Movies have the ability make us feel many emotions, but sometimes their subject matter can cause such a stir, that society is forced to sit up and take notice. From a major studio squaring off with the government, to a documentary tackling taboo issues – there are several films that have left a lasting impression on the law. They have actually changed legislation. Here are just a few of the best examples of movies that actually changed the law...
The Hobbit Trilogy (2012-2014)
The movie: Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's books will need no introduction, but for those few who are not familiar with the franchise, Peter Jackson's prequel trilogy follows Bilbo Baggins and a group of dwarves on their quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the malevolent dragon Smaug.
What it changed: When Warner Bros and Jackson took on New Zealand's government it was a smack-down of epic proportions. The studio strong armed the government into making changes to employment laws, so that filming for the $500 million franchise could go ahead. Actors were treated as contractors, in a move that cut their right to unionisation, strike action, holidays, and sick pay. But with almost a third of New Zealand's GDP coming from the studio's owner Time Warner, the country had little choice but to sit down, shut up, and make room for Middle Earth.
The movie: A brutal depiction from inside the walls of a Borstal detention centre for boys, starring Ray Winstone as troubled youth Carlin.
What it changed: Originally made for TV, Scum faced a backlash from broadcasters who wouldn't air the show because of its controversial content. However, Scum eventually got the outing it rightly deserved when scriptwriter Roy Minton and director Alan Clare reworked it into a movie. Not long after, Borstal detention centres were closed down under the 1982 Criminal Justice Act, tying the film to their closure. The film catapulted Winstone's career, who has since become the gaffer of British grit and gore.
The Driller Killer (1982)
The movie: An artist, struggling to make ends meet, goes on a drilling spree through the streets of New York in a bid to alleviate some of the stress – as you do.
What it changed: In the early 1980s a clamp down on video nasties took full effect. Driller Killer and its colourful VHS cover were at the forefront of the controversy, which saw several video releases removed from the market under the newly formed Video Recordings Act 1984. 72 films were banned and The Driller Killer spent 15 years gathering dust. It was not until 1999 that the film resumed its rightful place on the shelf – albeit as a heavily censored version. The full uncut version of the film was eventually released in 2002.
The movie: This Academy Award® nominated classic sees Michael Caine living it up as playboy Alfie, but don't let the frivolity fool you, there is more to this movie than meets the eye.
What it changed: Part of the movie's charm lies in protagonist Alfie's cheeky chappie routine, but the narrative has a much darker message at its core. Part way through the film, Julia Foster's Gilda undergoes a backstreet abortion after a reckless romp with Alfie results in a pregnancy. The 1967 Abortion Act rolled out one year later, sparking debate around whether the film was instrumental in banning backstreet abortions.
The movie: Take 1990s action hero Kevin Costner and one of history's hottest conspiracy theories and you have one hell of a movie on your hands. Things start to boil over when a district attorney accuses a New Orleans businessman of covering up JFK's assassination.
What it changed: Oliver Stone's depiction of the assassination of JFK raised more than a few eyebrows when it was released. While his filmmaking was praised, several publications accused the acclaimed director of taking liberties with the facts. Public interest surrounding the film became so rife that in 1992, the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act became law, forcing the release of documents on the case into the public realm.
A Handful Of Ash (2013)
The movie: From documentary makers Shara Amin and Nabaz Ahmed, this shocking movie exposes the degrading act of genital mutilation in Kurdistan.
What it changed: Over ten years in the making, A Handful Of Ash shines a light on the subject of 'Khatana', otherwise referred to as female genital mutilation. Ahmed and Amin made sure they gave the women of Kurdistan a platform to speak about their personal trauma, in a country where this appalling practice was seen as the norm. This 50 minute passion project attracted the right attention, sparking a campaign by the Kurdish parliamentary women's committee. The act was outlawed in 2011.
The movie: Lee Daniel's Precious has been praised for its powerful plot, which follows the life of an overweight and abused teenager, pregnant by her own father. Gabourey Sidibe won an Academy Award® nomination for her performance in the lead role.
What it (almost) changed: Precious made waves for its harrowing subject matter, striking a chord with audiences worldwide – including the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg. In response to the film, the mayor is said to have tried to combat obesity by regulating the amount of sugar in soft drinks, under a proposed Soda Ban. However, much like a fizzy drink, his attempts fell flat and the law met its sugary demise.
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
The movie: Errol Morris's documentary takes a probing look at the conviction of an innocent man, charged with the murder of a police officer.
What it changed: Morris dug deep into the controversial case surrounding Randall Dale Adams, and exposed several major inconsistencies in the investigation. The film called the entire case into question, which eventually led to a re-trial and an acquittal. While The Thin Blue Line didn't alter the law, it proved a man's innocence and exposed a flawed legal system. Pretty powerful stuff.
Street Of Shame (1956)
The movie: From director Kenji Mizoguchi, Street Of Shame follows the lives of five prostitutes, against the backdrop of Tokyo's seedy red light district.
What it changed: A film such as Street Of Shame would barely make waves today, but 60 years ago it was a taboo topic that had the power to influence society and shape the law. Months after its release, the Japanese government issued a ban on prostitution. Whether Mizoguchi's commentary was the cause of the change remains unseen, but its timing seems more than little coincidental.