The first film to make a major impact was Birth of a Nation. In an age when film making was in its infancy, Birth of a Nation broke the mold. It was also the pre-talky age. Without dialogue, films had to bring impact to the audience visually. This was also difficult because filming lacked the special effects liberties we have today. Birth of a Nation was a stepping-stone and a great taste of things to come. I think D. W. Griffith's greatest contribution in making this film was potential. This film showed the potential of film. It gave an uncompromising glimpse of what could be done. The historical truth could be twisted, social norms discarded, and all ties to reality could most definitely be severed.
Jaws is one of my picks for impact. It might seem like an odd choice at first. However, I believe Jaws to be one of the most psychologically impacting films ever. It instilled a great sense of fear and panic in a whole generation. Steven Spielberg seems to always hit a home run, and Jaws is no exception. It made people afraid of water--any body of water; a pool, a pond, a bathtub, and of course, the ocean. The simple orchestra pattern intensifies the impact immeasurably. The dun, dun, dun, dun, signature is one of the most infamous sounds in all of entertainment. Jaws is cold, heartless, passionate, violent, dramatic, and warm-ending.
It has stood the test of time as being a great "scary" film. If a first time viewer is not scared of sharks before watching Jaws, he or she probably will be after! The realism factor makes Jaws all the scarier. Great White sharks really exist, they are meat-eaters, and they have been known to attack and even kill humans. Jaws slaps realism at the audience and takes the psychological impact to a whole new level.