Hindsight: February 1990

By Daron Aldridge

September 9, 2008

The both of youse got jungle fever. The both of youse.

February brings to mind many things to many people, whether it's the association with that Hallmark holiday Valentine's Day, Black History Month, or the primary reason jewelers are able to sell amethyst jewelry but it's not necessarily a month known as a box office bonanza. Following a strong January opening for 1990, could February continue the trend? It does have the potential with Academy Award nomination announcements and a four-day holiday weekend. So, let's dive into the guts of February 1990 and see how things shook out.

For the first weekend of February 1990, a trio of films (a Bette Midler drama and two competing buddy comedy/action films) were introduced to audiences and didn't exactly set the box office ablaze or unseat Driving Miss Daisy from the pole position. The acclaimed Jessica Tandy film earned another $6.0 million ($10.1 million adjusted to 2008 dollars). The highest-ranking debut was Stella, a Midler-drama right in her Beaches melodrama wheelhouse. While Beaches went onto earn $57 million two years before in 1988, for Ms. Midler, this one couldn't duplicate the success of that weeper. Fortunately, though, its tepid reception of only $4.3 million ($7.2 million adjusted) was enough to grab the number two slot. Audiences continued to line up for Oliver Stone's Born on the Fourth of July and Tango & Cash as both films only slipped 14% from the previous weekend to $4.0 million ($6.7 million adjusted) and $3.1 million ($5.2 million adjusted) for this weekend's third and fourth place. By doing the math, you have figured out that one of the debuts landed outside the top five. If you had to bet which one would at least be in the top five, would you put your money on a pre-Flatliners Kiefer Sutherland or a post-Glory Denzel Washington? Well, the smart money would go with the future Jack Bauer as he teamed with Dennis Hopper for Flashback, a hippie-FBI buddy film that rounded out the top five with $2.9 million ($4.9 million adjusted).


Despite riding a wave of praise for his performance in Glory, Denzel Washington joined forces with the usually underrated Bob Hoskins for Heart Condition, a comedy about a dead African-American lawyer and racist cop, which debuted at number nine with $2.1 million ($3.5 million adjusted). Apparently, 1990 was the year of the afterlife, as Heart Condition was the first of multiple movies dealing with people not willing or able to cross over to the other side. While it opened poorly and was similarly reviewed, Heart Condition would only have to wait until late June 1990 for the release of Ghost Dad to become at least the second worse ghost-centric movie of the year (more on that masterpiece in an upcoming column). Luckily for Washington, Heart Condition sunk like a stone in its second weekend to less than $800,000 and would be a memory by the time Oscar nominations came out or else this could have been the precedent to the Oscar-robbing Norbit for Eddie Murphy. Denzel has previously mentioned in interviews that he would love to do a comedy but maybe Heart Condition is still too fresh in the suits' minds.

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