Movies & TV

25 Pivotal Moments That Revolutionized Cinema Forever

From sound and color, to CGI and motion-capture-and everything in between.
IMAGE Esquire
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No medium combines technology and art quite like film. For over 100 years, filmmakers have been pushing the limits of film and film technology into the future. From the introduction of the movie camera, to the first sound and color films, to today's groundbreaking visual effects, here are the maverick inventions that changed the landscape.

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The Lumiére Brothers Give Birth to Film

Inventors had been trying to make moving pictures work for years, but in the 1890s, it was French brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiére who brought film to the masses. The first film they screened? A 46-second long cut of workers exiting a factory. Audiences couldn't get enough. 

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Women Make Their Mark

Lois Weber was one of the earliest film directors, and a one of the most important at that. She experimented with sound, editing, and camera work. Her 1913 film, Suspense, popularized split-screen effects.

Stop-Motion Animation Brings Dinosaurs to Life

In 1925's The Lost World, special effects pioneer Willis O'Brien brought dinosaurs back from extinction with stop-motion technology, moving miniature models one frame at a time.

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The Pictures Start Talking

While filmmakers had experimented with adding synchronized sound from the beginning, it was the 1927 film The Jazz Singer that changed everything when star Al Jolson spoke the words, "You ain't heard nothin' yet," and the talkies were born.

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The Movies Go Big

Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino may be playing around with 70mm film these days, but the technology has been around for decades, going as far back as 1930 with The Big Trail. The 70mm widescreen epic was also a young John Wayne's first starring role.

King Kong Climbs the Empire State Building

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Willis O'Brien practically perfected stop-motion in 1933 with the giant ape in King Kong. Not merely a spectacular effect, King Kong was a living breathing character audiences cried for in the end. 

Technicolor Perfected 

Film always had color. From painted frames, to early experimental techniques, but it was the famous three-strip Technicolor process that brought vivid, realistic color to the screen. The first three-strip Technicolor feature film, Becky Sharp, debuted in 1935.

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The First Animated Feature

Walt Disney was already a big Hollywood name, famous for his Mickey Mouse shorts. But in 1937, he premiered his biggest gamble—a full length animated feature called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The rest is history.

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The Best Film of All Time

Orson Welles' first movie, Citizen Kane in 1941, is commonly cited as the best film ever made, and it's hard to argue with that. The film took just about every filmmaking technique in the book, and smashed them together into cinematic perfection. 

This is Cinerama!

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By 1952, TV was starting to eat into film profits. Filmmakers needed to put on a show. Enter: Cinerama. The new process used three cameras, and then three projectors running simultaneously to produce an incredible, immersive widescreen image.

Widescreen Takes Over

In 1953, the first CinemaScope widescreen film, The Robe, premiered. Cinemascope was simpler and cheaper than Cinerama, and it wasn't long before widescreen became the standard for all film going forward.

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3D Pops Out on the Scene

In 1953, House of Wax 3D came out, starting the first real wave of 3D films. The format had technical issues, and was mostly used as a gimmick, but it foreshadowed our modern 3D craze.

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Julie Andrews Dances with Cartoons

Plenty of films, from The Three Caballeros to Anchors Aweigh, to Song of the South, had mixed live action with animation, but no film did it better than 1964's Mary Poppins. Who doesn't love dancing penguins?

IMAX

It took some enterprising Canadian inventors to flip 70mm film on its side, producing the largest film format ever created. It was first shown at Expo '67 in Montreal, and by 1971 the Cinesphere in Toronto was built, showing incredible IMAX documentaries to an eager public.

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Don't Go in the Water...

Jaws, released in 1975, is often cited as the first blockbuster. A young Steven Spielberg brought together great actors, a mechanical shark, and all his filmmaking talent to scare audiences silly, kickstarting a new Hollywood revolution.

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In a Galaxy Far, Far Away...

George Lucas had already seen huge success with American Graffiti, but it was Star Wars, released in 1977, that changed everything. From its advanced special effects, to its lived-in world, it became the model for every Hollywood blockbuster that followed.

Jumping Inside the Computer

Early experiments with computer animation were rudimentary at best, but in 1982, Disney released Tron. The movie flopped, but its incredible visual style, and its pioneering use of CGI makes it one of the most important films in history.

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CGI Brings a Glass Knight to Life

In 1985, Barry Levinson's Young Sherlock Holmes featured the first ever photoreal CGI character, a stained glass knight brought to life by John Lasseter at the Lucasfilm department that would later become Pixar.

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Computers Bring Dinosaurs to Life for a New Era

Willis O'Brien may have done it first with motion-capture, but Steven Spielberg did it best in 1993's Jurassic Park. The film uses plenty of large animatronics, but it was his use of CGI that impressed audiences with effects that still hold up over two decades later.

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Pixar Changes Animation

In 1995, Pixar, partnering with Disney, released Toy Story—the first computer animated feature film. And while it took a few more years, the computer animation eventually became the standard at every American animation house and movies are no longer animated by hand. 

The Titanic Sinks Records

James Cameron's epic romance, Titanic, broke almost every record in the book, becoming the biggest box office smash of all time, making stars of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, while pushing 1998 visual effects right to the limit.

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Motion-Capture Makes a Sorry Debut

Not every big film achievement is tied to quality. 2001's Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within wasn't an overall fan favorite, but the animated feature was the first to make major use of motion-capture technology, which has become an integral part of current blockbuster filmmaking.

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Star Wars, Digitized

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones may have punished audiences in 2002 with its terrible dialogue, but it also introduced mass audiences to digital filmmaking as the first major film shot entirely on HD cameras.

The IMAX Experience Goes Dark

Mostly relegated to nature documentaries and blown up versions of 35mm films, IMAX finally hit the big time with Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight in 2008, which was the first narrative film to feature sequences shot with IMAX cameras.

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Avatar Paves the Way Forward

In 2009, James Cameron released his follow-up to Titanic; a sci-fi romantic adventure filmed in 3D using the most advanced motion-capture technology yet. Avatar quickly became the highest grossing film of all time, and we've been living in James Cameron's world ever since.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.

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* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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