Bringing you our monthly retro box office and rental rundown.
With summer just around the corner, moviegoers were gearing up for the silly season and a yearly dose of blockbuster cinema, and June would offer a peek at the kind of big-budget extravaganzas that lay ahead with mainstream schlock peddler Paul Verhoeven’s ultra-violent Arnie vehicle Total Recall.
It is perhaps ironic that Verhoeven began his career as a serious, low-budget director in his native Netherlands, working with Blade Runner icon Rutger Hauer and bagging himself an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film with 1973‘s Turkish Delight, a movie shot by future Speed director Jan de Bont. Adding further irony was the fact that the similarly serious David Cronenberg was once tied to the effects-heavy, Phillip K. Dick adaptation also known as We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, a project that would remain in production limbo for some time.
Cronenberg would work on the screenplay for a year with Alien writers Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, a duo he felt had no idea what to do with their recently purchased property. During his time on the project, Cronenberg would deliver something much closer to the source material and felt things were going just fine until Shusett informed him that they were instead looking for “Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars”, one of many conflicting moments that ultimately led to him ditching the project.
Having smashed the mainstream with bloodthirsty, sci-fi satire Robocop, Verhoeven was eventually brought on board to direct, resulting in a similarly OTT gruefest, which though tapping into the kind of satire synonymous with Dick, favoured brawn over brains. In the realms of mindless, Hollywood entertainment that’s not a bad thing, and Verhoeven’s films would continue to reap the accolades, Total Recall receiving two Academy Award nominations for Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing, while also being honoured with an Academy Special Achievement Award for the movie’s groundbreaking special effects.
Though Cronenberg would go uncredited, many of the mutant characters on display were his, most notably body horror poster boy Kuato, a sentient, Siamese twin who was the embodiment of Dick’s fascination with telepathy (the writer’s twin sister died shortly after birth). With a gross of $261,400,000, Total Recall would dwarf its nearest June competitor by just short of $100,000,000.
Fresh off the heels of Beverly Hills Cop superstardom, controversial Hollywood a-lister Eddie Murphy would return to his buddy cop roots for 48 Hrs. sequel Another 48 Hrs. alongside Nick Nolte, with cult director Walter Hill back on board to direct.
This time, our racially-motivated odd couple would reunite to take on a San Francisco drug lord known as The Iceman (Blade Runner‘s Brion James) in what many, including Hill, feared would be a much softer film than the first, owing to the success of Axel Foley. It was in fact Murphy who wrote and pitched the story to Hill, one that the director was happy to make and which ultimately eclipsed its predecessor at the box office with a cumulative worldwide gross of approximately $152,000,000.
Though softer may have been the wrong word, Hill’s fears were later realised when the movie was subjected to numerous cuts by Paramount as the release date approached, editing what was originally a 145-minute movie to a much safer 95 minutes, a gross slimming-down that would leave huge chasms in the plot. On his decision to return to the story, Hill would explain, “the plot – which Eddie suggested – is actually kind of intriguing. So why not do it?… A lot of folks will say I’m just doing it for the money. What I want to know is, why do they think I made the first one?”
As for Murphy, his rising stock would see him demand a fee of $12,000,000 up front, as well as a rather healthy percentage of the film’s gross — quite the pay hike compared with the $200,000 dollars he was paid to star in the first movie. Murphy would later accuse Paramount of skimping on advertising, a suggestion that would lead to tension between the two parties. Paramount would of course refute Murphy’s claims.
The second biggest box office earner in June came in the form of Warren Beatty’s visually unique comic book crime caper Dick Tracy. Beatty’s second feature as director would benefit from a veritable who’s who cast that included Beatty himself as the eponymous Tracy, Al Pacino as funny-faced crime lord Alphonse “Big Boy” Caprice, Dustin Hoffman as vocally challenged henchman Mumbles and controversial pop sensation Madonna as noir dame Breathless Mahoney, the sole witness to a Caprice-led crime spree.
Beatty had been toying with a big screen adaptation for fifteen years to varying degrees in a project that was surprisingly difficult to get off the ground, a protracted period that would see the likes of Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Tom Selleck and Mel Gibson considered for the role, with John Llandis, Walter Hill and even Martin Scorsese pegged as potential directors. Llandis would come closest until an accidental death on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie forced him to step down. Robert De Niro was also considered for the part of ‘Big Boy’.
An incredible 53 interior and 25 exterior sets were constructed at Universal Studios in order to create the movie’s rich and colourful, comic book aesthetic, Beatty restricting the palette to just seven colours, while prosthetic makeup designers John Caglione, Jr. and Doug Drexler, and costume designer Milena Canonero stayed as loyal to cartoonist Chester Gould’s inimitable vision as possible, giving audiences a 1930s grotesquery of malformed crooks.
Disney’s high-concept promotion for the movie — which included Madonna’s 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour — would follow in the footsteps of Tim Burton’s 1989 blockbuster Batman, with Danny Elfman even brought in as composer. Though the movie was inevitably short in storytelling, Dick Tracy’s innovative aesthetics and use of matte paintings impressed critics across the board, leading Roger Ebert to proclaim, “Dick Tracy is one of the most original and visionary fantasies I’ve seen on a screen.”
High praise indeed!
Fairing surprisingly less well was June 15 release Gremlins 2: The New Batch. With Joe Dante once again at the helm, this sequel would take a more family-friendly approach to the material, enlisting flavour-of-the-month celebrities such as the then World Wrestling Federation champion Hulk Hogan as the studio flogged their cutesy protagonist Gizmo to the tween demographic.
Back in the mid-80s’, the Stephen Spielberg produced Christmas creature feature Gremlins would cause quite the stir with outraged parents concerned about the supposed family movie’s emphasis on horror, and a gang of ruthless critters who took great joy in hanging the Peltzer family dog from some Christmas lights and sending a frail old lady careening through an upstairs window courtesy of a suped-up stair lift — though the latter fully deserved her ignominious fate thanks to a Dickensian tour de force of cruelty from actress Polly Holiday.
Juxtaposing a traditional, wholesome Christmas setting with a dose of deliciously dark humour, Gremlins rode such a thin line between comedy and horror that, along with Spielberg’s similarly dark Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the film contributed to the Motion Picture Association of America’s newly founded PG-13 rating.
Dante, who was reluctant about being involved with a project that he saw as simply a money venture, would later call Gremlins 2: The New Batch “one of the more unconventional studio pictures, ever,” one engineered by the director to include material that Warner Brothers may not have greenlighted had it not been for their desire to produce the money-spinning sequel that Dante had initially been less than receptive to.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch would make less than a third of its predecessor, failing to break even after the commercial dust had settled, with a paltry gross of $41,482,207 from an estimated $50,000,000 budget. The sixth most popular of eight theatrical releases in June, the movie would go down as a spectacular misfire and was trailed only by Bill Cosby’s ludicrous, supernatural comedy Ghost Dad ($23,007,150) and low-key, romantic comedy Betsy’s Wedding (19,740,070).
Another sequel that failed to live-up to its predecessor financially was The Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner’s Robocop 2, though a not disastrous profit margin of around $10,000,000 dollars would help soften the blow. Still, for a character of Robo’s potential, producers must have been left somewhat nonplussed by their inability to capitalise at the box office, though a cartoon spin-off and wholly inappropriate toy range would help to boost the coffers.
Robocop 2 retained the violence of the original movie, cheapening the satire with an often ludicrous comic book affair involving a gang of murderous, preteen drug pushers and a series of Robo replacement prototypes after a rogue OCP executive accidentally unleashes a murderous, drug-addicted droid on the citizens of old Detroit, a community ravaged by designer drug ‘Nuke’.
Starring Manhunter‘s Tom Noonan as the deliciously deranged Cain, Robocop 2 suffers from a plethora of half-baked ideas, each delivered with the frenzied fervour of a Nuke addict leaping from one killing spree to the next, but in spite of its many flaws the movie is rather enjoyable as a silly slice of kitsch entertainment, and with advertisements for products such as Sunblock 2000 — a sun cream that promises to give you skin cancer — Kershner’s Dayglo social satire is definitely worth a look.
Three years later, the series would further pander to the peewee demographic with cultural marketing misfire Robocop 3, sacrificing the essence of the character and all but killing the franchise. Not that the 2014 reboot fared any better creatively.
June 27 would mark the release of a fourth huge blockbuster in as many weeks with Tony Scott’s Tom Cruise vehicle Days of Thunder. Produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, the movie would reunite the Top Gun team for another high-octane outing which saw Cruise’s sports car driver Cole Trickle reach for NASCAR glory amidst the usual romance.
The movie is perhaps most famous for introducing Cruise to future wife Nicole Kidman, the two spending more than a decade together and adopting two children before ultimately parting ways. On her time spent with Cruise, Kidman would tell People Magazine, “I was so young when I got married. I had two kids by the time I was 27, and I’d been married for four years. But that’s what I wanted. I was so young. There is something about that sort of existence that, if you really focus on each other and you’re in that bubble, it’s very intoxicating, because it’s just the two of you. And there is only one other person that’s going through it. It brings you very close, and it’s deeply romantic.”
Running three months longer than originally planned, the expected budget would almost triple, the movie’s decadent producers spending an incredible $400,000 to convert a vacant storefront into a private gym and even handing out Donna Karan dresses to attractive women they would later invite to lavish parties. As a result, the movie would have to make more than $100,000,000 to break even by the time they were through— a rare gross back in 1990.
Fortunately, the movie smashed all expectations, raking in a whopping $157,670,733, making Days of Thunder the third highest-grossing movie released in June.
Only in Hollywood, baby.
US Box Office Charts for June
||Total Gross / Opening|
|2||Dick Tracy||Buena Vista||$103,738,726||$22,543,911|
|3||Days of Thunder||Paramount||$82,670,733||$15,490,445|
|4||Another 48 Hrs.||Paramount||$80,818,974||$19,475,559|
Top Video Rentals
It had been more than a decade since John Travolta had starred in a hit movie by the time 1989 rolled around, but one movie would change all that — at least temporarily. Surprise smash Grease had proven something of a death knell for the actor commercially, a testament to the movie’s popularity, and with Pulp Fiction still four years away it was left to comedy writer/director Amy Heckerling to dredge his dance-weary corpse out of the creative mire.
At that point, Heckerling was best known for racy teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High and subsequent sitcom spin-off Fast Times, also landing the underwhelming Chevy Chase sequel National Lampoon’s European Vacation, and would once again crack the teenage comedy nut with Clueless a decade later, but it was the Look Who’s Talking series that proved her sweetest cherry, the original instalment becoming the fourth highest grossing feature of 1989.
Co-starring Cheers favourite Kirstie Alley and a red-hot Bruce Willis (here pulling voice-over duties as the movie’s peewee protagonist), Look Who’s Talking would chronicle the life and times of a fatherless baby coming to terms with the quirky idiosyncrasies of modern relationships via Willis’ narration. Yes, that’s right, a baby who is yet unable to speak somehow manages to project well developed thoughts and opinions with a dash of John McClane everyman irony. Sounds like a nightmare, right?
Well — and I’m not saying that I’ll be reaching for the Blu-Ray anytime soon, provided there is one — it’s actually not all that bad. In fact, for the most part it’s rather charming, and rental junkies seemed to agree, Look Who’s Talking spending three of the four weeks of June glued to the top spot. This is even more impressive when you consider the profile of the movie that replaced it. In fact, Look Who’s Talking may have continued to dominate if it were not for the return of a rather special, custom-made DeLorean and the wacky time travel adventures of two cultural icons.
That’s right, June would also play host to the VHS release of one Back to the Future Part II, which would end the month as the king of rentals having entered the charts on June 9th. When Doctor Emmett Brown uttered the immortal line, “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads,” fans of the first movie shit a brick. They had waited almost five years for a sequel and when it finally arrived they were not disappointed. While the first movie’s title was somewhat misleading by including the word ‘Future’, this time we were promised exactly that, travelling to a 2015 that was cleverly decorated with a sense of ’80s nostalgia that is now very familiar.
Granted, the movie was something of a frenzy plot-wise, but Back to the Future Part II was also the most ambitious of the three movies, giving us a series of alternate realities and even sending our heroes back to the 1950s, where they were forced to avoid their alternate selves, resulting in some quite astonishing editing techniques for the time. The movie was famously shot simultaneously with wild west adventure and franchise finale Back to the Future Part III, which may go some way to explaining the film’s cavalier structure, but when your lead characters are a skid-through-life Marty McFly and a zany, wild-eyed inventor it fits the bill rather nicely. The movie also treated us to the very best incarnation of perennial McFly scourge Biff Tannen as an uber-waelthy, Trump-esque millionaire.
Sadly, Fox was already noticing signs of the debilitating disease that would all but derail his career as a mainstream Hollywood heartthrob, but the Back to the Future trilogy would immortalise an actor who charmed the pants off moviegoers the world over throughout the 1980s and early ’90s, with a series of relatable, energetic performances in movies such as Teen Wolf, The Secret of My Success and The Hard Way.
Snapping at the heels of the month’s big rental winners were Ridley Scott’s violent action thriller Black Rain and Harold Becker’s Pacino-led, neo-noir thriller Sea of Love. Co-starring Ellen Barkin as a possible femme fatale tied to a series of murders under investigation by Pacino’s New York City detective, Sea of Love would smash all expectations at the box office a year prior with a gross of over $110,000,000, and renters were clamouring for a second viewing come June 1990.
A polished genre film featuring a plethora of acting talent including the super talented John Goodman, the movie would receive mostly positive reviews, though a left-field twist was enough to leave a bad taste in the mouth for some, as was the experience of making the movie for Barkin, who would put in a wonderful shift as the aptly named Helen Cuger. Speaking of her time shooting Sea of Love, the actress would tell avclub, “I did not enjoy making the movie Sea Of Love, but Al Pacino, on the other hand, was my savior. And that was a wonderful thing. Just the fact that everything about Sea Of Love was wrong, except there I had, arguably, one of the great American actors as my fierce, fearsome protector, and that felt amazing to me and gave me a level of confidence that I certainly never would have had without him.”
Say hello to her little friend!
The production of Black Rain would prove just as uncomfortable for Alien Director Ridley Scott, who after shooting in Japan for five months between November 1988 March 1989 would publicly declare that he would never again film there, and was ultimately forced to leave the country to shoot the film’s climactic scenes in Napa Valley, California. On a brighter note, Black Rain would mark the first collaboration between Scott and long-time go-to composer Hans Zimmer, the two working together on colossal productions such as Gladiator, a movie nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Music Score in 2001.
The tale of two New York City cops charged with escorting an extradited Yakuza member to Japan, Black Rain would co-star a young Andy Garcia and would suffer something of a Blade Runner hangover aesthetically, Michael Douglas putting in a typically dependable performance as the movie’s bike riding bad ass in an oppressively violent outing that features a rather memorable and wholly unexpected beheading. Though nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing, the movie would receive middling reviews, but as an ode to ’80s opulence it is somewhat hard to resist — at least for this viewer.
Back when Disney movies were only released on VHS for a limited period in order to boost sales, The Little Mermaid would find its way into the upper echelons of the rental charts in June, a movie that marked the beginning of the ‘Disney Renaissance’ following a slew of uninspired animation releases during the 1980s. Though not as polished as subsequent releases Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, Ariel’s underwater adventures would rekindle our love affair with all things Walt Disney, thanks to a profusion of memorable characters and songs, including Caribbean crab Sebastian’s reggae ditty about the wonders of life ‘under the sea’.
The tale of a mermaid princess who dreams of leaving the depths of the ocean for human life on land (be careful what you wish for), the movie would benefit from increased financing and resources as Disney looked to rediscover the magic of the glory days, until 1995‘s computer animated masterwork Toy Story changed the entire animation landscape, leading to a slew of modernity-based lay-offs as the format continued to develop and making a generation of talented artists obsolete. The movie would also adopt the process of filming live actors for motion reference material for the first time in years, something that was regularly done under the guidance of Walt Disney himself.
The Little Mermaid, which would reach a rental charts high of 4 in the final week of June, won two Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. For many, it would mark the beginning of what would become referred to as Disney’s second Golden Age.
A more unconventional hit arrived in rental stores in the form of Steven Soderbergh’s Palme d’Or winning drama Sex, Lies and Videotape, a movie that would revolutionise independent filmmaking for the 1990s and was later added to the United States Library of Congress’ National Film Registry for its cultural, historical and aesthetic significance, also bagging an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
The movie stars Peter Gallagher and Andy McDowell as a married couple experiencing sexual problems, the kind that leads Gallagher’s John Mullany to have an affair with his wife’s sister. He of course blames this on her frigidity, until an old college chum named Graham Dalton (James Spader) moves in with the couple and introduces McDowell’s Ann to the joys of filming the act. Home video cameras were becoming commonplace at the turn of the ’90s, threatening the kind of caught-in-the-act consequences that were previously unimaginable, techno fears that Soderbergh would smartly tap into.
Though the film’s salacious title is somewhat at odds with its content, it would cause quite the stir upon release and would begin a trend that saw Hollywood producers scouting the indies for fresh talent. Soderbergh would later describe Sex, Lies and Videotape as, “the only movie I’ve ever made where I felt like I had all the money and all the time I needed.” Made on a minuscule $1,200,000, the film would gross an incredible $100,000,000 worldwide, charting as high as 5 in the rental charts for June.
It has not escaped my notice that June 1990 featured a severe lack of horror, but genre fans could at least take solace in a lower entry rental that came somewhere out of left field. The 1990s proved a notoriously barren period for horror following an ’80s boom that led to widespread censorship in the US and UK and a collection of 72 banned movies known as the ‘video nasties‘. This led to a serious dumbing down and eventual neglect of the genre at large, but one welcome horror release came in the form of an unlikely sequel courtesy of schlock maestro Frank Henenlotter named Basket Case 2.
Possessing the uncanny ability to bring depth to low-budget, exploitation flicks, Henenlotter would produce a series of cult B-movies during the 1980s, including grungy classic Basket Case, addiction satire Brain Damage and the deliciously insane Frankenhooker, a movie which has comedy legend Bill Murray among its admirers. But for all the exploding hookers and parasitic aliens, it was Siamese blob Basket Case who proved the most enduring character; a separated-at-birth monstrosity with a penchant for molestation and violent acts of murder who somehow managed to garner audience sympathy (presumably I’m not alone here).
In spite of benefiting from improved make-up and special effects, the movie is tame when compared with the original, something not unexpected in the neutered realms of late-80s horror, and though events are suitably ludicrous and rarely boring, it just doesn’t possess the same degree of grime that made Basket Case so strangely compelling. For those with a taste for Henenlotter’s sour banquets of colourful depravity, there is still much to enjoy here, and for those who are unfamiliar with his work, who wouldn’t want to see a movie about a gelatinous maniac in a basket?
Millions of you, I’m sure.
Video Rental Charts Week Ending June 9th
|1||Look Who’s Talking||Tri-Star||1989||PG-13|
|2||Sea of Love||MCA/Universal||1989||R|
|4||Dead Poets Society||Touchstone||1989||PG|
|5||Sex, Lies & Videotape||Outlaw||1989||R|
Video Rental Charts Week Ending June 16th
|1||Look Who’s Talking||Tri-Star||1989||PG-13|
|2||Sea of Love||MCA/Universal||1989||R|
|4||Dead Poets Society||Touchstone||1989||PG|
|5||NL’s Xmas Vacation||Warner Bros||1989||PG-13|
Video Rental Charts Week Ending June 23rd
|1||Look Who’s Talking||Tri-Star||1989||PG-13|
|2||Back to the Future II||MCA/Universal||1989||PG|
|4||Sea of Love||MCA/Universal||1989||R|
|5||The Little Mermaid||Walt Disney||1989||G|
Video Rental Charts Week Ending June 30th
|1||Back to the Future II||MCA/Universal||1989||PG|
|2||The Fabulous Baker Boys||IVE||1989||R|
|3||Look Who’s Talking||Tri-Star||1989||PG-13|
|4||The Little Mermaid||Walt Disney||1989||G|