Plenty of films change the movie industry, maybe with the development of a new type of special effect or maybe through the work of a brilliant new filmmaker, but what often gets overlooked is how movies can actually change the world. 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 brought all sorts of changes to the world, and these changes arrived in ways both big and small, both bad and good, and almost all were completely uninentional.
The 1993 film, Philadelphia, arrived in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, during a time when a distinct lack of education about the disease only exacerbated the crisis. It can't be overstated how devastating the lack of communication and education about the AIDS crisis was in the 1970s and 1980s. Irrational fear and suspicion pervaded American culture at every mention of HIV or AIDS.
Roger Ebert said it best in the opening to his review of the film: "More than a decade after AIDS was first identified as a disease, 'Philadelphia' marks the first time Hollywood has risked a big-budget film on the subject." He continues to applaud the film's bravery and stealthy progressiveness by saying that "for moviegoers with an antipathy to AIDS but an enthusiasm for stars like Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, it may help to broaden understanding of the disease. It's a ground-breaker like "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967), the first major film about an interracial romance; it uses the chemistry of popular stars in a reliable genre to sidestep what looks like controversy."
Yep. All it took was the charming Trojan Horse of two of our generations greatest and most beloved actors to spread the message. Tom Hanks took on the role of an AIDS patient who believes he was wrongly terminated as a result of his diagnosis and Denzel Washington portrayed his homophobic lawyer, the only person willing to take the case. 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."
Hollywood hosts an impressive track record of creating long-lasting boogie men. Perhaps one of the longest-lived among those is the specter of the murderous Great White shark from the 1975 movie, Jaws. The shark from Jaws is one of the most menacing and effective movie monsters.
Maybe too effective, in fact. 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 the 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.
In the underwater, shark-version of Hollywood, we imagine they play a completely different horror movie every year. The story of one confused shark who accidentally strays too close to shore and then his entire family gets murdered by a group of humans who are thirsty for shark blood. It's called Quint, and they play it every summer and it terrifies every little shark child in the sea.
There is no denying that 1999's Fight Club made a cultural impact that we're still feeling today. The film, which captures the frustrations of a young, white, middle-class man who joins an underground fight club as a way to release his tension, resonated with frustrated young men all across America. (Don't believe us? Get a time machine and visit the dorm room of any college freshman in the early 2000s and we guarantee you'll find a Fight Club poster in their room. And then after that, please come back and give us your time machine.)
The actual message of the movie (and the book on which it is based) is actually about the dangers of cults that prey on young, lost and frustrated men, and how easily those cults can grow into highly toxic terrorist groups. Tyler Durden, the figurehead of the titular fight club exits the movie as a full-blown terrorist who we are not supposed to be rooting for.
Too many young men seemed to miss that point, unfortunately. It looks like they stopped watching after the first half of the movie and just concluded "Hey, a fight club sounds like a fun idea, I'm gonna start one!" Not long after the release of Fight Club, real-life fight clubs began popping up all over the United States and abroad as well, many of which followed the movie's famous "Rules of Fight Club."
Undoubtedly, before Fight Club debuted there existed similar organizations, but the film definitely led to a considerable level of interest and an increase in the formation of fighting clubs, even causing USA Today to release a piece for parents about teen fight clubs, their warning signs, and how to deal with them.
If you're reading this David Fincher (and we're pretty sure you are), please make your next movie Book Club and make it about a bunch of similarly lost and angry guys bonding over their shared love of literature. The world needs Tyler Durden explaining the themes of Little Women to a crowd of enthusiastic white guys.
The release of the 1991 film, JFK, did not mark the beginning of conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But the film managed to renew interest in "what really happened in Dealy Plaza" into high gear. The film's director, Oliver Stone, was roundly criticized for proposing alternative theories to the established story of Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone killer. But Stone took the criticism in stride and continues standing by the premise of his film to this day.
The cultural influence of the film, however, cannot be denied. George H. W. Bush, who, ironically is often pointed at by conspiracy theorists as having played a role in the JFK assassination, signed into law the JFK Act, which allowed the government's investigation of the assassination to be reopened. A wide-reaching exploration of all the information, including newly released documents pertaining to the event, ensued and interest in discovering the "truth" about the assassination rose to an all-time high. Nearly thirty years after the release of JFK, more than sixty percent of the American population believes that the whole story of the tragic event has not been revealed.