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.