Today in Movie History: July 18

Mid-July is blockbuster time — usually when the last of the heavy hitters shows up to crush the box office before giving way to the earthier guilty pleasures of August. A pair of great sequels mark the day, notably The Dark Knight: Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to his already impressive Batman Begins. In then ensuing decade, it’s become the stuff of cinematic legend, with shockingly perfect renditions of figures like Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart) and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) to support Christian Bale’s magnificent Batman. At the end of the day, however, the film belongs to the late Heath Ledger, initially a head-scratching choice to play the Joker, but who succeeded not only in making the character his own, but setting an almost impossibly high bar to follow. The Dark Knight opened 10 years ago today in 2008.

I wouldn’t normally include it, but it opened on the same day as The Dark Knight, and that bears brief mention. Mamma Mia! the frothy, bubble-headed adaptation of the delightfully cheesy Abba musical, isn’t what anyone would call great, but it can be a breath of fresh air if you need something light… and opening it opposite one of the most downbeat blockbusters ever proved to be a stellar example of counter-programming in action. It was also released in 2008.

Speaking of downbeat blockbusters, hi James Cameron! The once and former King of the World had already made a splash with his low-budget sci-fi thriller The Terminator when 20th Century Fox tasked him with a sequel to one of the jewels in their science fiction crown. The result was Aliens, an unexpectedly great follow-up to Ridley’s Scott’s immortal original. It took the franchise in a decidedly different direction, but also showed the versatility of the core concepts… to say nothing of the feminist watershed provided by Sigourney Weaver’s ass-kicking Ellen Ripley. (Marlee Matlin, you can give that Oscar back to its rightful owner any time now…)  Aliens opened today in 1986.


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