Hindsight: January 1990

By Daron Aldridge

August 4, 2008

It's like Rambo meets Big Trouble in Little China!

The beauty of the Internet is that it puts a wealth of information at our fingertips. Unfortunately, for the times before its proliferation, there is a void and an untapped opportunity for making even more information accessible, such as box office grosses. During that time, box office tallies were primarily followed by those that had a stake in it. That stands in stark opposition to today, when box office weekend grosses are touted by studios each Monday and sought out by a distinct cross-section of the population, e.g. BOP's faithful readers.

So let's fill that void in the spirit of BOPs prognosticator's stance each Friday and subsequent analysis on Saturday and Sunday for what really happened at the movies that weekend. Instead of projections, here's a look at the monthly box office landscape as it was seen by that handful of studio people.

January 1990 seems like the logical starting point. Before diving into what films dominated and fizzled at theaters in January, I would like put that timeframe into perspective. In 1990, television was graced with the very early seasons of The Simpsons and Law and Order, which are amazingly still producing new episodes. The box office draws of 1990 were notably different than today. Exhibit A: In 1990, Steven Seagal films together outgrossed all four movies headlined by Tom Hanks or Denzel Washington.

While researching 1990 films, it became obvious that this was also the year when about two dozen recognizable actors released at least two movies within the calendar year. Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis, Gene Hackman and Kirstie Alley were the overachievers of the bunch with three films each. Obviously, studios were mistakenly convinced that Kirstie Alley must be a bankable film actor because of the success of Cheers and Look Who's Talking.

Finally, Julia Roberts' biggest film credit prior to 1990 was Steel Magnolias and it seems that Matthew Modine was being primed for stardom by scoring the lead roles in Memphis Belle and Pacific Heights. These were truly different times indeed. But I digress. As we progress through the year, I will highlight notable films in more detail as 1990 was the year the aforementioned Ms. Roberts became a bankable movie star, Coppola returned to the franchise that put him on the map, and Arnold Schwarzenegger had a very good year. Let's begin.

January has typically served two purposes for studios: either as the month when Oscar contenders gain momentum from wide releases or as the dumping ground for movies that just weren't good enough to merit a plum spot on the calendar. January 1990 fits this definition perfectly.


The first weekend, January 5th to 7th, didn't have any film open wide and therefore, the box office's top five continued to be ruled by 1989 holdovers. Here's how the top five looked in order: $10.9 million for Oliver Stone's Born on the Fourth of July with Tom Cruise ($18.3 million inflation adjusted to 2008 dollars); $6.9 million for The War of the Roses with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner ($11.6 million adjusted); $6.6 million for Tango & Cash with Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell ($11.1 million adjusted); $4.6 million for Spielberg's Always ($7.7 million adjusted); and $4.58 million for The Little Mermaid ($7.68 million adjusted). This gave them a combined haul of $33.58 million ($56.3 million adjusted).

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