Ten Forgotten Number One UK Box Office Films Of The 90s

When we think back to “90s cinema”, Trainspotting is probably one of the films that stands out from the decade as a truly iconic, huge movie that swiftly entered the national consciousness regardless of whether you’d seen it or not, much like Reservoir Dogs, The Matrix or Fight Club. Those slightly older readers will remember the utter disarray that was attending a cinema in the 1990s before the modern chains for better worse took over. Video shops were decimating the audiences who were put off by the prices, sticky carpets and poor regional distribution with London getting premieres often months before the North. And those films that did get through? Yeesh, its fair to say that while there’s always been bad movies, the British film industry was at a real low point throughout much of the decade. Say what you like about “Nativity 8″ or “The Guernsey Piss Pog And Pie Society”, they’re no “Ladder of Swords”

There’s the opening trailers out of the way, time for the main feature. Here are ten films that were once genuinely big deals, reaching number one in the UK box office that are now forgotten by the nation as a whole. (That’s my get out if you read one and say “I remember that!”, alright?)

10. Waking Ned (19/03/99)

It would be fair for anyone wishing to argue that the British film industry was alright in the nineties thanks to the heart-warming and undoubtedly BRITISH likes of Brassed Off and The Full Monty. Small scale stories with great ensemble casts that America lapped up. Added to that list would be “Waking Ned” (extended to “Waking Ned Devine” in the US bafflingly, thus spoiling the rhyming slang gag), a gentle comedy set in Ireland about the entirely inhabitants of a small village covering up the fact that the Lottery has been won by a dead man. Britain loved it but the huge buzz was undoubtedly because America took to it so strongly in a typical example of “Well, if the Yanks like it, it must be alright…” ITV showed it as a big New Years Day film two years later after which…nothing really. Repeats have been few and far between and director Kirk Jones, once feted as the next big thing, wouldn’t have a film reach cinemas until 2005’s “Nanny McPhee”, his last feature to date being “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2”. Perhaps “Waking Ned” is so laid back and sweet as to not leave much of a mark on the national conscience but this is definitely worth reawakening.

9. Dead Again (25/10/91)

Speaking of Nanny McPhee, here’s the wonderful Emma Thompson with ex-husband ‘Chuckles’ Kenneth Branagh from the era where the two were seen as inseparable (going as far as a Spitting Image sketch where Ken couldn’t eat something because Em wasn’t in it) in an intriguing thriller about past lives and regression. (You know the past bits are in the past because its black and white.) Its an enjoyable bit of fluff which will involve you being able to get past the ‘AH’M AN AMERICAWN’ accents both main actors use but coming mere months after the genre-defining “Silence Of The Lambs”, its hard to think of it as anything more.

8. Jack and Sarah (02/06/95)

Despite a decade of solid work with appearances in “LA Story”, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and “Prêt-à-Porter”, critics and fans always seemed to feel that Richard E Grant‘s star had never quite risen sufficiently after the tour-de-force that was and remains “Withnail and I”. Looking at the state of the film industry in this country at the time and the relative failure of his second feature with Withnail’s writer / director Bruce Robinson “How To Get Ahead In Advertising”, its easy to see why Grant took second banana work in the US rather than stay and headline something British. “Jack and Sarah” briefly changed all that with Grant starring in an occasionally dark and moving but ultimately uplifting comedy about a grieving father bonding with his newborn daughter. Not that looking at the cover would tell you that with its bleedin’ Friends-esque posing and thin non capitalized fonts. Growl. (Oh and spoilers: see her there, she’s not Sarah…)

7. Quigley Down Under (05/04/91)

Regularly one of my comedy go to names for utterly forgotten fare, this comic Western released a year before Clint Eastwood refined the genre with “Unforgiven” was one Tom Selleck‘s last starring roles (anyone remember “Mr Baseball”?) in a big budget film. Alan Rickman plays Naughtyman McBadness (or near enough) who employs Selleck‘s Quigley to shoot Aborigines. As we know rule two is no mistreatment of the Abbos so Quiggles refuses and becomes enemy number one. Its a perfectly serviceable Western that my granddad would’ve loved but I was always confused by the title which feels like the second or third in a series. “Oh that Quigley! Where’s he off now? The Australias?? Now this I gotta see!”

6. Black Rain (26/01/90)

A huge film at the time, directed by Ridley Scott and featuring the still very much in prime Michael Douglas as a cop chasing a Yakuza member through the “Japanese underworld” (Copyright Cinema Alan’s Big Book Of Movie Writing Shortcuts), its strange how forgotten “Black Rain” has become. It could be that none-more-generic title that gives little about the plot away – then again what’s a “Blade Runner” when its at home? More likely is the fact its just a fine but forgettable run around, occasionally shoot someone and pout action movie of the sort that were ten a penny seemingly back then. And frequently involved Steven Seagal

5. Out For Justice (04/10/91)

Oh bollocks, I had to go and invoke the spirit of facekickingness past, didn’t I? From the sweet spot period where Seagal had climbed up through the VHS rental mountain to become an indicator of brainless but enjoyable big screen tut which the self-respecting action fan could happily spend a few quid on without fear of being ripped off (“How many killings?”, as Henry and Ally from The League Of Gentlemen might say.)  but before everyone realised he was bat shit crazy and nobody wanted to work with him. That said, with an impressive seven films under in his belt in 2016 alone, somebody must still be watching his stuff. Just not at the cinema…

4. What About Bob? (15/11/91)

A fun but occasionally quite unpleasant Frank Oz-directed comedy where Bill Murray (in his pre-walking deity on Earth days) plays a psychiatric patient who annoys his therapist (Richard Dreyfuss) on holiday to the point of insanity, but with the added twist that this time the Bill Murray one will be a woman called Barb. Nothing like jumping on a property when its hot, eh?

BONUS ANECDOTE FROM MY FRIEND TIM: “I once saw Drop Dead Fred and What About Bob next to each other on a hoarding at a time where Freddie Mercury and Robert Maxwell had literally just died.” Ouch.

3. Memphis Belle (07/09/90)

Now this bastard. If there’s any film on this list you’ve gone “OH YEAHHHHHHH” to, it’ll probably be this based-on-a-true-story-but-not-really yarn of annoyingly handsome US army boys with unique but endearing quirks and their flight in the titular plane. This was absolutely everywhere at the time of release with the cast cropping up on TV – Harry Connick Jnr in particular crooning his guts out wherever permitted – and in the still not-deemed-only-for-girls-yet magazines TV Hits and Big! I recall our excitement of finally getting a copy at the video shop only to be bored rigid within about half an hour and longing for a crash.

2. Shooting Fish (17/10/97)

Before I talk about this one, here’s the trailer for Shooting Fish:

Gadgets! Cons! Swish camera angles! Yes, its Britpop “Hackers”!

Thankfully, “Shooting Fish” is thankfully a slower and all together nicer film than the trailer would have you assume. Two orphans scam the rich and clueless to live out their dream of owning a mansion before one of those GIRLS gets involved and both fall for her. It is twisty and turny in places and indeed does have a wonderfully Britpop soundtrack with The Divine Comedy, Space, Dubstar and The Wannadies among others but feels at home with the Ealing capers that were a regular sight on UK television on a Saturday afternoon. Why its disappeared is anyone’s guess as its far from terrible and features a series of familiar British actors including Annette Crosbie and a wonderfully slimy Peter Capaldi. The director and co-writer Stefan Schwartz didn’t trouble the big screen much after this but is seemingly in big demand on TV with recent gigs on The Americans, Fear The Walking Dead and Dexter.

1. Curly Sue (27/12/91)

Few things have ever kicked me in the gut as a movie fan than after years of slagging off this thin, horrendously sentimental treacly old bollocks about a pre-teen con artist than finding out it was written and directed by John Hughes. Just a year after his magnificent script for Home Alone and now iconic 80s favourites “Sixteen Candles”, “The Breakfast Club”, “Weird Science” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. And that’s not even mentioning “Uncle Buck”, “Planes Trains And Automobiles” or the “Vacation” films. But this shower of saccharine shite, whilst a hit both here and America, was the last he ever directed for the big screen and while it’d be wrong of me to suggest its because of this violently eye-soaping, gut-emptying hollow spew-barrel of Jim Belushi headlining family guff, it is truly a hateful cotton candy made out of hair and tears that no right human should ever have to sit through from start to finish. Hughes would write many more films (including the solid if equally toothless “Flubber”, “Dennis”, “Beethoven” and “Baby’s Day Out”) before his death at the tragically young age of 59.

Still, Curly Sue (or rather her actress Alisan Porter) won America’s version of The Voice the other year so that’s…an ending? ….Right?

“Now they’re going from the poorhouse to the penthouse…” Oh FUCK OFF.

So, did I just ruin your favourite film or is there something burning inside you that you need to share? Should I instead have featured other forgotten No.1 box office hits if the 90s? Is Dick Tracy forgotten enough? Did anyone go see Circle Of Friends, A Walk In The Clouds, Six Days Seven Nights or Practical Magic at the cinema? And did I actually honestly pay to see Forces of Nature and The Jackal? Let me know via Twitter @ThatBenBaker or in the comments below.

And remember: Jim Belushi is just a fictional character. He can’t hurt you now.


By Ben Baker

A little bomb with feelings. I write books and make podcasts.

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