The heads have been bowed, the wreaths have been placed, the obituaries have been written. Hollywood’s Summer of ’85 is dead.
Considering the post-mortems issued in the media this week, the summer’s passing ought to inspire more cheers than tears. Of the more than 40 major movies released, fewer than a dozen appear to have returned profits, and “Rambo"--the least life-affirming film since “Red Dawn"--emerged as the box-office champion.
You might say, “Good riddance to summer, bring on the fall.” But, unless you’re looking forward to “Morons From Outer Space,” that season doesn’t look too healthy, either.
The story is told in numbers. Summer business was down more than $160 million--about 10%--from the record grosses of a year earlier. And though Warner Bros. (with three films in the Top 10), Universal (four in the Top 12) and Tri-Star (with No. 1 “Rambo”) are excused from attending the wake, most of the big studios had the kind of summer that would send Tommy Lasorda to Albuquerque.
Columbia Pictures, like a gambler whose luck suddenly turns sour, threw most of its winnings from last year’s “Ghostbusters” and “The Karate Kid” back into the pot. Its three big-budget films--"Silverado,” “Perfect” and “The Bride"--were all losers. The modest success of “St. Elmo’s Fire” hardly made up the difference.
Paramount, which has enjoyed most of its recent summers, went 0 for 3 this year, with “D.A.R.Y.L.,” “Explorers” and “Summer Rental.” Disney also went 0 for 3 (“Return to Oz,” “The Black Cauldron” and “My Science Project”), and so did Orion (“Heavenly Kid,” “Secret Admirer” and “Return of the Living Dead”).
Analysts have placed the blame for summer ’85’s woes on such things as cyclical depression, product glut and genre madness. In part, this will be remembered as the summer of “My Real Weird Genius Science Project,” the amalgamated title of three sound-alike films released almost simultaneously by different studios.
The truth, however, is that the summer wasn’t all that bad. Its major sin was not to have lived up to expectations. “The Goonies,” Steven Spielberg’s first summer movie, grossed only $61.4 million. “A View to a Kill,” the latest James Bond, grossed only $50.1 million. Ron Howard’s gentle alien fantasy “Cocoon” did only $69.2 million. “Clint Eastwood’s “Pale Rider” only $41.4 million.
Between them, “Pale Rider” and “Silverado” (a loser only because it cost so much to make) grossed nearly $70 million, and, somehow, those figures were used as further evidence that the Western is dead.
Universal’s reissue of “E.T.” took in $32.2 million, and, though it was all profit, even that was considered disappointing.
The numbers-oriented media are beginning to act like Jerry Lewis during the last hour of his telethon. If the numbers on the board don’t pop veins in your neck, something is terribly wrong.
“People’s expectations were high on several movies before this summer,” says Alan Davy, a film buyer for Festival Cinemas in San Francisco. “There were a lot of $30-million or $40-million movies out there, but people expected them to do $100 million.”
The summer of ’85 was also the first one since 1978 to open without a sequel to a blockbuster--a release whose subject alone would almost assure it megabuck business.
In 1979, there was “Jaws II.” In 1980, the second “Star Wars” movie. In 1981, “Superman II.” In ’82, “Rocky II.” In ’83, “Superman III” and the third episode of “Star Wars.”
The $164 million earned by last year’s “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” the sequel to “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” about matches the amount that this summer’s total is down.
There were sequels this year, “Rambo: First Blood, Part 2" included. But none of them had a commercial pedigree to match “Star Wars,” “Superman,” “Rocky” or “Raiders.”
Poor quality is another explanation given for this summer’s lower box-office income. But examining summer movies on the basis of quality is akin to navel gazing. These are products ordered by middle-age executives playing hunches on what 14-year-old kids will think is neat.
Too often, they confuse target age with target IQ.
The worst news about this summer may not be in yet. Several of last year’s hits--"Ghostbusters” and “The Karate Kid” in particular--continued to earn money through fall ’84. Only “Back to the Future,” Spielberg’s other summer movie, seems to have that much steam.
Here’s the summer of ’85 in review (figures, in millions, from Daily Variety):
THE COMMERCIAL TOP 10
2. “Back to the Future"--$132.6.
4. “The Goonies"--$61.4.
5. “A View to a Kill"--$50.1.
7. “National Lampoon’s European Vacation"--$46.4.
8. “Pale Rider"--$41.4.
9. “Brewster’s Millions"--$38.8.
10. “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome"--$36.2.
Five critics favorites: “Prizzi’s Honor,” “Back to the Future,” “Cocoon,” “The Emerald Forest,” “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.”
Worst slumps: Producer Victor Drai’s two summer movies--"The Man With One Red Shoe” and “The Bride"--were bombs for Fox and Columbia, respectively. Tom Hanks, who got hot with last year’s “Splash,” cooled down with this year’s “Man With One Red Shoe” and “Volunteers.”
Best streaks: Chevy Chase’s “Fletch” and “European Vacation” did $90 million between them. Michael J. Fox’s “Back to the Future” and “Teen Wolf” have grossed $147 million and are still going strong.
Dead heat: The corpse comeback movies “The Return of the Living Dead” and “Day of the Dead” were released in some markets simultaneously. Neither showed much life.
Nudie Cutie: Despite strong competition from teen-oriented comedies, director John Boorman ran away with the summer’s coveted “Most Bare Flesh Exposed” title, using pin-up quality extras as tribal groupies in his anthropological (wink) drama “The Emerald Forest.” Despite that and mostly good reviews, it has grossed a lukewarm $20 million.
NOTES ‘N’ QUOTES: Producer Mark Carliner’s youth comedy “Catholic Boys,” which earned good reviews but little money when it was released in the United States as “Heaven Help Us,” opened in Ireland last week under its original title and is reportedly doing turn-away business.
“It tells me one of two things about the movie,” Carliner said. “We shouldn’t have changed the name, or we released it in the wrong country. . . .”
Writer/director Barry Levinson, in England completing “Young Sherlock Holmes” for Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, says he did not write a script based on the life of country star Jerry Lee Lewis, as reported here a few weeks ago.
Levinson says that he is fascinated by Lewis’ life and career and wanted to make the movie with his “Diner” star Mickey Rourke but that the project fell through before he could write it. . . .
Tony Curtis, who has been doing publicity for Nicholas Roeg’s “Insignificance” since its debut at Cannes in May, says he has little tolerance for the wave of young stars today who refuse to promote their movies.
“You can’t be invisible in a visible profession,” Curtis says. “A little bit of you comes through each performance, you can’t deny it. Just five minutes watching someone gives you an insight into what they’re like. . . .
“A lot of these guys want to be invisible because they are invisible. If they gave any more of themselves, they’d get caught. They’re not enigmas, they’re nothing.”