Between the countless genres and categories that movies get put into, there are some movies that simply fit and some that define the genre. And then there are those films that gave birth to subgenres. Often held up by cinema lovers as classics, these are the movies that started everything and created the formula that has since been copied, subverted, and often repeated to the point of cliché.
Below is a list of movies that gave birth to 3 different subgenres and can be credited with starting movie trends that continue even to this day.
1. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez
When it was released, The Blair Witch Project instantly became a major cultural phenomenon, to the point that many didn’t even know if it was fiction or a real. The premise is incredibly simple: 3 film students set out to make a documentary about a local legend, and travel to a forest in Maryland to investigate the “Blair Witch” mystery. But the film crew disappears, leaving only one thing behind: a terrifying collection of recordings made by themselves.
Having the actors film the movie themselves was groundbreaking back at the time, as it provided viewers with an extremely immersive experience with the added benefit of significantly reducing the budget of the film. Right there and then, the found footage genre was born, and it thrived thanks to an infamous marketing campaign that was fully planned out, but whose results exceeded all expectations.
Since 1999, found footage films and variations on the genre, such as “VHS horror” or “analog horror,” have become a staple of horror cinema. Films like Rec, Paranormal Activity, and recent independent projects like The Backrooms can all trace a path back to this groundbreaking classic. The legacy of The Blair Witch Project is undeniable.
2. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
While it wasn’t the first piece of storytelling to feature a globe-trotting treasure hunter, with works going back to the 19th Century for that, the Indiana Jones series has set an entire new standard for action films that dabble in adventure, mystery and the mystical. In cinema alone, The Mummy series is a direct successor, but the franchise has influenced so many movies that listing them all would be impossible.
The film that started it all was Raiders of the Lost Ark, directed by a young Steven Spielberg and written by Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas and Philip Kaufman. The movie is set in 1936, when the titular archaeologist (Harrison Ford) is hired by the government to find the Ark of the Covenant: a religious artefact that is still believed to contain God’s Ten Commandments. But Indy is not the only one looking for it: the Nazis are after it too, which makes our hero’s quest even more difficult. And so, a journey begins that takes Indiana Jones, his friend Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and his former love interest Marion (Karen Allen) first to Nepal and then to Egypt.
What’s so groundbreaking about Raiders, and the first three films in the Indiana Jones franchise, is that it’s gripping from beginning to end. Spielberg shows us that archaeology can be fun, and he does so by delivering non-stop action that will have you at the edge of your seat as you are completely mesmerized by the hero’s stunts and wit. Not only that, but the film is stunning, so much so that its camerawork and cinematography still holds up to this day, setting an unreachable standard for most films in the action-adventure genre.
What’s also impressive about Indy is his ability to jump media. Other well-known characters, such as Lara Croft and Nathan Drake, who come from the world video games, both got their movie adaptations, but it’s hard to find any kind of entertainment without a dashing mystical treasure hunter around. This doesn’t just apply to films and video games: for example, a character that online casino UK players would be familiar with is Rich Wilde, from the popular Book of Dead slot series, who even gets his own fedora in later titles.
3. Mission: Impossible (1996)
Brian De Palma
Hollywood loves the idea of someone who puts together a unique, quirky and diverse team to pull off an elaborate plan, and succeeds at pulling off an impossible job. The industry keeps coming back to these kinds of storylines again and again, and the reason is that they are simply so satisfying to watch. When we are introduced to our heroes and we watch them prepare for said arduous task, the film places right there with them.
It’s as we were part of the team too, which is why it’s incredibly rewarding to watch them succeed at the end. Heist movies follow this formula to the letter, and the Ocean’s series is a great example of that, but Mission: Impossible adds something to it, by adding the U.S. government to the equation, as well as enough mystery and tension to keep us on our toes, enthralling action sequences, and a catchy score, that all work together to give it a distinct identity.
While the franchise has since done the original formula to death and moved on to far more action-filled pastures, the 1996 original was a tense film of carefully laid plans, intricate timing, and razor-thin conditions for success that set the stage for many big heist, action and tension-filled franchises to come.
The 3 movies listed above are just a few examples of films that gave birth to subgenres of their own. Our list doesn’t even begin to cover the full range out there, but hopefully, it may inspire you to seek out other classic films that did the same for your favourite genres.