Studio 89 - Films that defined the year 1989

4th July 2024

Posted in: Articles

As we celebrate the launch of Studio 89, we look back at the films that defined the year 1989; the launch of our original Studio speaker.



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Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Dir: Steven Spielberg | Paramount Pictures

Once again directed by Steven Spielberg, the third instalment of the franchise sees Harrison Ford reprise his role as the titular archaeologist. Set in 1938, the plot sees Indiana Jones go on a quest to locate the fabled Holy Grail before the Nazis can use its special powers. He discovers another archaeologist recently went missing on the search, who he discovers is his own father.

The film stars the late James Bond actor Sean Connery as Jones Sr, and River Phoenix starring as his son in a flashback scene. John Rhys-Davies also reprised his role as Sallah. The film received huge critical acclaim, praising the on-screen chemistry between the two archaeologists. Also a commercial success, the film was the highest-grossing film of 1989, drawing a box office revenue US$474 million. The Last Crusade marked the last of the ‘original’ Indiana Jones trilogy, before reboots in 2008 and 2023.

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Dead Poets Society

Dir: Peter Weir | Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Set 30 years’ prior in a private boarding school, this coming-of-age drama takes place in a New England all-boys private school, where English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) returns to his former school. Using unorthodox teaching methods, Keating manages to reach out to his students who are under immense pressure from their parents and school.

Also starring a young Ethan Hawke as student Todd Anderson, Dead Poets Society was written by Tom Schulman and is loosely based on his own experiences in private school. The film received widespread acclaim, winning awards including the Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars and Best Film at the BAFTAs.



Back to the Future Part II

Dir: Robert Zemeckis | Universal Pictures

The second film in the classic science-fiction trilogy, this film continues from the end of the last film. Marty McFly joins Doc Brown as they travel 30 years forward to 2015 to resolve problems with McFly’s future family. However, bully Biff Tannen steals the time-travelling DeLorean to give his younger self a sports almanac to become rich and powerful. Marty and Doc return to 1985 to find a dystopian Hill Valley, and then travel back to 1955 to retrieve the almanac and restore the timeline.

The movie was filmed back-to-back with the third and final film in the franchise, which was released only six months later in May 1990. The film grossed over US$332 million worldwide, making it the third highest grossing film of 1989.

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Dir: Tim Burton | Warner Bros.

The first film in the Warner Bros. series of Batman films, this film sees Bruce Wayne, secretly the vigilante Batman, protecting Gotham City from crime. The city is terrorized by the Joker, formerly gangster Jack Napier, who was disfigured and driven insane after a confrontation with Batman. The Joker unleashes chaos with deadly chemical attacks. Batman battles to stop him while reporter Vicki Vale uncovers Batman's identity. In a climactic showdown at a cathedral, Batman defeats the Joker, who falls to his death, restoring some peace to Gotham and solidifying Batman as its protector.

Batman features an all-star cast and crew, directed by Tim Burton, Danny Elfman providing music, and starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson as Batman and the Joker respectively. The film was critically and financially successful, receiving widespread acclaim and earning over US$411 million worldwide at the box office. Batman the second highest-grossing film of 1989.

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The Little Mermaid

Dir: John Musker & Ron Clements | Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

The Disney film features Ariel, a young mermaid princess who dreams of living on land. She falls in love with Prince Eric and makes a deal with the sea witch Ursula to become human, trading her voice for legs. Ariel has three days to receive true love's kiss from Eric, or she will belong to Ursula. With help from her friends, Ariel nearly succeeds, but Ursula intervenes. In the end, Ariel's father, King Triton, defeats Ursula and grants Ariel her wish to become human permanently, allowing her to marry Eric and live happily ever after.

The film originally began development in the late 1930s by Walt Disney himself, though eventually delayed. Eventual co-director revisited the idea in the 1980s and eventually led to the iconic film being released. Grossing over US$235 million in box office revenue, The Little Mermaid was the year’s highest grossing animated film. The film won Best Original Score and Best Original Song at both the Oscars and the Golden Globes.

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When Harry Met Sally

Dir: Rob Reiner | Columbia Pictures

When Harry Met Sally… stars Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan as the titular roles in this romantic comedy, which follows the evolving relationship between Harry Burns and Sally Albright, who first meet during a shared drive from Chicago to New York. During the trip, both characters disagree on relationships and friendships. Over the years, they repeatedly cross paths, becoming close friends despite their differing views on relationships. Eventually, they realise they have deeper feelings for each other. After a falling out, Harry makes a heartfelt New Year's Eve confession, and they reconcile, admitting their love and starting a romantic relationship, challenging their own beliefs about friendship and love.

The film was nominated for 19 awards, eventually winning accolades including Best Original Screenplay at the 43rd BAFTAs.

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Dir: Edward Zwick | Tri-Star Pictures

Also based on a true story and starring Morgan Freeman, this war drama portrays the story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first African American units in the Civil War, led by the abolitionist Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. The film depicts the soldiers' struggles against prejudice within the Union Army, their rigorous training, and their bravery in battle. The regiment's heroic assault on Fort Wagner, despite heavy casualties, highlights their courage and sacrifice. Shaw and many of his men are killed, but their legacy demonstrates the vital contributions of African American soldiers to the Union war effort and the fight for equality.

Glory also stars Matthew Broderick and Denzel Washington, the latter winning Best Supporting Actor at both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes for his efforts.


Field of Dreams

Dir: Phil Alden Robinson | Universal Pictures

The film depicts Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, who hears a mysterious voice one evening urging him to build a baseball field in his cornfield. Despite skepticism, Ray builds the field, which attracts the ghosts of legendary players, including Shoeless Joe Jackson. Ray then follows further prompts to find reclusive author Terence Mann and a former player, Archibald "Moonlight" Graham. The field becomes a place of redemption and reconciliation, especially for Ray, who reconnects with the spirit of his late father. The film celebrates the magic of baseball and the power of dreams and family.

The film received positive reviews, winning several ‘Best Foreign Film’ awards and featured on the National Board of Review Awards ‘Top Ten Films’ of 1989.


Driving Miss Daisy

Dir: Bruce Beresford | Warner Bros.

Driving Miss Daisy tells the story of Daisy Werthan, an elderly widow from Atlanta who reluctantly accepts the services of chauffeur Hoke Colburn after an accident. Over 25 years, their initially contentious relationship evolves into a deep friendship, overcoming racial and social barriers. The film highlights their personal growth and mutual respect against the backdrop of changing social dynamics in the American South, ultimately portraying the enduring bond that forms between them despite their differences.

Based on the 1987 play of the same name, it is inspired by playwright Alfred Uhry’s own grandmother. It stars Morgan Freeman as the driver, which proved his Hollywood breakthrough role. The film was heavily praised by movie critics, receiving 9 Oscar nominations alone, winning four including Best Picture and Best Actress, which Jessica Tandy remains the oldest recipient at the age of 80.

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Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Dir: Stephen Herek | Orion Pictures

This science fiction comedy features high school slackers, who face failing their history class, which would split up their rock band. A time traveller named Rufus helps them by providing a time machine shaped like a phone booth. They travel through history, collecting famous figures like Socrates, Joan of Arc, and Abraham Lincoln for their history presentation. Their adventures help them pass their class, keeping their band together.

The film has become a cult classic, with fans loving the stellar cast and the great one-liners. The role of Ted proved to be a breakthrough role for Keanu Reeves, who later starred in other blockbuster films including the Matrix and John Wick series.

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