Making Movie History – A Look Back at 1991
Turning 25 this year we have one of the greatest sequels of all time, one of the worst sequels of all time, everyone's favorite macabre family, and surfing former presidents.
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Synopsis: FBI agent-in-training Clarice Starling is removed from her training and assigned to interview notorious cannibal, Hannibal Lecter. The FBI hopes that Lecter will be able to help them identify and capture a new serial killer named “Buffalo Bill”, who has been skinning his female victims. Developing a fascination with Starling, Lecter agrees to help while arranging things for his own benefit.
Legacy: ‘Silence of the Lambs’ was a hit as soon as it was released, earning back its budget after a week and going on to be the third film to win the five big awards at the Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Anthony Hopkins, Best Actress for Jodie Foster, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It has been recognized by the AFI as one of the 100 greatest films of the last 100 years, and Hopkins’ portrayal of Lecter became the icon for subsequent films, with Hopkins reprising the role in ‘Hannibal’ and ‘Red Dragon’. The series continued without Hopkins as Lecter with the prequel ‘Hannibal Rising’ and the recently cancelled ‘Hannibal’ TV series.
Synopsis: Chemical company TGRI is disposing their waste, revealed to be the same ooze that caused the turtles and Master Splinter to mutate. The turtles go to TGRI to find the answers to their creation while Shredder and the Foot Clan want the final vial of ooze to create their own monsters to battle turtles.
Legacy: Released less than a year after the first film, several changes were made to address the criticisms that the first film was too dark and intense for young viewers. The overall tone of the film was lightened along with the design of the turtle suits, the turtles didn’t use their weapons as much as they did before, and the vigilante character of Casey Jones was replaced with the new character Keno. Paige Turco replaced Judith Hoag as April O’Neil, and the characters of Tokka and Rahzar were created to replace Beebop and Rocksteady to avoid having to acquire the rights. Like its predecessor, this film was met with mixed critical acclaim, with people still against the use of violence, though it was greatly toned down and more cartoonish. It failed to make as much money as the first movie while having twice the budget, but did enough to warrant a third film that is widely considered to be one of the worst films of the decade and halted any plans for more live-action films. The movie was also censored in the UK as the nunchuk was an outlawed weapon, and it was the first film to be dedicated to Jim Henson after his passing.
Synopsis: Needy psychiatric patient Bob Wiley is referred to psychiatrist Leo Marvin for his multiple issues. Dr. Marvin’s new method and book, ‘Baby Steps’, seems to have an immediate effect on Bob, but its short lived. While Dr. Marvin takes his family on vacation to the lake, which will include an at-home interview by ‘Good Morning America’ about his new book, Bob decides to follow. Though Dr. Marvin is irritated with Bob injecting himself into his vacation, Dr. Marvin’s family likes Bob and enjoys his company.
Legacy: A critical and financial hit, with the chemistry between Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfus being a much praised point of the film. Ironically, Murray and Dreyfus reportedly didn’t get along behind-the-scenes, with their real-life tension adding to their characters’ relationship. It has been recognized as one of the best comedies of the decade, and Bravo has called it one of the top 50 comedies of all time. Last year, Richard Dreyfus filed a lawsuit against the Walt Disney company over the profits of the film.
Synopsis: Captain Dennis McCaffrey is killed while responding to a fire, with his youngest son Brian witnessing his death. 20 years later, Brian has graduated the firefighter academy after several failed career paths. Brian tries to avoid being a legacy to his father and older brother Stephen, but is assigned to Stephen’s firehouse. While Stephen and Brian learn to work together, recent arson cases are coinciding with budget cuts that are putting the firefighters’ lives in danger.
Legacy: Reviews of ‘Backdraft’ ranged from somewhat favorable to extremely negative, praising the effects and acting, but slamming the story as underdeveloped. The film was a modest financial success, but became the highest grossing film of all time to deal with firefighters. The film received three Academy Award nominations, all for the technical side, and led to the creation of Universal Studios Theme Park attraction.
Synopsis: Friends Thelma and Louise are taking a weekend getaway together. While having drinks and dancing one night, Thelma is nearly raped and Louise shoots and kills the rapist. Fearing prosecution, Louise decides to make a break for Mexico and Thelma agrees to go with her. On their way to Mexico from Oklahoma, and intent on avoiding Texas due to Louise’s refusal, they run into a thief who inadvertently shows them the ropes and gain the intention of the FBI who hunt the ladies down to their iconic end.
Legacy: The film was met with universal acclaim, praising the performances of Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, both of whom were nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards. Many also consider the film to be the kick starting of Brad Pitt’s career as the thief J.D. The final scene featuring the implied deaths of Thelma and Louise by driving off into the Grand Canyon has been regularly parodied in other films, TV shows, and even video games as recently as ‘Grand Theft Auto V’. While the film was praised for its feminist message, it was also accused of being anti-male through unfair portrayals of male characters.
Synopsis: For his 39th birthday, radio account executive Mitch Robbins is surprised with a two-week cattle drive trip by his best friends Phil, who is in a loveless marriage and has been having an affair, and Ed, a business man who has married an underwear model and is having issues with the idea of settling down. While on the drive, Mitch gains the attention of the gruff trail boss Curly, who intends to break Mitch of his city slicker mentality and teach him the one thing that’s important in life.
Legacy: The biggest shock to come from the film was Jack Palance’s win of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. During his acceptance speech, Palance dropped to the floor and performed one-arm push-ups, saying that’s how he proved to the studio he could do the movie. While the chemistry of the cast was praised, Bruno Kirby revealed he hated working on the film and refused to return for the sequel, being replaced by Jon Lovitz as Mitch’s little brother who constantly quotes ‘The Godfather’ films, a nod to Kirby being in ‘The Godfather part II’. Like ‘What About Bob?’ earlier in the year, this film was recognized as an iconic comedy of the decade and has been called one of the 100 best comedies of all time.
Synopsis: Returning from imprisonment in the Crusades, Robin of Locksley returns to England to find his home burned and his father murdered, accused of worshiping the devil. Robin quickly gains the attention of the Sheriff of Nottingham, who in the King’s absence is ruling over England and oppressing people for his own gain. Intending to clear his family’s name and take back the country, Robin joins forces with other outlaws to Nottingham’s rule to keep Nottingham from joining with the King’s enemies against England.
Legacy: While the film was a financial success, being the second highest grossing film of the year, and brought the story of Robin Hood back into pop culture, critical opinions were mixed. Most critics greatly praised the performances of Morgan Freeman and Alan Rickman, while bashing Kevin Costner for his Americanized Robin Hood (Costner apparently had great difficulty using an English accent) and accused the story of being incoherent. Costner was awarded the Golden Raspberry for Worst Actor, and Christian Slater was nominated for Worst Supporting Actor. Costner’s performance as Robin Hood ended up being a source of humor in other shows and parodies like ‘Robin Hood: Men in Tights’ where Carey Elwes states, “Unlike some other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent.” In versions dubbed into other languages where Robin wouldn’t have an English accent, the line is changed to, “Unlike some other Robin Hoods, I don’t dance with wolves.”
Synopsis: Ten-year-old John Conner is living with foster parents while his mother is institutionalized, believed to be crazy for her knowledge of the pending Judgement Day. Two Terminators, a shapeshifting T-1000 and another version of the T-800 from the original, are sent back with the latter being reprogramed by John from the future and assigned to protect his younger self from the T-1000. Following young John’s orders, the T-800 helps John break his mother out of the asylum and they devise a plan to prevent Judgement Day and the rise of the machines against mankind.
Legacy: Acclaim and financials for T2 were through the roof, with the film being regarded as one of the greatest sequels of all time and one of the highest grossing films of all time. The action and effects were of particular praise, winning Academy Awards for Make-Up, Sound, and Visual Effects. Originally, this film was set to end the Terminator story, ending with an old Sarah Conner watching John and his children playing, while Sarah considers what they’ve prevented. Early acclaim for the film resulted in the ending being changed to a more ambiguous opening for further films. A third film wasn’t made for another 12 years, and began a trend of each successive film being less well-received as the previous.
Synopsis: FBI agent and former college football player Johnny Utah is assigned a new case, investigating a string of bank robberies with veteran agent Angelo Pappas. The robbers, known as “The Ex-Presidents” due to wearing masks of former Presidents, hit banks during the summer, leading Pappas to believe they are surfers. Utah goes undercover as a surfer, coming under the tutelage of Bodhi, who is actually “Ronald Reagan” of the Ex-Presidents. Utah begins a battle between his duty as a FBI agent and his new life as an adrenaline-junkie with Bodhi.
Legacy: ‘Point Break’ proved to be a financial success with a great impact on pop culture, becoming one of the most recognizable films of the decade. The action scenes, specifically surfing and sky-diving, became the molds for filming such scenes in future films. ‘Hot Fuzz’ referenced ‘Point Break’ as one of the ultimate police films which Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) hopes is representative of big-city police work. The film is considered one of the highest points in Patrick Swayze’s career, comparable to his work in ‘Ghost’ and ‘Road House’. A remake was released in 2015, to primarily negative reactions.
Synopsis: While Bill and Ted haven’t reached the musical success that brings upon world-wide peace, a man from their inspired utopian future, De Nomolos, sends back two evil robot versions of Bill and Ted to kill the duo and take their place at the Battle of the Bands, winning the competition and directing society towards De Nomolos’ vision. Being killed by their robot counterparts, Bill and Ted must battle through hell and take on the Grim Reaper to return to their lives, protect their girlfriends, and reclaim their spot at the Battle of the Bands.
Legacy: The film was praised for recapturing the chemistry and humor of the original film while taking on a new style in comparison. The soundtrack was beloved by fans, with KISS’s remake of “God Gave Rock & Roll to You” being the song the Wyld Stallyns play to win the Battle of the Bands (also marking drummer Eric Carr’s last major song with the band before his death). Since its release, both Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves have expressed interest in making a third film, which is apparently finally in the pre-production stages.
Synopsis: In 2024, the now human Conner MacLeod is an elderly man in a dystopian society that he feels responsible for, having lead the team that developed the shield that blocked out the sun to protect the Earth after losing the ozone. It is shown that Immortals are aliens who revolted against their government and were sent to Earth as punishment with the last surviving one being given the chance to return home. MacLeod’s former adversary Katana sends two of his goons to kill Conner. Conner bests one, receiving his first quickening in 40 years and returning to a younger, immortal state. Katana transports himself to Earth to take on Conner himself, while Conner teams up with an eco-terrorist to bring the shield down.
Legacy: Not satisfied with the direction of the film, the studio took over post-production and cut the film together as they saw fit, taking it completely out of the hands of the producers and director. Regarded as one of the worst films of all time, particularly for the ridiculous plot of immortals being aliens. The producers were able to get the rights to the film and recut it in their image, changing the Immortals to humans from the future who are sent back in time, altering many of the effects, and changing the overall feel of the film. Dubbed “The Renegade Cut”, this version of the film is widely held as immensely superior to the theatrical cut and actually a film worth watching.
Synopsis: Based on the original comic strip, the Addams are a morose and macabre family, holding a séance on the anniversary of the disappearance of Gomez’s brother Fester. Gomez’s accountant, in debt to a loan shark, gets the idea to pass the loan shark’s son Gordon off as Fester to get their hands on the contents of the Addams vault, gold coins as far as the eye can see.
Legacy: Though receiving mixed reviews from critics, the film held strong with audiences, making nearly$200 million worldwide on a $30 million budget. Nearly the entire cast was praised, with most of the praise directed at Raul Julia and Angelica Huston as Gomez and Morticia, and the introduction of young Christina Ricci. The filmmakers were also given credit for adapting the original comic strip instead of the known television series, and bringing the Addams Family into the modern times. The soundtrack featuring MC Hammer’s “Addams Groove” received much less praise, with Hammer’s song winning the Razzie for Worst Song. An equally successful and praised sequel was produced two years later, focusing on Fester’s relationship to a murderous nanny.
Synopsis: Belle, ridiculed in her village for always having her nose in a book, is constantly pursued by the manly Gaston. Her father Maurice is a crackpot inventor who gets lost in the woods on his way to show off an invention and winds up in a castle where the furniture is alive. The lord of the castle is a horrific beast who keeps Maurice locked in the dungeon for trespassing. Belle arrives to save her father, agreeing to take his place in the beast’s castle. The beast was once a young prince who treated an enchantress poorly, resulting in he and his servants being changed. They could return to their human forms if the beast is able to find love before the last pedal drops on a magical rose. Now with Belle in the castle, the beast and his servants believe their time has come.
Legacy: While other animated features had gained acclaim prior to ‘Beauty and the Beast’, this film set a new standard by becoming the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It also ushered in a new style of animation, being one of the first films to use CGI on a large scale in creation of the ballroom scene. It won two Academy Awards, one for score and one for Best Original Song. Regularly cited as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, animated film of all time, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ also shows up on lists of best musicals, best songs, and best films in general. A Christmas themed direct-to-video sequel/prequel was released, and a live-action remake starring Emma Watson is set for release in early 2017.
Synopsis: With retirement rapidly approaching, Captain Kirk and the senior crew of the Enterprise are tasked with being a special envoy escorting the Klingon High Chancellor to Earth for peace talks. During the trip, the Enterprise apparently fires on the Chancellor’s ship, and two Starfleet officers board the ship and assassinate the Chancellor. Held responsible for the attack, Kirk and Dr. McCoy are arrested and sent to a Klingon prison planet. While Kirk and McCoy try to stay alive long enough to escape, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise must unravel a conspiracy trying to prevent peace between the Klingons and Federation.
Legacy: Intended to be the swan song of the original Star Trek cast, ‘The Undiscovered Country’ is regarded by many as one of the best Star Trek films, some saying its second only to ‘Wrath of Khan’, both directed by Nicholas Meyer. The film was praised for sending off the cast with a classic “whodunit” style story wrapped in an allegory for the fall of communism and the Cold War. Originally, Kirstie Alley was to reprise her role as Saavik and be revealed as the traitor on the Enterprise, but the idea of changed to a new Vulcan character after deciding it wasn’t something the beloved character would do. While several cast members expressed interest in another film, possibly working with the cast of ‘The Next Generation’, DeForest Kelley and Leonard Nimoy announced that the film would be their last, though their characters were included in early drafts of the subsequent film, ‘Star Trek: Generations’.
Synopsis: Peter Banning is a successful lawyer whose work is more important than his family. He takes his family to England to honor his wife’s grandmother, the woman who arranged his adoption as a child, for her work with orphans. The grandmother, who shares the same name as Wendy from the story of Peter Pan, tells her great-grandchildren that she is the same Wendy. While in England, Peter’s children are kidnapped and he’s faced with knowledge that he is the grown up Peter Pan and he must return to Neverland to rescue his son and daughter from Captain Hook.
Legacy: Director Steven Spielberg and stars Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman declined salaries for the film in favor of a share of the gross of the film, which ended up being considered a financial disappointment in the wake of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, only making a profit of $50 million. Spielberg stated that there are parts of the film he’s proud of, but a lot he’s ultimately not pleased with, such as the overly stylized Neverland sets. In 2013, Spielberg admitted that though he doesn’t care for the film he hopes there will be a day where he can watch it and find enjoyment in it.