Cinematic Revival

What Films Did TCM 'Forget' On Its 15 Most Influential List?

The web is buzzing, do you have anything to add?

Tonight I watched the new Criterion Blu-ray release of Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear and at the top of the film I was reminded of the influence it had on the opening of Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch as cockroaches were tortured by a young boy compared to the scorpion that was thrown onto a pile of ants at the opening of Peckinpah's feature. However, does this mean Wages of Fear should be considered one of the all-time most influential films?

When TCM released their list of top 15 most influential films of all-time they opened up a much larger can of worms than I had actually assumed they did as conversations began sprouting up all over the Internet. The two most frequent comments I saw regarding the list (not dealing with specific film omissions) were: 1.) there weren't any films listed that were released after 1977 (Star Wars) and 2.) what exactly do they mean by "influential"?

As for the second comment asking what they meant by "influential" this was primarily due to some writers not including a quote from TCM's senior vice president of programming, Charlie Tabesh, when he said in the press release, "[We] talked about including Pulp Fiction, a hugely influential independent film." As well as another line saying they considered Goldfinger, which "helped cement James Bond as film franchise that has endured for nearly 50 years." By "influential" they obviously meant to the world of cinema and not to the audience or social perception.

As for the complaint/comment regarding no films listed after 1977, I think it is a valid observation and I can definitely understand their reasoning, but this is where I think the conversation begins to open up to new films. People love to ask, "But what about...?" and say things like, "They forgot..." Well, obviously things weren't necessarily forgotten, but let's talk about what was left off as no limits on numbers will be featured here. But on top of that let's include some reasons. Don't just shout from the rooftops your favorite film of all-time without giving reason as to why you believe it is one of the most influential, and remember we are talking about influential films, not necessarily all-time great films.

Instantly one of the first arguments I saw in just about every comment section around the web were people asking how Star Wars was on the list and not Jaws, which released two years earlier. Most were reading into the TCM commentary believing Star Wars made the list as the first bonafide blockbuster. In fact it was much more than that, the merchandising of the film beyond just toys was a major reason it was included, not to mention its technical marvels. As great as Jaws is, I think Star Wars beats it in a most influential head-to-head.

Next was the question as to how The Godfather could possibly be left off, and from a storytelling aspect it makes the grade, and certainly it had an influence on the whole of the "organized crime" genre as any film reference to the mafia instantly brings to memory the Corleone family. For whatever reason, The Godfather was left off TCM's list, but that can't be all that is "missing." Are there any from the last 30 years that could be added? I have brainstormed a few with the help of all the reading I have done around the web, but I would like to leave most of it up to you. Here are some jumping off points to begin the conversation:

The Matrix: The Wachowski's film instantly brings to mind the use of bullet-time and wire work. On top of that it seems like as soon as The Matrix sequels went on to make so much money the idea of shooting sequels back-to-back was infecting Hollywood even though few films actually took the idea to task.

Animal House: The list of films this 1978 frat-house comedy inspired is damn near endless as there is one almost every year.

Animal House, The Matrix, Halloween, Toy Story, Jurassic Park and The Polar Express

Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Before Freddy and before Jason there was Michael and Leatherface chasing down teenagers and butchering them for happy audiences. I would also say, for a brief stint in the '90s, Scream played a major influence, but this is a perfect example of a film that enjoyed being the beginnings of a momentary fad and not an actual cinematic influence. After all, Scream owes its debt to the originals as well.

Toy Story: Without Pixar delivering a classic CG-animated feature right out of the box how much longer would it have taken for computer animated features to reach the giant heights they are at today?

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs appeared to actually be chasing people and today CG-animated characters are littered within so many of our summer blockbusters, what more need be said? I would say runners-up in this category, though, would include Tron and Terminator 2.

A mash up of Georges Méliès's 1902 sci-fi film A Trip to the Moon with the Smashing Pumpkins song "Tonight, Tonight" whose music video for the song was inspired by the 107 year-old 14 minute silent film

Polar Express: This Robert Zemeckis film launched the "performance capture" movement and while it didn't necessarily win over critics it went on to be a big box-office hit, which means the process wasn't abandoned and is slowly becoming perfected. Next came Monster House, Beowulf and this holiday season we will have A Christmas Carol. Motion and facial capture was utilized (to a different extent) in the Lord of the Rings trilogy for Gollum, Pirates of the Caribbean for Davy Jones and last year in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. (As a side note, Wikipedia lists Total Recall as the first film to use motion capture for a CGI character in 1990)

Beyond the films themselves I am sure many could cherry-pick from several directors including Woody Allen (Annie Hall?), Ingmar Bergman (Wild Strawberries?), John Hughes (Breakfast Club?), Charlie Chaplin (where do I start?) and I can only assume F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu plays a major influence on just about every horror/suspense filmmaker out there. I am sure some will bring up Stanley Kubrick, and that is certainly a thought. I would say the editing in Kubrick's films would be the first thing I would point to. Then there's 1933's King Kong and its use of creature effects and the debate opens up to which jump cut is better, getting Kong to NYC from Skull Island or 2001's jump from a prehistoric bone to a space station in orbit. Then again, jump cuts were already covered with Godard's Breathless on TCM's list.

One category I have a hard time figuring out is the historical epic. I recently watched Cecil B. DeMille's Cleopatra (1932) and in the special features it talked about how the film came about as DeMille (and producer Adolph Zuker) decided he should make an historical epic in order to get his audience back following the poor reception of Four Frightened People. This, of course, was as a result of 1923's The Ten Commandments and knowing DeMille's name and a historical epic would bring in the numbers, but what was the film that had the greatest influence on the historical epic? My assumption would be the 1925 silent film Ben-Hur, a film those that haven't even seen it recognize merely by the chariot race you see to the right.

I have heard Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai referenced for its use of slow-motion (among other things), which is something I also think The Matrix brought to modern filmmaking (Zack Snyder certainly uses Matrix-style slo-mo). Then there's David Lynch and maybe Memento should be mentioned if we are talking about films from the past ten years?

I considered films such as the Harry Potter franchise and its ability to turn Hollywood's eye toward young adult book series, but that is more of a money-making grab rather than an actual influence on filmmaking.

I know I am leaving off several and that is in the hopes many of you will have something to add to the conversation and please don't just shout out a movie and be gone, that doesn't help at all. Give a reason as to why you think it should be included and I think we can turn this into a decent commentary.

ADDITIONAL READING:
If you would like another opinion Roger Ebert has directed his readers to a list of ten films he dubbed the "10 most influential films of the century." Daniel Fienberg at HitFix also explores alternative additions such as A Hard Day's Night and Double Indemnity. He is also pushing for at least one documentary to be added to which he mentions Michael Apted's Up series and I am sure several will instantly think of Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine.

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  • rattler76

    Isn't Blade Runner considered quite influential?
    I've heard say that it was the first showing a future that wasn't so perfect, nice and clean.

    Nosferatu is one I'd expect on it but I don't know much about half of the movies that are on the list now.
    Kinda hard to say what should and shouldn't be on it then.

  • malevolentmuse

    While I agree The Godfather should have been on the list, I think every one of the movies you've mentioned stretches the definition of being influential. To me, an influential movies has to be more than just imitated. It has to have a cultural impact and I would argue with anyone who suggests any of those movies did. As for The Matrix, that doesn't belong on any list except one ranking flaming pieces of dog shit.

  • Raiderhawk

    First of all I'd like to counter two suggestions made here. The first being that Matrix was influential in action movies with the bullet time. Bullet time is really just a variation on slow-mo. The use of slow-mo in action movies allowed film makers a way to show the audience what is really going on and to better feel the action by getting a clear view of it. Bullet time slows stuff down and basically just changes the camera position. I'd also argue that being influential since you still don't see it being used much except when it is blatantly a spoof of the Matrix (Scary Movie, Shrek). The Matrix was definitly not the first movie to utilize slow-mo in an action sequence. I'd say if anyone POPULARIZED it it would have to be John Woo (Hard Target, Face Off). But he still wasn't the first to do so effectively, ever seen Raging Bull? However John Woo I'd say is very influential in the sense that he started the whole thing of some one using two pistols at the same time and ESPECIALLY the whole idea of holding it on it's side (although anyone who has actual shooting experience knows that is a horrible way to shoot - inaccurate and like to hurt yourself with the empty shells). Almost EVERY action movie now will show someone with two guns and likely holding them on the side.

    Second argument would be the Lord of the Rings filming two sequels at the same time. Did you forget Back to the Future 2 & 3? They were filmed at the same time and released in back-to-back years as well.

  • Patricia

    @malevolentmuse: I have to agree with your definition of influential, except I might draw back on the language for The Matrix. It didn't work, especially as a francise, but it was interesting and thought provoking in its first incarnation. NOT a major influence but definitely not "flaming pieces of dog shit."

  • k0rrupt

    This is more difficult than i thought it would be...i not quite sure if i actually feel these films are as influential as the films on the list mainly because i can't trace the effects in filmmaking, for example i would like to say La Haine but i'm not aware of what French film and film in general was like before La Haine came out and afterwards and whether it had an impact such as these films did but i'll say La Haine anyway for its grittiness and its emphasis of youth in society.

    Akira - an anime that crossed culture boundaries and pretty much cemented anime as a popular medium in the West.

    Tron - techinically for its time, ahead of the curve

    The Cabinet of Dr Caligari - at times narratively baffling, but its use of set design/body movement and its use of pyschology was i think very influential

    My Neighbour Totoro - to be honest i think you could exchange this for most of Studio Ghibli's other films like Grave of the Fireflies - pretty much most of the stuff that Miyazaki and Takahara have done. I think most animators in Hollywood (especially John Lasseter) owe a debt to them and their animation shows a different side to the excess of Japanese anime

    i'm tempted to addThe Great Train Robbery as well - but would people consider it as a film as its a short film and not really a feature film?

  • k0rrupt

    The Usual Suspects just popped into my head, its use of misdirection was brilliant

  • Josh

    What about Batman Begins? The start or realistic and dark superhero films?

    I agree with Blade Runner that should be there and of course Alien(same reason for Jaws With the great editing) one of the first scifi films that was extremely scary with great story?

    I could be off on these 3 but it's how I see it

  • Patricia

    I'd like to jump in here and talk a little about the term "influential." We all know that the biggest effect a film has on the future of cinema is earnings. Films will be imitated and rehashed over and over if there is any belief that they will make money, especially huge amounts of money. I include in that category many of the horror francises.

    Another way to view "influencial" is that of doing something well. In this category I include the Godfathers and the Batman francise as well as films like Platoon...but the list runs on forever, thankfully. We all hope those films that showed excellence in cinematography, editing, sound, costume, script writing and/or acting became an influence to those who follow. I'd like to believe that most film makers set out to produce the best of which they are capable. But, sadly, I think that often when a film succeeds because of the convergence of excellence, often only the theme or the genre or a character type endures.

    But there is a different type of "influential" that is style and technique and imagination. Orson Welles' film, "Citizen Kane" is an example with his camera techniques. I believe it is still studied today for just that. Yet it's not on the list. (By the way, "The Third Man" is also a very interesting visual experience for the same reason as well as a damn good story.) This is the category whereby something is done in a new way, or envisioned differently. It opens up new paths in the creative brains of those to follow. It sees something in a new way. But these films might not have been big box office successes. What they did was influence the filmmakers. Japanese Anime as a whole falls into that category. And I think that "Dark City" does too, to cite an example.

  • loxmang

    It seems like the movies listed up top are the ones that were just best in their genre, but very rarely the best movie of a certain genre wasnt influenced by a film before it. The Matrix, jurrassic Park, and toy story seem like a product of advances in technology. But their film styles and ideas stem from movies made long before. i agree with TCM list. But i agree with the idea of Usual Suspects influencing misdirection in films, but mayb thats cuz its my fav film.

  • JM

    Notice TCM's list didn't include anything past Star Wars (1977). I think they were trying to stay in the past on purpose.

  • http://www.thefilmgeek.com cmac

    Two most omissions stand out for me; the first is Sergio Leone's The Good The Bad And The Ugly - a film which pretty much put paid to the whole traditional Western genre in one fell swoop - whether that's a good or a bad thing is up for debate but it would surely be classed as influential. The second is Tarantino's Pulp Fiction - again, whether one likes the film or not it was hugely influential in terms of writing; its trademark use of pop culture references, snappy one-liners and unconventional story structure can be seen in a whole generation of films from just after its release right up to todays films.

  • bryce

    The Lord of the Rings trilogy should have been included in the list. Such a beauitful performance at every level. Best trilogy ever!

  • The Jackal

    If we are talking about merely, influential films, instead of say quality or directorial mastery or monumental acting (Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia), there are so many films that should have been included.

    1. Superman (1978)
    The Evidence: For the next decade after Superman was released it didn't appear at first that the film had changed anything. Today, its a no-brainer why this film is now so influential. Spider-Man, X-Men, Batman, Blade, Hellboy, etc, etc, etc, have all received the royal treatment. What does it all mean: Billions at the box office.

    2. Terminator 2 (1991)
    The Evidence: It was the first film to make CG-technology a viable option for special effects in film. Every big-budget modern film utilizes CG; however, without the breakthroughs Mr. Cameron made, films just wouldn't be the same. No Jurassic Park, no Lord of the Rings, no Matrix.

    3. Toy Story (1995)
    The Evidence: 90% of all animated films today borrow heavily from the techniques developed by the magicians of Pixar. It has succeeded in killing off 2D animation (however, that might change with the release of The Princess & the Frog" in 2009).

    4. Titanic (1997)
    The Evidence: I hate to include 2 (2!!) James Cameron films, but I can't get away from the guy! This film made studios realize that you could spend over $200 million on a film and still make a ton of money. Episode I-III, Lord of the Rings, T3, Pirates, all these franchises are in Mr. Cameron's debt.

    5. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
    The Evidence: Sure, it wasn't the first big film to deal with homosexuality - it was the film that made it widely acceptable. While "Milk" finally took home a statuette, it might not have been made had Brokeback been a colossal flop.

    The Future:
    I'm constantly amazed, but it appears that James "I'm the King of the World" Cameron might just enter the "Influential Films" ranks once again. Avatar, if we are to believe the hype, will usher in a new revolution in Cinematic effects. We will see.

  • The Jackal

    Oh, and yes, I realize that Philadelphia dealt heavily with gay themes; however, Denzel Washington (playing a heterosexual male) never had sex onscreen with his costar (Tom Hanks). Also, many accused the film of playing to gay stereotypes and for focusing on the AIDS issue alone.

  • Joel

    Dark Knight. No exceptions. Heath's performance could be the only reason and I'd still say so. Luckily everything everything around him was brilliant, as well. Best superhero movie to date. Second highest-grossing of all time. One of the most critically acclaimed of the genre, if not THE most. Can you see my logic here?

  • Raiderhawk

    @The Jackal:

    1. Superman (1978)
    I'd disagree with this being influential in the way movies are made (which I feel was the focus of the TCM list). Really all Superman did was show that comic characters could be profitable as a movie franchise. Sadly after Superman II you didn't see another successful comic franchise until Blade came out even though MANY comic character based movies were made (Punisher, Flash, Captain America). It was after Blade's succes that studios started to rely on the comics for ideas for money making franchises.

    2. Terminator 2 (1991)
    Ever seen "The Abyss"? The water creature was basically the inspiration for the T1000 in T2. Cameron said so himself. If you really want to say influential film in the use of CGI in movies I'd use that as the jump off point.

    3. Toy Story (1995)
    I agree that the computer animation features all started here. I also believe the movie world is all the better for it. I would however say that Toy Story still came about due to Snow White though. Walt knew that animation could sustain an audience for a feature length film. What a genius!

    4. Titanic (1997)
    I would make an argument for this movie being influential but not to the way movies are made. It was influential, as you say, by showing to the studios that they could make money off of it. However, the studios at the time weren't as afraid of the budget as they were of what the budget was being spent on. No one at the time thought audiences would sit for a three hour epic. They hadn't been successful for decades. Cameron actually started pushing that limit with Aliens. Studios pushed hard for movie times to hover around 90 mins until Titanic (and Braveheart) showed audiences will watch a 3hr movie if it is engaging. Look at the length of movies made today. Even comedies are going over two hours! Didn't Benjamin Buttons last like a week?

    5. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
    Again I'd argue that this is not influential in HOW movies are made but more influential in WHICH movies get made.

  • BARTON M

    What about Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song the movie by Melvin Van Peebles that started a whole genre (BLAXSPLOITATION) way back in 1971. The movie may not have been good but it certainly influenced cinema.Every studio started making "Black Films" till it got out of control because the white guys were making it and it started bringing about negative stereo types,I even brought funk music to the front.I Recommend you watch the making of the his son did {How to Get the Man's Foot Outta Your Ass } or simply BAADASSSSS!

    If that is not influence I dont know what is!

  • The Jackal

    @Raiderhawk: Thanks so much for your comments. I don't think anyone has ever responded to one of my posts so thoroughly. You make good points.

    1. Superman
    You are right, the Comic Revolution that cinema has undergone recently can be attributed to Blade. However, it certainly wasn't the first. That spot belongs to Superman and Superman alone. It paved the way for the box office successes of Batman (1989), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), Dick Tracy (1990), which of course ended in the billion dollar returns brought in by the Spider-Man and X-Men frachises (to name a couple).

    2. Terminator 2
    I considered utilizing The Abyss; however, that film didn't garner the widespread acclaim that T2 did. The Abyss made money; however, it wasn't a mega-hit. Critics were in disagreement and most people were a bit intimidated by the run time. It was the T-1000 and not the alien water spout that left an indelible mark on cinema.