We humans love to categorize things, including and especially films. We lump movies in together to better understand what to expect from each, creating genres so we know what to expect from one specific film, more often than not. After more than a century of film, the list of genres and subgenres seems to extend on and on forever, as new movies continue to invent additional genres, based on literary trends, old film genres, and new innovations that inspire studios and filmmakers alike to continue mining the same vein. Nothing comes from nothing, but nonetheless, here are seven movies that created new genres of film.
1. Pulp Fiction
Quentin Tarantino proudly admits that he creates his own films by ripping off others, so it only seems natural that his most famous film should have inspired countless imitators. Pulp Fiction — the director’s second film, centered upon the interlocking stories and easygoing banter of several criminals in Los Angeles — was an immediate success among audiences and critics alike, winning the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and going on to gross more than $200 million worldwide despite a paltry budget of $8 million.
Tarantino captured the cultural imagination with a film that reveled in style and violence, using humor and non-chronological storytelling to put a new spin on old tropes. The new spin was quickly co-opted by dozens of imitators throughout the ’90s and beyond, as many films (some written by Tarantino himself) attempted to recapture the same magic to varying degrees of success. These include From Dusk Till Dawn, Snatch, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, True Romance, and Boondock Saints.
The slasher genre that more or less defined horror films in the 1980s traces its roots back to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, but the success of the low-budget, bare-bones Halloween more directly inspired the wave of masked teenage killers that assaulted the box throughout the decade. Director John Carpenter made a simplified horror film and an iconic but unknowable horror villain using the masked, knife-wielding Michael Myers, who is both an escaped lunatic and an actual boogeyman. Loosed on a fictional Midwestern town, Myers terrorizes the original “final girl,” Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her less-principled friends over the course of a single, brutal night.
Due to its box office success and low budget, Halloween became a blueprint for slasher films and franchises like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, wherein other mysterious killers wielding identifiable weapons killed off a group of middle-class white teenagers, primarily picking on ones that engaged in sex or drug use. The genre became so ubiquitous and easily identified that it eventually inspired the postmodern slasher parody film Scream nearly two decades later.
3. Star Wars
The unexpected and unprecedented success of George Lucas’s Star Wars helped to inspire both a new subgenre of science fiction — the space opera — and a new model of Hollywood moneymaking. The original 1977 film (now retitled with Episode IV: A New Hope) was a pioneering influence in special effects and extra-terrestrial world-building that became commodified in subsequent years by studios that sought to replicate its success with less fondly remembered titles like Starchaser: The Legend of Orin, The Black Hole, and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. Beyond all the pale imitations, Star Wars and its sequels are often considered directly responsible for the current trend in blockbuster Hollywood filmmaking, built around fast-paced plotting, franchises, special effects, marketing, and merchandising incomes.
4. Night of the Living Dead
Zombies in film can be traced as far back as the 1932 film White Zombie, though these early zombies have their origins in voodoo myths. Without ever using the term zombie, George Romero redefined the creatures for film audiences in 1968 with his independent production of Night of the Living Dead, wherein a group of strangers barricade themselves inside a house to protect themselves from a horde of flesh-eating, inexplicably reanimated corpses. Using gritty, grainy realism and social commentary to move horror films away from their gothic roots, Night of the Living Dead created a graphic apocalyptic scenario and a series of unnerving revelations that terrified unsuspecting audiences, making it one of the most successful independent productions of all-time. Zombies have proven to be one of the most enduring monsters of the horror genre, as they still routinely pop up in movies and television today, all thanks to Romero’s B-movie classic.
5. American Graffiti
George Lucas appears again on this list, only for an entirely different sort of picture. Teenagers had been depicted in film before American Graffiti (1973), of course — perhaps most notably in the 1955 social issue film Rebel Without a Cause, made when teenage culture was something of a new and unexpected revelation of the postwar era. American Graffiti broadened its scope to include a group of rock-and-rolling teenagers living in the early ’60s in Modesto, California, using interrelated vignettes to depict the humorous joys and affecting frustrations of its main characters to capture the spirit of its place and time. Rather than spawning a sudden boom of copycats, the film created a blueprint for coming of age films and teen comedy-dramas for decades to come, including The Breakfast Club, Dazed and Confused, Superbad, St. Elmo’s Fire, and Can’t Hardly Wait, many of which focus on a specific cultural moment or group of friends within the time frame of a single day or evening, just like American Graffiti.
6. The Blair Witch Project
Found footage films date as far back as 1980, when the Italian snuff film Cannibal Holocaust provoked controversy over its seemingly real depiction of cast members’ deaths. The style and genre of filmmaking, which attempts to make the fictional look actual using documentary techniques, took some time to take root in American popular culture, even after the enormous success of The Blair Witch Project in 1999. Using a shoestring budget of $22,000 to update the technique for a time when everyone would soon be able to film just about anything, the film follows three friends who become lost in the woods and plagued by mysterious circumstances while attempting to shoot a homemade documentary on a local myth. Using shaky camera work and naturalistic acting to ground the horror in everyday life, the film ended up making $248 million worldwide, making it one of the most successful independent movies ever, and inspired a string of parodies and eventually an excess of other found-footage films, including the Paranormal Activity series. The film also pioneered a new kind of digital-age marketing, using a viral online campaign purporting that the footage was authentic in order to create increased buzz.
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