Revisiting the greatest summer for movies 30 years later

Summer of '89 remains unmatched in cinema history

By Peter Burke - Managing Editor
Warner Bros./Paramount/Columbia

"Batman," "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and "Ghostbusters II" were among the blockbuster movies released in the summer of 1989.

Will there ever be a summer at the movies to match 1989? 

It's been 30 years to the day since (what we thought was) the final installment of the "Indiana Jones" trilogy was released to commence the season, but there hasn't been a summer that's come close to replicating the greatest celluloid cinema run since.

Here now is a look back at that sensational summer, which was a banner period for sequels and spawned several box office blockbusters, beginning with this first film.

May 24

"Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade"

Paramount Pictures

Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in a scene from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."

Hailed by many as the best in the series and praised by critics who felt it atoned for the faults of its predecessor (though 1984's "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" has been unfairly vilified, especially when held up against 2008's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"), this is the movie that revealed our professor by day, archeologist by night to be a "Junior" whose titular pet name was, in fact, the name of his childhood dog. Harrison Ford paired well opposite veteran Scottish actor Sean Connery, who portrayed his estranged father. Plus, it brought back Denholm Elliott as Indiana's bumbling colleague and John Rhys-Davies as his Egyptian pal.

June 9

"Star Trek V: The Final Frontier"

Paramount Pictures

Leonard Nimoy as Spock and Laurence Luckinbill as Sybok in a scene from "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier."

OK, so even if this was the weakest link of the original "Star Trek" movies, it's still a sequel that dominated the box office upon its release. It had the highest opening gross of any "Star Trek" movie up to that point, likely due to the success of "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" three years earlier, but it's poor reviews "nearly killed the franchise," producer Harve Bennett said of the movie. The plotline revolved around Spock's half-brother commandeering the Enterprise in search of God. Not a good move coming off the fourth movie's Earth-based setting and involving some adorable humpback whales, both of which attracted audiences outside of the science-fiction genre. Bennett also hypothesized that its release during the sequel-stuffed summer, instead of a preferred fall opening, hurt the final product. That may be true, but as far as the sequels of 1989 go, this was the worst of the bunch.

June 13

"License to Kill"

United Artists

Timothy Dalton as James Bond and Benicio del Toro in a scene from "License to Kill."

The 16th installment of the James Bond film series (excluding 1983's "Never Say Never Again," which was produced independently of Albert R. Broccoli and team) was the first to be filmed entirely outside the United Kingdom. It carried a darker edge than many of the other Bond movies (see "Batman"), which may be why it garnered considerable praise. Nonetheless, it was filled with equally impressive locations, including the Florida Keys (the Seven Mile Bridge and Hemingway House make cameos), and plenty of action. Oh, and who could forget the bad guys feeding their foes to some hungry tiger sharks? Timothy Dalton reprised his role as Bond for the second and last time, but at least he went out with a bang. The Bond girls are Pam Bouvier, who plays a tough-as-nails CIA informant, and Talisa Soto, who plays a drug lord's girlfriend with her sights set on our favorite British agent. Rounding out the cast are crooner Wayne Newton, a televangelist middleman for the baddies ("Bless you, my child."), and then-unknown Benicio Del Toro as a henchman who meets his fate in an industrial shredder.

June 16

"Ghostbusters II"

Columbia Pictures

Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Akyroyd and Ernie Hudson in a scene from "Ghostbusters II."

"Ghostbusters II" is a misunderstood sequel. Is it as good as the first one? No. But it's not "Staying Alive," "Caddyshack II" or "Teen Wolf Too" terrible, either. In fact, it's actually pretty good. For one, all of the principals involved in the 1984 comedy returned for the sequel. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis and Annie Potts, plus director-producer Ivan Reitman, helped make this an enjoyable follow-up to a surprise blockbuster. If you blink, you might miss cameos by Cheech Marin, a dock supervisor who witnesses the arrival of the Titanic, and Bobby Brown, who also lent his vocals to the soundtrack. "Ghostbusters II" had the biggest three-day opening weekend gross in history with $29.5 million. But it wouldn't last for long.

June 23


Warner Bros.

Michael Keaton in a scene from the 1989 movie "Batman."

The record set by "Ghostbusters II" was broken a week later with the release of "Batman." Although it seems passé now, the 1989 "Batman" really set the tone for comic book movies as we know it today. Director Tim Burton also established the Batman character as a brooding, tortured soul, which was further explored in director Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" trilogy. Although lambasted at the time, the casting of Michael Keaton as Batman was brilliant, as was the omission of sidekick Robin. It was probably for the best that an ill-timed horse-riding accident forced Sean Young to bow out as Vicki Vale. Could you imagine anyone other than Kim Basinger in the role? Jack Nicholson took top billing as the Joker, whose character will soon have a movie of his own. It was also a blast watching the deterioration of model Jerry Hall, then well into her marriage with Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, as the Joker's one-time squeeze falls out of his favor.

"Honey, I Shrunk the Kids"

Walt Disney Pictures

Rick Moranis in a scene from "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids."

Rick Moranis, who has since retired from acting, stars as a nerdy father who accidentally shrinks his kids with one of his latest inventions -- a ray gun capable of shrinking objects. He's also forced to work together with his not-so-nice neighbor, whose kids he also shrunk. For a family film that went up against "Batman" on the opening weekend, this was a surprise hit, becoming the highest-grossing live-action Disney movie at the time. This movie spawned a sequel, "Honey, I Blew Up the Kid," in 1992.

June 30

"The Karate Kid Part III"

Columbia Pictures

Thomas Ian Griffith and Ralph Macchio in a scene from "The Karate Kid Part III."

Here's the thing about this trilogy. The first movie is great. The second one holds its weight. This one probably shouldn't have been made. Unlike its predecessor, which takes Daniel and Mr. Miyagi to Okinawa, the final installment picks back up in Los Angeles, where Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese (Martin Cove) is now broke and down on his luck after the events of the other movies ("The Karate Kid Part II" preamble takes place immediately after the first movie's conclusion). Until he visits his Vietnam War buddy (Thomas Ian Griffith, in his film debut), who concocts a vengeful plot to ruin Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and restore Cobra Kai to its glory days. Director John G. Avildsen later called it "a poor imitation of the first one" and a "horrible movie." At least it's better than "The Next Karate Kid."

July 5

"Weekend at Bernie's"

20th Century Fox

Andrew McCarthy and Terry Kiser as Bernie in a scene from "Weekend at Bernie's."

As absurd as the premise may seem, it's actually quite comical. Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman star as a couple of New York financial grunts who try to win over their boss by discovering fraud within the company. Their boss, who's actually behind the fraud, invites them to his beach house to have them offed, but when they get there, he's already dead. Naturally, they don't want to spoil their weekend, so they spend it posing with the corpse in various outlandish scenarios to keep appearances -- and to keep them alive. "Weekend at Bernie's" opened on a Wednesday (the same day that "Seinfeld" premiered, in fact) and was a surprise smash, more than doubling its $15 million budget. It was followed by a sequel (Bernie's still dead) in 1993.

July 7

"Lethal Weapon 2"

Warner Bros.

Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in a scene from "Lethal Weapon 2."

This might just be the best of the bunch. For starters, it introduced audiences to the world of Joe Pesci's Leo Getz, a wisecracking federal witness who detectives Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh are assigned to protect after the movie's cold open police chase ends poorly. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover set the formula for the buddy cop action-comedy two years earlier, but "Lethal Weapon 2" bested the ying-and-yang dynamic. It was also the third highest-grossing movie of 1989 (behind "Batman" and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade"), earning nearly $150 million in North America and millions more overseas.

July 28

"Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan"

Paramount Pictures

Kane Hodder stars as Jason Voorhees in a scene from "Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan."

Jason Voorhees finally had enough of Camp Crystal Lake and did what most dreamers do. He headed for the Big Apple. The eighth installment in the "Friday the 13th" slasher series follows Jason stalking a group of high school graduates on a ship bound for New York City. Naturally, when the most terrifying dude to ever wear a hockey mask gets to Manhattan, chaos ensues.

"Turner & Hooch"

Touchstone Pictures

Tom Hanks stars alongside Beasley the dog in a scene from "Turner & Hooch."

Tom Hanks is a cop. His partner is a big, slobbering dog that eats car seats and sleeps in his bed. It's full of laughs, but also a tearjerker (spoiler alert: Hooch doesn't survive). The comedy was co-written by Daniel Petrie Jr., who received an Oscar nod for his work on 1984's "Beverly Hills Cop." Henry Winkler (aka "Fonzie") was the original director, but he was fired 13 days into production. "Let's just say I got along better with Hooch than I did with Turner," Winkler later said of his firing.

Aug. 2


Universal Pictures

Rick Moranis and Steve Martin in a scene from "Parenthood."

This was a big summer for Rick Moranis, appearing in his third film in less than two months. The ensemble cast also included Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Dianne Wiest, Keanu Reeves, Martha Plimpton, Jason Robards, Tom Hulce and a young Joaquin Phoenix (then known as Leaf Phoenix, the younger brother of River Phoenix). Director Ron Howard was on a roll, having already helmed "Splash," "Cocoon" and "Willow" when "Parenthood" was released. Filmed in Florida, locations featured in the movie include the University of Florida campus in Gainesville, the photo booth outside the College Park Publix on Edgewater Drive in Orlando and the Showbiz Pizza (now Chuck-E-Cheese) in Altamonte Springs.

Aug. 9

"The Abyss"

20th Century Fox

Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio meet the alien creature in a scene from "The Abyss."

This movie is like a cross between "Alien" and "The Deep." Just three years removed from "Aliens," director James Cameron wowed audiences with a Cold War-era yarn about a mysterious underwater lifeform. In addition to being a box office smash, "The Abyss" won an Oscar for best visual effects and was nominated for three others.

Aug. 11

"A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child"

New Line Cinema

Freddy Krueger, played by Rob Englund, terrorizes one of his victims in a scene from "A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child."

Blame Jason. The release of another "Friday the 13th" movie weeks earlier meant its often-mistaken slasher film series needed another sequel to stay competitive. The result was "A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child." By now, the disfigured razor-gloved Freddy Krueger was becoming old shtick, much like his older foe. The numbers bore that out: It was the least successful movie in the series in terms of box office revenue, raking in a little more than $22 million worldwide. Years later, Freddy would take on Jason in the appropriately titled "Freddy vs. Jason," which fared much better than either of their 1989 movies did.

Aug. 16

"Uncle Buck"

Universal Pictures

John Candy plays the titular character in a scene from "Uncle Buck."

Directed, produced and written by John Hughes, "Uncle Buck" unofficially concluded the greatest summer in cinema. John Candy was America's favorite uncle, tasked with taking care of his brother's kids while the parents are out of town. Uncle Buck does things differently than mom and dad, washing dirty clothes in the microwave, confronting his niece's assistant principal about her behavior in school and using a drill to scare the hell out of his oldest niece's sex-hungry boyfriend at a party. The movie also introduced audiences to Macaulay Culkin, who would soon become a childhood star with the release of "Home Alone" in 1990. "Uncle Buck" remains one of John Candy's classics. Five years later, he would be dead. RIP.

Copyright 2019 by WPLG - All rights reserved.