The History of Cinema with 15 unforgettable films

In this post, we will take a look at world cinema history and discover key films that changed the history of films.

Even a single film embodies 125-year-old cinema history and filmmakers in one way or another change infrastructure of films with their own unique perspectives and opens the way for a new cinema.

When we attempt to make a film, we actually acquire the infrastructure of films in two ways.

The first is automatic: It is sufficient for us to get this infrastructure, whether we watch any contemporary movie, whether it is made with commercial or artistic concerns. Because every film produced today is based on some common experiences from the past. Every time we watch contemporary movies, we obtain the last point at that art of cinema reached. Even most of us get the most basic infrastructure from cartoons and television series as we are exposed to the language of these sources in our childhood.

The second one is based on our special choices: To grasp the development of the cinema, it is necessary to watch key films from the history of cinema. This method allows us to gain a more conscious perspective both when producing something new or evaluating contemporary movies.

Here in this post, we will suggest you unforgettable films that will direct you to this second method and help you make your cinema eye a little more refined. As we mentioned in our previous posts, having information about the change in cinema will contribute to new ideas about scriptwriting and film production.

Now let’s take a look at the key movies we have selected from the history of cinema.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), directed by the Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer, is considered one of the most important works of silent cinema. Dreyer simplified the use of the gigantic decors seen in the films of the time and introduced a minimalist approach. Emotional close-ups, editing choices, and acting performances used in this film took a step ahead of the cinema of the time and influenced the sound films that started to become popular in those years.


Citizen Kane (1941)

history of cinema

American director Orson Welles broke many rules that prevailed in cinema with the film Citizen Kane (1941). Welles has reduced the cuts in the fiction that have been used frequently in the cinema until that day and managed to attract the audience’s attention by placing the actors on the foreground and background in the same frame. This situation, which is very common in today’s films, has not been used successfully until the movie, Citizen Kane (1941), although it has previously been seen in the films of directors such as Kenji Mizoguchi, Erich von Stroheim, Jean Renoir, William Wyler and John Ford.

A frame created by placing the actors on the foreground and background in Citizen Kane (1941).

Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Bicycle Thieves (1948) is considered the masterpiece of the Italian Neo-Realism movement. In Italy, after World War II, director Vittorio De Sica turned his camera to the streets and focused on social issues such as poverty and class conflict by using amateur actors and real places. Until then, this approach which is very different from the films performed with professional actors in studios has brought a realistic style to the cinema.


Tokyo Story (1953)

Japanese director Yasujirô Ozu has developed his own style using fixed angles without camera movements, which influence many subsequent European directors. Ozu uses a low camera angle, unlike other fixed angles in the early years of cinema. This allows us to see the entire space with the ceiling. Thus, space becomes a character and part of the narration. The Tokyo Story (1963) is one of the successful examples in which the director applied this style.


Viridiana (1961)

history of cinema

Viridiana (1961) is considered one of the most successful of surrealist films from the history of cinema. Surrealist films are based on events without rational connections. In addition, these films often attack traditional institutions in society such as religion, family, and marriage. In Viridiana (1961), Spanish director Luis Buñuel managed to criticize the Christian moral understanding through eroticism and fetishism with an unusual narrative style.


Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

Cinema has been under the influence of literature and theater since its birth. However, some directors, such as French director Robert Bresson, aimed to free the cinema from other arts and considered it as an art that should be evaluated individually. For this reason, Bresson focused only on image, sound, and rhythm in his films, simplified all other elements, and opposed the concept-oriented dramatic cinema that was prevalent in his time. Bresson has taken stillness and simplicity to a very advanced level in his films and created a holistic simplicity in acting, decor, story, and cinematography. Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) is among the unforgettable films where you can experience this minimalist understanding in cinema.


Persona (1966)

history of cinema

Persona (1966) directed by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman is one of the most successful psychological dramas in the history of cinema. In this film, Bergman focuses not on the story but on the relationships and psychological moods of the two women. The innovative style of editing that the director performs with the photos he added between the scenes is complementary to this psychological experience.


Kes (1969)

In the late 60s and early 70s, a social realistic cinema similar to the Italian Neo-Realism movement emerged. These films, which focus on social and political issues, generally take advantage of amateur acting and real places by including the stories of the working class. In Kes (1969), British director Ken Loach has successfully reflected the realistic cinema of the period by criticizing the education system and the conditions of the working class through the relationship of a child with a bird.


Easy Rider (1969)

history of cinema

American director Denis Hopper has become a new role model for thousands of independent filmmakers around the world with this independent film. Easy Rider (1969) proved that filmmaking is not only the hands of large production companies. After this film, the importance of the director’s role in filmmaking increased and the directors started to become strong decision-makers at all stages of the filmmaking in the USA.


Mirror (1975)

history of cinema

By introducing the concept of poetic cinema, Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky argued that a rational connection between the scenes is not necessary and a film may consist of irregular parts, just like in a poem. His films focused on mystical elements, philosophical inquiries, and aesthetic concerns that are presented in plan sequences. The director has successfully demonstrated this style in the film Mirror (1975) and has influenced many filmmakers such as Theodoros Angelopoulos, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Lars Von Trier, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Aleksandr Sokurov, Béla Tarr, Gus Van Sant, Carlos Reygadas, Steven Soderbergh, Terrence Malick, Andrey Zvyagintsev. While exploring Tarkovsky, it will be useful to take a look at these directors who also made key films in cinema history.


Manhattan (1979)

history of cinema

American director Woody Allen combines comedy and romance with intellectual characters and creates an exclusive style in cinema. Although Allen is known as a Hollywood director nowadays, most of his films focus on human relations like in the Bergman films and portray the urban culture of New York, where his films mostly set in. Manhattan (1979) is one of the unforgettable films that you can experience all these aspects of the director’s unique style.


Where Is My Friend’s House? (1987)

Sections from daily life, natural acting, fixed angles, improvisations, amateur actors, and observations. These words, which more or less summarize minimalist style in the independent cinema today, were reintroduced to the world cinema with the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami in the late 80s and early 90s. Kiarostami questioned the making of modern films and managed to explain complex issues in simple film language by using the sections of people’s daily lives. My Friend’s House Where (1987) is a film in which you can observe this style and understand independent cinema movements that prevailed after the 2000s.


Pulp Fiction (1994)

history of cinema

Quentin Tarantino, like Woody Allen, could only be treated like a Hollywood director today. But Tarantino is not just a popular culture figure, but a powerful director who influences and transforms world cinema in many ways. Pulp Fiction (1994) is one of the highest points reached by the independent film fur that started in the 70s in the USA and continued in the following years. Influenced by the auteur cinema emerging in Europe, Tarantino has created a brand new style and expanded the concept of genre cinema with the nonlinear storyline, incredible dialogues, and aesthetic violence scenes.


Funny Games (1997)

In contrast to Tarantino’s aesthetic violence, Austrian director Michael Haneke presents a form of violence that provokes and disturbs the audience. Funny Games (1997) can be called an anti-movie rather than a movie. Because Haneke teases some of the habits that we have acquired from the cinema. Haneke became one of the directors who successfully managed to break the fourth wall between the audience and the film in the history of cinema and proved that most things in films are just an agreement between the director and the audience, which could be broken easily.


The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)

history of cinema

The 2000s can be considered a very recent date to take part in the history of cinema. But Romanian director Cristi Puiu has already deserved to mentioned in the history of cinema by becoming a pioneer to bring in a new wave in filmmaking called Romanian New Wave which has influenced European cinema. Puiu adapted the cinema-verite style, mostly seen in documentary films, to fiction films by using plans that follow the characters with subjective shots moving over the shoulder. Featuring extreme natural and realistic atmosphere and acting performances, these films become even more real than reality. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), follows a sick elderly man who struggling in a corrupt health system and died in a restless process because of the alienation of the healthcare workers to human values.

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