During times of unrest, it’s natural to want to look back and long for nostalgia. It’s the reason why we’ve seen long gone television shows get a reunion/reboot and why we’re also seeing sequels or remakes of 40 year old films. Now, 25 years seems like a good time to go back and look at the year 1995 in film history; the Internet became fully privatized, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to oversee the Supreme Court, the Oklahoma City Bombing killed over 150 people and OJ was “not guilty” and on top of all that, it was a great year for the movies. One in which we can still feel the echoes of in our present day.
Let’s unpack the numbers; the year’s ten highest grossing films were separated by $104 million. For context, the two highest grossing films of 2019, Avengers: Endgame and The Lion King, were separated by $1.1 billion with the former becoming the highest grossing film of all-time. 1995’s highest grossing film was Die Hard with a Vengeance and that even opened to mixed reviews. Time has since been kinder to the third Die Hard film and one can hardly fault it for following the rules of a trilogy i.e. always going back to the beginning and how the first film will always play a part in any trilogy. The second highest grossing film, Toy Story, trailed Die Hard by only $3 million and gained instant renown as the first entirely computer animated film and directly led to the creation of the Best Animated Film category at the Academy Awards. It’s also one of a handful of films that has received a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Think about it, do you know anyone who has a problem with Toy Story? It’s unlikely but there are always people who find a way to crap on any great creation. The eight remaining highest grossing films of 1995 include Apollo 13, GoldenEye, Pocahontas, Batman Forever, Seven, Casper, Waterworld and Jumanji. These films combined for a gross of $2.5 billion which seems paltry compared to the billion dollar returns that are routine (9 films released in 2019 grossed over $1 billion) but these were monster numbers for the mid 90’s.
Besides from those ten films, the year was jam packed with otherwise great films. This will not be a comprehensive but here’s a brief overview of some films you may have forgotten came out in 1995:
This epic film has been parodied so often over the years for its historical inaccuracies and great rousing speeches that it’s easy to forget that films with a grand scale hadn’t been made this way for a long time. The one exception being Dances with Wolves but studios often shy away from these as they require massive budgets and an even bigger time commitment for all phases of production. Every battle scene in Braveheart contains thousands of extras, the sets are enormous and are usually destroyed in some way and it’s emotionally rousing. It’s one a few movies men will admit to crying while watching and in a way paved the way for other epic films like Titanic, Saving Private Ryan and The Lord of the Rings series. During its run, Braveheart grossed over $200 million and if it were released in the 21st century, it would easily have made in the neighborhood of $600 – $800 million. It would even go on to win 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director for Mel Gibson and become the standard of medieval epic films.
Billy Madison/Tommy Boy
These two comedies are great in their own right but they bear so many similarities to each other that it can be difficult to determine one from the other. Both star alums from Saturday Night Live and both feature stories of man-children who are forced to grow up in order to take the reins of their father’s respective businesses. Tommy Boy was even produced by SNL creator Lorne Michaels and stars the late great Chris Farley who brought a new definition to mania to his roles and this is by far his most iconic but the dynamic between Farley and costar David Spade is amazing. If you know a pair of guy friends, odds are you’ve had a debate in your head over which one is Farley and which one is Spade. While Billy Madison has enjoyed cult success in the years since its release, it was not considered a major financial success compared to other comedic films of 1995. While still funny, it doesn’t hold up to other later Sandler offerings like Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy or Big Daddy.
The Bridges of Madison County
Before you stop reading after this selection, hear me out; it’s a romantic film directed by Clint Eastwood and features an amazing performance from Meryl Streep. Who would’ve thought Eastwood was capable of directing a romantic film but he does so with great care and even manages to turn in a performance capable of standing up to the always great Streep. Madison County tells the story of an Italian war bride who has a passionate but short affair with a photographer from National Geographic. Streep’s character decides not to uproot her life and doesn’t leave her husband and children for a relative stranger. After her circumstances change, she decides to look up her long lost love but only discovers that he has passed away and per the instructions in his will, left her his possessions and requested his ashes be spread at a bridge near her home. Following her death, her children discover that she has left the same instructions for her ashes in her will. It’s a tragic love story that transcends expectations even if it has Clint Eastwood in it.
It’s odd to think that Bruce Willis starred in two great films in one year but it happened and 12 Monkeys was his other film in 1995. This trippy sci-fi film directed by Terry Gilliam, tells the story of a convict played by Willis who travels back in time to unravel the mystery behind a deadly virus that wrecked the planet and the terrorist group believed to be responsible for unleashing the pandemic. Opposite Willis, is a career defining performance from Brad Pitt, who early in his career, turned in an award winning performance for his portrayal of a schizophrenic environmental activist. Terry Gilliam isn’t known for his straightforward narratives and his films often require some dissection to figure out but 12 Monkeys in spite of its time travel premise. It’s managed to remain relevant after 25 years and even more so during a year of a pandemic. If you are looking for a similar film without the sci-fi premise, check out the other pandemic-tastic film from 1995, Outbreak.
1995 was full of great films and several of them have now been outlined but any great year of film wouldn’t be complete without a couple of stinks and 1995 has some infamously bad stinkers. Here’s a couple:
Try to imagine the level of anticipation for this film; Kevin Costner was at the absolute height of his popularity after starring in films like Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, A Perfect World and Dances with Wolves winning an Oscar for directing that last film so it made sense that he would venture out into the science fiction genre. The production cycle for Waterworld was so insane that it caused the budget to balloon to unbelievable proportions. After a hurricane caused the destruction of several sets, they had to be rebuilt which caused the release to be delayed and added more money to the final budget. In addition, shooting on the water causes massive headaches as you may have to wait for the weather to clear up, coordinating boats and other vehicles can be a massive project and injuries are almost certain to happen during an aquatic production. By the time the film was completed, the budget was over $264 million! For context, that’s over $430 million in 2019 or the equivalent of making Toy Story 13 times. The budget was so insane that for the film to even become profitable by a marginal number, it would’ve had to have grossed close to $500 million in 1995. Thanks to an impossible obstacle to overcome and mixed critical reception, Waterworld lives on as one of the most expensive films ever made as well as one of the biggest bombs of all time.
It’s impossible to broadly sum up how poorly this film was received but here’s the basic points; it was the first and so far, only, widely released film to receive a NC-17 rating, was nominated for a record 13 Golden Raspberry or Razzie awards and oddly enough, lives on as a cult classic with some critics even calling it a great satire film. The details of the plot will be spared here and really, the title of the film alone should give you all that’s necessary to know. There’s betrayal, ambition and so many boobies that it would rival a centerfold party at the Playboy Mansion. Director Paul Verhoeven, who was no stranger to controversial films after directing Robocop and Basic Instinct, signed on to direct and was so confident that the film would be a success that he deferred a large portion of his fee until after the film made a profit. Following the release and the negative reviews, many of the film’s actors including Kyle MacLachlan, distanced themselves from the film and star Elizabeth Berkley was even dropped by her agent. Since then, it’s enjoyed a cult status similar to that of The Rocky Horror Picture Show as it’s shown at midnight screenings and parties are hosted in the film’s dishonor that ironically mock the film’s screenplay and ludicrous action. In addition to its cult status, the film has managed to gross over $100 million thanks to home rentals and even became one of MGM’s top 20 all-time bestsellers.
As exciting as it is to look back at 1995 as a great time capsule in cinematic history, its effects can still be felt today. While Die Hard with a Vengeance was successful in its time, the franchise has fallen on hard times and there have been rumors of a reboot featuring a de-aged Bruce Willis a la The Irishman and telling the story of a young John McLane. Here’s hoping that film doesn’t see the light of day. The Toy Story franchise is still going strong with three additional films following the first entry and with Toy Story 4 grossing over $1 billion in 2019, it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. GoldenEye managed to be Pierce Brosnan’s first and best outing as 007 and his subsequent films directly led to the decision by the producers to reboot the series and cast Daniel Craig. Batman Forever was a decent film but it was the beginning of the end for the original Batman series as the next entry, Batman & Robin, effectively sank the entire superhero genre until the series was rebooted in 2005 with Batman Begins and with another reboot expected to arrive in 2022, it’s likely the Caped Crusader will continue to grace the silver screen. The crime films Seven and Heat totally changed the police procedural genre and its DNA can be felt in every crime film to be released within the past 25 years. Jumanji is going strong following the release of two wildly successful films starring Dwayne Johnson within the past several years. Bad Boys finally received a worthy sequel in 2020 without the involvement of Michael Bay and a sequel is currently in development. Friday received several sequels in the late 90’s and early 2000’s but a fourth film, tentatively titled Last Friday, has been laboring in developmental hell for years so don’t hold your breath on that one. The American President, starring Michael Douglas and written by Aaron Sorkin, is believed to be the precursor to the legendary series, The West Wing and the cast even recently reunited for a special released exclusively on HBO Max.
It’s interesting to note the threads from a quarter century ago to the world of today. These films were wildly influential both for good and bad reasons and 1995 has gone down as one of the best years for Hollywood.
Featured Image Credit: IMDb