It seems like yesterday that I was sitting in front of my parents 4:3 Sony tube television, salivating over the image of 5’ Batman toys from the yet to be June release of Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). It wouldn’t be until Santa visited at Christmas that I would be able to create stories with my very own Batman, Joker, Batmobile and Batcave. The feverish excitement for the Dark Knight’s premiere was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Born in 1980, Batman was my Star Wars (1977). From Topps trading cards to cereal boxes, socks and more, Batman was everywhere and was the pinnacle of the summer movie season of 1989. Hell, even in IT (2017), Batman is playing in the town’s downtown theatre (along with Lethal Weapon 2 ). I often say that I wish I had my autonomous purchasing power of today in the 80s. Simply, the 80s were definitive.
The movies of the 80s are entrenched in my long term memory. Perhaps, more so than any other decade I’ve experienced directly, the 80s seems to be unmeasurable. Yes, in the 90s we had cinematic game-changers such Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) but that is a product of 1984’s The Terminator. Even Jurassic Park (1993) would not be possible without the advances made in CGI with The Abyss (1989) and all other ILM productions before it. In terms of the 80s, everything seemed so new and in may ways it was. This was the era in which industry innovators such as ILM grew and flourished and filmmakers like Steven Spielberg left their mark on a shared cultural consciousness. Perhaps, more than any other era, the 80s still feels new today. With a boom of 80s nostalgia, the decade of pop seems to be a shared response to our current time that often feels cynical and divisive. This is not to say that the political space of the 80s was ideal (far from it), but the sense of pop culture was so unique that we seem to be yearning for that experience again. To escape.
Specifically, looking back on movies and the summer of 1989, I was an 8 year old boy who would have been thrilled to visit my city’s three-screen theatre any day of the week. This was a standalone theatre – not a mall. This was well before the multiplex boom and still a time when the average screen size was good enough. Well before Netflix or smartphones, to be a cinephile was to be at the theatre with popcorn in hand. It was to beg, borrow and trade in Coca Cola bottles at the convenience store for .15 cents each to get a movie ticket. I mean, you were invested.
So, as the Twitterverse often reflects on the best movie summers, I’m making my stand for the the summer of 1989. As a kid, it was definitive and as a dad to movie loving kids, it’s a year worth visiting over and over again.
Here are my top 5 films from the Summer of 1989.
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
A return to form for Indy after Spielberg’s violent and heartless Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), the Last Crusade is the 2nd best film of the series after Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Like Raiders, the spirit of adventure and discovery is reimagined with a storyline that provides fans with both a sequel and prequel. As the film begins with a masterful short film of its own with a young Indy (perfectly played by River Phoenix), finding his sense of adventure, Spielberg quickly reminds us of why Indiana become so iconic. From inspired set pieces (the catacombs of Venice still plays so well today) to the stellar father-son banter between Connery and Ford, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a a master class of a sequel done well!
- Lethal Weapon 2
A rare sequel that truly improves upon it’s predecessor, Lethal Weapon 2 is a reminder of what action movies could be and were. Well before the promise of shared universes and superhero team ups, director Richard Donner brings to life a smart action film about family, friendship and dominant culture itself. With the South-African apartheid as background plot point, Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) begins to live his experience of race in America. In this moves his character evolves beyond his “white man” suburban existence and reminds audience that he is a character burdened by difference and inequality. Equally, we learn more about the human side of “lethal weapon” Martin Riggs and are introduced to the comedic antics of Joe Pesci as Leo Getts.
- Ghostbusters 2
I still remember the playground banter with school friends when this sequel was released. Like then, I still don’t get the poor audience or critical response. Perhaps, by the time 1989 came around, we were all looking for some more edge. Regardless, this sequel is quite unique as it places the Ghostbusters (unsung heroes in the first blockbuster move) within the fallout of the first movie. Marginalized by city governance and held responsible for the infrastructure damage of the first film, the Ghostbusters must find their way through tainted celebrity and bureaucracy to save New York City from Satan himself. With inspired set pieces and comedy to spare, I’m happy to watch this movie any day of the week.
- Honey I Shrunk the Kids
Simply a classic, Honey I Shrunk the Kids is quintessential 80s cinema and a true highlight of the summer of 1989. With groundbreaking special effects and a sense of awe that is missing from Disney’s recent preoccupation with live-action adaptations, Honey I Shrunk the Kids was old school Disney family fare. Fun and full of heart, this is the perfect summer movie for any day and a reminder of why Rick Moranis was so adored.
Undoubtedly, the summer movie of 1989 was Batman. Dark, brooding, violent, innovative and ultimately brave, Tim Burton successfully reimagined Batman for an era yearning for a grounded and relevant re-telling. A far cry from the 1960s TV show and the pulp sensibilities of Richard Donner’s Superman (1978), Burton’s Gotham City was a character all of its own, while being inhabited by unforgettable characters led by Jack Nicholson as The Joker. Well before it’s release and after, this film was like nothing seen in the 80s as a whole. It changed the face of comic book adaptations and introduced mainstream audiences to the wonderful talent of Tim Burton.
To get an appreciation of the film’s popularity, watch this news broadcast from 1989, in celebration of the films November VHS release.
So, as Batman turns 30 today, take the time to revisit your favourite 80s classics and the gems from the summer of 89.