Summer 1996: The Top Ten Hits and More

Well, it’s officially summertime and that means on this blog of mine, I recount the top ten movie hits of the season from 10 years ago and today… 20 years ago. When it comes to the film that ruled summer 1996, there’s a major connection to a sequel coming this very weekend…

As I have in years past, I’ll count down the top ten and then also mention some other notable pics, as well as big old flops. Let’s get to it…

10. The Cable Guy

Domestic Gross: $60 million

It may have managed to place in the top 10, but The Cable Guy (with its darker tones than any of his previous material) was considered to be Jim Carrey’s first flop. This was coming after a quintet of hits that included Ace Ventura and its sequel, The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, and Batman Forever. Critics and audience didn’t know what to make of this Ben Stiller directed effort at first, but it’s since gained a deserved cult following.

9. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Domestic Gross: $100 million

It couldn’t match the earnings of previous 90s Disney animated fare like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, or Pocahontas and it isn’t talked about too much anymore, but the studio did manage to get this to the century club… barely.

8. Eraser

Domestic Gross: $101 million

Arnold Schwarzenegger had his first major flop in summer 1993 with Last Action Hero and rebounded the following season in 1994 with True Lies. Action thriller Eraser falls somewhere in the middle. It did pretty well, but critics and audiences were a bit ambivalent.

7. Phenomenon

Domestic Gross: $104 million

John Travolta was still riding high on the momentum of Pulp Fiction, Get Shorty, and Broken Arrow and that continued with this fantasy drama that also included the Eric Clapton hit “Change the World”.

6. A Time to Kill

Domestic Gross: $108 million

John Grisham was a serious box office commodity when Kill hit, directed by Joel Schumacher (doing his second adaptation after 1994’s The Client). The all-star cast that included Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, and Kevin Spacey helped and this gave mainstream audiences their first exposure to Mr. Matthew McConaughey.

5. The Nutty Professor

Domestic Gross: $128 million

After a trio of bombs (The Distinguished Gentleman, Beverly Hills Cop III, Vampire in Brooklyn), Eddie Murphy experienced a huge comeback with this remake of the Jerry Lewis comedy. It also kicked off a series of family friendly titles that gave Eddie a second wind in his filmography.

4. The Rock

Domestic Gross: $134 million

Fresh off his Oscar win for Leaving Las Vegas, Nicolas Cage parlayed that buzz into the action genre in this Michael Bay directed Alcatraz shoot-em-up with Sean Connery and Ed Harris. This one’s pretty good. Much of what would follow from Cage? Not so much.

3. Mission: Impossible

Domestic Gross: $180 million

Tom Cruise got his franchise and it started here with Brian De Palma’s rendering of the 1960s TV series. Ethan Hunt and his cohorts are still rolling today.

2. Twister

Domestic Gross: $241 million

Jan De Bont followed up Speed with this high-priced disaster pic starring Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, and that infamous flying cow.

  1. Independence Day

Domestic Gross: $306 million

Moviegoers loved their destruction in summer 1996 and they saw the White House and plenty of other landmarks blown to smithereens in this alien invasion extravaganza from Roland Emmerich. This was what really made Will Smith a superstar – so much so that he isn’t bothering with the long gestating sequel, out this Friday.

Something that struck me about those 10 highest grossing pictures? Not one sequel. Try getting away with that these days…

And now for some other notable movies in the hot months of ’96:

Kingpin

Domestic Gross: $25 million

The Farrelly Brothers followed up their smash hit Dumb and Dumber with this bowling comedy starring Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, and a glorious Bill Murray. It flopped upon release but has since gained a devoted following.

Trainspotting

Domestic Gross: $16 million

This British import was an indie fave of the season and gave American audiences their first big exposure to both director Danny Boyle and its star Ewan McGregor. A sequel is coming in 2017.

And now – the flops of the summer and there were many:

Dragonheart

Domestic Gross: $51 million

This fantasy adventure starring Dennis Quaid and the voice of Sean Connery couldn’t make its $57 million budget back domestically and critics were lukewarm.

Striptease

Domestic Gross: $33 million

Critics and audiences alike didn’t shell out their dollar bills for this Demi Moore “comedy” set in the world of strip clubs.

The Island of Dr. Moreau

Domestic Gross: $27 million

This massive flop gave us Marlon Brando at his most bizarre in this doomed adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel. Do yourself a favor and read about the making of for this project. It’s considerably more entertaining than the picture itself.

Escape from L.A.

Domestic Gross: $25 million

Sixteen years after the well-received Escape from New York, this sequel reuniting director John Carpenter and star Kurt Russell was mostly ignored.

Chain Reaction

Domestic Gross: $21 million

Keanu Reeves had a smash with Speed two summers before. Director Andrew Davis made the Oscar nominated The Fugitive three summer prior. Putting the two together for this stale action thriller was met with yawns.

Kazaam

Domestic Gross: $18 million

A few months before basketball fans turned out in droves for Michael Jordan and Space Jam, they said no thanks to Shaquille O’Neal’s entry onto the silver screen. Charles Barkley still gives him hell for it on “Inside the NBA”.

The Fan

Domestic Gross: $18 million

Between two major hits with 1995’s Crimson Tide and 1998’s Enemy of the State, Tony Scott had this bomb starring Robert De Niro as a baseball nut stalking favorite player Wesley Snipes.

The Phantom

Domestic Gross: $17 million

Comic books adaptations hadn’t quite hit their stride yet during the mid 1990s, as evidenced here with Billy Zane as the title character that couldn’t even earn half its $45 million budget.

The Frighteners

Domestic Gross: $16 million

This horror action comedy is the last major starring role for Michael J. Fox before he turned his attention back to TV and “Spin City”. This failed with moviegoers, but the director would go on to bigger things. His name? Peter Jackson.

Barb Wire

Domestic Gross: $3 million

Here’s another comic adaptation you don’t think of much – this ill-fated Pamela Anderson vehicle that proved audiences liked her better on the beach… or in other videos you didn’t have to pay for.

And that does it, folks! Your recap of summer 1996. I’ll be back next week talking about 2006…

 

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