Every once in awhile, we go to the movies and see something so different, or so awe-inspiring that it changes our views on what a movie going experience can be. These films take what we think is possible in film and do the “impossible”. So I have decided to rank the top 10 “game-changer” movies. As with all my lists, this is more opinion than fact, but I am definitely open to alternative opinions, so feel free to comment.
Sometimes I wonder what went through Christopher Nolan’s head when he wrote Momento. “Hmmm…” I think that I’ll write a screenplay that goes forwards and backwards simeltaneously.” That’s just what he did. Momento is a brilliantly concieved movie because Nolan puts you into the mindset of the protagonist by having the audience remain just as confused as the protagonist for much of the movie. Leonard Shelby becomes for us the defintion of an “unreliable narrator”, as he himself is a prisoner of his own mind.
9 The Blair Witch Project
Now, I have an interesting story about the Blair Witch project. Many years ago, a friend called me, from his place which was right down the street from mine and told me about this movie. Apparently, it was footage found from a camera that was dug up, and the police could not make any sense of it, so they took it to some film editors to splice it together. The movie that we were about to watch was the result. As we watched the film that night, a sense of unease came over the entire room. When it came to the end of the movie, nobody spoke for at least two minutes before someone uttered “Wait, so that was real?” Immediate we took to the internet, now unbeknownst to us the makers of the film had set up fake websites are over the place, making their story look even more realistic.
Although it was not the first film to utlilize the “true story” angle (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, War of the Worlds), it was the first to give the actors a camera, send them into the forest, and have them ad lib the entire story, giving the movie a far more realistic feel. It was also the first film to truly utilize the internet in trying to convince the audience of the “realism” of the film, and for that I salute it.
James Cameron is no stranger to “changing the game” when it comes to making science-fiction films. But what he did with Avatar takes that to a whole new level. It’s not that the story for Avatar is truly original (Dances With Wolves, Ferngully, Pocahontas) , it was that he created a world in which the audience was fully immersed. By filming in 3-D, he brought the viewer deeper into his world. Here 3-D was used as an immersion technique, and not simply just a gimmick. Much like Titanic and Terminator 2, he sets the bar much higher for everybody else.
7 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
How could I possibly leave out the first full length animated feature film? Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs took cartoons which were genrerally thought of as folly, and only for children, and legitimitized them for all audiences. It was a movie with a good heart (ignoring the obvious sexism), but it was also legitimately scary in parts, i.e. the dark forest scene (still gives me goosebumps). I would be remiss not to add this game changer to the list.
6 Toy Story
Speaking of animated films changing the game, how can one not mention the first CGI film for mass release? Toy Story not only presented incredible graphics that most audiences had not seen, but also included an incredible story which everybody can identify with. Come on admit it: we all wondered if our toys came alive when we were away. Toy Story balances one story we can all identify with, and a story in which one has to come to grips with their identity and at the same time form a lifelong friendship. The amazing thing is that the writers managed to do it under two hours.
Note: I realize that Toy Story 3 is the best of the three, and one of the best films of all time, but this entry is about game changing movies.
5 The Matrix
Its hard to pinpoint exactly what makes The Matrix such a revolutionary film. It ushered in so many different trends in American film making: bullet time, wire stunts, the 360 camera shot just to name a few. It was the first time in American film history that a director (or directors in this case) had succesfully made a live action film look like anime. And as an added bonus, they got Keanu Reeves to pass as a decent actor (even though Will Smith had already turned down the part to do Wild Wild West). The Matrix has often been imitated, but no film has ever been able to duplicate its engenuity, sadly not even its sequels.
4 The Jazz Singer
It is a common misconception that The Jazz Singer was the first “talkie” , it was not. What it is, is the first full length feature film to use spoken dialogue as part of the action, and for this it was commercially successful. Now keep in mind it is not a great movie, but it is historically important, and that’s why it changed the game.
3 Citizen Kane
Of course Citizen Kane would have to be on this list as well, after all AFI did name it the greatest film of all time. Not only is it a great movie, but it also created some of the greatest film techniques and camera angles that we continue to use today. The story of one man’s rise to power and his ultimately lonely death still inspires filmmakers in this day and age.
2 Jurassic Park
I will be the first to admit that part of the reason that this film appears on this list is because it is a sentimental favorite of mine. It happens also to be one of the more amazing technical marvels of the modern movie era. For me, the first time that I saw it was the first time that I thought the movies could actually compete with my imagination.
1 The Original Star Wars Trilogy
How could I possibly even conceive of a list of game changing movies without mentioning the greatest of them, The Star Wars Trilogy (it should go without saying, but I am talking about Episodes IV, V, & VI). George Lucas (before he kind of went off the deep end) was responsible for creating one of the most visually impressive and comprehensive universes of its time. Now, I am not going to say that everything he did was original; obivously he stood on the shoulders of Giants like Kurosawa. It was his ability to weave all of his influences in, and still create a Western melodrama in space with the simplest of themes: good versus evil. This is why these films surpassed all of their predacessors, and why films today still try to emulate them.
Honorable Mentions: The Usual Suspects, The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Terminator 2, Scream.