8 Huge Events From This Day In History, And The Movies To Celebrate Them With

By Katey Rich 2011-04-15 10:02:42discussion comments
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April 15 is my dad's birthday, so it's a date that always has a special spot in my calendar (Hi Dad!) But as it turns out today is a surprisingly momentous date in world history, boasting a number of famous birthdays, two huge tragedies, the end of an actual war and the beginning of one restaurant's metaphorical war against global health. And you just thought it was Tax Day!

Because I am a nerd for "on this day in history" features as well as for movies, I've compiled 8 of the more notable events that took place on this day, April 15, and picked movies you can watch to commemorate them. Some are classics, some are objectively awful, but a lot of them are available on Netflix Watch Instantly, which means you can spend a few minutes happily immersed in some cultural oddities the way I have all morning. It's Friday! Your taxes are (hopefully) paid! What else is going to bring you more historical, nerdy joy? Celebrate history and my dad's birthday by checking our your options below.

What happened: On this day in 1452, Leonardo da Vinci was born.
What you should watch: Da Vinci has actually made relatively few screen appearances, and has no biopic focused on his genius like, say, Michelangelo's The Agony and the Ecstasy. So you're gonna have to settle for Hudson Hawk, the famously disastrous caper comedy in which Bruce Willis is a master burglar on a mission to stop an evil plot to take over the world by reconstructing some of Da Vinci's more powerful inventions. Da Vinci himself only pops up in the opening sequence, tinkering in his castle of a laboratory, but really, how better to celebrate the birth of a genius than by watching a movie that single-handedly destroyed its production company? (It was the last film released by Tri Star Entertainment before being bought out by Columbia Pictures) It's available to watch on Netflix Instant.

What happened: On this day in 1783, the Continental Congress ratified what's called the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War.
What you should watch: The Revolutionary War isn't one of the more popular wars for American movies for some reason, and no, I'm not going to tell you to watch The Patriot just because it vaguely fits the theme. For the story of one of the people who ratified that treaty, and was sent to Paris to represent the new country, head to TV's John Adams miniseries. It's good history, quality television-- it racked up 13 Emmys-- and more good work from The King's Speech director Tom Hooper.

What happened: On this day in 1865, Abraham Lincoln died after being shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth the previous night, during a performance at Ford's Theater.
What you should watch: Even though this weekend's The Conspirator actually depicts the shooting and the aftermath of Lincoln's death, it's simply not a good movie. The best Lincoln movie may still be yet to come-- that'd be Spielberg's Daniel Day-Lewis-starring biopic, due in 2013-- but in the meantime revisit Lincoln's earlier days with the classic Young Mr. Lincoln, directed by the eternal John Ford and starring Henry Fonda, possibly as iconic a symbol of America as Lincoln himself.

What happened: On this day in 1912, The RMS Titanic sank at 2:20 am, two hours and forty minutes after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Over 1500 people were killed.
What you should watch: I'm not even going to pretend there's a choice here. Watch Titanic and get over any notion you might have that it's not a good movie or doesn't hold up (read my ten year anniversary defense if you need more convincing).

What happened: On this day in 1942, Kenneth Lay, the CEO and chairman of Enron, was born.
What you should watch: I'm gonna cheat and give you two choices here, one obvious and one not so much. Clearly the best way to understand Lay's work and impact is to watch Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Alex Gibney's incredibly detailed documentary about exactly what happened at the company now synonymous with corporate greed (it's also streaming on Netflix Instant). For a more oblique analysis of Lay's impact, check out Tom McCarthy's new film Win Win in theaters now. Yes it's about a high school wrestling coach, but as McCarthy himself said in my interview with him, it's kind of an allegory for companies like Enron, that were cornerstones of communities even while doing terrible things. It's also a lot funnier than the documentary, if that's what you're looking for.

What happened: On this day in 1947, Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers, effectively breaking the color barrier in professional baseball. The Dodgers won the game 5-3.
What you should watch: There's a Robinson biopic in the works now with Robert Redford attached, but it probably won't match the surrealness of 1950's The Jackie Robinson Story, a biopic about Robinson in which he played himself, believe it or not. Even stranger, the New York Times Review praised Robinson's acting, writing "displays a calm assurance and composure that might be envied by many a Hollywood star." Best of all, you can watch it now on Netflix Instant.

What happened:On this day in 1955 Ray Kroc opened a franchised McDonalds in Des Plaines, Illinois; for whatever reason the corporation counts this as their founding date.
What you should watch: Mac And Me is not a good movie by any means, but it does hold the honor of winning Ronald McDonald a Razzie Award as "Worst New Star" thanks to his cameo in a four-minute dance sequence that takes place, for no apparent reason, entirely within a McDonalds. There's some evidence that the fast food chain didn't actually pay for this reference, but the scene is pretty difficult to distinguish from the actual singing and dancing McDonalds ads I remember from the time. Watch the dance sequence below, and if that wasn't enough McDonalds for you-- after all, the main alien character is named after a Big Mac-- the entire movie is streaming on Netflix. Prepare to be astonished.



What happened: On this day in 1990, Emma Watson was born.
What you should watch: Hermione turns 21 today, y'all. None of the Harry Potter movies are on Netflix Instant, but turn on ABC Family and at some point today one of them will probably come on. Make sure and protest the terrible treatment of house elves while you do it.

As a final note, if you do in fact want to honor my dad's birthday, his favorite movie is The Magnificent Seven. It's also on Watch Instantly.
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