This is the most influential film of all time... according to science

Researchers on this, the most influential actor, and more awards.

Researchers on this, the most influential actor, and more awards

(Source: Warner Bros./IMDB)

There's likely a film or two out there you could say changed your life. Whether it's a movie you saw during your formative years, one you related to personally, or one that really moved you, the right film can hold tremendous power over us, both individually and culturally.

But what's the most influential film of all time? While there may be some contenders swirling around your head, a team of Italian researchers decided to find out once and for all, using hard data, and who the most influential directors, actors and actresses are too.

The researchers, from the University of Turin, recently published their findings and outlined an algorithm they devised to measure cinematic influence. The success of films is usually gauged by box office performance and critical reception, but those results are often both subjective and skewed. So to determine influence, the researchers analyzed different data: how often a film was referenced by movies that came after it.

The team considered both artistic influence (how a film spawned remakes, parodies, derivatives or otherwise served as a source of inspiration) as well as industry influence (for example, a successful science fiction movie begetting the production of more films in that genre), to generate an "influence score." Similar algorithms were cross-referenced and devised for the actor and director categories.

In all, roughly 47,000 films (up until 2010), 400,000 actors and 20,000 directors were analyzed, with researchers using the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) as a key tool. (Important note: with IMDb's data skews more heavily toward the European and North American markets, the findings only apply to cinema in the Western world.)

The results of their research? The most influential film of all time is…The Wizard of Oz. While that answer may initially make your toes curl, remember that the 1939 film was a milestone due to its grand scale, innovative use of Technicolor, and classic characters and story (it's an adaptation of L. Frank Baum's book and there were a few other film adaptations before it).

In fact, because of its success and continual TV showings, The Library of Congress reports that The Wizard of Oz has been viewed by more people than any other film.

Rounding out the top 10 are Star Wars (1977), Psycho (1960), King Kong (1933), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Metropolis (1927), Citizen Kane (1941), The Birth of a Nation (1915), Frankenstein (1931) and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Interestingly, the top 20 films were all released before 1980, with the most recent being Star Wars.

In the director category, George Cukor and Victor Fleming logically top the list, having both worked on The Wizard of Oz as well as Gone with the Wind. They're followed by Alfred Hitchcock, Mervyn LeRoy and finally Steven Spielberg, whose ranking is all the more impressive considering how new his body of work is relative to the other work and directors that top the lists.

Perhaps most surprising is the name that tops the list of most influential male actors: Samuel L. Jackson. While he doesn't instantly spring to mind when you think of leading men, Jackson has been acting steadily since 1973, and has more than enough blockbuster hits on his resume (Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park and Goodfellas, to name a few). He's followed by Clint Eastwood, Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Wayne.

The most influential female actress, on the other hand, might be a name you don't even recognize. The late Canadian actress Lois Maxwell is best known for playing Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond films. Her portrayal was so successful that Maxwell played the role in 14 films, from 1962 to 1985, acting alongside two different Bonds (Sean Connery and Roger Moore). Behind Maxwell is Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia in the Star Wars series), Maureen O'Sullivan (Jane in the original Tarzan series), Halle Berry and Drew Barrymore.

Broken down into genre, the most influential comedic actor was Bill Murray; Vincent Price was the most influential horror actor; Godzilla actor Kenji Sahara ranked best among sci-fi films; and Judy Garland ruled the musical category — the only female actor to lead a genre.

Comparing the influence score of men and women illustrates just how male-dominated the industry has been. No female directors appear in the top 20 directors list and, of all the actors combined, only Lois Maxwell cracks the top five — and only when you rank actors who were influential in the 1960s.

Despite a groundswell of public support for more women in film in recent years, the number of female-led blockbusters actually saw a drop in 2017. In this sense, the study's measurement of influence confirms difficult patterns we have yet to break.

Which movie has had the greatest impact on you and why?


RJ Skinner is an actor, writer and pro wrestler, so he rants and raves in various states of undress. Follow him on IG @rjcity and if you're feeling crafty, behold The Cynical Crafter.

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