Summer 1991: The Top 10 Hits and More

It is officially summertime 2021 and that brings my annual seasonal three-part series where I take a look back at the top ten pics, flops, and other notable selections from 30, 20, and 10 years ago. That means I’ll begin with 1991 at a time where Arnold Schwarzenegger said hasta la vista to all competitors.

Let’s count down from #10 to numero Ah-nuld along with other entries worthy of discussion (both good and bad).

10. Doc Hollywood

Domestic Gross: $54 million

Michael J. Fox had a midsize hit with this fish out of water comedy about an uppity surgeon stuck in the rural south. It marks the star’s last solid performer that he headlined.

9. Boyz n the Hood

Domestic Gross: $57 million

John Singleton had one of cinema’s most memorable directorial debuts with this coming-of-age drama set in South Central. He would become the youngest filmmaker ever to be nominated at the Oscars and the critically hailed pic kickstarted the careers of Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ice Cube.

8. One Hundred and One Dalmatians 

Domestic Gross: $60 million

Disney re-released their 1961 classic three decades after its release and picked up a cool $60 million for it. Later in 1991, the studio would begin another renaissance with Beauty and the Beast becoming the first animated film to nab a Best Picture nomination. Five years later, Glenn Close would headline the live-action version and another reboot, Cruella with Emma Stone, is currently in the top five.

7. What About Bob?

Domestic Gross: $63 million

Bill Murray had one of his signature roles as the multi-phobic patient tormenting shrink Richard Dreyfuss on his vacation. Apparently this comedy was a bit dramatic behind the scenes with the two leads having an actual antagonistic relationship.

6. Hot Shots!

Domestic Gross: $69 million

Spoofs were a hot commodity in the early 90s following the success of 1988’s The Naked Gun. Jim Abrahams, one of that film’s writers, created this sendup of Top Gun and many others that starred Charlie Sheen. A sequel would follow two years later.

5. Backdraft

Domestic Gross: $77 million

Ron Howard directed this firefighting drama that heated up the box office with Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Robert De Niro, and a creepy Donald Sutherland as a pyromaniac. There was even a sequel released in 2019 with Baldwin and Sutherland that went direct to streaming and that I frankly forgot existed.

4. The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear

Domestic Gross: $86 million

The spoofing love continued as Leslie Nielsen reprised his role as doofus detective Frank Drebin in this sequel to the 1988 classic. It couldn’t hold up the original, but it was better than part 3 which followed in 1994. And, needless to say, this was a simpler time for costar O.J. Simpson.

3. City Slickers

Domestic Gross: $124 million

As New Yorkers learning life lessons on a cattle drive, Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, and Bruno Kirby starred in the comedy smash of the summer and costar Jack Palance even ended up with a Best Supporting Actor victory. A less regarded follow-up would come in 1994.

2. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Domestic Gross: $165 million

While his accent was spotty at best, Kevin Costner parlayed his Oscar success from the previous year’s Dances with Wolves into this blockbuster about the robbing from the rich and giving to the poor hero. The highlight was Alan Rickman’s sublime work as the Sheriff of Nottingham while critics mostly turned up their noses.

1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Domestic Gross: $204 million

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s android went from being the bad guy in the 1984 original to the good robot in James Cameron’s sequel that gave us eye popping and revolutionary special effects and a dynamite Linda Hamilton returning as a buffed up Sarah Connor. There’s been four more entries in the franchise and none have matched the potency of this one.

Now let’s turn the focus to some other notable releases:

Thelma & Louise

Domestic Gross: $45 million

Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis both scored lead actress Academy nods for Ridley Scott’s now iconic tale of feminism and revenge with an unforgettable ending. This also marked audiences falling in love with a then unknown actor by the name of Brad Pitt.

Point Break

Domestic Gross: $43 million

Patrick Swayze starred in the previous summer’s high earner with Ghost. This surfing action pic from director Kathryn Bigelow paired the actor with Keanu Reeves and has amassed a deserved cult following. An unnecessary remake wiped out in 2015.

Dead Again

Domestic Gross: $38 million

Kenneth Branagh’s sophomore effort after the acclaim of his Shakespearian Henry V was this Hitchcock homage costarring his then wife Emma Thompson, Andy Garcia, and Robin Williams. As tributes to the Master of Suspense go, this is one of the best.

Soapdish

Domestic Gross: $38 million

Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Robert Downey, Jr., and Whoopi Goldberg are part of the ensemble in this comedy set in the world of the afternoon melodramas that populate the airwaves. Not a big hit at the time, its reception has since grown.

Jungle Fever

Domestic Gross: $32 million

Spike Lee’s tale of an interracial couple played by Wesley Snipes and Annabella Sciorra received critical kudos. The two most memorable performances come from Samuel L. Jackson as a crack addict and Halle Berry (in her feature debut) as his girlfriend.

Madonna: Truth or Dare

Domestic Gross: $15 million

As she often is, Madonna was ahead of the cultural curve with this documentary set during her 1990 Blond Ambition Tour. This was reality programming before it exploded.

Barton Fink

Domestic Gross: $6 million

The Coen Brothers pitch black comedy was the darling of the Cannes Film Festival, winning Picture, Director, and Actor for John Turturro. It would land three Academy nominations including Michael Lerner in Supporting Actor.

Now it’s time for the pictures that either didn’t land with audiences or critics (or both):

The Rocketeer

Domestic Gross: $46 million

Disney was hoping for a new franchise with this comic book based property. Yet the period adventure underwhelmed at the box office. This was a different era for the genre before the MCU changed everything. Director Joe Johnston, coincidentally, would go on to make Captain America: The First Avenger 20 years later.

Dying Young

Domestic Gross: $33 million

This seems hard to believe now, but Premiere magazine predicted this romance would be the largest grossing feature of the summer. Not so much. However, Julia Roberts was just coming off her smash breakthrough Pretty Woman. This didn’t land with audiences in the same way.

Only the Lonely

Domestic Gross: $25 million

Chris Columbus was basking in the box office bonanza that was Home Alone. This rom com with John Candy and Ally Sheedy that followed six months later didn’t cause many filmgoers to leave their homes.

Mobsters

Domestic Gross: $20 million

1990 was gave us lots of mobster fare such as GoodFellas, The Godfather Part III, and Miller’s Crossing. Crowds and critics didn’t take to the Christian Slater and Patrick Dempsey versions of Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, respectively.

Hudson Hawk

Domestic Gross: $17 million

Bruce Willis’s vanity project is considered one of the gargantuan flops in history. Grossing only about a fourth of its $65 million budget, it was awarded the Golden Raspberry for Worst Picture of the year.

V.I. Warshawski

Domestic Gross: $11 million

Based on a series of successful novels, audiences didn’t take to Kathleen Turner in the title role for this detective action comedy. It made less than half its budget.

Delirious

Domestic Gross: $5 million

Also set in the world of soap operas, this marked another dud for John Candy in the same season.

Another You

Domestic Gross: $2 million

Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder are a classic combo with well-regarded comedies like Silver Streak and Stir Crazy. Even See No Evil, Hear No Evil in 1989, despite critical scorn, performed well. That’s not the case with their last collaboration (which reviewers also drubbed).

And that concludes my look back at summer 1991. Next up is the sweltering season of 2001!

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