Summer 1989: When the box office was teeming with hits
Been to the movies lately? Neither have a lot of folks. This summer has produced a string of low-performing duds, from the sci-fi spinoff “Men In Black: International” to the X-Men origin story “Dark Phoenix.”
Thirty years ago, in the summer of 1989, America’s multiplexes were teeming with hits. “Record Summer for Movies,” a New York Times headline sang about a season that pulled in $2.05 billion. Movie-lovers still point to it as a Hollywood high point, when a mix of well-crafted sequels and strong originals added up to a crowd-pleasing summer.
Here are just some of the 1989 titles that were playing at a theater near you:
“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (May 24) The third entry in Steven Spielberg’s franchise brought back Harrison Ford in the title role and Sean Connery as his rugged dad. Audiences loved the father-son act and turned the movie into a $474 million hit.
“Dead Poets Society” (June 2) One of Robin Williams’ best roles was as an English teacher whose unorthodox methods rattle a conservative boarding school. The film’s $235 million take was stunningly high for a drama; the film remains a favorite for its young cast (Josh Charles, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke) and Oscar-winning screenplay.
“Ghostbusters II” (June 16) Bil Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and the gang returned in this paranormal comedy, which didn’t wow critics but became a $215 million success.
“Batman” (June 23) Tim Burton took the camp value out of the superhero (played by a counter-cast Michael Keaton) and turned him into the Gothic shadow-dweller he originally was – and remains to this day.
“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” (June 23) Rick Moranis played a wacky inventor in this Disney throwback to the studio’s Flubber-themed comedies. It became the summer’s fourth-highest domestic earner with $130 million.
“Do the Right Thing” (June 30) Though not a box-office blockbuster, Spike Lee’s film about racial tensions boiling over in Brooklyn became a cultural sensation. Its impact continued at the Oscars, where its absence in the best picture category caused a controversy; it’s still an oft-cited flashpoint in Hollywood history.
“Lethal Weapon 2” (July 7) Mel Gibson and Danny Glover were the big stars in this sequel, but it was Joe Pesci, as the antic informant Leo Getz, who stole the show. He became part of movies three and four, as well.
“When Harry Met Sally …” (July 14) One of the definitive modern classics, starring Billy Crystal as Harry (loosely based on director Rob Reiner) and Meg Ryan as Sally (a composite of writer Nora Ephron and her friends). Full of memorable scenes and quotable lines (“I’ll have what she’s having”), the movie became a must-see hit. Even 30 years later, rom-coms have rarely gotten better than this.
“Parenthood” (Aug. 2) An irresistible film with one heck of an ensemble cast, including Steve Martin, Tom Hulce, Diane Wiest (earning an Oscar nod), Mary Steenburgen, Jason Robards and Keanu Reeves. It was turned into a sitcom – twice – and still feels like a gold standard for the family-comedy genre. Directed by Ron Howard.
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