It’s time, once again, to step in that wayback machine. Set your clocks to 30 years ago for today’s bonus prompt: What was your favorite film from 1991?
Dominating theaters this year was no surprise: the highly anticipated and marketed Terminator 2: Judgement Day made massive bank by giving the Arnie Terminator a face turn, which became the defacto status quo for all Terminator movies to come. Sarah Connor would go on to become one of cinema’s most memorable action heroes, while the CGI on the T-1000 wowed audiences with new possibilities for this new form of special effects. The film would be the highest grossing film of the year, a rarity for an R-rated film.
Fantasy action would be pretty ig this year. Following T2 on the charts was Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Such as we were in the middle of the Costner-ssaince… and the Bryan Adams-ssaince when you think about it. Ah, those halcyon days before Waterworld and 18 til I Die. Costner would be roundly criticized (by Mel Brooks especially) for not speaking with an English accent. Meanwhile, Alan Rickman would chew all the scenery.
Hook also did quite well, even if it was one of Spielberg’s more middling features. I do remember talk around this time if Spielberg had lost his touch — a question that would be answered in the definitive “NO” when Jurassic Park came out some years later. The Rocketeer failed to capture that same magic that Disney had hoped for, though it did go on to become a beloved cult classic.
1991 would be a milestone for both future Oscar-winning director Katheryn Bigelow and future action star Keanu Reeves. Point Break teamed Reeves up with Patrick Swayze in the surfingest, parachutingest game of cat-and-mouse. It was actually a very good year for Keanu. That same year he would also star in the underrated sequel Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey and the highly acclaimed drama My Own Private Idaho.
Also having a big year? Oliver Stone, who would lean heavily on two obsessions of his Baby Boomer generation. He began the year with The Doors, which starred Val Kilmer in a career defining role. Stone would also direct JFK. Apparently this is the first part of his “Presidents” trilogy, which includes the less remembered Nixon and W. JFK was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. The film would lose out in both categories to The Silence of The Lambs and Jonathan Demme.
Also in contention was, for the first time, an animated film. Disney was very pleased to see Beauty & the Beast nominated for Best Picture. The studio has been chasing that gold ever since. (Only two other films have been nominated for Best Picture, and they have both been from Disney: Up and Toy Story 3.). The success of the Disney Renaissance led to a small animation boom, though the best the competition could come up with was Rock-a-Doodle, Rover Dangerfield, and An American Tail 2: Fievel Goes West.
Female empowerment was a strong theme in 1991. Thelma & Louise and Fried Green Tomatoes both were solid hits. Meanwhile, a new generation of African-American directors would make their directorial debuts in Spike Lee’s wake: Mario van Peebles with New Jack City and John Singleton with Boyz N The Hood. Lee himself would helm the romantic drama Jungle Fever.
1991 also saw the infancy of a trend that would continue on for much of the 90’s: movies based on classic TV shows. Technically, The Addams Family went back the roots of the original comic strip, but many still remembered this as that black-and-white TV show that would air on repeats during syndication. And yeah, it was preceded by others, such as the Dragnet movie, but they weren’t juggernauts like The Addams Family, which made $191 million on a $30 million budget. The success of the film paved the way for other TV adaptations: some Oscar contenders (The Fugitive), some cheeky spoofs of the show (The Brady Bunch) and most best forgotten (was anyone really asking for a Leave It To Beaver film?)
Next week: films directed by women