A few nights ago while spinning the metaphorical dial in a desperate search for something to watch, I came across a movie I had not seen in a while. In that nostalgic moment, I got to thinking about how cherished it had become and how the movie spawned other similar films. Without really trying, the film had invented a whole new genre.
Then I started thinking of other films that had a similar impact. Without question, there are probably hundreds of films that established themselves as innovative. Here are just a few films so groundbreaking they helped to launch new film genres:
Airplane! (1980) and the 'Silly Disaster Parody' genre
Okay if you haven't guessed already, the movie that got me all nostalgic in the first place was, in fact, Airplane! In case you are unaware, Airplane! is a comedy disaster film more or less about a doomed plane filled with sick passengers and no pilot to land it. The iconic comedy directed by Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers lands high on many favorite movie lists, including AFI's 100 Funniest American Movies and Bravo's 100 Funniest Movies of All Time.
Everyone has their favorite quotable lines. Lines like, "Surely you can't be serious..." and "I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue," still bring smiles and giggles to fans 35 years later. If quotability is any indication of a film's cultural status, Airplane! is surly beloved.
Not only is it a hilariously funny movie that stands the test of time, but it also spawned a plethora of imitators that cemented Airplane! as one of the first among many of its genre. Disaster parody? Satire? With its sight gags mixed with funny fast-paced dialogue and pop-culture references, the movie is hard to define. Whatever you choose to call it, Airplane! was the first of its kind to be a box office success. It's silly, surreal form of comedy influenced a generation of filmmakers to come. You have to wonder if we would have movies like Dumb and Dumber, the Scary Movie franchise or Anchorman if not Airplane!
Halloween (1978) and the 'Unstoppable Killer' genre
Do I really need to go over Halloween's cultural impact? A staple of cable networks on or near October 31st, it is a well known holiday favorite rubbing shoulders with such classics as It's a Wonderful Life and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. The movie's popularity spawned several sequels and made Jamie Lee Curtis Hollywood's top scream queen of the time.
The director John Carpenter may not have invented the teen slasher movie, but he perfected it. He incorporated elements from previous slasher films while adding in his own unique spin on the genre. Carpenter's unstoppable killer element wasn't new to audiences in 1979, but his movie made it and other slasher cliches a mainstay of many popular movies that followed.
Halloween's popularity directly influenced future films, incorporating the idea of the unstoppable killer. Would we have a Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger if not for Carpenter's relentless murder machine Michael Myers?
Star Wars (1977) and the 'Used Future' genre
Like my other two selections above, Star Wars is a movie that needs no introduction. Its historical and cultural significance is ubiquitous. With the coming of a new film and Disney's marketing machine, you can't swing a dead Jawa without hitting something with a Star Wars logo on it.
One unique aspect of George Lucas' spin on science fiction was the idea of a "used future." In other words, Lucas presented us with a futuristic universe where everything looks - for the lack of a better word - used. Everything from droids, to ships to clothing all have a worn-out look. The extreme level of detail made everything in the Star Wars universe seem more genuine.
Before Star Wars, most science fiction films presented audiences with a sterile future, where everything is clean and shiny and new. A great example of this is the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) with its pristine corridors and bright space suits.
With Star Wars, everything wasn't so shiny and new, no longer pristine. When we see the Millennium Falcon for the first time it looks like she tried to make the Kessel run one too many times. To drive the point home, Luke even refers to her as a "piece of junk." Except for scenes shot on the Death Star, almost everything else in Star Wars looks like it is in desperate need of repair. Everything looks aged, used, old.
If the idea of a "used future" genre seems a stretch, I can come up with no better an example than Alien (1979).
In Ridley Scott's masterpiece we encounter the mining ship Nostromo. It is beat up, cluttered and seems to be kept together with just duct tape and a few well-timed prayers. A clear example of "used future" style. And in Scott's film Blade Runner (1982) we see again a future that could do with a good cleaning and a fresh coat of paint. But those are just two examples. I'm sure there are many other examples of filmmakers making the future look old in order to add realism.
I am eager to hear what you think. Can you think of any other films out there that were so incredible and so historically and culturally significant that they too launched their own genres?