The Big Summer: Winners and Losers

Seems like only yesterday the prevailing view was that the advent of pay-per-view movies, videotape rentals, and laser-disc technology would combine to spell doom for the nation's movie theaters. The summer of 1993 proves just how little the pundits actually know. From the last week of May through the first week of September, Hollywood cashed in at the box office as never before. In terms of both tickets sold and gross revenues, it was the biggest summer ever.

The times they are a-changin', however. A film's shelf life in theaters has been reduced, due in no small part to the shrinking window between its theatrical, videotape, and pay-TV release dates. The big opening weekend has become as important to a film's ultimate success as its writer, director, or star. A movie with a powerful ad campaign and a good trailer can make a killing before bad word of mouth undercuts its momentum. Cliffhanger and The Firm, two films of middling quality supported by tsunamis of hype, were cases in point. Interestingly enough, the two films that defied this trend most successfully were modestly budgeted pictures with strong soundtracks and predominantly black casts and themes (Menace II Society and What's Love Got to Do with It).

It's no secret: big box office and artistic merit rarely go hand-in-hand. Sylvester Stallone and Tom Cruise owe their careers to that dictum. Never has a summer's movie crop pointed out this disparity as clearly as 1993.

The other interesting characteristic of summer movies is that they tend to be ignored when Oscar time rolls around in favor of the big Christmas blockbusters. Given the quality of summer releases in years gone by, that may have been justifiable. But this year there have been a few good ones. Lest we forget, here's a brief review of the season's highs and lows:

Ten Best Summer Movies of 1993:
In the Line of Fire
Menace II Society
Amongst Friends
Jurassic Park
The Fugitive
What's Love Got to Do with It
Sleepless in Seattle
Manhattan Murder Mystery
Ten Worst Summer Movies of 1993:
Son of the Pink Panther
Life with Mikey
Benefit of the Doubt
Weekend at Bernie's 2
The Son-in-law
Hocus Pocus
So I Married an Axe Murderer
Robin Hood: Men in Tights
Best Actor:
(tie) Lawrence Fishburne, What's Love Got to Do with It
John Malkovich, In the Line of Fire
Worst Actor:
Jean-Claude Van Damme, Hard Target
Best Actress:
Emma Thompson, Much Ado About Nothing
Worst Actress:
Rebecca DeMornay, Guilty as Sin
Best Director:
Jean-Claude Lauzon, Leolo
Worst Director:
Blake Edwards, Son of the Pink Panther
Best Screenplay:
Jeff Maguire, In the Line of Fire
Worst Screenplay:
Blake Edwards, Madeline Sunshine, Steve Sunshine, Son of the Pink Panther
Biggest Surprise Hit:
What's Love Got to Do with It
Biggest Flops:
Super Mario Bros.
Last Action Hero

Best Disappearing Acts (exceptional but poorly attended films that closed quickly):

The Story of Qiu Ju
Amongst Friends
Many Happy Returns (guaranteed sequel to come):
Jurassic Park
Sophomore Jinxes:
Poetic Justice
Weekend at Bernie's 2
Another Stakeout
The Son-in-law
So I Married an Axe Murderer
Worst Career Move:
Donald Sutherland, Benefit of the Doubt
Most Disgusting Cartoon:
Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend
Best Japan-bashing Film Made in the USA:
Rising Sun
Best Japan-bashing Film Made in Japan:
(tie) Okoge
Tokyo Decadence
Honorable Mentions (actors and actresses):
Clint Eastwood, In the Line of Fire
Rene Russo, In the Line of Fire
Angela Bassett, What's Love Got to Do with It
Tom Hanks, Sleepless in Seattle
Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive
Gene Hackman, The Firm
Gary Busey, The Firm
Dishonorable Mentions:
Patrick Swayze, Father Hood
Keanu Reeves, Much Ado About Nothing
Sharon Stone, Sliver
Kasi Lemmons, Hard Target
Claudia Cardinale, Son of the Pink Panther
Wilford Brimley, Hard Target


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