Today in Movie History: June 30

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory may have taken more liberties with the beloved source novel than the Tim Burton effort a few years ago, but it found the spirit much more readily… mostly because it treats Willy Wonka as mysterious and more than a little scary instead of one of Burton’s patented misunderstood misfits. There’s a reason why this one is the go-to favorite. It opened today in 1971.

Spike Lee has had his ups and downs as a filmmaker, but he was never more powerful than he was with Do the Right Thing, still the most important film on race relations in America ever made. 27 years later, its message still feels way, way, way too pertinent. It opened today in 1989.

For social commentary — and longevity — of an entirely different sort, there’s South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, a seemingly throwaway attempt to cash in on a social phenomenon that somehow morphed into a work of comic genius. The same could be said about the show that spawned it: still providing blessed sanity in a world gone mad. Bigger, Longer and Uncut opened today in 1999.

Normally, a movie like Strangers on a Train would top the list here. It’s one of Hitchcock’s very best, an elegant puzzle box based on Patricia Highsmith’s riveting novel. I could say the same thing about The Outlaw Josey Wales, still my favorite western of all time and one of the best films Clint Eastwood ever made as an actor or a director. Strangers on a Train opened in 1951, Josey Wales in 1976.

Finally, there’s Spider-Man 2, which again would normally be much higher on this list than it is. As it stands, I’m not going to shuffle any of the other films to make space for it. But its blockbuster success helped usher in the age of the MCU, and while Homecoming gives everyone’s favorite wall-crawler a new lease on life, this remains the Spidey adventure to beat. It opened today in 2004.

 

 

 

Today in Movie History: November 18

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

“I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing,” Walt Disney famously said. “That it was all started by a mouse.” His little buddy Mickey got his start in the motion picture business today in 1928 with the release of Steamboat Willie. 87 years later, the little guy shows no signs of slowing down and the company he started pretty much owns pop culture these days.

And his wasn’t the only notable animated film to hit screens today. Don Bluth’s The Land Before Time started a mini-franchise of its own in 1988, providing cute dinosaurs galore for a whole generation of pre-Jurassic Park kids.

On the non-animated front, William Wyler’s Biblical epic Ben-Hur delivered a race for the ages this day in 1959. (Stay in the chariot Chuck; we guarantee you’re gonna win the damn race.)

Exactly ten years earlier, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn showed everyone how it was in with the release of Adam’s Rib.

More recently, Spike Lee’s incendiary Malcolm X delivered a biopic of the controversial civil rights leader in 1992, featuring perhaps the greatest performance Denzel Washington ever gave .

And if mediocre Star Trek movies are your thing, the Next Generation crew got off to a shaky start with 1994’s Generations. (Don’t worry. They got better.)