Films that changed the world: Before the Flood and 6 others

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Like Before the Flood, certain films set out to change the world.

If you happen to have stumbled across the internet in the past week, there’s a good to strong chance you would have glimpsed Academy Award winning actor Leonardo Di Caprio’s documentary, Before the Flood.

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Di Caprio observing the devastating effects of climate change on Indonesian forestry. Source: RatPac films.

Apart from just being simply a well-constructed film, Before the Flood is a powerful statement on a critical issue. Climate change is the biggest threat to mankind we have ever known. We aren’t doing enough to stop the end of the world. Di Caprio’s movie is an attempt to change that. And hopefully it can help.

It’s a huge feat to change the world, and a massive task to attempt it. Di Caprio’s film won’t change anything in isolation. Climate change in particular is dependant on political powers, with governments needing to actively regulate their carbon emissions.

But films that inspire huge change aren’t such a rarity. Throughout cinematic history, movies have shaped society and the way we perceive important issues. Curious? Here are a few examples.

Jaws (1975): The ‘Blockbuster’ Culture

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Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Source: Universal Pictures.

The Steven Spielberg classic Jaws inaugurated the big-budget blockbuster. While this didn’t change the world as we know it, it did change a very important part of it: cinema. Jaws changed our movie-consumption habits. It created the feeling that if you weren’t seeing the big movie of the time, you were missing out. This has continued today, with films like Avatar being marketed as: if you miss it, you miss out. Basically, fomo.

I guess you could say Hollywood was gonna need a bigger… budget. Ha. Please laugh.

Super Size Me (2004): Fast Food

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Want fries with that? Sperlock’s Super Size Me. Source: YouTube.

For an entire month, Super Size Me director Morgan Spurlock ate only McDonald’s, in an attempt to raise awareness for the health risks related to fast food. At the month’s conclusion, Spurlock had gained 25 pounds, had dangerous cholesterol levels, and the liver of an alcoholic.

The film caused massive debate about health standards in the fast food industry, as well as its active marketing towards children. A few weeks after the documentary’s release, McDonald’s removed its ‘Super Size’ meal option and began introducing healthier products.

Syriana (2005): American Foreign Policy

The controversial Syriana. Source: Warner Bros.

Featuring George Clooney, this 2005 political thriller centres around America’s damaging involvement in the Middle Eastern oil industry. The movie wasn’t a clear cut political statement, and the filmmakers didn’t expect it to cause uproar.

But uproar was what they got. Thousands of people who saw the film wrote to American congress imploring change – pleading less violence and greater regional stability. While this didn’t change anything in isolation, it was a baby step, and a great example of cinema’s ability to inspire social action.

JFK (1991): Government Transparency and Conspiracy Theories

So who killed JFK? Source: YouTube.

JFK explores the assassination of former U.S President, John F. Kennedy, suggesting that perhaps the tragedy wasn’t as obvious as widely perceived. And while it is unclear whether director Oliver Stone intended for his film to be considered literally, it certainly reinvigorated conspiracy theories surrounding the issue, offering a refined, highly plausible new theory.

Controversy surrounding the assassination had quieted in the years before its release, but the movie relit the sparks. Debate after the film prompted the creation of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, as well as the Assassination Records Review Board, both of which were formed to collect related evidence and documentation and stymie doubt about the killing. This can be seen as creating greater transparency between US government and public.

Philadelphia (1993): AIDS/HIV and Homophobia

Tom Hanks starred in the heartbreaking Philadelphia. Source: TriStar Pictures.

Having Tom Hanks in the lead role of a film concerning the taboo topics of AIDS/HIV and homosexuality drastically influenced public perceptions on the issue. Hanks put a human face towards the stigmatised disease and the subsequent homophobia that ensued from it it. Whereas previously society viewed strugglers with the illness as alien, Philadelphia encouraged sympathy. Such sympathy enabled greater awareness of the issue, and ultimately resulted in the saving of lives.

Making a Murderer (2015): Justice

The mystery of Making a Murderer. Source: Netflix.

Making a Murderer is just one of the many true crime documentaries that created change. The eye-opening Netflix series challenges the convictions of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, contending corruption in their local police force and justice system. While the effect of the series is yet to be actualised, motions for Dassey’s conviction to be overturned are under way and looking likely to succeed. If successful, this should result in the autopsy of a broken legal system.

Other true crime films like The Jinx and The Thin Blue Line have similarly changed the course of legal justice, and inspired examination of the flawed court system.

So there you have it!

These are just a few films that inspired global change. Let’s hope Before the Flood can do the same. Anyone got any world-changing movie ideas?

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