These days, with every potential blockbuster hoping to suck up all the air in the room, you never open big films right on top of each other. But it used to happen all the time. And in this case, it was a grand fluke, since nobody expected Star Wars to do anything when it debuted on May 25, 1977. But two days later, on May 27, the second biggest movie that year opened: Smokey and the Bandit, Hal Needham’s ode to Trans Ams, bootleg beer and the Burt Reynolds’ destroyer-of-words ego. Reynolds and Sally Field do some fun comic bickering, and Jerry Reed has some great moments as Reynold’s rig-hauling partner, but the film’s real star was Jackie Gleason, whose hapless straight man has since become the final word in mocking the fuzz.
James Bond has had his ups and downs, but most fans agree that From Russia with Love remains one of the stronger entries in the franchise: transitioning from the opening salvo of Dr. No effortlessly to the series high point of Goldfinger. Sean Connery is just hitting his stride as 007, arrayed against a bevvy of memorable Soviet bad guys (topped by Lotte Lenya’s sinister Rosa Klebb) in a surprisingly plausible bit of spycraft. Indeed, of all the Bond films this is perhaps the most faithful to the Ian Fleming novel on which it is based. It opened today in 1964.
Finally, I’ll give a brief nod to DreamWorks’ Madagascar, which has proven surprisingly reliable over the years and produced some very honorable franchise material in its wake. DreamWorks Animation became the heir apparent to Warner Bros’ penchant for puckish iconoclasm, which Madagascar embraces with gusto. It opened today in 2005.