Anghus Houvouras with a discussion on which year had the best blockbusters. First up, 1999….
The Case for:
The Sixth Sense
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
The Blair Witch Project
Deep Blue Sea
The Case Against:
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Wild Wild West
As we look back at the best year’s for blockbusters, 1999 is a year that certainly warrants discussion. If for no other reason that it felt like a year when the film industry began to pivot towards the geek friendly landscape that exists today. The year’s most high-profile film (and arguably its worst high profile film) was George Lucas’ return to a Galaxy Far, Far away. The anticipation of that mega-event helped amplify the buzz for every other film released that summer. 1999 provided a number of quality big budget feature films, some modestly priced gems, and some low-budget game changers.
1999 was the year of The Matrix, the movie that stole all the thunder from George Lucas’ turgid, warbling, incoherent FX laden monstrosity. It was released in April in a time before April marked the start of the summer movie season. The Matrix and The Phantom Menace were the dividing line for a generation of film geeks. One film represented the untold promise of the future, while the other was a harbinger for a generation rooted in the past. It helped usher in an era or remakes, prequels, and sequels. It was the first major film that showed the studios the blueprint to strip mine the past.
The Phantom Menace was the most disappointing film of 1999, but the most rancid pile of garbage was Will Smith’s insanely terrible Wild Wild West. A broken proposition from the very start: a remake of a TV show no one remembered. An attempt to bank on Will Smith’s popularity and the comedy/adventure stylings of his previous hit Men in Black. Wild Wild West couldn’t even provide ‘so bad it’s good’ laughs. It’s a movie bereft of chemistry, quality, or anything worthy of mention. Destroying every copy ever could qualify you for a Nobel Peace Prize.
There was one ‘so bad it’s good’ movie that summer: Renny Harlin’s insane Deep Blue Sea. A survival thriller that gave us Jaws on Steroids with fit inducing gore and jump scares. Thomas Jane, Samuel Jackson, and LL Cool J headlined a cast of the swimming dead who pumped a lot of energy into this boilerplate bloodbath. The computer generated sharks were barely believable. At best they were unintentionally hilarious. At worst, a complete waste of render time. And yet, Deep Blue Sea was the kind of fun, disposable summer movies that rarely make their way to the theaters. Unless you’re counting Jurassic World, which seems to have borrowed heavily from Deep Blue Sea’s script.
The Sixth Sense provided one of the summer’s biggest twists, both creatively and financially. An August release starring Bruce Willis and directed by some new kid named M. Night Shyamalan. It was a monster hit, a cultural phenomenon, and had people saying “I see dead people” far too often.
We can’t mention 1999 without talking about Fight Club, the big budget adaptation of the subversive novel which met with a lot of resistance when first released. It was the film that validated our theories that David Fincher was a genius, and the movie went on to achieve great notoriety after it was universally rejected at theaters.
1999 was also a great year for studio comedies. American Pie brought back the teen sex comedy to cineplexes, while the second Austin Powers movie made as much in it’s first weekend as the original did in its entire theatrical run. Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy teamed up for the hilarious look at the bottom rung of the film business with Bowfinger. The big comedy surprise of 1999 was a little movie called Galaxy Quest which wonderfully skewed science fiction, science fiction television, and science fiction geekery with a clever premise and a great cast.
But for me, the best comedy of 1999 was South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. Arguably one of the funniest films ever created. An absolute gobsmack of a movie with amazing writing, boundary pushing humor, and to my surprise, a masterful musical. It’s a film that has only gotten better with age and one of many career highlights for Trey Parker & Matt Stone. That same summer, they also starred in BASEketball, which many would consider anything but a career highlight.
The Game Changer
Found footage wasn’t a term widely used in 1999. That’s because the genre hadn’t really been popularized in pop culture. The Blair Witch Project changed all that. Sure, it was hokey. Yes, it was kind of boring. And you could totally understand those who got motion sick while watching it. However, it was a marketing masterpiece that had people talking. It was yet another film that ‘everyone had to see’, following April’s The Matrix, and soon followed by August’s The Sixth Sense. 1999 was a great year for movies that felt necessary to see. Even The Phantom Menace, just to witness the train wreck first hand.
1999 is definitely in the discussion for the Best Year of Blockbusters. A fantastic mix of well executed, traditional studio fare and a handful of genre defying game changers.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.