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Life Imitates Art

How movies can change the shape of modern culture

By By Ben Rigney, Activist Staff
On November 10, 2015

  In 1980, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale sat down to write a science fiction movie called Back to the Future. Little did they know that this picture would develop into a cultural phenomenon over 30 years later.

Movies like this are released every year, changing lives and changing culture. It’s amazing to see how two writer’s clever idea would develop into such a pivotal movie in the history of cinematic culture. Movies like this are produced every year.

Earlier, before Back to the Future, USC graduate George Lucas had an interesting idea about a boy who gets involved in an inter-galactic civil war. That movie developed into the monumental blockbuster, Star Wars. Now, almost 40 years later the franchise is back.Star Wars is getting a much needed reboot with Star Wars the Force Awakens, with director J.J Abrams helming the project. The film is released in December of this year and tickets were recently available for online purchase, the pre-sales broke records immediately, making a grand total of generating $6.5 million in sales across 390 screens in the US in IMAX alone. These numbers are staggering considering the movie isn’t even released for another two months.

These numbers just show how certain movies can ripple the culture of our lives. Movies like Despicable Me or Frozen. The Despicable Me franchise recently released a big movie in the Universal arsenal, Minions. The film itself was poorly received by critics and fans receiving rotten ratings on the famous ratings site, Rotten Tomatoes. According to Box Office Mojo, Minions made over $1 billion dollars worldwide, which makes it the 10th biggest box office record all time.

As most of us know, minions were (almost) literally everywhere. From tic-tacs to cereal bowls the minion craze made its way into our very psyches. The films advertising budget must have been staggering, considering it was impossible to escape the little yellow devils. The gibberish-speaking minions were all over the place and anyone under the age of 12 saw the film with their accompanying guardian. Minions were in McDonald’s commercials and even on Twinkie containers. Little kids even mimicked the made up language so, for the summer minions sufficiently invaded our culture.

 Another kids movie was Frozen, whose songs can still be heard over a year later. Frozen falls into the 8th slot on the all-time box office list. The film embedded itself into our minds with its catchy songs and classic Disney vibe. The film was so popular it even played in local theaters while the DVD was being released. Movies like this one come too often enough, and it is a testament to the power of cinema.

These one-hit-wonders, so to speak, change the country for months or even years. Only time will tell what happens for the lasting impact of these kids movies. Other movies have more staying power and can sometimes change the way the populous as a whole thinks.

Films like Jaws, which made a generation afraid to swim in the ocean. Horror movies often have more impact because they have a way of embedding themselves in our deep, psychological fears. Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was able to perfectly combine well-shot suspense with interesting character moments.

Jaws even gets a nod in the famous Back to the Future sequel, stating that in 2015 Jaws 19 will be released. Zemeckis and Gale might have gotten that one wrong, but they weren’t so far off with the Cubs prediction, saying they win the World Series. The Cubs advanced to the ALCS for the first time in years, being knocked out by the Mets.

Another horror movie that changed culture was Hitchcock’s Psycho which encouraged every woman in the country to avoid showering for a couple of days. Hitchcock had a way of making the country think and fear in ways no other director could, until Stanley Kubrick came along in 1968, with 2001: A Space Odyssey, which made the World dream for space travel, putting a man on the moon a year later. Twelve years after that, he produced The Shining, which made us fear in ways no one could have imagined until the disturbing and thrilling film was produced. Horror movies usually have a longer lasting impact on the way a culture thinks, and even the way movies are made. There isn’t another genre ripping itself off more than horror movies, with creativity constantly lacking from year to year. Now the common trend seems to be cheap jump scares.

Star Wars is just another example of how movies can impact culture in a significant way, how movies can have exhibits in the Smithsonian Museum. Film has a way of embedding itself into our everyday lives. Movies that are quoted every day, like “go ahead, make my day,” from Clint Eastwood’s Sudden Impact; or “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse,” from the legendary Godfather; or even something so simple like the famous line “my precious” from The Lord of the Rings Saga. These quotes and these movies have changed our lives, and it makes you wonder what the world would be without them. Movies like these are important to American culture. They change the way people think and feel. Movies like Back to the Future, which current craze includes the resurgence of the films and releases of products included in the films sequel like Nike’s laced shoes and perfect Pepsi.

Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale probably had no idea that the world would be taken by storm with the franchise 30 years after the release. The fact that the writer’s decided to pick October 21, 2015 as the day their hero travels to the future is incredible. They probably had no realistic idea how the world would be and their prediction was not too far off. The films have sufficiently managed to change pop-culture and with the ever-changing Hollywood industry no one knows where the next Back to the Future or Star Wars will come from.

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