Ghosts of Box Office Past: A Biopic, Big Willy, And The ‘Splosions Of Michael Bay

One-hundred-plus years of filmmaking 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 as possible. Some rise, some fall, but regardless of financial success, it’s never a sign of a lasting effect. A great example is the little-mentioned 2012 film released just eight years ago. 2012 made nearly 800 million dollars and effectively vanished off the face of the earth. So, where does this leave past box office champs?

Let’s take a look back ten, twenty, and thirty years ago at the biggest movies released in July.

La Bamba

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Box Office (Domestic): 54+ million

The Star
In the late 80s, Lou Diamond Phillips was a relative unknown with a short list of films under his belt. Then Phillips was cast to play rocker Ritchie Valens in this biopic, and everything changed. After his Golden Globe-nominated performance, the actor was nominated the next year again for Stand and Deliver then featured in the awesome ensemble that made up the action western known as Young Guns. Phillips may have peaked as far as mainstream notoriety, but the actor stars (or directs) on stage, silver screen, and small screen all the time.


The Film
La Bamba was a biopic about Mexican-American rocker Ritchie Valens who scored an international hit in 1958 with the titular song. Valens sudden rise to fame created a ripple-effect within his family, and arguably, the world. In a short eight months, Valens recorded “La Bamba” and “Donna” two classic songs of the time. However, while riding in a plane with fellow rock superstars of the era (Buddy Holly and the “Big Bopper”), Valens and everyone aboard died when the plane crashed in Iowa.

La Bamba is a simple, small biopic that tells a beautiful, sentimental story of an artist tasting fame. However, that fame strains his relationships, including a brother torn by love and resentment. La Bamba works just as well today. The performances are strong throughout even if the story doesn’t take too many chances or dig too deep into its characters.

Fun Fact: La Bamba beat out beloved sci-fi classic RoboCop for the top spot this month.

Men in Black

men in black-box office-film
Box Office (Domestic): 250+ million

The Star
In 1993, Willard Carroll Smith, Jr. was the star of a successful TV sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Few people thought of him as much more than a charming actor with a rap career that is either the stuff of genius legend or awful depending on who you ask. In 1993, Smith starred in Six Degrees of Separation and everyone collectively thought “Holy shit this guy is pretty damn phenomenal.” Putting smart acting roles aside for making blockbusters instead, Will Smith starred in the 1995 hit Bad Boys. Then in 1996, as the Fresh Prince was ending, Smith struck box office gold again with Independence Day. A year later, was Men in Black.

The Film
Men in Black is a classic sci-fi, comic book comedy. Smith is a young NYPD officer who is recruited by a secret government agency tasked with keeping the aliens living on Earth a secret. Smith uses his fantastic comedy skills to play the fool alongside Tommy Lee Jones’ straight man, Agent K.

Men in Black is a regular film on rerun rotation. The effects may not have aged well, but the movie’s energy, solid directing by Barry Sonnenfeld, and light-hearted fun, plus Vincent D’Onofrio as a cockroach thing in human flesh is just plain fun to watch.


transformers-box office-movie
Box Office (Domestic): 319+ million

The Star
Talk about a loaded topic when it comes to Shia LaBeouf. Before Transformers, LaBeouf starred or co-starred in some acclaimed films or cult favorites. One year it was Holes, the next was I, Robot. In 2007, before Transformers even released, LaBeouf lead a little suburban thriller, Disturbia, the best of the box office for that month. Transformers hit BIG, LaBeouf exploded into a mega-star and we, the people, were about to witness the strange melange of movies and live performance art produced by the young actor.

The Film
Without thinking about the sequels, each descending deeper and deeper into the realm of nonsensical filmmaking, the first Transformers film was precisely what it needed to be — dumb fun that was ONLY 143 minutes long. The story was straightforward, even if a bit nonsensical, too, but the film wasn’t overcrowded by a non-stop barrage of ‘splosions and computer-generated chaos of metal and madness.

The first Transformers, of course, made an F-ton of money and spawned four sequels. It firmly put director Michael Bay in a place where his story-less style of slow-motion and military propaganda, could flourish without evolving.

July 2017 Prediction …

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The month of July 2017 sees three movies likely vying for the top spot. First up is Spider-Man: Homecoming or Spider-Man Version 3.0, the newest reboot of the web-slinger, now under the creative control (mostly) of Marvel, hits theaters again. The following week is War for the Planet of the Apes, the third installment in one of the best overall blockbuster franchises of the past ten years. After that is Luc Besson’s Valerian, the most expensive French film ever made. Spidey will be the top money-maker here. Apes and Valerian will both make plenty of money. But with the power of Marvel behind it and the Disney marketing machine, Spidey looks like a sure-thing.

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.