The summer movie season of 1998 actually began twelve months previously. While the Jurassic Park sequel The Lost World was still marauding around the multiplexes, a teaser trailer suddenly appeared showing a group of schoolchildren in a museum staring up in awe at the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Suddenly a gigantic lizard’s foot crashes through the ceiling and crushes the T-Rex as if it were an ant. Guess who’s coming to town…


Godzilla 1998
Sony TriStar

Kicking off a marketing campaign like that, a full year before Godzilla rose up from the depths was pretty much unprecedented back in 1997. It signalled the arrival of the age of internet marketing. You could even download the trailer to watch at home if you didn’t mind waiting eleven hours for the privilege.

After months of hype, Godzilla finally arrived on Memorial Day. It was Roland Emmerich’s first movie since reinventing the disaster movie in 1996 with Independence Day. This too was a disaster but not in the way Emmerich was hoping for. Ineptly cast, crayon-plotted and featuring a monster that enraged Toho fans and pleased no one else, it was mauled by the critics and fell short of box office predictions.

It was by no means the only disappointment of Summer 1998. Expectations for the big screen adaptation of the 1960s TV show Lost in Space were high, but it was quickly marooned, along with Matt LeBlanc’s hopes of becoming a big screen action star.

The Avengers 1998
Warner Bros.

That was nothing compared to the reception of another 1960s TV remake. The Avengers, having been put through the editor’s shredder by a studio that had no idea what they’d commissioned, limped out into cinemas without fanfare but was still terrible enough make it onto most critics’ ‘Worst of The Year’ list.

South Park duo Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s big-screen gamble BASEketball was also deemed a let-down, but only in box office terms. It was expected to be the Naked Gun of the summer, but barely scraped back $7 million.

All the comedy oxygen of the summer was sucked up by There’s Something About Mary, starring Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller, and a handful of hair gel…or something a bit like hair gel. The Farrelly Brothers’ Dumb & Dumber follow-up Kingpin had been a damp-squib at the box office so predictions for Mary were cautiously optimistic.

There's Something About Mary 1998
20th Century Fox

Word of mouth spread quickly and turned this into something of a cultural phenomenon. Making gross-out frat comedy popular again for the next few years, it bequeathed superstar status upon Diaz and Stiller and brought in $180m.

The smart money suggested that Joe Dante’s high concept Small Soldiers would be the kids film to beat, but it was perhaps a little too subversive – too Dantean – to connect with a wide audience. Instead, Eddie Murphy repeated his Nutty Professor trick from two years back and hoovered up the family audience with Dr. Dolittle. This new version of the infamous 1967 flop replaced the songs, the top hat and the huge pink snail with talking animals who sounded like Albert Brooks, Norm MacDonald and Chris Rock (as a guinea pig called Rodney).

Mulan 1998

Murphy had a good summer. Dolittle was a smash, and he got all the laughs as Mushu the dragon in the big Disney film of the year, Mulan. With a £120m gross, it fared better than the previous year’s Hercules. Disney also scored a sizeable hit with their remake of The Parent Trap, which saw Lindsay Lohan stepping into Hayley Mills’ size fives to play a pair of twins separated at birth.

Indiana Jones fans looking for the kind of swashbuckling adventure that had been missing since the Last Crusade had a very pleasant surprise when Martin Campbell’s The Mask of Zorro turned out to be ten times more fun than anyone had any right to expect. Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta Jones both took a giant leap into the A-List, while Anthony Hopkins showed them what pure class looked like (and also how to disarm someone with a soup spoon).

The Mask of Zorro 1998
Sony TriStar

Elsewhere, 90s TV sensation The X-Files fared well in its first big screen foray, as did the last (to date) appearance of detectives Murtaugh and Riggs in Lethal Weapon 4. Unbelievably, Richard Donner only started shooting this in January, but somehow he managed to get it over the line and into cinemas in time for its release in July.

It seems almost impossible to believe in our age of IPs, franchises and cinematic universes, but Lethal Weapon 4 was one of only two sequels released that summer (Halloween H20 being the other). Moreover, the number of films designed for a more mature, thoughtful audience were notable by their plenitude.

The Horse Whisperer 1998

Robert Redford’s film version of Nicholas Evans’s bestseller The Horse Whisperer was pitched directly at the weepie-loving Bridges of Madison County crowd, who turned up in their droves. It was the first time Redford had directed himself and it gave Scarlett Johansson one of her earliest screen roles.

A very different bestseller finally made it to the movies when Terry Gilliam’s wonderfully hallucinatory adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas screeched out of bat-country like an out-of-control Chevrolet. Equally uncompromising were Warren Beatty’s controversial political satire, Bulworth, and Spike Lee’s well received basketball drama He Got Game, starring Denzel Washington.

He Got Game 1998
Touchstone / Disney

Despite meagre box-office returns, Out of Sight succeeded where many had failed by turning George Clooney into a bona fide movie star. Since sex, lies and videotape in 1989, Steven Soderbergh’s career had flatlined, but he found his muse in Clooney. The ER star, still smarting from the previous year’s Batman & Robin fiasco, created fireworks with his co-star Jennifer Lopez, and helped mint a supercool style template that he and Soderbergh would refresh with greater financial success across three Oceans movies.

Out of Sight 1998

Meanwhile the biggest comic sensation of the decade, who had made millions talking through his ass and spiking his best friend with hardcore laxatives, became the unlikely star of one of the finest and most prescient films of the era. Many sceptics suspected that Jim Carrey’s anarchic persona would upend Peter Weir’s extraordinary take on reality television, but it turned out to be perfect casting.

Carrey’s box office clout saw the film shoot way past the $100m mark, but few could have anticipated his touching portrayal of Truman Burbank, the unwitting star of a 24 hour TV show who starts to suspect that all is not what it seems. 25 years later, The Truman Show feels like the first modern movie of a new era.

The Truman Show 1998

By contrast, Steven Spielberg headed back to the past and reinvented the war movie with Saving Private Ryan. The celebrated opening sequence depicting the invasion of Omaha Beach on D-Day dragged traumatised audiences through the visceral, body-mangling, deafening, terrifying reality of war in a way that they’d never experienced before.

With Tom Hanks at the crest of his popularity, Saving Private Ryan became a huge critical and box office hit, the second-biggest hit of the summer. In that regard, it wound up sandwiched between a tale of two asteroids.

Saving Private Ryan

In 1997, volcanoes were all the rage. In one corner, Pierce Brosnan tried to help the local population flee Dante’s Peak, while Tommy Lee Jones helped save downtown LA from a malevolent tar pit turning the coast to toast in Volcano.

This year’s hot look was world-ending asteroids. Deep Impact had the head-start; an ensemble piece that was as interested in the impact that the incoming rock would have on its characters as it did on the earth’s crust when it hit. Directed by Mimi Leder, Deep Impact was the first big success story of the summer, which spelled doom for its rival…initially.

Armageddon was Deep Impact with its veins filled with adrenaline. It was the apex of the Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay overblown, high-concept action rides that now seem to define ‘90s blockbuster cinema. A big star (Bruce Willis), an up-and-comer (Ben Affleck), darlings of indie cinema (Billy Bob Thornton, Steve Buscemi), a palette of primary colours, a pulsating rock n roll soundtrack, a huge budget and lots and lots of shouting – it was all here, cranked up to the highest setting.

Armageddon 1998
Touchstone / Disney

Eventually, with the Texas-sized asteroid vanquished by Brucie and his fellow oil-drillers, Armageddon ended up winning the summer’s box office battle (though Saving Private Ryan’s lengthy stretch into the autumn would ultimately see it win the war).

Looking back now, it’s the sheer number of high quality, for want of a better expression ‘grown-up’ films that defines the summer of 1998. Films like Ryan, The Truman Show, He Got Game, The Horse Whisperer, Out of Sight and Bulworth would in most years have constituted an end of year Awards season schedule, yet here they all were in the silly season, when all about them should have been mayhem and Roman numerals.

It was a good omen that perhaps presaged Hollywood’s golden year of 1999. However, look closely and you’ll find a different seed planted back in the Summer of ’98, which grew into something that has since redefined popular cinema. In late August, Wesley Snipes had a medium-sized hit with Blade, a superhero movie about a half-vampire defeating the forces of evil in the oh-so-90s form of Stephen Dorff.

It grew in stature into a cult hit that begat a superior sequel (and an even bigger hit) in 2002. After years in the Hollywood wasteland, with nothing but terrible low-budget films and contractual dead-ends to show for it, Marvel finally had a hit movie based on one of its comic book characters. It’s hardly a spoiler alert to reveal that it wouldn’t be the last.

If you’re a right minded person and enjoyed Cai Ross’s quarter century lookback then you’ll be pleased to know he’s done this before. Here are links to the equally excellent Summers of Cinemas on HeyUGuys.

I Make This Look Good: The Summer of Cinema ’97 – 25 Years On – HeyUGuys

Welcome To Earth! The Summer of Cinema ’96 – 25 Years On. – HeyUGuys

“Houston, We Have a Problem.” The Summer of Cinema ’95 – 25 Years On. – HeyUGuys

Pop Quiz, Hotshot: The Summer of Cinema ’94 – 25 Years On – HeyUGuys

When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth: The Summer of Cinema 1993 – 25 Years Later – HeyUGuys

Hasta La Vista, Baby: Revisiting 1991’s Summer of Cinema 25 Years Later. – HeyUGuys

Wait Till They Get a Load of Me: 1989 – The Year That Changed Hollywood – HeyUGuys