Welcome to the weekly movie thread, where we’ve discussed movies we’ve seen, some that we’ve enjoyed, some that we’ve hated, and some that we’re totally ambivalent about.
Today’s prompt is another decade retrospective: What was your favorite film of 1990?
I mentioned in my 1989 film retrospective that the year had been swamped with sequels to popular franchises. Hollywood and the viewing public must’ve been shamed into putting out non-franchise contents in the next year. Take a look at the top ten, and it’s a heck of an unlikely list. The first sequel you come across is Back to the Future III at #6, followed by the coolly received Die Hard 2. So what did more viewers watch than these potential juggernauts?
A romance film where Patrick Swayze was dead the whole time, a very emotional kid who had to defend his house from Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, a hooker with the heart of gold, a disillusioned frontiersman who befriends the Sioux, and an action movie based on a Philip K. Dick novel. If you didn’t know the titles of any of these, you’d probably assume that they were odd-ball indie films that maybe because cult classics years later. Instead, Ghost, Home Alone, Pretty Woman, Dances With Wolves, and Total Recall all dominated the box office. One of these would end up winning the Academy Award.
Also in the Top Ten? A film that at the time was the highest grossing independent film of all time: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Jim Henson, whose studios were involved with the costumes, was particularly proud of how things turned out. The turtle outfits included some complicated animatronics, yet provided a wide range of movement for the stuntmen who had the wear the outfits.
This doesn’t mean that there weren’t any sequels in 1990. My favorite sequel of all time, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, made its debut this year. But tellingly, it’s great because it mocks the entire concept of sequels. Roger Ebert wasn’t hot on it: “‘Gremlins II The New Batch’ is a meditation on sequels and, like most sequels, it’s a faded imitation of the original. Yes, it has some big laughs, and yes, some of the special effects are fun, but the movie has too many gremlins and not enough story line.” I think he may have unknowingly stumbled on the central gag.
It was certainly more interesting than, say, Rocky V, probably the most unloved of all Rocky movies. And it felt like less of a retread than Die Hard 2. The director of the original Die Hard, John McTiernan, would move on and direct another thrilling classic with The Hunt For The Red October… which, in retrospect, what the beginning of the Jack Ryan franchise. Another sequel coming out this year was RoboCop 2, directed by… Irvin Kershner?!?!?! That can be right. While less zany, this too feels like it belongs in the same category as Gremlins 2 in the “making fun of the original movie” vein. (Predator 2, also released in 1990, kinda feels that way too.)
Another successful director, Tim Burton, would follow up his previous year’s successful Batman adaptation with one of his most personal films: Edward Scissorhands. Future Batman director, Joel Schumacher, would also have a hit with Flatliners. The Batman effect would be in full force this year, by the way. The success of Turtles could partially be attributed to the audience appetite for darker, grittier, street-level superhero movies. Sam Raimi would be in play as well with his own take on the genre. After failing to secure the rights to The Shadow (or Batman), Raimi decided to go forward with his own original creation: Darkman, which starred little known actors named Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand.
Meanwhile, Godfather star Al Pacino would continue playing a gangster… this time as “Big Boy” Caprice in the Warren Beatty movie Dick Tracy. Despite being in development for a good long time, it was hard to shake the impression that this too was hugely inspired by the previous year’s success of the Dark Knight. Pacino’s Godfather, Part II co-star, Robert De Niro, would also be playing a gangster albeit in a different vain. De Niro would join Pesci and Ray Liotta in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. The Coen brothers would also release their own crime thriller with Miller’s Crossing.
Rob Reiner would adapt Stephen King’s personal breakdown about stalkerish fans in Misery. Tom Cruise would race cars in the Tony Scott film Days of Thunder. Tom Hanks would capture our hearts in Joe Vs. The Volcano. And Cannon Films would finally implode as Menacham Golan and Yoram Globus would make their feud public with dance movies that were released on the same weekend: The Forbidden Dance and Lambada.