Once upon a time, 20th Century Fox had what they thought was a stinker of a science-fiction film on their hands. They opened it in a tiny handful of theaters today in 1977, in hopes that it would vanish without causing too much embarassment. The movie was called Star Wars, and I’m pretty sure you can guess what happened next. The game-changing nature of George Lucas’s space opera cannot be underestimated, and if the reaction to The Force Awakens is any indication, it may never release the hold it has on our imagination. Happy 40th anniversary to that galaxy far, far away.
Not surprisingly, the third film in the Star Wars franchise also opened today in 1983. Return of the Jedi was saddled with having to wrap up the storyline created by Star Wars and Empire, but while it’s usually regarded as the weakest of the three, that still places it in very good company.
Nor is that the only Fox science fiction that launched on this time. Emboldened by the success of Lucas’s little flick, the studio tasked a young director named Ridley Scott to fashion something very different. The result was Alien, which not only launched a franchise of its own (with far more mixed results), but which today stands one of the greatest masterpieces the genre has ever produced (and, in terms of pure filmmaking, superior to Star Wars). It opened today in 1979.
If blockbusters aren’t your thing, then you can look to Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman to help you out. Midnight Cowboy, to date the only X-rated film ever to win Best Picture, took full advantage of Hollywood’s reinvigorated creativity during the late 1960s, and produced a painful, but achingly sympathetic portrayal of society’s outcasts and the dignity they often fight for in vain. It opened today in 1969.
Finally, we’ll finish with The Thin Man, a light-hearted mystery establishing the husband and wife crime-solving duo of Nick and Nora Charles, opened today in 1934. It spawned five sequels of varying quality, and if you need a little throwback to enjoy a few martinis with, it will set you up right.