Ranked: Top 10 Most Important Movies of all Time

We can all argue about what makes a movie good or bad, but as this website is proof, labeling a movie “good” is subjective. However, important movies transcend the fight of good vs bad. Look at the Twilight saga. I think those movies are awful, but I recognize, even if it pains me to do so, that they are important. These movies define a generation, and are a staple of pop culture. Look at all the other TV shows, movies, books, and other entertainment medias that have been bitten by the vampire bug. This is the mark of an important film; it influences others and changes the way we live our lives (some of us, that is). An important film is a piece of art work that can be used to define a time period, start new trends, or advance the process of movie making itself. Above all, an important film has connotations beyond Hollywood, and arguably beyond America. These movies are bigger than the profits (or losses) they made their production companies, bigger than the various prestigious awards they may (or may not have) won, and most importantly, bigger than the people involved in making them. Yes that’s right George Lucas, please continue making bad movies to prove me right… 


The Runners Up:

  •  Jurassic Park (1993) – Essentially jump-started what would become the summer blockbuster in the mid 90’s. It started a trend towards more action, more special effects, higher production values, and higher risk taking by the production companies. More importantly, the special effects work done in this movie is phenomenal, the film looks as realistic as the day it came out. Influence: Your favorite new super hero movie, Harry Potter sequel, or any other big-budget production based on some sort of literature.
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) – Before Disney made money by cranking out Pixar movies and Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, it made animated movies. Snow White was the first one, a monumental achievement at the time. Picture the hours upon hours of painstaking effort required to make the film, and how childhoods everywhere would be changed forever with the introduction of animated films. Influence: Everything animated, from your favorite Sunday morning cartoons to Disney’s latest animated feature, The Princess and the Frog. Not to mention the animation used as special effects in many movies from the 40’s into even the 80’s until stop motion was perfected.
  • Metropolis (1927) – More important than being one of Hitler’s favorite films, Metropolis was the most expensive silent movie ever made. Its setting is somewhat Orwellian, 21 years before the book 1984 would be released. More important are the stop-go special effects, which are phenomenal. In sum, way too far ahead of its time for its own good. Influence: many, many films to come after it, from Star Wars to Frankenstein to Soylent Green.

Without further a due, here are The Top Ten Most Important Movies of All Time

10. The Matrix (1999) – Another film set in a dystopian setting, the Matrix set the bar for all other action movies. The innovation of its special effects have still yet to be matched, even today, 11 years after its release. Lets not forget though, that the Matrix was also more than just an action movie. It showcased a smart action movie. One that was totally original, influencing a generation of video games, music, and yes, countless other movies around the world. It made fight scenes in movies art, not just violence. Influence: That rocket chase scene in Iron Man 2, the bullet bending in Wanted, the action sequences in any Stephen Chow movie…in other words all the coolest action sequences you can think of.

Follow this link to read my review: Rated: The Matrix (1999) 


9. Toy Story (1995) – There was a time when Disney made its money from making good animated cartoon features, and Toy Story came out at the end of that era. With improving special effects, the market for cartoon features fell hard in the late 1990’s and audiences wanted something new. Its a good thing then that Disney had Pixar, which 15 years later after its initial feature length release, is still cranking out really good movies that have helped to keep Disney afloat (and fund such endeavors as Pirates of the Caribbean). But that is not the only reason that Toy Story is important. It is important because it showed how computer animation was going to be the important next step in the evolution of film. Audiences’ favorable reaction to the film was also a huge help, and again, Disney was on the cutting edge with other studios trying to catch up instead of the other way around (which had been the case for the previous 30 years). Influence: Any movie that relies heavily on computer animation, and the seemingly unending trend of computer animated features that seem to be a big hit with audiences and critics alike.


8. The Godfather (1972) – Beyond the awards and popularity the movie produced, The Godfather is important because it is a great movie about a controversial subject. Previously, great films had been quantified as such due to their redeeming nature and heroic qualities (Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, Lawrence of Arabia) , but The Godfather brought a grittier, more realistic experience to audiences that matched the struggle many people were experiencing in their lives during this time period as well. The Godfather was one of the first movies to showcase crime from an insider’s perspective, and in doing so, it opened up the possibilities of audiences to accept films that challenged the typical structure and styles of a movie in all genres. Influence: Movies challenging the typical Hollywood status quo, such as Star Wars, Pulp Fiction, Apocalypse Now, or even The Breakfast Club owe it all to The Godfather for introducing audiences to the idea and making production companies have faith in the artistic visions of their directors.


7. Psycho (1960) – The culmination of Alfred Hitchcock’s artistic work, Psycho was proof that good movies and profitable movies did not have to be expensive movies. With a budget of $800,000, Psycho made over $40 million at the box office. Not to mention the whole slasher genre that it started or the numerous rip offs and remakes attempting the same formula. Influence: It proved the importance of originality and integrity to film making, something difficult to accomplish in today’s modern movie economy.


6. Avatar (2009)Its obvious that Avatar is important because of the influence it has had on so many people around the world (not to mention being the highest grossing film of all time…), but the movie is most important because of the technology James Cameron used to create a realistic 3D viewing experience that isn’t just created by traditional methods. There is no doubt that movies will follow this format in the future, already Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, and Ridley Scott have mentioned that they plan to film their own movies with this technology. Avatar was also one of the first movies to be backed by multiple production companies (where traditionally these companies would have been competing with one another for exclusive rights) to offset its huge production costs, the result is a reduced risk for these companies. Influence: this means that the future for even bigger, costlier, and more extravagant films is wide open, and production companies will be willing to take even greater risks on things they may have avoided in the past. 

Follow this link to read my review: Rated: Avatar (2009) 


5. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) – Speaking of Star Wars, here it is. The first popular “dirty” science fiction movie, Star Wars is the embodiment of a director taking his artistic vision to a final form. Before Star Wars, the science fiction genre was all about killer aliens invading earth or how perfect the future will be, and Planet of the Apes had essentially killed any enthusiasm (actually, its sequels) that audiences might have had. But Star Wars triumphed anyway because it was something that audiences had literally never seen before. Film making was forever changed, and until Jurassic Park, it was the pinnacle of special effects achievement. Also important was the huge financial success this movie proved to be, not only in box office receipts but in merchandising, a term that would come to define studio’s efforts in the 1980’s and beyond. Influence: Not only other sci-fi movies, but the movie watching experience in general. Now that audiences had seen Star Wars, they demanded more from their movies. More action, more originality, higher production values, and better special effects.


4. Citizen Kane (1941) – Widely considered the greatest movie ever made, Citizen Kane is no doubt important for being a really really good movie. But its influence on cinema goes beyond the quality of the film. This movie was very ahead of its time. Upon its release it was not understood well at all and did not make a profit. It took an additional 15 years for the revival to be released and critics to finally begin receiving the movie well. What else do I need to say about how revolutionary this film is given that fact? Well I will say more anyway. Welles used many innovative techniques that soon became staples in cinema that had never been done before, not to mention may be taken as granted by naive film aficionados. These techniques include combining sound recordings to produce multi-layered background sounds, using plastic masks to age its characters, seamless narrative structure (aka fading transitions as a story technique), a discontinuous score, and the use of multiple narrators amongst others. Influence: Modern cinema as we know it. If it weren’t for Citizen Kane we might not have had the realistic and artistic freedoms that can be achieved in film making today.


3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Kubrick’s most lasting achievement, 2001: A Space Odyssey, introduced audiences to the idea of life-like special effects, is the ultimate example of film as art, and most importantly, is startlingly accurate in its portrayal of the future. Perhaps too abstract for many critics and audiences, this film is nonetheless the best example of a film maker adapting a story to his own vision. It was radically different from anything that had come previously, and opened the door for mainstream film to be a creative media, not just for churning profits. The attention to detail in design and planning of the sets and story also influenced studios to increase the production values of their films in order to remain on the cutting edge. Influence: It ushered in a new era in film making, an era where all aspects of film making were to become equally important and reinvigorated cinema as a form of artistic expression.


2. The Birth of a Nation (1915) – The first feature length movie ever, (it is recognized as establishing the format for modern cinema) The Birth of a Nation was also the first movie to be a huge hit, raking in over $10 million (equivalent to over $200 million today). The movie also is important in the way it established the importance of certain foundations of feature length films including set design, costume design, stunt work,  an orchestrated score, and using separate production units. This was also the first film shown in the white house, to president Woodrow Wilson. Of course, I’ve said nothing about how controversial this film is, and that is a legacy by itself. Influence: Besides every other film ever made longer than 60 minutes….this film’s controversy influenced many African Americans to start making their own films, and started the careers of influential film makers such as John Ford, and Erich von Stroheim. Its controversial viewpoint opened the idea that like print, film could be used to express a viewpoint and wasn’t just for entertainment.


1. The Wizard of Oz (1939) – No movie has had as deep and long lasting pop culture impact than The Wizard of Oz. Wizard of Oz can be regarded as the first modern film production. Previously, the use of Technicolor was only a gimmick, similar to 3D today. Production companies were reluctant to embrace the change because despite the technology having existed since 1922 (and the first color films were possible as far back as 1908), and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was the only movie featuring color that had shown any success. The cameras were expensive, bulky, and limited in their movement, not to mention the excessive amount of make up and set design required to produce the bright colors. Still, The Wizard of Oz blended it all together perfectly, and although it was not a huge success at the box office upon its release, the fact that it is still popular and just as important today as it was when it first came out shows how important this movie really is. Influence: All movies after 1940 can thank The Wizard of Oz for proving the importance of technological advancement in film making to the production companies (much in the same way Avatar is proving the possibilities of 3D movies). This started the ongoing war for bigger, better, more advanced technologies to make movies far more enjoyable, fun, and impacting than previously thought possible.


My Previous Review: Rated: Robin Hood (2010) 

13 thoughts on “Ranked: Top 10 Most Important Movies of all Time”

  1. I would disagree. The most important movie of all time is without a doubt “Requiem for a Dream”. It is just the most impacting movie I have ever seen.

  2. Well, it is an inspiration for the way many movies have been made, effecting all genres of film, including the films Hot Fuzz and The Departed on a simple basis of the way it is filmed and the connection between those on the screen and those watching. It is also very important in the idea of emotional and complete relative appeal towards the audience that many movies have shown since the film was released. It is also VERY important because it shows the effects of drugs and what is involved with them since I have gone through a relative experience, myself. It is really perspective that chooses the most important films, but I do think you had a very good selection, I just felt that Requiem was the most important. The Matrix should have probably been higher, as well, due to its effect on the films more than, in my opinion, Toy Story, since there were many effective animated films before it that had a stellar effect on modern animation. And Avatar, though looking to be influential, isn’t quite influential yet. When the films come out later this year that use the same technology, and also the ones that come out next year do, THEN you can say it is influential, because those graphics will probably be great due to the Cameron/Pace system. But it is generally a good review, man. Good job.

  3. I absolutely love this review! So much time, effort and thought (and probably research) went into this list. And you’ve hit the nail on the head with all your ‘influences’. Great stuff!!!

  4. Requiem For a Dream? Great movie, but important? I think the gist of these selections were how they motivated and influenced the industry and the course of film and not necessarily how they move him personally. Personally..I loved “Requiem” for it’s brutal truth and irony. I agree that i felt the list by GSP was incomplete but not all that bad. I found myself nodding my head and saying, hm, i agree. But guys…if you love movies as much as i do, and i’ve been following your reviews for almost a week (i’m a week old member), so I know you do, than you will just have to admit it’s nearly impossible to create a list of “top ten most influential/important films”. Maybe of the decade, but not of all time. If you made the list “25 top most influential movies of all time” I bet we’d all agree on 85% of the ballot. These selections should only include movies that either “paved the way” or “changed the direction” of film (or at least a genre). Either way, i love reading your reviews and look forward reading and writing more. PhilmClips

  5. Well, when I make the lists I make anymore, it is very specific, like the best Tarantino films or whatever, but I used to make lists about the best this of all time and the best that, but those are too hard to do anymore, and so I agree with you on that. When you said “changed the direction of a genre” classifies importance of a film, my mind went to Requiem for a Dream, Dark City, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Daft Punk’s Electroma. Maybe one or two of these would be agreeable be you or someone else, but certainly not all of them, and so I completely see your point, and yet I also say that Requiem for a Dream IS important because it was filmed with such mastery and showed such truth in the world that it must be noticeable. So is Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989) which if you have not seen it, you must. I look forward to reading your reviews as well.

  6. Yes, I agree that influence is subjective to the viewer, but that is not what I meant here. These films are influential to the art of film making itself. These are the movies that I feel contributed the most to make the art of film what it is today (if it can even still be considered an art).

    Movies that connect to you on a personal level due to something that happened in your own life may not be important to someone else. But if that same movie changed the way later movies were made, then I consider it important to the art of film making, definitely transcending genres. I followed this logic and tried my best to avoid personal influence and importance when making this list.

  7. yes, I saw it in my AP US History class, actually, and I thought that it was boring, but it must have been amazing for the people of that day. That was the first feature length movie… EVER! So yes, and I’d give the actually movie a 1/5 in the entertaining level, but a 5/5 in the influential level.

  8. First off, excellent list, I totally get where you’re coming from, all these films were extremely important in their own way, nicely done.

    But the reason why I’m commenting is that I saw the comment of Birth of a Nation and I disagree, I though that movie was one of the best silent epics I have ever seen, and actually loved the whole film, also because you don’t get to watch a movie about evil from an evil point of view a lot. I’m a huge fan of Griffith, and his film Intolerance is one of my all time favourites.

  9. Good list, but somehow misses on the more ‘important’ films that challenged the conventional ways of film making and are, up to this day, still relevant.
    Renoir’s “The Rules of the Game” for deep focus and long sequences, Eisenstein’s “The Battleship Potemkin” for it’s montage (what editing has become today), Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” for its innovative storytelling device (e.g. flashbacks), or Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” for its angles and extreme close ups, are some of the more revolutionary films that changed the style of film making forever.

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