Many of us take certain elements of our favorite movies for granted, like impeccable CGI, clever humor, or captivating cinematography. But these impressive techniques all had to start somewhere. Here are 24 spectacular movies that are cinematically and historically significant, influencing how movies are made to this day.
1. Jaws (1975)
Steven Spielberg's Jaws changed the course of cinematic history in more than one way. It busted the horror genre wide open, making it more appealing to the general public and less niche. The film was also the beginning of summer blockbusters! Many elements of the movie have become the blueprint for fantastic films.
2. Snow White (1937)
Snow White was Disney’s first feature-length film and was the beginning of the studio’s wild success. It was one of the first successful animated films, jumpstarting a sensational genre for both adults and children. Artistically, it’s one of the most important movies.
3. Die Hard (1988)
Die Hard might not seem like it changed cinematic history, but it revolutionized the action movie genre and changed people’s expectations for these kinds of movies. This film was smart, funny, and clever while being action-packed, elevating the action genre beyond more than just fight scenes.
4. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
If you’re a fan of found footage films, you can thank The Blair Witch Project for the existence of this cinematic style. Found footage films are eerie and all too realistic in many cases, making horror movies even edgier and more terrifying, and it all started with these teens in the woods.
5. The Matrix (1999)
The Matrix was a brilliant movie that raised the bar for sci-fi films and brought heart to the genre. It paved the way for the amazing special effects we all take for granted today, using incredible CGI techniques that made this movie unbelievable for the time.
6. Parasite (2019)
This gripping movie with an unforgettable twist did wonders to change the movie landscape in the U.S. Before the success of Parasite, people were hesitant to watch movies with subtitles. Not only did the movie have a fascinating and poignant message, but the format made many Americans feel like Korean and other foreign movies were accessible.
7. Iron Man (2008)
It may seem like you can’t even go a month without a new superhero movie coming out and Iron Man was really the beginning of this. It was one of the first films to focus solely on one superhero but then use the story to branch off into other characters and movies.
8. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
Star Wars is another important film cinematically because of the use of CGI, which was extremely new at the time. The movie was also the beginning of a crazy successful franchise, which paved the way for Marvel, Harry Potter, and many more series of movies.
9. Barbie (2023)
Barbie is one of the most cinematically significant movies we’ve seen in a while. It’s one of the first times a toy company, Mattel, partnered with a movie, and director Greta Gerwig broke records for box office numbers. The feminist themes and thoughtful story make this movie iconic already.
10. Jurassic Park (1993)
Jurassic Park is another movie that is cinematically significant because of its use of CGI. It’s also important because of the innovative and captivating cinematography and camera techniques, which changed how movies were made from then on.
11. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
While Star Wars was the beginning of successful movie franchises, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was the beginning of young adult fantasy movies that were blockbusters. Following Harry Potter, series like Twilight, The Hunger Games, and The Chronicles of Narnia were able to find success.
12. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is responsible for the creation of the PG-13 MPAA Rating, a rating that allowed movies to be edgier than PG but more accessible than R. Ratings have evolved over time, but this movie was a pivotal moment for the rating system we still use.
13. Paranormal Activity (2007)
Paranormal Activity revived the found footage style of horror movies and also reminded Hollywood that movies don’t need a massive budget to be a sensation. The movie was terrifying but subtle and gave the horror genre a much-needed refresh in the late aughts.
14. Airplane! (1980)
Spoof and parody movies are not as prominent now as they were in the early 2000s, but they never would’ve even existed without Airplane!. This movie was very tongue-in-cheek, with ironic humor and plenty of references. These types of movies have fallen by the wayside but could always come back.
15. Vertigo (1958)
Many of the movies on this list are significant because of their innovative use of CGI, but Vertigo utilized distinct visual effects that were never seen before. The in-camera effects, along with a dolly zoom, allowed Hitchcock to alter perspective and create iconic shots, such as the Vertigo effect.
16. Psycho (1960)
Psycho had many elements that changed cinematic history, from the first toilet flush on camera to the first-person shots. The movie does an excellent job of feeling real and close to the viewer, so people were more terrified than ever and felt personally attacked.
17. Toy Story (1995)
We all love Toy Story, and it’s one of the most successful Disney films of all time, but it also changed the course of animated moviemaking. It ditched the 2D animation for 3D and also crafted a story that was compelling for both kids and adults.
18. The Sting (1973)
The Sting was one of the first movies that people wanted to rewatch again and again after seeing it. It keeps a lot of information from the audience, so when all is revealed, it makes people want to go back to the beginning and enjoy the film with their new perspective.
19. The Exorcist (1973)
Many consider The Exorcist the best horror film ever made. Whether you agree with that or not, it’s undeniable that the film changed the genre. It was the first horror movie to get an Oscar nomination, making the genre more legitimate and calling for critics to take scary movies more seriously.
20. The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick created one of the most visually stunning horror movies, showcasing how scary films can also be aesthetically pleasing. His innovative use of camera angles and long shots changed how people thought horror films could be made, and it is still one of the most unique and captivating movies in history.
21. Citizen Kane (1941)
Most cinephiles know that Citizen Kane is one of the most significant movies in the film industry. It focused on playing with cinematography more than any film before, using lighting shifts and dramatic editing to convey plot points and themes. Many still consider it the best film ever made.
22. Scream (1996)
Nowadays, Scream is a classic and quintessential horror film, but it was wildly creative when it first came out. Murdering the movie’s it-girl, Drew Barrymore, in the first scene was shocking for people, and the meta aspect of the movie paved the way for many clever horror films we love today.
23. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The Wizard of Oz is significant because of its immense success and incredible cast, but it was also the first movie shot in Technicolor, creating exquisite colors and hues that had never been seen on screen before. The whimsical film changed from black-and-white to color, making a massive and exciting impact on viewers.
24. Avatar (2009)
As mentioned, many movies on this list are significant because of CGI techniques, but Avatar is the best modern example of CGI evolution. The plot of the movie isn’t particularly unique or unpredictable, but the extreme use of CGI to create the avatars is awe-inspiring and still unmatched.
Veronica is a food, fashion, and entertainment writer from Boston, MA, with a passion for all things lifestyle and culture. She graduated from Boston University in 2019 with a bachelor's in English literature. From Anna Wintour to Angelina Jolie to Alton Brown, she has her finger on the pulse of all things Hollywood and celebrity.
If she's not in the kitchen crafting new recipes, then she's binging the latest HBO series and catching up on the hottest trends in Vogue.
She has written for and been syndicated by publications like The Weather Channel, The Daily Meal, The Borgen Project, The Good Men Project, The Express, MSN, Wealth of Geeks, and Not Deer Magazine. Her writing experience ranges from global news articles to celebrity gossip pieces to movie reviews to homemade recipes and more.