In my last post about recent American cinema, I declared Pulp Fiction the most influential film of the past twenty years. It got me thinking about the other films have had such a massive impact on the cinematic landscape.
My criterion for such films is that they must have had a clear and direct influence on future releases. In short, success in not enough. Titanic may have made shedloads of money, but given that it was merely more of the same (only bigger), it isn’t a movie whose fingerprints can be seen in many other films.
Other films may have had an influence of their genre. The Bourne Trilogy, for example, clearly impacted the rebooting of Bond in Casino Royale. However, it’s difficult to see the impact the trilogy made on a significant number of other films.
With all those disclaimers out of the way, it’s time for:
The Five Most Influential Films Of The Past Twenty Years
5. The Blair Witch Project
Aside from being the first successful films shot on digital, The Blair Witch Project heralded the beginning of the youtube era.
That is, people making shorts or feature films by themselves, and then getting distribution deals afterwards. No expensive equipment, no need for famous actors, just some friends, a few digital cameras and a lot of creativity.
Also the idea of ‘found footage’ has clearly influenced films like Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity and even District 9.
4. The Usual Suspects
The idea of twist endings is nothing new. Films like Chinatown and Citizen Kane are famous for surprising their viewer in the final five minutes of the movie.
However, the nature of the twist in The Usual Suspects was such that you immediately wanted to go back and watch the whole film again; looking out for clues that pointed to the mystery revealed in its final scene.
Clearly influencing films like The Sixth Sense, Shutter Island, and Fight Club, the idea of the twist being the main appeal of the movie seems to have come from Bryan Singer’s film.
As an aside, it is my opinion that these ‘twist endings’ weaken the movie as a whole. Twists should add to an already enjoyable film, allowing the pieces to fit together. A film should stand on its own two feet without them. Would Blade Runner, for example, really be improved if we found out Rick Deckard was a replicant in a surprise ‘twist’ ending at the end?
3. Toy Story
The creation of CGI animation films was inevitable. The quality of such films was not. What Toy Story did was to set the bar incredibly high for the types of stories one could tell with this new technology.
Given the lack of originality in so much of Hollywood in 2010, it’s a testament to the film’s influence that so much creativity can be found in this genre.
Alongside Pixar’s subsequent efforts, films like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Monster House and How to Train Your Dragon continue to meet the standard set by Pixar’s debut feature.
Most say Spiderman heralded the beginning of the dominance of the superhero genre in the box office. However, Bryan Singer’s X-Men brought the kind of darkness and realism most directors have chosen to use in their own re-imaginings of famous comic book characters.
One particularly bold decision was to lose yellow latex suits that had become hallmarks of the comic book series. In doing so he managed to create a world far removed from the cartoonish and shallow Batman and Robin.
While some of the best blockbusters of the past ten years have been superhero films, one downside has been the studio’s over-reliance on already established brands. There are a limited number of great superhero comics. For the genre to survive creatively, original characters and stories must continue to be created. Films like Scott Pilgrim and Kick Ass show what is likely to be the future of the genre over the next ten years.
1. Pulp Fiction
It’s the film so many films aspire to be, by the director so many directors aspire to be. It played around with every trick and trope in the movie-making book, and had a scope and audacity few films have been able to match since.
Influenced by directors as diverse as Hitchcock and Godard, with Pulp Fiction Tarantino created a philosophy towards making films that essentially says you can try anything, so long as you do so with style.
My theory on Tarantino, is that he and Kevin Smith herald the beginning of the Video Store Generation. That is, directors and cinema-goers who suddenly had the history of cinema available for the price of a rental. This allowed them to pick and choose elements of forgotten films and mesh them into something that felt fresh and original.
It will be interesting to see how the internet and youtube will influence the next generation of directors. Something as groundbreaking as Pulp Fiction will probably come from a director able to bring the best from other mediums to the world of film.