For, Friday, April 9, 2021


EDITOR’S NOTE: OK, the dip in box-office revenues for the summer of 1985 may have seemed troubling when it happened but it’s nothing compared to 2020, of course, when theaters closed down for many months due to the pandemic. At the time, however, it was devastating to the industry that so many movies thought to have hit potential failed at the box office. Worse, the drop-off went from the summer’s 10 percent to 17 percent by the end of the year. Good movies bring more people into theaters and bad movies keep them away; that’s just the way it is. This ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column was published in the Deseret News on Sept. 8, 1985, and for the dollar figures given here, you might want to double or even triple them to get an idea of how much of a difference inflation has made for the 2021 equivalents.


In case you’re interested — and of course you are — this summer’s box office results dropped 10 percent from last year’s, according to Variety, the show-biz trade paper.


From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the summer season according to Hollywood, movie theaters across the country took in 400 million tickets. That sounds like a lot, but it’s actually 14 percent under last year’s total.


Ticket sales brought in $1.42 billion, which also sounds like a lot, but it was 10 percent below the summer of 1984, which took in $1.58 billion.


And who were the big winners, you ask?


“Rambo: First Blood Part II” ranks No.1 this summer, raking in some $146 million, followed by “Back to the Future,” which has earned $133 million and is still going strong.


Those were the only two summer movies to go over the $100 million mark, gaining super-hit status. Last summer there were three – “Ghostbusters,” which gained $188 ½ million during the summer ($220 million altogether), along with two Steven Spielberg productions, “Gremlins” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”




Other movies that made profitable showings this summer include “Cocoon,” which took in $69 million; “The Goonies,” with $61 million; “A View to a Kill,” $50 million; “Pale Rider,” $41 million; “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” $34 million; the re-release of “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” $33 million; “Prizzi’s Honor,” $24 million; and “Fright Night,” $22 million.


“Fletch,” “Brewster’s Millions,” “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” and “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” also made good showings at the box office and have gone well into the black (and “Pee-wee” is still doing well).


Of course, profits are relative to cost, and Clint Eastwood’s “Pale Rider,” for example, can be considered a major success because it earned $41 million and only cost $7 million to make. That’s not in the same class as Eastwood’s “Sudden Impact,” which took in more than $70 million – but because it cost so little make, "Pale Rider's" $41 million qualifies as solid hit-making bucks.


Likewise, “Fright Night” cost $7 million and earned $22 million – it too is a hit. And “Mad Max,” “Prizzi,” “Fletch” and “Pee-wee” were relatively inexpensive productions that made respectable profits.


On the other hand, “Silverado” earned $27 million, but because it cost $23 million to make it is still in the red. (Remember, a film must earn at least twice its production cost to begin earning a profit, cost figures that don’t include promotion and advertising, which are often as much as $5 million alone.)




But that’s better than some big-budget films did. A number cost an awful lot to produce and were megaduds. Disney’s “Return to Oz” cost $25 million to make and bombed out almost immediately; “Lifeforce,” which also cost $25 million, did well it’s first week, taking in $4 million, but then virtually disappeared from the charts as business dropped off completely.


Other expensive flops included “The Black Cauldron” ($25 million), “Explorers” ($24 million) and “Perfect” ($17 million). “The Legend of Billie Jean,” “Real Genius,” “My Science Project,” “The Bride,” “Secret Admirer,” “The Heavenly Kid,” “Red Sonja” and “The Man with One Red Shoe” all died early deaths as well.


Look for them in your local video stores soon – very soon.


As to why ... well, that’s anyone’s guess. Westerns obviously are still weak box office entries, if not the box office poison Hollywood had thought. And teen films with hit songs (“Billie Jean”) and R-rated sex (“Secret Admirer”) are not automatic hits. And animated films (“Cauldron”) need to be scaled down to reach their limited audience (“The Care Bears Movie” cost nearly nothing and made a very good profit, for example.)


Good movies, i.e. “Prizzi,” “Fletch,” “Mad Max,” “Cocoon,” etc., usually do pretty well – but if they cost too much, as with “Silverado,” they may not garner hit status.


Bad movies, i.e. “The Goonies,” also can do well – particularly if Steven Spielberg’s name is attached. And Spielberg was imprinted on two other hits this summer – “Back to the Future” and “E.T.”


So perhaps the only given is that Spielberg remains the king of summer flicks. Everything else is pure speculation.


And, as they say, that’s show business.


EDITOR’S ENDNOTE: By the end of 1985 ‘Back to the Future’ had risen to the top, bumping ‘Rambo’ down to No. 2 for the summer, and it fell to No. 3 by year’s end. Still, among the end-of-the-year top 10 box-office winners, six that had been released during the summer: ‘Back to the Future’ (at No. 1) ‘Rambo’ (3), ‘Cocoon’ (5), ‘The Goonies’ (7), ‘Fletch’ (8) and ‘A View to a Kill’ (10). But how many of these titles are you interested in watching again today? Note, for example, that despite its success, ’A View to a Kill’ is now, arguably, considered the worst James Bond movie in the franchise. The next year, 1986, box-office earnings improved considerably. Hollywood is hoping that will happen again this year as theaters re-open and delayed blockbusters are released. And if ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ is any indication it looks like that could happen.