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Making Movie History – A Look Back At 1989

(Images via Warner Bros., Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros., and Orion Pictures/Nelson Entertainment)

Months ago we covered 1984 in film, widely considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, year in film.  But in looking at the films that came out just five years later, 1989 might be on par with, if not superior to, 1984.  While 1984 had amazing and iconic films that defined the decade, 1989 had several sequels to those iconic films as well as its own original titles that could still be #1 at the box office 25 years later.  As usual, we’ve included a synopsis for each film in the event you’re cinematically sheltered and aren’t familiar with these movies.

Making Movie History - A Look Back At 1984

Making Movie History - A Look Back At 1994


 
 

Synopsis:  In the 27th century, humanity lives in a utopian society thanks to the music and wisdom of the "Two Great Ones", Bill and Ted.  However, in 1988, Bill and Ted are in danger of flunking out of school, resulting in Ted being shipped off to a military school and the break up of their band, Wyld Stallyns.  To assure humanity's future, Rufus is sent back to 1988 to give Bill and Ted a time-traveling phone booth to research for their history presentation and pass the course.  But instead of studying history, Bill and Ted decide to collect historical figures like Billy the Kid and Joan of Ark and bring them back to 1988 to speak at their presentation.

Legacy:  Though a modest financial success making $40 million at the box office, it was still four times the budget of the film.  The movie also received critical acclaim and became a cult classic when it was released on home video.  The film's release was followed by a cartoon, a short-lived live-action series, a few video games, and a successful 1991 sequel, 'Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey.'  Recently, Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter have spoken of plans to bring Bill and Ted to the big screen again, showing the duo at the height of their super-stardom and working to make the one epic song that will unite the world.

 

'Major League'

April 7, 1989
 
 

Synopsis:  Former Las Vegas Showgirl Rachel Phelps inherits the Cleveland Indians from her late husband, but she despises Cleveland.  Due to a clause in the team's contract with the city, Phelps is able to move the team to Miami if attendance drops too low over the course of the season.  To accomplish this, Phelps plans to put together a team of misfits who will likely lose.  Unfortunately for Phelps, the team is able to not only come together and work as a unit, but might actually win the big one.

Legacy:  Now considered a "whose who" cast, 'Major League' brought Rene Russo and Wesley Snipes to mainstream audiences, gave Dennis Haysbert his most famous role until he starred in '24' as President Palmer, and made Charlie Sheen a viable comedic star.  A financial and critical success, its two sequels both received increasingly negative responses, with the third film, 'Major League: Back to the Minors', only earning back $3.5 million of its $46 million budget.  A fourth film has been rumored, reuniting the original cast and focusing on Sheen's character coming out of retirement to work with a young pitcher.

 

'Road House'

May 19, 1989
 
 

Synopsis:  James Dalton is a well-known bar cooler (specialized bouncer) with a dark past working in New York.  Dalton is enticed away to a bar in Missouri, helping the owner turn it from a rough and violent bar to a respectable establishment.  While changing the bar's image and pursuing a pretty doctor, Dalton gains the attention of local business kingpin Brad Wesley, a man who has most of the city in his back pocket, whether they want to be or not.  Dalton has to make the decision to either stay and fight for the town, or leave and save his own life.

Legacy 'Road House' was a critical failure, earning several Razzie nominations.  Though a critical disappointment, it gained a large cult following and not only became the perfect example of a film that's so bad its good, but also became one of the most iconic films of the 1980s.  There was a 2006 straight-to-DVD sequel that had nothing to do with the original apart from the lead character being Dalton's son.  There was a 2003 off-Broadway musical, a campy rendition of the film called 'Road House: The Stage Version Of The Cinema Classic That Starred Patrick Swayze, Except This One Stars Taimak From The 80’s Cult Classic 'The Last Dragon' Wearing A Blonde Mullet Wig.'

 

'Dead Poets Society'

June 9, 1989
 
 

Synopsis:  John Keating is a former student at Welton Academy prep school, returning as the English teacher.  His methods are fresh, inspire the students, but rub the faculty and parents the wrong way.  Keating instructs his students to tear out the introductory chapter of their text book that says you can mathematically determine the quality of poetry, he has his students call him "Oh Captain, My Captain!", and encourages them to look at life in a new way and seize the day, "Carpe Diem."  Looking into Keating's history, his students discover and decide to bring back Keating's old club, the Dead Poets Society.  The students begin to embrace life in new ways, but it comes to a head with they start to go against the wishes of their parents and the school.

Legacy 'Dead Poets Society' was met with critical acclaim, and earned $235 million at the box office with a budget of $16 million.  While some, like Roger Ebert, criticized Robin Williams for playing drama while throwing in his occasional zany comedy, Williams' performance received great praise and he was honored with his second Academy Award nomination.  The film also regularly shows up on lists of most inspiring films of all time, and the line, "Carpe diem.  Seize the day, boys.  Make your lives extraordinary," was named by the AFI as one of the 100 greatest movies lines of all time.

 
 

Synopsis:  After recovering a cross 26 years after he first found it as a boy scout, Dr. Henry Jones Jr. (Indiana Jones) is approached by Walter Donavan, an associate of Henry Jones Sr., informing Indy that his father went missing while searching for the Holy Grail due only having half of an inscription to guide him.  Indy then receives his father's Grail journal in the mail, and understanding that his father would only send it to him if he were in trouble, decides to follow his father's footsteps to rescue him.  On his search for his father and the grail, Indy must not only watch out for Nazis who wish to use the power of the grail, but also a secret society who wish to protect the grail at all costs.

Legacy 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade', though better received than its processor, 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom', was still met with mixed reviews.  Harrison Ford's chemistry with Sean Connery was considered the highlight of the film, and River Phoenix as the 13-year-old Henry Jr. received praise.  In fact, while it was 19 years until another adventure for adult Indiana Jones, the positive reception to the film's prologue resulted in a television series and book series focusing on the young Indiana Jones.  The film also broke box office records, becoming the first film to make more than $10 million on its first day, and had the best six-day performance at the time, finishing its box office run just short of half-a-billion dollars.

 
 

Synopsis:  Set shortly after the events of 'Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home', the crew of the Enterprise is on shore leave while Scotty attempts to fix the multitude of problems with their band new ship.  A few worlds away, representatives from the Federation, Romulan Empire, and Klingon Empire are kidnapped by a rogue Vulcan, Sybok, who abandoned his people's beliefs and embraces his emotions.  Though in shambles, the Enterprise is the only ship in range to respond.  After encountering Sybok, and discovering him to be Spock's half-brother, the Enterprise is captured by Sybok who intends to use it to travel beyond the Great Barrier and find the origin of life in the galaxy.

Legacy:  After Leonard Nimoy received praise for directing the previous two films, William Shatner took the director's chair for part five.  Unfortunately for Shatner, a writers strike happened during production, resulting in a poor script.  However, the script wasn't the only thing criticized in the film, with terrible special effects and acting receiving a lot of critical and fan outrage.  The film was nominated for 7 Golden Raspberry Awards, winning for Worst Picture and Shatner winning for Worst Actor and Worst Director.  'The Final Frontier' was arguably the worst fan received Star Trek film until 'Star Trek Into Darkness'. Though a financial success in doubling its budget at the box office, it still fell $140 million short of its original estimates.

 

'Ghostbusters II'

June 16, 1989
 
 

Synopsis:  Five years after the first film, the Ghostbusters are out of business, being legally prohibited from acting as paranormal investigators after being sued for damages from their battle with Gozer.  The team help Dana when her infant son's stroller mysteriously rolls away and stops in the middle of a busy street, but are arrested and put on trial for violating the restraining order.  After fighting ghosts in the courtroom, the restraining order is overturned and the Ghostbusters return to business.  Coming up on New Years Eve, the Ghostbusters are investigating a surge of pink slime which leads them to the museum where Dana works and is home to a possessed portrait of Vigo, who wants to take over Dana's son's body and return to life.

Legacy 'Ghostbusters II' received mixed reviews from critics, complaining that it followed the same beats as the original film and did nothing new.  Even star Bill Murray expressed his distaste for the film, and has refused to consider returning for a third film ever since.  Aspects of the film, including the pink slime and the character of Louis Tully, were adopted by the highly successful cartoon, 'The Real Ghostbusters'.  Though making $215 million at the box office and breaking the record for biggest 3-day opening, the film performed below Columbia Pictures' expectations and was written off as a failure.

 

'UHF'

July 21, 1989
 
 

Synopsis:  George Newman is a daydreamer whose over-active imagination makes it difficult to hold a steady job.  His uncle wins a small television station, UHF 62, in a poker game, and at the suggestion of his wife, puts George in charge.  While initially finding the station to be a dead end, George's imagination leads to terrific program ideas, making channel 62 the number one station in the city.  This gains George the attention of the owner of the network affiliate who decides to take measures to eliminate channel 62 and reclaim the top spot.

Legacy:  Orion Pictures had high hopes for 'UHF', which had the best preview screening scores in the history of Orion.  Unfortunately, the film was met with mixed reviews and came out in the middle of blockbusters like 'Batman', 'Ghostbusters II', 'Lethal Weapon II', and others, damaging the audience numbers for 'UHF' so much that it was out of theaters within a month.  The failure of the film sent Weird Al into a creative slump for a few years until he hit his stride again with his parody of Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit''UHF' found its success on home video, becoming a cult classic and highly sought after VHS when it quickly went out of print, being sold for $100 or more.  It was finally released on DVD in 2002 and immediately became a Top 10 seller.  A 25th Anniversary Blu Ray and DVD will be released in November.

 

'Batman'

June 23, 1989
 
 

Synopsis:  Bruce Wayne spends his days as his public persona of a billionaire philanthropist, and his nights as a costumed vigilante known as "The Batman", gaining the attention of local reporter Alexander Knox and renowned photographer Vicki Vale.  Mobster Jack Napier is sent to one of his boss' business fronts, a chemical factory, to clear the place out, but Jack is set up to be caught by the police.  After encountering the police and Batman, Jack falls into a vat of chemicals and comes out with his skin stained white and his hair green, adopting the new name "The Joker".  The Joker takes over the mob and hatches a plan to kill as many citizens of Gotham as he can, while Batman discovers a link to the Joker and his parents' murder, the event that lead his life to becoming Batman.

Legacy'Batman' was met with critical acclaim and financial success, breaking the highest three-day opening set by 'Ghostbusters II' the previous week.  Response from comic fans were mixed, criticizing the decision to make the Joker the killer of Bruce's parents and Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the batcave.  The casting of Michael Keaton was originally criticized for his comedic history, but his performance was praised and considered the defining cinematic Batman until Christian Bale.  The tone and success of 'Batman' not only lead to the creation of 'Batman: The Animated Series', but also set the tone for modern comic book movies.

 
 
 

Synopsis:  Wayne Szalinski is a crack-pot inventor who has been working on a shrink ray in his attic.  Much to Wayne's dismay, the ray only causes things to explode.  While out for the day, one of his neighbors' sons, Ron, hits a baseball through the attic window and activates the ray and blocks one of the lasers.  While Wayne's son Nick and Ron go to retrieve the ball, the ray activates and shrinks them.  Wayne's daughter Amy and Ron's brother Russ go to look for their brothers and end up getting shrunk too.  After being swept up and thrown out with the trash, the four kids need to cross the now massive back yard, facing off against monsterous insects and scorpions to get back to the house.

Legacy:  Not expected to be a hit, 'Honey, I Shrunk The Kids' ended up becoming a box-office smash and the highest grossing live-action Disney film to date.  It was praised for its visuals and set design for the large-scale backyard.  It spawned two sequels of declining quality and reception, a television series that lasted for three years, and 3-D experience at Disney parks.

 

'Do The Right Thing'

June 30, 1989
 
 

Synopsis:  Mookie lives in the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn and works for Sal's pizzeria delivering pizzas.  It is one of the hottest days on record, causing tensions to run high in the neighborhood.  Mookie is criticized by his sister and girlfriend for not having aspirations, Sal's oldest son is racist and hates that their pizzeria is in a predominately African-American neighborhood, and Buggin' Out and Radio Raheem threaten to protest the pizzeria because Sal, a proud Italian-American, doesn't feature any African-Americans on his Wall of Fame.  Tensions boil over at the close of the day, resulting in a riot and deaths in the neighborhood.

Legacy:  A resounding critical success, 'Do The Right Thing' was nominated for two Oscars, Best Supporting Actor for Danny Aiello as Sal and Best Writing for Spike Lee.  The film was controversial, accused of potentially inciting racial tension and violence among black audiences.  Lee openly spoke out against such critics for thinking black audiences couldn't restrain themselves watching a fictional movie.  Ten years after its release it was selected for preservation by the U.S. Library of Congress in the National Film Registry for being culturally significant, only one of five films to be selected in its first year of eligibility.

 

'Lethal Weapon 2'

July 7, 1989
 
 

Synopsis:  Detectives Riggs and Murtaugh are in a high-speed chase that ends with the suspects vanishing, but Riggs and Murtaugh discovering an illegal shipment of gold kugerrands in the trunk.  With this discovery, the South African consulate, who are responsible for the kugerrands, attempt to scare Riggs and Murtaugh off the case by breaking into Murtaugh's house and threatening his family.  Riggs and Murtaugh are reassigned to protective custody of a federal witness, Leo Getz, but refuse to let the South African case go.  After discovering that Leo laundered money for the consulate, they go deeper into the case which brings Riggs back to dealing with his wife's death.

Legacy 'Lethal Weapon 2' was well received by critics, but not as well as the original, being criticized for following basic sequel points and not being very original.  However, it was a huge financial success, being the 3rd highest grossing film domestically, behind 'Batman' and 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade', allowing two more films to be made in 1992 and 1998.  Stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, as well as director Richard Donner have all cited this movie as their favorite of the franchise.

 

'Licence To Kill'

July 14, 1989
 
 

Synopsis:  James Bond is taking a leave of duty to be in his friend's wedding, DEA agent Felix Leiter.  On the way to the wedding, Bond and Leiter join DEA agents to bring down drug kingpin Sanchez.  After bribing an agent to assist in his escape, Sanchez kills Leiter's new wife and feeds Leiter to a shark.  Bond discovers the Leiters, with Felix barely alive.  Disobeying orders, Bond goes rogue and resigns from MI6 to get his revenge on Sanchez.  Trailing him to Isthmus City, Bond infiltrates Sanchez's organization, having been undetected for his role in Sanchez's capture.  Bond then manipulates Sanchez's organization from within, breaking down Sanchez's operation before taking down Sanchez himself.

Legacy:  The film failed to perform at the box office, much like 'UHF' due to competing with other blockbuster films.  The failure at the box office was also attributed to delays in release due to American confusion over the original title, 'Licence Revoked', as well as poor promotion from MGM who rejected several ad campaigns for the film.  Critics slammed the film for being too dark in tone compared to the previous films, though in hindsight Timothy Dalton has been praised for portraying a more hard-edged Bond, similar to the literary character.  The failure of the film resulted in the franchise coming to a grinding halt, and a six year gap until the next Bond film, 'Goldeneye' in 1995.

 

'Back to the Future part II'

November 22, 1989
 
 

Synopsis:  Starting immediately where the first left off, Marty and his girlfriend Jennifer are picked up by Doc Brown and taken to the year 2015 to prevent Marty and Jennifer's children from going to jail.  While in the future, Marty purchases an almanac of sporting events through the end of the 20th century with the plan of making bets when he gets back to 1985.  Doc disproves and disposes of the almanac, but not before an elderly Biff Tannen overhears Marty's plan and takes the almanac and time machine.  Returning to 1985, Marty and Doc find Hill Valley a dark version of their home, ruled over by a rich Biff who made millions betting with the sports almanac his older self gave him in 1955.  Marty and Doc return to 1955 to stop Biff from getting the almanac and restore their timeline.

Legacy 'Back to the Future part II' was a financial and critical success, becoming the third highest grossing film of 1989 worldwide.  It was criticized for not being able to recapture the tone and magic of the original film, but was praised for its story intertwining with the original film and setting up the third film which was being filmed at the same time.  Director Robert Zemeckis received controversy for jokingly stating the hoverboards were a real technology, and for making another actor look like Crispin Glover, who decided not to return as George McFly.  Glover sued for the use of his likeness on another actor and the Screen Actors Guild instated rules against such uses of likeness as a result.

 
 

Synopsis:  After rough vacations to Wally World and Europe, Clark Griswold has decided to stay home for Christmas and have an old-fashioned family Christmas.  Things quickly spiral out of control for Clark when both his parents and his in-laws decide to come for the holiday, and his wife's redneck cousin and her husband Eddie surprise the family by showing up in their RV with their children and dog.  With issues getting the Christmas lights up, a packed house, and his snobby neighbors, Clark gets through it focusing on the surprise he has planned for his family, a pool.  Clark is worried though as he's already paid the down-payment on the installation, but will only have enough money to cover it with his Christmas bonus, which hasn't arrived yet.  Everything reaches a breaking point on Christmas Eve, resulting in a destroyed Christmas tree and kidnapping.

Legacy:  Met good reviews upon release, it had to take a back seat to 'Back to the Future part II' at the box office for a few weeks, finally hitting #1 in its third week and staying there for two weeks.  It was followed by one more film in the official Vacation series, 'Vegas Vacation', and pseudo-sequel 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2', following Cousin Eddie's family on a tropical vacation and being stranded on a deserted island.  Since its release it has become a modern holiday classic like 'Home Alone' and 'A Christmas Story', and is regularly cited as the best Vacation movie since the original.

 

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