Sunday, February 1, 2015

"$uccessfu!" Films: The Most Popular Films at One Time

February 1, 2015

It will be forty years this coming summer since the so-called "summer blockbuster" made its mark in popular culture. Sure, there have been many popular films throughout the twentieth century, from Victor Fleming's epic "Gone With the Wind" to Walt Disney's definitive "Snow White" to the hills of "The Sound of Music" and to the mafia saga of "The Godfather," to name a few. But in 1975, an unprecedented amount of expectation and word-of-mouth surrounded a sophomoric feature from a then-young Steven Spielberg.

It was based on a bestselling novel by Peter Benchley about a killer shark terrorizing a small town, and a lot of people were talking about it and wanted to see it. Combining elements of horror, suspense, and adventure, Jaws became the most popular film of all-time, thanks to its record-breaking box-office success, its terrifying impact on audiences who were afraid to go in the water, and the unforgettable effect of John Williams' Oscar-winning score.

Nature terrorizes man
The Millennium Falcon takes light speed
Two years later, filmmaker George Lucas took us to "a galaxy far, far away" and brought us a modern mythology full of Jedis, Wookies, robots, and stormtroopers. Star Wars (also known as "Star Wars: Episode IV--A New Hope") was a science-fiction/fantasy/action/adventure inspired by the writings of Joseph Campbell (e.g., "the hero's journey") and classic Saturday matinee serials like "Flash Gordon". Two sequels, several novels and comic-books, three prequels, an animated series, and a year-end follow-up from "Lost" creator J.J. Abrams (titled Episode VII--The Force Awakens) later, many fanboys and devotees are still invested in or being introduced to that fantastical galaxy.

Five years after the original Star Wars, Spielberg brought a visitor from another world to earth, who formed a special friendship with a lonely boy and made audiences hearts glow along with his own. (Not to mention shedding several tears as well.) From an original screenplay by Melissa Mathison, and featuring another astounding score from John Williams, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial stood as a science-fiction film, a family film, and a drama, all in one. 

Bike in flight
Man witnesses a piece of extinct "nature"
Eleven years later, Spielberg topped himself by visiting a theme park unlike anything seen before, courtesy a best-selling book by Michael Crichton. Jurassic Park was a science-fiction/action/adventure, as well as a revolutionary visual experience that brought dinosaurs back from extinction. 

Four years after the park opened, director James Cameron set sail on the maiden voyage of the famed RMS Titanic, combining elements of historical fiction (the infamous 1912 sinking), romance, disaster, and tragedy.

Leo and Kate "fly" 
In flight above Pandora
Twelve years later, Cameron visited a different "galaxy far, far away"--an immersive, three-dimensional one, to be precise, complete with lush jungles, floating rocks, and blue-skinned aliens. The only thing Avatar lacked in its otherwise groundbreaking spectacle of science-fiction, fantasy, action, adventure, and romance, was originality. Cameron's screenplay echoes elements of "Dances With Wolves" and "Pocahontas".

If you'll notice, three of these six films deal with the relationship and difference between man and nature, while the remaining three contain a sense of flight and adventure. (The former three do have those as well.) And that's what each film is. An adventure and an experience, for better or worse.