This Month In December 1985 featured

VHS Revival brings you all the box office and rental happenings from December 1985

6th December

The first week of December would see a limited theatrical release for Golan-Globus thriller Runaway Train.

Based on a screenplay by innovative Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, the movie is also notable for the debuts of Heat’s Danny Trejo and Tommy “Tiny” Lister, who would become a professional wrestler for a brief period in the late 1980s after starring alongside Hulk Hogan in infamous WWF stinker No Holds Barred. So badly received was the World Wrestling Federation’s first foray into the movie business that CEO Vince McMahon would go into cinematic hiding for close to 15 years.

Runaway Train

The movie takes place in Alaska and follows two convicts who get stuck on a runaway train during an elaborate prison break, forming a redemptive bond with a female road worker (Rebecca De Mornay) as they fight to make it across the harsh landscape. Golan-Globus were once in the business of making serious movies, and The Deer Hunter‘s John Voight and Pulp Fiction‘s Eric Roberts were both nominated for Academy Awards for their roles in a movie that was received well by critics across the board.

Unfortunately, the Runaway Train would not fare as well at the Box Office, struggling to find an audience during its short spell in theatres. It would go on to receive a wider release in January of 1986 and would make a total loss of $1,300,000.

11th December

Comedy/adventure movie The Jewel of the Nile would be director William Teague’s second movie of 1985 following low-key, Stephen King horror anthology Cat’s Eye. Starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner as unlikely lovers caught up in a high stakes romance, the movie would become the third highest grossing of a month dominated by Steven Spielberg’s race drama The Color Purple, a movie that was nominated for a whopping eleven academy awards.

Jewel of the Nile

This was the sequel to Robert Zemeckis’ 1984 smash Romancing the Stone and was received by critics as being on a par with the original, expanding the whirlwind romance of our lead players, both of whom were unkeen on making a sequel but were forced into it by a contract that demanded one. Danny Devito would also return as the sleazy, self-serving Ralph.

In 1989, the three would be reunited for quasi-sequel War of the Roses, which although holding no relation in regards to plot or characters felt like a natural progression in Douglas and Turner’s onscreen antics as two warring partners grow sick of the sight of each other, resorting to emotional torture and attempted murder as romance goes out of the window and their marriage becomes unbearable. The Jewel of the Nile would prove a huge box office smash, raking in $6,645,455 during its opening weekend.

19th December

The week before Christmas saw the release of Terry Gilliam’s dystopian nightmare Brazil, a comic grotesquery with a future vision influenced by the likes of George Orwell and Phillips K. Dick, with running pre-production titles such as The Ministry and 1984 ½. With a cast that includes Johnathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Bob Hoskins and fellow Monty Python actor Michael Palin, the movie was high on star power, but was badly received in the US due to its scattergun plotting and slapstick approach to dark-themed satire.

The story of an oppressed cleric searching for a girl who appears in his dreams, the movie would be much better received in Europe, and has since become a cult film due to its grandiose surrealism and emphasis on imagination. Aware that speculative fiction invariably becomes naive in its suppositions, Gilliam seemed to place an emphasis on the overtly gaudy, painting an elusive landscape of inept industrialism that focused on faulty appliances that were already unrealistic and outmoded. The movie would later feature on the British Film Industry’s top 100 list.


Brazil‘s lack of commercial punch could also be attributed to the fact that it was released in the same month as Spielberg’s The Color Purple and Sydney Pollack’s epic romantic drama Out of Africa, starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, both of which would dominate the month of December. Based on a true story, the latter would sweep the Oscars that year, picking up 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

The same week would see the release of innovative director Akira Kurosawa’s last big production Ran, which with a budget of $11,000,000 was then the most expensive Japanese movie ever produced. A sumptuously colourful epic based on William Shakespeare’s King Lear, the movie would be told in five acts, and though it wasn’t submitted for the Best Japanese Film category at the Oscars, it is now regarded as being among the legendary filmmaker’s finest achievements.

US Box Office Charts for December

Rank Movie Title  Studio
Total Gross / Opening
1 The Color Purple Warner Brothers $94,175,854 $1,710,333
2 Out of Africa Universal $87,071,205 $3,637,290
3 The Jewel of the Nile Fox $75,973,200 $6,645,455
4 Spies Like Us Warner Brothers $60,088,980 $8,614,039
5 101 Dalmatians Buena Vista $33,049,729 $2,389,226

Top Video Rentals

The festive season featured some colossal releases in 1985. Eddie Murphy and Paramount Home Video were the big winners as Martin Brest’s Beverly Hills Cop spent three weeks of December secure in the top spot. Eddie Murphy’s first Hollywood lead following support roles in 48 Hrs. and Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop would launch the outlandish comedian to Hollywood superstardom.

The story of a streetsmart Detroit cop let loose on a syndicate of Hollywood drug dealers following the murder of a childhood friend, the movie would also become synonymous with the protagonist’s electro theme ‘Axel F’, which was composed by 80s stalwart Harold Faltermeyer and quickly became an international number 1 hit.

Sylvester Stallone was initially considered for the role of Axel Foley, and Mickey Rourke even went as far as signing a $400,000 dollar holding contract for the part, but producers eventually settled on Murphy, who took the role on the condition that he have more direct involvement with the script, resulting in one of the most fondly remembered action stars in recent history.

Beverly Hills Cop was the first VHS tape along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to be sold at the vastly cheaper rate of $29.95 at a time when VHS cost approximately $89.95. Paramount realised that there was more money to be made selling VHS units at a cheaper rate rather than depending on revenue from rentals.

Beverly Hills Cop

Other big winners during the month of December were Ivan Reitman’s oddball supernatural comedy Ghostbusters and Joe Dante’s macabre seasonal anomaly Gremlins, the former spending most of the month situated at number 2, with the latter following closely behind during the second part of the month.

Both movies would become instant classics, spawning a plethora of sequels, reboots and even cartoon shows, each cashing in on a toy range for the festive season. Both carried PG ratings in spite of their scary nature, but Gremlins became a subject of controversy among parents who considered the movie too violent for family entertainment, and with knife-wielding mothers, exploding monsters and pets hanging from Christmas lights, who could argue? Back in 1985, Gremlins would tread a tenuous marketing line and would be partly responsible for the creation of the PG-13 rating. The movie would eventually receive a 15 rating.


Other notable VHS titans in December were John Hughes’ iconic teen angst drama The Breakfast Club and Richard Donner’s adventure Ladyhawke starring Michelle Pfeiffer, while comedian Richard Pryor struck gold with inheritance comedy Brewster’s Millions, starring alongside the late John Candy.

Meanwhile, it was good news for anyone hoping to find a VCR in their Christmas stocking. 1985 would mark the 10 year anniversary of the format and prices for a VCR had plummeted, falling from between $1,000 and $1,400 per unit in 1975 to around $200 to $400.

Santa’s elves must have taken one heck of a pay cut that year.

Video Rental Charts Week Ending December 7

Rank Movie Title  Distributor
1 Ghostbusters RCA/Colombia 1984 PG
2 Beverly Hills Cop Paramount Home Video 1985 R
3 The Breakfast Club MCA 1985 R
4 Amadeus Thorn/EMI 1984 PG
5 Ladyhawke Warner Home Video 1985 PG-13

Video Rental Charts Week Ending December 14

Rank Movie Title  Distributor
1 Beverly Hills Cop Paramount Home Video 1985 R
2 Ghostbusters RCA/Colombia 1985 R
3 The Breakfast Club MCA 1985 R
4 Ladyhawke Warner Home Video 1985 PG-13
5 Amadeus Thorn/EMI 1984 PG

Video Rental Charts Week Ending December 21

Rank Movie Title  Distributor
1 Beverly Hills Cop Paramount Home Video 1985 R
2 Ghostbusters RCA/Colombia 1985 R
3 Gremlins Warner Home Video 1984 PG
4 The Emerald Forest Embassy Home Entertainment 1985 R
5 Brewster’s Millions MCA 1985 PG

Video Rental Charts Week Ending December 28

Rank Movie Title  Distributor
1 Beverly Hills Cop Paramount Home Video  1985 R
2 Ghostbusters  RCA/Colombia 1985 R
3 Gremlins Warner Home Video 1984 PG
4 Code of Silence Thorn/EMI 1985 R
5 Brewster’s Millions MCA 1985 PG

Written by Cedric Smarts Editor-in-Chief

Science Fiction Writer, Horror Enthusiast, Scourge of Plutocracy, Creator of

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