Like No Business I Know
January 1996 -- Despite being mere months after the release of his infamous flop, Waterworld, things were actually looking good for Kevin Costner, as he was the top choice for the lead in two tempting that would be shooting around the same time: one, a post-apocalyptic movie that very much appealed to his artistic sensibilities, an adaptation of David Brin's The Postman; the other was what looked to be a promising popcorn flick with the President of the United States as an action hero. And now he had to choose one. Thinking it over, Kevin couldn't help but remember how often he'd hear or read the same passive aggressive advice -- “You might want to steer clear of science fiction for awhile”. When he swallowed his pride, he thought perhaps it's not so difficult a decision after all...
Later that year -- “Since you were in the area”. This was the strangest part of the invitation to the Kubrick Estate, since it was in England and Harrison Ford was to be shooting in Ireland around this time, for Pakula's film (what was to be his last), The Devil's Own. But Harrison decided you didn't need too much of an excuse to visit one of the most praised directors in movie history, so he made the time. As it so happens, his Ireland travels were less important to his invitation, than the fact that he happened to have no scheduled shoots once that summer ended. After the fateful meeting, Harrison felt the need to talk to...
Later -- George Lucas hung up the phone -- while he was happy enough to catch up with Harrison Ford, but he still found it funny that after all these years, Ford would want to tell him about a career opportunity of his. The conversation made two things plain: (1) to Harrison, that George really didn't have anything to offer in terms of advice for working with Pakula or Kubrick; and (2) to Lucas, that perhaps he should think about whose advice he would trust and respect in sharing his recently completed first draft of the First Film. And one name came fairly quick to mind here: Lawrence Kasdan...
July 1996 -- Edward Norton's year just kept getting better; months earlier had seen his cinematic premiere with his supporting role in Primal Fear, and still to come was his major role in The People vs Larry Flynt, as Flynt's attorney; now it was officially announced that he would be starring alongside none other than Al Pacino in an adpatation of The Devil's Advocate. (True, he had to take a less than ideal salary, but how does an up and coming actor pass up the chance to work with Al Pacino?) Keanu Reeves, meanwhile, was doing less well it seems he had also had his agent lobby for the role, but thus dejected, was now moving on to star in upcoming Speed sequel...
Late 1996 -- What got James Cameron thinking was reading the George Lucas quote -- where George told the reporter how he was “learning now, only now after so much work, how much more there is to do”. As he reflected about his own ongoing project, Titanic, James realized that unless he found a way to begin editing the footage by February, there was no way he was going to meet the July deadline. He continued to think, how a project that began as risky as his falling behind schedule and over budget would put his reputation at risk (absent a ridiculous level of, frankly, unlikely box office success), and decided he would have to treat the challenge seriously... 
Night of March 8, 1997 -- Christopher Wallace had decided to leave the after party early; he had come to Los Angeles to participate in the Soul Train Music Awards and deliver an award to Toni Braxton. The boos he got on stage were part of a wider sense that he was less than welcome in the city, and frankly it sounded like Vibe and Quest didn't want him to show up anyway. The one upside to this is that the traffic back to the hotel wasn't too bad, at least by LA standards. Biggie was thinking how the East Coast had better parties anyway, when a Chevy Impala pulled up next to the SUV and started firing... Biggie woke up the next morning at Cedar-Sianai Medical Center, after having multiple bullets removed from his body.
Summer of 1997
Two major blockbusters dueled this summer for top grossing film of the year: Men in Black, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones; and Titanic, directed by James Cameron, starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. While there were similarities in the stakes of each -- Smith and DiCaprio both had only recently started to establish themselves as potential leading men -- Titanic simply had more to lose, particular for its director. Years before, when he wrote a scriptment for a Titanic film, Cameron met with 20th Century Fox executives including Peter Chernin, pitching it as "Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic". According to Cameron, "They were like, 'Oooooohkaaaaaay – a three-hour romantic epic? Sure, that's just what we want. Is there a little bit of Terminator in that? Any Harrier jets, shoot-outs, or car chases?' I said, 'No, no, no. It's not like that."" So from the beginning, the studio was dubious about the film's commercial prospects -- it was only in the hopes for a long term relationship with Cameron that they gave him a greenlight at all -- and as the July release date approached, articles popped up in industry magazines all over looking to dampen box office expectations.
And then, something funny happened: The film became the highest grossing film of the year. With over $300 million domestic (and then going on to make as much overseas), James Cameron's “expensive chick flick”, as insiders were calling it, seemed to confirm what Hollywood had been forgetting: that women go to the movies too, and there was real market potential in putting real resources (artistic and capital) to make films that appealed to them. It's hard to know how this unexpected success story influenced the runner up of the year, Men in Black; it certainly did well enough at $250 million domestic, but there's only so much a film can do when it was supposed to dominate the summer, and ends up coming in second. While Sonnenfeld would never again be such a box office success as a director again, Will Smith was only starting to rise -- and get interesting.
But just as Will Smith's film career was starting to rise, his rap career was starting to peter out; yes, the musical tie in for Men in Black got some decent airtime, but it was clearly at odds with the hip hop sound of the time. Hip hop sales in the summer of 1997 were by and large dominated by singles from the Notorious BIG's new album Life After Death, and the spring had been led by Biggie protoge Puff Daddy's “Can't Nobody Hold Me Down”. 
1998This year, in American Cinema:
*Keanu Reeve's career comeback struggles, as the year begins with the release of a film where he managed to pick up a minor role, an adaptation of Dean Koontz Phantoms 
*Al Pacino is nominated for Best Supporting Actor, for his role in Donnie Brasco; Tony Gilroy and Jonathan Lemkin are nominated for their Adaptation of The Devil's Advocate 
*Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio both continue their respective careers by taking a supporting role in groundbreaking films about WWII, Sgt Edward Welsh in Thin Red Line  and Private Ryan in Saving Private Ryan, respectively
*Rounders is released, starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, John Tuturro, and Sean Penn 
*Edward Norton's reputation continues to rise with the release of American History X; meanwhile, he works on shoots that will continue this trajectory.
*As John Madden's new film, Shakespeare in Love, is garnering critical acclaim, Miramax announces that he is signed on to direct their adapatation of Lord of the Rings; it was said New Zealand director Peter Jackson had left the project due to creative conflicts with the company 
*The Postman, stuck in development hell after Costner turned down the project two years earlier, finally gets off on its feet...
OOC: Yeah, I know I've got another TL going, but this previous project has been cropping in my mind recently, and I wanted to do a minor reboot, hopefully get a little further this time.
Let's see how this goes.
 As with last time, we start in 1996, and see the butterfly effect in full force: Kevin Costner passes on Postman to do Air Force One; this opens the room in Harrison Ford's shooting schedule to make him a candidate for another film, giving him an opportunity to do Eyes Wide Shut; this opportunity leads to a phone call, which ends up getting George Lucas thinking about Episode I of Star Wars; and some of Lucas' thinking leaks to the press, to get James Cameron thinking about Titanic -- and before you know it, one actor's decision has rippled to change the fate of at least five films, with many more ripples to come. Keanu Reeves gets passed up for Devil's Advocate and Biggie Small's surviving are more like secondary PoDs, though they will have butterflies of their own. For the next couple of years, the number of affected films are going to be a manageable list -- but then the changes start to compound in 1999...
 Notice the Puff Daddy song that isn't mentioned ;0
 Giving Ben Affleck one less 1998 project
 Greg Kinnear and Hossein Amini are not nominated this year, TTL; as to why Pacino got nominated for Brasco, my thinking is that Pacino's now got a better reputation overall this year (due to Devil's Advocate now being good), and “Ruggiero” is still the better performance/character
 And now Sean Penn has to find something else for this year, as the next bullet shows
 Affleck and Penn replacing Norton and Malcovich respectively
 In TTL, Jackson does not succeed in getting New Line Cinema to buy the rights to the books