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  • In 1902, A Trip to the Moon invented the film industry as we know it, being one of the first explicitly fictional fantastic narratives brought to life on the "silver screen" in an era where most people were using movie cameras simply to capture small slices of everyday life. It also showcases early examples of special effects such as screen wipes and stop tricks that would eventually become stock-in-trade for the medium.
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  • D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) established the popularity of movies as public entertainment, and codified the feature-length film with its extended running time, long-form narrative, new editing techniques, and film grammar (long-shot, medium-shot, close-up). Despite being reviled for its shocking racism (even at the time it came out, the NAACP unsuccessfully lobbied to have the film banned), few historians deny that The Birth of a Nations's giant box office success invented the blockbuster film and the Epic Movie and got many moviegoers and producers around the world invested in the movie business, thereby inventing Hollywood itself.
  • Charlie Chaplin's short films in the 1910s and '20s not only made him the world's first movie star and media celebrity, they also codified the basic repertoire of motion picture slapstick comedy in both live-action and animation. Chaplin's use of comedy and the underdog nature of the Tramp to communicate social issues of poverty and homelessness also made him a favorite among avant-garde artists, who cited him as their inspiration for cinema that was both fun and relevant.
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  • The 1920 film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was this for German Expressionism, showing the power of set design, art direction, lighting, and cinematography to communicate visual atmosphere and mood, rather than simply relying on intertitles. It also showed, in a very primitive fashion, that movies could have stories that were psychologically insightful and thought-provoking just by being visual, rather than merely aping the novel or theatre.
  • Fritz Lang codified many features of genre film-making in the 1920s and '30s. His Die Nibelungen was the first large-scale fantasy epic, Dr. Mabuse and Spies marked the start of the spy movies with N.G.O. Superpower and supervillains running society via surveillance networks, Metropolis and The Woman in the Moon were the birth of the science-fiction epic, and the latter film invented the countdown. Lang's movies inspired superhero comics, with Superman's city named after his film, and his supervillains like Dr. Mabuse, Rotwang, and Haghi inspired, via Popcultural Osmosis, everyone from Lex Luthor to Blofeld. M likewise was the first major movie about a Serial Killer, and its greater realism and more accurate look at policework inspired the true crime genre and the police procedural, which in turned inspired the Film Noir — a genre that Lang also contributed to after he arrived in Hollywood.
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  • Universal's monster films, from their 1923 breakthrough The Hunchback of Notre Dame through 1941's The Wolf Man (generally considered the last great film in that cycle), wrote down most of the cinematic language of horror. Their takes on vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein's Monster, mummies, and other horror monsters colored people's perception of them for decades; even Hammer Film Productions, while cranking up the sex and violence with their remakes in the '50s and '60s, still remained mostly faithful to how Universal drew them. Countless makeup and creature effects were also invented and pioneered at Universal by the likes of Lon Chaney and Jack Pierce to bring their monsters to life, techniques that are in many cases still in use to this day.
  • Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 film The Battleship Potemkin also showed that, rather than just copying what was done in theater and literature, cinema can communicate deeper and more intricate meaning via montages and editing techniques, greatly expanding the vocabulary beyond the realist limitations of those mediums. Its radical political message also, for better and worse, introduced the concept of using cinema as political propaganda.
  • 1927's The Jazz Singer wasn't a particularly good film beyond its gimmick, but that gimmick, the use of sound, changed the film industry across the world. The arrival of sound introduced more realistic acting, putting the end of many stars who came to prominence in the silent era. Silent comedy of the likes of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd was left out of the lurch, while Charlie Chaplin became far less prolific and more cautious. It also marked the start of Hollywood's global rise to prominence. Formerly, simply replacing the intertitles from one film in local translation made it possible for Italian, French, Russian, and Swedish movies to have global audiences. The language barrier led to the greater hegemony of English-language cinema around the world, as Hollywood, with its vast American and British markets far outstripping the smaller, linguistically-restrained national cinemas of other countries, was able to field the biggest budgets for the biggest movies. By the time the technology for dubbing and subtitles caught up, Hollywood was well into its Golden Age, and there was no looking back.
  • Scarface (1932) by Howard Hawks was not the first gangster film or even the first sound gangster film (that goes to The Public Enemy), but it was the first crime movie that became a huge hit and created controversy, what with its main character being an Expy of an actual criminal. Its non-judgmental use of a Villain Protagonist raised concerns about glorifying violence and raised enough fears among Moral Guardians that they demanded a Re-Cut, not unlike the 1983 remake. Among moviegoers, Scarface and other Depression gangster films were seen as edgy and innovative for use of contemporary slang that the working-class audiences recognized and used themselves, further showing the potential for sound cinema to be dramatically and socially realistic.
  • Though 1939's The Wizard of Oz was a family-friendly musical comedy, it was also the first big-budget Hollywood feature film ever to put its budget towards bringing a fleshed-out fantastical universe to life on the big screen — something that had previously only been seen in disposable low-budget shorts like the Flash Gordon serials released in the same decade. It definitely wasn't an epic High Fantasy, but it paved the way for more ambitious fantasy films (both originals and adaptations) like Star Wars, Labyrinth, and the Lord of the Rings films. Tellingly, the studio insisted that the movie end with Dorothy waking up in her bed and assuming that her adventures in Oz were just a dream, since they didn't think that adult moviegoers in the 1930s would take a real fantasyland seriously. note 
  • The Western had been popular from the beginning of the movies with The Great Train Robbery, but it faded when sound arrived. Then came John Ford's 1939 film Stagecoach, which marked the true start of the modern Western. It introduced the star-making role of the greatest Western star, John Wayne, location shooting at Monument Valley (the first time Ford shot there), realistic action sequences, and the use of the Western genre as a vehicle for social commentary, with civilization positioned as a corrupting influence on the natural and rugged frontier with greedy bankers standing in for Acceptable Targets during the Depression.
  • 1941's Citizen Kane was the Trope Codifier if not the Trope Maker for a new kind of filmmaking. Where filmmakers had used montages, art direction, set design, performances, and sound to tell stories before, Orson Welles was the first to combine them in such a way as to create a new, heightened kind of storytelling. Its Genre-Busting approach, using a Mockumentary style, multiple flashbacks, and multiple narrators to tell a psychologically consistent story of three-dimensional characters, was considered as a sign that movies could be movies and still be as complex and modern as the best theatre and novels. By borrowing ideas and concepts from genre and epic movies (special effects, miniatures, multiple camera tricks) to a serious film, Welles committed major Genre Adultery. Likewise, Welles' unique contract became the Trope Maker for Auteur License, and the fact that he made it at the age of 25 proved that cinema wasn't merely the work of established professionals but also open to upstarts and tyros as well.
  • Kenneth Anger was a seminal influence on Hollywood's counterculture from the late '40s up through The '70s. He helped write much of the language of gay cinema and American gay culture in general, in particular codifying leathermen, sailors, and BDSM as parts of the latter. He was among the first filmmakers to incorporate large amounts of contemporary pop and rock music into his soundtracks and draw on occultism (especially that of Aleister Crowley's Thelema) for themes beyond just portraying it as a source of baddies for the heroes to fight. A number of the filmmakers of the New Hollywood period and after, including Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, and John Waters, have cited his work as an inspiration. And going beyond the films themselves into the culture surrounding them, his 1965 book Hollywood Babylon codified the Horrible Hollywood trope and popularized numerous Urban Legends about various famous actors. Before, celebrity gossip had been driven by the PR pieces put out by the studios on one hand and the moral outrage of Confidential magazine on the other, while after, it became just as much a source of entertainment in its own right as people grew fascinated by the sordid personal lives of the rich and famous.
  • Early giant monster movies like the 1927 version of The Lost World or King Kong (1933) had their monsters as prehistoric forces unleashed on the modern world. 1953's The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, on the other hand, was the first to have its monster as a blend of primordial chaos and the contemporary, future-fear of the atom bomb. For most of the remainder of the 20th Century, giant monsters were nuclear-powered (Godzilla (1954) and Them! being the best of those that followed), and in a post-Cold War world, giant monsters still tend to represent some real-world, human-derived panic — Jurassic Park and genetic engineering, Cloverfield and terrorism, etc.
  • 1954's Seven Samurai invented the modern action movie. It not only pioneered a popular action movie plot, it wrote much of the visual language that such films continue to use to this day. In particular, it had a great impact on the American Western genre, the film being directly remade as The Magnificent Seven (1960) and a great deal of crossover developing between Westerns and Japanese samurai films as filmmakers on both sides of the Pacific realized that many of the tropes of each genre were applicable to both. (This influence was, in fact, recursive; Kurosawa had been heavily inspired by the films of John Ford when making Seven Samurai.)
  • American International Pictures.
    • They may have been in the business of making B-grade teen comedies and horror movies rather than summer blockbusters, but they pioneered the marketing strategy that those films would use much later on. They called it "Peter Pan Syndrome", the idea that marketing towards teenage and twentysomething men was the best way to reach the widest possible audience, on the grounds that young children will watch anything that their older siblings will but that adults and teenagers won't watch "kiddie" movies, and that girls will watch anything that boys will but that boys won't watch "chick flicks". When the major studios in The '80s took that idea and put some bigger budgets behind it, the basic outline of the "four-quadrant" blockbuster was born.
    • Following on from that strategy came Samuel Z. Arkoff's formula for making his movies popular: fill them with just enough action, sex appeal, edgy themes, teenage Wish Fulfillment, and High Concept premises to attract young viewers without running afoul of the Hays Office. If this formula looks familiar, it's because, once you swap out "running afoul of the Hays Office" with "getting an R rating", it's the one that virtually every teen-oriented PG-13 comedy and horror movie has used since.
  • 1956's Forbidden Planet revolutionized film and television science fiction. Along with The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), it was one of the first science-fiction films ever to be treated as a big-budget studio endeavor (an "A-Movie") rather than a disposable lead-in to a main feature (a "B-Movie"), and the first such film to put its budget towards lavishly bringing an alien world and a distant future to life on the big screen. On top of that, it showed audiences the potential for using science fiction to explore complex concepts and morals, incorporating an unlikely blend of Shakespearean drama, Freudian psychology, and 20th century ideas about the destructive potential of science into its plot. Star Trek would famously follow its example, building a franchise on using science fiction tropes to deliver morality plays.
  • Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film Psycho was, along with the ditching of The Hays Code and its replacement by the MPAA later in the decade, widely credited for helping to turn the horror genre from "stories that are a bit spooky and feature the odd death" to "stories where Anyone Can Die, deaths are bloody and brutal, and sometimes even The Bad Guy Wins." In particular, not only did it push boundaries with its violence and serve as the Ur-Example to the Slasher Movie genre, it helped show the world the true shock potential of the Halfway Plot Switch and the Decoy Protagonist, by famously changing genres and introducing a new main character after the infamous shower scene. Though definitely not the first film with a major Plot Twist in its story, it paved the way for a whole slew of thrillers and horror films built on Shocking Swerves and the anticipation of a Twist Ending. How influential was it? It's credited with leading to the advent of movie showtimes, as Hitchcock specifically requested that theaters refrain from admitting viewers to the movie after it started, wanting everyone to be able to experience the big twist when it happened. Before that, it was actually considered normal for theaters to simply play movies in a loop, with moviegoers regularly walking in halfway through and leaving when it looped back around to where they originally came in.
  • 1962’s Dr. No, and the Sean Connery-era James Bond films as a whole, revolutionized both Spy Fiction and action movies with their focus on sex appeal and debonair style, creating a template that future spy movies would copy for the rest of the century. Even today, with the rise of Darker and Edgier spy movies like The Bourne Series, Bond is still the oft-homaged and frequently parodied template for a “Hollywood-style” secret agent. Furthermore, it marked the moment when European cinema, and especially British cinema, proved that it could have mass appeal beyond just arthouse theaters or low-budget horror, and that it could compete with Hollywood on its home turf in terms of both production values and American box-office receipts.
  • Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy in the mid-'60s. These films weren't the first deconstructionist Westerns — the classics High Noon and The Searchers came out a decade before them — but they left a far more lasting impact on the genre than those two films did. All of a sudden, the Black and White Morality that was nearly omnipresent in the genre vanished, replaced with the grittier, more morally gray attitudes seen in such films as The Wild Bunch, High Plains Drifter, and much later, Unforgiven. Every single Western made since the mid-'60s owes something to Leone's masterpiece.
  • The 1965 film adaptation of The Sound of Music was described by Matthew Kennedy, in his book Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the '60s, as "The Musical That Ate Hollywood". The staggering box-office success of this big-budget family musical (dethroning Gone with the Wind for the title of the highest-grossing film of all time) led to a slew of copycats determined to make lightning strike twice, many of which went down in history as notorious Box Office Bombs that helped to discredit movie musicals for decades. Likewise, its use of roadshow booking, screening films at a select number of upscale theaters that charged premium ticket prices in exchange for a far more lavish moviegoing experience, led many more studios to use it for their musicals, cheapening a format that had once been reserved for the biggest spectacles. The trends that The Sound of Music started did severe damage to Hollywood in both the near and long terms, acting as The Last Straw in the Fall of the Studio System as audiences rejected paying inflated ticket prices for increasingly subpar movies. Lindsay Ellis goes into more detail in this video.
  • In 1968, when Jack Valenti, then head of the MPAA, proposed doing away with The Hays Code, he cited two films released in 1966 as justification for the Code being outdated and voluntary movie ratings being a better replacement: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Blowup. The former had become notorious for its frank dialog and was at first not approved by the MPAA, but they eventually agreed to release it after cuts to some of its controversial dialogue along with the requirement that posters for the film include a warning that this was a film intended for adult audiences — the first time that the MPAA gave a film a stamp other than "approved" or "not approved", a precursor to the multi-tiered rating system that the MPAA eventually adopted in 1968. Blowup, meanwhile, was not granted a seal of approval by the MPAA due to nudity in the film (it was also condemned by the Legion of Decency), but the releasing studio MGM decided to bypass the MPAA and the Hays Code by releasing it under a subsidiary, to wide audiences and box-office success.
  • With the Hays Code in tatters, a trio of films in the late '60s marked the birth of the New Hollywood movement. Their success marked the ascent of a new generation of film-school-educated, boundary-pushing writers and directors who unleashed a massive burst of creativity in Hollywood, one that lasted until the end of The '70s.
    • First, there was Bonnie and Clyde in 1967. Its graphic violence and sympathetic treatment of its Villain Protagonists were unprecedented for a mainstream film, setting off widespread debates among film critics and Moral Guardians alike about whether Hollywood was going too far — a question that was answered when it became a box-office smash.
    • A few months later that same year came The Graduate, which similarly broke down taboos surrounding sexuality in film and brought the nascent sexual revolution to Hollywood.
    • Finally, Easy Rider in 1969 was the film that codified the counterculture of the era, exploring the cultural changes and social tensions of The '60s in a way that no Hollywood production before had dared to do.
  • Starting with 1967's The Producers, Mel Brooks brought the style of Jewish humor popularized in the Borscht Belt to Hollywood, focusing on Refuge in Audacity, social and cultural satire, and a lack of concern for the boundary between high-brow and low-brow humor.
  • George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) not only single-handedly invented modern zombie fiction, it finished the job that Psycho started in revolutionizing the expectations people had for horror films, such that, when it was first screened in what was then still a popular place to screen horror movies (i.e. kiddie theaters), it caused moral panic. Romero's Living Dead Series as a whole has also been credited, along with the books of Stephen King in the literary world (see below), with giving the horror genre a more blue-collar focus, bringing it into weathered farmhouses and soulless shopping malls in Pennsylvania rather than gothic mansions and haunted castles in Transylvania. He was also famous for using the genre as a vehicle for social commentary, his stories satirizing topics like race relations, consumerism, income inequality, and life in small-town and suburban America.
  • The 1968 Boris Karloff film Targets was another turning point for horror, unofficially marking the end of the Mad Scientist movies of the past with a turn towards more realistic villains like serial killers. The fact that it was one of Karloff's last films makes the change-over even more stark.
  • 1969's The Wild Bunch revolutionized how action films were edited, using quick cuts and slow motion to crank up the intensity of its action scenes. It also brought the revisionism of spaghetti Westerns into Hollywood movies, with its story concerning the Twilight of the Old West and aging gunfighters looking back on their lives.
  • Woody Allen's films in the '70s and '80s popularized a more intellectual style of film comedy, and helped popularize the Give Geeks a Chance trope by frequently having nerdy guys (often played by himself) as Romantic Comedy leads as opposed to the more traditional leading men of postwar Hollywood.
  • The Godfather.
    • The original 1972 film is the gangster movie to which all other gangster movies are compared. Its portrayal of members of The Mafia as complex figures as opposed to pure villains was revolutionary, to the point where its tropes were embraced by actual mafiosi, who started basing their style of dress, speech, and presentation off of the Corleones as opposed to the use of rougher slang and more casual clothes that they had embraced in the past.
    • 1974's The Godfather Part II, meanwhile, not only popularized Numbered Sequels in Hollywood film, it gave movie sequels a respectability that they previously lacked. The general opinion of many critics and moviegoers before then was that sequels were installments in Cash Cow Franchises that, even when they were good on their own merits, never lived up to the original. The Godfather Part II, on the other hand, built upon the story of its predecessor in such a way that many hailed it as even better than the first movie, and it became the first sequel to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Since then, sequels and stories that span multiple films have become more widely accepted in Hollywood, especially with the success of the Star Wars trilogy soon after.
  • Star Wars in 1977. While Jaws is usually regarded as the first modern "blockbuster" movie, this was the one that proved that kids — a demographic ignored by most 1970s movies — were audience members too, that merchandising spinoffs were a potential gold mine, that escapist sci-fi wasn't as disposable as once thought, and that fantasy in general was an untapped resource. The whole Genre Throwback idea was popularized here, and while Follow the Leader meant there were many crappy imitators within the years that followed, it did lead directly to Superman getting a big movie of his own, thus launching the rise of cinematic comic book adaptations. It also helped launch the revival of rival series Star Trek. Indeed, some blame this movie for hastening the end of the New Hollywood era and leading to the dumbed-down Summer Blockbuster mentality of the industry today, especially once the sequels arrived. Furthermore, the Star Wars franchise fundamentally changed how movies were made because of the huge success the franchise had with marketing. Sure, the movies were profitable, but the real money was made in action figures and toys and posters and other kinds of merchandising. Any kind of family-friendly blockbuster is going to have a cute character of some sort designed to appeal to children and sell toys to them.
  • 1978's Animal House was probably the first "teen" movie to combine youthful angst with zany comedy — which, in the ensuing decades, resulted in teen comedies becoming not only a lot more common, but a lot more serious as well. Also, while there were similarly shocking comedies before it (Pink Flamingos, Blazing Saddles), it was arguably the first mainstream hit comedy to fully take advantage of the loosened restrictions of the post-Hays Code era, allowing it to hit audiences with explicit sex jokes that would never have flown even a decade prior as opposed to just innuendos. This set off a boom in the American Sex Comedy genre in The '80s as other such films pushed that much further with their comedy.
  • John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) didn't invent the modern Slasher Movie, but it did codify most of the tropes of the genre, launch the careers of Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis, and spawn a wave of imitators. Two years later, one of those imitators, Friday the 13th (1980), turned the slasher flick into a horror staple by focusing on the exploitation part of it.
  • The 1978 Superman movie.
    • It proved once and for all that comic book adaptations didn't need to be cheesy or silly, with terrible budgets and special effects. Even the casting of Christopher Reeve was considered a bold move at the time, since Richard Donner insisted on casting a relatively unknown character actor so that it would be easier for the audience to believe that they were actually seeing Superman onscreen.
    • It also showed that filmmakers could stay true to the spirit of a long-running comic book while incorporating just enough original ideas to make it work on film. Many ideas conceived for the movie (the crystal cities of Krypton, Zod's two Kryptonian henchmen, Jor-El surviving Krypton's destruction as a Virtual Ghost, Superman's portrayal as a messianic figure, the "S" emblem being the House of El's coat of arms, et cetera) were original ideas with no basis in the comics, but they helped successfully sell the Superman mythos to a new audience who only knew the character through Popcultural Osmosis, and many of them were received well enough that they were incorporated into the comics as official canon.
  • The Alien film franchise, especially Aliens, forever changed the narrative expectations of female characters in western futuristic stories. While one Neutral Female or Damsel in Distress character was the norm, now every primary female character in the future is expected to make like Ellen Ripley, grab a weapon, and join the fighting as much as any man.
  • Michael Cimino's 1980 film Heaven's Gate, although not for the same reasons as most of the other examples: it was such a notorious Troubled Production and Box Office Bomb that it killed the Hollywood Western (at least for a time), United Artists as an independent studio, and director Michael Cimino's career. It and other high-profile flops (One From the Heart, Sorcerer) also killed the auteur period in Hollywood.
  • 1982's Blade Runner.
    • It was a disappointment in a crowded summer box office when it came out. Repeated showings on cable and its release on video not only made it one of the first films to develop a strong cult following that way, but its wet streets reflecting neon signs at night got copied widely in other films, commercials and music videos during the 1980s. It arguably influenced the look of urban space in the actual real-world future (see Times Square, ca. 2008).
    • Furthermore, this was the film that popularized the Director's Cut, giving audience a better chance to see a film like the artists truly intended while the film companies are motivated to cooperate with the profit of selling another version of a film to the same audience.
  • Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983, Tsui Hark) was the first film to combine Hong Kong action cinema with western special effects technology, resulting in visually-stunning displays of Supernatural Martial Arts.
  • What Animal House didn't do, John Hughes' teen movies probably did. Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, all released in the span of just three years in the mid-'80s, took the problems of their teenage protagonists seriously in a way that few other teen movies had before, leaving a mark on a generation of filmmakers such that, if a teen comedy is not a Sex Comedy influenced by Animal House, it's likely taking after Hughes' films. (Some draw influence from both, as seen with American Pie.) To this day, Hughes' takes on, and deconstructions of, various high school archetypes (the Alpha Bitch, the Jerk Jock, the nerd, the delinquent, the outcast lonernote ) still form the defining images of such seen in countless teen movies. Its influence stretches beyond film, too; Darren Star, co-creator of Beverly Hills, 90210 (itself listed in the Live-Action TV section), said that his intention with that show was to create a TV version of a John Hughes teen movie.
  • 1986's Top Gun.
    • In terms of the film itself, while both the PG-13 rating and the Summer Blockbuster had been around for a few years by that point, Top Gun codified the tropes of the modern, young-male-oriented, PG-13 action blockbuster that came to serve as the default template for Hollywood's tentpole films from The '90s onward. It also marked the mainstream breakthrough of Tony Scott, one of the most influential action filmmakers of The Blockbuster Age of Hollywood. As this video from Rossatron explains, Scott's hyperkinetic Signature Style of quick cuts, Orange/Blue Contrast, and a loving focus on the attractive lead actors, much of it imported from the world of music videos, wound up paving the way for everybody from Michael Bay to Kathryn Bigelow to Simon West.
    • It also had an impact on how movies are watched and consumed. While VHS had been a popular format since the start of The '80s, the home video release of Top Gun in 1987 pushed it into the stratosphere. As this video by Tom Reimann of Cracked explains, Hollywood once saw home video as a grave threat to their business model, and so they charged over $80 a pop for VHS copies of their films and sued video rental stores for copyright violations (many stores during that time had to operate on a "private club" model to cover themselves legally). Paramount, however, sold the Top Gun VHS for only $26.95, a low price that was paid for by putting a Pepsi commercial before the movie at the beginning of each tape. With this highly lucrative strategy, Hollywood's bitter resistance to home video evaporated as they saw how much money they could make from these sorts of marketing deals. Theatrical rereleases of popular movies died out almost entirely, only experiencing a short-lived revival in the early 2010s with the rise of 3D conversions, while video rental opened up and took its place as the primary second-run distribution network.
  • While not many would think of RoboCop (1987) as a superhero movie, it could easily be argued that it saved the genre. When it came out, the superhero movie genre seemed to have sunk with the embarrassing failure of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace earlier that year. However, RoboCop turned the genre around as a critically hailed hit film that presented a cuttingly satiric cyberpunk thriller with a moving humanity, one that showed what the genre could be.
  • 1988's Die Hard did this for the action movie. Sure, there were smart thrillers with smart villains beforehand — Die Hard itself could be seen as something of a remake of North Sea Hijack — but after it came out, there were far fewer action films that featured invincible, unstoppable heroes (Schwarzenegger, Stallone) whose plots depended on Ass Pulling solutions out of thin air than there were before. Plus, not many films rewrite the rules for the genre so heavily that a subgenre forms around them.
  • In 1989, Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner revolutionized the Romantic Comedy with When Harry Met Sally.... As explained by Caroline Siede of The AV Club, When Harry Met Sally... served as a bridge between Woody Allen's more niche '70s films like Annie Hall and the mainstream rom-coms of the '90s and 2000s, keeping the unorthodox male lead and questions about the nature of romance from Allen's films but adding a degree of earnestness and making the female lead just as neurotic and complex as her male counterpart. Not only did When Harry Met Sally... propel Meg Ryan to the A-list in The '90s, its formula (codified further by Ephron's later films Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail) became the template for an entire generation of romantic comedies in the '90s and '00s.
  • Roger & Me (1989) forever changed documentaries. Beforehand, documentaries (of a non-musical nature at least) had been mostly confined to film festivals. Roger and Me demonstrated you could make a documentary that the masses would want to see, allowing other documentaries, including Michael Moore's later ones, to achieve widespread box office and critical success.
  • The notorious producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, for better or worse, revolutionized Hollywood's award season in The '90s through their company Miramax Films. Specifically, they popularized the "award season campaign", where films that they figured could win awards were released late in the year (just before the cutoff date for nominations) so that they'd be fresh in the minds of Academy Award voters, and proceeded to reach out directly to them in order to sway their opinions, be it through schmoozing, special screenings, or running ads in trade publications like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Under the Weinsteins' leadership, Miramax became a machine that delivered Oscar gold that was soon imitated by every studio in Hollywood, who either started their own subsidiaries or bought smaller production companies (Disney bought out Miramax itself in 1993) to produce films along the Miramax model. This had mixed results. On one hand, the Weinsteins helped shepherd the explosion of independent cinema in the '90s as the studios realized that smaller, critically acclaimed films could be just as buzz-worthy and successful at the box office as big blockbusters if given the right promotion; filmmakers like Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino credit the Weinsteins with launching their careers. On the other hand, others have blamed the Weinsteins for the proliferation of Oscar Bait in the '90s and '00s, as studios started making films that seemed designed to pander to the tastes of Oscar voters at the expense of general audiences and mainstream critics. This video by Be Kind Rewind goes into more detail.
  • 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day wasn't the first film to make heavy use of CGI effects (hell, its own director, James Cameron, had previously made the CGI-heavy The Abyss), but it was the film that demonstrated, to both filmmakers and moviegoers, the sorts of breathtaking visuals that could be accomplished with them that simply could not be done with practical effects. Two years later, Jurassic Park proved that Cameron's revolutionary use of CGI wasn't a fluke, and since then, CGI has become a go-to special effects technique even for many smaller films.
  • 1996's Independence Day was a game-changer for the Summer Blockbuster. Not only did it reinvigorate the once-moribund Disaster Movie genre and raise the expectations for large-scale scenes of action and destruction in movies, it also had a major impact behind the scenes, as its massive, multimedia advertising campaign became the new template for how to market a big-budget 'tentpole' movie. Furthermore, as argued by Bob Chipman in his Really That Good episode on the film, Independence Day, for all the surface-level Patriotic Fervor layered onto it (right down to its title), helped pioneer the sorts of 'global' blockbusters with an eye for international appeal that became a growing focus for Hollywood in the 21st century. More than half of its box-office earnings came from outside the US, which would increasingly become the norm for Hollywood blockbusters.
  • Scream (1996) has several turning points associated with it in relation to the horror genre.
    • To start, Wes Craven made it in an effort to kill the Slasher Movie once and for all. It did the exact opposite, at least into the short term, breathing new life into a once-dying genre and starting the late '90s/early '00s Postmodernism craze in horror. More substantially, it also marked a turning point in the reevaluation of older slashers in the minds of horror fans. In the early '90s, it was popular to blame slashers for "killing horror" by turning it into a series of Lowest Common Denominator gorefests, but as time went on, Scream showed that a slasher could be a thoughtful and even subtle horror film. This caused more people to go back and watch the older movies that Scream was riffing on, looking at them from new perspectives and recognizing the craftsmanship and subversion of many of them.
    • At the same time, however, while it did reinvent the slasher for a new generation, Scream also killed off a lot of the tropes used in '80s slashers, such as Death by Sex and The Scourge of God. Nowadays, most horror films in which young, horny, pot-smoking teens get killed off by a masked maniac, with the pure, virginal Final Girl surviving to the end and defeating him, are either tributes to the genre (like the Hatchet and Wrong Turn series) or parodies of it (like The Cabin in the Woods and The Final Girls), with straight examples often seen as cliched and trite due to Scream's mockery of them. Indeed, one could argue that this was part of the reason why the slasher boom that followed Scream was so short-lived (besides the Columbine massacre sparking a Too Soon reaction) — many of the lesser teen slashers that came out in its wake played those same tropes unironically, even though they were now much harder to take seriously.
    • It was also a turning point in the respectability of horror, and the production values that were expected to go into a horror movie. Save for a handful of Cult Classics, horror movies have historically been B Movies, especially in the fifteen years or so prior to Scream, with slashers in particular seen as the bottom of the barrel. Once Drew Barrymore attached herself to the project, however, numerous other popular actors were interested, and when the film became a Sleeper Hit, horror became much more respectable and mainstream. I Know What You Did Last Summer is living proof — Kevin Williamson wrote it before writing Scream, and had trouble selling it, but once this film was picked up, it was immediately greenlit with TV stars like Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jennifer Love Hewitt attached. One could argue that, by breaking the stigma around horror movies, Scream essentially killed the "scream queen" trope (ironically, given its title), as actors who appeared in horror movies were no longer typecast as only or primarily working in horror.
  • 1998's Blade.
    • While comic book superhero movies experienced various levels of popularity in the past, it was on the basis of characters belonging to studios other than Marvel, most notably DC. Blade finally proved a Marvel character could be the basis of a popular movie.
    • Also, Blade arguably reinvented not only the comic-book film genre, but science fiction as well. Prior to 1998, most such films had 1) been gimmicky and (somewhat) unintentionally campy; 2) set in surrealistic worlds, frequently with "retro" or Zeerust touches; or 3) dealt only fleetingly, if at all, with serious real-world issues, sublimating them to the mindless action. The Wesley Snipes film, on the other hand, is set in contemporary (late 1990s) America, includes very little humor (and what there is of it is quite dark), features two "heroes" who aren't very inspiring and not exactly on the hunt for adventure (and one of them is dying of cancer!), and scales back the fanciful, gee-whiz element of earlier such films as much as it can; even the vampires are discussed in quasi-scientific terms and are given a plausible historical backstory. It solidified Movie Superheroes Wear Black, which not even Batman had managed to establish. Blade was what opened the door for "realistic" sci-fi (The Matrix) and comic-book tales that took place in what could almost pass for the real world (the X-Men Film Series, et cetera).
  • 1999's The Blair Witch Project is famous for its found footage conceit, but nowadays, its greatest legacy is arguably in how it pioneered Viral Marketing. The filmmakers created a website purporting that the film was authentic "lost footage" and the last trace of three missing hikers/documentarians, creating a mountain of hype as people argued over whether or not it was actually real. As the internet grew more popular in the '00s, the success of The Blair Witch Project became a blueprint for viral marketing that was frequently replicated.
  • 1999's The Matrix introduced mainstream Western audiences to gunplay and fight choreography inspired by the outlandish style of Hong Kong action films, and codified the use of Bullet Time. It also profoundly broke from the Western stereotype that action movies had to be Lowest Common Denominator fare, tackling complex subjects of personal identity and the nature of reality that got the film analyzed from every direction by a generation of film geeks and college philosophy students. Bob Chipman (in his Really That Good episode on the film) and Tom Breihan of The AV Club have both referred to The Matrix as quite possibly the most influential action film of The '90s.
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000 sparked a wave of more arthouse-oriented Wuxia films.
  • While Planet of the Apes (2001) was trashed by critics upon its release, a few later writers have argued that it marked a major step in showing Hollywood the true potential of movie reboots. Though it definitely wasn't the first remake in cinematic history, it was one of the first such remakes that openly billed itself as a complete reimagining of a well-known classic, keeping the general premise but taking nearly everything else in a completely new direction. Its negative critical reception killed any hope of it getting a sequel, but many of its ideas (e.g. a full-blown war between between Apes and Humans, explaining the Ape civilization's origins as a Stable Time Loop caused by the protagonist, and ending the movie with the protagonist traveling to an alternate version of present-day Earth populated by Apes) intrigued audiences enough to make the movie a modest commercial success. That success arguably paved the way for later, better-received reimaginings of classic film franchises like Batman Begins, Casino Royale (2006), Star Trek (2009) The Karate Kid (2010), and — eventually — another Planet of the Apes reimagining, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (which had significantly better luck the third time around).
  • The Harry Potter film series in the 2000s arguably did this for the Summer Blockbuster, just as the books did for young-adult and fantasy literature. To quote Bob Chipman:
    [Harry Potter is] a film series that, for better or worse, seems to have kicked off and excelled at every major trend in modern movie-making for the last decade. Things like the boom in the fantasy genre, to the reliance on recognized franchise names, to the idea of long-running cinematic continuity, can all be traced back to this one game-changing production. Like it or not, the entire scope of movies are now living in the world that Harry Potter created.
    • David Christopher Bell at Cracked drew much the same conclusion, though he had a somewhat darker take on it, viewing it as an Industry Original Sin for Hollywood in general. He blames the Harry Potter films for the sequelitis and obsession with long-running cinematic universes that increasingly overtook Hollywood from the '00s onward, at the expense of original ideas.
    • Ben Kuchera of Polygon and Movies with Mikey, meanwhile, specifically point to the third Harry Potter film in particular, 2004's Prisoner of Azkaban, as the film that "usher[ed] in the modern genre blockbuster". After Chris Columbus departed from the franchise, bringing in Alfonso Cuarón was seen as a major risk given how "out there" his films tended to be, but his selection paid off handsomely with a film that gave new energy to the franchise and corrected most of the faults of Columbus' two films, something that was mainly accomplished by letting an auteur like Cuarón leave his own distinctive stamp on the material. Later on, Marvel Studios would take a similar approach when they were first constructing their own cinematic universe, tapping filmmakers like Joss Whedon, James Gunn, and Shane Black to make films that all existed in the same universe yet each bore their respective creators' fingerprints, a strategy that the Harry Potter films post-Azkaban pioneered.
  • Together with the Harry Potter films, Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings films greatly raised the prestige of fantasy movies, much as the books had done for fantasy literature. Before then, fantasy films were generally limited to the Fantasy Ghetto, with only the rare Conan the Barbarian (1982) or The Neverending Story emerging unscathed. Modern CGI also greatly helped filmmakers create convincing fantasy worlds that don't look like prop castles inhabited by stuntmen in rubber suits.
  • Spider-Man in 2002 had a massive role in popularizing and redefining the superhero genre in the 21st century.
    • It was the first wide commercial and critical success since the disaster of Batman & Robin. While X-Men, and Blade had preceded it in Marvel properties, neither was the international success that Spider-Man was. The film's marketing also had a huge influence on poster design, especially the amber-coloured background of the first two posters, which was copied for Batman Begins.
    • Likewise, compared to Richard Donner's original Superman: The Movie and Tim Burton's Batman (1989), both of which were essentially set in a Constructed World and quasi-Alternate Universe, and the science-fiction/fantasy focus of the X-Men movies, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man Trilogy had a greater sense of realism. It visibly looked like 21st century New York, addressed the 9/11 attacks, and had characters who looked like contemporary adults grappling problems related to rent, work, and careers. This set the trend for greater realism and contemporary focus in the superhero films that came after, even in the revived Batman trilogy by Christopher Nolan. The rival films that avoided the contemporary focus (Superman Returns, Green Lantern) were failures, so the trend set by Spider-Man remains a major influence on the house style for both DC and Marvel properties.
    • The film's giant box-office success revived Marvel after heavy financial troubles in The '90s and brought renewed attention to its properties and licenses, leading many of the other studios Marvel had sold movie rights to in The '90s to greenlight productions to Follow the Leader. While there isn't a direct line from this film to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's unlikely that could ever have taken off without Sam Raimi's films.
  • Just a few years after The Matrix, 2002's The Bourne Identity took action movies in the other direction, filling them with grit and stripping them down to basics in a seeming backlash against that film's over-the-top style. It also took cinematic Spy Fiction away from the flashy "Martini" style seen in the Pierce Brosnan Bond films and more in a "Stale Beer" direction, to the point where even later Bond films followed its lead.
  • In 2002, 28 Days Later and the American adaptation of The Ring both played a major role in pulling Western horror movies away from the focus on teenagers that they'd had since Halloween and back towards adult protagonists. Individually, they each also gave new life to various horror subgenres. 28 Days Later not only brought zombie fiction back from the dead, it added its own twist to the concept in the form of zombies that can run after their prey rather than shamble; while this wasn't a new idea (even the original Night of the Living Dead had some zombies capable of running), it became much more popular in its wake. The Ring, meanwhile, set off a boom in horror remakes in the short term (especially American remakes of Japanese horror), and in the long term carved out new space for supernatural horror.
  • Judd Apatow can easily be argued as the 2000s' version of John Hughes in terms of the impact he had on mainstream comedy. Whether behind the scenes or, later, in the director's chair himself, he helped shepherd the careers of most of the biggest comedy stars of the early 21st century, while popularizing a style of film comedy that fused R-rated raunch with a focus on character interactions and relationship dynamics.
  • 2004's The Passion of the Christ.
    • In terms of its impact on cinema, it invented the modern "faith-based" film. While Hollywood had been making films based on stories from The Bible, from epics to comedies to dramas, since the Golden Age, they aimed for a mass market with these films, rarely getting into specifics on religion beyond the basics so as to avoid theological criticism from any one side or another. Movies that were more explicitly religious in nature usually had No Budget and amateurish production values to match. The Passion, however, was made by the devout traditionalist Catholic Mel Gibson and aimed squarely at theologically conservative Catholics and evangelicals, and it was made independently without any input from major studios, with Gibson spending $45 million of his own money on the film and hiring top Hollywood talent. Its mammoth success, becoming the ninth-highest-grossing film of all time at the US box-officenote  largely on the back of promotion through churches even as controversy swirled around it, created a cottage industry of studios, both independent ones (most notably Pure Flix Entertainment) and production arms of the majors, making religious films targeted explicitly at conservative Christians. Alissa Wilkinson, writing for Vox, goes into more detail here.
    • Its influence has also been argued to stretch beyond the world of film, as argued in this piece by Randall Colburn of The AV Club. He asserts that the film marked a turning point in the history of American evangelical Christianity, and not necessarily a good one, seeing it as the moment at which insularity and preaching to the already converted became its defining characteristic rather than evangelism and trying to spread its message to the rest of the world. Despite being made by a traditionalist Catholic and rooted in that viewpoint on the Gospels, the film resonated most strongly with evangelicals, who saw the film as a metaphor for their own perceived persecution and marginalization by the wider society, with the promise that Jesus' resurrection will see them inherit the Earth.
  • 2004's Saw wasn't the first film in the Torture Porn boom of the 2000s; films like Cabin Fever, House of 1000 Corpses, and High Tension had laid the foundation for it in 2002 and '03. However, it was the film that brought it into the mainstream, while codifying a formula that many later films would follow: drawn-out, torturous violence and gore as a source of Body Horror in its own right, often with ordinary humans based on real-life serial killers (and urban legends about such) as their villains.
  • 2007's Grindhouse was an Acclaimed Flop at the time of its release, but in the years since, its retraux Exploitation Film aesthetic has been highly influential on low-budget B-Movie filmmaking. Not only have two of the fake movie trailers featured in the film, Machete and (on the Canadian print) Hobo with a Shotgun, been defictionalized and made into real movies, but numerous other action and horror films have adopted a similar tone of sleaze, camp, and self-parody. Its influence has even crept beyond film, as seen with TV shows like Blood Drive and video games like The House of the Dead: OVERKILL that employ similar conceits. This video from Rossatron goes into more detail.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe marks a major turning point in not only the superhero genre, but in blockbuster filmmaking in general in the 21st century.
    • First of all, the MCU was a Shared Universe much like its source material. Before Iron Man and The Avengers, the idea of a superhero team-up movie was considered a pipe dream among comics fans. Earlier superhero films, despite the odd Mythology Gag and in-joke, had their heroes existing in the world as the only beings of their kind, be it Batman, Superman, or even Sam Raimi's Spider-Man Trilogy and the X-Men Film Series. The MCU changed the game when The Avengers proved that a big-budget live-action superhero ensemble film, with characters and subplots already seen in standalone films merged into a single one, could and would work and be phenomenally successful, and it wouldn't be overcrowded with too many heroes or characters. It led to a renewal and modification of the blockbuster franchise mode and it directly spurred the creation of the DC Extended Universe as well as myriad other attempts at a shared continuity.
    • Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Guardians of the Galaxy in particular changed the dominant aesthetic of superhero films away from Movie Superheroes Wear Black, Real Is Brown and Doing In the Wizard, opening the doors for bringing in most of the fantastic and science-fiction pulp elements which were there in the comics but were always reimagined and updated in earlier movies (such as Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins making Ra's Al Ghul into a title passed down in a Master-Apprentice Chain rather than an immortal being who dips into Lazarus Pits). These films not only allowed for Crystal Spires and Togas, Stupid Jetpack Hitler Nazis, and talking animals and plants, but made them dramatically and emotionally compelling, while also blending superhero genres with Historical Fiction, Alternate History, High Fantasy and Space Opera, and opening the floodgates for almost any kind of comic book character and story (and so any kind of movie) to be conceivable in live-action, no matter how outlandish in concept.
  • Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy also broke new ground:
    • Batman Begins codified the concept of "back to basics" Continuity Reboot and Setting Update. It was openly cited as a model for Daniel Craig's turn as James Bond in Casino Royale as well as several others. It was also cited by Jon Favreau as a model for Iron Man in telling a more psychological and character-motivated turn to altruism.
    • The Dark Knight in 2008 is the reason that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences now nominates as many as ten movies for the coveted Best Picture Oscar rather than the previously standard five. For that reason, it's often cited as an important contributor to the decline (though not outright death) of Oscar Bait in The New '10s. There had long been a bit of a backlash against studios who banked films' success on the possibility of being nominated for Oscars during the Winter months (reserving mere "crowd-pleasers" for the Summer months), but the backlash became all but impossible to ignore when The Dark Knight failed to even get a nomination for Best Picture at the 81st Academy Awards, despite being one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2008. note  The resultant public outcry convinced the Academy to start nominating twice as many films for Best Picture, giving critically acclaimed genre films more space to be recognized by the Academy. Tellingly, Avatar, District 9, and Up were among the films nominated for Best Picture in 2009, while Christopher Nolan's own Inception got nominated in 2010, as did Toy Story 3.
    • On a franchise note, Christopher Nolan's films codified the idea that superhero trilogies tell an ongoing character arc that builds on the previous film rather than simply repeat beats. Before Nolan, Superhero trilogies (Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and the X-Men trilogy to some extent) generally had Static Characternote . Nolan however had Batman and Bruce Wayne visibly grow and change from film to film, with the resolutions and events from the previous film carried forwards organically, which in Rises allowed Nolan to give his screen version of Batman an actual conclusion, which was unprecedented for any superhero movie, and which inspired Logan a few years later. The MCU took inspiration from this in their ongoing serial nature, and while they have not indicated to go all the way as Nolan did, their movies have Dynamic Character, with changes and actions carrying on from film-to-film especially in Phase 2 and Phase 3, and in general Nolan's movies are credited for raising the standard of storytelling in the superhero movie genre, as well as cementing the idea among audiences that each actor's take on a character is unique and separate from another's and deserves a conclusion to that version independent from the serial nature of the overall IP.
  • The most immediate impact of Paranormal Activity in 2009 was to spawn a boom in Found Footage Films, but in the longer term, its greatest legacy came in its rejuvenation of supernatural horror in The New '10s, fueled in part by a backlash against the worn-out tropes of Torture Porn. Insidious and The Conjuring (both directed by James Wan) went on to codify what a "modern" supernatural horror film was supposed to look like, ironically by drawing on distinctly old-fashioned horror tropes from The '70s.
  • Deadpool (2016) and Logan, while almost diametrically-opposed works, demonstrated in 2016 and 2017, after several high-profile failures, that R-rated superhero films were capable of being box-office and critical successes. Notably, both achieved this in different ways by taking an entire tonal and stylistic approach that justified the rating, rather than simply being generic superhero films with added swearing and graphic gore.
  • Wonder Woman (2017) is the first female-led superhero movie since the failures of Catwoman and Elektra over a decade prior to its release, and the first ever to be very well received at that, and ended up a massive box office hit. Perhaps more importantly, the film represents the first time a major movie franchise with a budget of over $100 million has been directed solely by a woman, opening the door for other female directors to handle larger projects (something people had been calling on Hollywood to do for a while prior to this film's release, to no avail).

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