Batman Forever Ago: A Quarter Century Box Office Report

Earlier this week (on Tuesday), Batman Forever celebrated its 25th anniversary of release. For those who may not recall, this was when Joel Schumacher took over the franchise from Tim Burton and Val Kilmer replaced Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader. Tommy Lee Jones (coming off an Oscar for The Fugitive) and Jim Carrey (the hottest comedic star in America after the one-two-three punch of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber) costarred as villains Two-Face and The Riddler, respectively. Nicole Kidman was in the mix as Bruce Wayne/Batman’s love interest and Chris O’Donnell was introduced as Robin. Sounds like a recipe for a box office bonanza right? Indeed it was.

In mid June 1995, Forever scored the best opening weekend of all time and was the first feature to make over $50 million in its first three days. The $52.7 million tally topped the previous record holder from two summers before (a little something called Jurassic Park). Forever would hold the title for two years before being toppled by… The Lost World: Jurassic Park. 

The all-time premiere record has since changed 11 times, including in 2008 with another Batflick The Dark Knight at $158 million. The current holder is Avengers: Endgame at $357 million. And that right there shows how much times have changed. In a quarter century, the first frame of Endgame made 7x that of Forever. Higher ticket prices are certainly a factor. Yet in 25 years, Val Kilmer’s grapples with Jim Carrey went from a highest ever start to now 225th. By the way, 224th place belongs to… The Lego Batman Movie! And now, Forever lags behind such forgettable material as The Nun, The Karate Kid remake, Valentine’s Day, and DC’s own hugely disappointing Green Lantern.

Speaking of disappointing, I’m certainly of the opinion that Forever was just that as far as quality. It’s not nearly as bad at what followed with Schumacher’s sequel Batman & Robin. However, it was a big letdown from what Burton accomplished before and what Christopher Nolan achieved a decade later with the start of The Dark Knight trilogy. What remains is an interesting snapshot in time when a $50 million debut was new territory and it took the Bat Signal (even a rather mediocre one) to get there.

Aquaman Movie Review

In movies nowadays, the superhero genre has become so popular that a rule now applies to well-known thespians. You can play a hero or then you act long enough to see yourself become the villain. Or vice versa. Patrick Wilson was a good guy in Watchmen and now he’s a bad guy in Aquaman. Willem Dafoe was the key villain in SpiderMan, but he’s an ally to the title character here. As for Nicole Kidman, she was Bruce Wayne’s love interest in Batman Forever. Now she’s Aquamom.

This is all in a feature-length experience that HBO’s “Entourage” treated with humor. The thought back then… who would really buy this comic book creation in his own two-hour saga? Director James Wan’s weird but often endearing take ups the ante by padding nearly an extra half hour. It sorta works. It does by knowing that it’s silly most of the time despite occasional meanderings into thinking it belongs in Lord of the Rings territory. While it doesn’t, some of the battle scenes approach that grandeur.

We’ve seen Aquaman before in the DC Extended Universe. He was introduced briefly in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (which I still think is a little better than its reputation) and his role was expanded in the sub par Justice League. He gets the whole origin treatment here. In 1985, the Queen of Atlantis names Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) washes up on shore after a storm in Maine. She makes the acquaintance of the local lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and Splash style romantic sparks fly. Leaving her King hubby behind underwater, Atlanna and her new flame bear a son named Arthur and that little tyke eventually becomes the heavily tattooed punk rockish muscle man embodied by Jason Momoa.

As we witnessed in the previously mentioned pics, Momoa’s Aquaman becomes a mysterious superhero above water when not chugging beers with Dad. Atlanna, on the other hand, is long gone after being hunted down by her husband’s henchmen and returning below the surface so her new family isn’t harmed. She’s said to be dead.

Soon enough, Arthur is pressured to see Atlantis for the first time. His half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) is hell-bent on becoming the ruling Ocean Master. That means the destruction of Earth is on his to do list. Mera (Amber Heard) is the daughter of an Atlantean  King (Dolph Lundgren) allied with Orm. She disagrees with her father and along with Arthur’s old mentor (Willem Dafoe), they attempt to recruit our hero to become the King himself.

The family drama is a very familiar plot point in most movies in the genre – no matter which cinematic universe it takes place in. This is no exception. Orm is the Loki to Aquaman’s Thor, but he’s not near as memorable. Mera is the love interest and she has some humorous moments due to her unfamiliarity with our land. Those light moments reminded me of Gal Gadot’s acclamations to her fresh surroundings in Wonder Woman. And while we’re talking similar plot themes, this will remind you of Black Panther from time to time.

There’s only so much you can accomplish with this well-worn origin stuff, but James Wan conjures up a visually vibrant tale with an engaging lead. Momoa’s Aquaman is a bit of a Hulk like creation who seems impervious to harm. Frankly, the tension is a bit watered down because it seems like he could swat Orm off like a fly. Yet the action sequences are effective when they’re not too weighed down in confusing CG mayhem. The best one takes place in Italy when all the players remain dry. Aquaman is worth the watch, despite its flaws, as it builds plenty of worlds we’ll see again and with more details. This uses what seems like a record of title cards to tell us where we are as the plot moves along. Unlike other films where we might see “St. Louis” with The Arch in frame, they’re necessary here. Most of the places we visit come with acceptable levels of entertainment value.

*** (out of four)

Jurassic Park Turns 25: A Look Back

A quarter century ago on this day, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park was unleashed in theaters and it was indeed a game changer. For those not old enough to remember its release, it’s a bit difficult to describe just how groundbreaking its visuals were at that time in the early 1990s. The idea that realistic dinosaurs could roam the silver screen didn’t seem possible. However, Spielberg’s wizardry and the geniuses at Industrial Light & Magic proved us all wrong.

The scene above had audiences expressing the same reaction as Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum. Mouths open. Jaws dropped. As we have learned in the 25 years since, amazing visuals aren’t enough to make a film great. That said, if any picture could claim greatness due to its effects, this is the one.

Yet Jurassic Park was special for more reasons than just that. Based on Michael Crichton’s bestseller, the cinematic adaptation tapped into a childhood fascination with Earth’s first dwellers that struck a chord. The concept seems so simple now: mix Steven Spielberg with dinosaurs and what could possibly go wrong? That recipe worked rather flawlessly, but let’s take some stock here.

Just a year and a half earlier, Mr. Spielberg made Hook. And when you think of that concept – America’s most commercially successful director taking on the Peter Pan story? What could possibly go wrong? Well, plenty did. Hook has its vocal defenders, but I fall into the camp of deeming it a major disappointment (particularly on subsequent viewings).

Jurassic arrived at a time where it was feasible to question Spielberg’s magic touch. Those queries went away with the first look at the dino creations and the suspenseful and masterfully directed picture that followed.

In terms of box office numbers, some may not know this franchise opener’s relationship to Batman, but there is one. Jurassic Park opened with $47 million dollars. At the time, that stood at the largest domestic debut in history by beating out the $45 million made the summer before by Batman Returns. 

In 1995, it would be Batman Forever that would top the Jurassic record with $52 million.

Two summers after that, Jurassic follow-up The Lost World would snatch the record back with $72 million.

The original Jurassic now stands as the 247th largest opening and was surpassed by all three sequels that followed (and will certainly also be topped by next Friday’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom).

The original’s total domestic gross ended up being $357 million. A 2013 3-D re-release for its 20th anniversary added another $45 million to bring the overall haul to $402 million. And that is second only to Jurassic World from 2015 ($652 million).

The Lost World topped out at $229 million with Jurassic Park III at $181 million. When we adjust for inflation, Park tops World by a margin of $839 million to $724 million.

Looking back at 1993, it’s safe to say no director had a single better year in film history than Spielberg before or since. Not only did Jurassic Park set a new standard for visual effects and break every box office record, but he released another picture at the end of the year. That would be Schindler’s List. The Holocaust drama was nominated for twelve Oscars and won seven, including Best Picture and Spielberg’s first statue for directing (he’d win again five years later for Saving Private Ryan).

So as we await the fifth installment of this franchise, it felt worthy to take a moment and acknowledge the seismic happening that occurred 25 years ago today. The unleashing of the dinosaurs. The advent of visual effects in a way we’d never experienced. A year unparalleled for a filmmaker. Welcome to Jurassic Park… 25 years later.

Dracula and Uncle Buck Make a Movie Together

Confused by the blog post title?

I understand. The name comes from a rather ingenious movie game idea that came to my attention via my Uncle Steve over the weekend and I’ve been rather preoccupied with it ever since. If you’re a true movie buff, it’s quite a bit of fun and it’s something good to quiz your fellow movie buff friends on.

The concept is simple. Take the character names (real or fictional) of actors who’ve appeared in a film together and make your subject guess which picture they all appear in together. Still confused? This should clear it up:

Batman, Al Capone, Lois Lane, Chris Kyle, Katniss Everdeen, and Jeffrey Dahmer.

I’ll give you a moment… (DON’T READ ON IF YOU’RE TRYING TO GUESS)

That would be American Hustle, whose cast included Christian Bale (Batman in The Dark Knight trilogy), Robert De Niro (Capone in The Untouchables), Amy Adams (Lois Lane in Man of Steel), Bradley Cooper (Chris Kyle in American Sniper), Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss in The Hunger Games franchise), and Jeremy Renner (Jeffrey Dahmer in Dahmer). Kinda fun isn’t it?

Or how about Elvis Presley, Andy Kaufman, Virginia Woolf, Ty Cobb, and Ernest Hemingway?

That would be Batman Forever with Val Kilmer (Presley in True Romance), Jim Carrey (Kaufman in Man on the Moon), Nicole Kidman (Woolf in The Hours), Tommy Lee Jones (Cobb in Cobb), and Chris O’Donnell (Hemingway in In Love and War).

There’s last year’s Best Picture winner Birdman with Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), The Hulk (Edward Norton), Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and Princess Diana (Naomi Watts).

And 2012’s Oscar winner Argo starring Daredevil (Ben Affleck), Walter White (Bryan Cranston), Fred Flintstone (John Goodman), Shawshank Warden Norton (Bob Gunton), and “Orange is the New Black” main character Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling).

This December’s eagerly awaited Quentin Tarantino pic The Hateful Eight boasts Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell), Dorothy Parker (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and Magic Mike (Channing Tatum).

What 1991 Oscar nominated political drama features Robin Hood, Ren McCormack, Harvey Dent, Harry Lyme, Dracula, Carrie White, Felix Ungar, Albert Einstein, President Snow, Uncle Buck, and “Seinfeld” neighbor Newman? It’s Oliver Stone’s JFK and I’ll let you figure out who’s who… it’s part of the fun!

And many of you took in this weekend’s #1 pic Ant-Man with Brian Fantana, Liberace, Kate Austen, Congressman Peter Russo, and Papa Doc.

I could go on and on, but just thought this might provide some film buff fanatics with an enjoyable new way to quiz and frustrate your friends. And thanks to Uncle Steve!

Summer 1995: The Top Ten Hits and More

We are now smack dab in the middle of the 2015 summer movie season and we’ve seen our share of massive hits (hello Jurassic World) and big flops (goodbye Tomorrowland). As has become tradition on this blog, I will now take a look back at the same season from 20 years ago – giving you the top ten hits of that summer plus other notable pictures and the flops that also populated the calendar. I’ll be following up shortly with a post about the summer of 2005, one decade ago.

One thing that stands out for the summer of 1995 is that an astonishing four of the five eventual Best Picture nominees for that year came out in the summer. This is unheard of due to the fact that, typically, Oscar bait is released in the fall months. All four of those movies will be discussed in this post.

And now – let us revisit the titles that got us in the theaters during the hot months in 1995 (and some that didn’t).

10. Braveheart

Domestic Gross: $75 million

The 10th highest grosser of the season also happens to be the one that would go onto win Best Picture at the Oscars and earn director/star Mel Gibson a gold statue for his work behind the camera. The medieval war epic would win a total of five Oscars and mark a high point in Gibson’s filmography.

9. Congo

Domestic Gross: $81 million

Two summers earlier, an adventure film based on a Michael Crichton novel came out. It was called Jurassic Park and the rest is history. Expectations for the Crichton based Congo were high and it came from Spielberg protege Frank Marshall. Its $81 million gross was on the low end of expectations and critics were not kind (22% on Rotten Tomatoes).

8. Dangerous Minds

Domestic Gross: $84 million

One of the sleeper hits of the season was this urban classroom drama starring Michelle Pfeiffer. Now I could certainly attach a clip of the film or its trailer, but let’s be honest. The reason we remember this movie is three words: “Gangsta’s Paradise, Coolio!” Enjoy…

7. Waterworld

Domestic Gross: $88 million

The Kevin Costner adventure is widely considered to be the Heaven’s Gate of its decade. The production was a disaster with cost overruns (a budget of $172 million, which was crazy at the time) and highly mixed critical reaction. Also, like Gate, its reputation has improved over time. Yet in the summer of 1995, it was considered the season’s big belly flop.

6. Crimson Tide

Domestic Gross: $91 million

This Tony Scott directed submarine action thriller struck a chord with audiences and critics. Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman costarred with an impressive supporting cast that included Viggo Mortensen, James Gandolfini, and Steve Zahn.

5. Die Hard with a Vengeance

Domestic Gross: $100 million

Bruce Willis’s third go round as John McClane costarred Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Irons. It couldn’t quite match the $117M take of the 1990’s Die Hard 2, but the franchise would spawn two more entries years later.

4. Casper

Domestic Gross: $100 million

Despite mixed critical reaction, this live action version of America’s favorite friendly ghost starring Christina Ricci, Bill Pullman and lots of special effects was quite the family hit.

3. Pocahontas

Domestic Gross: $141 million

While not coming close box office wise to what Disney accomplished the previous summer with The Lion King, families still turned this retelling of the Pocahontas tale into a nice hit for the studio.

2. Apollo 13

Domestic Gross: $172 million

Ron Howard’s true life space epic starring Tom Hanks earned a Best Picture nomination and the admiration of audiences and critics alike, giving its star his fourth summer blockbuster in a row after A League of their Own, Sleepless in Seattle, and Forrest Gump.

1. Batman Forever

Domestic Gross: $184 million

The third flick in the Caped Crusader franchise marked the end of the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton era and the beginning of the Joel Schumacher version of the series. While Forever (which cast Val Kilmer as the title character and Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones as villains The Riddler and Two Face) held bragging rights for the season’s largest grosser, it would all crumble two summers later when the disastrous Batman and Robin sunk the franchise until Chris Nolan rescued it.

And now – some other notable pictures from the summer of 1995 that didn’t make the top ten:

13. Nine Months

Domestic Gross: $69 million

This Hugh Grant comedy didn’t make much of an impression in the critical community, but audiences turned out partly because of the media swarm surrounding its star’s tabloid status involving picking up a prostitute.

14. Babe

Domestic Gross: $63 million

George Miller’s talking pig tale not only became one of the season’s sleeper hits, it also managed an unexpected Oscar nod for Best Picture.

16. Clueless

Domestic Gross: $56 million

Alicia Silverstone became a household name in this Valley Girl comedy which spawned endless catchphrases.

31. The Usual Suspects

Domestic Gross: $23 million

This indie thriller with its shocking ending started the career of director Bryan Singer and earned Kevin Spacey an Oscar for Supporting Actor.

32. Il Postino

Domestic Gross: $21 million

This Italian import was an art house favorite and is the fourth summer release in 1995 to nab a Best Picture nomination. If you’re wondering, the fifth was Ang Lee’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, which came out in the fall.

And now, the flops of summer 1995:

Steven Seagal’s Under Siege 2: Dark Territory managed only $50 million at the domestic box office, not coming close to the $83M earned by its predecessor.

It may have been a hit kids show, but the film version of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers sputtered with only $38 million.

While Braveheart had audiences in period piece action movie approval mode, the Richard Gere/Sean Connery King Arthur retelling First Knight flopped with just $37 million.

Comic book fans soundly rejected Sylvester Stallone’s wrong headed Judge Dredd to the tune of a paltry $34 million take.

Two films attempting to capitalize on the virtual reality craze at the time did virtually no box office business. Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe’s Virtuosity and Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Mnemonic made $24M and $19M, respectively.

Finally, while crowds loved that Babe pig, another family tale about the same animal – Gordy – came in 52nd for the summer earning just $3.9M. That’s not exactly bringing home the bacon! (I’m sorry)

And that’ll do it for my recap of the summer of 1995, folks! I’ll have 2005 up later this week…