An important movie is hard to define, perhaps even impossible. There are so many variables and each movie is always going to be brought down to subjectivity. A movie can be deemed important for a number of reasons – it could have pioneered technological advancements, it could have broke new ground for the genre, it could have changed the conventions of cinema, it could have been important for race and religion or it could have just been so good it changed cinema forever.
There have been millions and millions of movies made since the format’s inception so to choose just 50 from cinema’s entire history is a difficult process as personal feelings have to be mostly swept aside in favour of objectivity. There are of course numerous brilliant movies missing from the list that there simply wasn’t room for and the importance of more recent movies is a lot harder to judge without any historical context.
Films were selected for this list on a criteria of importance to the development of cinema, influence upon other filmmakers, cultural importance, historical importance and societal importance.
So here we go, starting with the earliest release…
50. Exiting the Factory (1895)
Louis Lumiere’s Exiting the Factory was the precursor to everything, being the first motion picture ever created. As expected, it’s a simple piece, running at just 46 seconds long and detailing in real time, workers leaving Lumiere’s factory in Lyon.
Three separate versions of the film exist and there are notable differences in them such as clothing changes – which is interesting because they are clearly filmed at entirely different parts of the year. The three versions are commonly knows as “one horse”, “two horses” and “no horse”. This is in reference to the horse carriage in the first two versions. Exiting the Factory can easily be found on Youtube for those who want to view the birth of everything.
49. The Birth of a Nation (1915)
Damned by history – and rightly so – for its gross racist content and political message, but the technical artistry on display in DW Griffith’s three hour epic is staggering. The film paints the Ku Klux Klan as heroes and the film led to a huge surge in members for the organisation and President Woodrow Wilson even had it screened at the White House. It gives a key insight into history as much as anything – authentically portraying the brutal bigotry of the South and the shocking nature of reality.
That being said, The Birth Of A Nation was innovatively groundbreaking and furthered the medium of film greatly. Its cinematic selections of close-ups and innovative editing make it an intriguing watch, especially when taking in its historical context, but it’s impossible to shake the sense of disgust you feel when watching the film. At three hours long and silent, it would be a gruelling challenge to modern audiences and would probably only interest film historians and those interested in American history but its cinematic importance cannot be denied.
48. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Sergei Eisenstein’s silent classic dramatises the mutiny against the Tsarist regime on the Russian battleship, Potemkin. Eisenstein invented the montage and his revolutionary techniques took cinema to an entirely new level. One of the most famous propaganda films of all time – Battleship Potemkin was created so the viewer would sympathise the the boat’s crew and despise the totalitarian Tsarist regime which was overthrown a mere decade before.
The film is simple, but so effective, unashamed of its goals and the acclaimed Odessa Steps sequence still looks ahead of its time today – the fact that sequence did not happen in real life does not diminish its power in the slightest. The famous sequence on the steps in The Untouchables is a clear rip off of the scene. Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels was a big fan and saw how Eisenstein effectively manipulated an audience – despite Goebbels having a very different political ideology to Eisenstein. The masterpiece, nearly a hundred years on, still maintains all of its emotive power and this big, bold and daring film is still a must watch.
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