The ‘Summer of Moranis’ turns 30
by Louis Hare, Guilty Pleasures host
The summer of 1989 was one for the ages. Over the course of a few short months, audiences were treated to Tim Burton’s Batman, Lethal Weapon 2, Star Trek V, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade and the James Bond sequel License to Kill. Yet for all of these big heroes, the biggest of them all was also the most unlikely.
Rick. F'n. Moranis.
That’s right, going toe-to-toe with these avatars of 80’s American machismo was this amiable, bespeckled Canadian. In the summer of 1989, Rick Moranis had not one, but three films that all ended up in the top 10 grossing films of the year. Worldwide, the films would gross a total of over $560 million, or an astounding $1.2 billion when adjusted for inflation. In 1989, it was Rick Moranis’ world; we were just living in it. Aside from their financial success,each film would not only showcase different aspects of Moranis’ unique talents and charm, but all three would also go on to find extended life in various forms. So on its 30th anniversary, let’s take a look at the films that formed the “Summer of Moranis.”
Released: June 16
Total box office: $112 million ($215 worldwide)
The first of the Moranis trilogy to arrive in theaters was probably the most obvious to pick as a summer blockbuster. The Ghostbusters sequel sees Moranis reprising his scene-stealing role as Louis Tully, a role originally written with John Candy in mind. However, by the sequel, the role is all Moranis. In a film full of comedic geniuses, Moranis steals every scene he’s in, displaying the broad character-based comedy that made him a standout on SCTV.
Moreover, his role is expanded to include a love interest in Annie Potts’ Janine and sharing scenes with iconic mascot Slimer. While reaction to the sequel was less enthusiastic than the original, Moranis proved to be one of the highlights.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
Released: June 23
Total box office: $130 million ($222 worldwide)
Audiences who rushed to see Ghostbusters II didn’t have to wait long for their next dose of pure-cut Moranis. In what was initially seen as a suicide mission, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids opened one week after Ghostbusters II and on the same weekend as Batman. Competing against two preordained blockbusters seemed foolish at the time, but one who questions the power of 1989 Rick Moranis does so at their own peril.
"Real ones know."
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids proved to be a bit of ingenious counterprogramming for parents who either couldn’t get tickets to Batman or found its dark tone too severe for a family outing. While kids were probably more drawn to the special effects and outdoor adventures of the titular “Kids.” Moranis’ performance as Wayne Zalinksy anchors the film. The nerdy persona he made famous in the Ghostbusters movies is mixed with a more grounded character.
Moranis’ Zalinsky is so loveable, we forgive the fact he neglects, shrinks, throws out and then almost eats his own children. (You know, when you type it out like that, this movie’s really messed up.) He would later reprise the role in two sequels, but bow out for the TV adaptation. Regardless, Wayne Zalinsky’s place in the pantheon of great movie scientists remains as solid as ever.
Released: Aug. 8
Total box office: $100 million ($126 worldwide)
Of the three films featuring Moranis in 1989, Parenthood is the one that looks least like a top 10 box office smash. Sure, it’s directed by Hollywood legend Ron Howard, and it stars Steve Martin with a deep ensemble featuring a young Keanu Reeves (who broke out earlier in the year with Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure), but “character-based comedy/drama about the joys of parenting” is hardly a license to print money. And yet by 2019 standards, this unlikely hit makes as much money as the last Mission: Impossible movie.
Another film bolstered by great word-of-mouth, Parenthood would stay in theaters for more than 5 months. It’s also the film of the three featuring Moranis that holds up the best 30 years later, inspiring two television shows of the same name — with the second one running for six seasons. For those who are more familiar with the show, Moranis’ character would be the template for Erica Christensen’s Julia Braverman. While typecast again as another nerdy character, Moranis adds a new wrinkle to his now well-established persona. As the parent of a gifted child, Moranis’ Nathan is a helicopter parent before we knew what that was. His obsessive, analytical approach to parenting challenges his marriage and gives Moranis possibly his most meaty role to date. His serenade to his wife remains a highlight in a movie filled with memorable scenes. Moranis would spend the rest of his film career mostly cast as the affable nerd in family-friendly comedies, but his performance in Parenthood showed he was be capable of much more.
Rick Moranis would quietly step away from acting in 1997 to be a full-time parent in the wake of the 1991 death of his wife, Anne Belsky. While some have been quick to characterize this as a retirement, Moranis has stated that he still gets offers and isn’t opposed to a return if the right project came up. Indeed, Moranis recently returned to his SCTV roots for an upcoming Martin Scorsese–directed Netflix special and there have been confirmations of both a Ghostbusters sequel and a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids reboot on the horizon. Given the current sluggishness of the 2019 box office, the next Summer of Moranis can’t come soon enough.
Lou Hare is an adjunct professor at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. Lou is the host of Guilty Pleasures on the Front Row Network and a regular on many other FRN shows. His greatest joy in life is making his friends watch terrible movies and talk about them..... and being a GIF.