The 50 Most Influential People in Movie History

A list of the 50 individuals who have (imho) done most to create and shape the cinematic art, from its beginnings into the 21st century.
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1.
Irving Thalberg
Thalberg was born in New York City of German immigrant parents. He had a bad heart, having contracted rheumatic fever as a teenager and was plagued with other ailments all of his life. He was quite intelligent with a thirst for knowledge but, convinced that he would never see thirty, he skipped college and became...
 
2.
Charles Chaplin
Writer, Modern Times
Charlie Chaplin, considered to be one of the most pivotal stars of the early days of Hollywood, lived an interesting life both in his films and behind the camera. He is most recognized as an icon of the silent film era, often associated with his popular "Little Tramp" character; the man with the toothbrush mustache, bowler hat, bamboo cane, and a funny walk...
 
3.
Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince
Le Prince is considered the pioneer of the motion picture. His father was an intimate friend of Louis Daguerre (1787-1851), the famous pioneer of photography, who gave his son some early lessons in the art. In 1875 he saw a series of photographs taken by Eadweard Muybridge at Palo Alto, California. Le Prince was attracted to the idea of producing a series of photographs i.e...
 
4.
Walt Disney
Walter Elias Disney was born on December 5, 1901 in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Flora Disney (née Call) and Elias Disney, a Canadian-born farmer and businessperson. He had Irish, German, and English ancestry. Walt moved with his parents to Kansas City at age seven, where he spent the majority of his childhood...
 
5.
Georges Méliès
Georges Melies, a professional magician by training, first saw the new "moving pictures" in 1895. Little over a year later, Melies was filming and projecting his own creations. By accident, he discovered that he could use stop-motion photography to render trick visual effects. Melies was also the first to use techniques such as the fade-in...
 
6.
Louis B. Mayer
Miscellaneous Crew, Greed
Born Lazar Mayer sometime between 1880-1886 (his actual birth date is unknown), he overcame a particularly brutal poverty-stricken childhood at the hands of his near-illiterate father, who moved his family to Eastern Canada to avoid Jewish persecution. The only regular trade his father undertook was as a scrap metal dealer...
 
7.
W.W. Hodkinson
Producer, Cupid Angling
Pioneering film producer/distributor W.W. Hodkinson was born in Pueblo, CO, in 1881. He got into the motion picture business early, opening a theater in Ogden, UT, in 1907. He was successful enough to buy out the only two other theaters in Ogden, then headed for the "big time" in Salt Lake City. He moved up from exhibiting films to distributing them...
“ William Wadsworth Hodkinson (August 16, 1881—June 2, 1971), known more commonly as W. W. Hodkinson, was born in Independence, Kansas. Known as 'The Man Who Invented Hollywood', he opened one of the first movie theaters in Ogden, Utah in 1907 and within just a few years changed the way movies were produced, distributed, and exhibited. He became a leading West Coast film distributor in the early days of motion pictures and in 1914 he founded and became president of the first nation-wide film distributor, Paramount Pictures Corporation. Hodkinson was also responsible for doodling the mountain that became the Paramount logo in 1914. He left motion picture business in 1929 to form Hodkinson Aviation Corporation, and later formed the Central American Aviation Corporation and Companía Nacional de Aviación in Guatemala. ” - lwdaley
 
8.
Marcus Loew
Producer, The Saphead
His film resume belies the fact that he was the most important man in motion pictures at the time of his death. Born as Max Loew in New York City to a poverty-stricken Viennese waiter, his life could've easily gone the the way of many boys of the east side slums, except that he was hyper-enterprising...
 
9.
Sam Warner
Sam Warner could rightly be called "The Father of Talking Pictures". Of the four Warner brothers, Sam was the most in favor of using synchronized sound with movies. He was the driving force behind the studio's partnership with Western Electric to create Vitaphone. At first, he only wanted to use Vitaphone to provide music and sound effects...
 
10.
Louis Lumière
Although no one will ever come up with a definitive answer as to who invented the cinema (probably because no one single person was responsible), Louis Lumiere has one of the strongest claims to the title - for it was he (with his brother Auguste) who invented the cinematographe: a machine that combined...
 
11.
Orson Welles
His father was a well-to-do inventor, his mother a beautiful concert pianist; Orson Welles was gifted in many arts (magic, piano, painting) as a child. When his mother died (he was seven) he traveled the world with his father. When his father died (he was fifteen) he became the ward of Chicago's Dr...
 
12.
Ingmar Bergman
Ernst Ingmar Bergman was born July fourteenth, 1918, the son of a priest. The film and T.V. series, The Best Intentions is biographical and shows the early marriage of his parents. The film 'Söndagsbarn' depicts a bicycle journey with his father. In the miniseries Private Confessions is the trilogy closed. Here...
 
13.
Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando is widely considered the greatest movie actor of all time, rivaled only by the more theatrically oriented Laurence Olivier in terms of esteem. Unlike Olivier, who preferred the stage to the screen, Brando concentrated his talents on movies after bidding the Broadway stage adieu in 1949...
 
14.
Fritz Lang
Director, M
Fritz Lang was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1890. His father managed a construction company. His mother, Pauline Schlesinger, was Jewish but converted to Catholicism when Lang was ten. After high school, he enrolled briefly at the Technische Hochschule Wien and then started to train as a painter. From 1910 to 1914...
 
15.
John Ford
Director, The Searchers
John Ford came to Hollywood following one of his brothers, an actor. Asked what brought him to Hollywood, he replied "The train". He became one of the most respected directors in the business, in spite of being known for his westerns, which were not considered "serious" film. He won six Oscars, counting (he always did) the two that he won for his WWII documentary work...
 
16.
Billy Wilder
Originally planning to become a lawyer, Billy Wilder abandoned that career in favor of working as a reporter for a Viennese newspaper, using this experience to move to Berlin, where he worked for the city's largest tabloid. He broke into films as a screenwriter in 1929, and wrote scripts for many German films until Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933...
 
17.
Akira Kurosawa
Writer, Yojimbo
After training as a painter (he storyboards his films as full-scale paintings), Kurosawa entered the film industry in 1936 as an assistant director, eventually making his directorial debut with Sanshiro Sugata. Within a few years, Kurosawa had achieved sufficient stature to allow him greater creative freedom...
 
18.
Katharine Hepburn
Born May 12, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut, she was the daughter of a doctor and a suffragette, both of whom always encouraged her to speak her mind, develop it fully, and exercise her body to its full potential. An athletic tomboy as a child, she was also very close to her brother, Tom, and was devastated at age 14 to find him dead...
 
19.
Sergei M. Eisenstein
The son of an affluent architect, Eisenstein attended the Institute of Civil Engineering in Petrograd as a young man. With the fall of the tsar in 1917, he worked as an engineer for the Red Army. In the following years, Eisenstein joined up with the Moscow Proletkult Theater as a set designer and then director...
 
20.
D.W. Griffith
David Wark Griffith was born in rural Kentucky to Jacob "Roaring Jake" Griffith, a former Confederate Army colonel and Civil War hero. Young Griffith grew up with his father's romantic war stories and melodramatic nineteenth-century literature that were to eventually mold his black-and-white view of human existence and history...
 
21.
Lee Strasberg
Famed acting teacher Lee Strassberg was born in Budzanov, Austria-Hungary (now Budanov, Ukraine). Brought to America as a child, he had a brief acting career, before becoming one of the founders of the Group Theatre in 1931, directing a number of plays there. His greatest influence, however, was through the Actors Studio...
 
23.
Herbert T. Kalmus
Producer, The Viking
Herbert Kalmus was born on November 9, 1881, in Chelsea, Massachusetts. He graduated from M.I.T. and then got his PhD. from the University of Zurich in Switzerland. He formed his company, "Technicolor Company", in 1912, when he was still a professor at the Canadian school. He incorporated in 1915 and in 1917 made the first color film [the two-color process]...
 
24.
Steven Spielberg
Undoubtedly one of the most influential film personalities in the history of film, Steven Spielberg is perhaps Hollywood's best known director and one of the wealthiest filmmakers in the world. Spielberg has countless big-grossing, critically acclaimed credits to his name, as producer, director and writer...
 
25.
Humphrey Bogart
Actor, Casablanca
Humphrey DeForest Bogart was born in New York City, New York, to Maud Humphrey, a famed magazine illustrator and suffragette, and Belmont DeForest Bogart, a moderately wealthy surgeon (who was secretly addicted to opium). Bogart was educated at Trinity School, NYC, and was sent to Phillips Academy in Andover...
 
26.
Alfred Hitchcock
Director, Psycho
Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born in Leytonstone, Essex, England. He was the son of Emma Jane (Whelan; 1863 - 1942) and East End greengrocer William Hitchcock (1862 - 1914). His parents were both of half English and half Irish ancestry. He had two older siblings, William Hitchcock (born 1890) and Eileen Hitchcock (born 1892)...
 
27.
Leni Riefenstahl
Leni Riefenstahl's show-biz experience began with an experiment: she wanted to know what it felt like to dance on the stage. Success as a dancer gave way to film acting when she attracted the attention of film director Arnold Fanck, subsequently starring in some of his mountaineering pictures. With Fanck as her mentor, Riefenstahl began directing films...
 
28.
“ Linwood G. Dunn, A.S.C. (December 27, 1904, Brooklyn, New York – May 20, 1998, Los Angeles) was a pioneer of visual special effects in motion pictures and inventor of related technology. Dunn worked on many films and TV series including the original 1933 King Kong (1933), Citizen Kane (1941), and Star Trek (1966-69) ” - lwdaley
 
29.
Elia Kazan
Elia Kazan, known for his creative stage direction, was born "Elia Kazanjoglous" in Istanbul in 1909 to Greek parents. He directed such Broadway plays as "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof". He directed the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire and also films written for the screen...
 
30.
Bette Davis
Actress, All About Eve
Ruth Elizabeth Davis was born April 5, 1908, in Lowell, Massachusetts, to Ruth Augusta (Favor) and Harlow Morrell Davis, a patent attorney. Her parents divorced when she was 10. She and her sister were raised by their mother. Her early interest was dance. To Bette, dancers led a glamorous life, but then she discovered the stage...
 
31.
Dhundiraj Govind Phalke
Dadasaaheb Phalke was born in 1870 in Trymbakeshwar in Nasik. He was born to a Sanskrit scholar, he studied at J.J. college of Art in Bombay and at Kala Bhavan, Baroda. He then studied architecture and became landscape painter of academic nature studies. He worked in a photographic studio and at Ratlam learned three-colour block making and ceramics...
 
32.
Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple was easily the most popular and famous child star of all time. She got her start in the movies at the age of three and soon progressed to super stardom. Shirley could do it all: act, sing and dance and all at the age of five! Fans loved her as she was bright, bouncy and cheerful in her...
 
33.
Buster Keaton
Joseph Frank Keaton, was born in Piqua, Kansas, October 4, 1895 to Joe Keaton and Myra Keaton. Joe and Myra were Vaudevillian comedians with a popular, ever-changing variety act, giving Keaton an eclectic and interesting upbringing. In the earliest days on stage they traveled with a medicine show that included family friend...
 
34.
Sidney Poitier
A native of Cat Island, The Bahamas (though born in Miami during a mainland visit by his parents), Poitier grew up in poverty as the son of farmers Evelyn (Outten) and Reginald James Poitier, who also drove a cab. He had little formal education and at the age of 15 was sent to Miami to live with his brother...
 
35.
Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926 in Los Angeles, California. Her mother was a film-cutter at RKO Studios who, widowed and mentally ill, abandoned her to a sequence of foster homes. She was almost smothered to death at two, nearly raped at six. At nine, the LA Orphans' Home paid her a nickel a month for kitchen work while taking back a penny every Sunday for church...
 
36.
Cary Grant
Once told by an interviewer, "Everybody would like to be Cary Grant", Grant is said to have replied, "So would I." Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach in Horfield, Bristol, England, to Elsie Maria (Kingdon) and Elias James Leach, who worked in a factory. His early years in Bristol would have been an ordinary lower-middle-class childhood...
 
37.
Jean-Luc Godard
Director, My Life to Live
Jean-Luc Godard was born in Paris on December 3, 1930, the second of four children in a bourgeois Franco-Swiss family. His father was a doctor who owned a private clinic, and his mother came from a preeminent family of Swiss bankers. During World War II Godard became a naturalized citizen of Switzerland and attended school in Nyons (Switzerland)...
 
38.
Adolph Zukor
Miscellaneous Crew, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Adolph Zukor's success began with penny arcades, offering moving peepshows that evolved into nickelodeon theaters that offered longer, larger moving pictures. On July 12, 1912, he premiered the first feature-length film, Queen Elizabeth, featuring French actress Sarah Bernhardt that ran for 40 minutes...
 
39.
John Wayne
John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison in Iowa, to Mary Alberta (Brown) and Clyde Leonard Morrison, a pharmacist. He was of English, Ulster-Scots, and Irish ancestry. Clyde developed a lung condition that required him to move his family from Iowa to the warmer climate of southern California, where they tried ranching in the Mojave Desert...
 
40.
Cecil B. DeMille
His parents Henry C. DeMille and Beatrice DeMille were playwrights. His father died when he was 12, and his mother supported the family by opening a school for girls and a theatrical company. Too young to enlist in the Spanish-American War, Cecil followed his brother William C. de Mille to the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts...
 
41.
Mary Pickford
Actress, Coquette
Mary Pickford was born Gladys Louise Smith in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to Elsie Charlotte (Hennessy) and John Charles Smith. She was of English and Irish descent. Pickford began in the theater at age seven. Then known as "Baby Gladys Smith", she toured with her family in a number of theater companies...
 
42.
Douglas Fairbanks
Douglas Fairbanks was born Douglas Elton Thomas Ullman in Denver, Colorado, to Ella Adelaide (Marsh) and Hezekiah Charles Ullman, an attorney. His paternal grandparents were German Jewish immigrants, while his mother was from an Anglo family from the South. He was raised by his mother, who had separated from his father when he was five...
 
43.
Stanley Kubrick
Director, The Shining
Stanley Kubrick was born in Manhattan, New York City, to Sadie Gertrude (Perveler) and Jacob Leonard Kubrick, a physician. His family were Jewish immigrants (from Austria, Romania, and Russia). Stanley was considered intelligent, despite poor grades at school. Hoping that a change of scenery would produce better academic performance...
 
44.
Judy Garland
One of the brightest, most tragic movie stars of Hollywood's Golden Era, Judy Garland was a much-loved character whose warmth and spirit, along with her rich and exuberant voice, kept theatre-goers entertained with an array of delightful musicals. She was born Frances Ethel Gumm on 10 June 1922 in Minnesota...
 
45.
Fred Astaire
Actor, Top Hat
Fred Astaire was born in Omaha, Nebraska, to Johanna (Geilus) and Fritz Austerlitz, a brewer. Fred entered show business at age 5. He was successful both in vaudeville and on Broadway in partnership with his sister, Adele Astaire. After Adele retired to marry in 1932, Astaire headed to Hollywood. Signed to RKO...
 
46.
Guru Dutt
Actor, Pyaasa
Considered to be a man ahead of his time, Guru Dutt was one of the greatest icons of commercial Indian cinema. Although he made less than fifty films, they are believed to be the best to come from Bollywood's Golden Age, known both for their ability to reach out to the common man and for their artistic and lyrical content...
 
47.
 
49.
John Williams
As one of the best known, awarded, and financially successful composers in US history, John Williams is as easy to recall as John Philip Sousa, Aaron Copland or Leonard Bernstein, illustrating why he is "America's composer" time and again. With a massive list of awards that includes over 41 Oscar nominations (five wins)...
 
50.
Jack Valenti
Texas born, Harvard educated, Jack Valenti has led several lives; a wartime bomber pilot, advertising agency founder, political consultant, White House Special Assistant, movie industry leader. In his current role as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Motion Picture Association of America, Valenti has presided over a worldwide sea change in the industry...