In honor of the 2014 summer movie season, Team HitFix will be delivering a mini-series of articles flashing back to key summers from years past. There will be one each month, diving into the marquee events of the era, their impact on the writer and their implications on today's multiplex culture. We start today with a look back at the summer of 1989.
In many ways, 1989 is a fascinating case study for the direction populist filmmaking was already in the process of taking. Never before had so many sequels descended upon the multiplex. Franchises were exploding in the wake of "Star Wars." Twenty-five years later, well, the more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess.
As a 7-year-old living in small-town North Carolina, those franchises sucked me in that summer. It was a formidable few months for me, and so when we decided to crank out a Summer Movies Flashback series this year, I knew what I'd be writing about. I'd be writing about my multiplex awakening.
The summer of 1989 really took flight with Steven Spielberg's "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" on May 24. I grew up watching and loving the adventures of this hero, particularly wearing out the spools on my recorded-from-HBO VHS of "Temple of Doom." And for a time, it seemed Spielberg and company had gone off on the highest of notes, an exciting action/adventure dipping in the separate wells of its predecessors and coming up with gold. So good.
This and that filled out the rest of the month. Phil Alden Robinson's brilliant "Field of Dreams," which was released on April 21 (and therefore isn't quite within the parameters of this article), added more and more screens in subsequent weeks on the way to stellar box office receipts and, eventually, a Best Picture nomination. Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor were still at it in "See No Evil, Hear No Evil." Patrick Swayze was ripping out throats in "Road House." Clint Eastwood was under-performing with "Pink Cadillac" and an oddity called "Earth Girls Are Easy" was introducing some audiences to Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans. But mostly, it was all about the Joneses, and a waiting game for the real event of the year…
The marketing blitz for Tim Burton's "Batman" was out of this world. It was like you were an idiot if you weren't lined up for that thing. I've written about this before, but it was sort of my "Star Wars" moment, the first truly epic thing going down at my local movie theater that was screaming my name. And I kept coming back for more. At that point, I had never seen a movie more than once at the theater. I think I saw it three times. You couldn't escape it. That logo was EVERYWHERE. I still have my Taco Bell cup.
(By the way, while "Batman," the movie, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, Batman, the character, celebrates his 75th. The folks over at HeroFix have been cranking out lots of great content to celebrate.)
This was also a time when studios weren't too shy about releasing major movies opposite each other (probably because the glut was nothing like what it is today). "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" opened on the same day as "Batman" and was still a major hit. And how could it not be? Here was a high concept aimed right between the eyes of youngsters everywhere. It was a theme park ride (and soon enough, literally a theme park ride). Such a fun, rollicking, inventive movie.
I remember walking out of my first screening "Batman" and seeing a poster for "Ghostbusters II" on the wall and I lost my mind. "Ghostbusters" was by that time easily one of my favorite movies. But, wait, there was going to be another one?!? Yes, those were the days, when maybe you missed the commercials and could be surprised. We certainly weren't flooded with info on upcoming movies the way we are today. The movie opened a week before "Batman" and had a number of people involved with the project worried about what kind of business it would secure as a result. But it would be just fine.
An aside on that: Most people hate "Ghostbusters II." I don't quite get that. To me, it's more or less the same movie as the first. Substitute the Statue of Liberty for the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and there you go. OK, no, it's not that simple, though nevertheless, maybe the doubling down is what rubbed some people wrong. I don't know. People my age, we loved it, and most of us love it still. I watch that movie and I laugh and laugh. "Suck in the guts, boys, we're the Ghostbusters?" Anyway, moving on…