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The 25 Most Important Pop Culture Moments

Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Titanic."




James Cameron

(CNN) -- In the past quarter-century, popular culture introduced us to the moonwalk and rap music, it brought us closer to a world where wizards learn magic instead of algebra and confronted our preconceptions about AIDS.

The editors at Entertainment Weekly compiled a list of the 25 most important pop culture moments that made us all sit up a little straighter in our La-Z-Boys and take notes.

Popcorn moments

There's no doubt we love our big-screen entertainment, and in 1997. like rats to a lifeboat, we flocked to James Cameron's epic love story, "Titanic."

To date, the epic film has grossed more money worldwide than any film in history: $1.8 billion. The film also marked a turning point in cinematic history.

"It showed that you could make a $200 million movie that actually didn't bomb, because most of the big budget movies up until that time had failed," said film producer John Davis.

The success of "Titanic" was not confined to the popcorn-popping masses. Oscar also smiled brightly on the film, awarding it 11 Academy Awards.

But our addiction to big Hollywood productions has not been confined to sappy love stories. We love to be scared silly, too.

"Silence of the Lambs" proved we could stomach a nice little Chianti with our cannibalism.

In 1991, the film, starring Jodie Foster and Sir Anthony Hopkins, killed the competition at the Oscars, netting five awards.

The horror flick win was unprecedented and launched a fascination with forensic entertainment that can be seen today in television shows like "CSI" and "Crossing Jordan."

In the summer of 1989, the movie "Batman" was unleashed, and this enigmatic, square-jawed crusader for justice zoomed off the comic book pages and into the history books. The blockbuster earned more than $100 million in just 11 days and proved that movies based on comic book characters were major bank.

But before Batman was busy fighting crime on the big screen, Hollywood handed moviegoers testosterone-laced heroes of a different sort. "The Terminator" and "Rambo" films of the early 1980s delivered maximum muscle to a nation hungry for power.

"That was the Reagan era, and it was a great time for those kinds of movies ... a time when we wanted larger-than-life heroes," said Davis.

The movie "Philadelphia," released in 1993 and starring Tom Hanks, made our list because it gave a face, name and address to the AIDS epidemic. It also won Tom Hanks his first Academy Award for his gutsy and grueling performance.

"Really, we were six or seven years into the AIDS epidemic at that time, and I think it was a move that offered an acceptance," said Davis. "You know, sometimes movies are great because I think they can precondition society for acceptance, and I think when they do that we're really at the statesmanship level of film-making."

Wizards, muggles and a pocketful of games

Several pop culture trends involving kids landed on our list, proving adults could get caught up in the hype, too.

By the time the third book in the famed Harry Potter series, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," was released in 1999, it was a true publishing phenomenon.

No matter that the books are thick enough to be used as doorstoppers, children stood in long lines to purchase the books just as they became available, and kids and parents alike poured through them in a matter of days. The overwhelming success of the Harry Potter movies proved the young wizard with thick glasses could fly with movie audiences as well.

It is the most beautiful love story ever told if you can overlook the pixelated beauty and slobbery, lumbering beast.

In 1991, movie audiences saw past the Technicolor veneer to the heart of the story, making the animated feature "Beauty and the Beast" a success at the theatres.

The animated film also won two Oscars and was the first in its genre to be nominated for Best Picture.

The pocket-sized Game Boy made our list, too. So did the VCR. Both of these technologies allowed consumers to choose their own brand of entertainment on their own terms.

Manhattan, Dallas and Survivor island on the small screen

The startling array of home entertainment choices made it easier for us to cuddle up to our televisions, making for some pop culture moments that would leave lasting impressions.

HBO's "Sex and the City" debuted in 1998 and over the next six years the show would earn seven Emmy awards and seven Golden Globe wins. The four smart, sophisticated and unabashedly sexy stars of the show proved dating over 30 in the Big Apple had its pitfalls, pratfalls and moments of pure joy.

"I really think people responded to the comradery among the women: this sort of notion of female friendship, that women didn't have to find their fulfillment in men, that they could find it with each other," said Darren Star, "Sex and the City" creator.

The show, along with the mobster hit, "The Sopranos," put HBO on the map, allowing the pay network to go head-to-head with the three big networks in competition for Emmy nominations.

Bill Cosby, right, and Malcolm-Jamal Warner, left, rehearse for "The Cosby Show."

With his family-friendly humor and a closetful of patterned sweaters, Bill Cosby revived the situation comedy with his own brand, "The Cosby Show." It featured an affluent African-American television family that the nation could laugh with, and it helped launch what became NBC's hallmark Thursday night line-up.

What Cosby did for the faded sitcom, J.R. Ewing and "Dallas" did for the primetime soaps. Famous for its season ending cliffhangers, the buzz around the show reached fever pitch when the roundly hated character J.R was shot; who shot him was not revealed until the following season.

Reality television made a huge splash when "Survivor," a show pitting a cast of unknowns on an island in a competition to outlast one another, debuted. In 2000, more than 51 million people watched the finale, cementing America's obsession with the genre. "Survivor" was followed by other reality shows like Donald Trump's "The Apprentice" and "The Bachelor."

Two women television personalities made our list for breaking down barriers in pop culture.

In 1997, Ellen Degeneres's sitcom character, Ellen Morgan, came out of the closet in prime time. The transformation created television's first gay leading character and paved the way for other shows to feature homosexuals in leading roles.

And Oprah Winfrey shattered the color barrier when she burst onto the national talk show scene in 1986. Today, her show is the world's most watched daytime television program.

A barrier of a different sort was broken in 2004 when the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) levied the largest fine ever against a broadcaster after Justin Timberlake ripped off Janet Jackson's top during MTV's Super Bowl Halftime program on CBS. The "wardrobe malfunction," as it was later called, made our list, in part, because it sparked a national debate about the shadowy lines between indecency and entertainment.

"The Simpsons," an animated cartoon sitcom filled with biting satire that debuted in 1989, made our list as well. The show was innovative and ushered in a small wave of animated shows that followed its lead.

I want my MTV!

Before there was Must-See TV, there was MTV. The all-music network planted its own flag on cable television in 1981 and changed the music industry forever.

The network became so popular that even politicians couldn't pass up a chance to appear on it.

And while video may have killed the radio star, plenty of pretty-faced musicians skyrocketed to fame when their videos went on heavy rotation on the fledgling network.

The Material Girl herself got a boost from MTV.

Madonna really caught our attention with her controversial tune "Like a Virgin," which held the coveted top spot on the music charts for six straight weeks.

The song prompted a Madonna craze in the mid-1980s and made the songstress a household name.

Madonna's videos on MTV helped her "Like a Virgin" album sales.

"What Madonna did with that song was to make the visual sell of the song maybe even more important than the song itself. And that was a revolution that has lasted for 20 years and counting," Entertainment Weekly editor Mark Harris said.

Another musician who hit full stride in the 1980s and makes our list of the most important pop culture moments of the last quarter-century is Michael Jackson.

His dancing defied gravity, his music dominated the airwaves, but it was his astounding "Thriller" that would become the second best-selling albums of all time, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

And then he gave us the moonwalk. It was not an original move, but Jackson made it all his own in a live performance during a Motown 25 television special.

"It was a moment that crossed over in a way that no live musical performance ever had. There was a messianic quality to it," said Entertainment Weekly editor Steve Daly.

Boy bands like the Backstreet Boys and 'NSYNC made a big impact on pop culture and our list with their synchronized dance moves and harmonious crooning.

And, before his death from gunshot wounds in 1996, Tupac Shakur helped launch rap music into the mainstream, paving the way for artists like 50 Cent, Jay-Z and Ludacris.

In 1985, musicians of all stripes came together to raise cash and awareness for famine relief in Africa. The result was Live Aid, a concert event organized by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure in just 10 weeks. It connected artists on two continents by satellite link-up.

"Nobody had ever coordinated a live event that went out to televisions all over the word," said Daly. "He managed to get this incredible line up of acts: He got The Who, with Roger Daltry; he got Mick Jagger and Tina Turner and Phil Collins to perform live."

Eventually, Live Aid raised over $100 million and created a precedent for other large-scale concerts for a cause.

Stay tuned as CNN continues to celebrate its 25th anniversary by unveiling other Top 25 lists through 2005.

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