RT Flashback: The First Ten Movies Ever Reviewed

The critical and box office legacies of RT's first Tomatometers.

by | June 23, 2008 | Comments

As the story goes, Rotten Tomatoes founder Senh Duong launched the site in August of 1998 to coincide with the release of Rush Hour, the true Hollywood debut of his idol, Jackie Chan. Duong had, after all, conceived the idea of collecting film reviews in one easy-to-find destination after struggling to find the latest notices of Jackie Chan imports like First Strike, Rumble in the Bronx, and Supercop.

But soon after pegging RT’s launch date for August 18, 1998 — the week of Rush Hour‘s slated release — the film got rescheduled to September. (And a smart move on New Line’s part it was; Blade opened at number one on August 21, while the calendar move allowed Rush Hour to win its stellar opening weekend opposite the Renee Zellweger-Meryl Streep drama One True Thing.) The site launched as planned anyway; Your Friends & Neighbors became the first movie to appear on Rotten Tomatoes.

In honor of RT’s Tenth Anniversary, we took a trip in the way back machine to revisit the first 10 films ever reviewed on Rotten Tomatoes. Come on all you film review nuts; it’s time to party like it’s 1998!

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Tomatometer: 55%
Opening Weekend: $17 million

The comic book movie explosion of the past decade can be attributed in no small part to Stephen Norrington‘s Blade, which took a lesser-known Marvel comics character — the titular half vampire, half human “daywalker” who hunts killer bloodsuckers (Wesley Snipes) — and turned it into one of the first wildly successful superhero trilogies in recent years. Opening at number one, Blade proved that dark, ultra-violent comic book stories could make great dark, ultra-violent comic book movies, and two sequels followed. Screenwriter David S. Goyer, who penned all three films and a short-lived spin-off television show, would go on to write Batman Begins and Jumper; he’s also signed on for scripting and directing duties, respectively, for forthcoming film adaptations of The Flash and Marvel’s X-Men Origins: Magneto.

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Dance With Me

Tomatometer: 46%
Opening Weekend: $4.5 million

What do you get when you combine a chart-topping former Miss America with Puerto Rico’s biggest pop star in a romantic dramedy about ballroom dancing helmed by the director of Children of a Lesser God? A modest gamble that doesn’t really pay off, as Columbia execs soon found when Dance With Me opened in 8th place behind hot tickets like Saving Private Ryan and There’s Something About Mary. The Vanessa Williams vehicle barely made its budget back; its male lead, Chayanne, would never make another English-language feature; and Hollywood would subsequently never really get the competitive ballroom dancing genre right.

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Dead Man on Campus

Tomatometer: 15%
Opening Weekend: $4.7 million

It was the perfect comedic set-up based on a popular urban legend: two college kids look for a suicidal roommate so they’ll get automatic sympathy straight A’s. It starred two recognizable young hunks who were both in need of a hit — Tom Everett Scott (That Thing You Do!), who had just flopped with his remake of An American Werewolf in Paris, and Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who’d most recently followed his career-defining turn as Zack Morris on Saved By The Bell with a string of tepid movies-of-the-week. Unfortunately for both of them, Dead Man on Campus wasn’t the breakout success they probably hoped it would be, spending only three weeks in theaters with an ultimate total gross of $15 million.

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Wrongfully Accused

Tomatometer: 23%
Opening Weekend: $3.5 million

After the flagging box office performances of his mid-90s spoof films (Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, Spy Hard) it should have become apparent to Leslie Nielson that the genre was getting tired. Yet plug away he did, resulting in the tired jokes and meager earnings of Wrongfully Accused, a riff on the mistaken identity crime thriller The Fugitive (and every additional Harrison Ford guffaw they could devise). The flick opened in 12th place in the summer of 1998 and topped out at just under $10 million in ticket sales. Luckily for Nielson, Scary Movie 3 was only a few years away…

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Tomatometer: 13%
Opening Weekend: $6.6 million

Sex! Drugs! Disco! All were never as yawningly depicted as they were in 54, a crosshatched movie of good-looking people consumed by bellbottom decadence. Writer/director Mark Christopher assembled an impressive cast — Salma Hayek, Neve Campbell, and Ryan Phillippe when they were still rising stars — and allowed room for Mike Myers to give a rare serious performance. Critics responded well to Myers’ role as the coke-addled Studio 54 owner, but call out Christopher for failing to honor his performers through lugubrious pacing and a lack of interest in completing everyone’s stories. 54 flopped, ending the late-90s’ sudden obsession with the disco era (e.g.Boogie Nights, The Last Days of Disco).

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Why Do Fools Fall in Love?

Tomatometer: 54%
Opening Weekend: $3.9 million

Director Gregory Nava had already struck success in the biographical movie genre with Selena the year before, making a star out of Jennifer Lopez, who had previously appeared in Nava’s Mi Familia. This time he shone the light on 1950s teen idol Frankie Lymon (played by baby faced actor Larenz Tate), the titular song’s teenybopper crooner who died of a heroin overdose at age 25, leaving behind three widows to battle over his estate (Vivica A. Fox, Halle Berry, and Lela Rochon). The film made a modest profit at the box office, but Nava would subsequently return to dramatizing the Latin American experience in projects like 2002’s Frida, the PBS series American Family, and the internationally released Bordertown.

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Knock Off

Tomatometer: 6%
Opening Weekend: $5.5 million

Jean-Claude Van Damme had been at the top of his game only a few years earlier, when films like Universal Soldier and Timecop had him sitting pretty as one of Hollywood’s leading action stars. But by the time he collaborated with Hong Kong director Tsui Hark on two films — 1997’s Double Team, opposite a neon-coiffed Dennis Rodman, and the subsequent bomb Knock Off, opposite Rob Schneider — Van Damme’s star was beginning to fade. Featuring the worst action premise in movie history, Knock Off starred Van Damme as a fashion designer and Schneider as a CIA agent battling mobsters who’ve hidden explosives in fake-label jeans; within a few years, Van Damme’s career would exist only in the direct-to-video market.

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Tomatometer: 64%
Opening Weekend: $8.4 million

Despite a lukewarm opening weekend and marginally fresh reviews, Rounders became a cult hit thanks to the simultaneous explosion in popularity of the game it helped popularize: Texas Hold ‘Em. The game of poker, previously relegated to smoky barrooms and boys nights out, subsequently became the card sport du jour across America; suddenly everyone knew how to splash the pot, turn the river, and what it means if you can’t spot the sucker in the room. Matt Damon starred, fresh off his Oscar win for Good Will Hunting; Edward Norton stole scenes as Damon’s gambling addict buddy. (One month later, Norton would get his own revelatory star turn in American History X, earning him a second Oscar nomination.)

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One True Thing

Tomatometer: 93%
Opening Weekend: $6.6 million

Meryl Streep earned her eleventh Oscar nomination for her portrayal of a cancer victim in this familial drama, which also stars a post-Jerry Maguire, pre-Bridget Jones Renee Zellweger as the daughter who comes home to care for Streep in her final days only to learn she didn’t know as much about her parents as she thought. Director Carl Franklin, who previously had and subsequently would specialize in crime thrillers (Devil in a Blue Dress, Out of Time), earned critics’ approval for his career departure into sentimental drama.

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Rush Hour

Tomatometer: 63%
Opening Weekend: $33 million

As the tagline read, “The Fastest Hands in the East Meet the Biggest Mouth in the West.” The legendary pairing of martial arts star Jackie Chan and Friday motor mouth Chris Tucker was inspired casting, rejuvenating the classic buddy-cop formula of films like Lethal Weapon while serving as Chan’s pivotal Hollywood breakthrough. After an incredible opening weekend, Rush Hour would go on to net $244 million worldwide; the three-film series eventually grossed over $800 million worldwide. Former music video director Brett Ratner, whose feature debut had been just one year earlier in Money Talks (with Tucker starring), became a household name and eventually directed high profile projects like Red Dragon and X-Men: The Last Stand. Tucker, strangely, would only appear in two feature film roles after 1998’s Rush Hour — both of which were its next two sequels.

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