List

Memorable December Movie Releases through the Years

By Cecilia Cygnar

Hollywood loves to open films in December. Here are some of the film openings that made an impact at year's end. These also have something in common! (Hint: it has to do with the Oscars and one award in particular.)

  • Gone with the Wind

    2009

    Frankly, this movie did open in December in Atlanta 1939. And it came close to sweeping the Academy Awards in 1940 (it won 8 of its 12 nominations). Yes, it hasn't exactly stood the test of time, but it's still one of the most recognized films ever made, not to mention one of the most quoted. Fiddle-dee-dee...after all, tomorrow is another day.

    Get this item
  • Doctor Zhivago

    2010

    Still one of the most romantic love stories ever put on film, David Lean's masterpiece holds up today, as does the magnificent score by Maurice Jarre. There have been multiple adaptations on both large and small screen, but none compare with the passion and chemistry of Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. Many see Lawrence of Arabia as Lean's seminal work and visual triumph. I find this one a very close second, if not a tie.

    Get this item
  • The Sting

    2019

    Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid might have more of a lasting impact, but this second collaboration of Robert Redford and Paul Newman stands as one of the best con films ever. Their mark Robert Shaw never saw it coming, and if you've never seen it, you won't see it coming either! Features a great supporting cast as well as a fantastic and timeless score, with tunes by Scott Joplin and 1930's costumes designed by Edith Head.

    Get this item
  • Platoon

    2001

    Oliver Stone's Vietnam War masterpiece not only made a name for the writer-director, it also brought a gritty realism to war films. Previously, the cinematic grit came out during the post-war days, à la The Deer Hunter and Coming Home. Stone put the brutality of frontline combat into movie theaters and changed films forever.

    Get this item
  • Rain Man

    2004

    Two brothers who appear to be as different as night and day share a bond that transcends all that sets them apart. This film will forever have a lasting impact on cinema and on me personally. I saw this movie in theaters on Christmas Day 1988, and it really was one of the movies that changed the way I looked at family, love, and the world in general.

    Get this item
  • Titanic

    2005

    This timeless epic has one major disadvantage: we all know the ending before we enter the theater. That did not keep masses away from this James Cameron blockbuster. They flocked to see young Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio fall in love aboard the doomed ship that really should have had better navigation installed or, at the very least, better vision coverage for the lookouts! I admit to being one of those who flocked.

    Get this item
  • Traffic

    2001

    This Steven Soderbergh film had a star-studded cast (including Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Benicio Del Toro in his Oscar-winning performance) and a very topical subject. Those things alone would be enough to make it a hit. Add in a December release to up the ante and a small topical crime drama becomes an instant classic.

    Get this item
  • A Beautiful Mind

    2002

    Director Ron Howard gets Russell Crowe to give a brilliant performance as John Nash, a genius mathematician who suffers from schizophrenia. Crowe becomes so immersed as Nash, it's impossible to tell where one stops and the other starts. Crowe might have won his Oscar for Gladiator, but he really deserved one for this role.

    Get this item
  • Chicago

    2003

    A musical truly filled with razzle-dazzle, this Rob Marshall film brought musicals back to Hollywood, though not always to as much acclaim as this gem. Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones (in her Oscar-winning role), Richard Gere, and Queen Latifah light up the screen as they sing and dance their hearts out.

    Get this item
  • Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

    2004

    The final part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, all directed by Peter Jackson, finally got its due at the Oscars. Many consider this last installment the best and, obviously, so did the Academy, since it swept the ceremony, winning 11 Oscars out of 11 nominations. Seems like the ring is not the only bling here! Tolkien would be very proud.

    Get this item