.
Let’s clear this up. The Jazz Singer wasn’t the first ‘talkie’. But it was the first feature-length Hollywood talkie, in which spoken dialogue was meshed into the drama.
Audiences went mad-crazy as jazz megastar Al Jolson broke into song, ad-libbing with his old mum at the piano.
It wasn’t much: a song and a few lines of dialogue. But it was enough to change cinema forever.
Money Shot: “Wait a minute, wait a minute… You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!”
Influential, How? Welcome to the future.
The Fifth Element’s New York, Blade Runner’s LA, Batman’s Gotham... The city of the future was first built here.
Metropolis’ shadow looms over every decade and every genre: from Bride Of Frankenstein’s lab to Dr Strangelove’s mechanical hand and even David Fincher’s music videos.
Metallic femme fatale Maria warned us about the machine-men who would appear in Westworld, The Terminator and The Matrix.
Money Shot: Mad-scientist Rotwang runs through darkened catacombs, swinging his light like, well, a sabre. George Lucas takes note.
Original Title: Un chien andalou
Influential, How? Surrealism opens eyes.
Not the first surrealist movie (that honour belongs to René Clair’s 1924 Entr’acte) but the first to make a major impact.
Right from the opening shot of an eyeball being sliced by a razor, Buñuel and Dali aimed to shock – and succeeded.
Thereafter, surrealist imagery tinged pretty much every movie dream-sequence.
Money Shot: Gotta be that eyeball.
Influential, How? Hollywood goes to war.
Banned by the Nazis, loved by pacifists, this early ‘war is hell’ classic captured the tragedy of the trenches and proved that there really is no honour in dying for one's country.
“Here is war as it is - butchery,” wrote Variety.
Money Shot: A dying man reaches for a butterfly fluttering over barbed wire.
Influential, How? The original romcom.
Bagging itself the top five Oscars, the Clarke Gable-Claudette Colbert sleeper hit not only spawned a generation of screwball comedies, but established the 'loathe at first sight' blueprint that three out of five Hollywood romcoms have been following ever since.
Money Shot: Grudgingly sharing a room together, the duo trade rapid-fire quips
The Story of a Cheat (1936)
Original Title: Le roman d'un tricheur
Influential, How? The art of narration.
Sure, there’d been earlier voiceovers – but never before had the main character told us his own tale.
Sacha Guitry (writer, director, lead actor) dances us through the life of his self-styled ‘Cheat’, dispensing with dialogue. Ealing's Kind Hearts And Coronets is a direct descendant.
Money Shot: Sent to bed early, our hero sees his family die of food poisoning.
Influential, How? Calling the 'toon.
"No one's gonna pay a dime to see a dwarf picture..."
Even Walt Disney's wife mocked his first feature-length 'toon, but Walt was vindicated in the end - Snow White took home $66m and seven Oscars.
It set the template and the quality-bar, too.
Money Shot: Snow White cleans Chez Dwarf with fwuffy forest animals.
Influential, How? New Western frontiers.
Both the Western and John Ford has been around for decades when the latter revitalised the former with a modern, mature, myth-making 'road' movie.
Orson Welles watched it 40 times before making Citizen Kane. 'Nuff said.
Money Shot: The seminal stuntwork as legendary daredevil Yakima Canutt is dragged beneath galloping horses.
Influential, How? Movies get cinematic.
The 26-year-old Orson Welles expertly marshalled theatrical influences, dazzling technique, innovations in cinematography and the latest technology to produce a film that showed his fellow (older) filmmakers the sheer scope of the medium.
Some of the staging might seem a little hammy today (hell, it is over 60 years old) but Kane's simple, universal subject (the tragedy of an all-powerful man who wants the one thing he can't have) hasn't aged a day.
François Truffaut said that Kane is less influential than it is inspirational. We say it's one of the few films that manages to be both.
Money Shot: The opening tracking shot: an immaculate temptation (“No trespassing”). Afterwards, there's an awful lot of shots - all bang the money...
Influential, How? Movies find their true voice.
Vincente Minnelli’s family musical broke ranks with the backstage template. Here, the songs aren’t so much show-stoppers as plot-pushers, woven spontaneously into the characters’ daily lives.
Set the tempo for everything from The Sound Of Music to South Park.
Money Shot: The Trolley Song: ding-ding go the bells, sing-sing go the passengers…
Original Title: Rashômon
Influential, How? East comes west.
The West finally woke up to Japanese film when Rashomon won Venice’s Golden Lion (and went on to win an Oscar).
The idea - a rape and murder related through conflicting flashbacks - has been repeatedly ribbed but never bettered.
Money Shot: The second flashback, when we realise the camera does lie.
Influential, How? Marlon brings The Method.
Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski: maybe the single most influential performance in the history of American film and theatre.
This was the first production to emerge from Elia Kazan’s Actors' Studio, and its intensity rocked Broadway, before jumping to celluloid.
In Tennessee Williams’ play, Stanley is a working-class brute who resents the airs of his sister-inlaw, Blanche. Brando’s naturalism came as a shock to moviegoers, who weren’t used to seeing sweat, but it was his sexual magnetism that really scorched the screen.
Money Shot: “Stella!!!!” Brando howls into the night as his submissive wife folds into his arms.
Influential, How? 3D takes shape.
The technology had existed for decades but Bwana Devil jump-started the ’50s 3D boom.
Its tale of lions attacking railway workers was tosh, but as the tagline (grumpily) inquired: “What do you want? A good picture, or a lion in your lap?” Audiences opted for the latter.
Money Shot: A spear hefted at the camera had audiences ducking.
- People watching Bwana Devil with 3D-glasses.
The Robe (1953)
Influential, How? Cinema gets 'the big picture'.
Clunky Biblical epic? Yes. But also the first movie made in CinemaScope – using special lenses to squeeze and re-expand the image allowed cinema aspect ratios to rocket from 1.33:1 to an eye-slapping 2.55:1.
As a result, widescreen became the Hollywood way.
Money Shot: Four horses gallop straight at the camera in a spectacular chase scene.
Influential, How? The movies rock'n'roll.
Plug in, turn on, rock out: Richard Brooks’ social-problem flick is often viewed as the founding wallop of the rock’n’roll movie.
Infamously, the opening credits propelled Teds to their feet, where they ravaged seats and grooved to the sound of…
Money Shot: Bill Haley And The Comets’ ‘Rock Around The Clock’.
Influential, How? Hollywood tackles hard drugs.
Sidestepping the censors’ Production Code, this downbeat flick mainlined controversy with a taboo-shattering take on heroin addiction.
With Frank Sinatra hooked on dope, The Man... is the granddaddy of smack-pics from Trainspotting to Requiem For A Dream.
Money Shot: Ol' Blue Eyes going cold turkey in a shitty apartment.
Influential, How? The godfather of indie.
Actor John Cassavetes resolved to make a movie his way, on the streets of New York, with friends and acting students, and money raised by public donation.
The result was as fresh and alive as the bebop he used to score it.
Money Shot: The end title card - “The movie you have just seen was an improvisation…”
Influential, How? Class becomes an issue.
With its grimy canals and sexual frankness, Jack Clayton’s film kick-started the Brit New Wave.
Laurence Harvey’s slimy social climber set the pattern for a gallery of class-conscious protagonists in a whole decade of British movies.
Money Shot: Harvey, preparing for his wedding, overhears people describing his lover’s agonising death.
Original Title: À bout de souffle
Influential, How? Jumping to the next level.
The French New Wave found its most revolutionary expression in this debut feature from critic Jean-Luc Godard.
Francois Truffaut provided the basic story outline about a young hoodlum (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and his doomed relationship with an American girl (Jean Seberg) in Paris, but it was Godard who shook up the system with jerky jump-cut rhythms, handheld camera work and a penchant for mixing lofty dialogue with low-brow action.
For once, the artist didn’t hide behind the story – Godard invited the audience right behind the looking glass.
Money Shot: Belmondo draws his thumb across his lip in homage to Humphrey Bogart. Cinema enters its self-conscious stage.
Influential, How? Horror comes home.
In many ways, the first truly modern American film: Hollywood movies lost their innocence here, in the shower with the shockingly brutal rubbing-out of the picture’s apparent star.
In 1960, many critics were appalled by what Time called “one of the messiest, most nauseating murders ever filmed”.
These days, it seems relatively discreet, but overwhelmingly sad – not least because it inaugurated the mostly shabby serial depravities of the slasher film.
It was also a radical rethink for Hitchcock, a low-budget black-and-white movie with no frills.
Money Shot: The shower scene, with its multiple cuts, chocolate-sauce blood and implicit nudity.
Influential, How? Cinema comes out of the closet.
Closeted star Dirk Bogarde gave his idol image a kick in the crotch by taking the role of a barrister with gay yearnings.
Brave, bolshy and poetic, it opened the door to everything from Boys In The Band to Brokeback Mountain.
Money Shot: Bogarde’s angry, agonised confession to his wife: “I wanted him! Do you understand? I wanted him!”
Influential, How? Horror goes splatter.
Drive-in quickie Blood Feast's story about a cannibal Egyptian caterer broke messy new ground: no one had ever spilt so much claret, faked human organs by using sheep offal or chopped up so many actresses (actually hard-up strippers) before.
“It’s like a Walt Whitman poem,” claimed director Herschell Gordon Lewis. “It’s no good, but it’s the first of its type, and therefore deserves a certain position.”
Money Shot: A woman’s tongue being ripped out of her bloody gob.
Original Title: La battaglia di Algeri
Influential, How? 'Based on real-life events...'
It's hard to believe that no newsreel footage was used in Gillo Pontecorvo’s blistering docu-drama.
Shot on the same streets where, only a few years earlier, Algerian nationalists and French colonialists had battled it out, The Battle Of Algiers set the bar challengingly high for every docu-drama that followed.
Money Shot: Algerian women descending from the Casbah to bomb a French cafe.
Influential, How? Average schmoes could be leading men.
The casting of Hoffman changed Hollywood’s idea of what a 'movie star' could be. Even Hoffman took some convincing he was the man for the job.
Making an arse of himself at the audition and bringing an uncomfortable tension to his scenes, Hoffman left miserable but director Nichols was sold.
Hoffman picked up an Oscar nom for Best Actor for his misery, and casting logic was never the same again. Tom Hanks, Bill Murray, Tobey Maguire, Steve Carell, Michael Cera and Shia LaBeouf are just a few of Hollywood’s unconventional leads who’ve benefited from the Benjamin Braddock Effect.
Money Shot: “Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs Robinson?”
Influential, How? The birth of the horror movie.
Romero’s stark monochrome nightmare about the walking dead came (very slowly) with stark violence and disturbing docu-realism.
“Horror films were usually about rubber monsters or hands groping in the dark,” says fellow legend John Carpenter. “George
Money Shot: A mother. A child. A trowel…
Influential, How? Space becomes a real place.
2001 made a giant leap into deep space a full year before Neil Armstrong took one small step.
Using everything from a 30-tonne ferris wheel set to a close-up of an eye and reacting chemicals, Stanley Kubrick created SFX footage that left Nasa baffled by its accuracy and anticipation.
He also proved that movies could try harder and reach deeper (philosophy, ecology, evolution, the nature of 'intelligence') in their pursuit of a grand cinematic design.
Money Shot: That first space station rolling in the inky blackness of space.
Influential, How? Shooting to kill.
The called him "bloody Sam", which he didn't like much, but Peckinpah's pre-censor Bunch earned the first X rating due to its break from the strictures of Hollywood's tired old Motion Picture Code.
Peckinpah splashed red screen-wide with raw steak, even double-loading squibs so that bullets left exit wounds. Slow-motion, multi-camera shooting and montage amplified the impact.
No wonder The New York Times called his revisionist Western "by several thousand red gallons the most graphically violent Western ever made."
Money Shot: Shots, rather - the bunch are bullet-holed in a final, orgiastic shoot-'em up...
Influential, How? The movie brats come of age.
Hippies, LSD, motorbikes: Easy Rider is a cultural landmark. The defining movie of the ’60s.
Connecting with the long-haired kids (and earning millions for its trouble), Hopper and Fonda's crotch rocket-fetishising classic ushered in New Hollywood by breathing hip life into the square studio system.
“You guys are finished,” Hopper ranted at Oscar-winner George Cukor. “We are in now... It’s our time.”
Money Shot: Fonda and Hopper dropping acid in a New Orleans cemetery.
Influential, How? Black cinema finds a voice.
Dedicated to “all the Brothers and Sisters who have had enough of The Man”, Sweet Sweetback's... is the first 'blaxploitation' flick.
It's a full-frontal attack on honky hegemony as hero Sweetback fights and fucks his way through corrupt white cops and lurid whorehouses.
Black Panther Huey P Newton praised it as “the first truly revolutionary black film.”
Money Shot: Handcuffed Sweetback beating up a couple of racist rozzers.
InfluentIal, How? Time to get gross.
Taboos are obliterated as fat tranny Divine stamps (and pisses) all over common decency in John Waters’ no-budget shock-pic.
Critics fumed (“one of the most vile, stupid and repulsive films ever made” spat Variety, reaching for the smelling salts) as this outrageously camp attempt to show the forbidden featured turd-gobbling, sphincter-puckering and a sex act involving a live chicken.
It's an anarchic vom-com that makes the Farrelly Brothers’ gross-outs look like something from CBeebies.
Money Shot: Divine munching dog shit. The poodle poops, she scoops – for real.
Influential, How? Porn goes mainstream.
Deep Throat was the movie that legitimised porn, a swinging hardcore sex film that became a crossover hit.
It quickly became a cultural watershed – changing the way America talked about sex forever.
More than just the movie that made blowjobs into dinner-party chatter, it stripped the seedier side of the porno industry bare for everyone to gawp at.
Money Shot: Lovelace making like a turkey...
Influential, How? Plugging the jukebox.
Shot with style and swagger, Scorsese’s breakthrough film blazed with rock’n’roll energy, rebooting the sound of cinema. At last, popular - not just classical - music could score a movie.
“For me,” Marty reckoned, “the whole movie was ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ and ‘Be My Baby’.”
He sourced many of the songs from his own collection, bringing a personal stamp with an era’s rock-noise.
Try imagining Trainspotting or Reservoir Dogs without it.
Money Shot: Johnny Boy’s slo-mo, hot-wired entrance, propelled by The Stones’ “crossfire hurricane”.
InfluentIal, How? Martial-arts go west.
The dragon died just a few weeks after he entered, but by then Bruce Lee was already an icon.
Warner Bros co-produced this sudden-impact thriller, hungry to capitalise on the growing popularity of Chinese chop-socky flicks in the US.
The Bond movie set-up and white supporting actors were a sop to drive-in tastes but the tightly coiled Asian star’s rapid-fire moves smashed east into west.
The ’70s kung fu craze kicked off here.
Money Shot: Lee fighting claw-handed Shih Kien in a hall of mirrors.
Influential, How? Here comes the modern spoof.
Movie parody had been around since Abbott And Costello's heyday, but Mel Brooks’ western set a new bar, lowering the tone and full-throttling the gag-rate.
For better (Airplane!) or worse (Date-/Epic-/Disaster Movie), Brooks’ more-is-more mantra is par for the parody course.
Money Shot: Bean-fuelled cowboys farting round the campfire
Influential, How? Every character is a star.
Robert Altman first hit on his sprawling, improv style of filmmaking with M*A*S*H in 1970, but he brought it to a pitch with this epic C&W satire.
No less than 26 character actors rub shoulders, sing, cry and vie for the limelight.
Money Shot: A mega pile-up on the highway featuring almost the entire cast.
Influential, How? It ushered in the blockbuster.
“It lives to kill. A mindless eating machine. It is as if God created the devil and gave him… JAWS!”
Jaws created the ‘blockbuster’ – a new breed of pacey crowd-pleaser with big budgets, bigger marketing drives and a broad commercial appeal.
The test screenings convinced Universal to spend $700,000 on a TV ad campaign and open in an unprecedented 409 cinemas across the US.
For better or worse, Jaws kick-started the practice of selling movies as a summer ‘event’. As producer Zanuck put it: “Jaws became more than a movie. It became a phenomenon.”
Money Shot: Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) comes face to face with Ben Gardener’s corpse in an underwater wreck. A generation of moviegoers throw their popcorn in the air. Some even puke in the bucket…
Influential, How? The rise of the shock ending.
Hollywood's first adap of a Stephen King paperback melds high-school teen flick with gory horror.
The shock graveyard ending has been much imitated but this is the original - and still the best: "I knew they were going to do it," said the novelist, "and I still almost shit in my pants!"
Money Shot: That grave, that hand...
Also Known as: Star Wars
Influential, How? Cinema gets spectacular.
“It ate the heart and soul of Hollywood,” grumped Paul Schrader.
OK, so Star Wars isn’t Raging Bull. But George Lucas' ubiquitous space-opera is the most popular film ever made - inspiring a whole generation to fall in love with the whole idea of Going To The Movies.
Capturing the heart and dazzling the senses, Star Wars revolutionised CG visual effects, practically invented immersive Dolby Stereo surround-sound and gave audiences something they’d never seen or heard before.
We’re betting Schrader secretly enjoyed it.
Money Shot: That unbelievable opening, as a deafening Imperial Starship engulfs the star-sprinkled vastness.
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