From the Archive: Backdraft


We had a few traditions on the movie review radio show The Reel Thing. The one that was in place from the very first episode involved spending our first episode in September discussing the biggest box office hits of the summer. Hence the inclusion of earnings analysis alongside the quick breakdown of the film’s quality. (And how adorable is it that the fifth biggest film of the summer has a total take that now looks like a respectable opening weekend for a hit.) My recollection is that we usually looked at the top ten highest-grossing films, but my memory might be faulty, since I have a script that makes it clear we kicked off our look back at the summer of 1991 with the film that landed on number five on the tally. This particular movie also inspired one of the more interesting interviews I conducted. We got in touch with the Chicago firefighter who served as a technical consultant on the film. I’m fairly certain we did so through no more complicated means than calling his precinct house and asking for him.

In at number five for the summer of 1991 is the latest offering from director Ron Howard. A mixture of family drama, romance, suspense, mystery, and blazing chemical fires known as BACKDRAFT. This summer movie attempted to give viewers a chance to glimpse into the dangerous lives of firefighters. The film takes us into the heart of a fiery inferno and plunges us headfirst into the leaping flames, suffocating black smoke, and exploding woodwork. It also takes us into the lives of the firefighters, lives that are too often boring and underdeveloped when these brave people are removed from the flames that fascinate them. Yet BACKDRAFT was the only one of the several films that opened on Memorial Day to prosper well enough in the warmer summer months to make it into the top ten movies of the summer. In large part, this was because of the lack of strong competition during the first few weeks of summer. Moviegoers were all set to see summer movies, but shunned Chris Columbus’ ONLY THE LONELY, quickly dropped HUDSON HAWK from their must-see list, and just couldn’t get too excited about SOAPDISH. It wasn’t until we got deeper into June that BACKDRAFT had to face off against the big blockbusters that everyone was waiting for. But, regardless of the reasons for its 75.1 million dollar success story, Ron Howard can proudly add BACKDRAFT to his hit-filled resume.