News Column

Season of classic hits …

June 22, 2014

By Brian Truitt, @briantruitt, USA TODAY



The summer of 1984 was a rough one for Tim League; at 14, he was the spitting image of actor Anthony Michael Hall, the skinny, redheaded teen in the John Hughes comedy Sixteen Candles.

So after the movie arrived in May, League spent the next few months hearing that he looked just like that Sixteen Candles kid, "which is not a compliment."

While things were bad outside the movie theater, inside, League -- today founder and CEO of Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas -- was having his mind blown with a season full of influential hits, many of which have become classics in the subsequent 30 years.

The supernatural comedy Ghostbustersruled the summer, spending eight weeks as the top movie in the country and racking up more box office receipts than any other in the calendar year. (Beverly Hills Cop, out in December, wound up the top-grossing film released in 1984, with $5 million more than Ghostbusters' monster $229 million take.)

A new generation of film fans like League learned the bad things that happened when you got a Mogwai wet or fed it after midnight in the horror flick Gremlins. They got their own Rocky story with The Karate Kid. PG-13 was introduced in 1984; the first movie to use it was Cold War action thriller Red Dawn.

That summer Harrison Ford was in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, rock god Prince made Purple Rain, Tom Hanks threw one heck of a Bachelor Party and geeks faced off with jocks in Revenge of the Nerds.

"If you Google a list and just see all the movies that came out in 1984, they're classics, and they define that decade," says Adam Goldberg, creator and executive producer of ABC'sThe Goldbergs, a semi-autobiographical sitcom about his childhood in the '80s.

Special effects were taking leaps, too, in the likes of The Last Starfighter and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, says Trek expert Jordan Hoffman of Film.com and New York'sDaily News. "There were Ray Harryhausen movies in the '50s, but nothing like Temple of Doom."

Goldberg says these movies set a template for sequels, from more Indiana Jones and Star Trek to remakes of Bachelor Party and Red Dawn and third installments of Ghostbusters and Gremlins now in development. "That was the summer," he says. "They were making the franchises of today."

Some highlights:

Cobra Kai never dies

The Karate Kid's Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and his journey from bullied teen to champ sent kids running to martial-arts centers to learn the crane kick.

The black belts of the Cobra Kai have become villains moviegoers love to hate. Its smarmy blond leader was played by Billy Zabka, who parlayed the part into bad-guy roles in Just One of the Guys (1985) and Back to School (1986). A key player as himself in the recent final season of How I Met Your Mother, he was nominated for a live-action short-film Oscar in 2004. "If you had a bad guy, you had to go to Billy Zabka," Goldberg says. "He was a legend."

Return of Spock

When Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan seemingly killed off Leonard Nimoy's Mr. Spock, most fans were aghast -- though not Nimoy, who was tired of playing the character, Hoffman says.

Khan left his return open, and Spock indeed was resurrected: Nimoy struck a deal to come back if Paramount would let him direct 1984's Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. He also directed the successful Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home two years later, and Three Men and a Baby. "He was able to get a little second career out of it," he adds, "all because of his shrewd handling of not wanting to be Spock again."

A true nerd retaliation

Revenge of the Nerds was a real underdog story: The geeky, science-loving Tri-Lambs (Robert Carradine, Anthony Edwards, Curtis Armstrong and others) take on the jocks, coaches and cool kids, and win the day.

In real-life 1984, nerds were outcasts, but nowadays, the movie seems like it was foreshadowing for the age of the Internet, today's comic-book superhero movies and the success of Apple and Amazon.

"I was nerdy, and it was obviously this work of pure fantasy that nerds could ever have popularity or win," League says. But "it seems totally reasonable now, because the nerds have, in fact, won."

Indy inspired PG-13

When Red Dawn was released on Aug. 10, 1984, it marked the first time a movie was tagged with the new PG-13 rating, strongly cautioning parents that material may be suited for teens and older.

(It is now the most frequent rating; PG-13 movies are six of the 10 top-grossing movies of all time.)

The violence and gore of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom sent parents into enough of a tizzy that director Steven Spielberg suggested a new rating as ahappy medium between kid-friendly PG and adult-oriented R. "We had never seen eyeball soup (or) a snake you cut open and other snakes come out of it. And the bug room!" Hoffman says. "For a 10-year-old boy, that was just hitting that pleasure center in the brain."

However, he adds that he had to hide his eyes during the ritual sacrifice, when villainous high priest Mola Ram ripped a guy's heart out and the organ then burst into flames. "I had nightmares about that scene."


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Source: USA Today


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