Film Firsts
The 25 Movies That Created Contemporary American Cinema
by Ethan Alter
February 2014, 271pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-0187-7
$53, £40, 46€, A72
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-0188-4
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

2011’s Life in a Day was the first theatrically released feature film made largely from YouTube users’ submissions.

This forward-looking exploration of contemporary American film across the last 40 years identifies and examines the specific movies that changed the film industry and shaped its present and future.

Since the mid-1970s, American cinema has gone through enormous changes, such as the birth of the modern summer blockbuster, the rise of the independent film industry, ongoing technological advancements in special effects, and the ever-evolving models for film distribution. Written by a professional film critic and film buff, this book tells the story of contemporary American cinema in a unique and engaging way: by examining 25 key movies that demonstrated a significant creative, technological, or business innovation that impacted the industry at large.

Each chapter in this chronological survey of contemporary film is divided into two sections: “The Film,” which offers a critical overview of the film in question; and “The First,” which describes the specific innovation achieved by that film and places that achievement in the larger historical context. Two additional appendices in each chapter explore other significant aspects of both the film and its groundbreaking nature. The broad coverage—ranging from action movies to horror films to science fiction favorites—ensures the work’s appeal to all film fans.


  • Takes stock of the 2000s and explains how this period built on what came before and predicts how American cinema will continue to evolve in the next decade
  • Provides up-to-the-minute, contemporary treatment of contemporary cinema that will appeal to and resonate with young readers and film buffs in particular
  • Presents a historical perspective on 40 years of American film within the framework of a list of 25 essential movies to effectively capture readers' attention and expand their cinematic horizons beyond the latest Hollywood blockbuster production
  • Utilizes a film-by-film approach that also allows for the inclusion of appendices that focus upon ideas, subjects, and people in modern film, such as comic books, key actors and actresses, and video games
Ethan Alter is chief film critic and editor for the website, Television Without Pity. His movie reviews and feature articles have appeared in such publications as Film Journal International, TV Guide, and GIANT magazine.


2014Book of the Year Award Honorable Mention, Popular Culture (Adult Nonfiction)—INDIEFAB, January 1, 2014


"Ethan Alter takes us through contemporary cinema’s most innovative and important works with sharp style and a unique point of view, incorporating a wealth of engaging contextual detail. It’s an indispensable tool for readers who want to see their favorite movies in a new light and discover hidden gems for the first time."—Robert Levin, Film Critic, amNewYork

“Ethan Alter brings a fresh perspective to the past four decades of motion pictures, chronicling the profound changes both the business and the films have undergone with lively insights, intelligence, and a wide-ranging knowledge of Hollywood blockbusters, independent gems, and historical trends. A valuable contribution to current movie scholarship.”—Kevin Lally, Executive Editor, Film Journal International, and author, Wilder Times: The Life of Billy Wilder
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