Today in Movie History: March 9

We’ll start with the bomb: one of the most undeserved financial disasters in recent years. Created by an indifferent marketing campaign that didn’t know what the hell to do with it and undone by a budget that needed the right kind of promotion to recoup, John Carter initially sank like a stone at the box office but has since undergone a bit of a renaissance and today enjoys at least a minor cult following from fans who get what it was trying to do. It opened today in 2012.

The other movies marking today were all big hits, starting with Splash, which opened today in 1984. Mermaid movies can be a tough sell (with a certain animated exception), but Ron Howard found the right romantic vibe to deliver an adult take on this literal fish out of water story, as well as making big stars out of Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah.

If stammering Englishmen are your thing, there’s Four Weddings and a Funeral, which opened ten years later and elevated Hugh Grant to the stratosphere… allowing us to all be appropriately appalled when he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute one year later. Among its many delights, the film also stands as a living example of the Groom Go Kaboom Rule: no wedding in movie history has ever gone off according to plan.

Finally, those in need of some proto-fascist comfort food in the face of our Orwellian nightmare to come can revisit Zack Snyder’s 300… which made a star out of Gerard Butler and engaged in some delightfully noisy green-screen fun right as the Bush administration started to come unraveled. I confess I love it despite its political subtext and if you don’t mind your pleasures of the supremely guilty variety, it’s up there with the original Death Wish. It opened today in 2007.


Today in Movie History: March 6

There are good movies, there are great movies, and then there are movies that have become indispensable parts of the pop culture language. We didn’t think The Big Lebowski would join them, at least initially. It felt like a goofy one-off from the Coen Brothers: blowing off steam after the triumph of Fargo. Turns out, their shaggy-dog take on Raymond Chandler mysteries — filtered through the inexhaustible weirdness of L.A. at its most L.A.-like — may be the most beloved film in their canon. It opened 20 years ago today in 1998, and as you are probably already aware, the Dude abides.

In a much darker corner of the noir tapestry, we find Alan Parker’s Angel Heart, an elegant combination of detective thriller, horror story and surreal nightmare. Mickey Rourke’s rumpled PI is sent after a missing man by an infernal Robert De Niro, only to find himself the target of a murderous set-up by his frustratingly elusive quarry. The film generated a great deal of controversy upon release thanks to a steamy sex scene between Rourke and then-wholesome-sit-com-queen Lisa Bonet. (They had to cut ten seconds out of the scene to avoid an X rating.) The controversy died, but the movie itself survives. Good filmmaking has a way of doing that. Angel Heart opened today in 1987.

We’ll close with Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s ambitious attempt to deliver the celebrated Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel. He stuck very close to the source material, which many people feel made it inert, and the film never caught fire at the box office. But I maintain that it’s the best film in Snyder’s canon, and with the likes of Jackie Earle Haley just knocking it out of the park, it remains surprisingly worthwhile. It opened today in 2009.