(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movies: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) and The Mask of Zorro (1998)

Where You Can Stream Them: Netflix

The Pitch: Two blockbuster films from a bygone era when all you needed was a dashing leading man, a lighthearted spirit of adventure, and a bunch of well-directed, two-fisted action sequences to make a movie a blockbuster.

Why They’re Essential Quarantine Viewing: We live an era where intellectual property has overtaken the movie star. People aren’t excited to see Robert Downey Jr. – they’re excited to see Iron Man. Audiences won’t flock to see the next Daisy Ridley movie, but they certainly love Rey and her pals. The past 20 years have seen most stars decline, as high concepts, directors, and shared universes have displaced the basic appeal of watching someone who owns the screen spending two hours…well, owning the screen.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Mask of Zorro were both loving throwbacks to bygone styles when they were first released. Now, these films, built on the smoldering shoulders of Harrison Ford and Antonio Banderas respectively, are relics of another age themselves. But what incredible relics!

Sometimes, time transforms a trinket into a work of art. This is case for both of these films, popcorn movies designed for mass consumption and to appeal to the widest audience possible at the time of their release, both of which have revealed their near-perfection with age. The saying “They don’t make ’em like they used to!” is usually the sign of a brain stuck in nostalgia mode, a refusal to acknowledge how pop culture shifts and changes…but damn it, they really don’t make ’em like they used to.

On the surface, both of these films could’ve been disposable. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is the third movie in a series, the point where everyone involved could’ve started phoning it in. Instead, director Steven Spielberg brings a playful energy to every moment, building every action scene with the wit of a Buster Keaton comedy and the visceral daring he brought to Raiders of the Lost Ark (which is a better film, but not as much fun). Similarly, director Martin Campbell (three years removed from reinventing James Bond with GoldenEye and less than a decade away from doing so again with Casino Royale) rightfully realizes with The Mask of Zorro that the most satisfying action generally involves putting the camera in at a comfortable enough distance to let the actors and the stunt performers do their job. Quite frankly, Spielberg and Campbell understand the meat and potatoes of a satisfying swordfight, gunfight, and fistfight more than just about anyone making movies today.

Both filmmakers also know they’re building a film around a movie star. Look, there’s no getting around the fact that Harrison Ford circa 1989 may be the single most magnetic leading man Hollywood has ever seen, but Antonio Banderas circa 1998 isn’t that far behind. Both men are surrounded by strong support (Sean Connery as Indiana Jones’ dad is inspired and Anthony Hopkins, while wearing troubling brownface, is a delight as the new Zorro’s grizzled mentor), but the camera adores these men. Not just their chiseled jawlines and intense eyes, but their smirks, their quick ways with clever dialogue, their physicality and, perhaps most importantly, their lack of onscreen ego. Sure, they look great in these movies, but the one thing Indy and Zorro have in common is that they fall down repeatedly before they win the day. These guys aren’t superhuman. They bleed. And that’s why we love them.

I love Marvel. I love Star Wars. I’m sucker for modern blockbusters. But there’s something about the late ’80s through early ’90s that reaches right into my soul. The best of these movies are slick, fast, and fun, but also clever and built upon a strong foundation of character, story, and respecting the audience. They’re a food truck – it looks like fast food from a distance, but there’s an artist in the kitchen, blending those flavors with total perfection. Popcorn cinema does not get better than these films.

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