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Making Movie History – A Look Back At 1994

(Images via Walt Disney Pictures, Miramax, New Line Cinema, & Paramount Pictures)

While 1994 is nowhere near the level of cinematic achievement as what we covered in our look back of 1984, it was still a great year in film.  20 years ago we saw the rise of Jim Carrey with not one but three comedic blockbusters, tragedy striking the set of a comic book adaptation, one of the most controversial years in film with new projects from Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino, and one of the greatest animated features of all time.


‘Ace Ventura: Pet Detective’

February 4th, 1994
 
 
 

Synopsis:  A private investigator that specializes in recovering lost pets, Ace Ventura is hired by the Miami Dolphins to investigate the kidnapping of their mascot, a bottle-nosed dolphin named Snowflake.  Going on a single gemstone from an AFC Championship ring found in Snowflake’s tank, Ventura is convinced that Snowflake was taken by someone associated with the 1984 Miami Dolphins, leading his investigation to a former Dolphins kicker who hasn’t been seen in years.

Legacy:  Already a growing star with his scene stealing performances on ‘In Living Color’, ‘Ace Ventura: Pet Detective’ was the break out film for Jim Carrey, starting an amazing first year for Carrey in film with leading roles in three blockbuster comedies.  Ventura’s catchphrases were quickly picked up in pop culture, even occasionally popping up today.  A direct sequel was produced the following year, as well as a direct-to-DVD spin-off, and an animated series that ran for three seasons.

‘The Crow’

May 13th, 1994
 
 
 

Synopsis:  Eric Draven and his fiancée Shelly are brutally murdered the night before Halloween, Devil’s Night.  The following year Eric returns from the grave to avenge the rape and murder of his fiancée by hunting down the gang responsible.  Lead by a mystical Crow that brought his soul back, Eric quickly learns that those responsible for his and his fiancée’s death go farther than the thugs who carried it out.

Legacy:  As well received as ‘The Crow’ was, it will always be known for the on-set death of its star Brandon Lee.  Due to a mistake in creating a dummy bullet and improper handling of a prop gun, Lee was struck down by a bullet while filming the flashback of his character’s death.  The footage was only ever seen during the resulting court proceedings and then destroyed.  Actor Michael Massee, the actor who fired the fatal shot, was so disturbed by the event that he quit acting for a year and reported having nightmares of the incident ever since.  The film was followed by three sequels, of diminishing quality (which is usually the case), and a syndicated Canadian television series.  A reboot has been in the planning stages for nearly 6 years, with ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy star Luke Evans recently cast in the role of Eric Draven.

‘Speed’

June 10th, 1994
 
 
 

Synopsis:  SWAT member Jack Traven and his partner Harry Temple are celebrated as heroes after a hostage crisis that ended in the apparent death of the hostage taker/bomber.  The next day Jack is on his way to the station when he receives a call from the bomber, informing Jack that there’s a city bus with a bomb on it that will activate when the bus goes over 50 mph and then detonate if it falls below that.  Jack commandeers a car and boards the bus in motion to try to disarm the bomb while Harry tracks down the bomber.

Legacy‘Speed’ helped continue Keanu Reeves’ critical rise in the 90s, leading to latter acclaimed roles in ‘The Matrix’ and ‘The Devil’s Advocate’.  Reeve’s ended up turning down an $11 million paycheck to return for the sequel, preferring to go on tour with his band.  ‘The Lost Boys’ star Jason Patrick would join Sandra Bullock for 1997’s ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’, a film widely considered one of the worst sequels of all time and even ridiculed by Sandra Bullock.

‘The Lion King’

June 24th, 1994
 
 
 

Synopsis:  Disney’s lion-centric retelling of Hamlet, Simba is the son of Mufasa, the King of the Animal Kingdom.  Mufasa’s brother Scar is jealous of Simba’s claim to the throne, and arranges for Simba to be killed.  Instead, Mufasa is killed by Scar while saving Simba, leaving Simba feeling guilty for his father’s death.  Deciding to leave the pride, Simba runs away and forms a friendship with a meerkat and warthog, Timon and Pumbaa, and grows up living off the land without a care in the world.  When Simba finds out Scar took over the kingdom and has watched it fall apart, Simba decides to return and reclaim his birthright.

Legacy‘The Lion King’ has been an amazing success for Disney, with wide critical acclaim and financial success.  The film was followed by a direct sequel and a parallel film recounting Timon and Pumbaa’s story during the events of the first film (Similar to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, telling the story of the Hamlet characters while they are off-stage in the primary story).  ‘The Lion King’ not only saw continued theatrical success with a re-release in 3D, but also success as a Tony Award winning Broadway musical.

‘Forrest Gump’

July 6th, 1994
 
 
 

Synopsis:  Taking place entirely as a flashback story while Forrest is waiting at a bus stop, the film tracks the events of Forrest Gump’s life from his childhood as a physically and mentally disabled boy, to playing football in college, fighting in Vietnam, playing Ping Pong professionally, and running across the country for no reason.  The film also explores Forrest’s impact on the world by teaching Elvis how to dance, inspiring the famous smiley face, bringing the Watergate scandal to light, and meeting several U.S. Presidents.

Legacy‘Forrest Gump’ was a huge financial and critical success, earning a second Oscar for Tom Hanks and winning the Oscar for Best Picture.  A sequel was intended, but only ever saw life as a novel follow-up to the original 1986 novel.  In the novel, the Bubba Gump Company has gone under and Forrest and Forrest Jr. travel the country trying to make a new life.  Forrest plays professional football for New Orleans, causes the Exxon Valdez oil spill, fights in Desert Storm, meets Tom Hanks, and attends the Academy Awards when Hanks wins for his portrayal of Forrest.

‘True Lies’

July 15th, 1994
 
 
 

Synopsis:  Harry Tasker leads a dull life as a computer software salesman, or so his wife believes.  In reality, Harry is a spy for the U.S. government working for an anti-terrorism unit called “The Omega Sector”.  While he lives a double life, his wife starts seeing a used car salesman who poses as a spy to impress women, taking credit for Harry’s work.  Finding out that his wife Helen just needs some excitement, Harry arranges for her arrest and use on fake case, but a previous case bleeds over pulling Harry and Helen into a nuclear threat.

Legacy‘True Lies’ was a surprise hit on several levels, with James Cameron breaking out of his straight action directing style to incorporate more humor into the plot, Schwarzenegger’s successful return after the disappointing ‘Last Action Hero’, and television actor Tom Arnold holding his own next to a powerhouse like Schwarzenegger.  Jaime Lee Curtis was also a standout of the film, not only appearing in her underwear for a provocative dance at the age of 35 (old by Hollywood standards), but also performing a stunt herself where she hangs from a helicopter while it flies over the ocean.  A sequel was planned for 2002, but cancelled in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.  Rumors persist of a sequel being planned, reuniting the original cast.

‘The Mask’

July 29th, 1994
 
 
 

Synopsis:  Bank clerk Stanley Ipkiss is pushed around by his boss and unlucky in love and life.  On his way home after striking out at a club he stops to contemplate things on a bridge and discovers a wooden mask in the river.  After taking it home and putting it on, Stanley is transformed into a green faced human cartoon trickster.  The mask, imbued with the power of the Norse god Loki, allows Stanely to do everything he’s ever wanted, but at the cost of getting the attention of the police and local mob.

Legacy:  The second hit for Jim Carrey in 1994, ‘The Mask’ surpassed ‘Ace Ventura’ both financially and critically, and also launched the career of the then-unknown Cameron Diaz.  A sequel was planned and Nintendo Power magazine held a contest for a walk-on role.  But after the poor reaction to ‘Ace Venture: When Nature Calls’, Carrey decided against a sequel to ‘The Mask’.  Aspects of the planned sequel were adapted into an animated series lasting two seasons.  A spin-off/sequel was finally released in 2005, ‘Son of the Mask’, starring Jamie Kennedy, and is widely considered one of the worst comedies ever made.

‘Natural Born Killers’

August 26th, 1994
 
 
 

Synopsis:  The film follows mass murderers Mickey and Mallory on a killing spree through Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada.  Their actions are chronicled by a tabloid journalist who is profiling them for his television series.  The duo, who always leave a just one person alive to tell the story of the murders, are eventually caught and imprisoned, only to become bigger celebrities.

Legacy:  The Oliver Stone film received immediate controversy for its gratuitous violence, with the more graphic scenes needing to be cut down by nearly four minutes to receive the R-rating from the MPAA.  The film was praised for the performances of stars Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis, as well as the surprising performances of Robert Downey Jr. and Rodney Dangerfield.  The film would continue to be controversial for several years, being accused of encouraging other violent acts such as the Columbine school shooting.

‘Pulp Fiction’

October 14th, 1994
 
 
 

Synopsis‘Pulp Fiction’, like Tarantino’s other films, is played out of order and follows the stories of several different characters as they overlap with each other.  Vincent and Jules are two hit men working for Marcellus Wallace with the task of reclaiming something belonging to Wallace, but are forced to clean things up after an accidental killing of a friend.  Vincent is later asked by Marcellus to take Marcellus’ wife Mia out while Marcellus is out of town, only to end up having to save her life when she overdoses.  And Butch is a boxer who makes a deal with Marcellus to take a dive during his next fight, but goes against the plan for his own financial gain and has to get out of town before Marcellus can get to him.

Legacy:  ‘Pulp Fiction’ was a substantial hit at the box office, but also garnered a great deal of critical acclaim, resulting in Oscar nominations for Best Picture and individual nominations for Quentin Tarantino, John Travolta (Best Actor), Samuel L. Jackson (Best Supporting Actor), and Uma Thurman (Best Supporting Actress).  The film also went on to revitalize the failing career of John Travolta and kick-started the career of Samuel L. Jackson as a lead actor.  Though not directly stated in the film, John Travolta’s character is the brother of Michael Madsen’s character in ‘Reservoir Dogs’, with a spin-off Vega Brothers film being rumored for years but never getting past the planning stages.

‘Stargate’

October 28th, 1994
 
 
 

Synopsis:  A large metal ring is found in the desert of Giza, Egypt in 1928.  The daughter of the archeologist who discovered it later allows Egyptologist Daniel Jackson a chance to translate the symbols on the ring, discovering it to be a Stargate that can create a stable wormhole to another world.  Activating the Stargate and entering it with Colonel Jack O’Neil and his Special Forces crew, Jackson discovers a distant world whose ruler is the Egyptian god Ra, and people who are the descendants of the ancient Egyptians.

Legacy:  While receiving a mixed response from critics, ‘Stargate’ was a financial success that ended up being a bigger hit on television, spawning an animated series, two made-for-TV movies, and three live-action series running from 1997 to 2011.

‘Interview with the Vampire’

November 11th, 1994
 
 
 

Synopsis:  Told as an interview of his life as a vampire, Louis describes the events from being turned by Lestat, his difficulty adjusting to his new life as a creature of the night, turning a young child to be his daughter, and his eventual conflict with Lestat and other vampires.

Legacy‘Interview with the Vampire’ was greatly criticized for not only the gore, but also the homoerotic nature of the relationship between Louis and Lestat.  Aware of the homophobic attitudes in Hollywood, writer Anne Rice considered rewriting the character of Louis to be female to make the relationship with Lestat more acceptable for audiences.  The film was a great platform for the careers of Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, and Antonio Banderas, all somewhat known at the time but elevated to star status through this picture.  Tom Cruise also received a great amount of praise for his portrayal of Lestat, going completely against the type of characters he was known for in the past and opening the door for more casting possibilities.  A sequel was finally put together nearly 8 years later, but with none of the original cast members.  ‘Queen of the Damned’ centered on a young Lestat and his relationship to a Vampire queen.  The film was panned by critics and dismissed by writer Anne Rice who accused the filmmakers of butchering her original stories.

‘The Santa Clause’

November 11th, 1994
 
 
 

Synopsis:  Scott Calvin is a successful toy company executive whose career takes precedence over his relationship with his son.  While his son is staying with him for Christmas, they discover Santa on their roof and inadvertently cause him to fall.  Santa vanishes, leaving behind his suit and a card informing them what to do.  Scott and his son Charlie finish Santa’s deliveries for the night and wind up at the North Pole where they find out that by putting on the suit, Scott enacted the Santa Clause, making him the new Santa.  Scott now tries to return to his old life while trying to ignore the obvious physical and mental changes turning him into the new Father Christmas.

Legacy‘The Santa Clause’ was a resounding hit, turning the television star Tim Allen into a certifiable movie star.  Disney was so keen on Allen that they went back on their own “no felon” policy in hiring Allen, liking his work so much that he went on to work with Disney on the Toy Story trilogy.  ‘The Santa Clause’ quickly became a Christmas favorite, and two sequels followed, the first dealing with a previously unknown Clause requiring that Santa get married, and the third about Jack Frost tricking Santa into wishing he’d never become Santa.

‘Star Trek: Generations’

November 18th, 1994
 
 
 

Synopsis:  Retired Captain Kirk joins Scotty and Chekov at the ceremony for the maiden voyage of the new Enterprise-B.  Being the only ship close enough to mount a rescue mission, the Enterprise-B answers a distress call to save two passenger ships from a rift in space, resulting in the apparent death of Captain Kirk when the rift destroys part of the Enterprise.  Over 70 years later, the Enterprise-D is called to a space station where scientist Dr. Soran, who was one of the passengers saved by the Enterprise-B, is doing experiments trying to get back to the space rift, the Nexus, a rip in reality that is a virtual heaven for anyone who enters it.  In trying to prevent Soran from destroying a planet to get to the Nexus, Captain Picard is pulled into the Nexus and must enlist the help of Captain Kirk to set things right.

Legacy‘Star Trek: Generations’ was a dream team up for Star Trek fans.  Though characters like Dr. McCoy, Scotty, and Spock all appeared on ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’, fans were dying to see the pairing of the beloved Captains of the Enterprise.  Reaction to the film was mixed, being criticized for feeling like an extended episode of the series, but favorable enough to warrant three more films featuring the Next Generation cast.  Fan reaction to the death of Captain Kirk was so intense that Soran actor Malcolm McDowell received threats from overzealous fans.  William Shatner would later go on to continue the story in his own Star Trek novels, resurrecting Captain Kirk.

‘Dumb and Dumber’

December 16th, 1994
 
 
 

Synopsis:  Harry and Lloyd are lifelong friends and the biggest idiots ever.  Harry is a pet stylist who altered his van to look like a giant dog, while Lloyd is a limo driver who falls for his passenger Mary while taking her to the airport.  Mary leaves a briefcase in the terminal carrying ransom money set to be picked up, but Lloyd, unaware of the situation, picks up the briefcase and attempts to return it.  Unable to get to Mary before her flights leaves, Lloyd convinces Harry to make the drive from Rhode Island to Colorado to return the briefcase and profess his love to Mary.

Legacy:  The third success for Jim Carrey in 1994, ‘Dumb and Dumber’ earned great critical acclaim for both Carrey and co-star Jeff Daniels, who appeared in another blockbuster this year, ‘Speed’.  Like the previous Jim Carrey hits, a cartoon adaptation was created for ‘Dumb and Dumber’, only lasting a single season.  In 2003 a prequel was made, ‘Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd’, showing the origin of Harry and Lloyd’s friendship.  The prequel used no cast or crew from the original film and suffered as a result, being a box-office bomb and regularly considered one of the worst films of the last 15 years.  A true sequel, titled ‘Dumb and Dumber To’ is set for a November 2014 release will reunite Carrey and Daniels with original directors the Farrelly Brothers and original screenwriter Bennett Yellin.

‘Street Fighter’

December 23rd, 1994
 
 
 

Synopsis:  Col. Guile of the Allied Forces is leading an offensive against drug lord Bison who is trying to take control of the South Asian nation of Shadaloo.  Guile uses con-artists Ken and Ryu to infiltrate Bison’s organization, while reporter Chun-Li and her co-workers Balrog and E. Honga also try to get to Bison for ruining their lives.  Bison has captured hostages, relief volunteers from the Allied Forces, and threatens to kill them unless he is paid a $250 million ransom.

Legacy:  This movie is long remembered for how horrible it was.  One of the first major video game theatrical adaptations, ‘Street Fighter’ was criticized for having little to do with the source material apart from the look and names of most of the characters, butchering beloved back stories to fit the new script.  Jean-Claude Van Damme turned down the role of Johnny Cage in the more successful ‘Mortal Kombat’ film, a character modeled after him in the original game, to appear in ‘Street Fighter’ and its follow-up video games that used video capture technology made famous by the Mortal Kombat franchise.  This film would also mark the final theatrical appearance of Raul Julia who passed away shortly before the film hit theaters.  Though a critical failure, it was a financial success, returning nearly three times its budget at the world-wide box office.  A new film, ‘Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li’ was released in 2009 and was a bigger critical failure than the original.

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