Welcome, Retro-Hounds! You thought we’d finished with our long, nostalgia-filled rambles when our 80s Movie Challenge came to an end with Die Hard just before Christmas… But you were WRONG! Because WE’RE BACK, BABY, with the only logical place we could realistically go – The 90s Movie Challenge (follow #90sMC on Twitter).
So we hand over to Paul Childs to kick things off, picking up almost exactly where he left off last year – a rollicking action-adventure with a near-pantomime villain performance from Alan Rickman – from 1991, it’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves!
Are there any films you wish you had seen at the cinema but were never able to? The year of 1991 was absolutely packed with blockbusting cinema hits. Looking back at the box office of that year, I can clearly remember going to see the following:
Kindergarten Cop, Three Men & A Little Lady, Green Card, Predator 2, L.A. Story, Problem Child, and The Silence of the Lambs.
I saw all of these at the Corby Forum, a little two-screen cinema where I grew up. Here it is in all its Brutalist glory, inexplicably displayed on a postcard:
I have so many happy memories of this place:
Queueing around the block for E.T., queueing around the block for Trans-Formers: The Movie, queueing around the block for Batman, my dad taking me and my friends to Jaws 3D for my tenth birthday, passing for an adult at the age of fifteen to get into my first ever cinematic 18-certificate (Total Recall), seeing all of the original Star Wars films there (including Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure), taking my fiance on our final date before our wedding to see Batman Forever, a bunch of us from school all standing on our chairs cheering on Cole Trickle in Days of Thunder…
Going all the way back to my first ever cinema trip to see The Rescuers in 1978 for my third birthday. That was forty-three years ago on this very day (yes, it is my birthday today, so please leave me wishes in the comments below, send me cake, visit my Amazon wishlist – although I’m probably not up to an extended round of The Bumps these days). What a shame it was closed down in 1995 and finally demolished in 2008 to make way for a new shopping centre (although I did see Bohemian Rhapsody at the town’s new cinema with my folks a few years ago, so there are all new memories to make).
But in 1991 I was sixteen and already at my full six-foot-three-inch height – this meant being able to get into 18 certificate movies quite easily (as some of the films listed above will attest to).
I saw Backdraft at the Cannon cinema in Bolton while staying with a friend. We also went over to the Warner cinema in nearby Bury with a bunch of his friends to watch Hudson Hawk – that was my first ever visit to a multiplex and was quite the experience. To this day I have never since (or had never before) experienced anything quite like the spontaneous outpouring of laughter and applause at a certain moment in the film (I’ll keep it spoiler-free, but if you’ve seen it then the quote “Bunny! Ball-ball!” ought to enlighten you). The closest to anything like it was in 1999 during Deep Blue Sea at Liverpool’s Switch Island Odeon and “that bit with Samuel L Jackson”. Every member of the audience leapt to their feet and screamed, and then everyone laughed nervously as we all took our seats again.
There were, however, three movies I never managed to catch upon their theatrical release. And they were the three films I wanted to see more than any of the other films above.
The first time I ever plucked up the courage to ask a girl out on a date was to take my friend Marina to see Arachnophobia. She was a year older than me and there was NO way in my insecure young mind that she would say yes to a nerd like me.
Say yes, however, Marina did, much to my flabbergasted amazement over the phone. We arranged for me to meet her on the corner of her street and to walk to the cinema in town together. Our meeting place, coincidentally, was to be by the magnificent but disused Odeon cinema (by 1991 converted into a carpet warehouse) that my parents used to frequent when they were teenagers in the 1960s. The date didn’t pan out in the end though. She didn’t turn up. Or so I thought when I got home and called her (you have to remember that this was in the days before everyone had a mobile phone). She thought I had stood her up. I’ll let this diagram explain what happened:
It would be another three years before I went on a date to the cinema (or anywhere for that matter) – and that was to see Mrs Doubtfire (which we’ll be covering later in the year as part of this series) with my then-girlfriend (and now wife). My first ever date was to see a film in 1987 – I was the askee, not the asker – and you can read about that in my look back at The Lost Boys from last year.
One of the other films I never made it to in 1991 was Terminator 2: Judgement Day. I was devastated to miss it as the first Terminator film has always held a very special place in my heart (it was the first VHS tape I ever bought – I wrote about that last year). I was just really busy around the time it came out at the cinema and none of my friends were as mad about it as I was. So it never happened.
But you’re here to read about Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves! That was, of course, the other of the three films I really, really wanted to see at the cinema in 1991 but never made it to. The trailers looked great – certainly better than the Patrick Bergen/Uma Thurman attempt (which I’ve still never seen). However, my one opportunity to see it was on the aforementioned trip to Bolton to stay with my friend Ben. On both of those cinema trips, I had voted for RH:PoT and both times I had been outvoted.
By the time I got home from my fortnight away, it had gone from Corby cinema – it only had two screens so films came and went within a week or two to make room for the next blockbuster.
I would have to wait for it to come out on VHS to see it. This was a Bad Thing.
As well as a lack of cellphones, you also need to understand that in the 80s and early 90s you could be waiting a couple of years to own a film on VHS in the UK. Worldwide simultaneous theatrical releases were extremely rare (RH:PoT came a month after the US release), VHS rentals usually came around six months after the cinema release and then it was another six months to a year or so before you could own the film yourself.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves changed all that. In November 1991, just four months after it had been in cinemas, the film received a straight-to-retail release, while hitting the rental shelves at the same time. In 1991 films on VHS usually cost around £9.99 for a brand new release – but RH:PoT cost the princely sum of £12.99. That doesn’t seem like a huge increase, just £3, but when you take into account adjusted inflation, that makes a difference today of £6.50. In fact, the entire cost of £12.99 converts to around £28 these days. Can you imagine even paying that for a Blu-Ray today?
And of course, I was only a teenager doing a paper round and working in a petrol station at weekends for pocket money. That was most of my week’s wages gone in one shot! But when I finally got it, boy, what a feeling! To own a movie that had still been in cinemas mere months ago was a real treat.
I had gone on that fortnight in Bolton with some friends from my church youth group; Spooner, who was also my best friend from school, and Faye, who was the younger sister of one of my friends from Scouts, and who lived just over on the next street from me. During that break, I got to know Faye really well and we became extremely close friends. She had been on my side when choosing which film to see, so when I got hold of my VHS copy of RH:PoT, she was the first person I called to invite round to watch it.
Back in 1989, I became the envy of all my school friends by getting a VHS recorder in my own bedroom (I got it from my Auntie Ann’s Grattan’s catalogue and paid it off over three months with my weekend job money). No longer did I have to wait until my parents and brothers were not using the video or the TV to record what I wanted. And I could record and watch anything I liked (it was around then, in a case of perfect timing, that I discovered Moviedrome).
So I walked over to Faye and asked her if she wanted to come round to watch it. She did. We headed back to my house and made to climb the stairs when I heard, from the lounge, the voice of my nan, saying to my mum “You’re not going to allow that are you? He’s taking a girl into his bedroom…”
Now, Faye and I were fifteen and sixteen, respectively, but we were good kids and even better friends. We weren’t interested in getting up to whatever my nan was insinuating, and my nan, as a member of the church where I went to the youth club with Faye, should have known. But she did kick up something of a fuss.
I had to promise to leave the bedroom door open. Which was ridiculous because the lounge, where my parents and grandparents were sitting, was downstairs AND my bed was round the corner in my room, so if we had decided to get up to anything, not only would it not be visible from the entrance hall, but we’d hear someone coming up the stairs and stop whatever we were doing before anyone had even the remotest chance of catching us.
Not that we were up to anything like that anyway. We were interested only in watching the film.
So that was how I first saw Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, up in my room, still in the same year – in the same HALF of the year – in which it had been in theatres. My bedroom that night might as well have been a cinema, it was that good.
Now I’m not going to go into any of the usual arguments that get rolled out when discussing this film. Yes, Costner’s “English” accent is terrible (and he does indeed appear to stop even trying towards the end of the first act), and yes, I know the geography of the country is messed up (but to be fair, I’d never heard of The Sycamore Gap so had no idea it was on Hadrian’s wall, almost two hundred miles north of Nottingham) but what I saw was a fun-filled, action-packed action film with romance, adventure, laughs and even a little bit of horror – and I saw it with one of my favourite people in the world at the time.
Some might say this and the previous series are looking back at films like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with rose-tinted spectacles, but to that I say: Yep. You’re dead right. The idea of #90sMC is not to critically maul films which no longer stand up to modern scrutiny but to reminisce over what made, and still continues to make for generations of new moviegoers, the cinema experience so special.
Now, I can’t talk about Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves without mentioning another reason it is special to me. It’s a contentious issue now – and it was even then. If you’re old enough to remember the summer and autumn of 1991, you’ll know why. Something and someone dominated that period for almost four whole months…
Yep. You guessed it.
Everything I Do (I Do It For You) was number one in the UK singles chart for sixteen weeks. SIXTEEN WEEKS! A record that Adams still holds today (at the time of writing). I had just finished my GCSEs in July when that song entered the top slot. I was almost two months into my A-Levels when U2’s The Fly eventually dislodged it in NOVEMBER!
Now don’t lynch me… but I like it. I really like it. Admittedly, I think over saturation has somewhat damaged its reputation but it’s a perfectly serviceable power ballad, which worked in the themes and, in places, dialogue from the movie very well. In fact, some believe that EID(IDIFY) paved the way for other big movie ballads throughout the decade (Titanic, Armageddon, Con Air, and also next week’s film). That said, I do prefer the album version with an extended guitar solo by Keith Scott, but there’s nothing wrong with the single version.
If it hadn’t been for this film I probably would never have looked into Bryan Adams’ back catalogue and added him to my favourite artists, along with INXS and Belinda Carlisle, nor seen him live multiple times. So I thank RH:PoT for that. His music was an important part of my late teen years and was instrumental in me learning the guitar, something that itself that would chang the direction of my life many years later (I ended up becoming the contemporary music coordinator for my local church from 1997 to 2015 and also formed an awesome 80s tribute band (sadly defunct after three gigs) called Mullet.
As well as nostalgia, part of this series is to share interesting behind-the-scenes anecdotes and, while I’m sure there are plenty from the film’s production, I’m going to end on an excerpt from an article I wrote for Den of Geek (Examining the Many Movie Songs of Bryan Adams) on how this song came about:
When Michael Kamen was putting the soundtrack for Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves together, several big music stars of the time were approached to collaborate on a pop song based on his Maid Marian theme. These included Kate Bush, Lisa Stansfield and Annie Lennox. Eventually it was whittled down to two possibilities: A duet between Julia Fordham with Chicago frontman Peter Cetera (who had provided the syrupy ballad Glory Of Love for The Karate Kid Part II) and Bryan Adams with his long time songwriting partner and producer R.J. ‘Mutt’ Lange. Kamen decided that Adams’ gravelly voice and hastily penned (cobbled together in less than an hour) romantic lyrics, incorporating lines of dialogue from the film worked best with his self proclaimed ‘sweet melodies’.
Originally the film producers wanted a period-appropriate song with lutes and lyres. When they heard the finished product they panicked and hid it away at the halfway point of the closing credits, not realising what a worldwide smash they had on their hands.
Adams, Scott and drummer Mickey Curry all have uncredited roles in the film as Alan-A-Dale and his band of minstrels. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, you can just make them out in the background of the celebration scenes at the Sherwood hideout. During the “Did God paint you?” discussion with Morgan Freeman’s character if you listen very carefully you can quite clearly hear Adams’ distinctive vocals in the background.
Thanks Paul! And a very Happy Birthday To You!
Join us again next week for more 90s escapades as Paul takes us forward a year to 1992 but inexplicably still ends up looking at a film featuring both Kevin Costner and a million-selling power ballad which dominated the charts for weeks on end.
It’s Whitney Houston’s acting debut in The Bodyguard!