Summer Blockbusters 1985

Friday, September 25, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Ah, 1985. What a glorious year to be alive. The Cold War was still underway, nobody was talking on a cellphone, and hacks like Ryan Seacrest were not yet millionaires. Sure, this article is about summer blockbusters 1985, but here are a few things you might’ve missed if you weren’t alive just yet (or were really young or really drunk).

– Mike Tyson makes his pro debut and scores a knockout in the first round.
– Mikhail Gorbachev becomes the leader of the Soviet Union.
– Coca-Cola changes to New Coke. People unanimously agree that it sucks.
– Mel Gibson is chosen as People’s Sexiest Man Alive.
– The Amiga personal computer is launched by Commodore.
– The original Nintendo is released in the United States.
– Keira Knightley, Michael Phelps, Wayne Rooney, Dwight Howard, and Cristiano Ronaldo are born.


Writing summer blockbuster articles for the post-2000 years are easy, as there are plenty of movies topping the $100 million mark. They have to, because Hollywood movies have become increasingly expensive to make. It seems like only yesterday when a movie with a budget of $100 million was extremely rare. Nowadays, they’re falling out of the sky (case in point, Land of the Lost).

But things look a bit different when you hop in the WABAC Machine and set the dial for 1985. First off, there simply weren’t as many people living in the United States back then. Secondly, the film industry had yet to perfect the summer blockbuster formula like they have in the last 15 years or so. So while movies were still a profitable industry, their gross revenue is almost laughable when compared with their modern counterparts.

spies-like-usFor example, the #1 movie in 1985 was Back to the Future, which grossed $381.11 million worldwide. In 2008, the #1 movie (The Dark Knight) grossed $1,001,921,825. At the opposite end of the 1985 top 10, Spies Like Us (WTF!?) grossed $60,088,980. Last year’s #10 movie, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, grossed $419,651,413. Personally, I find the success of Spies Like Us (and that rockin’ Paul McCartney title track) to be even more jaw-dropping than the difference in dollar amounts.

My point is that a summer blockbusters 1985 list is going to look pretty lackluster when compared to more modern lists, especially when you consider that only two summer movies in 1985 passed the $100 million mark in gross revenue. But just so you don’t feel cheated, I’ve stretched this list out to include any summer film which grossed more than $40 million. The numbers listed below are revenue from the U.S. box office.

So here goes nuthin’…

marty-mcflyBack to the Future (grossed $210,609,762) – Michael J. Fox made the transition for TV actor to movie star in this film about a likable kid named Marty McFly who goes hopping through time in a DeLorean. Going back 30 years, he has to fend off the romantic advances of his future mother, help his future father develop more confidence, and still find time to invent Chuck Barry’s famous duck walk during an eye-opening performance at the school dance. You’ve probably already seen it more than once, but this Robert Zemeckis film is certainly worth a look if you haven’t. Fox gives off a major “nice guy” vibe, and it’s one that can be enjoyed by the entire family. It was the top-grossing film of 1985, and it no doubt deserved the recognition. Two sequels would follow, although each was a little less entertaining than the one before. Note: Eric Stoltz was originally cast as Marty, but he and the filmmakers eventually decided that he was wrong for the part.


Rambo: First Blood Part II (grossed $150,415,432) – First Blood was a psychological study about war’s lingering effects on its participants. First Blood Part II places a greater emphasis on the action, but it still deals with the aftereffects of war in the form of the POW/MIA issue. For some zany reason, Rambo is released from prison in exchange for going to Vietnam and investigating whether or not American POWs are really present (didn’t they have any non-convict commandoes who could do it?). His superiors don’t expect him to find anything, but Rambo discovers a whole mess of trouble, including prisoners-of-war and a close relationship between the Vietnamese and those dirty Soviets (remember, this was while the Cold War was still going on). From there, it’s time for Rambo to do what he does best, including blowing people apart with his special only-in-a-movie explosive arrows. The film had a huge cultural impact, and people all around the world still view America and this character as synonymous. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not that’s a good thing.

Cocoon (grossed $76,113,124) – Ron Howard directs this warm-hearted tale about elderly people running across aliens and gaining immortality. It’s got a who’s who of senior actors, including Don Ameche, Wilford “King Badass” Brimley, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, and Maureen Stapleton. And it also features the man who transcends all age groups, Steve Guttenberg. Not exactly a movie for kids who think they’ll live forever, but it’s a great fantasy for anyone starting to consider their own mortality.

goonies-slothThe Goonies (grossed $61,389,680) – Directed by Richard Donner (with some help from Steven Spielberg), The Goonies tells the story of a group of kids trying to save their neighborhood from demolition. In order to accomplish this, they set off to find the legendary treasure of a pirate known as One-Eyed Willy. Of course, they’ll have to contend with an Italian crime family along the way, but that also leads to the introduction of the deformed-yet-helpful Sloth. The Goonies can be enjoyed both by kids seeing it for the first time and adults looking for a nostalgia trip. There’s plenty of adventure, the ending is predictably uplifting, and it features a youthful cast including Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman, and Martha Plimpton. When it comes to summer blockbuster 1985, this one is a must-see.

Fletch (grossed $50,612,888) – Chevy Chase stars in this film based on the novels by Gregory Mcdonald. The comedic actor plays Irwin M. Fletcher, an undercover reporter who uses a variety of disguises to get his latest story. This time around, he’s looking into drug trafficking on Los Angeles beaches, but what he stumbles across winds up being much bigger than he could’ve imagined. Chase is in full-blown smartass mode in this one, and his use of disguises should delight anyone who’s a fan of the comic actor. If you’re not a fan of Chase, however, I’d advise you to avoid Fletch, as it’s certainly a one-man show. It’s been years since I’ve seen the film, but the moment which stands out in my mind is this: Fletch is thrown into a jail cell with Randall “Tex” Cobb (perhaps best-known as the bounty hunter in Raising Arizona). Cobb leers at him menacingly and tells Fletch, “Bend over.” Undaunted, Fletch extends his hand and replies, “Bend, nice to meet you. Victor Hugo.”

A View to a Kill (grossed $50,327,960) – Roger Moore makes his seventh and final appearance as James Bond. This time around, Bond is pitted against industrialist Max Zorin (Christopher Walken), a psychopath who’s actually the product of Nazi medical experimentation (natch). Tanya Roberts and Grace Jones are the rather mismatched Bond Girls, and much of the action takes place in scenic San Francisco. While it earned $300 million worldwide, A View to a Kill has always been considered something of a disappointment, with the exception of the killer theme song from Duran Duran. Now that I think of it, the movie might’ve been better if Walken played himself. Just imagine James Bond against a tap-dancing actor with the world’s most unusual comic delivery.

National Lampoon’s European Vacation (grossed $49,364,621) – Chevy Chase makes the list again, but this time it’s for a sequel. Following up the adventures of the slapstick Griswold family, the dysfunctional group heads off for a whirlwind vacation throughout Europe. Clark Griswold (Chase) plays the “ugly American,” driving on the wrong side of the road, accidentally insulting locals with his poor French, and even knocking over the Stonehenge pillars without knowing it. Eric Idle pops up repeatedly as a bicyclist who keeps getting run over by Clark, and The Power Station appears to perform their hit single “Some Like It Hot.” Christmas Vacation would hit theaters four years later.

pale-riderPale Rider (grossed $41,410,568) – Clint Eastwood made a number of memorable westerns, and he was still seven years away from the masterpiece known as Unforgiven. While I never considered Pale Rider to be among his finest efforts, an average Eastwood flick is still pretty damned entertaining. Playing a mysterious preacher who’s determined to help a group of miners against a ruthless local businessman, Eastwood kicks the usual amount of ass we’ve all come to expect from his characters. In a later interview, our man Clint (who also directed) revealed that his character was an “out and out ghost.” My favorite parts of the film revolved around Preacher and miner Hull Barret’s (Michael Moriarty) efforts to break apart a particularly large rock in the nearby stream, plus the inevitable showdown with the vicious Stockburn (John Rusell) and his hired guns is also a nice little slice of greatness.

Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (grossed $40,940,662) – I saw this movie at my local small-town movie theatre, a one-screen affair that has long since been demolished. Completely unaware of who Paul Reubens or director Tim Burton were, I was totally unprepared for the madcap adventure to follow. When his beloved bike gets stolen, Pee-wee Herman sets off on a bizarre quest to get it back. From searching for the basement of the Alamo to riding with a ghostly trucker named Large Marge, Pee-wee gets into one misadventure after another. The climax of the film takes place at Warner Bros. Studios, where he leads authorities on a zany chase through numerous movie sets and even a Twisted Sister video. The late comic Phil Hartman was one of the film’s writers, and I’d highly recommend this one if you’re looking for something a little different. If nothing else, it’ll give you a chance to see a Tim Burton movie that isn’t all dark, gloomy, or features Helena Bonham Carter looking like death warmed over.

Brewster’s Millions (grossed $40,833,132) – I remember seeing this as a kid, but I had no idea it was such a box office success. I guess you should never underestimate the power of a coked-out Richard Pryor. Based on a novel, six versions had already been made (including one in 1914) before the one starring Pryor and John Candy hit the theaters. In it, a minor league baseball pitcher (Pryor) learns that his long-lost great-uncle has recently died and left a will challenging him to spend $30 million in 30 days. If he can, then Brewster will inherit his great-uncle’s full $300 million. If he fails, he’ll walk away with nothing. He’s also prevented from telling any of his pals what he’s up to. As you can imagine, hilarity ensues in true Pryor fashion (just without all the f-bombs). It’s a real testament to Pryor’s appeal that he could be so wonderfully foul-mouthed in his stand-up performances, but still find success in PG comedies and kid’s shows (anyone remember Pryor’s Place?).

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And there you have the 10 most profitable summer blockbusters 1985. If you’ve enjoyed reading this list, why not take a look at some of the other articles we have to offer? Here are a few suggestions for those of you too lazy to generate your own ideas.

This entry was posted on Friday, September 25th, 2009 at 3:23 pm and is filed under Movie Megalists, Thoughts on Film. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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