Lost in the Movies: They Once Were Coming Attractions... (memories of my movie past, 1988 - 1998)

They Once Were Coming Attractions... (memories of my movie past, 1988 - 1998)

Posters from the early years

For many years the only movies I saw in theaters were Disney re-releases. They tend to blur together; sometimes it's difficult to determine which films I saw on a big screen and which I caught in the early years of home video. I do know I saw Peter Pan in theaters because I remember afterward my mother pointed up at the sky and tried to convince me that a pirate ship was floating overhead. Even at five, I was a little too old for that trick.

The first new movie I caught on the big screen was The Land Before Time. I was in my final year of preschool, obsessed with dinosaurs, so the cartoon's release couldn't have been more serendipitous. I saw it twice, initiating a habit of seeing films I liked over and over again. Another habit was born at the Land Before Time screening - when I went with my dad, we saw a preview for Twins, the uber-80s Arnold Schwarzenegger-Danny De Vito buddy comedy. I laughed at all the pratfalls and asked my dad to take me. For some reason he did (only years later, renting the movie in college, did I discover all the sexual innuendo I'd missed in preschool; by the way, did anyone else know that's Heather Graham playing the infants' mother?). From then on, the previews became one of my favorite parts of the movie experience, a gateway into the next movie I would see.

Likewise the posters. Our primary movie theater, which closed its doors just last year, had a hallway devoted to the coming attractions. Walking down it, one would see the first teaser one-sheets for movies which might be months - in some cases, even a year - away. Which brings up the purpose of this post, beyond my own recollections. I've tracked down the posters for most of the movies I saw during those formative years (from 5 to 15) and lined them up in chronological order; it was remarkably easy to find them, and embarrassingly easy for me to remember which films I'd seen on the big screen.

Surprisingly, there were many rites of passage I missed, at least until they hit video. No Roger Rabbit or Batman in the late 80s, no Problem Child in the early 90s, no Ace Ventura or The Mask in the mid 90s. I remember many of the films I did see as milestones, not so much because they were good (many of the titles below are anything but, though I liked them at the time) but because of what they signified.

Land Before Time and Twins were the one-two punch symbolizing my passage into contemporary cinema; Twins was probably the first live-action film I saw, and certainly the first whose target audience was above my age bracket. Home Alone, Kindergarten Cop, and Edward Scissorhands were the holy triumvirate of late 1990: though completely unrelated, one led to the other via previews and they've always been tied together in my mind. They arrived on the scene at the exact moment I was beginning my own home video collection, starting to read about film history, and harboring my own first ambitions of making movies myself.

Jurassic Park was Jurassic Park; the signature movie event of my childhood and the kick-off to the most rabid phase of my moviegoing, which would last for about five years, emphasis on the summer and its blockbusters.

North was the first movie I saw and didn't like. I still recall my little sister and I standing in the lobby afterward, confused and inarticulate. Mutually, while trying to assure one another that we really liked it, we knew that it was a dud and were uncertain what to make of this fresh experience. At Corrina, Corrina I timidly wore my glasses for the first time; tired of squinting at the screen, I sacrificed my fear of being a "four-eyes" to my love of movies - even randomly-seen Whoopi Goldberg vehicles. A year later, Apollo 13 was the first film I saw without parents accompanying and within a year, my father firmly in tow, Ransom served as my initiation into the world of R-rated new releases (preceeded, in the video classic realm, by Alien a few years earlier).

Indeed, I remember ratings as an important part of youthful moviegoing, with R signifying the forbidden and PG-13, in those early years, the uncertainty of admittance - would or wouldn't our parents let us see "this one"? My father made me cover my eyes during the opening murder in Kindergarten Cop, while my mother implored me to look away as Kevin Costner was tortured in Prince of Thieves. An obedient little boy, I followed suit - which may also explain all the childish, mediocre family films I dutifully attended with parents and sibling even after crossing the threshold into jr. high, when I should have begun finding excuses to beg off - or perhaps I found the siren call of the movies so irresistible that I never passed up an opportunity.

I've excluded some of those movies from the poster lineup, and indeed my "memory" here is somewhat selective - though I've actually included the majority of movies seen from '88 to '98. Some of the posters just wouldn't gel in the appropriate spots; if, in addition, the sight of them still caused me to wince - or if something seemed out of place or redundant - I dropped 'em. On the other hand, I did not include some of my best moviegoing experiences of these years, those I hinted at in the beginning with the Disney re-releases: classic films returning triumphantly to the big screen. Some of these dovetailed with the newer films - the Disney re-issues in particular occurred in mainstream theaters and were advertised before newer films.

Others, those that would have been clustered nearer the end of the list, like Nights of Cabiria or Citizen Kane in '98, occurred in art-houses and were a part of my exploration of classic cinema. Anyway, what posters would I have used? These were not films which needed to be advertised in a newspaper or on the front door of a multiplex to draw viewers. One such experience - one of the best of its kind - was the back-to-back screening of all three Star Wars films at the Wang Center in Boston, which I attended with my father in 1993, several years before the trilogy rushed back into the wider public consciousness. Meanwhile, I did include the Special Editions, which - with their wider marketing and cringeworthy revisions - I remember less fondly; they are a part of the phenomenon I am describing here, while the Wang Center experience was not.

I stopped the progression in the winter of 1998-99, my freshman year of high school, because it seemed the right thing to do. This was the point just before my disenchantment with contemporary cinema began - my enthusiasm for blockbusters was already waning, and with a driver's license and teenage social life, the movies perhaps became less of an adventure and more of a ritual. The novelty of R-rated films was certainly wearing off, and "the movies" as a general term lost some of its appeal once my taste became more selective.

At any rate, it had been ten years since my first steps into moviegoing, smelling the popcorn, marching down the hallway of coming attractions, standing outside on a warm evening waiting for movie tickets, waiting in that dark theater for the lights to go out (without the distractions of noisy advertisements, save for the occasional quiet local print ad projected dimly onto the screen). And finally sitting patiently through all the credits, a habit I inherited from my dad and never gave up. Talking about the movies afterwards, re-enacting them on the beaches as we ran into the waves (which were re-imagined as laser blasts from a starship), turning them into games on the school playground (an honor usually accorded movies I hadn't actually seen, films which loomed large in my imagination, like The Fugitive).

A decade in that land is long enough for anyone and these years were mine. They may not have been the best, and no doubt older and younger generations will think their own eras superior - and maybe they're even correct (at least in the former case). Those who were parents during these years may look on with bemusement, recalling their own family trips to the cinema, driving instead of sitting in the back. Or they may wonder how those years of the multiplexes and saturation advertising, of remakes and sequels and TV adaptations (though still more original than our present epoch) could be remembered nostalgically by anyone. I'll admit my own enthusiasm for this project waned around the time I hit 1994, or about the time I was ten when the hazy aura of very early childhood no longer cast its pall over my nostalgia.

But while they may not have been the best years, the most original, the freshest, the purest, or (God knows) the least commercial, they were my years, and I remember them fondly.

Here then, is a walk through that hallway of once-upon-a-time coming attractions...

This is a Top Post. To see other highlights of The Dancing Image, visit the other Top Posts.

*Dennis the Menace, Flipper, and Anastasia added in 2017, Lost in Space added in 2018 - not sure how/why I missed them when originally compiling this list. After that, I decided - for now - not to add further titles I remembered, so as not to further dilute the post as executed in 2010. But other forgotten/excluded titles include The Santa Clause (1994), Jumanji (1995), The Adventures of Pinocchio (1996), Jingle All the Way (1996), The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997), and Jungle 2 Jungle (1997). **Update 2023: And how could I forget Jane Austen's Mafia! (1998)?!


Adam Zanzie said...

Interestingly enough, Jurassic Park was the film that first sparked my love of film as well! And we're not the only ones.

I've avoided seeing Reiner's North because of the hideously bad things I heard about it in Ebert's review, but I just found it funny how you didn't like it even in your youth. That's the sign of a kids movie not working.

Sadly, my association with both The Land Before Time and An American Tail is only with the second installments in both trilogies. I've seen both The Great Valley Adventure and Fievel Goes West (with James Stewart as "Wily Burp"), but I haven't seen the original films.

Tony Dayoub said...

Thanks for making me feel old, MovieMan. I was already out of college when I saw many of these.

Ryan Kelly said...

Judging from this I'm a few years younger than you, but we seem to have had a similar childhood, MovieMan. These posters are like a trip down memory lane. Thanks for this.

Joel Bocko said...

That's all right, Tony - I'm sure Adam & Ryan will return the favor in my direction (Adam recently referred to the Lord of the Rings trilogy as having the greatest impact on his childhood!

Adam, I saw An American Tail on video, and I'm pretty sure before Fievel Goes West, but not in theaters. Land Before Time was my first initiation into the Don Bluth universe (whatever happened to him, by the way?).

Ryan, there's definitely an overlap - particularly since, as I admitted in the intro, I kept getting dragged to family films past the appropriate age bracket. (You should've seen the ones I was too squeamish to include - do the initals "J", "T", and "T" mean anything to you? I'm pretty sure they did to my sister with unfortunate results for our familial moviegoing habits...)

At least one of the later ones I wanted to see - as Babe Pig in the City got Gene Siskel's enthusiastic - and as it turns out, last - "Best Film of the Year" pick for '98.)

Stephen said...

Interesting, very interesting.

I don't think any film sparked my interest in films. As a youngster I liked Labyrinth (and Henson's 'The Storyteller' on TV) and Star Wars the most. I never got to see the original Star Wars at the Cinema, mind.

I don't really 'love' films as such (the films I write about on my blog are almost always the ones I like the most, so it may seem that the 'phile' in cinephile is bigger than it is). The majority of what I see I can't even get to the end of.

Babe Pig in the City is cool, creepy and fun. I like the city - a collage of all the great cities.

Troy Olson said...

Wow, that was a fun walk down memory lane (though I'm obviously a bit older than you -- I missed a lot of those kids movies because I was "too old" but remember my younger brothers liking them). It's amazing how we can connect so many experiences to a simple poster (or a video box, which also evokes a lot of memories). Sadly, it just doesn't work when you get older, does it.

One question -- where was INDEPENDENCE DAY in all those posters. There's no way you didn't see that...

Like Adam, I too can remember reading Ebert's review of NORTH and deciding not to go see it.

Fun fact -- ALIEN was also MY first R-rated movie, watched at a friends house when I was much too young and led to several nights of me waiting for an alien to burst into my room and eat me.

Joel Bocko said...


Do you mean any "one" film as in it was a gradual thing?

Also when you say you don't "love" films as such, do you mean you like good movies but don't have much of an affinity for movies in general - or that, while you write about movies, you don't really love them more than, say books or TV shows or sports games? (I'd be kind of surprised if it's the latter, as you certainly seem to be "one of us"!)

If the former, as I suspect, than I sympathize. While I no longer seem to love all "movies" as much as the good ones, there was a time when I did - when it was "the movies" in general than got me excited. In a sense it still is, but year by year "the movies" becomes more of a distraction. Still, everything I am now was born out of a combination of what you see above, of what you see on my books list last summer, and of my video collection, which will perhaps have to wait for one more post to round out this informal trilogy!

Have you read David Bordwell's essay on cinephilia/cinemania. It's one of my favorite pieces of his, and ipso facto one of my favorites in the blogosphere:


Joel Bocko said...

Troy, yes the iconography of the movies - or the marketing to those less inclined to romanticize - certainly plays a vital role in the whole mythology. I remember wanting to expand this sense to other movies, and being disappointed that they didn't have Forrest Gump action figures, for example! (I was convinced that a Lt. Dan figurine with detachable legs would sell.)

That's one thing that strikes me about the early years, as I sort of hint above in the response to Stephen I was inclined to invite all types of movies into the same big tent. The fact that, right of the bat, I was going from Land Before Time to Twins and enjoying both was a good sign.

I'm hoping that when if I can develop a new blog to write about new releases, I can rekindle some of that old enthusiasm/interest in contemporary cinema, even with a more jaundiced eye. Without it, cinephilia seems to get a little stale for me - while I've enjoyed exploring the annals of cinema history for the past few years I'm not keen on 2010 being another year like 2008 or 2009, in which I saw only a handful of movies (I think I saw about 3 or 4 mainstream releases from '09!).

I saw Alien, like Ransom, with my dad the first time. He had seen it in '79 and, like you, lived with a terror of something bursting out of his chest for many days. I think he even had a nightmare after which he burst out of bed, half-asleep, and began vaccuuming around the floor for the missing face-hugger! Sadly, he was 31 at this point. (My mother returned from wherever she was to find him in this state; I think he'd put the dog up on the bed to keep it safe...)

Joel Bocko said...

Correction: in my post to Stephen it should say year by year "the movies" becomes more of an abstraction. (I wrote distraction.)

Joel Bocko said...

Oh, and Troy, Independence Day is definitely in there - look between Hunchback of Notre Dame and Phenomenon! I'll admit to concealing a few big blockbusters though, including one I saw several times - four I think. Dishonest of me, I know...

Stephen said...


"Do you mean any "one" film as in it was a gradual thing?"

Yes. I don't recall any 'revelation'.

"Also when you say you don't "love" films as such, do you mean you like good movies but don't have much of an affinity for movies in general..."

I think the best examples of film click with me a little better than the best examples of other arts and for that reason I seek out greats and watch with something that may seem like obsessive zeal in order to find them.

"...when it was "the movies" in general than got me excited."

Yes, to me that's linked to the possibility of seeing greatness. The more I see, the smaller the proportion is that seems to be great.

I have the urge to write (in non-fiction that is) about films that I don't quite have to write about opera or novels or ballet. It's something I find easier to get into.

I don't think I have a special affinity with films in general. It seems to me that the people in these blog circles are a little different to me in that respect - I don't go mad about posters or actors or memorabilia etc. etc.

I would say I have a greater love for,and indeed knowledge of, Football ('Soccer'(!)). If I had one chance to watch a massive football match or Lynch's latest film it would be the match every time.

Thanks for the link to Bordwell's piece. I haven't read it.

Joel Bocko said...


Interesting on all counts! Hope you enjoy the Bordwell piece (even if you don't count yourself as "cinephile" or "cinemaniac").

As for the small proportion of greatness, that's why I like to follow canons in what I seek out - though hardly foolproof they generally give a higher percentage of satisfaction than random pickings. That side I also kind of miss the random, but enjoyable trash that one sees by going to everything. Ah well, a bit of both in the best of all universes.

Funny to hear about the football. Football is the one sport I watch (though I'm enjoying these winter Olympics when I'm drifting off to sleep - not meant as an insult btw).

Well, AMERICAN football that is...

(I was in Europe during World Cup '06, however, and quite enjoyed getting into all the hysteria. Kind of made me "see" the excitement of the sport for the first time...somehow it ended up that whatever country I was in on my mini-tour was playing in the Cup at that moment...)

Richard Bellamy said...

This is a very touching post, MovieMan - and the display of posters is amazing. I've seen most of these movies - a lot of them because they were the movies my daughter rented or saw in the movies - especially the ones in the latter half. You're right - some of the movies we look back on might seem silly - but they were amazing when we saw them at a young age. That's the power of movies - to touch us so lastingly.

They may not have been the best, and no doubt older and younger generations will think their own eras superior - and maybe they're even correct (at least in the former case). Very well said. And true.

If I were to do a similar post - my span of ten years would be 1957 to 1967. Yes, I'm old - and that would include films like Lawrence of Arabia and The Graduate. That means when you're old, some of the movies you saw when you were young are lasting classics now.

Most definitely, some of the movies you've represented here will be remembered as classics too - but in your memories of youth, they are all classics.

Stephen said...


I read the Bordwell article. Very interesting and I agree with the distinctions he makes.

"(I was in Europe during World Cup '06, however, and quite enjoyed getting into all the hysteria. Kind of made me "see" the excitement of the sport for the first time..."

Are you going to follow the US at this summer's World Cup (they're playing England of course)? We hear here that Americans still don't really care that much about their football, despite hosting the 94 World Cup.

"though I'm enjoying these winter Olympics when I'm drifting off to sleep - not meant as an insult btw"

Hosting the Winter Olympics in Vancouver has meant that most of the events that I would normally follow are on at ungodly, unwatchable hours (1-4 in the morning).

I don't see why they can't host it in Europe every time so that pretty much the whole world can enjoy it - Europe is the hotbed of Winter Olympic sports after all. It's a shame.

Joel Bocko said...


Doubtful as I don't really watch much TV, or sports aside from NFL, anyway. If you can't interest an American in baseball you'll have trouble getting him into soccer! (ha ha)

I felt about China & Australia the way you did about Vancouver - so these Olympics are actually a relief for me!

Joel Bocko said...


True, but I dare so you had more genuine classics in your run!

Daniel said...

Outstanding post here - I love your thoughts and recollections of the movie experience, sitting through the credits, reenacting some here and there, etc. And as someone who was 7-17 during the years you included, many of this were smack in the middle of my formative years as well. I can think of one major exclusion of the top of my head, though: The Sandlot.

Joel Bocko said...


That's definitely another one that belongs with the Problem Childs & Roger Rabbits. I finally saw it junior year of college - go figure! Of course the kids showing it to me could not believe I'd missed out on it the first time around...

STinG said...

Very wonderful post that actually inspired to try the same thing, recalling all the movies that came out along my first ten years of birth that I had seen in theaters in either America, Algeria or France.
Here is the link if you want to see it:

I really love your blog and continue to read it.

Joel Bocko said...

Wow, thanks so much, STinG, comments like these mean quite a lot to me, especially on older posts. I just visited your site and loved reading your piece and viewing your poster collection which both complements and differs from my own (I'm guessing you're between 5-8 years younger than me?). I'm heading over there now to leave a comment but with I'll note that you'll probably love a post I have scheduled in three weeks, which deals with kids entertainment offering an initiation into the larger pop culture by recycling other characters, stories, and images. There's no doubt that the films of our childhood leave a huge mark on us, no matter how our future taste develops.

Mike said...

This was really fun to read and scroll through, the movie posters and the comments. A lot of these were before me time, but like you and Adam, Jurassic Park was THE definitive movie of my childhood. I was fascinated with dinosaurs (and I guess still am) and that film really captured my imagination like few other films ever. It was frightening to my young eyes, but there was something spellbinding about it that riveted me and continues to do so. I also have fond memories of The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3, both of which now seem kind of bad, but the original JP stands the test of time and changing tastes to be a classic to me in every sense of the word.

Other major films of my childhood include Pirates of the Caribbean, Spider-Man, Revenge of the Sith, and Peter Jackson’s King Kong. You have seen many more films than I have as a kid, and these are the only ones I can remember off the top of my head. Oddly enough I can’t remember any comedies that I loved as a kid, maybe The Spongebob Sqaurepants Movie (which has faded into obscurity over the years, I remember seeing it in theaters and thinking it was the funniest thing. Ah well).

I am racking my brain trying to remember the first R Rated film I ever saw. It was probably a war film (Saving Private Ryan?) maybe it was The Hangover, a movie I have re-watched many times with many different people and has become something of a classic of my early teens, right before my big “cinematic renaissance” if you will. Anyways, great post and great posters!

Joel Bocko said...

Yeah, this was definitely one of my most fun posts, for me anyway, and for others too apparently. I've avoided JP3 and while I liked Lost World at the time, watching it again a few years ago I was horrified. Ironically, it was the first review I wrote for this site on Spielberg, usually one of my favorite directors, but not with this film. The animal-rights message is totally misplaced.

Funny you mention The Hangover, as recently I found myself incorporating elements of it into a film idea that also included Perceval le Gallois and Mulholland Drive. Screenwriting makes for strange bedfellows.

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