Hindsight: July 1990

By Daron Aldridge

July 20, 2009

That's the look of a true pyromaniac. Def Leppard would be proud

Halfway through 1990, one thing was certain – it had been a wacky year at the box office. Spring acted like summer and summer was a true mixed bag of hits and misses. Could July be the month to make it all seem right again?

By the time the Independence Day holiday rolled around in 1990, the seasons were apparently having an identity crisis. The spring, specifically March, had performed like summer with three huge films released in a single month. A summer release hadn't quite approached the heights of The Hunt for Red October, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Pretty Woman. July could be the month to turn it all around.

Before jumping into July, I must correct an oversight in the Hindsight for June 1990. The last week in June saw the debut of the cinematic punching bag that helped coin a phrase for any movie that is reviled despite the presence of a big name star. That phrase is "Ghost Dad Bad." As in, "How was Travolta's new movie Broken Arrow?" "It wasn't Ghost Dad Bad but it was still pretty awful." I was remiss to not acknowledge that at the height of his sitcom popularity and with Oscar winner Sidney Poitier directing, Bill Cosby was unable to open a movie higher than sixth place to just $4.8 million ($8.2 million adjusted to 2008 dollars) and a final tally of $23 million. On the plus side, in just four days, Ghost Dad outgrossed Cosby's previous opus Leonard Part 6.

Back on track, here is July 1990 in Hindsight.


The Independence Day holiday fell on a Wednesday in 1990 and Twentieth Century Fox secured the day to launch its big summer movie – Die Hard 2. Bruce Willis the TV star was no more and Bruce Willis the movie star was digging his heels into ground at theaters. When Die Hard made an impressive $81.4 million in 1988 against a modest $28 million budget, it didn't take Nostradamus or a Mayan calendar to predict that John McClane would soon be returning to a theater near you. Fox didn't monkey with the formula at all, such as the "wrong place, wrong time" bad luck of McClane, the Christmas holiday season and the deliberate/questionably coincidental incorporation of Reginald VelJohnson's and William Atherton's characters.

For audiences in 1990, a blind eye was turned to what today's moviegoer would likely deem as "going back to the well one too many times" and made Die Hard 2 a hit. For its first two days of release (July 4th and 5th), Die Hard 2 earned $13.9 million ($23.6 million adjusted). Obviously, Willis' second dance as McClane took the top spot for its first official weekend. Over the weekend of July 6th to 8th, Die Hard 2 grossed $21.7 million ($36.9 million adjusted) and after five days, the Renny Harlin-directed sequel had scored a cool $35.6 million ($60.6 million adjusted).

As is the trend of this summer with weekly debuts taking the top spot, everything shifted down. Slipping nearly 31% into second place is Tom Cruise's Days of Thunder with $10.7 million ($18.2 million adjusted). With a similar drop of slightly more than 34%, Dick Tracy settled into third place with $6.6 million ($11.2 million adjusted).

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