Monday, June 18, 2007


New on DVD
Special Feature

©Paramount Home Video "Top Gun"
© Paramount Home Video "Top Gun"
Movies That Shook the World
We've celebrated the anniversary of 'Star Wars' ... here are 10 other films that changed cinema

By Jim Emerson
Special to MSN Movies

Also read: How "Star Wars" Shook the World

All right, so "Star Wars" changed everything. But that was 30 years ago. Between the first "Star Wars" in 1977 (now known as "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope") and the first prequel in 1999 ("Star Wars: - Episode I: The Phantom Menace"), other films have come along to revolutionize the cinematic landscape in various ways that were comparably earth shaking.

Look back over the history of movies, and you find certain titles commemorated as familiar landmarks simply because they were the first to use new processes or business strategies. For example, we cite "The Jazz Singer" (1927) as the first talkie; "Becky Sharp" (1935) as the first three-strip Technicolor feature; Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937) as the first feature-length animated movie; "Winchester '73" (1950) as the first talkie for which a star (James Stewart) took a share of the gross receipts in lieu of a salary; "The Robe" (1953) as the first widescreen anamorphic (CinemaScope) film; and so on. But these pictures themselves were not the innovations -- they simply introduced or fleshed out techniques or technologies that would come to have a profound effect on how movies were to be made for years to come.

Other pictures were perhaps more revolutionary in developing the language of cinema: Edwin S. Porter's 12-minute "The Great Train Robbery" (1903) is remembered as the first (or one of the first) narrative films, while D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" (1915) marked developments in film style and grammar that are still fundamental to the language of movies today.

Skip forward to the late '60s and the early '70s and you have such epochal shifts as: "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), in which the science fiction movie became a blockbuster hit and a trippy art film at the same time, while realizing special effects that make much of today's CGI look like crayon drawings by comparison; "Night of the Living Dead" (1968), exploring new territory in gore and pseudo-documentary style -- just before the MPAA ratings went into effect (with gritty camerawork that made it seem all the more real, and more awful); "Easy Rider" (1969), the scruffy, low-budget counter-culture film that suddenly made establishment-Hollywood production values seem paleolithic; "The Wild Bunch" (1969), setting a new standard for the (poetic) portrayal of violence in American movies; "Midnight Cowboy" (1969), the first adults-only film -- an X under the new ratings system -- to become a hit and win an Oscar for Best Picture, not long before pornographers hijacked the "X" for sensationalistic marketing purposes; and, "El Topo" (1970), the creator of the "midnight movie" phenomenon that would peak with "A Clockwork Orange" (1971), a dystopian satire that pushed the boundaries of cruelty and sadism in ways that are still shocking and disturbing.

Then came "Deep Throat" (1972), mild stuff compared to "A Clockwork Orange," but the first porno movie to be widely shown in mainstream movie theaters, appealing to couples, and becoming arguably the most profitable film ever made; "Last Tango in Paris" (1972), a breakthrough in the portrayal of sex in a "respectable" studio feature -- and with a major star (Marlon Brando); "Nashville" (1975), perhaps the strongest influence on films of the '90s and '00s, a multi-character, multi-narrative epic shot in a seemingly spontaneous, semi-documentary style (which director Robert Altman introduced in "M*A*S*H"), with more overheard and overlapping dialog than any film since "His Girl Friday" and the heyday of Howard Hawks; "Jaws" (1975), the birth of the modern blockbuster; "Carrie" (1976), after which every horror film had to have a false ending and a grabber just before the final credits; and, "Taxi Driver" (1976), a new landmark in the portrayal of violence and urban paranoia.

Then, in 1977, "Star Wars" and Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" marked the creation of the modern special-effects megahit, blazing the way for "E.T.," "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," "Titanic," "The Matrix," "The Lord of the Rings," "Spider-Man" and the rest.

From "Star Wars" to the end of the millennium, here are 10 more landmarks that changed the world of movies, as we know it:

"Halloween" (1978)
The birth of the modern slasher movie. From "Prom Night" to "Friday the 13th," "Slumber Party Massacre" to "The Devil's Rejects," "A Nightmare on Elm Street" to "Scream," what really began with Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960) became a bloody pop-culture phenomenon with the massive success of John Carpenter's "Halloween" (the most successful non-porno indie of its time). Writer-director Carpenter (who even named Donald Pleasence's asylum doctor, Sam Loomis, after John Gavin's character in "Psycho") went back to the basics in his portrait of the-thing-in-the-dark: In the original film, the adult Michael Myers was identified in the credits only as "The Shape." "Halloween" set up the paradigm for the struggles between Eros and Thanatos in contemporary horror movies: Kids who had teen sex (or wanted to) got butchered.

Next: More Movies That Shook the World


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