Summer 1990: The Top 10 Hits and More

In what has become tradition on this here blog, I use the summertime months to reflect on the cinematic seasons that came 30, 20, and 10 years prior. So while we wait for features to hit theaters in the summer of 2020 (something that is looking less and less certain), let’s take a gander at the hits, misses, and other significant product from the past.

The format is as follows: a rundown of the top ten hits as well as other noteworthy titles and some of the flops. We begin with 1990… a summer where we all got ghosted.

10. Flatliners

Domestic Gross: $61 million

Fresh off her star making role that spring in Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts teamed with then boyfriend Kiefer Sutherland in this psychological thriller from the late director Joel Schumacher. A far less successful 2017 remake would follow.

9. Bird on a Wire

Domestic Gross: $70 million

Despite mostly poor reviews, the drawing power of Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn compelled this action comedy to a #1 debut and solid returns. Mr. Gibson wouldn’t fare as well later that summer when Air America with Robert Downey Jr. grossed less than half of Bird‘s earnings.

8. Another 48 Hrs.

Domestic Gross: $80 million

The re-teaming of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte from their 1982 hit might have earned more than the predecessor, but $80 million was considered a bit of a letdown compared to expectations. The quality left a bit to be desired as well.

7. Days of Thunder

Domestic Gross: $82 million

Another high profile reunification is this racing pic with Tom Cruise and his Top Gun maker Tony Scott back together. While it wasn’t as successful as that blockbuster, it did just fine and it cast a mostly unknown actress named Nicole Kidman alongside her future (and eventually former) husband.

6. Presumed Innocent

Domestic Gross: $86 million

Harrison Ford has had plenty of summer hits, but this adaptation of Scott Turow’s novel was a considerably more adult project that earned mostly rave reviews. The courtroom drama was a sizable earner considering its meager $20 million budget.

5. Back to the Future Part III

Domestic Gross: $87 million

The Western themed threequel arrived just six months after Part II. While it received better critical reaction, its gross of $87 million couldn’t match the $118 million of what preceded it.

4. Dick Tracy

Domestic Gross: $103 million

Warren Beatty’s long in development version of the 1930s comic strip was a visual sight to behold. However, critical reaction was mixed. It managed to just outdo its reported $100 million budget stateside. Tracy provided a showcase for Beatty’s then flame Madonna and earned Al Pacino a Best Supporting Actor nod.

3. Die Hard 2

Domestic Gross: $117 million

The goodwill brought forth by the 1988 original allowed this decent sequel to outgross its predecessor and permit Bruce Willis to return in his signature role three more times. This would be the last Die Hard pic with the Christmas Eve theme as it scorched the summer charts.

2. Total Recall

Domestic Gross: $119 million

One year before he would rule the summer of 1991, Arnold Schwarzenegger had a massive hit with this sci-fi rendering of the Philip K. Dick short story. Recall also provided the first juicy role for Sharon Stone, who would become a sensation two years later in Basic Instinct. 

1. Ghost

Domestic Gross: $217 million

At the start of the new decade, no one would have pegged Ghost to rule the summer frame. Made for $22 million, the supernatural romance ended up making over half a billion worldwide. A pottery themed love scene between stars Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore would become iconic, Whoopi Goldberg would win Best Supporting Actress for her psychic role, and it was nominated for Best Picture.

And now for some noteworthy titles from the season:

Problem Child

Domestic Gross: $53 million

Just outside the top 10 at 11, John Ritter headlined this tale of a rambunctious kid who just needs a family. Budgeted at a measly $10 million, it was a surprise performer that spawned two sequels.

Arachnophobia

Domestic Gross: $53 million

Doubling its budget, this black comedy about deadly black spiders received mostly praise from critics and had a nice showcase role for John Goodman as an exterminator.

Darkman

Domestic Gross: $33 million

Sam Raimi would eventually direct Spider-Man over a decade later and break box office records. Yet this original story (made for only $16 million) was a cult hit that introduced a lot of filmgoers to Liam Neeson. Two direct to video sequels would follow (minus Raimi behind the camera and Neeson in front of it).

Mo’ Better Blues

Domestic Gross: $16 million

This jazz infused dramedy was Spike Lee’s follow-up to his groundbreaking Do the Right Thing one year prior. Blues received solid reviews, but is best remembered as the director’s first collaboration with Denzel Washington.

And now for some pictures that didn’t match expectations either financially or critically or both (including a host of underwhelming sequels):

Robocop 2

Domestic Gross: $45 million

Irvin Kerschner made one of the greatest part two’s ever with The Empire Strikes Back. He wasn’t so lucky here. It made slightly less than its 1987 predecessor and reviews weren’t nearly as positive.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Domestic Gross: $41 million

It’s become a cult favorite since its release, but The New Batch grossed over $100 million less than the 1984 smash success.

The Exorcist III

Domestic Gross: $26 million

Following 17 years after the phenomenon that was the original, part 3 simply didn’t land with audiences or critics. This is another example of a sequel that would pick up more fans in subsequent years.

Ghost Dad

Domestic Gross: $24 million

Sidney Poitier directed this supernatural comedy starring Bill Cosby. At the time, he had a smash TV comedy named after him. Yet audiences didn’t follow him to the multiplex for this critically drubbed effort.

The Freshman

Domestic Gross: $21 million

Marlon Brando seemed to have a fun time parodying his iconic Godfather role here alongside Matthew Broderick. It wasn’t a hit, but its reputation has grown since.

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane

Domestic Gross: $21 million

Andrew Dice Clay was one of the most popular and controversial stand up comics of this era, but his anticipated breakout to the silver screen landed with a thud.

Wild at Heart

Domestic Gross: $14 million

David Lynch’s follow-up to his heralded Blue Velvet starred Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern. It garnered decidedly more mixed reaction from critics.

The Two Jakes

Domestic Gross: $10 million

Jack Nicholson went behind the camera and reprised his acclaimed role as Jake Gittes from 1974’s Chinatown. This was a year following the star’s turn as The Joker in Batman, which dominated that summer. Audiences (and many critics) simply turned a blind eye to this long gestating sequel.

And that’ll do it for now folks! I’ll have the summer of 2000 up shortly.

BADFELLAS – 1990: The Year of the Crime Movie

A quarter century ago, Hollywood was in a criminal state of mind. The year 1990 marks perhaps the banner year for crime movies. All kinds of nefarious activity was displayed on the silver screen that year with the Mob as the biggest offenders. Yet there were also crooked cops, psycho neighbors, con artists, and rich husbands maybe offing their wives.

The king of crime movies in 1990 belongs to Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas, an absolute genre classic that rivals the quality of the first two Godfather pictures. It inexplicably lost the Best Picture Oscar to Dances with Wolves. It shouldn’t have.

Speaking of the Godfather, perhaps the most anticipated Mafia tale that year was The Godfather Part III, which came out sixteen years after the second entry. It did not match expectations but it did still score a Best Picture nod. I still maintain it isn’t a bad movie at all yet just pales in comparison to what came before it. Like nearly all films do.

The Coen Brothers were in on the Mob mentality with Miller’s Crossing, an offbeat and beautifully filmed tale that has since become a genre classic. If your knowledge of Coen crime pics is limited to Fargo and No Country for Old Men, do yourself a favor and view this.

Like Miller’s Crossing, Irish gangsters populate State of Grace, Phil Joanou’s worthwhile effort that stars Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Gary Oldman, and Robin Wright. It’s worth a look.

Finally on the gangster tip, English mobsters get their turn in Peter Medak’s critically lauded The Krays. It may be tough to find, but it’s solid.

One year before Nino Brown became one of the most notorious movie drug dealers since Tony Montana, Christopher Walken killed it as Frank White in the cult classic King of New York. The solid supporting cast includes Laurence Fishburne and Snipes himself.

Not one, not two, but three 1990 flicks focused on crooked cops and they’re worth watching. Bad cop pic #1 is Sidney Lumet’s Q&A. Nick Nolte is said bad cop. Bad cop pic #2 is Mike Figgis’s Internal Affairs with Richard Gere as the crooked boy in blue. Bad cop pic #3 is Miami Blues with Alec Baldwin in one of his most interesting and creepy roles.

Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening earned Oscar nominations in the darkly funny The Grifters, which also comes highly recommended. John Cusack costars.

Jeremy Irons won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Claus Von Bulow in the true life story Reversal of Fortune. Glenn Close costars as wife Sunny.

As for Best Actress, it was Kathy Bates as an author’s crazed #1 fan in Rob Reiner’s claustrophobic and effective Misery, based on the Stephen King bestseller.

Speaking of psychos, Michael Keaton turns in a supremely creepy performance as the tenant from hell in Pacific Heights.

And before recent commercials showed us a funny Creepy Rob Lowe, there really was one in the underrated Bad Influence, with James Spader.

Oh there’s more. Jack Nicholson returning to his private eye role he made famous in the classic Chinatown with its long delayed sequel The Two Jakes.

Kevin Costner battling Mexican crime lord Anthony Quinn in Tony Scott’s Revenge.

The Dennis Hopper directed film noir The Hot Spot with Don Johnson, Virginia Madsen, and Jennifer Connelly.

Desperate Hours, a remake of a Humphrey Bogart thriller starring Mickey Rourke and Anthony Hopkins, a year before he became an international sensation in The Silence of the Lambs.

Harrison Ford as a lawyer who may or may not have murdered his mistress in the taut Alan J. Pakula pic Presumed Innocent.

All of these crime laden tales are worth seeing if you haven’t done so. And it serves as a reminder of the glorious illegality occurring on the screen 25 years ago.