The year was 1998. Back then, President Clinton was in office, the average price of a carton of eggs in the US was a little over a dollar, and at the multiplex, James Cameron’s Titanic was still sailing strong right into the record books despite having been released in 1997. Warner Bros. celebrated its 75th anniversary as a studio. That year also brought a number of fantastic films across all genres that are preparing to celebrate their 25th anniversary this year.
Much has changed in the world since then. Movies are now accessible on the smartphones sitting in our pockets, streamed over invisible waves of data directly to our portable screens. The world has seen the rise of the 24-hour news cycle, the emergence of social media, myriad natural disasters, and a one-time reality television star as the leader of the free world. Some things have stayed similar: James Cameron has again made box office history with one of his films and Warner Bros. is now celebrating a century as a Hollywood fixture. With so much of the box office now being devoted to extended cinematic universes and adaptations of existing IP, let’s take a look back at the cinema landscape a quarter of a century ago.
The Truman Show
In the social satire comedy-drama The Truman Show, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is a man living on fictional Seahaven Island, an idyllic community where everyone knows each other and more importantly, everyone knows Truman. Everybody outside of Seahaven Island also knows Truman because his life has been the subject of a round-the-clock reality show since the day he was born.
In this eerily prophetic but touching film, Truman fights to learn the truth about why the whole town seems to revolve around him and hopefully escape to see what else the world has to offer. Carrey turns in one of the finest performances of his career, winning a Golden Globe in the process and establishing himself as a dramatic actor. The starry cast also includes Laura Linney, Ed Harris, and Paul Giamatti.
The Mask of Zorro
Director Martin Campbell helmed the stunning blockbuster The Mask of Zorro, starring Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Banderas plays Alejandro Murrieta, a petty thief who is taken under the wing of retired Zorro, Don Diego de la Vega (Hopkins) who trains him so he can properly wear the mask and cape. Hopkins’ de la Vega is out for revenge against the former governor for killing his wife and kidnapping his infant daughter while Murrieta is after the man who killed his brother.
Many of the action films of today focus on CGI renderings of the characters in battle. In The Mask of Zorro, that was not the case. The actors and stunt team perform breathtaking swordfights throughout the entire film. The gorgeous vistas, immaculate costume design, and Banderas’ Golden Globe-nominated performance make this film a worthy watch.
The box office was a decidedly less superhero-heavy place in 1998, with the disastrous Batman and Robin from the year prior still shining a tacky neon glow over the genre. However, things changed with the release of Blade, based on the half-human/half-vampire Marvel superhero. Wesley Snipes plays Blade, teaming up with Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), to hunt down and eradicate the vampire underworld. Blade also faces off with the cunning Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), who plans to resurrect an ancient vampire god and end all of humanity.
A gritty, bloody, stylish film, it was a massive departure from most comic book movies at the time and remains one of Wesley Snipes’ most memorable films. Blade went on to spawn two sequels, Blade II and Blade: Trinity in 2002 and 2004, respectively.
This Michael Bay disaster film stars Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, and Liv Tyler. Willis and Affleck appear as deep-sea oil drillers recruited by NASA to help destroy a massive asteroid headed directly for Earth. The plot may be ludicrous, but the special effects are fantastic. Meteors pummel the surface of the Earth and cause widespread destruction throughout the world, including an intense opening sequence in New York City and the utter annihilation of Paris.
In a case of twin films, where two movies sharing very similar plots are produced and released by different studios, Armageddon was released the same year as Deep Impact, another disaster movie about asteroids. Armageddon came out on top as far as the box office, pulling in over $550 million worldwide.
East meets West in Rush Hour, a culture-clashing action comedy starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. A straight-laced detective for the Hong Kong police force, Lee (Chan) travels to Los Angeles to help his friend find his kidnapped daughter. While in LA, he works with Detective James Carter (Tucker), a motormouth cop who is assigned by the FBI to keep Lee out of their way as they continue their investigation into the missing girl.
As one might expect, there are lightning-fast kung fu fights throughout the film, with Chan’s stunt prowess on full display. Detectives Lee and Carter first focus on how dissimilar they are but over time, they find that they both have great respect for what they do, even if they have no idea what the other is saying. Directed by Brett Ratner, this buddy-cop comedy was a huge hit and two sequels followed in 2001 and 2004.
There’s Something About Mary
In the raucous, raunchy comedy There’s Something About Mary, Ted (Ben Stiller) is smitten with the girl of his dreams, Mary (Cameron Diaz). He has been ever since the ’80s when a very unfortunate accident thwarted their plans to attend prom together. Years later, Ted hires slimy private investigator Pat Healy (Matt Dillon) to find her only for Pat to also become smitten with Mary. Ted and Pat, along with Tucker (Lee Evans) and Dom “Woogie” Woganowski (Chris Elliott) are among Mary’s would-be suitors. A chain of lies and deceit by these men ensues as Ted tries to get close to his one-time prom date again and see if there is a spark.
Directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly are known for crude sight-gags and humor and this film is no exception. Diaz was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance and this film grossed over $350 million worldwide. There’s something about Mary, indeed.
The Prince of Egypt
In 1998, nobody could compete with the Mouse House as far as animated films. Disney had cornered the market on successful feature-length animation, but along came DreamWorks with The Prince of Egypt, one of the most successful non-Disney animated films ever.
Boasting an all-star voice cast including Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Patrick Stewart, Sandra Bullock, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Jeff Goldblum, the film tells the story of Moses and his God-given mission to lead the Hebrews from Egypt to freedom. It does so in a stirring fashion as this animated musical combines stunning traditional animation with CGI, impassioned performances, and incredible music. The film’s inspirational theme song “When You Believe”, written by Stephen Schwartz and sung by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
A Bug’s Life
Disney and Pixar teamed up for A Bug’s Life, their second feature-length animated film together. It features a voice cast including Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Denis Leary as various bugs. The film tells the story of Flik (Foley), an eager, idealist ant who wants to end a cycle of oppression enacted upon his colony by a foul group of grasshoppers led by Hopper (Spacey). In order to do that, Flik enlists the help of a crew of circus bugs. It also manages to sneak in important lessons for audiences about standing up to bullies, knowing one’s worth, and recognizing how systems of injustice work to keep some down while others thrive. The film is colorful and funny, beautifully animated, and was generally well-received by critics and audiences.
In this musical Disney adventure, China is being invaded by the Huns and the Chinese government imposes a general draft as they prepare for war to defend their land. When Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na Wen) finds out her elderly veteran father is ordered to fight, she defies her station as a woman and impersonates a man to take her father’s place in battle. Her decision takes her to training camp under the watchful eye of Captain Li Shang (voiced by BD Wong).
Along for the ride is Mushu (voiced by Eddie Murphy), her fast-talking dragon spirit guide who sometimes does more harm than good. The film features marvelous animation, including a sweeping sequence involving an avalanche, and great songs. It also showcases the cultural importance of duty and honor to one’s family. Mulan received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Original Song.
The Parent Trap
Lindsay Lohan pulls double duty in the comedy remake The Parent Trap, playing Annie James and Hallie Parker, twins separated at birth who meet at summer camp. Once there, the girls decided to switch places and see if they could get their parents, vintner Nick Parker (Dennis Quaid) and fashion designer Liz James (Natasha Richardson), back together. The twins’ biggest foe is Meredith Blake (Elaine Hendrix), Nick’s gorgeous, young fiancé who is only with him for his money. Hijinks ensue as British Annie adjusts to various Americanisms and American Hallie gets comfortable in her new posh British existence while they continue to plot on how to bring their family together again. The film was a big financial success and a modern classic.
You’ve Got Mail
Writer-director Nora Ephron teamed up with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan for You’ve Got Mail, a romantic comedy where they play business rivals who also maintain an anonymous online romance through email. An update of the 1940 film The Shop Around The Corner for the dawn of the Internet age, Hanks plays Joe Fox, the owner of a chain bookstore, and Ryan plays Kathleen Kelly, proprietress of a small independent bookshop. Joe and Kathleen clash throughout the film, but their online personas open up to one another and manage to forge a real connection.
The plot may be modernized, but the story is a simple one of two people who fall in love without realizing it. All’s well that ends well in this charming New York-set movie, buttressed by the performances of Hanks and Ryan who spotlight their on-screen chemistry in their second pairing since Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle.
City of Angels
What is the right choice between love and immortality? That is the deep philosophical question driving City of Angels, a romantic drama directed by Brad Silberling and starring Nicolas Cage, Meg Ryan, Andre Braugher, and Dennis Franz. The film is about an angel named Seth (Cage) who meets and falls in love with a human woman named Maggie (Ryan), a heart surgeon who loses a patient and starts to have a crisis of faith. Seth is drawn to Maggie and falls in love with her, forcing him to make the decision of whether he wants to remain an angel or become human in order to be with her.
The film is a remake of Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, a German film from 1987. It had a decent reception from critics and audiences, but much of the film’s lasting impact comes from its soundtrack which includes the Golden Globe-nominated “Uninvited” by Alanis Morissette.
The Rugrats Movie
The Nickelodeon cartoon about a precocious squad of babies gets the big-screen treatment in this animated comedy. Audiences everywhere got to see Tommy, Chuckie, and the twins Phil and Lil going on a whirlwind adventure as they navigate getting lost in the woods with Tommy’s new baby brother, Dil. The babies confront a hungry wolf, a gaggle of circus monkeys who hijacked a train, and their own fears and responsibilities.
The first feature-length film based on a Nickelodeon cartoon, The Rugrats Movie barreled into theatres and enjoyed great financial success. The Rugrats would not be far from the silver screen for long, as they returned in two sequels: 2000’s Rugrats in Paris and 2003’s Rugrats Go Wild, a crossover with the popular Nickelodeon series The Wild Thornberrys.
Saving Private Ryan
You have to wait 90 seconds.
Director Steven Spielberg’s visceral and epic war film about World War II, Saving Private Ryan is perhaps the most decorated film on this list, garnering Golden Globes, Academy Awards, BAFTAs, and being selected by the National Film Registry for preservation. The film follows the story of Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) and his troop of soldiers, played by Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore, Barry Pepper, and Giovanni Ribisi, who are tasked with rescuing Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) from the war. Through the grim brutality of war, the men are also faced with their own internal battles, wondering if they will make it home and who they will be when they get there.
The film famously lost Best Picture to Shakespeare in Love, but Spielberg’s masterful direction earned him an Oscar for Best Director, and the powerful performances from the cast, including an Academy Award-nominated turn by Hanks, propelled this drama.
Good Will Hunting
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck co-wrote and co-starred in Good Will Hunting, about a troubled mathematical genius working as a janitor at MIT. Damon gives an intense performance as Will, a brilliant mind wracked with a lot of personal demons. He acts out with his best friends Chuckie (Ben Affleck), Morgan (Casey Affleck), and Morgan (Cole Hauser). Will’s recklessness gets him into trouble with the law for attacking a cop, and he is forced to see a therapist, Sean (Robin Williams).
Their discussions about Will’s life and future are important and timely, showcasing the importance of addressing mental health. It was nominated for four Golden Globes and nine Oscars. Robin Williams’ excellent performance as Sean earned him his first and only Academy Award, for Best Supporting Actor. Damon and Affleck won their own for Best Original Screenplay.