Most influential movies ever – Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, and Psycho

The most influential movie of all time was the Wizard of Oz. Star Wars and Psycho were the second and third most influential movies ever. This is what two researchers from the University of Turin in Italy have concluded.

Livio Bioglio and Ruggero G. Pensa wrote about their study and findings in the journal Applied Network Science (citation below).

The authors calculated an influence score for 47,000 movies that IMDb listed. IMDb is an online database of information related to video games, television programs, films, home videos, and Internet streams.

The influence score was based on how much or often subsequent movies referenced a specific film. The majority of the 20 most influential films ever, the authors found, came from the United States. They also reported that most of them were pre-1980 movies.

Determining how influential movies are

Lead author, Dr. Livio Bioglio, said:

“We propose an alternative method to box office takings – which are affected by factors beyond the quality of the film such as advertising and distribution – and reviews – which are ultimately subjective – for analyzing the success of a film.”

“We have developed an algorithm that uses references between movies as a measure for success, and which can also be used to evaluate the career of directors, actors and actresses, by considering their participation in top-scoring movies.”

Most influential movies ever
Most of the top movies in this study were pre-1980 films.

Most influential directors

The researchers applied the algorithm to directors. The five men credited for the Wizard of Oz came in among the top eight. Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg ranked third and fifth respectively. Stanley Kubrick ranked sixth.

When the researchers removed the bias of older films, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, and Brian De Palma were among the top three instead. Older films may potentially influence more subsequent movies than younger movies because there are more films after them.

Most Influential Actors Ever
The researchers said there was a strong bias towards male actors.

Most influential actors

The authors then applied their algorithm to actors. The top three were Samuel L. Jackson, Clint Eastwood, and Tom Cruise.

There was a strong bias toward male actors, the researchers noticed. Lois Maxwell was the only actress among the top ten. She played Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond films. Miss Moneypenny was secretary to M, Bond’s superior officer and head of MI6.

Regarding the scores of top-ranked actors and actresses, Dr. Bioglio said:

“The scores of top-ranked actresses tend to be lower compared to their male colleagues. The only exceptions were musical movies, where results show moderate gender equality and movies produced in Sweden, where actresses ranked better compared to actors.”

Lois Maxwell most influential female actor
Lois Maxwell (1927 – 2007) was a Canadian actress. She appeared in 14 James Bond films.

Each movie a node in a network

The researchers treated each film as a node in a network to calculate the influence score of 47,000 films. They measured how many connections each node had to other nodes. Other studies have used similar network science methods to measure the impact of, for example, scientific publications.

Regarding the idea of using network analysis, Dr. Bioglio said:

“The idea of using network analysis for ranking films is not completely new, but to our knowledge this is the first study that uses these techniques to also rank personalities involved in film production.”

People researching the arts and the history of movies could use their algorithm, the authors suggested. It is only possible to apply the results to Western cinema, they cautioned. IMDb has a strong bias toward Western films.

According to The Numbers, the most profitable movie ever was Avatar (2009). Its approximate income and expense were $1,787,862,805 and $516,262,000 respectively. Therefore, it made a profit of $1,271,600,805. The word ‘profit‘ has many meanings. In this context, it means income minus expense.


Identification of key films and personalities in the history of cinema from a Western perspective,” Livio Bioglio and Ruggero G. Pensa. Applied Network Science, 20183:50. DOI: