Pictures, films, flicks, cinema—no matter what you call the movies, there’s no denying that the last 100-plus years of motion pictures has had a serious impact on our society. From heart-wrenching romances to mind-bending action and even some famous pop culture horror movies, this list of movies have left a permanent mark on pop culture.
Ready to dive into the most iconic pop culture movies of all time?
Endlessly quotable, frequently referenced, and sequel inspiring, these are the top 10 movies that changed pop culture. Whether you’ve actually seen them or not, you most likely still know the characters, stories, and unforgettable images that have made these movies a lasting part of pop culture.
#1. Titanic (1997)
The story of Jack and Rose is not only a romance for the ages, it’s a mega-moment in cinema history. Titanic literally blew the box office out of the water when it debuted in December of 1997.
Whether you’ve proclaimed, “I’m the king of the world,” sung along to Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” or done the steamy-glass hand thing—you know the one—it’s pretty much impossible to avoid the massive imprint Titanic has left on pop culture.
Aside from its countless iconic scenes, Titanic sticks because of its list of accomplishments, including:
- Record-breaking box office numbers – With a 15-week #1 box office run, calling Titantic a breakout success is an understatement. As of today, the film has made more than 2 billion dollars. Considering its 200 million dollar budget, that’s about as big of a hit as you can hope for.
- 11 Oscars – Not only was the film financially successful, but it also became one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and 8 other little golden men were awarded to Titanic at the 70th annual Academy Awards.
Titanic changed movie history, redefined what a blockbuster could do, and has remained a thriving piece of pop culture even twenty years later. Much like Rose’s famous line to Jack, Titanic will “never let go,” of its influence on all of us.
#2. Back to the Future (1985)
A zany tale about a high school kid teaming up with the local mad scientist to go back in time and ensure his parents get together doesn’t exactly sound like a runaway hit, does it? Well, that’s where you’d be wrong.
Not only was Back to the Future a hit, creating one of the most beloved pop culture duos, but it also inspired two sequels and a whole universe of multimedia properties, including:
- Video games
- Theme park rides
There was even a Back to the Future Musical!
This sci-fi franchise cemented Michael J. Fox as a star, and gave us some seriously quotable lines (“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”), and made us all fall in love with the DMC DeLorean.
It also inspired a little show you might have heard of: Rick and Morty. In our book, that makes it doubly important in the pop culture universe.
#3. The Dark Knight (2008)
You knew at some point we’d come across the caped crusader. In 2008, Warner Bros. released the second film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight, revolutionized what superhero movies could be and reignited the love of pop culture heroes.
What made this tale of the world’s greatest detective such a gigantic force in pop culture? Consider what it has going for it:
- A once in a lifetime performance – It may be a Batman film, but it’s Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker that continues to captivate audiences. Ledger earned a posthumous Oscar for this role and inspired a Halloween costume that has yet to go out of style.
- A next-level script – “Why so serious?”, the magic trick scene, the Two-Face reveal. There are so many unforgettable moments in The Dark Knight that the entire film feels like a highlight reel.
While The Dark Knight isn’t the only superhero movie on this list, it remains an unforgettable classic and a benchmark in pop culture.
#4. Ghostbusters (1984)
Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters brought together an unforgettable cast of comic actors for a history-making supernatural comedy.
How has Ghostbusters continued to impact pop culture more than 30 years after its release? Consider these lasting effects:
- 2009’s Ghostbusters video game
- 3 sequels and counting
- Impossibly catchy theme song
Plus, who can get tired of Bill Murray, Slimer, Muncher, and those totally chic ghostbusting uniforms fighting around New York City?
#5. Pulp Fiction (1994)
A movie as cool as it is weird, who would’ve thought Pulp Fiction would become a global phenomenon? This hyper-violent black comedy, directed by Quentin Tarantino, is basically an art film with a nonlinear narrative, multiple intersecting storylines, and a whole lot of talking about fast food.
What gives Pulp Fiction its unimpeachable status as a pop-culture classic?
- The look – John Travolta’s long greasy hair, Jackson’s cool and calculated demeanor, Thurman’s mod-style dancing. No other movie looks or feels quite like Pulp Fiction.
- The dialogue – Pulp Fiction’s dialogue is not only quotable, but it’s also totally unlike films before it. The slang, the dialects, the wild cursing—it all adds up to something brilliant.
Pulp Fiction is still studied today as a masterclass in filmmaking, and whether you’ve watched it once or 100 times, there’s always something new to appreciate about this wicked little flick.
#6. The Avengers (2012)
What would you say to all of your favorite superheroes coming together to fight against an evil alien army? Well, the world said, “yes, please.”
While it’s difficult to single out one movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as impacting pop culture, The Avengers marks the moment everything solidified for Marvel fans.
Other honorable mentions go to:
- Iron Man (2008) – You can’t ignore where the universe begins with Tony Stark.
- Captain America: Civil War (2016) - I mean, who could forget that epic showdown?
- Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – This movie showed us just how fun a Marvel film can be.
- Avengers: Endgame (2019) – A brilliant farewell to our favorite heroes.
Today, there’s no property more influential than Marvel. If it’s been a while since your last Avengers viewing, it’s time to check in on Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, and the rest of the team.
#7. Star Wars (1977)
A long time ago in a…, you know where this is going. It’s the one that started it all. While it was theatrically released simply as Star Wars, most true Star Wars fans would probably refer to it as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.
Not to be confused with Star Trek, there’s little you could say about this series that hasn't already been said. Created by George Lucas, Star Wars became a pop culture phenomenon overnight. But in case you grew up on another planet—Tatooine for example—here are a few reasons Star Wars has been at the center of pop culture for five decades and counting:
- Unforgettable characters like Luke Skywalker
- Unmatched world-building
- Revolutionary special effects that changed cinema
- Lightsabers, the Force, and massive space battles
If you’re unfamiliar, plop yourself in front of the nearest TV, and soak up the Star Wars universe. Don’t forget your Star Wars fan gear either. Make yourself feel like you are riding alongside Luke Skywalker and Chewbacca on the Millenium Falcon or fighting Darth Vader himself with a Star Wars subscription box. You’ll be ready to watch fan favorites from the very beginning to the latest TV shows like The Mandalorian.
#8. Mean Girls (2004)
Whether you were a Plastic, a Burnout, a Prep, or someone who didn’t fit into Cady’s Map of Northshore High School, chances are you’re familiar with the lingo that made 2004’s Mean Girls a sensation.
While being an early success for breakout stars like Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, and Lizzy Caplan, and launching Tiny Fey’s career into overdrive, what Mean Girls is best remembered for are the amazing lines still exchanged by pop culture connoisseurs in person and all over social media.
There’s a good chance any of these phrases have entered your lexicon:
- “That was so fetch.”
- “She doesn’t even go here!”
- “The limit does not exist!”
#9. Scarface (1983)
Say hello to my little friend. Scarface redefined the crime movie genre and ushered in a new era of anti-heroes. While the film wasn’t a box office success upon its initial release, it slowly built a cult following and has now become one of the best-known films of the 1980s.
Besides offering top of the line thrills and kills, Scarface has gone on to directly inspire other media, including:
- Video games – While there’s an official Scarface video game (2006’s Scarface: The World is Yours), the film had a significant influence on the beloved 2002 game, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
- Hip hop – Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, and dozens of other hip hop artists have paid respect to the 1983 film in their music, not only name-checking the movie but also including audio samples from unforgettable scenes.
Today, people still celebrate Tony Montana’s white suit, cigar, and mean-muggin scowl. He’s indisputably one of the baddest guys in cinema history.
#10. Inception (2010)
We wouldn’t dream of leaving this mind-bending blockbuster off a list of top pop culture movies. Inception is the ultimate (and only) thriller that’s entirely about what goes on in your head, making it a tough flick to follow for some audiences—despite earning nearly a billion dollars at the box office.
So, what skyrocketed this film to the top of pop culture? It’s not just the star-studded cast and super-twisty plot. It’s also things like:
- The original concept – Whereas most of the biggest movie hits of today are remakes, prequels, sequels, and adaptations, Inception is a totally original property.
- A breathtaking ending – Don’t worry—there are no spoilers here (even though it seems impossible that there are people walking around who haven’t seen Inception). Suffice to say, the ending of Inception leaves the audience with just as many questions as answers, which makes the conversation around “what really happened?” something we’ll never stop talking about.
CultureFly: For All Things Pop Culture
So there you have it—a top-ten list to satisfy any pop culture fanatic. If there’s anything on the list you’ve yet to check out, there’s no better time than now to fill the gaps in your pop culture education. And if you’re looking for something to sweeten the experience, check out Culturefly where we have a pop culture box for every Rose and Jack or Doc and Marty fan out there.
At CultureFly, we’re fans ourselves. That’s why we’ve developed licensed apparel, collectibles, and subscription box services based on your favorite IPs—including some truly iconic films. Join the swarm at CultureFly today, and take your fandom to the next level.
Forbes. Box Office: Record-Crushing Run Of 'Titanic' Could Never Be Replicated Today. https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2017/11/28/box-office-titanics-record-crushing-run-could-never-be-replicated-today/?sh=506cb08e470c
Screen Rant. Scarface: 5 Ways It's A Classic (& 5 Ways It Aged Badly). https://screenrant.com/scarface-classic-vs-aged-badly/
Screen Crush. The Most Influential Movies of the 21st Century. https://screencrush.com/most-influential-movies-of-21st-century/