After a quarter of century, it may be challenging for some people to remember how many films a particular year had. Even those who lived through 1989 may have forgotten just how many films were released that year we still talk about to this day. You can go on Twitter now and find enough references and allusions to 1989 films than perhaps any other year before or since. Was that a truly golden year for the state of movies on a level that matches 1939?
Various writers (including myself) have written pieces proving that 1939 wasn’t the only year of classic films that stand the test of time. Some have said 1980 was paved with similar cinematic gold. I’ve even cited 1994 as an especially noteworthy year that brought such movies as “Forrest Gump” and “Pulp Fiction.” The latter two movies are still quoted on an almost daily basis on social media, plus get repeated cable airings.
Since those articles were written, though, I’ve noticed just about every significant film released in 1989 has had far more media mentions than anything from those other years. In fact, we’re still talking about films from 1989 more than the entirety of films from 1939, other than perhaps “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.”
Out of all 1989 films, which ones will we still be talking about 25 years from now? We may be talking about them more because 1989 was the bridge between Generation Y and those older, plus where Gen Y had their first great movie experiences.
“Field of Dreams”
Plenty of analysis of “Field of Dreams” is being done now based on its 25th anniversary. It was one of the first movies to depict a heavenly realm unfolding right here on earth, which had never been done prior. The film also managed to associate baseball with the spiritual, and this captured the emotions of nearly every age demographic. It’s possible the film would have been even a bigger hit now had it been released this year. With more movies on spiritual themes releasing everywhere, it also could have been used as a catharsis to all the steroid scandals plaguing baseball.
Yes, it gives 1989 a bit of a nostalgia considering baseball’s reputation was still a number of years away from being tainted.
“When Harry Met Sally”
Everyone in 1989 should have predicted the fake orgasm scene in the café with Meg Ryan would have been referenced for time immemorial. More than that, “When Harry Met Sally” has set a template for romantic comedies that we still see emulated to this day. Even if romantic comedies are exponentially more adult now than Nora Ephron’s classic, how many lines do you still see being quoted from this film on social media? “I’ll have what she’s having” seems to be the indirect progenitor of “That’s what she said.”
“Dead Poets Society”
This could be Robin Williams’s best film ever other than “Mrs. Doubtfire.” His John Keating is arguably one of the most inspiring movie teachers since Mr. Chips, and perhaps exceeding that based on his freewheeling recitation of poetry. We’re still hearing Williams recite Walt Whitman’s “What will your verse be?” on TV commercials. And the “O Captain! My Captain!” poem still has strong legs on college campuses today thanks to its renaissance from “Dead Poets Society.”
Even if this film has one of the most depressing endings of any film that year, we probably won’t see or hear more references of a Robin Williams film than this one. It may be tied alongside seeing the clip of Mrs. Doubtfire with that pie on her face.
“The Little Mermaid”
With Disney making this into a Broadway musical recently, the film that brought Disney animation back into prominence still has plenty of references in pop culture. Even “Saturday Night Live” has taken it on again recently in a sketch showing Princess Ariel singing rap songs to Ursula. And while this perhaps didn’t have as many memorable songs as ensuing Disney animated hits, “Under the Sea” is still a popular Calypso anthem. More than anything, though, it ushered in the concept of bringing Broadway sounds to animated films. “The Little Mermaid” is now the polar opposite cousin to the film that revived the Broadway concept: “Frozen.”
“Back to the Future Part II”
Derided in its day, there’s so much eerie irony with this film that it may have to take a separate article to elaborate. Considering we’re only one year away (at the time of this writing) from the future year used in this sequel, you can see more references to the film recently than the first “Back to the Future” or “Part III” combined. With Nike even making special-edition self-tying sneakers and a prototype for the hoverboard being made, it seems we’re trying to push for a real 2015 akin to the movie.
While we likely won’t resemble it that much, the film also eerily predicted hi-def TV and the multitude of cable channels to choose from. It makes “Back to the Future Part II” a 1989 classic in a much more interesting way than any other film made the same year.