Has there ever been a summer that proved to be as important – not just personally, but historically - to comic book fans as 1989? Surely the last decade or so has produced its share of must-see superhero adventures, but before Tim Burton's Batman was release on June 23, 1989, the idea of wall-to-wall wallcrawlers was little more than a cobweb stuck to the bottom of discarded studio call sheets. Burton's aggressive, dark reimagining of Bob Kane's iconic character quite literally changed the face of comic book adaptations, and ushered in the era of superhero movies, even if it would take another ten or fifteen years to find the right balance between real-world grit, splash-page heroism, and tongue-in-cheek self-awareness.
Meanwhile, the rest of the summer of '89 was no less exciting, featuring sequels, comedies, dramas and plenty of fare that defied categorization – which, in all likelihood is why it defied the box office gods en route to home-video glory. And while we could no doubt devote countless column inches to recounting every film from that fateful summer, here's a decidedly more svelte list of the entries that most aroused our imaginations and inspired us to suckle at 1989's summer-movie teat.
May 19: Road House. One of those movies where you don't know where the classic ends and the camp begins, it nevertheless makes one long for the simple, straightforward charms of a story about a bouncer cleaning up a redneck bar. Thanks more to the DVD released just a couple of years ago (and Kevin Smith's hilarious commentary on it) than actually seeing it in the theater, this is a personal favorite, but it's essential viewing for anyone who can appreciate dialogue like "pain don't hurt."
May 24: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It wasn't the first Indy movie I ever saw, but it was the first one I actually saw in theaters, which is probably why two decades later I still love it just as much as when I was 13. Even though it's a little sappier than its predecessors, its set pieces work just as well, and anyway, it's a hell of a lot better than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Not to mention that this laid the groundwork for countless action-movie origin stories with its opening "how Dr. Jones became Indy" sequence.
June 9: Star Trek V. Sadly, there's nothing much redeeming about this particular entry in Star Trek's cinematic canon, although at least it's not the worst in the franchise. (A dubious distinction to be sure, but it beats both Insurrection and Nemesis.)
June 16: Ghostbusters II. This was a film I remember seeing with my sister on opening day, and then insisting our father take us immediately to buy the soundtrack afterward. (Doug E. Fresh's "Spirit" is still a playlist favorite.) Again, a more sentimental and sappy movie than the one that inspired it (seriously – the Statue of Liberty comes alive?), but at the time, Vigo the Carpathian scared the living hell out of me, and I felt much cooler than I deserved to for recognizing Bobby Brown in a cameo role.
June 23: Batman. Although I have no idea where the tapes are now, I recorded every single interview, movie clip, feature and segment on television I could find in anticipation of this movie, and excepting my formative viewing of Star Wars at age three, this film is probably most responsible of any for my longtime love of genre adventures. There would be better Batman movies made later, but for me, none would be bigger.
July 7: Lethal Weapon 2. I'm not really into blondes, but Patsy Kensit did her best to dissuade me from women with other hair colors, and unquestionably threw my puberty into overdrive. Quite frankly, this film is most memorable to me for two reasons: it was the second R-rated film I ever saw in the theater (after Beverly Hills Cop II, which was an accident), and it featured the first sex scene I'd ever seen. Oh, and Martin and Riggs have a tender moment in the bathroom together.
July 14: Licence to Kill. Although not the first Bond movie I caught in theaters (that would be the series' nadir, A View to a Kill), this one stuck with me the most until I got old enough to appreciate the sophistication and subtlety of earlier installments such as On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and my all-time favorite, You Only Live Twice. In fact, it's this unlikely entry point that makes me perpetually sympathetic to the "lesser" Bonds like Dalton, since this movie was still pretty terrific even though it didn't quite live up to the legacy of some others.
July 14: When Harry Met Sally. Okay, I never saw this in the theater, but it is a movie that I love, and in retrospect it feels like a bit of brilliant counterprogramming for the rest of the summer's testosterone-filled entries.
August 4: Parenthood. This on the other hand was a movie that I simply loved, loved, loved, and it was one of those films that I really responded to emotionally, although I'm entirely unsure who I most closely related to: Joaquin Phoenix (then Leaf), Diane Wiest's estranged son; Jasen Fisher, the anxiety-prone son of Steve Martin and Mary Steenburgen; Martin's harried but well-meaning dad; or Keanu Reeves' Todd, who obliviously navigated himself through a neverending series of idiotic escapades to find love and happiness.
August 11: The Abyss. Another opening-day viewing – by myself, no less – James Cameron's underwater opus was second only to Aliens in the number of viewings I subjected myself to as a teenager. Combining groundbreaking special effects, terrific performances, and a production location that was virtually in my back yard (it was shot outside Charlotte, NC, my hometown), this was a film that not only inspired me personally like Batman did, but prompted me to want to become a filmmaker (by which of course I mean a film critic).
August 18: Uncle Buck. Despite pining for a Ferris Bueller poster at my local video store until the owner relented and sold it to me, I didn't really know John Hughes from a hole in the wall even at the time that Uncle Buck came out. Afterward, however, his films became a staple of my adolescence, and it was almost a necessary process to see this late-era Hughes movie first since it was broader but no less satisfying than its predecessors. Also, it really made me love John Candy, and showed how he wasn't merely a textbook funny fat man but a guy who could be sweet, scary, feckless and forceful when someone gave him a role worthy of his considerable talent.