To mark Screen International’s 40th anniversary, we set about compiling a list of the 40 most influential films released from our launch in 1975 right up to the present day.
These 40 films have been chosen for their brilliance, of course, but more importantly for their influence in shaping the international industry.
Whether it has broadened creative horizons, opened up the cinema of a nation, or changed the way in which movies are financed, made, marketed or seen, each film here can legitimately be described as a game-changer.
And while we couldn’t include every notable film from the last 40 years, this list stands as an inspirational reminder not just of the enduring power of cinema, but of the industry’s endless capacity to embrace new influences and ideas across the board.
Screen’s 40 at Forty
Click the linked titles for more / films presented in chronological order
Jaws (1975, US)
Steven Spielberg’s ground-breaking thriller established the director as a filmmaker of influence, and ushered in the age of the blockbuster.
Taxi Driver (1976, US)
Martin Scorsese’s Palme d’Or winner validated and advanced the work of the American New Wave directors.
Star Wars (1977, US)
George Lucas’s space saga kick-started the special-effects revolution and established the potential of films as global brands.
Halloween (1978, US)
John Carpenter’s chiller is the perfect example of what can be achieved on a tight budget, and laid down the blueprint for successful modern horror.
Alien (1979, US)
Ridley Scott’s dystopian sci-fi is a benchmark in genre filmmaking, both for its influential imagery and its iconic female lead.
Apocalypse Now (1979, US)
Sound designer Walter Murch pushed the boundaries of immersive cinema sound, and inspired technological developments in the aural arena.
Mad Max (1979, Australia)
George Miller’s dystopian actioner put Australian cinema on the map, and made an international star of Mel Gibson, leading to the rise of the global Australian superstar.
Das Boot (1981, Germany)
One of Germany cinema’s most successful international exports, and the perfect example of a big screen/small screen collaboration.
First Blood (1982, US)
One of the most significant films to be successfully funded using the pre-sales model also ushered in the 1980s action-cinema explosion.
Matador (1986, Spain)
Pedro Almodovar’s creative vision helped shape and define a world in which transgressive stories could enter the mainstream.
Red Sorghum (1987, China)
A defining moment for the Fifth Generation of Chinese filmmakers, who opened the door on China after the Cultural Revolution.
Akira (1988, Japan)
Inspired the international appetite for intelligent, adult animation and helped change the fortunes of Japan’s ailing industry.
The Thin Blue Line (1988, US)
A landmark film in highlighting the power of documentary as a tool to effect genuine social change.
Batman (1989, US)
The current insatiable trend for modern comic-book movies can be traced back to Tim Burton’s 1989 summer blockbuster.
Sex, Lies And Videotape (1989, US)
Steven Soderbergh’s multiple-award winning drama ushered in the rise of Miramax and a new golden age for American independent fimmaking.
The Killer (1989, Hong Kong)
John Woo’s thriller introduced Hong Kong cinema to a new generation of Western audiences, and continues to influence action filmmakers around the globe.
Do The Right Thing (1989, US)
Spike Lee’s seminal film confronted America’s problematic race relations, and opened the door for myriad African-American filmmakers.
La Femme Nikita (1990, France)
Luc Besson’s film remains one of French cinema’s most widely celebrated exports, and established the director as both influential filmmaker and major industry player.
The Piano (1993, New Zealand)
Jane Campion’s defiantly feminist film remains a trump card in the ongoing debate for gender equality in the industry.
Three Colours Trilogy (1993-1994, France)
Krzystof Kieslowski’s celebrated triptych is a shining example of art cinema as commercial success, and established its director as one of Europe’s greatest filmmakers
Pulp Fiction (1994, US)
Quentin Tarantino’s sophomore film both set out his stall as a director of uncompromising vision, and gave American cinema a new creative lease of life.
Four Weddings And A Funeral (1994, UK)
This internationally successful Richard Curtis-scripted rom-com helped lift the British film industry out of the doldrums of previous decades
La Haine (1995, France)
Mathieu Kassovitz’s powerful French film launched a new wave of generational protest cinema.
Toy Story (1995, US)
Established Pixar as global leader in modern animation, and set the bar for a new generation of computer-generated animation both in terms of visuals and storytelling.
Trainspotting (1996, UK)
Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s drug-fuelled novel helped British cinema gain increasing international traction in the 1990s, deploying marketing techniques borrowed from the music industry.
Taste of Cherry (1997, Iran)
Abbas Kiarostami’s Palme d’Or winning drama turned the eyes of the world onto modern Iranian cinema, turning the country into an unlikely arthouse powerhouse.
Festen (1998, Denmark)
The first film to be made under the Dogme 95 manifesto, a brief but influential avant-garde filmmaking movement created by Danish directors Thomas Vinterberg and Lars Von Trier.
The Ring (1998, Japan)
Hideo Nakata’s effective chiller saw Asian ‘J-Horror’ become a global phenomenon, and inspired a new atmospheric approach to genre filmmaking across all territories.
The Blair Witch Project (1999, US)
Still one of the most successful independent films of all time, this micro-budget horror harnessed the power of online marketing to ground-breaking effect.
Amores Perros (2000, Mexico)
The first marker of the Mexican New Wave introduced a new global audience to the country’s cinematic output, and reignited interest in Latin American cinema.
Crouching Tiger, HIdden Dragon (2000, Taiwan)
This exquisitely choreographed film lifted the martial arts movie into the realm of art, and proved the value of East-West co-productions.
Spirited Away (2001, Japan)
Opened the door to the huge international critical and popular success of Studio Ghibli, and challenged the domination of Hollywood animation.
Harry Potter series (2001-2011, UK)
Based on JK Rowling’s novels, this series successfully utilised the lucrative nature of the young audience and the modern film franchise, and bolstered global interest and investment in the British film industry.
The Lord Of The Rings trilogy (2001-2003, NZ)
Peter Jackson’s telling of JRR Tolkien’s series of fantasy books harnessed the box-office potential of literary adaptations, and pushed the envelope in terms of visual effects.
Bowling For Columbine (2002, US)
Michael Moore’s successful documentary proved cinema could be both polemic, entertaining and hugely profitable.
City Of God (2002, Brazil)
Launched a new generation of Latin American filmmakers, who put their own unique spin on established genres.
Old Boy (2003, South Korea)
Park Chan-Wook’s opera of violence propelled Korean cinema into the global arena.
Twilight (2008, US)
Based on Stephenie Meyer’s novel, this film demonstrated the power of the young adult audience and started one of the genre’s most lucrative franchises.
Avatar (2009, US)
James Cameron’s sci-fi epic kick-started the modern 3D filmmaking revolution, and broadened the horizons of cinema as fully immersive experience.
The King’s Speech (2010, UK)
One of the most globally successful British films of all time.