A couple of months go I reviewed “Single White Female” and concluded it was one of those forgotten movies. This week I watched Brainscan, another movie I would call a forgotten movie. This triggered my curiosity and made me look through old movie catalogs I still own and explore how certain movies became forgotten in my opinion.
First of all a movie must be well known to a person at one point before one can forget it. You can’t forget something you never knew. In my case, to become a forgotten movie, a movie should have had some publicity at the the time of its release whether it would be the standard marketing (trailers, posters, cardboard cut-outs, etc) or some profile in the press like dedicated reviews or an item in a TV show about (new) movies. Because of this I’m excluding DTV-films because while the video covers do ring a bell, these films were mostly created to make a quick buck and hardly did anything outside of some slogan on the box to advertise themselves.
Marketing is the part that makes “forgotten movies” very personal ones. For instance I saw the actor behind the Trickster character in Brainscan talk about how this was going to be the new Freddy Krueger which made the movie interesting for me, but most people didn’t see that nor did they see the movie. I taped this movie once two years after its release and watched it. At the time there was also a hardcore house track which sampled vocals from this movie which I enjoyed and which kept the movie in my memory. This makes the “forgotten movie” label a very personal one, and I can see how somebody from my age has very different movies that he or she will label as “forgotten” let alone people from previous or later generations. That’s why movies I would consider forgotten will be mostly from the (early) 90s.
There are some other factors too that play along, namely:
- Star power
- Studio/licensing problems
Forgotten movies are never masterpieces. They generally receive average reviews from critics and the general public’s opinion is mostly something like “it was okay”. Most of these movies aren’t great, but they aren’t really terrible either. This is why movies like “Santa Claus Conquers The Martians”, which are so bad they become good, are generally more well known than let’s say the Matt Dillon thriller “A Kiss Before Dying”. They leave little no impression, not positive nor negative. They aren’t considered classics and they don’t have any factors that make them cult movies. Because of the reception of the movie, they under perform which brings us to the next factor:
If a movie under performs a sequel won’t be green lit. Sequels keep movies in the general memory especially when they turn into full fledged franchises. The average Friday The 13th sequel is a whole lot worse than “Single White Female” but because it belongs to a franchise these movies are more well known and part of easily marketable DVD sets, especially since the lead character has become an icon just like Freddy Krueger. Had Brainscan performed better at the box office and generated two or three sequels at least it wouldn’t have been a forgotten movie and would be widely available on DVD and/or Blu-ray. Most of the movies I consider being forgotten follow a certain trend that was hot at the time (the Die Hard rip-off, the erotic thriller or the slasher for instance) but never had the quality to live up to other movies doing the same. A notable exception to this rule is the movie F/X and its sequel F/X2. Just saw one of these once in the early 90s, they’re never shown and their DVD’s aren’t available here in The Netherlands. That also goes for the Cynthia Rothrock vehicles China ‘O Brien part 1 and 2.
Complaining about some movies constantly being aired on TV, especially around the holidays: We all did it or witnessed somebody doing it. Blockbuster movies like Armageddon seem to be on TV every three months or so as well. Some of the movies I mentioned are rarely shown on TV, most of them I saw just once when I rented a copy or taped them from a late night cable broadcast. These movies are rarely shown, which is of course understandable as cable stations need to feel advertising space and they rather program a movie they know would attract some viewers than movies which probably will have no one tuning in. It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy; Movies aren’t programmed because nobody has really heard of them before, but by not airing it people don’t really get a chance to stumble upon it and watch it.
There are some cases of relatively unknown, previous forgotten, movies which did become well known because some stations aired it over and over again every couple of months.
Matt Dillon, Edward Furlong, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bridget Fonda. Those might have been “big” names back in the day but they were never real box office magnets. These are the people starring in some of the movies I addressed and the fact that this movies don’t have a bankable name is one of the reasons why movies are forgotten. To attract viewers, even 20, 40 or 60 years after its release, movies need to have a reputation. I watched movies like Shaft because it is considered a classic, I watched Foxy Brown, Coffy and a couple of low budget women-in-prison movies because Pam Grier was in them, I watch movies by Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock because they are considered masterpieces, I watched Plan 9 from Outer Space because it was named the worst movie ever made. Older movies need some star power in front of or behind the camera, or a label like “masterpiece”, “classic” or “crappiest film ever made” to attract attention.
A movie that could have become a forgotten movie was “Equilibrium“, released shortly after The Matrix, taking ques from it and starring a then relatively unknown Christian Bale. But because it stars Christian Bale it’s very lucrative for a movie company to re-release it whenever a new high profile movie comes out starring Bale, just as cable stations will air it as well around the same time. If a movie stars someone who reaches A-list later on, it will be wildly available even if it’s in the bargain bin like “Fire on the Amazon”; a crappy movie starring Sandra Bullock a year before she broke through with Speed. The day before Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds was released in cinema’s one of Holland’s cable stations showed the 1978 movie “The Inglorious Bastards” on prime time.
This factor is a bit like “airings”. The same way some movies seem to be never aired, there are a lot of movies that never get released on the latest format for home viewing. There are relatively recent movies that never even gotten a DVD release, or if it has been released on DVD only in certain countries. Not all of these movies I consider to be forgotten ones, but here a small list of movies that have never been officially released in my country: The Basketball Diaries, Critters 1-4, The Punisher (1989), The Stepfather (1987). A movie like “The Taking Of Beverly Hills“, a Die-Hard Rip-off featuring the then famous Ken Wahl has never been released on DVD anywhere. So if a movie is never shown on TV and never released on a home video format other than VHS it’s not that hard to see how it ventures in the realm of the forgotten.
Though a lot of studios like Universal, Warner Bros and Paramount seem to be around since the dawn of time they are still companies and companies can go bankrupt. Even a studio like MGM, which has released a lot of block busters, is well known for its money problems. So if movies make less money than they cost studios eventually find themselves in a tough spot and have to declare bankruptcy. When that happens the rights to the movie catalog are sold to other companies and most of the time they’re only interested in the biggest hits. When you buy RoboCop on Blu-Ray today the label on the box says it’s an MGM movie, but when you play the movie the logo for the defunct Orion Pictures pops up. Take Cannon Films for instance; they went bankrupt in 1993 and released movies till that same year. A lot of their films are somewhere out there on a shelve, but not all. When I walk into a Wal-Mart-like shop here I can buy an American Ninja I-V box set released by a local distributor, other movies like star vehicles such as Jean Claude van Damme’s Kickboxer and Bloodsport or Chuck Norris’ Delta Force movies all are released by small distribution companies around the world. Another fine example is The Punisher starring Dolph Lundgren. Despite his name above the title, this New World Pictures (1970-1997) release has been only released in America, Canada, Korea, Austria and Germany, to top it off the German version is a special edition with deleted scenes and all. So depending in which country you live can alter your view on a forgotten movie. For me living in The Netherlands The Punisher seems to be a forgotten movie, but two miles across the border a German might consider otherwise when he’s watching the unrated special edition… with a German 5.1 soundtrack.
This factor applies to basically every movie. The older a movie is, the less attraction it will have on a young audience. Most people of my age haven’t seen Psycho, To Kill A Mockingbird or even The Wizard Of Oz. Most people just watch recent movies and an occasional older one on TV, so every movie is destined to become a forgotten movie over the course of time, even classics like The Godfather. Somehow I don’t expect the average person in 2071 to be familiar with a then 100 year old movie, just like the average person now has never seen 12 Angry Men or Citizen Kane. Despite their classic status they aren’t movies that are aired on a regular basis. Some movies tend to age a little faster because they tackle a subject that’s outdated by current standards, especially cyber thrillers from the 90’s like The Lawnmower Man and The Net with all their flashy computer graphics and bad ass hackers and the terror from outer space movies from the 50s.
As you can see labeling a movie as being forgotten is a very personal choice. It depends on which movies you remember from the time of its release and are seemingly nowhere to be found nowadays. This varies from person to person, from country to country. Here are some other movies I consider to be forgotten and why:
Young Einstein (1988)
This was one of those movies I saw a trailer for, or an item in a TV show about movies when it was released. Whenever I got some money to rent a movie on Sunday afternoon I always had this one in my hand before putting it back again on the shelve thinking “but what if it sucks?” ending up renting another movie every time. To this day I haven’t seen it yet and judging by the trailer I’m not missing out on much. But this is one of those movies that I’ve never seen on shelves in movie stores over here.
South Central (1992)
When Spike Lee gave the Urban Ghetto Drama life in 1988 with “Do The Right Thing” a whole lot of other movies were released starring and targeting the young black people. Most people know movies like “Boyz ‘N The Hood”, “Menace II Society” and “Higher Learning”. Juice is still a bit of a cult classic because of 2Pac in the lead but nobody knows “South Central“. As far as I can tell it never got a real world wide release and this is one of those movies I just happen to stumble upon.
Bedroom Eyes (1984)
My parents recorded this one in the early 90s and though I wasn’t allowed I watched it anyway at the age of 13/14. Seen it once and I do want to see it again for the memories, but it has only been released on VHS a long time ago.
Drop Dead Fred (1991)
I saw this one for the first time ± 10 years after its initial release. It’s one of those quirky comedies in which you either love or hate the lead comedian, in this case Rik Mayall who’s certainly not everybody’s cup of tea. Unlike the other movie starring him, Guest House Paradiso, I have never seen it in the stores, nor on the TV.
The Adventures Of Ford Fairlane (1990)
Another movie starring a comedian, in this case Andrew Dice Clay. He’s a Rock ‘N Roll detective and uses several catch phrases from his on stage act. The reason I remember this movie so well is because I had a small poster hanging on my wall in my bedroom next to one of Die Hard 2. I saw this one in the late 90s and got the US DVD in the early 00s. Still nobody I know, except for one guy who lend me his copy in the first place, is familiar with this movie, it’s not available over here and to my knowledge never shown on TV
A Kiss Before Dying (1991)
A Matt Dillon movie which I think I rented once shortly after its release and since then I’ve never seen again. This is one of those movies that was advertised fairly heavy, got mixed reviews and had a short theatrical run. It was released on VHS but it doesn’t seem to be released on DVD, ever.
The Taking Of Beverly Hills (1991)
Also never released on DVD, this was the first movie to cash in on the success of Die Hard setting it in an expensive Beverly Hills neighborhood. I saw this one 2/3 years back on Youtube, which was ripped from VHS. It’s a decent action movie and I can’t understand why no company has ever released it again on a digital format.
The movie’s villain Trickster was supposed to be new Freddy Kreuger, well that’s what the people involved hoped at least. But the villain here is never cool and the whole cyber game plot became quickly stale in the mid/late 90s. A so-so horror movie that was quickly forgotten and has been released on DVD in a handful of countries. I saw it back in the early 90s and as with most cases here never saw it again since then.
Single White Female (1992)
Released during the second wave of erotic thrillers fueled by Basic Instinct in the early 90s. Like most other movies on this list I rented this one once shortly after being released on video, enjoyed it to a certain degree and somehow never saw it again until I downloaded it recently. Holds up fairly well but once again nowhere to be found in video stores.
Other notable mentions:
V. I. Warshawski, Eve Of Destruction, Action Jackson, Hurricane Smith and everything starring Lorenzo Lamas.
In conclusion all forgotten movies have one thing in common: you learn of their existence when they are released, but due to certain factors they stray away from the public eye and you never see or hear from them again. Over the last couple of months occasionally a title pops up in my head and I start wondering if it still holds up well. Since then I checked out some “classics” like “Who’s That Girl“, “Desperately Seeking Susan“, “Cry-Baby” and a couple of movies I mentioned in this article.
Which movies do you consider to be forgotten? Let me know in the comments!