ByRob Harris, writer at
Sometimes I play video games.
Rob Harris

Although movies are predominantly judged on their entertainment value, they are capable of so much more than simple amusement. The following documentaries attest to the power film wields, and remain testament to the fact that movies have the capability to change the way we think, behave and act, even affecting the very laws we live by.

These groundbreaking films had such a monumental impact that they quite literally changed the world, be it through legislation, or a shift in consensus thinking. They are shocking, provocative and difficult to watch, but equally necessary, presenting an unpalatable truth we needed to hear.

1.) Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

How it changed the world: Changed Canadian law to ensure the protection of children under the care of criminal suspects.

When Kurt Kuenne's close friend Andrew Bagby was shot and killed, Kuenne set out to make a film as a tribute to his life. The prime suspect in Bagby's case was his mentally unstable ex-girlfriend Shirley Turner, who fled to Canada. Soon after, Turner announced she was pregnant with Bagby's child, who she named Zachary.

After the extradition process was finally complete, Turner was arrested and Bagby's parents were given custody over Zachary. Despite evidence that she was psychologically disturbed, Turner was released on bail and successfully sued for joint custody of her child. This series of events ended in tragedy when Turner tied thirteen-month-old Zachary to her chest and jumped into the Atlantic Ocean, killing them both in a heartbreaking murder-suicide.

After losing both their son and grandson, David and Kathleen went through an intolerable period of mourning, but came out the other side with a determination to never let the justice system fail an innocent child like Zachary again.

On March 23, 2010, Zachary's Bill was introduced to the Canadian Parliament, with a goal to protect children and force judicial decision makers to keep the safety of kids in mind during bail hearings. Two years after the film was released, Zachary's Bill was signed into law; a conciliatory silver lining to a truly tragic tale.

2.) The Thin Blue Line

How it changed the world: Freed an innocent man from Death Row.

Errol Morris' momentous documentary was in part responsible for freeing Randall Dale Adams, a man wrongly convicted of murdering a police officer.

The film is remarkable for featuring an interview with David Ray Harris - the man who pointed the finger at Adams and who was present for the murder - in which he effectively testifies to Adams' innocence. It makes for exceptionally eerie listening, and you can find the recording below:

Despite being wrongly imprisoned for twelve years, Adams received no compensation for the loss of his life.

Harris, on the other hand, was never convicted of the murder (despite overwhelming evidence pointing towards him), but was eventually executed by lethal injection for a convicted homicide in an unrelated case.

3.) The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer

How it changed the world: Led to the closing of unresolved homicide cases, as well as allowing unprecedented public access to the inner workings of a serial killer's psyche.

This haunting extended interview with Richard "The Iceman" Kuklinski shone the light on aspects of human nature I rarely ever want to confront. Sentenced to consecutive life sentences, making him ineligible for parole until age 110, Kuklinski was infamous for having executed between 100 to 250 men.

"I wanted to say goodbye. I wanted them looking straight at me. I wanted them to see my pretty face. The last thing they ever saw was me. I'd watch them die, I didn't just shoot them and walk away."

Topics of discussion with the terrifying sociopath range from his detached lack of repentance, the intricacies of his execution methods, and his penchant for torturing animals, including the incineration of a cat. If you've ever been interested in the way a truly evil person thinks, take a look below:

Not only does the harrowing film provide psychological insights into sociopathic behavior, but it also led to the closing of several open homicide cases. When you're looking at triple life, you might as well come clean.

4.) Blackfish

How it changed the world: Almost brought SeaWorld to its knees, and secured funding for the protection of captive marine life.

This revealing documentary focuses on the captivity of a killer whale named Tilikum, involved in the deaths of three separate trainers. Blackfish was a wake up call for a lot of people, raising awareness about SeaWorld's questionable ethics and mistreatment of captive orca whales. Take a look at the ruthless tactics employed to separate baby whales from their parents below:

The documentary was so effective at exposing SeaWorld's morally dubious actions, that the amusement company suffered a $15.9 million loss after public opinion turned on them. In 2014, the company's share price had fallen by a massive 44%.

Additionally, a Californian bill named the Orca Welfare and Safety Act banned entertainment-driven killer whale captivity and retired all current whales. The bill also allocated $1 million to the study of captive marine mammals, to avoid any future tragedies. All of this political action was heavily influenced by the documentary.


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