July 1989: "When Harry Met Sally..." Delivers in American Movie Theaters

Katz's Deli
Photo Credit
(Columbia Pictures)

It was the summer of 1989 when a nervy new movie hit big screens across America: When Harry Met Sally... The film had already debut on a handful of screens, with Columbia releasing it "platform" style, where it only played in a few select cities to get a word-of-mouth buzz going about the film. Debuting over the July 14, 1989 weekend on just 41 screens, the Rob Reiner-directed feature starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal was still able to generate almost $1.1 million. That made it the second-highest grossing movie to debut on less than 50 screens. The movie at #1 in that category? Star Wars.

When Harry Met Sally... went into wide release on July 21, 1989, pulling in $8.8 million across 775 screens. Seeing that they had a hit on their hands, Columbia kicked it up to 1,174 screens as the movie went on to pull in a haul of nearly $93 million.

While critical reviews were generally positive, it was the word-of-mouth that really propelled the film's success. The main talking point, of course, was the movie's legendary lunch scene set in Manhattan's famous Katz's Delicatessen. Just last year, Katz's celebrated the 30th anniversary of When Harry Met Sally... with a full month of festivities, including a special edition “I’ll Have What She’s Having” package, complete with Katz’s signature hand-carved pastrami and turkey (Sally and Harry's orders when they visit in the movie), all the sandwich fixings, a limited-edition black-and-white When Harry Met Sally t-shirt, Katz’s Deli collectible pins and a tote bag.

The movie was something of a hit during awards season that year, earning nominations for a slew of awards. It was shut out at the Golden Globes, where it had been up in five categories, including Best Picture Comedy or Musical and Best Director Motion Picture. It was only nominated for one Academy Award: Best Original Screenplay. The prize went to Dead Poet's Society.

When Harry Met Sally... came with an equally successful soundtrack that made Harry Connick Jr. a star. Connick performed a series of standards including "It Had to Be You," "Autumn in New York" and "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" with a big band and orchestra. The record soared to #1 on the Traditional Jazz Albums chart for two weeks in November 1989. It peaked at #42 on the Billboard 200 albums chart for the week of September 23, 1989. The #1 album in America that week: Milli Vanilli's Girl You Know It's True.

When Harry Met Sally... ranked as the 11th most popular movie in America for the year of 1989. One position behind Dead Poets Society, and one above Turner & Hooch.

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(Fryderyk Gabowicz/picture alliance via Getty Images)
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A film directed by the late Michael Apted.

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