Creed II has proven the longevity of the Rocky franchise beyond the shadow of a doubt, but nothing quite matches the original: an underdog story for the ages remarkable less for the ultimate success of its hero (he loses the fight at the end), but the notion of making the most of your opportunities. Sylvester Stallone is one of the few actors to date to receive two Oscar nominations for playing the same character, and his recent announcement that he’s retiring Rocky Balboa (we’ll see Sly) only highlights what an extraordinary achievement the first film was. Rocky opened today in 1976.
Speaking of Oscars, Natalie Portman scored a richly deserved statue for Black Swan, playing a prestigious ballerina losing her mind beneath the pressures of a high-profile role. It’s a fitting bookend to director Darren Aronofsky’s previous film The Wrestler; with both movies examining the toll art takes on the artist. It opened today in 2010.
Tombstone tends to be the go-to movie when people think about Wyatt Earp these days, but John Ford’s take on the storied figure is demonstrably superior. Featuring Henry Fonda as a straight-arrow Earp and Victor Mature as his self-loathing, hard-drinking friend Doc Holliday. It opened today in 1946, and set a standard that is very hard to match.
We’ll close with Shakespeare in Love, a nominally very good film that’s still walking around with Private Ryan’s Oscar. (And Gwyneth Paltrow over Cate Blanchett?! Sit down Academy, we need to talk.) Its basic quality holds up, but there’s a big difference between “good” and “great”, even before you consider Harvey Weinstein’s grabby little fingers all over both the production and the awards campaign that shoved so many more worthy efforts out of the spotlight. It opened 20 years ago today in 1998.