1999: A Most Influential Year

1999 brought many important changes. The human population surpassed six billion people; Napster went online changing the way we listen to music; SpongeBob SquarePants premiered changing the way we look at sponges; the Mars Lander probe was sent into space; the Euro was put in circulation and Earth celebrated the end of one millennia and welcomed another (while also surviving the apocalypse after being saved by Arnold Schwarzeneggeragain).

And 20 years ago, the film industry had one hell of a year.

Generally credited as one of the most important times for this medium, 1999 brought a number of memorable and influential movies and on its 20th anniversary I though it would be a good idea to celebrate those landmark films.

We’ll be analyzing the impact and successes (in some cases, failures) they had, along with a look at their – in my opinion – most memorable scene.

Due to their popularity, it’s almost a certainty that you have seen at least one of these movies, and if you haven’t, well I hope this is something that you consider fixing very soon.

The Matrix

The Story

The Influence

The Wachowski sister’s mind-bending, philosophically heavy, kung fu science fiction epic The Matrix came out of nowhere to revolutionize visual effects by implementing new, groundbreaking techniques and popularizing slow motion, spinning cameras and the “bullet time” effect to such a degree that no other franchise could use it for years after without feeling like a parody.

It also influenced future big budget Hollywood action films with its use of Hong Kong martial arts choreography, wire fu and inspiration from Japanese animation. It proved to be a massive box office and critical success, garnering four Academy Awards and a franchise, which along with another movie on this list, would help reignite producer’s love for trilogies.

Its influence can even still be felt today as once the Wachowski siblings came out as transgender, the movie took on a new meaning and has been adopted as an important and positive allegory for the trans community.

The Scene

Fight Club

The Story

The Influence

Fight Club couldn’t have arrived at a better moment. The disruptive tale of anarchy and radicalisation tapped into the anger of a generation tired with consumerism and falseness. 20 years later, the themes explored here are still relevant and our generation is still angry about the same issues… and we’re still not doing anything about it.

It’s grimy visual approach, schizophrenic and stylish editing, inconspicuous use of visual effects and aggressive soundtrack would also determine the look and sound of a majority of hard edged films that would come out during the following decade.

It’s other influence has been in the (perhaps misguided) adoration of its antihero/villain/protagonist Tyler Durden as played by Brad Pitt and his abs. Just as with Travis Bickle, Alex DeLarge, Gordon Gekko and The Joker (Ledger or Phoenix), Durden entered that pantheon of psychopaths whose teachings have been adopted as philosophy by many people for some insane reason.

Premiering on October 15th, 1999, Fight Club was actually a box office disappointment on its initial release and unpopular with critics due to its violent nature and what was perceived as misogynistic tendencies. Word of mouth following its home media release evolved it into the cult classic we know and love today.

The Scene

Office Space

The Story

The Influence

The endless routine and agonizing monotony of working a dead end job is something we can all relate to. Director Mike Judge (creator of Beavis and Butthead) knew this feeling as well and decided to explore it in his classic comedy Office Space.

This satire on workplaces – about an employee who one day decides he’s had enough of his boring job and starts acting out, but rather than be reprimanded is promoted – actually has one thing in common with Fight Club: It was also a financial flop.

Making only $12.2 million on a budget of $10 million, thankfully it was an immediate hit with the people that did see it with Judge getting voicemails and invitations from the likes of Jim Carrey, Chris Rock and Madonna just to express their appreciation and love for the movie.

Ultimately the film would gain its cult status after constant repeats on TV and huge sales of its DVD, becoming one of the highest selling titles for 20th Century Fox. Various scenes and dialogue have been cemented on the internet as memes, the “printer scene” has been parodied countless times and the red stapler famously used by one of the characters was in such high demand for many years that the manufacturing company finally had to release a red version in 2002.

The Scene

Tarzan

The Story

The Influence

Starting in 1989 with The Little Mermaid, Disney went through a period known as their Renaissance, when the studio saw such unprecedented success garnering hit after hit with their animated films that they’re still trying to recapture it with their live-action remakes.

Tarzan officially marks the end of this era as after the release of this adaptation, Disney decided to experiment and move away from the “Princess” and “musical” formula in favour of more dramatic and adventure oriented stories like Fantasia 2000, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet. Unfortunately, these were all massive box office failures.

So its largest influence is an indirect one that would not only change the studio, but perhaps the whole of film industry. Needing to regain their power and money after the continuous string of disappointments, Disney would adopt a new business method… buy everything. This means that Tarzan‘s success lead to a line of failures which in turn lead to Disney buying Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, your city, your friends, your favorite restaurant and all of our souls (soon).

The Scene

Toy Story 2

The Story

The Influence

The success of Toy Story 2 wasn’t always so certain and had its original plan been finalized we would be getting very different sequels from Pixar. Originally, it was set to be released as a Direct-To-Video title after Disney’s success with films Aladdin: Return of Jafar, yet, this being Pixar, it wasn’t treated like a DTV and after two years of development, when producers saw early footage, it was decided that it would have a theatrical release.

But the creative team didn’t feel comfortable with releasing the work done so far to movie theaters, so they agreed to redo everything, from story to animation… in just nine months. As toys and marketing material was already being completed, the release date couldn’t be moved.

Fortunately for them (though not so fortunate for the loved ones they didn’t see in nine months), Toy Story 2 was released on time November 24th, 1999 and proved to be a huge success at the box office making $497 million and is considered not only one of the best sequels, but one of the few that actually surpasses its predecessor. Had it not worked, we would perhaps still be getting cheap (in both budget and quality) sequels for our favorite Pixar franchises.

The Scene

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

The Story

The Influence

After 1983 and the release of The Return of the Jedi, George Lucas had announced that he was “burned out” and would be taking an indefinite break from his space opera. However, during the following years, Lucas noted that there was still intense continuous interest – i.e. Money – and decided to complete a saga he had originally set out to tell with the origin story for the redeemed villain Darth Vader.

This prequel’s influence was felt even before it hit movie theaters. On November 13th, 1998 the first teaser trailer was shown before Meet Joe Black, a movie most people either don’t remember or only remember one scene. This being at the start of the internet, people had to pay full price to watch the preview and pay full price they did, birthing the internet’s obsession with trailers and previews.

On May 19th, 1999, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was released. Needless to say, this movie made enormous amounts of money, easily becoming the highest grossing film of the year with nearly $1 billion dollars and received three Academy Award nominations (all lost to The Matrix). As the first part of a new trilogy, Episode I would serve to bring even further interest into Lucas’s creation, ensured that we would continue to watch adventures set in a Galaxy Far, Far Away and helped bring about the “franchise” renaissance with every film company interested in making endless trilogies, sagas, cinematic universes and everything in between.

The Scene

The Sixth Sense

The Story

The Influence

Before 1999, M. Night Shyamalan was known as the writer and director of the 1995 Rosie O’Donnell comedy-drama Wide Awake, which is to say, he wasn’t known. After August 6th, 1999 however, Shyamalan’s name became synonymous with a trend that would not only deeply affect his career, but all of horror genre: “twist endings”.

The tale of the young boy who sees dead people and the protagonist who isn’t aware that he is one of those dead people was not the first horror film to have a twist as that honor may go to the first horror film ever released, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Yet it did create a pop culture phenomenon that would cause almost every horror and suspense film released after with the need to have a “twist” of some sort late in the narrative.

The movie garnered six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and became the second highest grossing movie of the year. The Sixth Sense, along with the next entry on this list, reignited the prestige and passion for a genre that had devolved into senseless gore and nudity.

The Scene

The Blair Witch Project

The Story

The Influence

Horror films had an influential year in 1999. During the Sundance Film Festival of that year, flyers were distributed describing “students ” as missing after investigating a legendary creature known as the Blair Witch. People were also invited to visit a website which was full of documents and evidence of the investigation into their disappearance.

The success of The Blair Witch Project came not necessarily from its quality but rather its other lasting influence; the marketing campaign. Using the – at the time – new technology of The Internet and the audience’s limited knowledge on how to use it, the filmmakers were able to instil fear into their audiences by making them believe that what they were seeing was real. On this front, there may never be another horror event like The Blair Witch Project.

Just as The Sixth Sense popularized twist endings – and proving once again that Hollywood never learns the right lessons – , The Blair Witch Project brought on the “Found Footage” technique craze that would give way to good imitations like the Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield franchises, as well as many, many (too many) other examples of lesser quality. Blair Witch would become the very definition of a sleeper hit, grossing $248 million dollars on a $60,000 budget.

The Scene

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