The future is unknowable, and the unforeseen can be terrifying. I speak, of course, about the upcoming film and television slate of 2022, which definitely has some stuff worth hyping, but enthusiasm for any unseen property is always something of a gamble that you may end up regretting later.
Perhaps it’s best to look back, to use the ultimately arbitrary measure of decade anniversaries as an excuse to revisit the films and TV shows that have withstood the test of time. After all, the comforts of the past might just be the best way to cope with the uncertainty of days to come. With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the biggest anniversary moments of the year — and why we’ll be celebrating.
Released on Nov. 25, 1992
Aladdin was not just a turning point for Disney animation upon its release in 1992, but it was a transformative moment for the medium as a whole. Writing a film with the celebrity of Robin Williams in mind for its iconic genie role not only turned out to be an inspired comedic choice, but it also pushed the film to be the highest grossing animated film ever at the time. This would eventually cascade into the modern practice of celebrity stunt casting replacing the work of seasoned voice talent in mainstream theatrical animation. While the consequences of that decision are debatable, it’s hard to deny that Aladdin is anything but an excellent addition to Disney’s Renaissance period that still holds up magnificently.
Alien 3 (30th)
Released on May 22, 1992
How do you follow up one of the greatest science fiction action movies of all time, itself a massively blown out sequel to one of the greatest horror films of all time? This was the question that plagued the production of Alien 3, which somehow beat the odds against it to become a solid conclusion (of sorts) for Ellen Ripley. Scaling back the masses of Aliens in favor of the more solitary terror of the all-male prison colony and the stalking presence of a single xenomorph, David Fincher’s directorial debut is an oft-underappreciated gem that still manages to live up to the greatness of its forebears. After all, this is the movie that introduced us to the idea of the xenomorph dog, so how can it not rule?
Are You Afraid of the Dark? (30th)
Premiered on Aug. 15, 1992
Is Are You Afraid of the Dark? the spookiest thing to ever come out of Canada? Ask any kid in 1992, and they might tell you just that. The Midnight Society was a lot of 90s kids’ first introduction to the eerie and the macabre, sitting at the crossroads of campfire ghost stories and Twilight Zone philosophical ponderings and morality plays. Whether it was conjuring the consequences of not being careful what you wish for upon a vulture’s claw or the fearful imaginings that your next door neighbors might be vampires, Are You Afraid of the Dark? left a lasting impression on the generation that grew up with it that persists in the horror community to this day.
Avatar: The Legend of Korra (10th)
Premiered on Aug. 15, 1992
Creating a sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender, one of the best-paced and emotionally resonant action cartoons ever made, seems like an exceedingly poor choice on paper. However, the choice to progress the world to an industrial revolution and age up the show’s maturity with its original audience made The Legend of Korra something special. The new setting allowed the show to explore the conflicts between spirituality and scientific advancement, and the spiritually deficient Korra was a marked contrast to Aang that kept the show from treading water. This was such a great narrative choice that the show boomed in popularity, prompting Nickelodeon to expand the show from miniseries to four season epic that makes for an incredible companion to the legendary show that preceded it.
The Avengers (10th)
Released on May 4, 2012
Whatever your feelings on superhero films, it’s impossible to deny that The Avengers is the most impactful film of the past decade, if not all time. The idea of a superhero crossover film was unheard of when the Marvel Cinematic Universe was in its nascent stages, but it was such a massive international success that every studio scrambled to build their own intellectual property into an identical success. It moved superhero fiction from a potentially profitable subgenre into the default mode for worldwide spectacle, and it did so by making you believe that the billionaire robot man could exist in the same world as a radioactive monster and Norse gods. That kind of tonal juggling act is not an inherently easy thing to crack, but The Avengers set the template by which we now see the cinematically fantastical as relatable and human.
Batman Returns (30th)
Released on June 16, 1992
Batman Returns is the kind of unhinged perverse spectacle that not only marked Tim Burton as a master of his craft in his prime, but it pushed the boundaries of what a superhero movie could be in 1992. At the time, the genre was still largely defined by the looming shadow of Richard Donner’s Superman and Burton’s previous Batman. But unlike its predecessors, Batman Returns has elements of body horror in Dany DeVito’s Penguin, BDSM fetishism in Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, anti-capitalist commentary in Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck, and a backdrop of holiday spirit that makes the film oddly endearing as a yearly Christmas staple. Warner Bros. infamously did not know what to do with this supposedly kid-friendly film at the time and killed the potential for Burton to make further sequels, but time has only deepened appreciation for this particular installment in the Batman mythos.
Blade 2 (20th)
Released on March 21, 2002
As much as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has created the template for superhero success in modernity, the early 2000s precursors to the MCU would lay the groundwork for what would come, and it cannot be understated how much Blade II was a keystone in that foundation. Not only was it a bloody excellent sequel to the first Blade, but it opened the door for director Guillermo del Toro to make his stamp on the American genre cinema landscape. It proved that audiences were willing to show up for a sequel outside of the standard summer blockbuster months, and it cemented Wesley Snipes’ take on the title character as a franchise icon. This comic book movie was the wind-up for the knockout punch that another Marvel film would later deliver that same year.
Blade Runner (40th)
Released on June 25, 1982
Blade Runner is an incredible film, but its enduring legacy will never simply be the depth of its philosophy or the grimy staying power of its dystopian future. In the four decades since its release, Blade Runner may just be the single most influential film ever in regards to cementing the notion of auteur theory in the minds of mainstream audiences, as the urban legend of director Ridley Scott’s original cut having been butchered by Warner Bros. allowed for a cult resurgence of the film’s workprint in repertory screenings. This would eventually lead to a Director’s Cut and later a Final Cut, which let the genie out of the bottle for studios to re-release films with new versions that purported to have a filmmaker’s original intent restored and expanded upon. That’s quite a legacy for a film that is already one of the greatest science fiction films of all time.
The Cabin in the Woods (10th)
Released on April 13, 2012
Not every film needs to be remembered as a revolutionary example of the cinematic form or a reinvention of its genre. Sometimes a film like The Cabin in the Woods comes along, and it serves as a love letter to be pulled out and admired, and even ten years later it still makes for an excellent horror comedy experience. Reformatting slasher movie tropes into a ritual to keep the Old Gods’ lust for blood sated is a brilliant bit of metacommentary on the insatiable drive of horror fandom, and the sheer quantity of loving nods to every corner of the monster and supernatural landscape makes this a movie worth revisiting for its fan service alone. Well, that, and Fran Kranz’s coffee mug bong, in all its glory.
Released on Oct. 16, 1992
Candyman has an enduring legacy that has haunted moviegoers for three decades now. Whether one gravitates toward the bass voice of Tony Todd’s titular Candyman or is enthralled by the social commentary on the conditions those in the Cabrini-Green projects that Candyman haunts, this adaptation of Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden” is iconic for a reason. More than anything, Candyman is a film based on the tragedy, a ghostly tale of the white establishment’s punishment of an innocent Black man and the perpetual warning that the urban legend surrounding him provides. And the sad truth of the matter is that these themes are just as relevant today as when Candyman was first – [The author of this paragraph was found stabbed to death by what appeared to be a meat hook.]
Django Unchained (10th)
Released on Dec. 25, 2012
Just about any of Quentin Tarantino’s films is deserving of celebratory remembrance, but few stand out quite as much as his second attempt at revisionist revenge history, Django Unchained. Jamie Foxx delivers a performance that magnetically redefined Black heroism in the American Confederate South, while Leonardo DiCaprio chewed the scenery so hard as his plantation owning villain that he infamously cut his own hand on set. Combining crowdpleasing ultraviolence with a mythic quest to reunite lost love is a showcase for Tarantino’s greatest strengths as a pulp cultural remix artist, and this was the multidimensional refinement of the similar concepts he explored in Inglourious Basterds. Ten years later, Django Unchained remains as powerful as ever.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (40th)
Released on June 11, 1982
E.T. was inspired by Steven Spielberg’s imaginary friend that he invented in the aftermath of his parents’ divorce, so I suppose we should be thankful the elder Spielbergs didn’t have a happy marriage. This story of childhood friendship across cultural and language barriers was such a huge hit forty years ago that it dethroned Star Wars as the highest grossing film ever made, and it’s not hard to see why. Not only is E.T. an adorable childhood figure, but the film is fraught with very real anxieties about a xenophobic government’s fear of the unknown and a hopeful message about how childlike naïveté may just allow us to forge the bonds necessary to commune with the stars.
First Blood (40th)
Released on Oct. 22, 1982
Before the caricature that we usually associate with the name Rambo, the character was presented with a much more cynical view of the world. First Blood is a story of a homeless veteran, traumatized by his time in Vietnam, whose confrontation with a sadistic police force drives him over a murderous edge. In 1982, the wounds of the Vietnam War’s failures were still fresh in the American psyche, so it’s no surprise that an action-filled narrative about coping with those scars would resonate so strongly with people. What is most shocking in retrospect is how Sylvester Stallone would reinvent the character into an icon of American military strength, one of the most entertaining and politically suspect paradoxes of the rise of blockbuster cinema.
The Godfather (50th)
Released on March 24, 1972
There was a certain audacity to Francis Ford Coppola adapting a pulpy crime novel into a three-hour epic, but a half century of staying power speaks for itself with regards to The Godfather. This is the film that gave us Marlon Brando’s most iconic performance, Al Pacino’s star-making, darkly transformative role, and James Caan’s egocentric foil to them both. It’s a film defined by equal parts quiet artistry and bombastic violence, all grounded in a uniquely American tale of corruptive power and insatiable greed. It’s not just the greatest gangster movie of all time, but one of the greatest films ever made.
Jason X (20th)
Released on April 26, 2002
Haters gonna hate, but 2002’s Jason X is legitimately one of the best films in the Friday the 13th franchise. Is it a preposterously premised, self-referential, and entirely goofy nu-metal excuse for a movie? Absolutely. But that’s also what makes it a blast, especially considering that some of Jason’s previous self-serious outings were some of the biggest drags on the franchise. Space-on (Spason?) is just such a deliciously silly way to “evolve” the character, and the lean into absurdity really makes this a film worth celebrating, even two decades later.
The Last Unicorn (40th)
Released on Nov. 19, 1982
The Last Unicorn is the kind of film that only grows in esteem with its audience as they grow older. The tale of a beautiful unicorn looking for the last of her kind and confronting the terror of a monstrous red bull allows for plenty of visual splendor and strange episodic adventures that were unlike anything else in animated films forty years ago. But it’s also such a melancholic tale about losing and regaining one’s sense of purpose that the adventuresome aspects become somewhat secondary as the unicorn’s transformation into a human woman stirs up an emotional journey that a childlike perspective only previously hints at. No wonder, then, that the film has now endured for generations.
Lilo & Stitch (20th)
Released on June 16, 2002
Lilo & Stitch occupies a strange place in the Disney canon, marking a blip of shocking poignancy in a period where the studio was repeatedly trying and failing to recapture the magic of their now-gone Renaissance era. But this story of the unlikely kindship between a babbling blue refugee and a young Hawaiian girl trying to get by with her adult older sister is a heartwarming mix of Elvis-infused childish antics and genuinely touching explorations of found family. It also includes an absolutely tear duct destroying rendition of “Aloha Oe” that directly ties the film’s themes to Hawaii’s history of colonial oppression, an element that is shockingly prescient for a Disney film of this era and an enduring quality that makes the film stand out even after twenty years.
Released on Sept. 28, 2012
Looper could celebrate its tenth anniversary on any number of criteria. It may be remembered as the science fiction film that first made Rian Johnson a notable writer and director outside film geek circles, setting the stage for him to direct one of the best Star Wars films. It may be remembered as one of the last great performances that Bruce Willis ever gave, or as the film that exploited an uncanny resemblance to Joseph Gordon-Levitt that none of us realized even existed. But really, it should just be best remembered as a blast of a time travel movie, with a unique set of rules to govern its logistics and a fascinating premise of assassins travelling forward in time to dispose of their older selves. Frankly, a film that inventive is worth celebrating on its own merits.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (30th)
Released on Dec. 6, 1992
Has there been a more perfect adaptation of A Christmas Carol than the one that included the Muppets? If your aim is for perfect fidelity to Dickens, then the answer is obviously yes, but who cares? Gonzo and Rizzo are hilarious fourth-wall breaking narrators, the perfection of an adorable tiny frog playing Tiny Tim cannot be understated, the new Muppets depicting the three ghosts are all individually iconic and haunting in their own ways, and Michael Caine delivers one of the most tonally perfect performances of his career as the singularly human Scrooge. Now if only Disney would restore the footage of the cut song “When Love Is Gone” for the thirtieth anniversary, that would be a true Christmas miracle.
Released on March 5, 1922
Whether or not you have ever actually seen the now 100 year old silent film Nosferatu, you are most certainly aware of its influence on the portrayal of vampires in popular culture. Count Orlok’s lanky, bat-like appearance has been a template for vampiric monstrosity for decades, and the strange thing is that it almost did not survive the tests of time. When Bram Stoker’s heirs sued the filmmakers for making an unauthorized adaptation of Dracula, a German court ordered all copies of the film destroyed. If the implementation of that total destruction had been successful, we would have lost one of the most foundational films of horror cinema. So what better way to celebrate a century of survival than to check out a silent masterpiece?
The Raid (10th)
Released on March 23, 2012
When The Raid: Redemption was released ten years ago, it seemingly came out of nowhere. Welsh director Gareth Evans directed an Indonesian action thriller starring the now-legendary Iko Uwais, set within an Indonesian high rise and featuring some of the most jaw-dropping gunplay and close quarters mixed martial arts combat ever put to film. It has only arguably been topped since by its own sequel, but it spawned an interest in Western countries for no frills action physicality that maintains a niche market even ten years later. One shouldn’t need to use an anniversary as an excuse to check out a film that is so perfectly designed to provoke reactions of violent glee, but if you needed one, here’s your permission.
Resident Evil (20th)
Released on March 12, 2002
Fans of the video game series were somewhat baffled by the story changes made by Paul W.S. Anderson and crew when they made the film Resident Evil twenty years ago, but the film resonated with audiences so well that it spawned a line of sequels that lasted until 2017. It established Anderson as something of a trash auteur, creating increasingly more contrived excuses to make zombie action films starring his eventual wife Milla Jovovich. After two decades, it’s hard to resist the charms of a film so blatantly of its hardcore, nu-metal infused era, and there are few horror scenes that stand out quite as much as that infamous laser hallway.
Released on May 3, 1922
It really is not an understatement to say that Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man changed everything about the cinematic landscape twenty years ago. It was the behemoth that followed the comic book hits of X-Men and Blade, and Raimi’s obvious love for the source material, combined with his frenetic filmmaking style, made this an iconic film many times over. Take your pick of elements to choose from. The inspired casting of J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. The upside-down kiss in the rain. Willem Dafoe’s insane dual performance as Norman Osborne and the Green Goblin. “Bonesaw is readyyyyy!” The list could go on forever, but this was undeniably the film that successfully set the path for superheroes to dominate the box office ever since.
Spirited Away (20th)
Released in the U.S. on Sept. 20, 2002
Studio Ghibli films have almost always been held up as a standard of anime storytelling, and they perhaps never reached any greater height than with 2002’s Spirited Away. The story of a young girl brought into the spirit world and enslaved to a witch as she tries to save up enough money to buy herself and her pig-transformed parents freedom, the film is a gorgeous mixture of Ghibli’s freeflowing storyboard-driven moodiness and a cavalcade of bizarre, awesome, and horrifying creature designs, often revealing more humanity below their otherworldly exteriors than one might expect. Few films, animated or otherwise, have as magnetic a pull as Spirited Away, and it’s a prime example of why director Hayao Miyazaki is considered a master of his craft.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (40th)
Released on June 4, 1982
Has any Star Trek film topped the impact of The Wrath of Khan in the intervening forty years? The franchise certainly hasn’t produced a villain as instantly loathsome as Ricardo Montalbán’s Khan, not even when the character later rebooted in Into Darkness. There is also probably no better encapsulation of the beating heart of The Original Series than Spock’s self-sacrifice for the needs of the many as Kirk helplessly watches his best friend perish from the other side of a transparent barrier. The second Star Trek film is a fantastic marriage of Star Trek’s philosophical and adventuresome tone with the level of action and spectacle one expects from a big screen excursion, and a cornerstone of a franchise that has continued to be prescient for more than half a century.
The Thing (40th)
Released on June 25, 1982
If anyone questions the need for practical effects in the age of CGI, point them to the incredible work of John Carpenter’s The Thing. Even though the film was not a very big success upon its release forty years ago, the intervening years have made it a cult hit on home video, in no small part because the practical effects work is so convincingly utilized that you might actually believe a body-morphing otherworldly presence is lurking among the trapped Antarctic researchers. And that doesn’t even touch upon performances that, across the board, emphasize the fear of unknown terrors that may be hiding behind the faces of one’s closest colleagues. Carpenters filmography is full of bangers, but The Thing might just be the top dog.
Released on July 9, 1982
Tron is a strangely specific artifact of 1980s geek culture, marrying the burgeoning world of computer programming with the mainstream adventurousness of a Disney family feature. It was a pioneer film in the use of CGI, and it created a distinct neon aesthetic that nothing has really matched before or since outside of its own sequel. At the time of its 1982 release, it was only really embraced by computer nerds who were happy to see a dramatization of their passions made real in a movie, but time has expanded that fanbase as computers have become a more ubiquitous and omnipresent part of our lives. If nothing else, Tron stands as a very entertaining curio that reminds us of what the past envisioned as the way of the future.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (30th)
Released on Aug. 28, 1992
The finale of the original Twin Peaks left audiences frustrated with its lack of resolution on a cliffhanger that might never be resolved, so it’s probably not surprising that Fire Walk With Me received a fairly chilly reception upon its release thirty years ago. The prequel exploring Laura Palmer’s last days before her demise may not provide much insight into the fate of Agent Dale Cooper, but the intervening years have invited reappraisal of this horrifyingly dark vision of American neighborhood and familial violence, and a young woman caught in its inescapable clutches. This stands amongst David Lynch’s best works and is fully worthy of a revisitation, even independent of its television origins.
The Wire (20th)
Premiered on June 2, 2002
There is probably no television show that defined the so-called Golden Age of television quite like The Wire. With a sprawling cast that felt no less empathetic for their shared screentime, the show was simultaneously an examination of how individual lives were transformed by the policies of law enforcement and the sweeping impact those policies had on communities of color. There are few fictional television shows that have felt this real, this explicitly commentative on the realities of urban poverty and crime, while still finding the nugget of humanity that recognizes that most people, even criminals, are not villains, but just people trying to find a way to survive. The only real shame is that not much seems to have changed in the intervening twenty years.
X-Men: The Animated Series (30th)
Premiered on Oct. 31, 1992
There was probably no greater pioneer in bringing the serialized mode of comic book storytelling to television than X-Men: The Animated Series. Sure, Batman got there first, but X-Men was distinctive for explicitly leaning into having continuing narrative threads that evolved as the series progressed, a novel concept for a Saturday morning cartoon at the time. It was also a very issues-oriented show, directly taking questions of post-Holocaust Jewish identity through Magneto and drawing parallels between mutant alarmism and AIDS hysteria. And this was all presented in an easily digestible, family friendly format that is still impressive thirty years later, and with a sequel series on the horizon on Disney+, there’s no better time for a new binge watch.