Best Year’s Ever

As one year turns to the next in short order, it got me thinking. What are some examples of actors and directors who had remarkable calendar frames over the past few decades? The guidelines are pretty simple – the individual must have had two (and in a couple of cases, three or more) pictures that made an impact during 19(fill in the blank) or 20(fill in the blank).

And wouldn’t you know it? My ruminations quickly turned into a lengthy list that I’ve paired down to a top 25. Let’s call this Best Year’s Ever and count down from #25 to #1!

25. Channing Tatum (2012)

It was a busy year for the performer to say the least. Tatum was in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, but three major roles made him the star he is today. There was the hit romance The Vow, hit comedy 21 Jump Street, and his signature and semi-autobiographical title role in the summer sleeper Magic Mike (also from Mr. Soderbergh).

24. John Travolta (1996)

Two years following his major comeback in Pulp Fiction and a year following his Golden Globe nominated lead in Get Shorty, Travolta’s hot streak continued with three hits: John Woo’s action thriller Broken Arrow and fantasy dramas Phenomenon and Michael.

23. Clint Eastwood (1971)

The last two months of 1971 were fruitful for the legend. In November, he made his directorial debut with the well-reviewed psychological thriller Play Misty for Me. This began a career of dozens of behind the camera works, including Best Picture winners Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. In December, Eastwood starred as Dirty Harry which spawned his lucky cop franchise.

22. Sigourney Weaver (1988)

Weaver won two Golden Globes 30 years ago – Best Actress (Drama) for Gorillas in the Mist and Supporting Actress for Working Girl. She would be nominated for two Oscars as well, but come up short. All part of a remarkable decade that included Ghostbusters and Aliens.

21. Joe Pesci (1990)

Pesci won an Oscar for his unforgettable supporting work in Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas. That same fall, he was a burglar terrorizing Macaulay Culkin in the holiday classic Home Alone.

20. Kevin Spacey (1995)

Current scandals aside, there’s no denying Spacey was the movie villain of 1995. He won an Academy Award as (spoiler alert!) Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects and as a demented serial killer in Seven. Earlier in the year, he costarred with Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman in  Outbreak and headlined the critically approved indie comedy Swimming with Sharks.

19. Nicolas Cage (1997)

Leaving Las Vegas awarded Cage his Oscar two years prior. By the summer of 1997, he was a full-fledged action hero with two blockbusters in the same month: Con Air and Face/Off.

18. Will Ferrell (2003)

Ferrell’s transformation from SNL favorite to movie star happened here with the spring’s Old School as Frank the Tank and in the winter as Buddy in Elf.

17. Morgan Freeman (1989)

The nation’s Narrator-in-Chief had a trio of significant roles nearly three decades ago – his Oscar nominated chauffeur in the Best Picture winner Driving Miss Daisy, a dedicated and stern principal in Lean on Me, and a Civil War officer in Glory.

16. Steven Soderbergh (2000)

The prolific filmmaker made two Best Picture nominees with Erin Brockovich and Traffic (he would win Best Director for the latter). Both surpassed the century mark at the box office and Julia Roberts won Best Actress for Brockovich and Benicio del Toro took Supporting Actor in Traffic.

15. Halle Berry (2001)

Ms. Berry had a revealing role in the summer action fest Swordfish. She then became the first (and thus far only) African-American to win Best Actress for Monster’s Ball. This was all sandwiched between XMen hits.

14. Hugh Jackman (2017)

Berry’s XMen cast mate Jackman retired his Wolverine character to critical and audience admiration with Logan in the spring. At the end of the year, his musical The Greatest Showman was an unexpected smash.

13. Leonardo DiCaprio (2002)

Five years after Titanic, the jury was still out as to whether DiCaprio’s leading man status would hold up. His roles in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can left little doubt. He’s been one of Hollywood’s most dependable stars since.

12. Francis Ford Coppola (1974)

In 1972, Coppola made perhaps the greatest American film of all time with The Godfather. Two years later, its sequel came with enormous expectations and exceeded them. Like part one, it won Best Picture. As if that weren’t enough, he made another Picture nominee in ‘74 with the Gene Hackman surveillance thriller The Conversation.

11. Michael Douglas (1987)

His signature role as greedy tycoon Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street won him an Oscar and gave him one of the most famous cinematic speeches ever. He also lit up the screen in the blockbuster thriller Fatal Attraction, which was the year’s second largest grosser.

10. Julia Roberts (1999)

She started the decade with a smash star making turn in Pretty Woman. Julia Roberts ended it with two romantic comedy summer $100 million plus earners: Notting Hill with Hugh Grant and Runaway Bride (which reunited her with Pretty costar Richard Gere). She’d win her Oscar the next year for Erin Brockovich.

9. Tom Cruise (1996)

1986 wasn’t too shabby either with Top Gun and The Color of Money. Yet it’s a decade later that serves as Cruise’s year with the franchise starter Mission: Impossible in the summer and Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire, which earned Cruise a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nod. They were the third and fourth biggest hits of the year, respectively.

8. Sandra Bullock (2013)

Nearly two decades after her breakout role in Speed, Bullock had a banner 2013 alongside Melissa McCarthy in the summer comedy The Heat and her Oscar nominated turn as a stranded astronaut in the fall’s Gravity.

7. Sylvester Stallone (1985)

Sly was the undisputed champion of the box office (not to mention sequels and Roman numerals) in 1985, notching the second and third top hits of the year behind Back to the Future. They were for his two signature characters with Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV.

6. Robert Downey Jr. (2008)

A decade after all the wrong kind of headlines for his drug addiction, Downey Jr. pulled off perhaps the most impressive comeback in movie history. 2008 saw him as Tony Stark in Iron Man, the film that kicked off the MCU in grand fashion. Later that summer came Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, which earned Downey a rare Oscar nod for a comedic performance.

5. Tom Hanks (1993)

There’s more than one year to consider for Hanks… 1995 (Apollo 13, Toy Story) comes to mind. Yet 1993 saw him with Meg Ryan in the now classic Sleepless in Seattle and winning an Oscar in Philadelphia as a lawyer diagnosed with AIDS. His status as a romantic and dramatic lead was solidified in a matter of months. A consecutive Academy Award followed in 1994 for Forrest Gump.

4. Mel Brooks (1974)

The director managed to make two of the most beloved comedies of all time in one year… Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. The two features combined contain some of the funniest scenes ever filmed.

3. Jennifer Lawrence (2012)

Already an Oscar nominee two years prior for Winter’s Bone, Lawrence’s road to superstardom was paved in 2012. In March came The Hunger Games, the year’s third top earner that spawned three sequels. In December came Silver Linings Playbook, where she won Best Actress.

2. Jim Carrey (1994)

In 1993, Carrey was known as a great cast member of Fox’s groundbreaking sketch show “In Living Color”. By the end of 1994, he was the most bankable comedic star in America as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber all hit screens.

1. Steven Spielberg (1993)

In a list filled with lots of choices, the #1 selection was rather easy. The highest grossing filmmaker of all time’s 1993 was astonishing. Dino tale Jurassic Park in the summer was a marvel technical achievement that began a franchise. At the time of its release, it became the largest grosser in history with the top opening weekend yet seen. Six months later, Holocaust epic Schindler’s List won seven Academy Awards (including Picture and for Spielberg’s direction).

I hope your New Year is your best yet, readers! Have a happy one…

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…