Making Movie History – A Look Back at 1996
Just one year away from drinking age we have a film that revived the dying horror genre, Eddie Murphy taking multiple characters to a whole new level, and the cyborg zombies in space.
This marks our 11th look back at movies celebrating a milestone anniversary. You can find out complete catalog of previous posts by clicking the link below!
Synopsis: Fugitive bank robbers, the Gecko brothers, are trying to get away from the FBI and Texas police. While on the run they hold up a liquor store, killing the clerk and a cop in the process. The Geckos take the Fuller family hostage and make a deal that if they can smuggle the Geckos safely into Mexico, the brothers would allow the family to leave safely. Making it across the border, the Geckos insist the Fullers join them for a drink at a biker bar before letting them go. While enjoying their drink, the Geckos and Fullers are surprised to find the bar to be a haven for vampires.
Legacy: Though a modest financial success, the film marked the first time Quentin Tarantino was paid for his writing duties (his previous work being independent work and his own films) and George Clooney’s breakthrough performance as a leading man. Clooney was praised for his performance, winning awards from Fangoria magazine, MTV, and the Saturn Awards, while Tarantino was both praised and bashed for his role as the younger Gecko brother, being nominated for both best and worst supporting actor across various awards. The movie went on to be a cult classic, leading to two low-budget sequels and a TV series.
Synopsis: Aspiring hockey player Happy Gilmore has an impressive slap shot and aggressive streak to match. Never being able to make it in hockey, Happy stumbles into the world of golf, parlaying his intense slap shot into hustling other golfers at the driving range to raise money to pay off his grandmother’s back taxes. Taken under the wing of pro golfer Chubbs Peterson, Happy enters the tour circuit in the hopes of making big money. Unfortunately, Gilmore gets the attention of Shooter McGavin, a seasoned pro who looks at Gilmore as a rival and a detriment to the world of golf.
Legacy: The film was a modest financial and critical success, but earned Sandler nominations from the Razzie awards for his performance, beginning his run as the most nominated actor in the history of the Razzie awards. However, fans took to the film, continuing Sandler’s launch into the mainstream that started the year before with ‘Billy Madison’. Sandler’s fist fight with Bob Barker ended up being the scene stealing moment of the film, winning the MTV movie award for best fight of the year.
Synopsis: On the brink of being passed over for his own command for a third time, and thus eliminating him from the command program, Lt. Commander Thomas Dodge is given command of an outdated WWII submarine with the intention of using it in a war games exercise to test the Navy’s home defenses. If Dodge can win the war games, he’ll be given a modern sub to command. Being given the “crew from hell” from an admiral out to make sure Dodge fails, Dodge uses his unorthodox command method and the strengths of his unique crew to pose a legitimate threat in the war games exercise.
Legacy: ‘Down Periscope’ was intended to kick start Kelsey Grammer’s film career, planning for life after ‘Fraiser’. Unfortunately, the film was a critical and financial failure, barely making $6 million over its budget and being slammed by critics. Though considered a failure, the film was praised by those in the Navy for being a comedy that accurately portrayed life on a submarine.
Synopsis: Armand Goldman, a gay drag club owner, is shocked to find out his son Val is getting married to the daughter of an ultraconservative United States senator. Fearing the senator would forbid the marriage if he found out Val was raised by two gay men, Val and his fiancé began the lie that Val’s father is straight and they plan to ask his “mother” Albert to leave the house for a bit. Armand and Albert hesitantly agree to the plan, with the change that Albert would stay home as Val’s uncle Al. Things for the senator take a bad turn when a conservative legislative partner of his is found dead in the bed of an underage, African-American prostitute, and now his life is under intense press scrutiny.
Legacy: The film, though controversial in nature for 1996, was a hit at the box-office, holding on to the #1 spot for three weeks. Apart from its financial and critical success, the film was praised for its depiction of the LGBT community, specifically for going beyond stereotypes to show the humanity of the characters and celebrating the differences between those on opposite ends of the political spectrum.
Synopsis: Sarah Bailey, the daughter of a witch and considered to be a “natural witch”, falls in with a group of girls rumored to be witches and completes their coven. Each of the four girls decide to use witchcraft to change their lives, with Sarah casting a love spell, Nancy wanting to better her and her family’s poor life, Bonnie wanting to cure the scars all over her body, and Rochelle wanting revenge against a racist rival. Though each of the girls initially get what they want, they begin to see the consequences of their actions and the three girls turn on Sarah, led by Nancy who is lusting for more power.
Legacy: Though a mixed critical success, the film was a sleeper hit among teens and women, whom the studio felt identified with the theme of the film. The supernatural fight between Robin Tunney and Fairuza Balk went on to win the Best Fight award at the 1997 MTV movie awards. Plans for a straight-to-DVD sequel were scraped, and a remake was announced this year, resulting in an outpouring of negative reactions from fans of the original and Fairuza Balk herself.
Synopsis: Weatherman and former storm chaser Bill Harding surprises his old team, and estranged wife Jo, by showing up with his new fiancé to get the divorce papers between he and Jo finally signed. While there, Jo shows Bill that an early tornado detector they invented together is ready to be tested. Bill is reluctantly pulled back into working with his old team when he finds out a former member of the team stole their detector idea and is trying to get his working before Bill and Jo’s.
Legacy: While a financial success, the critical reception to the film was much less favorable, with most critics agreeing that it’s a movie where you have to check your brain at the door and not think too hard about any of it. The film was recognized by the Academy Awards with nominations for effects and sound, but also recognized by “Worst of” awards for Jami Getz’s performance as Bill’s new fiance and as the worst written film that grossed over $100 million. The film was adapted into a ride at Universal Studios that ran until 2015. The film also holds the distinction of being the first major film to be released on the DVD format and the last to be released on HD DVD.
Synopsis: Ethan Hunt is the point man for one of the CIA’s Impossible Mission Force teams that is assigned to track a rogue agent who is stealing the list of deep cover agents’ real names, the NOC list. All of Ethan’s team is killed during the mission, with Ethan as the sole survivor. Meeting with his superior, Ethan finds out that his team was being followed by another IMF team, believing one of the team to be the mastermind of the theft of the NOC list. With Ethan the only one alive, they believe he is the culprit. Ethan decides to go underground and steal the NOC list in order to find out who set him up.
Legacy: The film was a financial and critical success, though many criticized the film’s plot for being too confusing and convoluted for a spy genre action film. Tom Cruise’s stunt work during the scene where they steal the NOC list was often imitated in the 90s, specifically the shot of Cruise being dropped into the computer chamber and stopping just an inch before hitting the floor. The film went on to spawn four sequels, with the following two being criticized for focusing more on Cruise and not on the team dynamic of the original television series. The James Bond film ‘Skyfall’ was accused of ripping off the NOC list idea, as the film opened with Bond tracking down a similar list.
Synopsis: Frustrated Marine General Frank Hummel leads a group of Marines to take over Alcatraz island and aim rockets armed with poison gas at San Francisco. Hummel holds the city hostage for $100 million, which he wants given to the families of soldiers who died under his command on missions the country refused to acknowledge. FBI Chemical Weapons Specialist Stanley Goodspeed is brought in infiltrate the island with Navy Seals, along with an aging prisoner, John Mason, a former British agent who can guide the team in as he’s the only person to ever successfully escape from Alcatraz.
Legacy: ‘The Rock’ was a smash hit, becoming one of the highest grossing films of the year. On the critical side, it proved popular among audiences and critics, with Nic Cage and Sean Connery being especially praised for their on-screen chemistry and director Michael Bay praised for his balance of story and action, unlike his films today. ‘The Rock’ also marked the first film in what has been considered to be Nic Cage’s action trilogy, with ‘The Rock’ followed by ‘Con Air’ and ‘Face/Off’, all of which were hits at the box office. Several James Bond references were made in the film about Connery's character, leading to speculation that that Connery was intended to play an aging James Bond had they been able to secure the rights to use the character.
Synopsis: Obese college professor and scientist Sherman Klump is working on a formula that will restructure an overweight person’s DNA and allow them to easily lose weight. Testing the formula on himself, Sherman shrinks down to a slender form, but has a heightened testosterone level. His alter ego, named ‘Buddy Love’, starts taking over Sherman’s life more and more, wrecking his personal life and trying to convince Sherman to take enough of the formula to permanently transform into Buddy.
Legacy: The film is viewed as Eddie Murphy’s return to Hollywood star status after years of cinematic failures. Murphy was praised for his performances as not only Sherman and Buddy, but also the rest of Sherman’s family, including his parents, brother, and grandmother. The film won the Academy Award for Best Makeup, and was praised for visual effects used to have Eddie Murphy playing against multiple versions of himself as the rest of the Klump family. Many felt Murphy should have been nominated for Best Actor for his performances as the Klump family, citing the Academy’s reluctance to nominate comedies as the reason he missed out. A sequel was produced, focusing more on the Klump family and Sherman trying to come to terms with his Buddy Love side while getting ready for his wedding.
Synopsis: Just days before Independence Day, an alien mothership a quarter of the size of the moon deploys nearly two dozen ships, taking up positions over major cities across the planet. A satellite technician, David Levinson, decodes a signal embedded in satellites across the country, discovering a virtual countdown used by the aliens to coordinate their ships for an eventual attack. Using his ex-wife as a White House contact, David contacts the President to warn him of the pending attack, allowing them to escape before the attack and seek refuge in Area 51 while planning a world-wide counter-offensive against the aliens.
Legacy: Many consider ‘ID4’ to be a massive turning point in the summer blockbuster, ushering in the age of big-budget summer action films like ‘Armageddon’, being thin on plot and complex characters but enough action and effects to please the eye. It went on to become the highest grossing film of 1996, and for a time was the second highest grossing film of all time. It helped solidify Will Smith as a major Hollywood star, who opted out of returning for the 2016 sequel. The sequel, which centered on Earth making great advancements in the wake of the alien attack by using alien technology, failed to live up to its predecessor, with mainly calling the film and outright disappointment and failure.
Synopsis: Doug Kinney is an overworked construction contractor whose work keeps him from taking care of things as home. Meeting a geneticist at a job site, Doug is given the chance for more time for himself in the form of a clone that can work while Doug relaxes. As Doug and his clone get accustomed to their new schedules, Doug feels more help is needed and has another clone made. The two clones then feel they need help, and make a clone of the first clone, which comes out “a little special”. While trying to enjoy his newfound time, Doug’s clones cause his family and professional lives to fall apart.
Legacy: Though beloved by fans of Michael Keaton and Harold Ramis, who directed the film, the movie is considered a failure, failing to make back less than half of its $45 million budget. The film was praised for its visual effects, featuring four versions of Michael Keaton on the screen at one time. Keaton was also praised for his performances as the clones, with each playing up a different aspect of Doug’s personality, though some criticized his portrayal of the third clone as being a mental disability stereotype.
Synopsis: A modern-day retelling of Shakespeare’s tragic love story, updating the setting while maintaining the original Shakespearian dialogue. Romeo and Juliet are the youngest children of feuding families in Verona. The two fall for each other, keeping their love secret, and contemplate running away together to escape their families’ hostilities. Unfortunately, other family members, like Juliet’s cousin Tybalt, turn the conflict into a full-on war when blood is shed and Romeo begrudgingly takes an active role in the feud.
Legacy: The film was made for a modest $14 million budget, and succeeded in making that back ten times over. The film was met with general critical praise, especially for stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, and John Leguizamo. Some critics praised the use of a modern, gun-toting setting while maintaining classic dialogue, while others like Roger Ebert felt the modern punk aesthetics clashed too much with the story and legacy of the play. While the technical side of the production received nominations with the Academy Awards, the acting side received much praise through nominations at the MTV Movie Awards.
Synopsis: Years after making their presence known to the Federation, the Borg have made their way to Earth. Due to his experience being assimilated by the Borg, Captain Picard is ordered away from the fight, even though his new Enterprise-E is the most advanced ship in the fleet. Hearing the battle against the Borg ship is failing, Picard enters the fight and leads the fleet to victory, but not before the Borg launch a smaller ship into a rift in space, followed by the Enterprise. The Borg ship and the Enterprise are transported back in time to the day before humans discovered warp travel and made first contact with alien life, with the Borg attempting to stop the event and prevent Earth from creating the Federation. The Enterprise crew must split up to defeat the Borg and ensure First Contact happens.
Legacy: ‘First Contact’ was a financial and critical success, being recognized as the best of the Next Generation Star Trek films, and one of the best Star Trek films overall. Critics praised the use of the Borg as the villains, using the increased budget to improve their look and presence from that in the series. The Borg Queen was also a source of praise, being a seductive character that doesn’t fit into the typical Hollywood image of “sexy”. Actor Jonathan Frakes was also given a lot of credit for taking over the directing duties, which he did many times during the run on the series, being able to make the film feel like a true big-screen adaptation of the television series. Unfortunately, the magic of ‘First Contact’ couldn’t be recaptured in the following two Next Generations films, both considered failures and the reason why the series was rebooted with J.J. Abrams at the helm.
Synopsis: A local high school girl is brutally murdered by a masked killer, sparking a media circus at the school, which is all too familiar to Sydney, whose mother was murdered a year prior. Sydney starts receiving phone calls from a distorted voice, identical to the one from the first murder, indicating Sydney to be a target. As others are killed, it becomes clear that someone is creating a real-life horror movie, with Sydney and her friends as the cast of victims.
Legacy: ‘Scream’ single-handedly breathed new life into the dying horror movie genre, and continued the trend of meta horror films Wes Craven began with ‘New Nightmare’ and still continues with recent films like ‘Tucker and Dale vs. Evil’ and ‘Cabin in the Woods’. The movie was a financial success and quickly spawned a franchise that includes three sequels and a new television show. Actors and actresses lobbied hard to be cast as the pre-title victim, seeing what it did for the career of Drew Barrymore in the first film.
Synopsis: While searching for their stolen television set, Beavis and Butthead stumble across a criminal who mistakes the duo for a pair of hitmen he’s ordered to take out his wife. Believing they are being asked to sleep with his wife, Beavis and Butthead agree to track her down and unknowingly land in the middle of a chemical weapon threat against the nation that lead the two across the country and right into the White House.
Legacy: At the time, the Beavis and Butthead television show was a controversial show that many considered to be representative of the problems with America’s youth. So it came as a surprise to many critics when the film came out and was great. It went on to become one of the best reviewed films of the year, with Siskel and Ebert giving it Two Thumbs Up and even calling it “brilliant”. However, the film did have its detractors, with Beavis and Butthead being nominated for Razzie awards in the categories “Worst New Star” and “Worst Screen Couple”.