The French Connection is justly celebrated for one of the most dynamic car chases of all time, though it wins no points for public endangerment: it was reportedly created simply by setting cameras up along uncleared streets in NYC, then telling star Gene Hackman to floor it. Nevertheless, it’s a harrowing, incredible sequence befitting the down-and-dirty police procedural that surrounds it. Director William Friedkin stripped policework of anything glamorous or romantic, presenting cops as hard-working Joes trudging their way through boring (though not always safe) details in their search for the bad guy du jour. It set the standard that cop movies have followed ever since and snagged 5 Academy Awards in the process, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. It opened today in 1971.
In 1974, Universal Pictures handed the adaptation of a dreadful little potboiler to an untested director with just a couple of films under his belt. The production was plagued by accidents, delays and cost overruns. The script was a mess, the cast cantankerous, and the main selling point depended on special effects that just didn’t work. It looked for all the world like a disaster from the get-go.
And then it hit theaters.
The movie was Jaws, the director was Steven Spielberg, and every summer blockbuster since then — every single one — owes its very existence to it. It opened today in 1975, and we’re betting that the merest mention of its name is enough to make you want to pop it in and watch it all over again. Like right now.
Moving only slightly down the classics scale, we find The Blues Brothers, a jumped-up Saturday Night Live sketch that somehow morphed into one of the funniest movies of all time. Its secret lies in a strange kind of sweetness, carefully hidden beneath smart-aleck snark and heightened by the singular chemistry between stars Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. If you strip away the irreverence, the cynicism, the spectacular car wrecks and the Illinois Nazis, this is a movie about singing and dancing: giving people who hate musicals a musical they can truly love. All that and Ray Charles too? (And James Brown and Aretha Franklin and Cab Calloway and…) How can you not love this movie? The Blues Brothers opened today in 1980.
Oh and Batman and Robin opened today in 1997. We won’t speak of it further because OH MY GOD.
People were still trying to figure out Tim Burton in the winter of 1990. Having watched him direct an unexpected hit with Beetlejuice and then taken the world by storm with Batman, everyone wondered whether he was for real or just some quirky hiccup. He responded with Edward Scissorhands, a modern fairy tale that cemented his distinctive style, evinced a gentle shift away from the darkness of the Caped Crusader, and — oh yeah — made a giant pile of money. The director was here to stay and “Burtonesque” was officially a word. Edward Scissorhands opened today in 1990.
We also have a pair of less-than-brilliant-but-still-somewhat-notable science fiction movies that opened today. The first was Star Trek: The Motion Picture, hoping to capitalize on all that Star Wars moola by throwing the crew of the Enterprise against a baffling array of enormous concept art. Seriously, it took them 40 minutes to get out of space dock. Galaxy’s not gonna save itself guys! Get the lead out! (They did a little better with their second effort.) It hit theaters today in 1979.
Exactly 5 years later, Peter Hyams’ 2010 hit theaters. On its own, it’s actually a decent piece of sci-fi. There’s just the matter of the film it’s following up… the little one that Stanley Kubrick did. It’s not a bad bit of escapism, but watching it really makes you wish you were watching the first film instead. It opened today in 1984.