POLL: the most influential films of all time, round three

Posted by · 8:31 am · June 3rd, 2009

(from left) John Travolta and Uma Thurman in Pulp FictionAnd we come to the third and final round, which will decide the ranking order of your chosen 10 most influential films of all time.  For background on this series, go here.

Unfortunately, a number of our readers are apparently unaware of the influence films like “Battleship Potemkin,” “The Birth of a Nation” and “Metropolis” have had on the film medium.  Both were able to squeeze out enough votes in the early rounds to make it through to last week’s survey, but they join “Annie Hall,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Casablanca,” “The Godfather Part II,” “Gone with the Wind,” “The Matrix” and “Rashomon” on the list of runners-up to your definitive collective.  And if we’re being honest, a number of those films shouldn’t have even made it through to last week’s poll.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a bit disappointed by the way this series has turned out.  I don’t want to sound like I’m chiding the readership or anything, but it did become painfully honest rather quickly that the poll was being viewed as a popularity contest more than anything else.  At the same time, if you’ve only seen the popular titles, you can’t be expected to blindly know the impact of films like “Potemkin” and “Metropolis.”

So allow me to humbly suggest that if you’ve never seen a number of the films that appeared over the last few weeks (most certainly the aforementioned trio, not to mention other films that crashed and burned, like “Easy Rider,” “Persona” and “Man with the Movie Camera,” among others) do yourself a favor and seek them out.  You truthfully cannot consider yourself a fan of the cinema if you aren’t familiar with how it got to this point.  Go back through the polls in our archive for refreshers.

Anyway, enough lecturing.  As mentioned, this week’s final query will establish the ranking order of the 10 films you see in the left sidebar.  I figure there’s no better way to decide than to simply ask everyone for their pick of the most influential of the litter.  For some of us, the answer is obvious.  But I’m counting on some well-reasoned personal arguments to sway the needle for other titles and leave us with a nice and definitive 1-10.

This poll will close Wednesday, June 10 and, if we get enough responses, will feature your own thoughts on the entries.  So first come, first served, if you want to write a 100 word entry for one of the 10 films, post a comment here with the film title and an email address and we’ll set you up.

→ 36 Comments Tags: | Filed in: Daily

36 responses so far

  • 1 6-03-2009 at 8:59 am

    Zac said...

    The first of these polls where I’ve seen all the options! Woohoo!

    My pick would be Citizen Kane and I would like to write a mini-essay on it.

  • 2 6-03-2009 at 9:02 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Contact info?

  • 3 6-03-2009 at 9:04 am

    Alex Schopp said...

    I just wanted to say, I’m really disappointed with the way that this turned out too. It was obvious from the begining that these polls were gonna be based soley on popularity or word of mouth (as in films such as Citizen Kane, which I’m guessing most everyone voted for, but a lot probably couldn’t tell you what happens in it). Anyway, when you started this whole thing, the aspect that I really loved about it was that, if you did some research, you could probably come up with a very good list without actually seeing some of these movies. I’ll be the first to say that I didn’t see all of the films that I voted for, but I did research them all, looked up what they did for film, who they inspired, how they changed things, etc, and I felt I could fairly gauge their importance to cinema through that. And really that’s what you were looking for with these lists. I didn’t need to know anything about what I liked about it or how I felt about it. It was about influence on cinema, not personal preference (well, preference on which you thought influenced film the most, but not on your tastes or anything). Anyway, after some of these lists started to be widdled down, I could see that this wasn’t going to end up “right”. Now I was able to make a pretty solid top 10 from the last segment, but of course most of those did not make the cut this time around (i.e. Battleship Potemkin and Birth of a Nation, among others).

    Looking over the most recent poll options, Citizen Kane is a great choice. I’d be comfortable with that “winning”. It just seems so meaningless at this point thought. I don’t want to act like I know more about movies than anyone else, because I definitely don’t. The only point I’m getting at is, for a list of movies that problably had to deal less with actually viewing than any other polls you have or will put up here, the results were weaker than most. Why bother voting if you don’t even know who your candidates are? We’re ending up with a result that really means nothing. I mean, what did we really accomplish with this? I expected more from this poll.

    Now I look forward to hearing all of the angry responses to this. lol

  • 4 6-03-2009 at 10:08 am

    MattyD. said...

    Thank you Kris, for “chiding the readership”. I’ve been so sad at how this poll has turned out to be a popularity contest :(.

  • 5 6-03-2009 at 10:14 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Well this happens, but Citizen Kane is a deserving winner.

  • 6 6-03-2009 at 10:16 am

    red_wine said...

    I agree that many people haven’t seen the older movies for this poll to be unbiased, but Citizen Kane, come on, EVERYBODY has seen Citizen Kane.

    And Alex, in a way the results are okay. It wasn’t a poll for critics, but casual film watchers. If you say that people should have referred to critics before voting, instead of doing that, might we not have as it is printed a list by the critics.

    But yes it did become a popularity contest like Kris said. I’d be stumped to think how Godfather & Wizard of Oz are influential. Reservoir dogs is actually more influential than Pulp Fiction. Dogs has the cool Tarantino chic that young film-makers from around the world want to copy.

    And Jaws, great though the film is, is actually influential in a negative way. In the middle of the explosion of avant guard cinema in the 70’s, and an increasing appreciation and popularity of foreign films in America, Jaws and Star Wars(both great films) started the summer blockbuster culture which brought down the golden age of the 70’s to some extent. They brought about the entire culture of ridiculous horrible money-making machines like Transformers and the basic summer fare.Jaws also sparked of a genre which has resulted in some of the most awful films of the past 2 decades, those ridiculous creature movies like Piranha and the sort.

    And 2001 is actually a pretty singular movie, there’s been nothing like it ever since, I wonder what it has inspired save for special effects.

  • 7 6-03-2009 at 11:01 am

    Zac said...

    I got the e-mail from you Kris.

    I just figured that since we need to provide a name and e-mail to post, that you would get that info from the comments when they’re posted since you’re the owner of the blog.

    I need to sit down and watch the movie again sometime today, so I’ll probably have something for you tonight or tomorrow.

  • 8 6-03-2009 at 11:11 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “Reservoir dogs is actually more influential than Pulp Fiction.”


    I’d re-think that point.

    “And Jaws, great though the film is, is actually influential in a negative way.”

    It isn’t a poll concerning most positively influential films. The business is what is is today, for better or worse, because of “Jaws.”

  • 9 6-03-2009 at 11:20 am

    Davidraider88 said...

    O wow another list/poll where “Citizen Kane” wins, isn’t this boring and predictable after 50+ years of the same results to these type of questions? It gets to a point where some people think that if they don’t pick CK no one else is gonna consider them a “true” film fan. Kris, you say some people are not doing this right and are picking based on their personal favorites, well some no doubt are picking based on what they think is the BEST film of all time and not the most INFLUENTIAL.

  • 10 6-03-2009 at 11:21 am

    adelutza said...

    Maybe, just maybe, instead of a lecture, we might get a weekly – or monthly – blog about the masterpieces of film, in chronological order. Like what makes them great, etc. I became a film enthuziast based on a book I read a long time ago , a very good book called “The History Of Cinema in Masterpieces”. Maybe like that people will be more inclined to actually see those movies, if they know what to expect or what to look for.

  • 11 6-03-2009 at 11:32 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    David: If you don’t think Citizen Kane is the most influential film of all time, you haven’t been paying attention. I’m sorry. I understand the point you’re making but to make it at the expense of Citizen Kane is silly.

    adelutza: Fair point.

  • 12 6-03-2009 at 11:44 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I’m curious to hear from the 2 people who think Toy Story is the most influential film in the history of the medium.

  • 13 6-03-2009 at 12:05 pm

    Jesse said...

    I’m more a believer in perfecting rather innovating, and I feel that Potepkin was an exercise in style rather than anything else. A film is meant to entertain above all, and frankly, it was dull.

  • 14 6-03-2009 at 12:05 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Jesse: Wow.

  • 15 6-03-2009 at 12:07 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    As long as it’s understood that the “entertainment” you get out of 99% of films you see today owes everything to the editorial practices innovated by “Potemkin.” Whether it was “dull” or not is hardly the point, but that having been said, you’re telling me there’s nothing captivating about the Odessa Steps sequence? Really?

  • 16 6-03-2009 at 12:11 pm

    Alex Schopp said...

    Just want to let everyone know, I wasn’t implying that people should be looking at what critics say to gauge their responses. I agree that if people just decided to go that route, then we’d have a really boring list on our hands. Overall, with all of these lists, that’s what I love most about them…that they’re what “regular” people think about these films. But at the same time, I don’t think there’s any harm in being educated on your options.

    That being said, I have a couple of comments on some of the other posts:

    red_wine: 1) How can you say that either Pulp Fiction or Resevoir Dogs is really THAT influential? I get that they are influential, but top 10 all time?! If you want to nominate those, go watch Rashomon, and then get back to me. That film, I believe, was as much an influence to Tarantino in general as anything else. So how could that not be more influential than either of his films you suggested? If you say something is influential, wouldn’t something that influenced that technically be more influential? I would say so. 2) I think The Wizard of Oz is influential because it was one of the first movies that took its story from a children’s book. It took a known story and turned it into a film. And it proved that there was a market for these children in the theaters. It was really one of the first “family” films (other than cartoons). 3) I agree that we haven’t seen much else similar to 2001: A Space Odessey since its release, but at the same time, it was such a pioneer in the modern sci-fi of it’s time. Its effects and cinematography were cutting edge for its time. It was really one of the first modern sci-fi movies. I agree it shouldn’t even be around the top, but i’m pretty comfortable with top 10. Did that film maybe influence other sci-fi directors to push for more realism and precision? I think so.

    Also, Kris, good call with the Jaws comment. I was waiting for someone to say something like that. Jaws was one of the first blockbusters (discounting the gross that ‘Gone with the Wind’ pulled in, of course). But, like it or not, Jaws made the ‘Summer Blockbuster’. Same thing Star Wars kind of did a year later (though I look at Star Wars more as a marketing and merchandising inovater than a blockbuster (even though it easily fulfilled that too)).

    Ok that’s it. Sorry these posts are all so long. I just get going and I can’t stop. lol

  • 17 6-03-2009 at 12:22 pm

    Bill said...

    Are we doing blurbs for the honorable mentions? If so, I’d like to write about Annie Hall.

  • 18 6-03-2009 at 12:27 pm

    adelutza said...

    Well, it looks like first we have to define “influential” ;-)

  • 19 6-03-2009 at 12:42 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    I’m 26. I’ve never seen Jaws, CT3K, Birth Of A Nation (have no interest in watching that one anyway). I’m an 80’s kid. Fresh in my mind is the fact I saw the movie “No Holds Barred” twice theatrically. Please don’t take this as I have no taste. I do own 8 1/2 (albeit I don’t care for it very much).

  • 20 6-03-2009 at 1:07 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I think that’s just the point. Ideally, this list would have nothing to do with taste.

  • 21 6-03-2009 at 1:39 pm

    Jeremy said...

    Chad: I think you can credit “Toy Story” as being influential because its success (both artistically and commercially) essentially invented a new genre of filmmaking. I know, there’s the whole “medium vs. genre” argument regarding computer animation, but still, as a result of “Toy Story”, studios everywhere got cracking on developing intelligent, family-friendly animated fare. That counts as influential in my book.

  • 22 6-03-2009 at 1:59 pm

    Mr. Milich said...

    Went with 2001. Even though I know Citizen Kane will win.

    I’m curious, though, how many people really like Citizen Kane that much? I kind of feel like it’s a mindless choice simply because its reputation is ubiquitous.

  • 23 6-03-2009 at 2:15 pm

    Jesse said...

    Yes, it was. I think the heavy Communist symbolism takes away any sort of actual compelling plot. The Great Train Robbery was far more influencial in terms of storytelling, and as for editing, I would have chosen Sunrise above Potempkin. Mind you, I’m not saying Potempkin is by any means a “Bad” film. It’s great. But this is a list for the MOST influencial films of all time, and I think it falls short.
    Remember, this is a site devoted to those who follow art films, not popcorn flicks, and if all of us aren’t won over, then that says something.

  • 24 6-03-2009 at 2:29 pm

    tim said...

    How is Snow White last on the list?

  • 25 6-03-2009 at 3:47 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Milch: I’m firmly of the mind that it is not only the most influential film ever made but also the best. Sometimes the cliche is true. My opinion, of course.

  • 26 6-03-2009 at 3:48 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Clearly not a lot of people are interested in being by-lined. Ha. I guess I’ll farm it out to our contributors. Pencils ready!

  • 27 6-03-2009 at 5:16 pm

    Bill said...

    Kris, I’d be interested in writing a blurb. I’m afraid I don’t really see a film on the top ten that does it for me now that Citizen Kane is claimed. You want to assign me one?

  • 28 6-03-2009 at 6:45 pm

    rosengje said...

    I think The Godfather is the most disappointing entry in that it is probably the least formally innovative. I can understand the outrage over Pulp Fiction making it at the expense of a direct influence like Rashomon, but at least the former has had a noticeable impact on recent film. Further, as much as people disparage Harvey Weinstein, Miramax completely shaped independent film during the 90s and it is “the house that Quentin built.”

    I wonder how many filmmakers at this point are even familiar with works like “Man with a Movie Camera” and “Battleship Potemkin.” So many releases now are a compilation of such varied influences that I find the pastiche frequently becomes more familiar than the original. I attended Terry Gilliam’s panel at the American Pavilion in Cannes and he went on about how the most amusing part of seeing a Roland Emmerich film is seeing exactly how he thinks Steven Spielberg would have shot the same thing.

  • 29 6-03-2009 at 9:37 pm

    tom. said...

    I think the problem with this poll is that voters need an understanding of the market before(underlined) a film’s release to properly understand the influence of the film. That’s the reason I didn’t participate and also why I don’t understand how so many voters could declare so adamantly that Citizen Kane is the most influential of all time. I reckon a good chunk of voters wouldn’t have a deep enough film history to understand Citizen Kane’s influence. Or maybe I’m underestimating incontention readers.

  • 30 6-03-2009 at 11:02 pm

    andrew said...

    This is what I mentioned last week. If people realized how much say, romanctic comedies owed to “It Happened One Night”, and just stopped picking the choices that are just so expected, this might have been way more interesting. I’m kinda dissapointed, I’m the one that listed Blue Velvet, Rebel Without a Cause, The 400 Blows, Persona, and Red River. Not one of those made the list before this latest. And I’m not discrediting the films that have made the list, but like you said Kris, it’s pretty much a list of the most popular, obvious choices.

  • 31 6-04-2009 at 1:05 am

    brian said...

    There’s probably a certain amount of film school snobbery contributing to this, but Jesus, that is the sorriest looking list of influential films I’ve ever seen. Considering that there’s probably 50 films that deserve to be in the Top 10, it’s kind of a fools errand to begin with, but wow.

    Eisenstein, Griffith, Chaplin, Keaton, Truffaut, Goddard, Fellini, De Sica, Bergman, Kurosawa, Capra, Ford, Wilder, Hughes, Huston. All of them absent from this list. Not one documentary. Not one foreign language film.

    I’m one of the heretics who doesn’t believe Citizen Kane to be all it is held up to be, but anyone saying it doesn’t deserve to be near the top of this particular list either doesn’t know any better or just wants to be contrarian.

    I don’t find the story that interesting and I don’t think the characters hold up over repeat viewings, other than Joseph Cotton who was and will forever remain the man. The Third Man is my Citizen Kane for sheer film-making greatness, but in influence, technical and directorial, there are few (not zero, but few) films that can challenge Welles’ claim on that title.

  • 32 6-04-2009 at 1:33 am

    Glenn said...

    As I’ve been saying in basically each installment, I’m viewing the word “influental” as meaning it lead to the sort of movies that ARE made instead of HOW they’re made. I’ll definitely say “Citizen Kane” changed both the movies that are made and how that are made, but something like “Birth of a Nation”…? Nobody wants to make movies like that. So while it may have been influential in the way that it changed cinematography and such I can’t imagine anyone saying that movie influenced them to start making movies or influenced studios what sort of movies they should make (although, perhaps I’m wrong…? my history is, admittedly, not that sharp).

    Now take something like “Psycho” and that not only changed how horror movies were conceived, marketed, made and discussed but also turned serious horror films into a viable genre, a change that continues to be felt to this very day.

  • 33 6-04-2009 at 8:58 am

    Alex Schopp said...

    Glenn, I agree with you on Psycho. I think that is one film that, while on this final list, a lot of people under-estimate. I mean it introduced us to that thriller, twist ending. And, you’re right, it made the horror genre a “real” thing.

    I do however want to disagree with you on ‘Birth of a Nation’. I agree that maybe people nowadays aren’t looking at that film and saying ‘let’s do this part like they did it in there’. But I think that this film is one that you don’t necessarily look at today for its technical values (even though some of its technical achievements were pretty admirable for it’s time), or go ‘oh, I see where ‘Director X’ got that from now’…cause that’s not what makes this film influential. The reasons I think this film was so influential are 1) It was one of the first feature-length films to really make good money (I think it made the equivelent of like $200MM in today’s money or something). This film showed all other american film-makers that you could create works that were 60+ minutes, and people would still care. It proved that the market was there for such films. And 2) This film was very controversial. I’m not saying that being controversial necesarily makes you influential, but I believe that making something that pushed boundries, yet that was still “accepted” by the common movie-goer, was a big step for film makers. I think it openned a lot of minds and imaginations. Pushing boundries has been a staple in cinema, and I believe that this was the film that kind of got that going.

    That all being said though, there are probably very few people that have actually ever seen this film, so I can understand why it might have gone under the radar in the voting.

  • 34 6-04-2009 at 9:55 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    rosengje: “The Godfather” changed the distribution philosophy forever. Hugely innovative film.

  • 35 6-04-2009 at 10:28 pm

    Henry said...

    The question shouldn’t be whether the films influenced us, but whether they influenced films. The former would be a very valid poll but it’s not the same question.

    I’ve tried to watch Battleship Potemkin. I say tried because I found it difficult to sit still through, and I felt more like I was paying respect than enjoying a movie. It didn’t influence me. I grew up with MTV. That influenced me. But if you took Eisenstein out of the equation there wouldn’t be an MTV.

    The most influential film isn’t always the first, otherwise the winner would have to be directed by Eadweard Muybridge and that’s overly literal. The Birth of a Nation definitely blazed the trail for a generation of directors in the 1930s and 40s, and it became a critical talking point for how feature films would be structured. But if Griffith hadn’t gone first someone else would have because the time was right.

    On the other hand, if Walt Disney hadn’t come up with the tools and methods of animation in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs it’s not a given that someone else would have. He made the impractical – painstakingly drawing every stupid frame – practical and without him it would not have been commercially viable to make animated features. To me, of the ten on the list Snow White is the most influential and 2001: A Space Odyssey (whose influence is more pronounced on the modern telecom industry than on filmmakers) is the least.

    I would be happy to write an argument for Snow White. My email address is hjenkins4@gmail.com.

  • 36 6-06-2009 at 3:18 am

    Glenn said...

    But, see, the reason I would claim “Toy Story” as BY FAR more influential to cinema than “Snow White” is that until the former animation remained, for about 99% of the time, a Disney game. They went almost un-contested for many decades. However, once “Toy Story” came along it not only opened more doors in that regards, but it made the production of animated films much more common. Yes, “Snow White” was influential in that it meant feature animation was possible, but almost nobody actually DID make feature animation unless it was from Disney’s house.