The Movies of Summer 1993

Is 93 for you and me?
April 27, 2015
The year is 1993. The President is the divine Miss Sarah Bernhardt. And all over America, people were doing a dance called the Funky Grandpa!!

Sorry for the poor video quality, but it's the best I can find.

Okay, so maybe it's a rather obscure Simpsons reference, but seriously, that's one of my all time favorite Grandpa Simpson moments...

So, welcome to the summer of 93. I turned 16 that summer, and much like the previous year, things were rough for my family. With my dad gone and my brothers off in college, my mom decided we needed a smaller house. She started plans to build us a new house. Unfortunately, that would mean that we would have to live somewhere else that summer, as our old house had been sold, and our new one wouldn't be completed until December.

And so, during the summer, we lived at my grandmother's old house which had been empty at the time. It's not that it was a bad house, my problem with it was that there was no central air conditioning. And of course, the summer became one of the hottest on record. And due to the street repair job that was going on right outside most of the summer, not only did we have construction sounds most of the day, but the wonderful smell of pavement tar would always be on the breeze. We couldn't close the windows and turn on the air, so we just had to live with the heat, noise, and smell.

I remember three things about that summer. One was I was kind of depressed, due to the home situation and troubles at school I had during the previous year. Another was that I spent most of that summer sleeping on the floor of the living room in a sleeping bag, because that room was the coolest at night, and we had a plug in fan in that room, so it was fairly comfortable in there. The final thing I remember is that I got into walking that summer. The house was in close distance to some stores, the library and the movie theater, so I decided to walk to a lot of these places. I became hooked on walking, and I still do it regularly to this day.

But enough about me. Time to look back at the summer movies that served as my escapism from the heat and construction that summer. We've got quite a few to cover this time around, so let's get the ball rolling.


WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Charlie Sheen is back as Topper Harley, only this time, the satirical target of the film is the Rambo franchise. Even veteran character actor and Rambo regular, the late Richard Crenna, shows up to spoof his image in those films. Topper has fled to a Tibetan village, and must be coaxed out of retirement in order to rescue some Iraq war prisoners. Much like the first film, it's pretty much wall to wall silliness here, with plenty of jabs at the late 80s and early 90s action cliches. Everything from Terminator 2 to Apocalypse Now to even Lady and the Tramp gets kidded here.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Boy, did I feel smart when this movie came out. You see, I had taken French class for my foreign language in high school, while my friends had taken Spanish or German. So, they had no idea what "Part Deux" meant when it came out. So, for one brief shining moment, French class paid off. That being said, I remember liking this movie quite a lot. I was really into these silly spoof films at the time, and I thought this one hit its satire targets better than the first one.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This is a fun movie. Again, it's not one of the classics of the genre, like Airplane! or Top Secret, but it still has more than its share of laughs. The most memorable moment for me is easily the body counter during a major action sequence, which dubs the film to be bloodier than Total Recall and Robocop. Has anyone actually checked if that was accurate? If it's true, funny that this movie got away with a PG-13, despite having a higher body count.


Sylvester Stallone is Gabe Walker, a professional mountain climber who is still haunted by the memory of how he was unable to save a friend, and she plunged to her death during a climb. One year later, Gabe is asked to go back to the same mountain in order to save some stranded people, only to learn that the people are actually criminals led by a psychopath (John Lithgow), who are seeking a fortune that is lost within the mountains. Gabe will have to survive and outwit the criminals who have no intention of leaving him alive once they get their money.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: To say that Stallone has had a spotty movie record would be kind at best. Heck, even back in 93 when he was still one of the leading action stars in Hollywood, he was still struggling pretty bad. I remember at the time, this movie cemented a bit of credibility back to his career, at least for a short while. This was one of the better action films he had done at the time. It delivered exactly on what it promised, had plenty of action and thrills, and was simple yet exciting enough to work as summer entertainment.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Not much has changed, really. I still view this as one of the better later Stallone films, or at least one I don't enjoy on a guilty pleasure level. Yes, the plot is completely off the wall, and some of the actions of the characters don't make a lot of sense outside of the plot. But the mountain setting is beautifully shot and novel, Lithgow makes for a good over the top villain, and the movie does have a kind of Die Hard feel, with a regular guy in over his head premise. It's certainly not great or a classic by any means, but it stands as one of Stallone's more watchable later outings.


WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: The first in a long line of disappointing movie adaptations of video games kicks off with this loose interpretation of Super Mario Bros., which finds the famous duo of Mario (the late Bob Hoskins) and Luigi (John Leguizamo) warped to a gritty urban world filled with human/lizard hybrids run by the tyrannical King Koopa (the late Dennis Hopper). The brothers must save Princess Daisy (Samantha Mathis), defeat Koopa, restore order to the alternate world, and save the Earth in the process.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I was looking forward to this movie, as I liked a lot of the actors who were going to be in it when I started hearing about it. Then the trailers came out, and while it didn't look anything like Super Mario Bros., I was kind of intrigued by the special effects and again the cast, so I was still looking forward to it. My best friend and I went to see it opening weekend, and we didn't really know what to make of it. We didn't quite hate it as much as everybody else seemed to, but there was definitely something off here. There was no magic or fun that you would associate with a Super Mario movie. And despite the movie squeezing in numerous references to the games, it just did not feel like a Mario movie to me.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This is far from the worst movie to be made from a video game, but it is one of the more confused and muddled movies I've seen. And if you look up the behind the scenes story, you'll know why. Much like Cool World in my previous article, this is a movie that was radically changed and altered. The actors had signed on to the original script, which was a fantasy comedy adventure film in the style of The Princess Bride. When they showed up on set, the film had completely changed to a gritty Sci-Fi special effects comedy, with an entirely new script, and nobody had informed the actors. Nobody knew what was going on, the movie was constantly being rewritten every day it seemed, and the whole thing ends up being a bloated effects-heavy mess. Bob Hoskins would go on to say that this was the worst film he ever made. At least John Leguizamo kept his sense of humor about it. He hosted a 20th anniversary screening of the film a couple years ago, and the stories and anecdotes about the troubled shoot are incredible.


WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: If you don't know the plot to this one, I say, "Welcome to Earth, strange visitor from another world!". An eccentric billionaire (the late Sir Richard Attenborough) and his team of scientists have found a way to genetically create their own dinosaurs. The goal is to create the ultimate theme park on a distant island around these creations. A group of scientists and experts and invited to the island for a sneak preview, and naturally everything that can go wrong does. The dinosaurs escape, the visitors are trapped on the island with no power, and the movie itself ushers in an at the time revolution in special effects technology.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I already kind of talked about my thoughts of this one in my early article "10 Moments in Pop Culture That Shaped My Youth". Long story short, to this day, this remains the best experience I've ever had in a movie theater. I just remember the entire audience being into the movie the likes of which I had never seen before, and that feeling carried right through me and lifted my spirits, which had been pretty low at the time. To me, this is the perfect summer movie. It was thrilling, funny and offered visuals that we had never seen before. I saw it three times at the theater during the course of the summer of 93, and I know I wasn't alone. The world seemed enamored with this movie that summer.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Is this movie perfect? Heck, no. Does it have flaws? Oh my goodness, yes. Do I care? Nope. Do I still watch this every time I see it on? You bet. Do I still consider seeing this movie opening night the best movie theater experience of my life? No other movie viewing experience even comes close. You can nitpick this movie all you want, but you can never take away the sheer fun this movie brings me. When I think of summer movies, I think of Jurassic Park.


WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A kid (Austin O'Brien) obsessed with an action movie character named Jack Slater (Arnold Schwarzenegger) finds himself transported inside the latest Slater movie with the help of a magic movie ticket. As the kid wanders about the movie's world, pointing out the cliches and impossibilities usually associated with action films, the villain of the movie discovers a way to cross over into the kid's real world, and plans world domination by bringing an army of movie villains and monsters out of the screen and into reality.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This was the first big stumble for Schwarzenegger after a string of smash hits. The movie was hyped up to be the big summer movie event of the year. Heck, the movie was even advertised on the outside of a space shuttle for crying out loud! However, behind the scenes talk of the movie was very worrisome. For one thing, they were actually shooting and working on the movie up to one week before it was released. The stories of the troubled production are legendary, and they're all up there on the screen. As a kid, I thought this was a fun idea that never came together. It didn't know if it was going for whimsy, satire, spoof, fantasy, adventure or if it was a kid's movie. It tried to juggle all this, and the end result left most audiences cold, including myself.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This movie just has so many weird ideas. I mean, why is there a cartoon cat voiced by Danny Devito working at the police station in the movie world? I know it's supposed to be a movie where anything can happen, but it just makes no sense! The satire isn't sharp or funny enough, and the characters aren't written well enough for us to care about them when the movie wants to be a fantasy adventure. This is another case of a script (which was supposedly much better and funnier) being altered so much that it barely resembled a coherent final product, and just ended up being a bloated commercial product that fell flat on its face.


WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A young boy (Ross Malinger) calls a radio call-in show, wanting help for his dad (Tom Hanks), who is grieving over the death of his wife. On the other side of the U.S., an engaged but lonely woman (Meg Ryan), hears the radio show, and becomes fascinated by him. Despite the distance between them, the two seem destined to meet and fall in love in this old fashioned romantic comedy heavily influenced by An Affair to Remember.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: It was usually tough to get my mom to see a movie (she preferred to rent movies on video, as it was cheaper), but I don't remember having much trouble convincing her to see this one. This became the surprise small movie that eventually became a hit that summer, and it's easy to see why. It was a sweet natured and unquestionably romantic film that served as the perfect antidote for people who weren't interested in CG dinosaurs. (I mean, I suppose those people have to exist...) It helped that the movie was genuinely funny at times, and never became so sappy that guys couldn't enjoy it as well as their dates.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Not much has changed. I hadn't seen this movie in years, and catching up with it was a pleasant surprise. The film's writer-director, the late Nora Ephron, excelled at making romantic comedies that were smarter than the norm (she was best known for writing When Harry Met Sally), and this is no better on display than here. The cast is charming, the script is funny, and it's just a very nice small movie to watch on a couch.


WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: The little blond-haired trouble making tyke from the funny papers (played here by Mason Gamble) gets his first theatrical movie. The first hour or so is more or less built around the relationship he has with his grumpy neighbor, Mr. Wilson (Walter Matthau, great casting there), as well as a lot of slapstick gags. But, because this is a John Hughes movie from the 90s, there has to be a burglar and/or kidnapper to be abused in a series of pratfalls, so the last half is devoted to Dennis being kidnapped by a drifter named Switchblade Sam (Christopher Lloyd), and having the kid abuse him in a series of forced hijinks.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Even as a kid, I kind of knew that I was watching the downfall of a great writer here. While it's not a terrible movie by any stretch of the imagination, as someone who grew up on John Hughes' 80s film catalog, this felt like stale leftovers of his success with Home Alone. Heck, we had just had Home Alone 2 the year before, and that was just a pale imitation of the first. Now here was Hughes pretty much selling out again, and writing a family comedy on autopilot. If only I knew how regular an occurrence this would be throughout the rest of the 90s. I remember liking some of the scenes between Mr. Wilson and Dennis, but a lot of the movie just felt like a good writer was cashing a paycheck, especially during the last half.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: The guy who brought us Ferris Bueller and Planes, Trains and Automobiles should not have ended his career doing nothing but uninspired family films (Flubber, the live action 101 Dalmations) and remakes that we did not need (A Miracle on 34th Street). Still, of the films that mark Hughes' "sell out" period, this is watchable, mainly for Matthau's performance. If the movie had just focused solely on the relationship between Mr. Wilson and Dennis, the movie would probably have worked. Instead, it separates them for the last half, and has an unnecessary villain hijack the entire movie. There is some good stuff here (I think the music score by the great Jerry Goldsmith is one of his better later ones), but it's also pretty forgettable overall.


WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A secret service agent (Clint Eastwood) is still haunted by the memories of the fact that he was not able to save John F. Kennedy the day he was shot. Now a madman (John Malkovich) has taken a personal interest in him, and has started taunting him with his plans to assassinate the current President. The agent is determined not to let the past repeat itself, and track the killer down.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This was really my first introduction to Eastwood. My dad was a big fan of Westerns, so I would sometimes see some of his old movies on TV a lot growing up, but I never really paid much attention to them. This movie, however, really grabbed my attention and made me a fan, which I remain to this day. This was a tight and very well executed thriller that really knew how to build up the suspense. Eastwood and Malkovich made great enemies here, and the way they play off of and toy with each other is what I remember enjoying the most.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This is still a great thriller that sadly has kind of gone forgotten by most people today. I remember it kind of being overshadowed by another thriller (The Firm with Tom Cruise, which had come out the week before), but still finding an audience back in the day. I still feel this was a great introduction to Eastwood as an actor, and that this is une of the relatively unsung gems of 93.


WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: In modern day Salem, a group of kids on Halloween night accidentally resurrect three witch sisters (Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy), who immediately set about their ancient plan of earning eternal youth by stealing the souls of children. The kids team up with a talking black cat (who has a history with the witches) in order to stop their plan.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: What in the name of the Great Pumpkin was this movie doing being released in the summer? Even back in the day, I thought it was weird that the studio couldn't have just waited three months, and released it in October, which would have made more sense. As for my thoughts on the film, while there were some moments I smiled at, I found this to be a fairly aimless movie. The kids never come across as interesting heroes, and the witches are never threatening, as the movie is too concerned making them into bungling Three Stooges-types, always slapping each other around and acting silly. I remember thinking this was a good idea that just wasn't executed as well as it should have. It seemed more concerned with being loud and silly than making sense.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: The movie was a flop back in the day, but has since built a very big and vocal fanbase. So much so, that there is talk of a sequel. Honestly, I can't see why people love this movie so much. It always comes across as a waste of a good idea whenever I watch it. The antics of the witches just does not make me laugh, and the movie just seems to be trying too hard. Still, I know lots of people who love this movie, so I guess I'm never going to escape it.


WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: After the surprise success of Wayne's World, Saturday Night Live head honcho, Lorne Michaels, dug deep into the show's past for the next feature length film. This is more or less the untold origin story of how aliens Beldar (Dan Aykroyd) and Prymatt (Jane Curtin) came to Earth, and began trying to mingle in our society. They raise a family, having a teenage daughter named Connie (Michelle Burke), and try to avoid Federal Agents who think that the Coneheads may not be from around here.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I remember back then thinking it was kind of weird for them to be doing a Coneheads movie, as the characters had not been in the public eye for years. Still, I remember liking it back then. It wasn't as crazy or as funny as Wayne's World, but it was never meant to be. This movie was more laid back, and kind of like a feature length sitcom. It had a certain silly gentleness that kind of appealed to me.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Again, this is not a great movie by any means, but I really don't get a lot of the hatred it seems to get from most people. It's a simple, laid back and goofy movie that's not very engaging, but never offensive, either. It's the kind of movie that you can have on in the background when you're doing something else, and kind of look at and smile at what's going on once in a while. I can see why the movie never caught on or became a hit (it's not as funny as it could have or should have been), but it's certainly nothing unwatchable.


WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Mel Brooks turns his satirical touch to the Robin Hood legend, taking aim mostly at Prince of Thieves from two years earlier, but also poking fun at the earlier Errol Flynn film. Cary Elwes steps into the tights of Robin this time around, as he teams up with the Merry Men (which includes a pre-fame Dave Chappelle) to battle the evil Prince John (Richard Lewis) and the Sheriff of Rottingham (Roger Rees), and of course fall in love with Maid Marion (Amy Yasbeck), and find a way to unlock her chastity belt.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I was a big fan of Brooks back in the day, particularly Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and Spaceballs. I was looking forward to his skewering of Prince of Thieves, especially since I wasn't a fan of that film, and thought it was ripe for parody. In the end, I walked away disappointed. Oh, there were laughs, but there were also a lot of dead spots that I thought the movie was being very lazy, or just crude for the sake of being crude. I remember my friends liking it back then, but I did not consider this to be Brooks at his best.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: I actually like this less than I did back then. The movie has not held up for me. The jokes are just far too obvious, and never hit as hard as they should. There was a time when Brooks was one of the sharpest parodists out there, but his humor had gotten kind of dull by this point. The movie is slow and kind of plodding, when people like the Zucker Brothers were throwing in jokes in just about every frame. This is just a big misfire all around for me.


WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) is a noted medical doctor whose world is thrown into chaos when someone breaks into his home and murders his wife. Even worse, all the evidence at the crime scene seems to point to him. He is found guilty at trial, but while he is being transported to prison, a freak accident gives him a second chance at freedom and at proving his innocence, as well as tracking down the real killer. All the while, a manhunt for Dr. Kimble led by the relentless Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) is constantly on his tail.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: The 90s had a slew of movies based on old TV shows from the 50s and 60s, thanks largely in part to the success of 1991's The Addams Family film. This was one of the more successful and popular films to come from that trend, and it's easy to see why. I found this to be a tight, suspenseful and wonderfully executed action thriller. I particularly remember the train crash scene (the sequence where Kimble gets his freedom back) being a particular highlight. There was just so much right here. The performances from Ford and Jones were pitch perfect, the action was intense, and the movie just had a relentlessly exciting tone.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: While Jurassic Park probably remains my favorite summer movie, this is definitely the best made and most rewarding summer movie of 93. Even over 20 years later, this remains as exciting and well done as back in the day. Heck, it's better than a lot of the action thrillers we get today. Everything just came together for this one in a special way that has seldom been topped. If you haven't seen this one in a while, or missed it when it was in theaters, it's well worth checking out.


WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Based on the novel by Stephen King, an elderly man named Leland Gaunt (Max von Sydow) moves into the small town of Castle Rock, and opens an antique shop that seems to have something for everyone in stock. However, his items come with a terrible price, as the people who buy his items have to perform a "favor" for Mr. Gaunt in payment, which usually means pulling a prank or doing something horrible to someone else in town. The entire town eventually becomes a war zone as the townspeople turn against each other, wanting to hold onto the precious "needful things", while the local Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Ed Harris) begins to suspect that Mr. Gaunt is not as harmless as he seems, and may even be a force of supernatural evil who has come to claim the souls of the innocent people of his town.

WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: The novel Needful Things was the book that got me into reading Stephen King back when it came out. It was darkly funny, while still keeping an edge of suspense, and a lot of action that kept the massive novel moving at a quick pace. I was excited to see it get adapted into a movie, so I saw it opening day, and was met with great disappointment. Certain elements and characters were changed, key plot points were dropped, and the whole thing just felt like a pale imitation of the novel. The actors were fine, and the movie was well done, but it just lacked the energy of the book.

WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: While I still find this to be a disappointing adaptation of the novel, there are some nice touches here and there. I particularly like a sequence that is staged perfectly to the classical music piece, 'In the Hall of the Mountain King". The performances are also pretty good here. Really, I have nothing to object to the filmmaking, rather it's the script that's at fault here. It cuts out too much, makes some changes that just don't make any sense at all, and really just does not do a good job of creating the same feeling of dark comedy and menace that King did with his original story. This remains a big disappointment to me, as I'm still a fan of the novel, and still have my old hardcover book that I bought back in the day.

And with that, we close out the Summer 93 movie season, or at least the movies I saw back in the day. I hope you enjoyed it, especially since I know some of you were anxious for me to cover this year.

We have a lot of great stuff coming up in 94, where the world learned what "Hakuna Matata" meant, Jim Carrey seemed to take over the world, and "Life is like a box of chocolates" became the catchphrase that seemingly would never die.

Join me next time as I look back on those and many more films. Until next time, I appreciate your support for this series, and I will be back soon!
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