The Most Influential Videos of All Time

Patrick Fitzgerald  |  04-01-2021
The Most Influential Videos of All Time

Movies, commercials, music videos, teasers, trailers, tv shows, youtube, instagram stories… the list goes on and on. We’re inundated with a seemingly endless stream of video content. 

Video has shaped our history, how we perceive it, and it has changed the way we look at the world around us. I took a look at some of the most influential video clips in history and how they left an indelible impact on our collective consciousness.

The First Video Ever Made

What better starting point than with the first video ever made? Of course it was shot on film, but let’s not get lost in the details… The Roundhay Garden Scene, a short film shot by French inventor Louis Le Prince, is considered by many to be the earliest surviving motion picture.

The film, which is only two seconds in length, was shot at 12 frames a second in the year 1888 and features four people in a garden sort of dancing around. This clip is much clearer than some of the others taken around that time period which suggests that Le Prince’s camera technology was ahead of its time.

This is where things get a little weird… Le Prince planned to travel to England to get a patent for his invention and then head to the U.S. to publicize it. He stopped at his brothers house in Dijon before heading to Paris. The train from Dijon arrived in Paris and Le Prince was nowhere to be found; not his body, not even a single trace of luggage. 

Was it a plot by Edison and other competitors to get the patent first? Whatever the case may be, Le Prince’s time had run out. 

Oldest video ever - 1888

The First Commercial

As a Creative Agency that produces a lot of commercials, ironically enough: we hate commercials. That’s why we try to make ‘em entertaining, or at least as pleasant as possible since commercials inevitably accompany almost any cable and video streaming service.  

It’s no secret that commercials have had an incalculable impact on business and culture around the world, but how did it all start? And how did advertising break into the world of motion?

It all began with a 10 second ad for a watch company that aired before a baseball game. Bulova paid $9 for the spot. That comes out to just $150 when adjusted for inflation so it’s safe to say that it was quite a steal (baseball pun, sorry not sorry).

We would have seen ads sooner but advertising was banned on TV until 1941. Can you imagine if that were still the case?

The World's First Ever TV Ad

The Birth of Modern Music Videos

Not only is our next video one of the most successful music videos ever, it sent ripples through the very fabric of American culture pop culture. 

Michael Jackson’s Thriller had so much power that it single-handedly created a market for VHS sales because audiences wanted to watch the video on their own time. It transformed music video direction into its own artform and broke down racial barriers in the entertainment industry. 

It’s influence on pop culture pushed it above and beyond anyone’s expectations (except for maybe MJ himself). It changed the standard for music videos and led to the entire industry looking at them as short films and a major aspect of a single’s release. 

The video (or film as MJ called it) is so iconic that the jacket that Michael Jackson wore sold for $1.8 million in 2011. And despite the video coming out over 20 years before YouTube was founded, it has racked up over 700 million views on the platform. 

The legacy of this video will outlive any of us and that’s a true testament to the genius-level direction and marketing that went behind it. 

Michael Jackson - Thriller (Official Video)

The Zapruder Film

Every adult in America has either seen, or at least heard about the infamous Zapruder film which captured the very moment that John F. Kennedy was brutally assassinated. 

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy has many gaps, question marks, hidden and destroyed evidence, cover ups and witnesses who have been threatened and silenced. It’s a moment in history that will forever be shrouded in speculation. 

The Zapruder film, an 8mm color film shot by Abraham Zapruder with a Bell & Howell home-movie camera, captured it all and it is widely regarded as the most famous 26 seconds in film history.

I won’t get into all the conspiracies but it contributed heavily to a wide variety of them. Witness inconsistencies and deaths, the multiple shooter theory, the killers marksmanship and film alteration were all subjected to heavy investigation. 

Many claim that the violence and shock of the video led to a new way of representing violence in 1970s American cinema, both in mainstream films and indie horror films. As dark as that sounds, it’s probably true.

Assassinat de John F. Kennedy

Apollo 11 Moon Landing

Everyone has seen the footage from the moon landing and heard Lance Armstrong’s famous words as he stepped upon the lunar surface. And while that of course, is highly iconic, our fascination is more with the commentary surrounding the landing itself.

Listening to the astronauts struggle to find a landing spot and almost having to scratch the landing entirely is so captivating and tense in its own right. I find this video, mankind’s first contact with another planet, to be much more deserving of a spot on our list. 

Historic Apollo 11 Moon Landing Footage

Passage De Venus

Technically not a video but a series of photos sequenced together. Taken in 1874, it shows the transit of Venus across the Sun.

1874 Pierre Jules César Janssen - Passage artificiel de Venus sur le Soleil

Japanese Surrender

Taken on September 2nd, 1945 by an unknown Navy photographer, this video shows representatives of the Japanese military surrendering to the allied powers on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. An incredibly anticlimactic and ironic ending to the bloodiest war in history.

Japanese Sign Final Surrender (1945)

Patterson Bigfoot Film

One of the most controversial videos in history, this video allegedly shows a Bigfoot in Bluff Creek, California in 1967. While other videos and photos of Bigfoot have come out since then, none have been studied as deeply. Is it a man in a monkey suit? Or a massive cryptozoological icon that has eluded science? Take a look for yourself and let me know what you think.

Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film slowed down and stablised

The First Youtube Video Ever

Uploaded on April 23, 2005, Youtube co-founder Jawed Karim posted an 18 second video titled “Me at the zoo.” Little did he and his colleagues know that this would start the largest video sharing site in history with over 300 hours of video uploaded to the site every minute. Jawed and his fellow co-founders would sell YouTube to Google a year later for $1.6 billion dollars.

What’d We Miss?

There are plenty of videos throughout history that I didn’t cover but that doesn’t make them any less important or significant. If any particular video comes to your mind while reading this, head over to our video on YouTube and throw it in the comments. If there’s enough interest, I may consider a Part 2.

The power of video cannot be understated. Contact us to see what video can do for your brand or business.

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