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Genre Turning Point / Live-Action Films

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  • In 1895, the Lumière brothers invented the "movie business" as we know it; a number of viewers from the general public pay admission to watch a projected, narrative film. The narrative in question was L'Arroseur Arrosé, along with a number of other Slice of Life films. For whatever reason, the brothers thought that not only were movies a flash in the pan, but the hay to be made while the sun shone was in slice of life, not narrative. That left the field to...
  • Georges Méliès, who with 1902's A Trip to the Moon created one of the first, if not 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. Less publicized were Melies' pioneering achievements in art direction and lighting, using a glass greenhouse-style studio and rolls of canvas to block unwanted light. As Melies was completely uninterested in cinematography or editing (he shot each scene as one long take from a locked-down camera), thought, it devolved upon...
  • 1903's The Great Train Robbery to become the first well known, again if not the first (time, spotty record keeping and the then-assumed disposable nature of film has led to much of early film history being lost) to truly use the language of film; differing camera angles, moving camera shots, and creative cutting within scenes.
  • Together, the World Wars are a big part of the reason why the US attained such a commanding position over the global film industry. Before World War I, France and Italy had been major centers of film production, only for all of that to be put on hold by the war and never really recover in the aftermath, and while Germany saw the boom of its own film industry during the Weimar era with the rise of the Expressionist movement, the Nazis and World War II put the kibosh on that. The British film industry was also prolific during the interwar years, but was handicapped by the Cinematograph Films Act 1927, a law that was ironically supposed to protect it from American competition,Short version...  with World War II doing it no favors either. The US, however, was far away from the fighting, and its economy and studios were left largely untouched. This left Hollywood room to thrive in an environment where, outside of India, Latin America (with Mexico and to a lesser extent Argentina having important industries), and the closed-off Eastern Bloc, serious foreign competition had been all but wiped out twice over and wouldn't seriously challenge them in the mass market until the British and Italian film industries boomed in The '60s.
  • 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.
  • 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 develop after he arrived in Hollywood.
  • 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 as a means of the storytelling rather than just accompaniment as in the case of Don Juan, changed the film industry across the world. The arrival of sound introduced more realistic acting, putting an end to the careers of many stars who came to prominence in the silent era. Silent comedy of the likes of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd was left in the lurch, while Charlie Chaplin became far less prolific and more cautious. It also rendered permanent 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, though World War I had devastated the European and particularly the French film industry, consolidating Hollywood's dominance. Now, though, 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.
  • King Kong (1933) codified a lot of the technical makeup of blockbuster and genre movies, in particular bringing into focus the Giant Monster movie on both sides of the Pacific. The stop-motion effects courtesy of Willis O Brien kicked off the techniques for the next century, as even computer graphic animation would borrow much from them, like armatures that support each model. Max Steiner's music was one of the first for a major hollywood movie and brought the Leitmotif into the cinematic world to help induce emotions in audiences.
  • 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) such as Star Wars 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 aforementioned 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 male 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 offered by "scandal" magazines such as Confidential and Hush 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. While Godzilla is often held to have invented the modern kaiju movie, in truth producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was partly inspired by The Beast.
  • 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; Akira Kurosawa had been heavily inspired by the films of John Ford when making Seven Samurai.)
  • Godzilla.
    • While Godzilla (1954), as noted above, took a lot of influence from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, it brought its own innovations to the genre, and birthed the Kaiju film as a distinct sub-genre of the giant monster film. Most notably, its pioneering use of "suitmation" effects proved that large-scale spectacle and destruction could be done on a fraction of a Hollywood budget, and with that, tokusatsu became a staple of Japanese action cinema and later television.
    • 1955's Godzilla Raids Again, meanwhile, upped the ante over its predecessor by pitting Godzilla against another giant monster, Anguirus. With this Sequel Escalation, the "kaiju battle" style of monster movie was born as audiences found the idea of two or more monsters fighting even more sensational than watching just one destroy a city. Not only would most later Godzilla movies (barring back-to-basics reboots like The Return of Godzilla and Shin Godzilla) follow this formula, so would many other kaiju films.
    • Mothra (1961) was the next major turning point for the kaiju genre. While previous examples had all taken themselves seriously, made heavy use of horror elements, and used scientific explanations for the monsters (radiation, extraterrestrial life, etc), Mothra was lighthearted, family-oriented, and leaned more heavily into magic and mysticism. The following year's King Kong vs. Godzilla continued the trend, and most of Toho's subsequent kaiju films in the 60s and 70s followed that template, as well as those from rival studios, like the Gamera series. Later attempts to get the genre to take itself seriously again have a tendency to fall short at the box office.
  • 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 plot twists 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 continuously, 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.
  • The release of 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968 was a tectonic shift in the science fiction genre, possibly even greater than the above mentioned Forbidden Planet. Stanley Kubrick set out to make "the proverbial good science fiction movie", and pulled out all the stops to do it: the set and prop designs taking cues from contemporary scientific breakthroughs and enlisting real-world scientists to create a uniquely believable future, state-of-the-art visual effects and model photography that went beyond the sleek and shiny designs of past films, rich sound design, unique soundtrack, and a cerebral, detailed plot that told a deep story on a minimum of dialogue. Many a modern filmmaker is still influenced by this movie—George Lucas himself said that Star Wars owed its success to 2001.
  • 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.
  • Two films in 1968 marked a transition in the horror genre away from the gothic tropes that had been popularized by Universal and Hammer.
    • First was Targets, which closed the book on the Mad Scientist movies of the past with a turn towards more realistic villains like serial killers. Appropriately enough, it was one of Boris Karloff's last films and had him playing an aging, disillusioned horror movie actor who thinks that real-life violence is scarier than anything in his movies, making the change-over even more stark.
    • Second was Night of the Living Dead (1968), which not only single-handedly invented modern zombie fiction but also 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. George A. Romero's Living Dead Series as a whole has also been credited, along with the books of Stephen King in the literary world, 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. In doing so, he made the genre into a vehicle for social commentary, his stories satirizing topics like race relations, consumerism, income inequality, and life in small-town and suburban America.
  • 1968's Bullitt did this for the vehicular Chase Scene. Its famous ten-minute scene of a cop in a Cool Car chasing a criminal in another Cool Car not only forever enshrined San Francisco's "stair streets" as an iconic car chase location, it raised the bar for car chases in future films. No longer could filmmakers get away with just filming actors Driving a Desk or speeding up footage of cars traveling at normal speed, but rather, they had to film real cars going real fast the same way they filmed actors and stunt performers doing stunts on foot.
  • 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, along with a level of realistic violence that shocked audiences at the time. Not surprisingly, John Wayne, the iconic "cowboy" actor, hated The Wild Bunch and blamed it for killing The Western through its deconstruction of the myth of The Wild West, telling Clint Eastwood that "[t]hat isn’t what the West was all about. That isn’t the American people who settled this country."
  • 1971's Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song pioneered the blaxploitation genre, demonstrating to Hollywood that black audiences were clamoring for films starring black actors as the heroes rather than in supporting roles. Even after blaxploitation went out of fashion, B-movies aimed at black audiences would remain a fixture of Hollywood's lower-budget and independent filmmaking. Its production especially inspired a generation of black filmmakers, with Spike Lee saying that it served as a blueprint for his own early career.
    Lee: "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song gave us all the answers we needed. This was an example of how to make a film (a real movie), distribute it yourself, and most important, get paid. Without Sweetback who knows if there could have been a [...] She's Gotta Have It, Hollywood Shuffle, or House Party?"
  • 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.
    • Both The Godfather and 1975's Jaws also pioneered the modern releasing method, as until the 1970s, most movies premiered in big cities before appearing in smaller towns ("roadshow" releases in particular took this to the extreme), while studio heads had doubts about the chances of launching high-proifilms on over 100 theaters all at once. After both became hits, wide releases became the norm.
  • 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 escapist sci-fi wasn't as disposable as once thought, and that fantasy and science fiction in general were untapped resources. 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 success that the Star Wars franchise had with merchandising spinoffs demonstrated that they were a potential gold mine, fundamentally changing how blockbuster movies were made. 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.
    • On other ways this movie warped the business around itself, the single-screen theatre was far more of a thing when Star Wars came out. But its popularity was so vast, it started inspiring various people to consider having multiple screens to get even more out of their "blockbuster" hit. And after the fall of the studio system, the multiplex was partially built on the Star Wars's hype.
    • And of course we scarcely need to describe the founding of Industrial Light & Magic to create some of the greatest visual-effects shots in history. Lucas was, arguably, the first filmmaker to be able to truly execute on some of his most imaginative ideas, raising the stakes of what it was possible to film and setting a bar that almost nobody else can meet — unless they hire ILM.
    • As for its 1980 sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, Darren Mooney of The Escapist has argued that it invented the modern blockbuster film franchise. If The Godfather Part II made sequels respectable, then The Empire Strikes Back made them lucrative, elevating them from lower-budgeted cash-ins that the studio had little hope for to bigger and badder than their predecessors in just about every way. It also popularized the Two-Part Trilogy and the Sequel Hook in blockbuster filmmaking, ending on a cliffhanger out of a (justified) expectation that it would lead to a third and final installment, having already proven itself as a box-office titan that it would be foolish not to greenlight a sequel to. As Mooney noted, this is not necessarily a good thing.
    "Older franchises tended to be whittled away until there was nothing left, getting trapped in a cycle of reduced budgets and diminished returns. Modern franchises tend to implode when costs become too high to be sustainable, growing so large that they collapse under their own weight."
  • 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, The Kentucky Fried Movie), 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 late 1970s and early 1980s as other such films pushed that much further with their comedy.
  • The modern Slasher Movie has its roots in murder mysteries and Italian gialli, and most film historians will point to two films released on the same day in 1974, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Black Christmas, as the first true examples of the genre. The genre didn't truly explode in popularity, however, until the release of Halloween (1978), which codified most of the tropes of the genre (the masked Implacable Man killer, the Murderer P.O.V. shot, the morally upright Final Girl, the killer having a leitmotif), launched the careers of its writer/director John Carpenter and its star Jamie Lee Curtis, and spawned so many imitators that The '80s came to be known as the slasher genre's Golden Age.
  • 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 rather than an actor portraying Superman.
    • 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.
  • Mad Max (1979) and especially its sequel, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), together rewrote the rulebook for post-apocalyptic fiction. Their aesthetic of lawless desert wastelands, big V8 muscle cars, punkish biker gangs, and lots of leather, looking like nothing less than a late 20th century version of The Wild West at its most wild, was copied so many times that this wiki now calls it the Standard Post-Apocalyptic Setting. This vision of the end of civilization turned out to be extremely easy to replicate on a low budget, leading to a slew of post-apocalyptic action B-movies in The '80s and later influencing the look of other media like Fallout, Fist of the North Star, and Borderlands.
  • The Alien film franchise, especially 1986's 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. Aliens also reintroduced the Space Marine trope that Robert A. Heinlein had pioneered to a new generation, which had an impact far beyond film (especially in video games), and popularized the idea that they'd use high-tech kinetic weapons instead of lasers.
  • Friday the 13th (1980), the most successful of the aforementioned Halloween imitators, turned the Slasher Movie into a horror staple by combining it with the Exploitation Film. James A. Janisse, when covering the film for The Kill Count, said that "no other franchise has shaped the horror genre quite like Friday has", arguing that, even more than Halloween, it popularized a new image of horror cinema in The '80s as a teen-oriented genre about hulking mass murderers stalking horny, attractive young people and offing them in a shower of gore — an image that on one hand brought a torrent of box-office and home video success, but on the other plunged horror into its own version of the Sci Fi Ghetto as criticisms of the series became criticisms of its imitators and eventually of slashers and horror as a whole. It popularized summer camp and the woods in general as a go-to setting for horror movies, and while Halloween introduced the slasher genre's reputation for sexual moralism and the killer being The Scourge of God against licentious youth, Friday made what had once been subtext into an explicit part of the killer's motive.
  • 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.
  • Ghostbusters: This film is perhaps the first major ghost / supernatural story where the supernatural elements are real and don't have a mundane explanation, yet Science Is Useless does not apply: the supernatural entities are successfully fought through scientific research, which produces purely technological weapons effective against them.
  • 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 and second-run theatres died out almost entirely by the mid-1990s, 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 1982's 48 Hours arguably invented the buddy-cop movie, 1987's Lethal Weapon was the Trope Codifier and the film that most later examples of the genre followed in the footsteps of. Writer Shane Black's use of Witty Banter set a template for a particular kind of action-comedy, one in which a pair of individuals with diametrically opposed personalities are forced to come together to defeat a common enemy.
  • 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 "sourpuss and carefree" 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.
  • GoodFellas in 1990. As one of the defining films of the crime genre and most popular and influential movies ever made in general, GoodFellas is a truly Troperiffic work — nearly every single trope associated with Mafia media is used, created or codified at some point in the film. As for the storyline, the film certainly showed the crudest side of how lower-ranking mobsters operate, particularly associates, soldiers and captains. It also gave us a more complex look of how the American Mafia operated in the 70s and early 80s, when the mafia started to decline. In fact, this modern look of the American Mafia was key to the development of series such as The Sopranos.
  • Film journalist Stephen Metcalf argues that the wretched production excesses of Days of Thunder, and their attendant impact on the film's profits, made auteur-driven filmmaking acceptable again a decade after the notion had been discredited by the box-office failure of Heaven's Gate. United Artists' willingness to indulge Michael Cimino on that film had led to a backlash where studios favored producers like Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer who were effectively the sole creative forces behind their films, with directors merely taking orders from them. After similar excesses on the part of the producers, studios would let directors assert themselves creatively again, and it's no coincidence that Days director Tony Scott's critical reputation improved over the course of the '90s.
  • 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, and their near-monopolization of "genre" films would be later criticized as their empire fell apart in the 2010s, tarnishing the theatrical viability of such works deemed "uncommercial" in the process. 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 (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.
  • A pair of 1994 films, Kevin Smith's Clerks and Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, were not only landmarks in the ascent of the aforementioned Miramax and "indie" cinema, they played a pivotal role in mainstreaming geek culture in Hollywood and the broader pop culture. Both were filled with metatextual references, Shout Outs, and discussions of other films, Smith and Tarantino wearing their film-geek fixations on their sleeves, and the quality of the films that resulted meant that, overnight, it became cool to be a geek. Instead of the pencil-necked dweebs of '80s comedies, the popular image of geeks became the cool slackers of Clerks who discussed the merits of the different Star Wars films during their breaks, the tough guys of Pulp Fiction with encyclopedic knowledge of '70s grindhouse cinema, or the filmmakers who crafted those characters and their stories. Taken together, the two films kicked off a postmodernism boom in American cinema that would last for the rest of the decade, and in the long term, their styles would remain influential and often imitated by comedies and crime movies to this day. One could even argue that they broke down Hollywood's barriers to seeing superhero movies as anything less than box-office poison, demonstrating the power of geek culture and cutting down the stigma associated with such.
  • 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, it breathed new life into a once-dying genre by bringing the postmodernism craze, popularized by the aforementioned Clerks and Pulp Fiction, to 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 moral-panicky 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 putting people out of the mood for violence directed at teenage characters) — 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.
  • 1997's Batman & Robin did this not through the merits of the film itself, but rather, for how it played a central role in a sea change within film journalism. When the film website Ain't It Cool News posted multiple negative reviews from preview screenings before its release, it did massive damage to the buzz around the film in such a manner that the studio blamed the site's owner Harry Knowles for its poor box office returns. The incident changed the power dynamic between the studios and film journalists, especially a new breed of such that had arisen online and were more in touch with geek culture than the "old guard" that came of age during the New Hollywood era of The '70s. Going forward, as sites like AICN, JoBlo's Movie Emporium, Screen Rant, and more grew in popularity, Hollywood would more actively try to court geek culture in order to win their approval rather than risk making another Batman & Robin.
  • 1997's Cube was this for Canadian cinema. Save for the "tax shelter era" of 1975-82, which eventually ended due to public outrage over the use of tax dollars to fund lurid exploitation films, Canada's public film production agencies preferred to support "prestige" films that would win awards and respectability for Canada's film industry. In practice, this meant lots of films that critics adored but nobody saw, and American TV shows coming north of the border for the tax credits. Cube, however, was an unapologetic horror movie partially funded by Telefilm Canada that won Best First Feature at the Toronto International Film Festival that year, and went on to become a Sleeper Hit that made back its budget over twenty-five times over. Since the success of Cube, Canada has been a major hub of "genre" filmmaking, and hasn't looked back.
  • Titanic (1997): Before it, "epic" movies were squarely aimed at an adult audience, but James Cameron persuaded 20th Century-Fox to market the film to teenagers as well, promoting its young leads and the song "My Heart Will Go On" (it must be noted that Cameron had some serious knowledge of the "Arkoff method", being an alumnus of AIP stalwart Roger Corman). As a result, Titanic became the first film ever to gross over a billion dollars at the box office.
  • 1998's There's Something About Mary could just as easily have been called "When the Romantic Comedy Met the Sex Comedy". As Caroline Siede lays out in this article for The AV Club, the Farrelly brothers' main innovation was to take the classic, humorous "boy meets girl" story and layer it with a thick dollop of gross-out humor, setting the stage for a new breed of comedies like American Pie, Wedding Crashers, and the films of Judd Apatow (who would later go that much further in mixing the two) that combined romantic storylines with R-rated raunch, heralding a revival of the sex comedy that would last well into the '00s.
    Siede: "Who knows how Judd Apatow’s zeitgeist-defining career would’ve panned out if There’s Something About Mary hadn’t paved a path for rom-coms that wore their R-rating not as a matter of fact (like When Harry Met Sally... or Pretty Woman) but as an edgy badge of honor."
  • 1998's Saving Private Ryan changed war movies in general, and how World War II was depicted in film specifically. Instead of the heroic tone of previous films about the war, it took a much Darker and Edgier approach, emphasizing the loss of life, the suffering of the soldiers fighting on the front lines, and the brutal conditions therein. Most World War II fiction since has taken a similar War Is Hell approach, especially after its influence crept into TV with Band of Brothers and video games with Medal of Honor, both of which were produced by Steven Spielberg, the creator of Saving Private Ryan.
  • 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.
    • It played a key role in popularizing Found Footage Films. While the idea dates back to 1980's Cannibal Holocaust, a satire of sensationalized Mondo films, Blair Witch demonstrated how the found footage style could be used to craft an effective film on a very low budget. In doing so, it also put a new twist on the Based on a True Story conceit, positing that what viewers were witnessing was the actual "true story" recorded on camera rather than a dramatization thereof that was merely "based on" what happened. Since then, independent filmmakers, and those seeking to give a measure of gritty realism to their production, have made use of the found footage style.
    • A less discussed but arguably even greater legacy, though, is 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. The influence of such also stretches beyond film; Emily VanDerWerff, writing for Vox, suggested that the film's marketing strategy, which built up a mythology surrounding the Blair Witch, was an important progenitor to creepypasta, the internet-born horror stories and Urban Legends that would take off in the late 2000s.
  • 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.
  • 2001's Moulin Rouge! got notable acclaim and helped revive the musical genre of film in the 21st century. Films that followed it included Mamma Mia! and Les Miserables (2012). It also made deliberate anachronisms acceptable, although this wouldn't become really popular until the 2010s.
  • While Planet of the Apes (2001) was trashed by critics upon its release, later on it would be considered to have 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, which probably 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 spawned a trilogy of its own).
  • The Harry Potter film series in the 2000s marked a turning point 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 late '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, Kenneth Branagh, James Gunn, Shane Black and Taika Waititi 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 (1998) 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 and their respective sequels, which were essentially set in a Constructed World and quasi-Alternate Universe (with prominent retro elements in the latter case), 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.
  • Ang Lee's Hulk didn't do well with audiences back in 2003, but it lead to the releases of adult-oriented, gritty and arthouse comic book films such as The Punisher (2004), The Dark Knight Trilogy, Watchmen, Logan and Joker (2019).
  • In 2003, a little Direct to Video Steven Seagal vehicle called Out for a Kill, while nothing special in story or techniques, turned out to have a far-reaching impact on the low-budget side of the action genre, as this article by Joshua Hunt for Vulture lays out. The actual quality of the film itself was less important than the circumstances of its production, which saw the rise of Eastern Europe as a popular shooting location for action filmmakers seeking to take advantage of exchange rates and cheap labor, while also providing a route for aging '80s/'90s action heroes to revive their careers by taking easy, well-paying supporting roles that appealed to their middle-aged fans overseas (many of whom spent their teenage years renting the films from these actors' Glory Days) even as their star power in the US had long since fizzled out. Along with Seagal, Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson are among the most notable Hollywood stars to take this route, with OFAK's producer Randall Emmett leading the pack through his company Emmett/Furla Oasis Films. Unfortunately, it also created a pipeline for dirty organized crime money to enter the movie business.
  • 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 took the mix of R-rated raunch and Romantic Comedy tropes that the Farrelly brothers had popularized and adding in a heavy dose of improv humor, as well as a greater focus on character interactions and relationship dynamics as opposed to slapstick and shock comedy.
  • 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.note  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 to make and promote 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. Ten years later, as this article by Wilkinson argues, God's Not Dead completed the transformation of American evangelical Christianity from a proselytizing faith to an insular subculture, one that "siloed" itself and its art off from the secular world.
  • 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 the early '00s. 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.
  • Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy broke new ground for the superhero movie and played a key role in its rise to become one of the dominant genres of Hollywood blockbuster.
    • 2005's Batman Begins codified the concept of the "back to basics" Continuity Reboot and Setting Update. It was openly cited as a model for, among other films, Daniel Craig's turn as James Bond in Casino Royale (2006), and by by Jon Favreau as a model for Iron Man in telling a more psychological and character-motivated turn to altruism.
    • 2008's The Dark Knight is, along with WALL•E, 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 a chance to break Out of the Ghetto and receive Academy recognition. 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, Nolan's films codified the idea that superhero film series tell an ongoing Myth Arc that builds on the previous films rather than simply repeating beats. Before Nolan, superhero franchises (Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and the X-Men series to some extent) generally had static characters that didn't change much and could tell the same stories again and again. Nolan had Batman/Bruce Wayne visibly grow and change from film to film, with the resolutions and events from the previous film carried forwards organically, which in The Dark Knight Rises allowed Nolan to give his screen version of Batman something no big-screen superhero had ever had before: an ending. This inspired Logan a few years later, and the MCU took inspiration from this in their ongoing serial nature, and while they have not gone all the way as Nolan did, their movies have Dynamic Characters with changes and actions carrying on from film-to-film, especially in Phase 2 and Phase 3. 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 smashing critical and financial success of 2005's Brokeback Mountain, a film marketed explicitly as a gay love story that grossed more than ten times its budget, proved to Hollywood that Queer Romance wasn't box-office poison, opening the floodgates for queer entertainment to enter the mainstream without having to rely on stereotypes. What's more, its infamous Award Snub at the 2006 Academy Awards, seen by many observers as having been motivated largely by homophobia and fear of conservative Moral Guardians, is often held to have (together with The Dark Knight a few years later) laid an important crack in Oscar Bait, creating an image of the Academy as out-of-touch with the tastes of both critics and moviegoers alike and leading to renewed efforts to add more diversity and populist appeal to Hollywood's leading award ceremony.
  • 2007's 300 revolutionized special effects and blockbuster action by utilizing CGI on a then-unheard-of scale. The entire movie was shot on green screen in order to create its larger-than-life ancient Greek setting and give it a feel rooted less in gritty realism than in the grandeur and theatricality of classical epics, much like the graphic novel it was based on. It wasn't the first film (or even the first Frank Miller adaptation) to be filmed on a "digital backlot", but its blockbuster success demonstrated to Hollywood what was truly possible with the technology, just as Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Jurassic Park did with CGI in general in the early '90s.
  • 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.
  • What The Dark Knight Trilogy didn't accomplish, the Marvel Cinematic Universe did, marking a major turning point in not only the superhero genre but in blockbuster filmmaking in general in the 21st century.
  • The most immediate impact of Paranormal Activity in 2009 was to spawn a second 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. 2011's Insidious and 2013's 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.
  • 2009's Avatar not only paved the way for the 3-D boom of the early 2010s, it also made social allegories (in this case, regarding the environment) acceptable in commercial blockbuster filmmaking. Its phenomenal success in China also led Hollywood to aim at the restrictive market's limited slots for foreign films.