Two future classics opened on the exact same day today in 1982: a period when you literally could open giant movies on the same weekend and expect them both to thrive. We’ll start with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, widely regarded as the high point of the entire Star Trek phenomenon. After the underwhelming response to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the decision was made to dial back the scope, pitting James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew against a genetically engineered nemesis from the original series (Ricardo Montalban, in a career-defining performance). It focused more on the characters than the effects, which not only resurrected the heart of the old series, but allowed them to grapple with the reality of growing older. It also concluded with the dramatic death of Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), which can still reduce even the most hardened fanboy to tears.
The same day, Tobe Hooper unleashed Poltergeist on an unsuspecting world. the PG rating, and the presence of Steven Spielberg as the film’s producer (rumors continue that he actually did more of the directing than anyone knew) lulled parents everywhere into taking their kids to it… and a significant number of Gen Xers still have the emotional scars. Regardless, it’s a terrific horror movie that’s earned its status as a minor classic.
On a more recent note, the Harry Potter series has quietly turned into a series of instant classics, thanks to its faithful and heartfelt approach to J.K. Rowling’s signature fantasy novels. The third entry in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, is generally regarded as one of the best, thanks in no small part of the bold direction of Alfonso Cuaron. It opened today in 2004.