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Lists Of Our Lifetime: Empire's Greatest Game Changers
The 25 moments that have shaken and reshaped cinema during Empire's 25 years...

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As we celebrate our 25th anniversary year, we're taking a long look back over the last quarter century of cinema. We already looked at the greatest opening scenes and greatest romantic gestures, but this month we look at the films that changed cinema itself. These were the innovations and breakthroughs that shaped film over the last 25 years...

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The Abyss


Hollywood is the Dream Factory, but while everything's available in our imaginations, the screen had its limits... until The Abyss (1989). Jurassic Park may be the movie where photo-real VFX saw audiences' jaws drop, but it was James Cameron's underwater odyssey that showed the business just what was now possible. T2, The Matrix, Avatar - they all started here.

Steven Soderbergh

From Cassavetes to Corman, independent film has taken odd, varied incarnations, but it was a quiet, twentysomething boy from Baton Rouge who paired an exploitation title with real, rounded relationships to make an unlikely critical and commercial hit of sex, lies, and videotape - and influence indie film for the next 20 years. Harvey Weinstein credits Tarantino with making Miramax, but it was Steven Soderbergh whose debut showed the way for the fledgling company and the various studio speciality labels (Fox Searchlight, Paramount Vantage et al) which followed, spawning Crouching Tigers, Black Swans and Slumdog Millionaires.

The Killer

Doing for action what Enter The Dragon did for martial arts, The Killer (1989) ensured director John Woo's super-violent, slo-mo, 'bullet ballet' carnage hooked Hollywood, paving the way for, among others, The Matrix. The Killer also prompted filmmakers to look east for material, inadvertently bringing about films from The Departed to The Ring.


The birth of the blockbuster is generally taken to be Jaws or Star Wars, but with its iconic marketing, extensive merchandising and franchise foresight, Tim Burton's Batman set the template for the next three decades of tentpole pictures. It now looks weirdly ahead of its time, casting A-list actors in traditionally B-movie material, taking sources seriously and presenting itself as a must-see Event. Oddly, DC has never capitalised on other characters. But someone at Marvel was clearly paying attention...


Now we have teasers for teasers for trailers and it's a bit tiring, but back in 1990 the notion of a celluloid appetiser was far less advanced. Then - boom - came Cameron's bespoke presentation of the making of a T-800: pounding score over assembling endoskeletons and then, you know it's coming, Arnie's metallic stare. Still gives chills. Still the gold standard for enticing excitement.


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1 I also dis-agree
I would easily say without OZ on HBO, nothing else would have been possible More

Posted by rob_devitt on Tuesday September 9, 2014, 06:43

I have to disagree about The Sopranos changing television. Buffy the Vampire Slayer did that a good 4 or 5 years before Tony Soprano started therapy. More

Posted by Bo_82 on Sunday March 16, 2014, 20:27

3 Avatar! Great 3D but pants story
10/10 for technical achievement but the story was as well trodden as Oxford Street. Dances with Wolves but with blue aliens in a neon bioluminescent forest. Comparing it to Tolkien is a bit degrading. More

Posted by richard_wl1978 on Wednesday March 12, 2014, 22:34

4 RE: Love it or hate it
an kicked off this new wave of superhero films - Batman and Superman may have had film outings previously but without Spiderman, we'd have no Marvel Phase 1, 2 or 3, or upcoming Batman vs. 100% correct as long as you substitute every mention of "Spiderman" with "X-Men". More

Posted by wedgeski on Monday March 10, 2014, 16:01

5 Love it or hate it
Harry Potter was a thing unto itself, but Twilight has kicked off an entire genre of film for tweens, in a way that HP never did. The Hunger Games; Divergent; recycling Enders Game; Percy Jackson - the endless adapting of Y/A books into film is a cursed result of Twilight. Spiderman kicked off this new wave of superhero films - Batman and Superman may have had film outings previously but without Spiderman, we'd have no Marvel Phase 1, 2 or 3, or upcoming Batman vs. Superman. And J.J Abrams - he is insanely prolific in both tv and film. He has rejuvenated Star Trek; he is steering the new Star Wars; he created Lost, Alias and Fringe... you cannot get away from Bad Robot. If Christopher Nolan has a blank cheque, J. J Abrams is the one signing them. More

Posted by on Saturday March 8, 2014, 10:00

6 As stupid as it sounds
I never bothered to watch it but SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW led the way for great movies like Sin City, 300, and The Spirit. And what would the industry be like without The Spirit. More

Posted by dave666 on Wednesday March 5, 2014, 18:49

7 No Bond too!?
Also no Bond but Harry Potter?? Without the Bond movies there probably wouldn't be such a thrive in British film making today. More

Posted by J_BUltimatum on Wednesday March 5, 2014, 12:38

8 Numbers 23, 24 and no IMAX mention!?
I know Empire loves Judd Apatow but has to be said that Todd Phillips has done more for the R Rated comedy. Old School, The Hangover and has inspired many other movies that don't have the same cast in them. You also state that Avatar makes 3D matter. Unfortunately, not so. The majority of cinema goers would prefer the 2D alternative and only 3D as a last resort. A prime example of this was Dredd. An excellent film (which I loved in 3D) but many people didn't go to see due to the lack of 2D performances. I'm also quite shocked that IMA is no where to be seen. Despite it being one of the more popular formats for people to watch. More

Posted by J_BUltimatum on Wednesday March 5, 2014, 12:26

9 Entries 4 and 24 : Contains instances of very strong dumbness.
4 : Tim Burton's first Batman is not ahead of its time. You could make a case for its sequel being ahead of its time marrying Christmas enchantment with the stuff of Happy Meal nightmares, but that first film has dated very badly indeed. The Prince songs don't help one bit, and despite the budget, I think it looks cheaper and tackeir with every passing year. 24 : Don't - be - so - dense. Avatar does not rival Tolkien for depth of world creation, or Jackson in majesty of stroytelling. They're blue aliens in a rainforest for Christ sake. Three-dimensional is the last assessment you can make for that film. More

Posted by Concise_Statement on Wednesday March 5, 2014, 00:20

10 RE: Really?
@Newbarbarian: Reading is an acquired skill. Exact quote: "Not only did Avatar create a world and mythology to rival The Lord Of The Rings detail" More

Posted by jleenen on Saturday March 1, 2014, 08:37

11 Really?
Wait, you seriously think Avatar has a mythology to rival Lord of the Rings? I was rather enjoying this list until I read that abomination of a suggestion. More

Posted by Newbarbarian on Friday February 28, 2014, 17:07

12 Very good
Cool piece. And all hail Nolan. More

Posted by Teamwak on Friday February 28, 2014, 17:02

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