Today in Movie History: December 18

Let’s cut to the chase: The Two Towers hit theaters today in 2002. Among its copious assets is a sterling performance from Andy Serkis as Gollum, which ushered in an entirely new way of portraying fantasy figures onscreen. It also constituted an impressive piece of filmmaking in and of itself, and while it really is simply the middle third of a single, much larger movie, it helps cement The Lord of the Rings as one of the singular cinematic achievements of our time.

Speaking of blockbusters… remember highest grossing movie of all time? Avatar, the one the revolutionized everything and was going to stand as an indelible classic as long as cinema itself? Time has not be kind. At all. But the tell the truth, it was never the film most people claimed it would be: a jumped-up cowboys-and-Indians story with an environmental message that quickly segues into condescending lectures and empty spectacle. It opened today in 2009.

A far less well-known (and as underrated as Avatar is overrated) movie shares the same release date: Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Long viewed as a runt in the master’s litter, it remains something of a forgotten masterpiece today, and for those in a meditative mind, it proves quite a handsome treat. It opened today in 1975.

Other notable releases today include George Lazenby’s sole outing as James Bond, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969; and Bernardo Bertolucci’s sumptuous Best Picture winner The Last Emperor in 1987.