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13 Movies That Launched Their Own Genre

Updated February 19, 2021 2.2k votes 340 voters 8.8k views13 items

List RulesVote up the best movies that kickstarted a whole cinematic subgenre.

Most films fall into traditional, easily identifiable genres - comedy, drama, horror, romance, and so on. Then there are movies that essentially created new genres. They've done this by coming up with storytelling approaches so unusual and different that they don't fit squarely into the fundamental categories. In certain instances, the plots delivered something completely new. In others, they borrowed techniques from literature or took something that previously existed cinematically and spun it off in an unexpected direction.

Whatever the process, these new genres (or, if you prefer, subgenres) have made an undeniable impact, inspiring plenty of imitators. Found footage is a perfect example of a new genre that suddenly became ubiquitous. In the last few years, time loop movies have become especially popular, as well - and we have Groundhog Day to thank for that. A look back reveals additional works that forged original paths. 

Which of the following movies that spawned genres changed the game the most? Your votes will determine the answer to that question.

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  • Die Hard is the only movie that started a subgenre that specifically name-checks it. At the time, it was considered insane that 20th Century Fox paid TV star Bruce Willis $5 million to star in this action movie about a cop trying to rescue his wife from the clutches of terrorists inside a Los Angeles skyscraper. When the movie came out and immediately burst into blockbuster territory, that salary suddenly seemed like a bargain. 

    Audiences responded to the simplicity of the premise. All the action takes place in one central location and is achieved using only the objects one would expect to find in that location. That quality grounds the movie, giving it a sense of plausibility many other action flicks of the time lacked. Of course, the edge-of-your-seat pacing and Willis's dynamic performance help, too.

    Die Hard was so influential that it spawned not only four sequels, but also a slate of pale imitators looking to replicate its claustrophobic tension. Passenger 57 was "Die Hard on an airplane," Under Siege was "Die Hard on a boat," White House Down was "Die Hard in the Oval Office," and so on. Some were hits, but none had the cultural impact of the original.

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  • Airplane! is a perfect example of a movie putting a whole new spin on a subgenre. During the 1970s, Mel Brooks made several popular genre spoofs - Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and Silent Movie. They lampooned the conventions of the cinematic types they were replicating. Then, in 1980, the team of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker unleashed their own take on the spoof.

    Airplane! certainly made fun of disaster movie cliches. What it did differently, though, was add a second layer of humor. Everything was played completely straight, as though all of the absurd things happening were perfectly normal. Dramatic actors Robert Stack and Leslie Nielsen were cast in major roles, then directed to perform as though they weren't in a comedy. Next to that was a series of physical gags, non sequiturs, and background jokes. The result was a movie with so many funny things going on simultaneously that you could see it multiple times and catch new jokes with each repeat viewing.

    The ZAZ team followed up with Top Secret! and The Naked Gun. Other films began imitating the anarchic comedy of Airplane!, including Hot Shots, Scary Movie, Spy Hard, Meet the Spartans, and Not Another Teen Movie.

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  • George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead is a low-budget picture made in and around Pittsburgh, PA. Against all odds, it revolutionized horror. Zombies had been around onscreen and in books for decades, often portrayed as creatures controlled by a voodoo practitioner of some sort. Romero had the idea to reimagine them as ordinary people who died and had been brought back to life, where they operate independently. That proved to be a stroke of genius.

    On the surface, the movie is pretty straightforward, with the undead surrounding a farmhouse where a group of survivors attempts to hide. The difference is in the details. Night of the Living Dead literally wrote the rules that almost every subsequent zombie movie (and TV show) would follow. Zombies feasting on human flesh? That's Romero's invention. So is the notion of zombies hanging around familiar places or performing actions they remember from their previous life. 

    On top of those and other factors, Night introduced the idea that zombies could be more than horror villains; they could be symbols. The movie is filled with politically charged themes. Having come out during the turbulent late '60s, when America was torn apart by Vietnam, it used its undead antagonists as an allegory for the dismay felt by many in the country. Every subsequent zombie movie and TV show has relied, to one degree or another, on the precedents Romero set. That's how influential Night of the Living Dead was.

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  • Halloween wasn't the first "slasher" movie. Bob Clark's Black Christmas had it beat by several years - to say nothing of 1960's Psycho. However, the John Carpenter-directed film, released in 1978, opened the floodgates for dozens of (mostly pale) imitators. Carpenter directed the story - about a deranged psycho who returns to his hometown to wreak bloody havoc on October 31 - with both style and intelligence. Even esteemed film critics like Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, who were often tough on horror, recognized Halloween as a benchmark in the genre.

    The movie's central figure, Michael Myers, became an instant pop-culture icon. Other filmmakers rushed to create their own "name-brand slasher" who could fuel sequels as well as merchandise. Friday the 13th gave us Jason Voorhees, Child's Play introduced us to Chucky, A Nightmare on Elm Street brought Freddy Krueger, and so on. All of them have appeared in entire movie series, including reboots. Their famous faces adorn all kinds of apparel, toys, posters, and more. They remain popular intellectual properties decades later. 

    Michael Myers's influence continues to this day, as Jigsaw from the Saw series and the doll from Annabelle can attest.

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