Usually when somebody tells you that you're about to watch a movie with a political or social agenda, you prepare yourself for a gut wrenching documentary or some heavy dramatic material. But what you might not expect is a horror movie about a small town gone berserk -- and that's exactly what Participant Media is counting on. In an article in the New York Times, Participant's President *(and former president of eBay) Ricky Strauss spoke about the companies plan to make the world a better place through releasing what the NYT called, " profitable cinema with a social-action impulse" -- and first up is the George A. Romero remake, The Crazies, which Participant believes provides a solid environmental message about water quality ... and how best to bludgeon your neighbors should the need arise.

Participant has released other 'politically-minded' narrative films in the past (including Good Night, and Good Luck and The Kite Runner), but The Crazies marks a new direction for Participant, because this time the politics aren't exactly front and center. According to Strauss, "...our movies also need to be entertaining, so as many people as possible are inspired by the issues and themes, and they can go out and make a difference." So even though The Crazies is Participant's first attempt to entertain and educate, it won't be their last, and up next will be another environmental tale (but this time instead of tainted water, it will be deforestation), Furry Vengeance. I guess like Ms. Poppins used to say, a spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down.

So while Participant might be one of the first movie studios looking to change the world as part of their business model, there have been plenty of films that have impacted the world beyond the box office, so take a look after the jump at five movies I think made the world a better place...

*Correction: Partipant's founder, Jefferey Skoll, was eBay's former head honcho.


Homophobia: Philadelphia (1993)


The legal drama starring Tom Hanks as a lawyer wrongfully fired for contracting AIDS introduced a generation to the idea of gay rights in America using the beloved everyman. Yes, the film is a little too even handed (in the hopes of not offending anyone, I guess) and the romance between Antonio Banderas and Hanks was a little -- how do I say this -- neutered, but by hiring Hanks as a gay man it ensured that everyone could relate; it made audiences look beyond their own prejudices about gay men and women, and most importantly how the AIDS crisis wasn't a gay problem, it was everyone's problem.

Racism:
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)


Stanley Kramer's film was released only 12 days after interracial marriage had been legalized in the Supreme Court, which makes the story of an upper class gal (played by Katharine Houghton) who brings her fiancée (played by Sidney Poitier) home to meet her parents timely to say the least. The film was Spencer Tracy's final performance, and introduced the subject of interracial marriage into dinner-table conversations across the country.

Politics: The Candidate (1972)



The Oscar-winning story about how TV transformed politics is as applicable today as it was back in 1972, and showed audiences what happens when you compromise your principles for a bigger voter share. Robert Redford stars in a script by Jeremy Larner (a speech-writer for McCarthy during his campaign for the '68 Democratic Presidential nomination) as an idealistic lawyer and unlikely candidate, Bill McKay, with Peter Boyle as a jaded 'election specialist'. It's a must see for any political junkie.

Poverty: The Grapes of Wrath (1940)


Hollywood in the 1940s was still well and truly a dream factory. The production code guaranteed that most of our endings were happy and that the good guys would win in the end. But, in the film adaptation of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, audiences were confronted with the very real problems facing their fellow Americans in the wake of the Depression, and rather than look away, audiences looked closer at the plight of the 'farming class' in their very own backyard.

Feminism:
9 to 5 (1980)


Bet you didn't see this one coming, but the 80s comedy starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton did the unthinkable: it made feminism fun. The story of three working women who get a little payback is a story rooted in ideals about equality but never did you feel like you were being beaten over the head with an ERA pamphlet -- probably because you were too busy having a good time. Too often, when we hear the dreaded f-word, fun goes right out the window. Well not in this movie, and if Dolly has taught me (as well an entire generation of girls) anything over the years, it's that we can be a stand up gal and a sex kitten all at the same time.

What movies do you think helped to change the world? Sound off in the comments...