What was the most watched film of the late 1960s? Was it, for example, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey? No, but you’re in the right area.
Or maybe The Good, the Bad and the Ugly? Wrong again – but the right answer did have three central characters. It was a story of unbelievable heroism: the ultimate underdog wins the day movie. And no, Three Amigos didn’t come out until 1986.
In fact, this was probably the most watched film of all time. Just to give you some perspective: Gone with the Wind with 202.1 million ticket sales has the cinema record, seeing off the original Star Wars by almost 25 million, with The Sound of Music, ET and Titanic completing the top five.
But three times as many saw this film – and there was only one screening, as 600 million people worldwide sat down (or went outside) to watch the 1969 Moon landing.
La La Land pedigree
Given the whole affair was carefully scripted like a movie – “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” is up there as one of the greatest lines ever – maybe it’s unsurprising that nobody had given the Apollo 11 mission the big budget treatment until Damien Chazelle.
The La La Land director is again joining forces with Ryan Gosling to give us First Man (84 on Metacritic; released on Oct 25), a film mainly told from the perspective of the astronaut who took that first small step, Neil Armstrong, with Claire Foy lending strong support as his wife.
Most critics are impressed, and not just by the decision not to delay the release until next year to cash in on the 50-year anniversary. “You’ll know more deeply how it happened, what it meant and what it was, and why its mystery, more than ever, still lingers,” praised Variety.
But some found it a little dull. “There are stretches when it soars (argh, sorry) to cinema heaven (ack, sorry again),” noted Vanity Fair.
“But a lot of the movie has a curious drag, scenes repeating and repeating in slightly tweaked shapes until you just want to yell at the screen: ‘Get to the moon already!’”
May be good, may be bad
Now, none of us have ever said “Just blow, wind, anyway you like” – although a producer does remark to Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) during Bohemian Rhapsody (Not Released Worldwide; Nov 1) why the song goes on forever, to which the lead singer of Queen retorts: “Ask your wife if six minutes is forever.”
As you can imagine with a beloved singer and group, scrutiny has been intense regarding the casting of Malek (Mr Robot), particularly as many had been won over by the undeniable likeness of Sacha Baron Cohen, the first actor to be selected in the role, and then by Ben Whishaw, the second.
The director fallout has been even worse, with Dexter Fletcher coming in to replace Brian Singer after he went AWOL late last year and got sacked, although the X Men franchise director will retain the sole director credit as per Directors Guild of America guidelines.
It’s been “a long and bumpy road” with “a good deal of wreckage”, concedes Brian May with a line that wouldn’t look out of place in Queen’s most famous song.
Wisely, perhaps, unknowns have been cast to play the rest of the band, thus heaping all the pressure onto Malek’s hitherto capable shoulders, although the likes of Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander and Mike Myers are onboard to offer strong support.
Still, Fletcher brings a risk factor into the equation. At the time of his arrival, two-thirds of the film had been shot and his recent form (Eddie the Eagle) has been good enough to entrust him with Rocketman (a biopic of Elton John), even though he’s shown questionable taste during an acting career that has mostly been going nowhere since his breakout as a child star in the 1970s and 80s.
Salander without Stieg
Overall, with First Man and Bohemian Rhapsody, this fortnight presents two really good reasons to go to the cinema as opposed to waiting for the small screen – a rarity these days, it has to be said.
Elsewhere, English actresses dominate, with Foy popping up again to take over the role of Lisbeth Salander in (NRW; Nov 1).
The first is a biopic about the winner of the 1948 Nobel Prize for Literature, who started her career writing under her husband’s (Dominic West playing yet another creep) name.
And the second sees her play the Sugar Plum Fairy in an all-star cast including Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren. The pair last appeared together in RED, which does not bode well.
Banksy does moonwalking
Given the cinematic riches on offer, we’re only skimming through the new television releases.
Child snatch drama The Cry (C More, since Oct 13) starts well, but stalls somewhat in episode 2, while Black Lightning (Netflix, since Oct 16) shamelessly rips off Black Panther.
Nothing stands out among the even more teenage vampire bullshit on show in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Oct 26 on Netflix) or Legacies (Oct 26 on HBO Nordic), while Polish drug dealer miniseries Blinded by the Night (Oct 29) and espionage thriller Hackerville (Nov 4) – both HBO Nordic – probably won’t have English subtitles despite being marketed with English titles.
Murder drama miniseries The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair (Nov 1 on C More) looks promising, as does the documentary The Man who Stole Banksy (at cinemas from Nov 1).
Was the shredding of his artwork our Walking on the Moon moment? Or will we finally put Apollo 11 behind us and get to Mars?