Every second Monday in October, many folks across the country get to enjoy the day off from school and/or work to celebrate Chris Columbus, the director whose filmography has grossed nearly $4 billion worldwide. Though, I’ve always found it odd that the federal government would name a holiday after a director who, despite the overwhelming box office of his films, isn’t the most innovative or important filmmaker in American cinema. I mean, shouldn’t Spielberg or Scorsese or Spike get a holiday before this guy1?
That said, it’s Columbus Day, and you’re already sitting at home. So why not fire up the blu-ray player and watch one — or all — of these nerd-friendly movies by the man most famous for teaching Macaulay Culkin how to shave. Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!
So, while Columbus is probably best known for family comedies like Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire, he’s also responsible for some of the biggest and most beloved genre films in the last three decades. So let’s start off with the one that put him on the map:
Adventures in Babysitting (1987)
Okay, so this flick’s not exactly a sci-fi/fantasy “genre” film, but it did come out in 1987, and ’80s nostalgia is seemingly a genre unto itself. The film stars the undisputed Queen of the 80s Elizabeth Shue (Karate Kid, Back to the Future Part 2) as a teenager named Chris who is supposed to be babysitting a pair of rowdy siblings but instead takes them (and another kid) on a wild adventure through the streets of Chicago in search of a friend who has run away.
So, yeah, it’s a pretty typical mid-80s family comedy (with f-bombs and problematic portrayals of POCs because family comedies in the ’80s always had f-bombs and problematic portrayals of POCs). And if you weren’t aware of how much of your childhood you owe to Columbus, he was also credited as a writer on Gremlins and Goonies. But the main reason Babysitting makes our list of nerd-relevant movies is that it represents the big screen debut of a live action Thor!
As played by Vincent D’Onofrio, I’m surprised he has never been asked to cameo in a Marvel Studios flick. Also, Maia Brewton’s character is probably the only time an actual Thor fan has been depicted on screen, too.
Bicentennial Man (1999)
The Chris Columbus/Robin Williams collabo most people (rightfully) remember is the 1993 classic Mrs. Doubtfire, but the two reunited six years later for the under-appreciated box office disappointment Bicentennial Man. Following the trials and tribulations in the 200-year journey of an android named “Andrew” — played by Williams — Bicentennial Man starts off with an interesting premise and great performances, but ends up little more than an over-sentimental tearjerker about life and loss and what it means to be human2. But, I can’t front. I might have been bawling during the scene when Andrew witnesses “Little Miss” on her deathbed.
Ever since his untimely passing, even Robin Williams’ sappier, less good roles and movies have taken on extra weight it seems. The movie’s worth a revisit at the very least.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone (2001)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Sure, you could argue that the first two Harry Potter films are probably the least visually interesting of the franchise. A lot of that has to do with how much CG special effects evolved over the course of the eight movies. You also have to remember that noted auteur Alfonso Cuarón completely broke the mold and reset the standard in, arguably, the best flick in the series, The Prisoner of Azkaban.
But there is no denying that Columbus is the one most responsible for creating the template for the films (and cosplay) to come. Not to mention, he gets fifty points to Gryffindor for the fantastic casting. What would the world be like if Chris Columbus hadn’t discovered Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe, and Rupert Grint?
And for what it’s worth, I find myself rediscovering these characters as my daughter is currently obsessing over the books and films. Looking back on those first two in particular, it’s amazing the kind of foresight the whole production team had in finding the type of actors that could sustain a decade-long movie franchise. Congrats all around on that!
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)
A decade after being tasked to launch the biggest young adult book-to-movie franchise in history, Columbus tried to make lightning strike again when he adapted the first book/movie in a would be Percy Jackson series. Though it spawned a sequel in 2013, the Percy Jackson films have not attained the kind of pop cultural cache that the Harry Potter films had. Though they really tried.
It’s up to you if you wanna include this in your Columbus Day marathon.
2017 UPDATE: Not related to Chris Columbus, but The Lightning Thief was adapted into an Off-Broadway musical in 2017, and by all accounts (i.e., my daughter keeping it on repeat), it’s way better than the movie.
- Of course, there’s always the possibility that the holiday is named after this guy, but I’d hate to think that we would all be taking the day off to celebrate a murderous, genocidal despot. That would be crazy! If that is the case, though, I say Happy Indigenous People Day! ↩
- Basically, it’s a big-budget, two-hour remake of the classic Star Trek: TNG episode “The Measure of a Man” where Robin Williams is Data. ↩