film Surprisingly Measurable Ways Movies Impacted The World  

Cheryl Adams Richkoff
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List Rules Vote up the films with the greatest impact outside the theater.

When it comes to discussing the impact of cinema, the ways movies impacted the world cannot be understated. Films that had real-world consequences went much further than just simply being inspiring films, they also led to tangible changes in the lives of people who might never even see them. While many great films take inspiration from real life, a select few managed to do the inverse, becoming movies with real-world consequences. Both the Hollywood of old and the cinema of today both brought all sorts of changes to the world, and these changes arrived in ways both big and small.

Some of the famous films below caused spikes in certain types of trends or products, shifting human behavior on a more personal level. On the other side, certain movies led to shifts in discussion about politics, disease, and the environment. All of them likely didn't realize the scope of influence they would eventually create, but in their aftermaths, there remains no doubt of their impact upon the modern world.

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The Day After Tomorrow Woke Many To The Dangers Of Climate Change

The Day After Tomorrow Woke Ma... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Surprisingly Measurable Ways Movies Impacted The World
Photo: 20th Century Fox

The shocking scenes of a devastated New York City within the The Day After Tomorrow's (2004) first hour certainly introduced many filmgoers to the threat of global warming and its impact on the environment. According to environmentalist Anthony Leiserowitz, the film generated ten times the news coverage of a major environmental report released in 2001. Some scientists, including Michael Molitor, agreed. 

"This film could do more in helping us move in the right direction than all the scientific work and all the U.S. Congressional testimonies put together," Molitor said. "Nothing I have done in the 23 years of my climate change career may have a greater impact than this film." Leiserowitz further stated the film "led moviegoers to have higher levels of concern and worry about global warming ... and to shift their conceptual understanding of the climate system toward a threshold [or tipping point] model.”

The film also is said to have played a role in the rise in people willing to actively participate in bringing about political work regarding the environment. In a survey asking people their choices for president in 2004, respondents who saw the film responded as more likely to vote for John Kerry than George W. Bush.

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2 11 VOTES

Philadelphia Opened Minds And Hearts To The AIDS Epidemic

Philadelphia Opened Minds And ... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Surprisingly Measurable Ways Movies Impacted The World
Photo: Tri Star Pictures

The 1993 film, Philadelphia, arrived in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, during a time when a distinct lack of education about the disease led only exacerbated the crisis. Irrational fear and suspicion pervaded American culture at every mention of HIV or AIDS. And yet, a major and trusted Hollywood star, Tom Hanks, took on the role of an AIDS patient. Philadelphia, aside from winning two Oscars and making more than $100 million at the box office, also brought newfound awareness to the disease and humanity to those suffering from it. More than two decades later, film and culture experts believe the film literally changed the national conversation about HIV-AIDS. Filmmaker Jonathan Demme expressed a gladness to "see that AIDS doesn't bear really remotely the stigma which was quite overwhelming at the time, that it did 20 years ago."  

HIV patient, Raphael Alvarez, 25, agreed the film made a major impact on the public's understanding of the epidemic. "It definitely put in perspective why we have to fight and change," Alvarez said. "The work we've done, we have changed HIV. We genuinely have done that. Healthcare has changed it. But there's so much work to be done. And that's what it [the movie] has affirmed for me."

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Finding Nemo Ironically Increased Sales Of Tropical Fish

Finding Nemo Ironically Increa... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Surprisingly Measurable Ways Movies Impacted The World
Photo: Pixar

Seriously, if Finding Nemo failed to pull on your heartstrings, do you even have a heart? The phenomenally successful 2003 film responded with millions of viewers, yet its central messages of environmental conservatism apparently failed to land with the same impact. According to National Geographic, demand for clownfish tripled in the wake of the Pixar film. In fact, demand grew so high that a clownfish conservation website,, formed as a response. According to their website, more than one million clownfish are taken from their coral reef homes and sold to aquarium keepers around the world. Nearly half of them wind up in the United States. Experts say the colorful fish is functionally extinct or nearly so in parts of southeast Asia where they previously thrived.

Another unforeseen impact came from fish owners already in possession of clownfish, who out of sympathy began releasing their clownfish into environments vastly different than their usual habitats. Furthermore, the release of Finding Dory lead to increased sales of the blue tang, a fish experts say cannot be bred in captivity and is not a "beginner's fish."

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Jaws Led To The Over-Hunting Of Sharks

Jaws Led To The Over-Hunting O... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Surprisingly Measurable Ways Movies Impacted The World
Photo: University Pictures

Hollywood hosts an impressive track record of creating long-lasting boogie men. Perhaps one of the longest-lived among those is the spectre of the murderous Great White shark from the 1975 movie, Jaws. Ever since the huge success of Jaws, sharks continue to suffer an undeserved and negative reputation as bloodthirsty predators with human flesh on their minds at all times. Christopher Neff, a lecturer at the University of Sydney, Australia, says public often fails to distinguish fictional monsters from reality. "No great white shark has ever acted like the one that terrorizes Amity Island [the community portrayed in Jaws]."

The irrational fear inspired by the film led to shore side communities around the world to implement punitive laws against sharks who happen to stray close to shore. Over the years, these laws resulted in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of sharks, and also encouraged a trend in hunting sharks as trophies or parts to be sold to certain culinary markets in Asia. Estimates give an upwards of 100 million sharks killed each year, resulting in a shark population somewhere between six and eight percent. 

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