Tom Jolliffe ventures back 30 years to 1992, a year full of breakouts, action spectacle, iconic soundtracks and more…
In my retrospective delve into the year of 1982, I boldly claimed that it might have been the greatest year of film ever. As I thrust my time machine forward a decade, I wandered the cinematic landscape to discover that 1992, which is now, depressingly, 30 years ago, pushes 1982 pretty damn close. It’s a year of great works, diverse films, somewhat short on sequels (outside of horror, littered with them), as well as a hive of classic action cinema.
Action really is the order of the day here, ironically in a year devoid of standout Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger hits. The less said about Sly’s Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, the better, although I hold my hands up to admit, it’s a very (very) guilty pleasure.
So beginning with all things kicking, punching and exploding, the action landscape was impressive. It was a significant year for several rising action stars looking to take the leap up to the heels of Sly and Arnold, as well as becoming a breakout for one such upstart. Wesley Snipes took to the skies, battling a slitheringly villainous Bruce Payne in Passenger 57, a blitzing and brief sub-90 minute Die Hard riff which was the first film to really showcase Snipes as a potential action man and allow him to unleash his martial arts skills.
Elsewhere, Steven Seagal’s successful run of moralistic cop action thrillers was interrupted by a big-budget, star-powered ‘Die Hard on a Boat with Erika Eleniak in Cake’ opus in Under Siege. It was a perfect star vehicle for Seagal and he got to play the straight man to the scenery chomping theatrics of Gary Busey and Tommy Lee Jones (a year prior to reteaming with Andrew Davis, and winning an Oscar for The Fugitive). The subsequent box office results saw Seagal’s status soar.
Elsewhere there was a two for one titan special, as Jean-Claude Van Damme faced off with Dolph Lundgren in Universal Soldier. It proved a jump in box office levels for Van Damme, whilst Lundgren stole the show as the villain. For Van Damme it triggered a run of bigger budget pictures (with TimeCop also proving a huge hit two years later), whilst Lundgren’s star power would begin to fade, with a disappointing run of misfiring (albeit interesting) films.
There was also a heady double dose of cyberpunk-infused action with Albert Pyun’s Nemesis (a breakout for Olivier Gruner which he could never quite capitalise on) and Split Second (set in a dystopian and flood sodden London, with Rutger Hauer in fine fettle).
The boys were back in town too with Lethal Weapon 3 sort of watering down the franchise at this point, even if it retains much of the charms associated with the first two. Trespass was an underrated, rock solid Walter Hill joint and Robert Rodriguez’s micro budget delight, El Mariachi broke open a number of doors for the Mexican auteur. The year also saw Batman Returns, which was filled to the brim with inspired Tim Burton visuals.
In the video premiere section, there were such doozies as Mission of Justice (Jeff Wincott), Lady Dragon, Rage and Honor, Honor and Glory (all Cynthia Rothrock, the latter a riotously bad Godfrey Ho special), Out for Blood, Blackbelt and not just Bloodfist III, but Bloodfist IV (nuggets from Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson). Meanwhile, Lorenzo Lamas released four (Final Impact, The Swordsman, Snakeeater 3, and CIA: Codename Alexa), Michael Dudikoff (and a young Stephen Dorff) released a late era Cannon action comedy Rescue Me, Michael Pare (with Dennis Hopper and Adam Ant…yes, correct) starred in Midnight Heat and Billy Blanks had Talons of the Eagle and Invincible.
There were swathes more from all manner of kickboxing and six pack packing ass whoopers, whilst the overseas action market bought Once Upon a Time in China 2, Supercop and Twin Dragons (from Jackie Chan) and the undisputed champ of them all…Hard Boiled. John Woo’s pre-Hollywood jump is still unsurpassed for action pyrotechnics.
Okay, I’m beginning to think 1992 is even closer to 1982, and we’re not even into the romance filled dramas that took the box office by storm. Firstly, the sight of Kevin Costner carrying Whitney Houston through a crowd of people in The Bodyguard became an iconic image, but not half as iconic as the headlining soundtrack song, I Will Always Love You (Houston’s cover of the classic country song).
The year also saw Daniel Day Lewis continue to magnetize praise and swooning in equal measure, here with long flowing locks that would make the aforementioned Lorenzo Lamas proud, and galloping through the woods to the aid of Madeleine Stowe, in Michael Mann’s breakout hit (after years of firing out cult favourites but not much box office return) Last of the Mohicans. The film’s accompanying soundtrack is exceptional too.
Spike Lee and Denzel were in blistering form with Malcolm X, Glengarry Glenn Ross was packed with a jaw dropping cast, all in red hot form, Al Pacino was also hoo-haa-ing in Scent of a Woman (hoo hah!!), Jack Nicholson was roaring at Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men. Elsewhere, the genre was packed with quality productions, A River Runs Through It, Unforgiven, Howards End, Orlando and more.
As far as the most dazzling visuals and histrionic drama, that could be found in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, a stunning achievement in mise-en-scene, and an abomination of accents from Keanu Reeves (and Winona Ryder in truth too).
The year also a bountiful harvest of thrillers, particularly loaded with an undercurrent of obsession. Basic Instinct would become the most iconic as Sharon Stone sizzled. It’s a film better than just a leg crossing scene, a great femme fatale throwback in the age where Paul Verhoeven could push the limits of film censors.
The year also had a couple of great follow-ons for the popular post Fatal Attraction trend, with Single White Female (featuring an amazing Jennifer Jason Leigh) and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (featuring an amazing Rebecca De Mornay). Final Analysis teamed Richard Gere and Kim Basinger (whilst adding an effectively slimy Eric Roberts).
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Harrison Ford starred as Jack Ryan in the somewhat ambling espionage thriller Patriot Games, techno heist thriller Sneakers had a great showing from the late great Sidney Poitier (along with Robert Redford and an all-star cast) and Harvey Keitel delved into the darkness with Abel Ferrara’s grim tale of an unravelling, amoral cop on the edge in Bad Lieutenant.
There were a whole array of lesser known potboilers that went under the radar or hit the cable channels or video stores first. Past Midnight featured Rutger Hauer, revelling in his role (as always), Joan Severance was showing Illicit Behaviour and Shannon Tweed starred in Sexual Response and Liar’s Edging (sorry, Liar’s Edge). However the real standout of the year would be Quentin Tarantino’s breakout masterpiece, Reservoir Dogs. Maybe not just the best thriller, but certainly vying for best film full stop (with Stop of My Mom Will Shoot probably).
If Benjamin was an ice-cream flavour, he’d be pralines and dick. Yeah, back when Mike Myers was funny, Wayne’s World, a SNL skit adapted to feature length film proved: A) surprisingly most excellent; and B) hugely popular. The comedy landscape was also heaving. There was Home Alone 2, Aladdin (with the late Robin Williams providing a vocal tour-de-force), Encino Man (I’m the weasel), Death Becomes Her, My Cousin Vinny (with every MCU fans favourite hot Aunt, Marisa Tomei), and Buffy The Vampire Slayer (the busy Rutger Hauer again in a film shortly eclipsed by a TV show).
The year also saw Wesley Snipes again, alongside Woody Harrelson. A dynamic and fast talking duo in the very excellent, White Men Can’t Jump (currently subject to remake rumours). The Player is a classic film about film with a razor sharp script, Nicolas Cage had a Honeymoon in Vegas (shortly before Leaving Las Vegas a couple of years later), and Baz Luhrmann did his thing before most people knew what his thing was, in Strictly Ballroom.
There were also the delights of Housesitter, Honey I Blew Up the Kids, The Mighty Ducks, Sister Act, Boomerang, Beethoven, Mo Money, the Kid n’ Play classic, Class Act and a film I really love which never quite took off, Stay Tuned (which did WandaVision before WandaVision was a Disney+ thing).
For sheer eye dropping volume of quality entertainment, 1992 is right up there, and the magic only continues with horror. Ash fought the Evil Dead in Army of Darkness (which could just as easily go in comedy or action), the recently rebooted hook hand of Candyman was never better than Bernard Rose’s insightful and prescient, chilling masterwork, Pinhead returned in Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, there was a final sacrifice which wasn’t a final sacrifice in Children of the Corn 2: The Final Sacrifice.
We also had Pet Sematary II, House IV, Alien 3 (the maligned debut of David Fincher, laced with nuggets of quality), another Amityville, Tetsuo 2 and Critters 4. Sequels were seemingly most rife within horror, and not so much elsewhere. The year also saw a couple of underappreciated horror flicks like Sleepwalkers, and Innocent Blood, whilst Mindwarp was an early runner with the VR fascination, alongside the more memorable and successful Lawnmower Man, also part of the 1992 club.
What was your favourite film of 1992? Any films I haven’t mentioned? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021/2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.