Box Office Flashback: May – Time Travel, Tom Cruise, And An Iron Man

May is the start of the summer movie season even while spring hangs in the air. Sequels are a big deal this time around with one centered around time travel, another on impossible missions, and yet another sequel is an early entry into the now decades-old Marvel cinematic universe.

One-hundred-plus years of film making provides a long, rich, and deep history to look back on. Retro reviews and analysis of old films are practically necessary full-time specialties. Month after month, films release, vying to make as much money and grab as much attention as possible. Some rise, some fall, but regardless of financial success, the lasting effect of a film in popular culture is unpredictable.

So, where does that leave past box office champs? Let’s take a look back ten, twenty, and thirty years ago at the biggest movies released in May.

1990 • Back to the Future III • 87.3 million

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The 80s were over, but a holdover franchise, and two-time box office titan, that started in 1985 released its third installment. Back to the Future III starred Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd as the time-traveling duo Marty and Doc. The third film completed the series and answered many of the questions left unanswered by the cliffhanger ending of the previous entry. The wild-west action was intense, and the train sequence still holds up.

After Back to the Future III, things get interesting. 1990 was transitioning from 80s experimentation to a decade of superbly crafted films, even if the stories weren’t even remotely interesting. Bird on a Wire starred superstar Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn and ended with a domestic gross of nearly 71 million. What do you get when you put actor/director Tim Robbins in a film with the legendary Robin Williams? Well, you get the poorly received box office anemic Cadillac Man. Following that, a horror film version of anthology TV series Tales from the Darkside came in a respectable fourth place. Rounding out the top five domestic earners is Fire Birds, a sort of Top Gun with helicopters starring Nicolas Cage, which did not make great money and was even further panned by critics.

2000 • Mission: Impossible II • 215.4 million

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The first Mission: Impossible film from auteur Brian De Palma was a big, box office hit, enough that it spawned many sequels though De Palma would never return as director. John Woo took the reigns for the sequel, which again featured Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt in another set of high-flying, stunt-crazy adventures. To date, the franchise has six films with the most recent being 2018s Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

Tom Cruise’s spy action beat out Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning epic Gladiator. In third place was the 39th Disney animated film, Dinosaur, which I didn’t even remember happened until I wrote this article. The raunchy comedy Road Trip starring Breckin Meyer, Seann William Scott, and Tom Green drove its way into fourth place. Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson’s Shanghai Noon, action-western finishes off the top five for the month.

2010 • Iron Man 2 • 312.4 million

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Movies certainly have made more money since 2000, but it doesn’t necessarily speak to quality. Iron Man 2 is regarded as one of the low points of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, the whole MCU was heating up fast, and Iron Man 2, despite Mickey Rourke and his weird bird fetish, still made a butt-ton of money.

Shrek Forever After, the fourth in the Shrek series, sucked up plenty of money on its own though it still fell 100 million or so behind Iron Man 2. Ridley Scott tried to make another monster hit set centuries ago with his version of Robin Hood starring Russell Crowe. The film did well at the box office, but it came and went with little fanfare. HBO’s Sex and the City television series released its second and last film in 2010, which went on to earn a little over 95 million domestically. Lastly, Jake Gyllenhal starred in one of many mediocre video game to movie films with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

May 2020 & Predictions

Usually, this monthly look at the box office ends with a discussion about what’s coming this month, and what I predict will be the dominant box office film. However, the global pandemic has shut down movie theaters across the world, and film productions are on pause. So, nothing is coming to theaters this month. Universal scored a big hit by releasing their recent film, Trolls World Tour, straight to on-demand. Will that be the new normal?

Stay safe, everyone, and find those gems that exist on streaming platforms until our beloved cinemas open up their box offices again!

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Ruben Diaz
Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.