10 Years Later…Summer of 1996

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 3 lights the fuse on Summer 2006. What better time to look back on the highest grossing films celebrating their 10th Anniversary this summer.

Not only the top money earner of the year, it changed the way summer movies are sold in three key ways. The White House blowing up started the trend of finding a key image to sell a movie. That shot first aired during the Superbowl, forever cementing the sporting event as THE place to sell your movie. Finally, the title was nicknamed ID4, a shorthand style that continues with X3 and M:I-3

Once again sold itself on a key image, this time a tractor tire bounces through a car windshield and right at the camera. (A shot not in the final film.) The story was dumb enough to include evil tornado chasers (in black vehicles) and the concept that twisters were hunting down one family. But the ads promised twisters (“from the director of SPEED") and we got ‘em. We also got flying cows and some early scenery chewing by Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

That’s right, the entire saga started exactly 10 years ago. People look on the film with mixed feelings, but I thought the three key sequences are a real kick. First is the long opening, chock full of surprise guest stars (who make even more surprising exits). That’s followed by the high wire descent into CIA headquarters, my favorite scene that year. The climax is an exciting chase involving a speeding train and a helicopter pulled down a tunnel. This film started its own unfortunate trend… giving away the explosive finale in the trailer.

“Welcome to The Rock!” old pro Sean Connery roared to recent Oscar-winner Nicholas Cage. The film was directed by Michael Bay, a young upstart with a lot to prove. This was the summer movie for guys who like movies, with an unexpected car chase thrown in just because the money was there. Connery got to pretend like he was old James Bond, Cage became a movie star, and green balls of chemical weapons became the hip threat in action movies. The ads used Queen’s “We Will Rock You”. The film delivered on that promise.

Eddie Murphy’s comeback, crafted with love and some superb makeup effects. After so many bad films, it was great to see Murphy being funny again. His showdown with the insult comic (an unknown Dave Chappelle) is one of the year’s funniest scenes. But Murphy also reminded us that he could be touching as obese Sherman Klump. Some terrific outtakes for the road.

At the height of the John Grisham phenomenon, Warner Brothers released the author’s first book. A lot of people complained about the moral simplification of the racially charged storyline, but it was still a well-crafted tale of southern politics. The film launched the career of Matthew McConaughey, offered another showcase role to Samuel L. Jackson, and almost a decade before CRASH, showed that Sandra Bullock had the grit to be a credible dramatic actress.

With PULP FICTION, GET SHORTY and BROKEN ARROW, John Travolta was once again a big star with a large fan base. This vehicle was powered by an intriguing premise (ordinary man develops super-intelligence after a bright light descends from the sky). Travolta was joined by Robert Duvall, Forest Whitaker and Kyra Sedgwick, and the film was the feel-good hit of the summer. (Well, feel good until the end, but whatever.)

Successful, although much-hated Schwarzeneggar picture, feeling in many ways like the standard action fare his films usually rose above. However, I think it was successful because there’s a nifty twist or two in the formula, and once it gets going, the action doesn’t stop. Cinematic cookies… easy to make, but oh so tasty.

On one hand, it’s far too dark and mature for a Disney film. The opening tells of a priest killing a mother in an attempt to drown her child. Later on the priest tells of his lust for a gypsy girl in a song called “Hellfire.” (It’s funny that at the time, Disney was more worried that one of their main leads had facial hair.) Take away the Disney label and I you’ll find this is one of the more emotionally complex and fearless animated films of recent years, with songs of epic beauty – “Out There”, “Topsy Turvy”, “Heaven’s Light”, and the playful “A Guy Like You” – that rivaled the best of Broadway.

In the storm of Jim Carrey becoming the first actor paid $20 million for a picture, the film was seen as a disappointment. However, with its subversive humor, some hysterical scenes (such as Porno Password), and an early appearance by Jack Black, THE CABLE GUY has become a cult film over time. A buried treasure for both Carrey and the film’s director, Ben Stiller.


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