Stories of the infamous shoot for James Cameron’s The Abyss are almost as harrowing as the movie itself. The director’s penchant for perfectionism led him to engineer an unprecedented underwater shooting schedule, pushing cast and crew to the limits, and endangering people’s safety more than once. One particularly grueling evening triggered a furious emotional meltdown from actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, still spoken of in hushed whispers among the scions of Tinseltown. Despite that, and despite the psychological scars some members of the shoot still carry to this day, it resulted in an impressively groundbreaking movie that has aged remarkably well. For better or worse, The Abyss opened today in 1989.
Mighty oaks often grow from little acorns, and when the slick little sci-fi thriller The Terminator opened one quiet October Friday, no one thought much of it. Its director had helmed only one project before — the less-than-immortal Piranha 2: the Spawning — and the star was that jumped-up Austrian from Conan the Barbarian who looked like his 15 minutes was just about up. The film was made on a shoestring budget and did okay during its initial release. But like so many movies of the era, it found its audience on VHS, and today is… well, it’s The Terminator. Director and star both went on to bestride the Earth like colossi, and while their influence may have diminished, the film that launched them into the stratosphere looks better than ever. It opened today in 1984.
Audrey Hepburn was already a big star when she appeared as the world’s champion blind lady in Terence Young’s Wait Until Dark. The film bears the hallmarks of canned theater, but in the director’s hands it becomes an exquisite thriller, helped not only by Hepburn, but by Alan Arkin as the sinister hitman stalking her. It opened today in 1967
Robert Duvall notched another winner to his belt with The Great Santini, the story of a fighter pilot whose no-nonsense approach to life runs into a brick wall when it comes to the disposition of his children. The film itself exists mainly as a showcase for the actor, but few are more deserving of such attention. The Great Santini opened today in 1979.