TIME's 25 Most Influential Americans

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Unlike the tycoons of an earlier day, Soros does not want his foundations to live on after him. "They should not be endowed with the money of a dead man who cannot exercise critical judgment," he explains in his book Soros on Soros. Until then, his highly personalized philanthropy seems destined to play an important role in American life. In sheer dollars, he is more committed than almost anyone else to putting his money where his mouth is.

Harvey Weinstein, movie mogul
For the Hollywood establishment, Oscar night was a wake. But for Harvey Weinstein, 45, and his brother Bob, 42, co-chairmen of Miramax Films, it felt like a double bar mitzvah with a billion TV guests. The English Patient, the rapturous epic that Miramax sponsored after 20th Century Fox chickened out, won nine statuettes. In all, Miramax copped 12 Oscars, a feat not achieved since 1939, when MGM had Gone With the Wind.

You needn't cry for Fox: just one of its films, Independence Day, earned more at the domestic box office than Miramax's entire 1996 slate. But, as Harvey says, "The special effects in Miramax movies are words." With their fondness for smart scripts and challenging images, these two guys from Queens, New York — scrounging and hustling in true silent-movie-mogul tradition — proved that you didn't need a bloated budget if you had the savviest taste in the business. Harvey turned oddball films into hits: The Crying Game, Like Water for Chocolate, Pulp Fiction. Bob, who runs Miramax's Dimension subsidiary, took a scare story called Scream and coaxed it to an $80 million gross.

Independent filmmakers are of many minds about Miramax; they gather in bars at Cannes and Sundance to tell "Harvey stories," as if they were campfire kids and he were God, Godot or Gotti. Jurors at a recent festival are said to have denied a prize to a favored film simply because it bore the Miramax label. Some producers have charged that the Weinsteins don't rush to pay their bills (to which a Tinseltown titan shrugs and says, "Aaah, nobody pays").

But even these producers don't question the Weinsteins' drive, intelligence and enlightened movie mania. Few would debate Harvey's boast that "we've taken films out of the art-house ghetto and brought quirky new sensibilities to mass America." Fewer still quibble over whether Miramax, owned by Disney, is truly an independent outfit. In terms of quality, the big studios are releasing almost nothing but minor films. For discerning moviegoers, Miramax is the major. And Harvey is the general.

Chris Carter, creator, The X-Files
To every generation, there is a televisionary. First, Rod Serling enfolded a still innocent America in The Twilight Zone; then Gene Roddenberry launched the country, disguised as the multicultural Enterprise, on a voyage in Star Trek; David Lynch led audiences away from cosmopolis and back to the suddenly unfamiliar heartland of Twin Peaks. Today's seer is Chris Carter, 39, creator of The X-Files, a show that takes America's obsession with the occult and cover-ups, with truths impossible to ignore but too terrible to be told, and transforms that paranoia into a compelling amalgam of hipness and horror — proving it possible to be both cool and unnerved.

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