Top Six Groundbreaking Films

Brief overview of six films I like. Actually an assignment I did for film class.
December 20, 2010
There are many films that could be considered “groundbreaking” by any person's standards in some way or another. However, the way I see it, groundbreaking refers to a film that sets the standard for a genre, and has a big impact on the country, or the world as a whole. Here are six films that I have had the pleasure of seeing in my lifetime that I feel have had a big impact on the film industry, all of which I'm sure most people and all film buffs are more than familiar with.

The first of which should come as no surprise: Orson Welles' 1941 drama Citizen Kane. The film is about a news reporter trying to understand and connect the life of a very wealthy business man to the last word he uttered before his death. Although this seems like a simple task that would take a relatively short amount of time, he has to talk to just about every person still alive who had any sort of connection with him whatsoever, and learns the entire history of Mr. Kane without ever finding out the one thing he was looking for – Rosebud – which in the end, of course, turns out to be his sled from his childhood. While seemingly a waste of time for the reporter, the audience gets to witness the full story of the man, from a poor young child to an old disgruntled rich man living in his huge castle-esque home.

For such a simple premise, how could the movie be groundbreaking? Orson Welles experimented with a lot of unused techniques with this film, including long, drawn out shots with the camera moving constantly with the action, making scenes constantly going over the course of minutes adding a lot to the depth and realism. The use of lighting and dark, empty rooms for dramatic scenes put audiences right in the mood for something sad or dreary, while happier scenes had locations and characters full of life. This technique made it significantly stronger to see Kane's life through his eyes and those around him, and it's seemingly impossible for somebody to sit through it all and not understand his entire character. Those techniques to drag the viewers into the movie aside, the film is generally entertaining and interesting as long as you care about the character (which the movie does a fantastic job making you), and the magnum opus of Orson Welles and his genius, which was, unfortunately, impossible to top as the almost universally agreed “greatest film of all time.” Despite this overwhelming success and upmost praise, it did poorly when it was initially released to theaters (partially because William Randolph Hearst, whom Welles was mostly based on, banned any mention of it in his newspapers), and was not recognized for what it is known today until the mid-1950's. Citizen Kane just goes to show that, flop or not, any great film will earn its deserved recognition.

Jump ahead ten years later to 1951's The Day the Earth Stood Still. This is the story of an alien who comes to Earth with a declaration of peace, but when a soldier mistakenly fires at him interpreting a small device as a weapon, the alien is shot and wounded. After being put into a hospital, he escapes and takes the identity of “Mr. Carpenter” in an attempt to leave the violent human world and return home, in the process moving in with a family and getting to know and understand them. Once he finally gets the opportunity to get back to his ship and return home, he delivers a message to the human race against their violent ways, and that if they do not attempt to act more peaceful towards one another, they will be destroyed by the robots of other, more peaceful plants, if not by themselves.

This film was an obvious message opposing the well-known “red scare” of the fifties, encouraging Americans to stop being so fearful of the Russians to the point that they will accuse and attack innocent citizens from propaganda-based paranoia, as well as having more understanding of other nations and cultures to promote international understanding (and with its success overseas, this message has been rightfully delivered all over the world). A moderate success at the box office, the film was well-received by critics for its positive message of peace, as well as its entertaining story, wonderful acting, and “out-of-this-world” set designs and costumes. Along with that, the film was also a big step-up in the sci-fi genre, and perhaps sparked the boom of (mostly terrible) alien and monster movies that plagued the decade. The Day the Earth Stood Still lives up to its reputation of being both entertaining and delivering a positive message, and has certainly left its mark on both the movie industry and government-based influence.

Next on the list is 1968's Night of the Living Dead, directed by George A. Romero. This film is about an outbreak of zombies roaming the town, and a small group of survivors locking themselves in an old house, the whole movie taking place over the course of one night as they try to survive. Throughout the course of the movie, nearly every survivor falls victim to the zombies, until the only one left alive is Ben, who had been the self-appointed leader of the group trying to make orders and keep everyone calm. The next day, as the mayor and a group of citizens go around killing off the remaining zombies, they see Ben in the house and mistake him for a zombie, killing him as they did with all of the others.

This movie was the first of and set the standard for all future zombie flicks, a popular horror subgenre, and started the career of successful director George A. Romero, who went on to produce sequels such as Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and Land of the Dead, which all feature entirely new characters and stories, but arguably stem from the attack in the original. As remarkable as the film is, it certainly was not recognized at the time of its release; it was low-budget and probably not well-advertised, and was criticized upon release for its graphic imagery, with very little attention paid elsewhere. Much of this criticism stemmed from the fact that the MPAA film rating system had not yet been introduced, allowing children to go into this movie considered gruesome that finishes with an unhappy ending of all the characters dying. The film was a huge box office success, however, and did exceptionally well both in America and Europe, and was later recognized for revolutionizing the horror genre in many ways, namely with its story, setting, and depictions of rotting, dismembered corpses feeding on humans.
The next film is Sylvester Stallone's 1976 masterpiece, Rocky. It is about a low-life bum in the city who gets a shot at going against the heavyweight champion of boxing, and his training, determination, and struggle leading up to that. After many scenes demonstrating this, as well as his personal life interfering and his character evolving, he ends up in the ring with the champ and miraculously manages to stay up over the course of the entire fifteen rounds. Although he loses by choice in the end, this is still a remarkable show of strength, and Rocky is cheered for and instantly becomes famous as a result.

This story is a classic example of the underdog up against something much more powerful, and overcoming all odds to succeed and achieve his goals. Being the first of its kind, it instantly became a huge box office success and received overwhelmingly positive reviews for its brilliant acting, settings, and of course, story. It also seems to be the basis for most sports movies about characters wanting to join a team or win a game, which of course, is a very typical plot for other motivational movies about following your dreams, and spawned five sequels itself. Although it had a low budget and did not push any boundaries, its huge success makes the movie itself akin to the story within, being the deserving-yet-unexpected underdog rising to fame.

One year after Rocky, we got the movie whose success speaks for itself and can be summed up in name alone: Star Wars, the 1977 science-fiction adventure flick by George Lucas. Star Wars is about a young farmer from another galaxy named Luke Skywalker, who gets mixed into a civil war between the vicious empire and those who oppose it after an invasion on his town, and learns the ways of becoming a long dead breed of warrior known as a “Jedi Knight.” It ends with a giant space battle against a large battle station in space known as the Death Star, where Luke uses these newfound powers to single-handedly destroy the entire station leading to a huge victory in the much larger war going on.

Unfortunately, no summary can properly sum up everything that Star Wars has to offer. Although it was big on story and characters, it is famous for many other reasons – the variety of locations seen on different planets and in space, the many unique aliens and devices that seem so commonplace in the galaxy, the intense and well-choreographed action and fight scenes, and of course, all the different ships and scenes in space, especially with the gigantic battle at the end. These effects and the way it immersed the audience into an entirely different world had never been seen before, and despite beginning with a very limited release, it soon hit theaters all over the world and Star Wars was everywhere. Clothes, costumes, toys, games, paper plates – it was the first movie to ever cause such a strong impact on popular culture, and has continued to do so far beyond its initial release. Its overwhelming popularity has led to so much more of the amazing galaxy and universe being explored through other media such as novels, comic books, and cartoons, and of course, two sequels and three prequels. Star Wars mania continues to sweep the nation since the first movie's release, and has become much more than anyone could have ever dreamed.

The last of the six movies that I feel were groundbreaking is Robert Zemeckis' 1985 hit, Back to the Future. The film is about teenager Marty McFly accidentally travelling back in time thirty years, and almost preventing himself from being born which would cause a huge paradox in which he doesn't exist. With the assistance of his friend Doc, he makes everything right again by making sure his parents get back together, and at the same time has to take his only opportunity to get back to his own time period. He makes it in the end, and not only does he succeed in getting his parents together, but also managed to toughen up his dad which ended up making him much more successful, leading to a much nicer home and a family he could better relate with.

I consider Back to the Future to be a groundbreaking movie because it's just so fun and unique. It has so much personality, the actors are all amazing and fit their roles perfectly, they interact so naturally, and at the same time it's particularly goofy and cartoon-ish for a live action movie, something I have never seen elsewhere, as well as the cool special effects when traveling through time. It's also an amazing adventure film, with awesome stunts and heart-pounding moments to deliver just the perfect balance of styles to make it into such a, dare I say, flawless movie. Although I don't think it had a big effect on the movie industry itself, it did wonderful in the box office and has had such an effect on popular culture because it's so likeable by everyone. It went on to spawn two sequels, as well as a video game in the works to further advance the story that longtime fans have been waiting for.

As I said in the beginning, there are many, many films that can be considered groundbreaking, and this only treads on a few personal favorites that I feel to be a big part of the movie industry. It's very cool to watch films from all sorts of different eras and see how things changed and evolved, and one of the many things that make film so interesting and go beyond the simple purpose of casual entertainment.
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