Looking back through movie history is always fun for a movie fan, but looking back to 1994, you find yourself stunned at just how many classic movies came to life that year, how many movies became timeless classics and how many stars where catapulted to superstardom. There have been many years that we could think of and say “Wow, great year for movies!”, but going back 20 years and realising just how amazing 1994 was and the impact it had on filmmaking, it’s mindblowing. And as every movie i’m about to mention turns 20 this year, now seems the time to talk through some of the biggest hits, aswell as some of our own personal favourites, from the year 1994.
To kick it off, something dear to me as a movie fan, the rise to a fame that was almost biblical, the year of Jim Carrey. Most movie stars will have one, perhaps two, smash hit movies in a year, but not Mr. Jim Carrey, he would knock out three movies in one year that would go on to become three of the best movies in the genre of comedy, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask and Dumb And Dumber. Ace Ventura brings back wonderful memories for me, as a then 12 year old boy having to wait two years before I got to see it, I remember jumping down in front of the television to watch the premiere with my parents, my mother had gotten me sweets and a frosty Coca-Cola, so as the movie began, I was munching away, unsuspecting of the laughing fit I would have and how Jim Carrey by the end of that movie would become my all-time favourite movie star and stay that way to this day. From the opening scene with Ace on a mission to rescue an abused dog from his psycho owner, through his hilarious Mission: Impossible encounter with a shark, all the way up to the gut-busting “Mr. Winky” finale, I laughed so hard i couldn’t stop for hours afterwards, it was at that time the funniest movie i’d ever seen, i became a huge fan and wanted more Jim Carrey movies, which is when i next saw The Mask. This time, the premiere was taped for me, so i could watch it over and over, the videotape was worn down after a week. Another absolute stunner for me, i loved ever second of it, to this day it’s still one of the most spectacular comedies you will ever see, visually mindblowing, a knockout script of hilarious gags and one-liners, and Jim Carrey taking on his first disguised movie character, but wearing that make-up like he was born with it. The Mask nailed it, it did everything anyone could’ve hoped from it, and much more, which is why it has such a massive fan base of adults and children alike. So after Ace and Mask, who could Jim follow up with next? Could he possibly have another comic wonder up his sleeve? Enter Lloyd Christmas. Dumb And Dumber. A movie so funny it could kill an unsuspecting viewer. This time instead of flying solo, Jim was joined by Jeff Daniels (Who’ll pop up again a little later on), who took on the role of Harry Dunne, Lloyd’s longtime pal who joins him on a road trip filled with antics so hilarious and stupid, you’d think the Irish government were gonna pop up somewhere. Dumb And Dumber has stood the test of time, i first saw it the same as i’d seen Ace Ventura and The Mask, and i say it right now, none of them have aged a week, they are truly timeless, and propelled Jim into a fame he really deserved. And as a massive fan of those movies, it does my heart good to know the sequel is on the way real soon, we’ve only waited 20 years for Dumb And Dumber To. Although we did get the prequel, Dumb And Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, which i really like, despite people’s distaste for it. Here’s hoping the legendary Rubber Face gives us a new Mask movie and a third Ace Ventura (Not counting ‘Jr’).
Next up, anyone like True Lies? Of course you do. Arnie’s smash hit action blockbuster that took the box office by storm on it’s release, True Lies has become a bit of a cult fave over the years, many rejoicing in Arnie’s screen presence, hilarious one-liners and spectacular action scenes, while others enjoy the comedy elements of the marriage between Arnie,s superspy/computer salesman, Harry, and that of Jamie Lee Curtis’ bored housewife/pretend hooker wife Helen. True Lies is not without it’s faults, but as another Schwarzenegger/James Cameron, it’s pretty darn wonderful, and realy doesn’t feel like it’s two decades old.
OK, so moving on to an important time in every movie lover’s life… When our parents rent a movie from the video store because we think it’ll be brilliant. Do you remember yours? I remember mine. A sadly very unknown movie called Blown Away, starring Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones. I remember hearing of it when it came out on video… A psychotic IRA bomber escapes from a Northern Ireland prison, travels to Boston and then by sheer misfortune, discovers a former IRA companion who turned on him after a botched attack now working for the Boston Bomb Squad and sets about making his life hell by creating genius devices to execute the entire squad and target his old friend’s new wife and step daughter in a quest for horrific vengeance… My folks after weeks of my begging rented the movie on the condition they watch it first because it had an 18 cert. The minute it was over, my folks said “Wow, what a movie! You gotta see this Paulie, you picked it, thanks, well done!”, they watched it three times in one day, first by themselves, the next two times with me. That’s always been a great memory for me, the first time anyone ever thanked me for recommending a good movie. A stunning movie, anyone who hasn’t seen it, you must, a fantastic action thriller with some incredible special effects including one of the greatest movie explosions ever filmed. A highlight of 1994 for me.
Keeping with personal favourites, another of the movies I adored as a kid (I still do) is the John Hughes-written Baby’s Day Out, a family comedy about a little baby who is kidnapped from a rich couple by three morons who end up losing him in Chicago as he goes on an adventure of his own and constantly escapes the clutches of his kidnappers. Although bashed to pieces by critics and a major flop on release, I’ve always loved Baby’s Day Out, such a fun and sweet movie with great gags and a lovely happy ending, one for all the family.
And speaking of families… Remember when we met The Flintstones in live action? John Goodman, Rick Moranis, Elizabeth Perkins and Rosie O’Donnell took on the roles of the Flintstone and Rubble married couples, along with their kids (After Fred emptied his bank account to help Barney and Betty adopt a child) in a big budget, highly produced and lovingly created movie adventure based on the incomparable TV series from the 1960s, helmed by Jingle All The Way/Beethoeven director Brian Levant and filmmaking God Steven Spielberg (Or Steven Spielrock to be precise). Again, met by a lot of negativity which is a great shame, but I’ve always enjoyed it and consider it one of the best family movies ever made. Elizabeth Taylor has a wonderful supporting role too as Wilma’s mother who shares mutual hatred with Fred. Halle Berry is there in an early role too. A Yabba Dabba Good Time.
From a movie based on a classic TV show to a movie that led to a classic TV show. Stargate. A movie I sadly haven’t seen in a long time, the very wonderful Roland Emmerich (Of Independence Day, Godzilla, 2012 fame) and his collaborator Dean Devlin released Stargate two years after the great success of the classic Jean-Claude Van Damme/Dolph Lundgren actioner Universal Soldier to a fairly mixed reaction, some critics and movie goers panning it for various reasons, while others giving it high praise, and it’s popularity led to the TV series Stargate SG-1 aswell as Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe, and also an animated series if my memory serves me correctly. It is a movie I plan to see again real soon, I’ve not seen it for about ten years, but I do know I enjoyed it very much, as would be expected of a sci-fi thriller from Roland Emmerich and starring Kurt Russell. On my must-see again list.
And having mentioned Van Damme, and seeing as he’s always been one of my favourite movie stars, of course i’m going to fit Timecop and Street Fighter in here. Timecop, yet another movie that led to a TV show, has always been a go-to movie for me, whenever I have 90 minutes, out comes the DVD (Or since I bought it, now the brilliant Blu-ray release from Warner Bros.) and I enjoy some good old-fashioned futuristic fun with Van Damme travelling back in time to save his wife from a death she died ten years ago at the hands of a vicious corrupt senator and his goons. The first of three collaborations for Van Damme and director Peter Hyams (Who went onto directed Van Damme in one of my top 10 favourite movies of all time, Sudden Death. As well as the recent and brilliant Enemies Closer. And of course, Arnie Schwarzenegger’s End Of Days), Timecop has always been a lot of fun, and to now is still Van Damme’s highest grossing box office hit. As for Street Fighter, hated by most, laughed at by all and disregarded by ever film critic known to man, of course I love it. Hard to watch as Raul Julia was close to his untimely death during filming, but he gave a great fun performance, while Van Damme himself enjoys the silliness of the plot and script, with the legendary Kylie Minogue along for the ride. It’s a ridiculous movie, i’ll never deny that, but in my opinion it’s a lot of fun, I always enjoy watching it.
Here’s where I get real gushy. The Santa Clause. Tim Allen. Disney magic at it’s finest. Not counting the Toy Story or other Pixar movies, The Santa Clause is my favourite Walt Disney Studios movie. I’m a fan of the whole trilogy, they’re wonderful movies and a pure joy for me to watch right through the glorious Christmas season. But the first movie stands out as extra special to me. As a young kid, 1994, the movie was barely in cinemas when a boy in my school got hold of a pirate copy and brought it to class, for us all to watch as a treat. And although we only got to watch half of it, I was completely in love with it, I couldn’t wait to see the rest. So my mother found someone else with a pirated copy also and I swear to God, it was one of the happiest days of my life, sitting there on my little cushion as a ten year old boy, watching this movie and forgetting everything else around me. Movies have always been an escapism to me, all through my life, and The Santa Clause has always been one of the most magical to me. I’ve nothing but love for Tim Allen, and the next year made me love him even more than was possible by voicing Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story. Funny to think the Disney movies I love most, both the Toy Story and Santa Clause trilogies, both feature Tim. The Santa Clause is timeless, I’ve watched it hundreds of times and It never gets old to me, as new and fresh now as the first time I saw it.
As is the way I’ve written most of this… Leads me right to another 1994 masterpiece for Disney, at that time their highest grossing animated feature, The Lion King. The story of Simba the lion who raises a family of his own and lives with the memory of his father’s tragic death at the paws of his evil uncle Scar struck a chord with kids and adults across the world, with it’s beautiful animation, great sense of humour and wonderful soundtrack written by Tim Rice and Elton John featuring the huge hits Circle Of Life and Can You Feel The Love Tonight?. A timeless movie than on first viewing might have you wondering why it garnered such a huge following, but will grow on you and let you see why it’s so popular and enduring, even after all this time.
So after all that Disney talk, what next? Oh yeah, a Quentin Tarantino double punch in the head. First, Natural Born Killers, based on a screenplay he wrote, but which was heavily changed for the finished movie. I remember first watching this movie and hating every single piece of it, from start to finish I hated it, the ridiculous script, the awful sitcom ‘She kills because she was abused’ scenes with Rodney Dangerfield, the horrible driving montages, Robert Downey Jr’s dreadful Australian accent, the Leonard Cohen song on the end credits that refuses to stop etc… But over the years since, I’ve come to like it a lot, I think maybe I understand what Oliver Stone was trying to do with it, he wasn’t making a serious murder movie as I thought first time around, but rather a satire savaging the world’s media for the attention they pay to real life killers as the movie’s pair of freaks. That’s how it feels to me, but I could still be wrong and maybe it still is a rotten bad movie. You decide. Next up with Tarantino, we have Pulp Fiction. A very clear cut movie for me. I adore 60% of it, and absolutely detest 40% of it, and sadly the 40% means I rarely watch it. I can’t stand Uma Thurman as an actress, and her scenes in Pulp Fiction just reinforce my negative opinion of her as a movie star. I love the scenes with John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, some of the greatest dialogue ever written for a movie. The Bruce Willis/Ving Rhames/Peter Greene scenes are fantastic too, obviously with one stand-out that will make even the most miserable of men split his sides laughing. The Christopher Walken watch scene is comedy gold also, a real highlight of the movie. Then the nonsense between Bruce Willis and his girlfriend is just awful, sadly involving said watch. There’s things to love and there’s things to hate. And people claiming Pulp Fiction to be Tarantino’s best movie, I couldn’t disagree more, Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown are masterpieces, filmmaking perfection, as flawless as you could hope a pair of movies to be, his finest efforts. For me anyway. But Happy 20th Anniversary to Pulp Fiction.
Let’s keep the blood flowing, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in Neil Jordan’s magnificent Interview With The Vampire. A tale of two vampires, good versus evil, and a newspaper columnist, Christian Slater, out to get the story of the century. I normally wouldn’t have much interest in movies like this, i’m not so keen on Victorian-style horror movies, but Interview With The Vampire is just so good, it stands above most other movies in the genre and consistently delivers thrills and horror, along with unwavering style and dark humour, with our own Neil Jordan doing a wonderful job of bringing two of the world’s biggest movies stars together and never wasting their talent for a second. While Tom is always a sure bet, a wonderful movie star, i’m seldom impressed by Brad, but here he shines, he really does deliver. A brilliant movie, and yet another 20 year old gem that never shows its age.
Four Weddings And A Funeral, a British movie made for around £3 million that would go on to make over £200 million worldwide, would have one of the biggest charting songs in history (Wet Wet Wet with Love Is All Around stayed at #1 for 15 weeks before the band having it pulled from circulation, possibly because it wasn’t their song and they didn’t like being famous for a cover version) and would make Hugh Grant a star. Far from being perfect and bordering on boredom sometimes, it has still always remained a sweet and very funny movie with a great cast also including Andie MacDowell, John Hannah and Rowan Atkinson, along with it’s great soundtrack not only with the Wet Wet Wet track, but a couple of Elton John numbers, one being a great version of the classic Chapel Of Love. One of the first in a long line of British comedies to come along, also featuring a screenplay by Richard Curtis of Mr. Bean, Blackadder and Love Actually fame (Let’s not mention Bridget Jones), and one of the best, if not the best.
Moving onto one of the most tragic movies to be made, The Crow. Brandon Lee, son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, took on the role of comic book hero and rockstar Eric Draven, who is brutally murdered along with his fiancé by a gang on Halloween night, but comes back on the 1st anniversary of their deaths to avenge the love of his life, and in one night hunts each member of the gang responsible in a showdown of bullets and martial arts. But what should’ve been a massive success turned into real life tragedy, as Brandon was accidently killed when a prop gun used for the death scene of the character Draven was fired and shot the casing of a blank bullet into his spine, killing him almost immediately. It was a death that shocked the world, and echoing his father’s own mysterious death. But as the studio had filmed most of Brandon’s scenes and had the technology to alter what they needed to, they waited for the movie to be picked up, which it was eventually by Miramax. And what a movie it was, fantastic action scenes, brilliant soundtrack and Brandon’s performance couldn’t have been better, he played it perfectly and no doubt would’ve had the opportunity to star in more Crow movies, but sadly it wasn’t to be. A truly brilliant movie, but with such a horrible tragedy, it is difficult to watch.
In 1992, Harrison Ford took over the Tom Clancy-created character role of Jack Ryan from Alec Baldwin for the fantastic Patriot Games. After it’s big success, Paramount carried on the series with Clear And Present Danger, a slam bang action thriller focusing on a Colombian drug cartel and the US political corruption behind it, with CIA Jack thrown back into war against both seen and unseen enemies. The Hunt For Red October and Patriot Games would be hard movies to follow in a series, but Clear And Present Danger did it with no problem at all, delivering thrills and action any movie fan would be happy with, but with an intelligent plot, strong script and brilliant performances, making it one of the best movies of the year and a genuine must see.
1994 was an exceptional year for movies, but when you thought things couldn’t get better, along came Jan De Bont with a movie called Speed. And boy did that movie rip the year apart. Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock and the late great Dennis Hopper all took part in one of the most popular action movies ever made. The plot in essence was so simple and cool… Psycho sticks a bomb on a bus, if the bus drives over the 50mph limit, the bomb is armed, if it drops under the 50mph, the bomb goes off, killing everyone on the bus. And for the most part, De Bont and the cast had fun with it. For me to say Speed is a perfect movie would be lying, it’s far from perfect… Keanu is wooden in it, Sandra’s irritating and Dennis Hopper just loves it all a little too much. And I always feel a little cheated at the almost total lack of road carnage, having the bus on an empty freeway and then drive around an empty airport runway is not how I would’ve made it, it would have been so much more Michael Bay in my hands. And I still prefer Speed 2: Cruise Control so much more, despite the negative bashing, I just think it does more with it’s story and takes advantage of everything it can, never letting up. But Speed itself still stands as one of the most fun and enjoyable action movies you could see. And Billy Idol’s theme song is just the best.
Sometimes a movie can come along, make very little money, garner very little attention and then be forgotten, but then one day someone sees it, loves it, passes it to someone else, then before you know it, you’ve got The Shawshank Redemption. Based on a Stephen King novel, Shawshank Redemption tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a man sentenced to near 20 years for the murder of his wife and the man she was having an affair with it, who must go through the hells of prison life but forms a friendship with Red, a wise older inmate, played wonderfully by Morgan Freeman, and he begins to dream of the outside world and being a free man again. The Shawshank Redemption can be brutal at times and sometimes almost impossible to watch, but then it can be heartwarming and funny, with the kind friendship between the two lead characters lighting up the screen and Morgan Freeman’s iconic voice providing the touching narration. The movie teaches many lessons about hope, courage and survival, but it also teaches people that a movie can be truly special, regardless of how much money it makes at the box office, you must find out for yourself and not just follow someone else’s word.
Although 1994 provided many more movies, this must wrap up eventually, so I end with one more movie, an absolute masterpiece, a movie so wonderful it captured the hearts of the world, a movie to which there are not enough stars to award, not enough awards to give and not enough praise to heap upon. Forrest Gump. Tom Hanks giving one of his greatest performances, the supporting cast giving it everything they have, a beautiful timeless score by Mr. Alan Silvestri and one of the most inspiring stories ever put to film. Glorious.
And that’s my lot for 1994. If you have any thoughts, please share, any movies you think should have been mentioned or anything you’d like to add to what I’ve said, go ahead. Celebrate the 20th Anniversary of some of cinema’s finest movies.
(As the piece is so long, I haven’t included trailers or clips, but here is the trailer for Blown Away, the movie of 1994 that everyone should have seen, but didn’t, I highly recommend it.)