The year that was 1993 was a monumental year for the movies.
This was the year when newfangled digital visual effects were finally good enough—and, more crucially, photorealistic enough—for audiences to suspend disbelief for an entire feature film and accept pixelated monsters as flesh-and-blood creatures.
The CGI sorcery in Jurassic Park now seems old hat, but a quarter century ago the quantum leap from the fledgling morphing effects of The Abyss, Terminator 2, and Death Becomes Her to the breathing and rampaging herds of dinosaurs literally blew movie-goers’ minds.
Even more remarkable in 1993 was Hollywood’s belated validation of blockbuster king Steven Spielberg as a serious artist—after a summer dominated by his popcorn thrill-ride Jurassic Park, his Holocaust drama Schindler’s List took top honors at the Academy Awards and earned the filmmaker his first Best Director Oscar, despite the film’s many seemingly anti-commercial aspects (e.g., its hard “R” rating, its 3-hours-plus running time, its grim subject matter, and, oh yes, the fact that it’s filmed mostly in black and white).
The year also saw stalwart action heroes Sylvester Stallone and Clint Eastwood headline their best and most satisfying thrillers outside of their Rocky/Rambo and Man With No Name/Dirty Harry series, respectively. We saw an all-star Western become a cult classic despite its troubled production and the limited perceived appeal of its dying genre.
We got a pulse-pounding chase picture so terrifically acted, directed, and edited that most viewers still forget it’s an adaptation of a television show. And there were a slew of dramas and comedies that remain relevant—and eminently quotable—to this day.
The only genre lacking a clear-cut standout classic in 1993 is horror, but I’ve managed to pick one that, despite its limitations, still packs a potent punch all these years later.
Pop some corn, pull up a seat, and let’s take a multi-phased trip down memory lane.
Best In Class
The year 1993 was a strong year for action/adventure movies, with no fewer than three now-classic films emerging that not only showcase career-best work of its players, but are still revered as standard bearers of the genre.
Outside of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones sagas, this taut chase suspense thriller represents star Harrison Ford’s finest hour. Even so, the film belongs to Tommy Lee Jones as the dogged Marshal hot on Ford’s trail. Jones was rightfully awarded a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, but efforts to turn his character into the lynchpin of an ongoing franchise sputtered when the follow-up U.S. Marshals failed to generate the same box office heat and audience allegiance.
Director Andrew Davis has yet to top himself, with the movie’s signature train wreck sequence and heart-stopping daredevil feats still ranking among the most breath-taking practical stunts ever captured on celluloid. So good that folks rarely remember this picture was one of many films of the period adapted from a television show.
The production of this brawny Wyatt Earp/Doc Holliday buddy Western was a troubled one, considering its race to the big screen against a bigger-budget competitor (the Lawrence Kasdan-directed and Kevin Costner-starring Wyatt Earp) and also because its original director was fired mid-shoot and replaced by the guy whose greatest claim to fame was the silly but immensely popular Rambo: First Blood Part II.
Also, even though Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven had been freshly anointed as Best Picture earlier in the year, the Western genre was considered moribund. Against all odds and despite obvious post-production tinkering, Tombstone was a critical hit and an instant audience pleaser, and even though it didn’t break any box office records during the Christmas season of 1993, the film quickly became a home video success story.
Kurt Russell (as Earp) and Val Kilmer (as Holliday) have rarely been better, and together they make for one of moviedom’s greatest duos.
And just take a gander at that stellar supporting cast, populated by seasoned character actors who have been frequent headliners in their own right: Sam Elliott; Bill Paxton; Powers Boothe; Charlton Heston; Michael Biehn; Billy Zane; Michael Rooker; Billy Bob Thornton; narrator Robert Mitchum. To top it off, Kevin Jarre’s snappy screenplay has provided fans with a long list of supremely quotable lines that still sting and zing a quarter century later.
Of the three action/adventure co-valedictorians of the Class of 1993, this Sylvester Stallone vehicle is the one that seems the most dated, playing like the last great ’80s flick not technically from the ’80s.
Still, its dizzying mountainous location photography, inventive action sequences, plentiful white-knuckle practical stunt work, and some truly brutal graphic violence make it a cut above the other myriad testosterone-fueled efforts of 1993. John Lithgow in snarly villain mode is always a good thing, too, plus the film boasts the most earnest non-Rocky, non-Rambo turn from Sly we’ve seen to date.
Following some embarrassing attempts at comedy, this picture put Stallone back on top of his game. And, for what it’s worth, fans still rate the first Mozart/Orff-scored teaser trailer as one of the best movie promos ever concocted. Despite some clunky editing in the middle stretch, the film represents the most competent effort from director Renny Harlin, until he’d top himself a few years later with The Long Kiss Goodnight.
Hard Target; Last Action Hero; Point of No Return; RoboCop 3; Striking Distance
Fewer Will Remember
Aspen Extreme; Boiling Point; Nowhere to Run; Only the Strong; The Real McCoy; Sniper; The Three Musketeers
SCI-FI / FANTASY
Best In Class
Fan legend has it author Michael Crichton wrote his book about genetically recreated dinosaurs as a dare for Steven Spielberg to direct.
Dare taken, and the rest is history—albeit a history that keeps repeating, as per a limitless array of marketing tie-ins and a seemingly endless string of lucrative if repetitive sequels.
The bar for digital imagery was raised through the roof, but the verisimilitude of the film’s life-like beasties owes more to the seamless mix of the CGI with old-school practical effects and tangible animatronics than fans give the creators credit for. Plot-wise the movie is no great shakes—it’s essentially Jaws in a tricked-out theme park—but the creature designs, the action set pieces, the tropical locales, the likable cast, the camerawork and sound effects, the odd bits of gruesome violence and gore that push the envelope of its PG-13 rating, and especially John Williams’ titanic score all elevate the proceedings far above its meager monster movie roots.
Each sequel ups the ante on its dinosaur diversity, tooth-chomping kills, and, of course, its shiny CGI, but the ensuing pictures’ collective inability to live up to Spielberg’s original is proof positive some things are never as good as the first time.
Demolition Man; Fire in the Sky
Fewer Will Remember
The Hidden II
Tune in next time for The Class of 1993: 25 Years Later – Phase II.