By almost any estimation, the weekend at the movies that kicked off on this date 15 years ago was a terrific one, a bit of a sigh of relief in a long, weird movie summer.
The releases of the summer of 1999 are largely all over the place — Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut rests uneasily against films like American Pie — but they reflect, simultaneously, how much more daring Hollywood studios were when it came to prime real estate even a decade-and-a-half ago and how much everybody in the industry cowered in anticipation of Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace being the be-all and end-all of the year’s box office.
The weekend of August 6 through 8, 1999, however, launched any number of fascinating new releases. There was cult comedy Mystery Men to skewer a superhero movie trend that hadn’t even begun yet, or you could dart over to the screen next door for The Thomas Crown Affair, an enjoyably adult, sexy remake of an art heist film.
The wacky political satire of Dick suggested a world where teen comedies could somehow cross-pollinate with Richard Nixon takedowns, while The Iron Giant is one of the finest American movies ever made. (Both of these latter two movies bombed. Fortunately, people caught up with Iron Giant on home video.)
But in the first weekend of August 1999, one of the last genuine sleeper mega-hits debuted. It would go on to make nearly $300 million and be nominated for six Oscars (including Best Picture). It would launch a catchphrase and a director, who would forever be haunted by its success.
Its name was The Sixth Sense, and what almost everybody forgets was that its pump had been primed by another movie, which had been rolling out slowly around the country in the weeks before, a weird little horror film about some kids lost in the woods called The Blair Witch Project.
And in some ways, horror films are still dealing with the legacy of that one weekend, when the Bruce Willis ghost story narrowly edged out the indie terror fest.