Most Influential Films in American Cinema

The 100 + Most Influential, Significant and Important Films in American Cinema

The 2010s

Most Influential, Significant and Important Films in American Cinema
(chronological by time period and film title)
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Most Influential, Significant and Important Films in American Cinema
(chronological by time period and film title)
Title Screen
Film Title/Year/Director/Length/Studio, Descriptions of Influence/Significance

Bridesmaids (2011)
d. Paul Feig, 125 minutes, Universal Pictures

  • Universal's female-driven, R-rated, low-budget matrimonial comedy with strong sexual content and crude language performed very well during the summer of 2011. Other raunchfest films that were similar included The Hangover Part II (2011), WB's (New Line) Horrible Bosses (2011), and Sony/Columbia's Bad Teacher (2011).
  • The mainstream, female ensemble comedy (a major chick-flick) became the highest grossing R-rated female comedy of all time in the domestic box office at $169 million, edging out Sex and the City (2008) at $152.6 million. Ultimately, it took in $288.4 million (worldwide). The raunchy female comedy proved that women could be just as funny and outrageous as male performers.
  • It out-performed producer Judd Apatow's previous film Knocked Out (2007), and became the first Apatow-produced film to be nominated for an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress for Melissa McCarthy and Best Original Screenplay for Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo). As a result of the film, Melissa McCarthy became one of the decade's most bankable and break-out comedy movie stars.
  • The film became a cultural phenomenon and was the biggest female comedy of the decade. It stirred up discussion of edgy, female-centric comedy in Hollywood, and opened to an unexpected $26.2 million, with an audience that was 67% female. It proved that the male-dominated subgenre of raunchy R-rated films (There's Something About Mary (1998), American Pie (1999), and The Hangover (2009)) could easily be duplicated and overtaken by the opposite gender. It also portrayed the female characters as multi-dimensional and real, rather than as stereotypes in most rom-coms.

The Avengers (2012) (aka (Marvel's) The Avengers)
d. Joss Whedon, 143 minutes, Buena Vista, Marvel Studios (and Paramount Pictures)

  • This film announced the prominence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel Studios for the remainder of the decade - it featured a slew of iconic Marvel Comics superheroes - a group led by one-eyed, eye-patch-wearing spymaster Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the leader of a government high-tech law enforcement agency named S.H.I.E.L.D. It was the first superhero film to bring together a number of different characters (from the Marvel catalogue) into one film, and brought about a surge in rebooted and reimagined franchise films.
  • It was the sixth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe - released after Disney’s acquisition of Marvel Studios in 2009, and led to the increased popularity of comic-book films beyond the typical comic-book fan
  • Budgeted at $220 million, it was the highest-grossing (domestic) superhero film of all time for many years, with $623.4 million. (During its reign as the # 1 superhero film, the second-place superhero film wasn't even close, the Batman franchise's The Dark Knight (2008) at $534.9 million.) It was ultimately surpassed 6 years later by Marvel's Black Panther (2018) - the 18th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
  • At the time of its release, it became the third highest-grossing film of all-time, with worldwide revenue of $1.52 billion, behind Titanic (1997) at $2.194 billion and Avatar (2009) at $2.79. Ultimately, it was surpassed by two of its sequels and other popular franchise films.
  • It soon led to at least three sequels: writer/director Joss Whedon's Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) - the eleventh film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Anthony and Joe Russo's Avengers: Infinity War (2018) - the 19th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and at the end of the decade Avengers: Endgame (2019) - the 22nd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
  • In the decade of 2010 (from 2010-2019), there were 21 Marvel Cinematic Universe films - the notion of a "cinematic universe" had now become a standard studio model.

Blackfish (2013)
d. Gabriela Cowperthwaite, 83 minutes, CNN Films, Manny O Productions

  • This sensationalizing, passionate news-documentary feature was an expose about the harmful treatment of captive Orca whales at a prominent ocean aquarium - SeaWorld (San Diego, CA). On a very low budget of $76,000, the film earned revenue of $2 million (domestic), and $2.3 million (worldwide).
  • It told the story of Tilikum, an aggressive Orca (captured off Iceland's coast in 1983) that was involved in the deaths of three people, emphasizing the consequences of keeping wild creatures in captivity. The wild-caught creature, who exhibited extreme stress in captivity, was subsequently harrassed by other captive Orcas at the facility, and naturally lashed out at its breeding program and forced show-performances. The film emphasized how the deaths should have been blamed on the humans, not on the highly-intelligent killer whale being kept in the facility.
  • The film increased public perceptions and raised public concern and awareness about the issue, led to numerous laws to help protect Orcas in captivity, and contributed to a decline in SeaWorld's attendance and revenue. By late 2014, SeaWorld's popularity plummeted, and its stock fell by 50%.
  • In response to the film, SeaWorld announced plans in late 2015 to end killer-whale shows at its theme park in San Diego, and then in early 2016 claimed it would end its Orca breeding program and start phasing out all live performances using Orcas. The present generation of Orcas would be their last.
  • In its defense, however, SeaWorld argued that the documentary was "inaccurate and misleading" and a sensationalized piece of biased and unbalanced film-making that was purposely slanted to push its activist agenda against SeaWorld.

Frozen (2013)
d. Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, 102 minutes, Walt Disney Animation Studio

  • By winning the Best Animated Feature Oscar prize, Disney's hit musical Frozen (2013) became the first non-Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios film to win the Best Animated Feature prize since the category was created in 2001. By springtime of 2014, Disney's loose retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Snow Queen," became the highest-grossing animated movie of all time. It overtook Toy Story 3 (2010) (the first animated movie in history to cross the $1 billion mark) in the top spot, with its continually-growing estimated worldwide box-office haul up to $1.28 billion. Its domestic take was $400.7 million. Later, it was surpassed by the remake of The Lion King (2019), that took in $543.6 million (domestic) and $1.656 billion (worldwide).
  • Released around Thanksgiving. Frozen (2013) was the first animated feature in Disney's studio history to offer two princess heroines. Disney's fairy-tale traditions would forever be revised or rethought.
  • At the time of its release, it marked the highest-earning film with a female director in terms of US earnings, until surpassed by Warners' Wonder Woman (2017). The strength of its earnings proved the box-office power of female moviegoers.
  • It won two Oscars: Best Animated Feature Film and Best Original Song ("Let It Go").
  • Its home video DVD release became a best-seller and topped sales charts in 2015.
  • Its sequel Frozen II (2019) grossed even more: $474.5 million (domestic) and $1.437 billion (worldwide).

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
d. Francis Lawrence, 146 minutes, Lionsgate

  • The entire franchise of four sci-fi adventure Hunger Games films (from 2012 to 2015) was based on Suzanne Collins' Young Adult series.
  • This second installment was the highest grossing of the entire franchise, at $424.7 million (domestic) and $865 million (worldwide). It was the # 1 film of 2013 - a significant fact because it had been a long time since a female-led movie (that was female co-produced) topped the yearly domestic box office, stretching back to The Exorcist (1973).
  • Franchise star Jennifer Lawrence (as Katniss Everdeen) solidified her position as a powerful female movie star and pop-culture icon, with her portrayal of a strong, tough, resourceful, independent and rebellious warrioress.

American Sniper (2014)
d. Clint Eastwood, 133 minutes, Warner Bros.

  • This biographical war drama, a pro-military, pro-patriotism and pro-2nd Amendment film reflected the polarization of the country in the mid-2010s. Rush Limbaugh called its box office success "an extension of the November elections." It stirred and roused continuing debates about the Iraq War. It was charged with emphasizing sheer jingoism and pro-war revisionist propaganda, although it also portrayed Middle East foreign policy and military ventures as noble and heroic.
  • It told the cautionary story of a military hero - a Navy SEAL sniper during the Iraq War named Chris Kyle (portrayed by Bradley Cooper), who became a fallen warrior after being murdered by a troubled veteran (Eddie Routh) who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The film was based upon Kyle's 2012 memoir, although modified in various ways.
  • The R-rated film grossed $350.1 million (domestic) - a remarkable achievement since it wasn't part of a franchise. It was released in late 2014, and therefore most of its revenue was attained in the year 2015, where it ranked as the 6th highest film (domestically); it was the only film that year to rank that high without being part of a franchise or a Disney property; ultimately, it was the highest-grossing (domestic) film of the year 2014.
  • The film ignited the issue of care for returning veterans (often psychologically damaged), and helped to spark efforts to support and treat them.
  • It became the highest-grossing war film of all time (unadjusted for inflation), surpassing Saving Private Ryan (1998)
  • It acquired six Oscar nominations, with one win for Best Sound Editing, and it was AFI's "Movie of the Year"

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
d. George Miller, 120 minutes, Warner Bros.

  • Co-writer/director George Miller's latest installment (the fourth, resuscitated by Miller himself) of a long-running series of Mad Max films (going all the way back to 1979) was one of the greatest action and chase films ever made.
  • It featured a fierce, post-apocalyptic, one-armed heroine Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) was searching for a long-lost childhood utopia ("The Green Place"), and was in combat against tyrannical warlord Immortan Joe situated in a stronghold known as the Citadel, who was supported by a group of War Boys. The Max Rockatansky road warrior character (often played by Mel Gibson), was ably portrayed by Tom Hardy.
  • The exhilarating film had an astonishing 10 Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture and Best Director) and won six (Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling).
  • The explosive, wild, and kinetic film was lauded for its 'fever-dream' pitch and non-stop violence and destruction amidst an apocalyptic, dystopic world of limited resources (milk, water, bullets, blood, gasoline, etc.). A single thrilling chase sequence across the desert wasteland became an entire engrossing movie.

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015)
d. J.J. Abrams, 138 minutes, Lucasfilm

  • The release of the 7th Star Wars franchise film was monumental, since it had been 10 years since the last installment-episode of the wildly-successful, fan-favorite series, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005).
  • Many box-office records were broken almost immediately. It had a production budget of $245 million, and box-office gross receipts of $936.7 million (domestic), and $2.068 billion (worldwide). It was the highest-grossing (domestic) film of 2015, besting second place Jurassic World (2015) at $652.3 million. By the end of the decade, the film remained the highest-grossing (domestic) film of all-time, if unadjusted for inflation.
  • However, its five nominations for Academy Awards brought no wins: Best Film Editing, Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects.
  • This was the first part of a new sequel trilogy of Star Wars (Episodes VII, VIII and IX) and the seventh film in terms of chronology (it was the chronological sequel to Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983), released 32 years earlier); it also spawned two anthology spin-off films during the decade: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) and Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
  • The newest addition was the first in a new trilogy, teaming up the older generation of Rebel heroes with a new generation of freedom-fighting Resistance heroes - to continue their fight against oppressive, militaristic, and tyrannical forces of the First Order.
  • Remarkably, it was the first of the Star Wars films without series creator George Lucas' involvement, and the first film to be released following Disney's 2012 acquisition of Lucasfilm.
  • 73 year-old Harrison Ford was named the highest-grossing movie actor in Hollywood history, due to Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).

Moonlight (2016)
d. Barry Jenkins, 111 minutes, A24

  • The 2016 Best Picture winner was Moonlight (with three wins from its eight nominations), also taking Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali) and Best Adapted Screenplay (for its director Barry Jenkins, from a story by Tarell Alvin McCraney). Its director Barry Jenkins became the 4th black helmsmen to be nominated in the Best Director category. It was the first Best-Picture winner from an African-American director.
  • The top film, initially an underdog to La La Land (2016), was a coming-of-age dramatic love tale (the director's second film) told in three chapters or time periods with three different actors- about black youth Chiron (a young gay black man) living in a crime-infested rough area of Miami with his crack-addicted mother Paula (Naomi Harris). Its tagline - about the development of black masculinity, was: "THIS IS THE STORY OF A LIFETIME."
  • It was the first LGBTQ film to win the Oscar for Best Picture. [Note: LGBTQ = lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (and/or questioning) individuals/identities.] And it became the first Best Picture winner without a single white cast member. Its best scenes were the development of Chiron's friendship with neighborhood dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his partner Theresa (Janelle Monae).
  • It was one of the lowest grossing Best Picture winners ever, had a very small production budget of $1.5 million, and was released by independent distributor A24, with support from Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment.
  • It was released a month before the 2016 presidential election and reflected society's troubled times.
Moonlight  (2016)

Get Out (2017)
d. Jordan Peele, 104 minutes, Universal Pictures

  • Director-writer/actor Jordan Peele's small-budgeted independent horror film (his directorial debut feature film), with a budget of $4.5 million and box-office gross of $176 million (domestic), was easily one of the most profitable movies of all-time - and the 15th highest-grossing (domestic) film of the year. Ultimately, it was the most profitable film of 2017 - with a whopping 630% return on investment.
  • The original film (not a remake or reboot!) about institutional racism had the highest-grossing original screenplay debut. It received the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, the first for an African-American nominee. He was the first black filmmaker (and the third filmmaker of all time, after Warren Beatty for Heaven Can Wait (1978) and James L. Brooks for Terms of Endearment (1983)), ever nominated for the trifecta of directing, writing, and producing in the same year for his debut feature film.
  • The creepy and effective satire on race relations and white hubris hinted at 'The Stepford Wives' and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. The film's plot was simple - young, easygoing African-American photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) met his white girlfriend Rose's (Allison Williams) family, the privileged, wealthy and white liberal Armitages (led by hypnotherapist Missy (Catherine Keener)) for the first time during a weekend trip to their secluded home in the woods - a family with incredibly-disturbing secrets.
  • It was wildly and unexpectedly successful due to its timely subjects of prejudice and systemic racism. It was released shortly after the 2016 Presidential election as a response to a "post-racial" America (and a time period of benevolent racism). It pulled off the trick of being thought-provoking, sometimes funny and truly scary - all at the same time.
  • Peele's nomination for Best Director made him the fifth black director ever nominated for the Oscar. Jordan Peele soon acquired a reputation as a writer-director with compelling and rich storylines (with African-American themes and characters) in this and other follow-up horror films, including the home-invasion film Us (2019) and the sci-fi horror movie Nope (2022).

Black Panther (2018)
d. Ryan Coogler, 134 minutes, Disney/Marvel

  • Director Ryan Coogler's superhero film was the 18th release in Marvel's Cinematic Universe franchise. Chadwick Boseman played the character of Black Panther (the crime-fighting king T-Challa), the first black hero in the series to be the title character of a film. In the story, the superheroic T’Challa returned to his remote African kingdom (the fictional African country of Wakanda) to assume the throne.
  • In greater detail, the plot told about the conflict that developed between King T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) of the reclusive, technologically-advanced (and fictional) African nation of Wakanda, who as the Black Panther, fought off challenges to his rule by teaming up with CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) and members of the all-female special forces of the Dora Milaje, to combat his misguided, villainous, anti-isolationist, rival challenger Erik 'Killmonger' Stevens (Michael B. Jordan).
  • The film became the top-grossing film in history by a black director (Ryan Coogler) and featured a largely black cast. Incidentally, it was Marvel's first film directed by an African-American, and the first Marvel superhero movie to be Oscar-nominated for Best Picture. it was the highest-grossing (domestic) film of 2018, and it was Marvel's first black superhero standalone film.
  • It was the biggest non-Star Wars opener since Jurassic World (2015) (that had a prime June or summer blockbuster release date, with $208.8 million). It marked the studio's 18th straight number one opening. Eventually by the end of March 2018, it bypassed the total box-office (domestic) of The Avengers (2012) (at $623.3 million) - and attained $700 million and $1.382 billion (worldwide) in its theatrical run. It was only surpassed a year later by another Marvel product, Avengers: Endgame (2019), with $858.4 million (domestic).
  • A less popular but equally-engaging superhero film sequel was Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022).

Joker (2019)
d. Todd Phillips, 122 minutes, Warner Bros./Village Roadshow Pictures

  • This dark, nihilistic, bleak and violent DC comic-book Batman movie thriller was unlike many others. It provided a unique and serious iteration of the DC Comics superhero character as a mentally-ill Batman villain.
  • The arch-villain title character had already been played by Cesar Romero (a spin-off from the 1960s camp TV series, Batman, The Movie (1966)), Jack Nicholson (as Jack Napier/the Joker in Tim Burton's Batman (1989)), Heath Ledger (in The Dark Knight (2008)), and Jared Leto (in Suicide Squad (2016)). The violent, delusional, sociopathic Gotham City title character was memorably portrayed by Oscar-winning Joaquin Phoenix.
  • Director Todd Phillips envisioned a revisionist Batman origin story about a failed and mentally-unstable, wanna-be stand-up comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) in the early 1980s in Gotham City. Phillips' film paid homage to two classic Martin Scorsese films: Taxi Driver (1976), and The King of Comedy (1982).
  • Arthur Fleck wore a mask for his day job as a party clown. The impoverished Fleck lived with his sickly mother Penny (Frances Conroy) and struggled with mental illness himself. After being bullied and ridiculed and losing his weekly therapy sessions and regular medications, Fleck began a slow and mad descent as he transformed himself into his alter-ego - an infamous, murderous, psychopathic, mentally-ill, criminal mastermind known as the Joker.
  • Although the R-rated film spurred fears of anarchic violence in its wake, the fears were unfounded, and it became a blockbuster hit, with revenues of $335.5 million (domestic), and $1.074 billion (worldwide), on a budget of $55 million. Its total worldwide earnings made it the # 1 R-rated film of all-time..
  • It also received a total of 11 Academy Award-Oscar nominations (including Best Picture), with 2 wins, Best Original Score and Best Actor. This marked the most nominations for a comic book-based superhero movie in Academy history. It was also only the second comic-book superhero (or super-villain) movie in history to earn a Best-Picture nomination, following the previous year's Black Panther (2018) (with six nominations and three wins).
  • Todd Phillips became the first director ever to receive a Best Director nomination at the Academy Awards for a comic book film.

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