Happy 15th and 20th: Movie Birthdays
These movies all turn a significant age this year.
We celebrate our birthday, therefore why shouldn’t we celebrate a movie’s release day, too?
This originally started as a an in-depth article about There’s Something About Mary turning 20 this year. In my opinion, it is the funniest movie to be released in the last 20 years, though I would accept South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999) as an argument. However, then I was watching Out of Sight the other day, and I realized that movie also turns 20. I don’t know if this website has space enough to discuss every movie’s release this year (take a look at Cloverfield, 2001, and Jackson’s piece on Die Hard), but I think they should all be mentioned.
So, here it is—some of the bigger movie’s that have retained cultural significance over the years that are celebrating some major milestones. (Note: For the most part, I deal only with U.S. releases. To include international releases as well, would be, well, more than a little lengthy to say the least.)
This shouldn’t have to be said, but if there is a movie you haven’t seen on this list, do what you need to do and fix that immediately.
The Dark Knight – This movie changed the way the we think about superhero movies, and Heath Ledger was truly brilliant as Joker. I loved the way Nolan did not give Joker an origin story, and simply treated him as an absolute.
Cloverfield – JJ Abrams gave us an American Godzilla with this film. Beyond that, there is not much to say I haven’t already said.
Iron Man – This movie launched the MCU. Along with The Dark Knight, these two movies showed us the flip sides of what superhero movies can be.
Wall-E – A beautiful movie with an environmentally conscious message: don’t litter.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl – Though the sequels lessened the greatness of this movie, there is no denying the brilliance of Johnny Depp’s performance in Captain Jack Sparrow’s initial adventure. We truly have never seen a pirate like his before.
X2: X-Men United – In a movie that would be taken to another level with The Dark Knight, Bryan Singer deepened what we thought superhero movies could be and used it as a metaphor for so many other things in life.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – Peter Jackson’s final installment in his trilogy, based on JRR Tolkien’s masterpiece, was brought full circle with the vision he had in his head that had been shaken by The Two Towers when it seemed to push to the side of the trials of the Hobbits.
Thirteen – A independent movie written about then 13-year-old Nikki Reed and a young girl who falls into a bad crowd. It felt stark, honest and raw—because it was, and it still holds up today.
Hollywood Homicide – This movie has yet to be truly recognized for how good it is. It is the first cop movie in which the homicide is merely the MacGuffin—the thing that the characters care very much about and the audience cares very little. What we care more about is that Harrison Ford’s Joe Gavilan, who moonlights as an RE agent, sells the monstrosity that is the house on “Mount Olympus and I shit you not Achilles!” It’s also one of the only cop movies you should see for the dialogue.
There’s Something About Mary – Laughing is a physical reaction, and you cannot stop yourself from doing so. This film provided so many physical reactions from so many people that eight weeks after it was released, it regained the number one spot at the top of the box office. Also, it gave us an alternative to hair gel.
Out of Sight – The first movie to build upon Quentin Tarantino’s fractured style of storytelling instead of simply imitating it. Also, George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez are simply sizzling in it, and George plays the first bank robber you might actually want to get robbed by.
The Big Lebowski – A love letter to LA, and incomprehensible plots in detective stories. Don’t try to think about it. The Dude doesn’t. Just enjoy the ride. The Dude abides.
Schindler’s List – If you haven’t seen this movie, it’s because you missed it in its initial release, and you’re waiting for the mood to strike you. Although, you’re never going to be struck by the mood to watch a Holocaust movie. Just ante up and watch it, and be prepared to be overcome by grief. When it ends and you need a laugh, try There’s Something About Mary.
The Fugitive and In the Line of Fire – That both of these two movies were released in the same summer is amazing, and that either of them have really yet to be met in the thriller genre is something to consider. Both of these films are taut, suspenseful, and amazing.
Jurassic Park – There isn’t anything to say about this movie that I haven’t already said.
The Crow – Brandon Lee solidified his position as a cult hero for this movie, and the dark groundwork for what dark superheroes movies could be (that would come to fruition in The Dark Knight) was laid.
Benny & Joon – A simple romantic comedy free of cynicism and sarcasm, and with a great score by Rachel Porter. Also, it features a clever way to make a grilled cheese sandwich when you don’t have a stovetop.
The Sandlot – It doesn’t matter if you don’t like baseball; that isn’t what this movie is really about. It’s about remembering what it was like to be a kid, the nostalgia of your youth, and all the fun you had with your friends. Yes, these kids just happen to play baseball, but that isn’t what it is about—and really, if you haven’t seen it by now, “You’re killing me, Smalls!”
Rudy – You don’t like football, either? That’s okay because this one isn’t really about football. It’s about what happens when you refuse to let anyone take away your dream.
The Nightmare Before Christmas – A spookier, kookier, crazier Halloween/Christmas movie— there never will be another film like this one. It will have you wondering, “What’s this?”
Dazed and Confused – So much more than a typical stoner comedy, it feels like an actual slice of life from 1976. Linklater often turned the camera on the actors when they weren’t prepared, and the effect is so refreshing. They don’t feel like trained actors. They feel like real people.
Die Hard – There isn’t anything more to say about this movie that Jackson hasn’t already covered.
Midnight Run – Robert De Niro as a bounty hunter, Charles Grodin as the man he’s after, and Yaphet Kotto as the the FBI agent after De Niro. Throw in John Ashton as a rival bounty hunter who wants De Niro’s bounty, Joe Pantoliaono as the sleazy bail bondsmen, and Dennis Farina as a mob boss who has a history with De Niro and wants Grodin dead—it’s a madcap cross-country action/adventure from Martin Brest, who had previously directed Beverly Hills Cop.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? – Based on the novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf, Robert Zemeckis took Hollywood effects to a new level. He didn’t just marry live-action and animation, with shadows and real-world effects, he made us believe the two inhabited the same world.
Coming to America – Truly one of Eddie Murphy’s funniest movies. Between him and pal Arsenio Hall, they play like eight different roles.
Bull Durham – Admittedly, this movie is all about baseball. However, when it opens with a great monologue by Susan Sarandon, telling us the number of stitches on a baseball is the exact same number of beads on a rosary, you know you’re in for something special.
Big – Who hasn’t ever wanted to be just a little bit bigger? Also, in what other movie can you see Tom Hanks in one of his most winning roles play a giant piano?
Beetlejuice – Tim Burton showed us his bizarre sense of humor with Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, but with this one, he brought it to the mainstream and we ate it up. Thirty years later, and we are still here for it.
Flashdance – This first movie in which Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer worked together. Try and say this movie doesn’t hold up. Go ahead. Try not to get caught up in the dancing. I’ll call you a liar.
WarGames – The best movie that has ever been made about Man vs. Machine. And yes, I think The Terminator is awesome, but this one grounded the idea that made it more real and all the more terrifying.
Return of the Jedi – The final installment of George Lucas’ original trilogy. “There’s only Return, and it’s of the Jedi, not the King!” Need I say more?
Grease – You say this movie doesn’t hold up? Dude, “Grease is the Word.”
Jaws 2 – It is the best of all the Jaws sequels, visioning the Jaws movie as a slasher movie with the shark taking the place of a faceless killer.
Superman – The groundwork for the modern day superhero movie. Try and argue.
Animal House – Many articles recently have taken it to task in the #MeToo era, and they are all correct. However, if you can divorce yourself from the modern era and watch the movie in the mindset of the time in which it was released, this one deserves that effort.
Halloween – It was the first ever slasher movie. It still has yet to be topped.
The Sting – Robert Redford and Paul Newman teamed up for the first time in this movie. Forget all the con movies you’ve ever seen, this is where it all started, and it uses “The Entertainer” in such a memorable way.
The Exorcist – Still one of the scariest movies to ever grace the big screen. The first half is a body horror movie in which young Regan and her mom try to figure out what is wrong with her as she is submitted to test after test in the hospital. In the second half, we find out the Devil has taken over Regan’s body. What is scarier than that?
2001 – One last time…there isn’t anything I can say about this movie that I haven’t already mentioned.
Rosemary’s Baby – Based on the novel by Ira Levin (who would also write The Stepford Wives), this film is about a pregnant woman who begins to suspect an evil cult wants her baby for nefarious reasons. It is the beginning of Satanic Panic. Without this, there would be no The Exorcist or The Omen. Clearly, this movie marked the beginning of a time when Christians felt their values were being eroded away by the tumultuous times (Civil Rights, political assassinations, etc), and these movies were a direct result of it.
Planet of the Apes – Based on the very slim novel by Pierre Boulle, this is the original movie that launched this never-ending franchise. The final shot is still so powerful.
Night of the Living Dead – There wouldn’t be The Walking Dead, and there wouldn’t be a zombie apocalypse subgenre if it weren’t for George Romero and this seminal masterpiece.
The Detective – Maybe this isn’t a classic in the way we think of the term, but this movie stars Frank Sinatra as Joe Leland in his initial adventure. Based on the book by Roderick Thorpe, the sequel to this novel would be called Nothing Lasts Forever. Joe Leland’s name would be changed to John McClaine, and it would be made into the movie Die Hard.
Cleopatra – It almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox. Is it good? Is it bad? None of that matters. More than anything else, this movie speaks to the star power of Elizabeth Taylor.
Dr. No – The very first James Bond adventure based on the novels by Ian Fleming. Nothing else required.
The Birds – Alfred Hitchcock usually dealt with murder and espionage. Here for the first time he dealt with horror and an intriguing idea—what would we do if the birds of our town suddenly turned against us?
The Great Escape – A bunch of men in a WWII gulag decide to dig their way to freedom… What else do you need to know?
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World – The biggest comedy movie of its time. Hell, of all time. Anybody who was anybody in comedy was in this movie. Fun fact: the crossed palm trees you see in front of every In-N-Out are inspired by this movie, which was a favorite of the chain’s founder.
Dracula – Coming from the British Hammer Studios, Christopher Lee (who would go on to play Saruman in LOTR) cemented the image of Dracula in the public image with this movie—it also offered a slightly bloodier version of the tale than had been seen in the U.S.
The Hidden Fortress – Directed by Akira Kurosawa, who is often called the most Western of Japanese directors, this movie gave George Lucas untold inspiration for his Star Wars story.
The Cry Baby Killer – Jack Nicholson makes his debut in this film, but did he ever do anything after though?
Shane – Based on the novel by Jack Schaefer, this is one of the better Westerns (not starring Clint Eastwood or Gary Cooper) that was ever made.
From Here to Eternity – Based on the novel of the same name, there’s a shot in the film Airplane! that is inspired by a shot in this movie. See it if for no other reason then to make the parody shot funnier. Although, it is a very moving film dealing with the tribulations of three U.S. Army soldiers stationed in Hawaii in the months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Treasure of the Sierra Madre – One of the original action/adventure movies, based on the novel of the same name.
Casablanca – There’s isn’t anything that can be said about this movie in a blurb that will do it any justice. In short, it is one of the few perfect movies.
The Adventures of Robin Hood – The image of the fun and fancy-free Robin Hood comes from this movie. It is the epitome of the term “swashbuckling,” which we didn’t see in quite the same away again until Jack Sparrow.
King Kong – So good it’s been remade twice, and although I enjoy both of them, this version is the purest. How many of us haven’t fallen victim to beauty? Well, that’s what makes Kong so relatable. Does it matter that it’s lust and not love? No, for Kong is a teenage adolescent in this movie, and at that age, beauty is all that matters.
Once again, if there is a movie on this list you haven’t seen, ante up. Take the plunge and watch it!