As the latest round of would-be blockbusters lines up at a theater near you, Popdose looks back at the box office totals of yesteryear. This week, we revisit the Top 10 films of July 23, 1990!
10. Total Recall
God bless Arnold Schwarzenegger. Other action stars build enough clout to make their passion projects, and they come up with dreary stuff like In Country or The Man Without a Face, but not Arnie — he used his Hollywood mojo to ram through an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. Total Recall languished in development hell for years before Schwarzenegger threw his muscle behind the project, an eventual $261 million hit that somehow also became a cult classic. The eventual remake will boast sleeker special effects, but there’s no way they’re going to find anyone who can bark “consider that a divorce” with that kind of authority.
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9. The Adventures of Ford Fairlane
In 1988, Andrew Dice Clay was one of the hottest comedians around; by 1990, he was Gallagher with a cigarette poking out of his mouth. Let us consider ourselves fortunate, then, that it took so long to deliver The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, a pompadoured turd of an action/comedy that surely would have been a hit if Hollywood had been a little quicker on the draw. Twenty years later, there are only two interesting things about this stupid movie — the fact that director Renny Harlin was in such high demand at the time that it shared the Top 10 with another of his films, Die Hard 2, and this video:
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8. Dick Tracy
Think about Dick Tracy, and what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Madonna’s soundtrack album? The garish color scheme of the posters? Warren Beatty in a yellow trenchcoat and fedora? Probably anything but the actual movie itself, which was always more of a manufactured pop culture event than a film. It took Beatty 15 years to get Dick Tracy made, and during that time, it passed through a Who’s Who of directors, including Spielberg, Landis, and Walter Hill — and to understand why they all abandoned the project, all you have to do is spend 20 minutes watching the garish final product. Winner of three sympathy Oscars, Tracy remains the comic adaptation with the most Academy Awards. Get your ass in gear, Christopher Nolan.
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7. Quick Change
He’d go on to make a few straight comedies after this (including the classic Groundhog Day), but Quick Change marks the spot where you can really start to tell Bill Murray was getting restless — and for me, it’s impossible not to wonder where his film career might have gone if this movie had been a hit. I mean, Murray not only starred in Quick Change, he co-directed it, and if the audiences of 1990 had responded to this dark, weird little gem, isn’t it easy to imagine him having enough dignity to say no to Larger Than Life, The Man Who Knew Too Little, or that Space Jam cameo?
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6. Days of Thunder
Early in its development, Days of Thunder went by the working title Top Run, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the motivations behind this greasy puff pastry of an action flick. This is Tom Cruise’s Road House moment, a movie so cheerfully stupid that it almost circles all the way back around to brilliant. The difference, though, is that Patrick Swayze seemed aware of his own self-parody, and Cruise approached the part of Cole Trickle with the same steely-eyed determination he gave Born on the 4th of July. On the other hand, the soundtrack does contain the hair metal seppuku-style death blow “The Last Note of Freedom,” performed by David Coverdale and co-written by Billy Idol.
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5. Navy Seals
Remember when films could express a political or cultural viewpoint without people losing their goddamn minds about it? If Navy SEALs came out today, it’d be criticized on the left for being jingoistic drivel, and on the right, spittle would fly as dittoheads issued death threats to any critic or commentator anti-American enough to point out its flaws. It’s almost (I said almost) enough to make you long for the days when some of us could still buy Charlie Sheen as a badass Navy lieutenant. Watching the trailer now, I’m not sure what makes me more depressed: thinking about the fulminating rage that passes for political discourse in 2010, or the barrel-scraping acting, dialogue, and cinematography.
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4. The Jungle Book
The next time you moan about the dearth of great choices for family filmgoers, think about this week in 1990, when anyone with young kids had two choices when it came to the movies: a reissue of a 23-year-old Disney feature, or Jetsons: The Movie. Taken in this context, it isn’t hard to understand how The Jungle Book edged out Navy SEALs for fourth place during SEALs‘ opening week. Harder to explain: the success of the live-action Jungle Book several years later. Or the existence of The Jungle Book 2.
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3. Die Hard 2
It had its share of pyrotechnics, but 1988’s Die Hard was noteworthy for the way it ramped up tension with quieter moments, as well as its skillful use of cramped spaces; the movie always felt real, even when Bruce Willis was dangling off the edge of a skyscraper — and his character, John McClane, was one of the more refreshingly human action heroes to come along in years. Problem was, Die Hard was also a movie built on a very large coincidence, so when it came time for the inevitable sequel, the studio had to choose between finding a compelling new direction for McClane or simply taking the original, sucking out its brain, and pumping it full of steroids. Enter Die Hard 2, the first step in McClane’s devolution from resourceful cop to superhero. It’s a halfway decent action flick, and it’s certainly Renny Harlin’s best movie, but it sent the franchise down an ever-louder, ever-dumber path, and that’s a real shame.
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The week’s highest debut, Arachnophobia launched Disney’s Hollywood Pictures subsidiary in style and gave Jeff Daniels the role he was born to play: Ross Jennings, small-town family doctor and full-on arachnophobe. Yes, it’s hampered somewhat by hokey special effects, but has any movie ever made more effective use of spiders’ inherent creepiness? There’s got to be an Arachnophobia remake lurking in some executive’s desk drawer.
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It made pottery sexy, brought the Righteous Brothers out of mothballs for the first time in decades, and made $500 million in 1990, which is the modern equivalent of, like, two and a half Avatars — and it’s also at or near the top of my personal list of Big Hit Movies Which I Am Proud of Never Having Seen. It contains a Vincent Shiavelli sighting, so I guess Ghost can’t be all bad, but between this and Pretty Woman, it’s hard not to conclude that Americans spent the year thinking some rather strange thoughts about the nature of love.
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Box-office rankings provided by Box Office Mojo.