Stars: (3.5 / 5) Watch it on Netflix
There’s a point in each episode of The Movies That Made Us where you go, “It’s amazing this film ever got made.” And that’s what makes this Netflix mini-series a fun retrospective look at four of the greatest films from the 80s and early 90s: Die Hard, Ghostbusters, Home Alone, and Dirty Dancing
These beloved films were actually very difficult to make. They experienced tight budgets, uncertain casting, inexperienced crews, and all sorts of production woes. No one could have predicted they’d go on to become significant pop culture milestones.
- Ghostbusters had an impossible release deadline, made all the more crushing by the special effects that had to be delivered for the film to work.
- Die Hard’s script was being rewritten while filming took place in a building with functioning law offices and irritated lawyers who, along with equally irritated neighbors, had to endure loud explosions, gunfire, and helicopters every other night.
- Dirty Dancing was rejected by every major Hollywood studio for being too girly; when it finally went into production, the budget was miniscule, the music non-existent, and the lead actors not on the same page.
- Home Alone starred an unknown child, was helmed by a rookie crew, and was actually shut down because of budget concerns.
While these troubles are not unique, the films are. And in The Movies That Made Us they’re lovingly chronicled by a gaggle of cast and crew, whose poignant memories make this a worthy trip down memory lane.
We get to hear from directors, producers, designers, casting crew, choreographers, stuntmen, and others, who all bring a nostalgic, boots-on-the-ground realism to the stories.
Noticeably absent from the interviews are the film’s lead actors (with the exception of Dan Aykroyd, who spoke as the writer of Ghostbusters rather than its star).
Instead we get to hear from the likes of Daniel Stern who played Joe Pesci’s Wet Bandit sidekick Marv in Home Alone (he originally turned down the part) and William Atherton, legendary for his support roles in both Ghostbusters (as the supercilious authority figure Walter Peck) and Die Hard (as smarmy reporter Richard Thornburg).
Having the support cast, producers, and crew carry the interviews actually strengthens the stories, making them more accessible.
And while The Movies That Made Us does provide more factoids than your local pub’s best trivia night (who was originally supposed to play John McClane in Die Hard? What was the original, less-memorable title for Ghostbusters? Which film’s producers were told to “burn the negative and collect the insurance” instead of doing a theatrical release?) it is so much more than a laundry list of fun facts.
It’s the story of tenacity when everything seems to work against you. It’s the power of good storytelling that more than makes up for creaky special effects and meager budgets. It’s the business of filmmaking and how classic films are born when the stars align.
Mitchell Cannold, Sr. VP of Production at Vestron (the studio that took a gamble on Dirty Dancing) said it best:
“If you asked yourself, could this movie have been made by some other company, at some other time, would it have worked? Anything’s possible but I doubt it because what happened here was a perfect storm of the right people, at the right time, with the right story and the right actors and the right director, and the right choreographer, and the right music, and it was a blessing for all of us for all of our lives.”
Most “making of” documentaries are designed to sell movie tickets, push Blu-Rays, or encourage online streaming. This series is saddled with no such burden. The productions of Die Hard, Ghostbusters, Dirty Dancing, and Home Alone are stories of what can happen when talented people work hard and the stars align. The Movies That Made Us simply uncorks the magic and shows us what lightning in a bottle looks like.