Hollywood films are more impressive than they’ve ever been, featuring absurd budgets, insane special effects, and outlandishly paid thespians. But virtually all films, no matter how modern they seem, owe everything to the movies of old. Cinema between the 30s and 80s created the language of film we understand today, establishing everything from modern cinematography to the strategic use of scores. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that without these films, cinema as we know it would simply not exist.
There are many movies that had an impact, but the biggest, most dramatic changes can be traced back to just a handful of productions. These are some of the films that shaped Hollywood into what it is today.
Few seem to understand that Jaws, released in 1975, basically invented the idea of a summer blockbuster. Or to put it another way, before Jaws it was not common that a single film dominate cinemas to the point that everyone had seen it. Decades later there are still few that haven’t heard of the movie, emphasising just how big an impact it had.
Steven Spielberg also invented the cinematography technique referred to as ‘space of expectation’ for Jaws. Many of the tensest scenes include open ocean in the background, for no other reason than to invoke expectation. The audience is invited to stare at the ocean and expect to the see the shark’s fin.
1972 saw the release of The Godfather. The movie had a notoriously difficult production, having to deal with much outrage for what would essentially be a portrayal of murderous Italian-Americans. Keep in mind that 1972 was a time when something like online Keno real money did not exist, land based casinos were enormous business, and the Italian mafia was still associated with illegal gambling. So portraying Italian-Americans as criminals at all, not to mention directly linking them to casinos, was seen as deeply insensitive.
The Godfather released to critical acclaim, creating an entirely new genre in the process. Movies that provided a deeply realistic look into organised crime did not exist before The Godfather, especially those with such an honest sympathy for the ‘bad guys.’
Citizen Kane, 1941, is often cited as the greatest film of all time. But the truth is that few really understand why. The story itself is interesting, and the acting great, but that isn’t why Citizen Kane is so widely celebrated. It is celebrated because Citizen Kane essentially gave birth to cinematic storytelling as we know it today.
Prior to 1941 cinema was largely treated as an extension of theatre. Cinematic language was flat and broad, with little to no thought given as to how camera movements and angles impacted the feel of the story. Citizen Kane introduced what would become understood as cinematography for the purpose of pushing the narrative. Watch a film before Citizen Kane, and after its release, and understand that the movie very literally changed cinema on a fundamental level. Citizen Kane is the Shakespeare of Hollywood, in every sense of the term.