As the latest round of would-be blockbusters packs ’em in at a theater near you, Popdose looks back at the box office totals of yesteryear. This week we revisit the top ten films of March 28, 1990!
10. Hard to Kill (distributor: Warner Bros.; release date: 2/9/90; final domestic gross: $47.4 million)
Los Angeles aikido instructor Steven Seagal was “discovered” in the mid-’80s by one of his students, superagent Michael Ovitz, who helped turn the soft-spoken, ponytailed martial artist and first-time actor into a movie star in 1988’s Above the Law, directed by Andrew Davis (The Fugitive). Seagal’s next four films, all of which have titles that double as predicates following the subject “Steven Seagal is…,” were box office successes: Hard to Kill and Marked for Death in 1990, Out for Justice in ’91, and, biggest of all, 1992’s Under Siege, also directed by Davis, which made roughly twice as much as the other three, thanks in no small part to Tommy Lee Jones’s scene-stealing turn as the film’s villain (no joke — Seagal literally has less screen time than Jones).
After Under Siege Seagal had enough clout to direct a film of his own, the eco-friendly 1994 action flick On Deadly Ground. It earned a little less than Out for Justice but had double the budget, while expensive follow-ups like Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995) and Fire Down Below (1997) also failed to recoup their costs. These days Seagal’s movies, lazily titled Out for a Kill, Driven to Kill, Urban Justice, Mercenary for Justice, etc., generally take the straight-to-video path of least resistance, but his cable-TV reality show, Steven Seagal: Lawman, which documents his work as a reserve sheriff’s deputy in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, has been a hit for A&E, and he’s even released a couple albums since 2005.
Kelly LeBrock, Seagal’s love interest in Hard to Kill — and, more famously, the object of desire in both The Woman in Red and Weird Science — was also his wife at the time of the film’s release. However, before they could tie the knot in ’87 Seagal had to annul his marriage to Adrienne La Russa, a soap opera actress he wed after leaving his first wife, Miyako Fujitani, even though their divorce hadn’t yet been finalized, making Seagal a bigamist. Hard to kill? Maybe. Hard to trust? You bet!
9. Born on the Fourth of July (Universal; 12/20/89; $70.0 million)
On Good Morning America last month, professional attention seeker Charlie Sheen came off like an overconfident job applicant padding his resumé when he told reporter Andrea Canning, “It’s, like, guys, IMDB right there — 62 movies and a ton of success. I mean, c’mon, bro, I won Best Picture at 20. I wasn’t even trying. I wasn’t even warm.” The film he’s referring to is Platoon, which did indeed win the 1986 Oscar for Best Picture, but it ain’t like Sheen directed the thing. Oliver Stone did, and won Best Director for his efforts. Three years later he won it again, this time for Born on the Fourth of July, starring Tom Cruise as Vietnam war veteran Ron Kovic, who cowrote the screenplay, based on his autobiography, with Stone.
After starring in both Platoon and Wall Street (1987) for Stone, Sheen was reportedly approached to play Kovic, only to find out from his brother, Emilio Estevez, that Stone had cast Cruise instead. But seriously, can you blame him? Sheen is the weakest link in Platoon and Wall Street; he may be the protagonist in both films, but Best Supporting Actor nominees Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe overshadow him in the former, and Best Actor winner Michael Douglas is a better scenery chewer in the latter. Maybe if he’d been trying — maybe if he’d been “warm,” bro — that wouldn’t have been the case, but it’s hard not to think that Sheen lost quite a few “cocky young upstart” roles to Cruise in the late ’80s. Top Gun, Cocktail, Rain Man — all easily Sheen-able. (Yeah, I know, he’s “winning” these days, but that hasn’t always been the case.) And before Cruise became interested in doing The Firm (1993) with Sydney Pollack, Sheen was rumored to be developing it with director John Badham (WarGames, Stakeout).
Sheen’s much more in his element in comedic roles — I happen to like Two and a Half Men when it’s not attempting to drain the earth’s remaining supply of T&A jokes and potty humor (don’t worry, folks, plenty more where that came from) — though the one he’s playing now, “Charlie Sheen,” isn’t as funny as he may have intended it to be. The other day I was reminded that many of Sheen’s recent interviews echo the dialogue in his 1990 action movie Navy SEALs (I’m guessing Cruise passed on this one, and for good reason), including “You gotta stick it out there and not be afraid to get it cut off. That’s what I always say.” And when Sheen’s character says, “I am so jacked up. I can feel it flowing through me, right through me,” the “it” he’s referring to, of course, is the drug known as Charlie Sheen.
8. Bad Influence (Triumph; 3/9/90; $12.6 million)
Rob Lowe and his brother, Chad, attended Santa Monica High School with Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez, as well as brothers Sean and Chris Penn, in the early ’80s, and together the six budding actors made short films using Charlie and Emilio’s movie camera, purchased for them by their father, Martin Sheen (born Ramón Estevez). A few years later Lowe bought a camera of his own and took a trip to Atlanta for the 1988 Democratic National Convention, where he made a video of himself, uh, canvassing two female voters in his hotel room, one of whom, unbeknownst to Lowe at the time, was only 16.
The press got its hands on a segment of the tape the following spring — the two girls allegedly stole the cassette from Lowe’s camera while he was in the bathroom — right as he was filming Bad Influence, a psychological thriller in which Lowe plays Alex, a dangerous con artist who befriends a meek financial analyst named Michael (James Spader) and, in one of many power trips, secretly tapes him having sex with a woman. (Spader’s previous film just so happened to be Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 directorial debut, Sex, Lies, and Videotape.) An article about Bad Influence in the April 1990 issue of Premiere magazine noted that after Lowe’s sex scandal broke — he ended up settling out of court with the 16-year-old and her father but was sentenced to 20 hours of community service — the crew began wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the following message: “The video scene has always been in the script.”
Said script was one of the first written by David Koepp, who went on to write the blockbusters Jurassic Park (1993), War of the Worlds (2005), and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) for Steven Spielberg, as well as two of my favorites, Ron Howard’s The Paper (1994) and Brian De Palma’s Carlito’s Way (1993). Bad Influence was directed by Curtis Hanson, whose next film, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, became a sleeper hit in the winter of ’92, but it wasn’t until 1997’s L.A. Confidential that he became one of Hollywood’s most sought-after filmmakers.
7. Blue Steel (MGM; 3/16/90; $8.2 million)
Coproduced by Oliver Stone, Blue Steel is an action thriller about a rookie cop (Jamie Lee Curtis) dating a yuppie commodities trader (Ron Silver) who moonlights as a serial killer. Think of him as Rob Lowe and James Spader’s Bad Influence characters bundled into one convenient sociopath. Actor and recovering addict Tom Sizemore, who told CNN last fall that longtime friend Charlie Sheen would need to be fired from Two and a Half Men in order for him to face the reality of his long history of substance abuse (nice try, Warner Bros. and CBS, but Sheen’s upcoming “My Violent Torpedo of Truth” tour would seem to indicate that your tough love didn’t do the trick), makes a brief appearance as a criminal whose gun sets the plot in motion.
Blue Steel was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who helmed 2009’s Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker, and became the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Director. She was a painter before she enrolled in Columbia University’s graduate film program in the late ’70s, eventually making her mark in Hollywood with the 1987 horror-western hybrid Near Dark. The April ’90 issue of Premiere noted that “Bigelow is working on her next two projects, New Rose Hotel … based on a story by cyber-punk author William Gibson, and a Columbia [Pictures] script, Johnny Utah, which she is rewriting with her husband, director James Cameron.” New Rose Hotel changed hands and was eventually directed by Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant) in 1998, while the latter project became Point Break, Bigelow’s so-bad-it’s-good 1991 action movie starring Keanu Reeves as Utah, a college football star turned cop who hunts down a gang of bank-robbing surfers led by Patrick Swayze.
6. Lord of the Flies (Columbia; 3/16/90; $13.9 million)
I hate this movie. I hate it because it doesn’t give me an excuse to talk about Charlie Sheen.
Featuring Balthazar Getty of the ABC series Brothers & Sisters, which used to star Rob Lowe, Lord of the Flies is a remake of the 1963 English film written and directed by Peter Brook. Both versions were produced by Lewis M. Allen and are based on William Golding’s classic 1954 novel about young men who struggle to adapt to newfound freedom and adult responsibilities.
Say, that sounds just like Charlie Sheen! I guess I like this movie after all.
5. House Party (New Line; 3/9/90; $26.3 million)
One reason I’m finishing this edition of Box Office Flashback a few days late is that I ended up watching House Party again. (Procrastination, or painstaking research? I’m not at liberty to say.) I hadn’t seen the film in years, and though it was none too shabby to begin with, I’ll be damned if it hasn’t gotten better with age. For one thing it features Martin Lawrence in a supporting role, which is ideal since a little Martin goes a long way, but he’s also genuinely funny as Bilal, the goofy sidekick with “dragon breath” who fails to seduce girls when he whispers into their ear, “You so soft and comfy, like my Hush Puppies.” For another, the film’s stars are Kid ‘n Play, a.k.a. Christopher Reid and Christopher Martin, a duo whose film career should have far outlasted their brief rap career (Martin is a natural). As their name implies, they have an appealingly loose-limbed, childlike comic energy, which helps since they play high school students in House Party but were in their mid- to late 20s when they filmed it.
The rest of the cast is just as strong. Stand-up comic Robin Harris, who died of a heart attack nine days after the film was released, plays Kid’s dad and gets to deliver some of House Party‘s best lines (“Don’t know why them folks named that boy that African name,” he says of Bilal’s parents, “knowing they from Cleveland”); Paul Anthony, B-Fine, and Bowlegged Lou, from the R&B group Full Force, are clearly having a ball as the film’s cartoonish bullies; and Tisha Campbell and A.J. Johnson anchor the requisite love-interest roles with sweetness and vulnerability. Even the racist cops (Barry Diamond and Michael Pniewski) are given a chance to shine, inadvertently saving the day at one point by preventing Play’s parents’ house from burning to the ground.
House Party began life at Harvard University in 1983 as a 20-minute video thesis by writer-director Reginald Hudlin, who then expanded the film to feature length and brought on his older brother, Warrington, as producer. The brothers have cameos in the film as burglars, which is appropriate since they pop up in a sequence that steals a few camera tricks from the Coen brothers’ Raising Arizona (1987). House Party grossed more than ten times what it cost to make, so New Line churned out three sequels over the next decade, two of which starred Kid ‘n Play and none of which involved the Hudlin brothers’ participation.
4. Driving Miss Daisy (Warner Bros.; 12/15/89; $106.5 million)
The film adaptation of Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning off-Broadway play is one of only three films in Oscar history to win Best Picture without also receiving a Best Director nomination, the other two being Wings (1927) and Grand Hotel (1932). The director in question is Australian Bruce Beresford (Breaker Morant, Tender Mercies), who told reporter Steve Dow in 2006 that his proudest moment as a filmmaker was when Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture. “I thought, ‘Maybe I’m not quite as bad as I thought I was.'”
But when asked if he resented being passed over for Best Director that year he replied, “No, not at all. I didn’t think it was that well directed. It was very well written. When the writing’s that good, you’ve really just got to set the camera up and photograph it, and working with Morgan and Jessica Tandy, I was aware that their acting probably could not be bettered.” Not exactly a James Cameron-style “I’m the king of the wooooooorld!” self-analysis, is it? Maybe your brand of gracious humility is appreciated Down Under, Beresford, but not here in the States. Either start braggin’ or get packin’.
Uhry won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1990, and Tandy, at the age of 80, became the oldest Best Actress winner in Oscar history. Meanwhile, Morgan Freeman was nominated for Best Actor but lost to My Left Foot‘s Daniel Day-Lewis — he eventually won Best Supporting Actor for Million Dollar Baby in 2005 — and Dan Aykroyd, in a rare dramatic role, received a nod for Best Supporting Actor but didn’t stand a chance against Denzel Washington in Glory. (Billy Crystal hosted the Oscars for the first time in 1990, and as this year’s telecast proved, we need him now more than ever.)
3. Joe Versus the Volcano (Warner Bros.; 3/9/90; $39.4 million)
I know people who absolutely adore this movie. Moonstruck screenwriter and acclaimed Broadway playwright John Patrick Shanley’s directorial debut (he’s only directed one other film, 2008’s Doubt, based on his play) was the first romantic comedy to team Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, though they received a much warmer welcome at the box office later in the decade when they costarred in Nora Ephron’s decidedly less quirky Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and You’ve Got Mail (1998). By the time I finally saw Joe Versus the Volcano in 2000, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about, but I’ll always remember a quiet, funny classmate in my tenth-grade speech class who liked to quote Tom Hanks’s angry, repetitive boss (Dan Hedaya) without giving me any sort of clue as to what he was talking about …
2. The Hunt for Red October (Paramount; 3/2/90; $122.0 million)
Before I go any further, I’d like to remind you of something important: never throw out old magazines. Yes, a large stack of them may topple over and end up pinning you to your garage floor one day, where you’ll slowly starve to death because your neighbors never bother to check up on the eccentric who refuses to recycle his 20-year-old issues of Premiere and Entertainment Weekly, but how else will you be able to quote from those magazines for an “article” on the Internet that no one but your parents will read? I rest my case.
In Premiere‘s April 1990 cover story on Alec Baldwin, the Long Island native explained that when director John McTiernan (Die Hard, 1999’s The Thomas Crown Affair remake) cast him as CIA analyst Jack Ryan in the film version of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October, “I was really blown away. I don’t see myself as this kind of character, an innocent sucked into a world of adventure. I’m sure there were people they wanted to do this movie who weren’t available. Or they priced themselves out of the job, or whatever.” One of those people was rumored to be Harrison Ford, who took on the role of Ryan two years later in Patriot Games after Baldwin (a) turned it down so he could play Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway or (b) priced himself out of the job, depending on who’s telling the story. Or, as Baldwin himself theorized in a 2008 New Yorker profile, the producers of Patriot Games wanted to replace him with another actor from the very beginning.
On April 21, 1990, one month after Rob Lowe hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time and surprised a lot of people with his comedic chops, Baldwin hosted and did the same, paving the way for 14 more appearances as guest host over the next two decades and proving that the action-adventure world’s loss was the comedy world’s eternal gain. Still, it has to be said: ISN’T IT ENOUGH THAT YOU RIDICULOUSLY GOOD-LOOKING ACTORS ARE RIDICULOUSLY GOOD-LOOKING? MUST YOU ALSO HAVE RIDICULOUSLY GOOD COMIC TIMING? Greedy. Just plain greedy.
1. Pretty Woman (Touchstone; 3/23/90; $178.4 million)
Call me corny, but I’m still quite fond of Pretty Woman. Garry Marshall’s romantic comedy about a zillionaire (Richard Gere) who falls in love with a Sunset Strip prostitute (Julia Roberts) was made for $14 million and grossed more than $460 million worldwide, despite the fact that American comedies generally don’t do well overseas since humor tends to get lost in translation. (On IMDB’s All-Time Worldwide Box Office list, only two films in the top 100 are non-animated, non-family-oriented, special-effects-free comedies: Pretty Woman and 2009’s The Hangover.) How does one explain this phenomenon? Simple — notorious hooker hound Charlie Sheen must have bought a whooooole lot of tickets to this movie back in 1990.
Julia Roberts was only 21 when she filmed Pretty Woman, and its instant success made her one of the most famous people on the planet, a status update that apparently freaked her out enough that she stopped acting for two years. The film also represented a big comeback for Richard Gere, whose star had dimmed considerably since 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman. Marshall followed it up with the lovely Frankie and Johnny (1991), starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino, both of whom were considered for the lead roles in Pretty Woman at one point. He reunited with Roberts and Gere in ’99 for Runaway Bride, which grossed almost as much as Pretty Woman in the U.S. but $125 million less overseas, proving that if Roberts doesn’t play a prostitute in a Garry Marshall comedy, Charlie Sheen will not come. I mean, he’ll come, but … oh, you get the picture.