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.


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.


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.

This Day in Movie History: January 10

22 years ago today in Movie History – January 10 – marked the release of Curtis Hanson’s The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, starring Rebecca De Mornay and Annabella Sciorra. The film followed the tenants of a subgenre best described as “the BLANK from Hell” in which this one could be described as “The Nanny from Hell”. De Mornay portrayed that nanny and Sciorra was her tormentee. 1992 was a popular year for such titles including “The Teenager From Hell” (Poison Ivy), “The Cop From Hell” (Unlawful Entry), and “The Roommate From Hell” (Single White Female). Cradle was an unexpected box office smash, grossing $88 million domestically. De Mornay would go onto less regarded thrillers such as Guilty as Sin and Never Talk to Strangers. Her most notable film appearance in recent years was alongside Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, and Dwight Yoakam in the opening sequence to Wedding Crashers. Sciorra’s film career would fizzle as well but she did have a significant stint playing Tony’s mistress on “The Sopranos”. In fact, it’s some other females in the cast who would go onto bigger things. Playing Sciorra’s friend who met a rather ghastly demise at the hands of De Mornay was an actress in just her second film role named Julianne Moore. Playing Sciorra’s daugheter was Madeline Zima, just six years old at the time. Soon aftewards she would be cast in the popular Fran Drescher sitcom “The Nanny” and recently was in a much more adult role on Showtime’s “Californication”. And Ernie Hudson played a mentally challenged house worker, giving him at least one memorable role other than being the Ghostbuster nobody talks about. Finally, the director Curtis Hanson would move to directing such noteworthy pictures as The River Wild, L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys, and 8 Mile.

As for birthdays, today marks the 72nd birthday of director/screenwriter Walter Hill. Mr. Hill is known on the screenwriting side for working on Aliens and Alien 3 and the 1972 Steve McQueen hit The Getaway. His directing credits include hits like 48 HRS. and its sequel Another 48 HRS. and the 1979 cult classic The Warriors. He directed Richard Pryor in the comedy Brewster’s Millions, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Belushi in Red Heat, and Bruce Willis in Last Man Standing. One of his lesser known features is 1992’s Trespass with Ice Cube, Bill Paxton, Ice-T, and William Sadler but it’s a solid B flick that is worth seeking out. His latest effort was the Sylvester Stallone disappointment Bullet to the Head.

Evan Handler is 53 today. He’s more known for his TV work, including appearing on “Californication” with Madeline Zima from The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. His best known TV role is as Charlotte’s husband Harry on “Sex and the City”. He would reprise that role in the hit Sex and the City movie and its less successful sequel. Other film roles include 1981’s Taps and 1996’s Ransom, in which he played one of the kidnappers.

As for Six Degrees of Separation between our birthdays subjects –

Walter Hill directed Bruce Willis in Last Man Standing

Bruce Willis was in Striking Distance with Sarah Jessica Parker

Sarah Jessica Parker was in Sex and the City with Evan Handler

And that’s today – January 10 – in Movie History!