It’s been 25 years since one of the biggest summer movie seasons in my lifetime. As a teenager with little money to my name, I had to pick and choose from a big selection of films I wanted to see. What follows is a list of my top five most enjoyable films of the last summer of the ’80s.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Harrison Ford returned to the screen as Indiana Jones after a 5-year absence, bringing along some of the elements that made Raiders of the Lost Ark so enjoyable. Although Temple of Doom was a financial success, the dark overtones seemed to hold that one back from matching the original in quality. Last Crusade followed the formula of Raiders, adding some new facets as well (most notably, Indy’s origins and relationship with his father).
Indy teams up with Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) once again, but his most memorable interactions are with Henry Jones (Sean Connery). Their chemistry as father and son reflects a mutual aggravation with one another, coupled with a grudging respect. The adventure upon which they embark is not so much a quest for the Holy Grail as much as it is a journey that bridges a generational divide.
If you are old enough to remember, put yourself back in this time period. The Batman universe had been dominated by the Adam West live-action series and the “Super Friends” cartoon. Although DC Comics released “The Dark Knight Returns” three years earlier, the general public was still not used to a serious version of the character. Camp-Batman was so ingrained in the popular culture, that he became a joke.
Enter Tim Burton and the new Batmania. Merchandising was everywhere, Prince’s “Batdance” had been released, and the public was working up to a frenzy. Jack Nicholson, already a giant in Hollywood, was cast as the Joker. Michael Keaton wasn’t an extremely popular choice as Batman, but that didn’t scare the audiences.
The end result was something the public had not seen before. The sets and music were dark and moody. Batman had an ominous presence when on screen, and we knew the days of “Pow!” “Sock!” “Biff!” and bat-surfboards were a thing of the past.
“Weird Al” Yankovic likes to joke about how this movie got swallowed up in the wake of so much summer competition. That doesn’t negate the fact that this is a fun movie to watch. If you enjoy a good spoof, check this one out.
Yankovic plays George Newman, an aimless nobody who drifts into daydreams on a regular basis. After getting fired more times than he can remember, George is given the chance to run his own local TV station. This opens the door for all sorts of music, TV, and movie parodies in the “Weird Al” style.
One thing to note is the supporting cast: Michael Richards, Fran Drescher, Victoria Jackson, Billy Barty, and Kevin McCarthy, among others. One viewing of “Raul’s Wild Kingdom,” and you’ll never look at turtles the same way again.
Dead Poets Society
Robin Williams at his best. He plays an English teacher at an all-boys prep school who genuinely cares about his students, impacting many of them for the better. What hits home with me about this movie is that, several years earlier, I had a history teacher in high school made from the same mold.
The acting is great across the board. You BELIEVE Todd Anderson is meek, Knox Overstreet is in love, and Neil’s dad is a strict disciplinarian. The third act is highly emotional, and the final scene just resonates for a long time. This was once my all-time favorite movie. In retrospect, I see and acknowledge the cliches. However, it’s still worth a watch.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
Rick Moranis plays a scientist who develops a shrinking device. After a mishap, his kids (and the neighbor’s kids) are miniaturized and accidentally dropped off at the other end of his back yard.
This movie is ridiculous fun. CGI was in its infancy, so the movie relies largely on oversized set pieces and some stop-motion animation. The plot has been seen before: Characters who don’t get along are forced to work together, in order to achieve a common goal. You know where it’s heading, so just enjoy the ride until you get there.
Honorable Mention: The first 20 minutes of Star Trek V
After watching Star Trek IV a number of times, I was anxious to see the next installment in the series. Unfortunately, this movie let me (and many others) down. It’s not without its merits, though. The interaction of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy during the camping scene played off quite well (try not to crack a smile listening to a half-drunk McCoy try to insult Spock).
The humor wasn’t over the top, and there were also some good scenes with the rest of the regulars. However, once the Enterprise embarks on its mission, the whole movie collapses.
Not Listed Above
What made the summer of 1989 so big? Hollywood also released the following: Lethal Weapon 2, Ghostbusters II, Parenthood, When Harry Met Sally, Turner & Hooch, Uncle Buck, Field of Dreams, The Abyss, Major League, Licence to Kill, Weekend at Bernie’s, Do the Right Thing, and Road House. There was something for just about anyone, and just about anyone went to the movies. In my mind, the summer of 1989 is the SECOND biggest movie summer of my adolescence. The biggest? 1984. Stay tuned for an overview of that experience.