VHS Revival brings you all the box office and rental news from December 1985
December would offer a thrilling concoction of action, adventure and grandiose dystopia as the festive season approached, kicking things off with 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 during 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 as the movie struggled to break even.
Runaway Train would prove something of a grounded anomaly at a time when Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, continually saddled with losses thanks to their haphazard production methods, were churning out exploitative trash by the bucketload, methods which carried a certain stigma in elitist Hollywood. In reality, Menahem Golan was a think-big dreamer with a genuine love for making movies, and with Runaway Train the Cannon Group hit one out of the proverbial park. The original screenplay was penned by Kurosawa himself and was set to be shot entirely in New York until severe snowstorms brought an end to the project.
The movie takes place in Alaska and follows two convicts who become stuck on a runaway cargo 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. 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. Voight would spend time with inmates of San Quentin prison in preparation for the role, and would remain in contact with many of them for years thereafter. Similarly dedicated, Roberts would put on thirty pounds of muscle for his role as Buck, citing a rough Mississippi upbringing as his inspiration for the character.
Critic Roger Ebert would give the movie his famous thumbs-up, praising the movie as “a reminder that the great adventures are great because they happen to people we care about”, and even comparing it to such classics as The African Queen, Stagecoach and Kurosawa’s own masterpiece The Seven Samurai. Unfortunately, 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.
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.
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.
Like it’s predecessor, the movie would feature colourful characters and exotic settings in the Indiana Jones vein, an element that would lead to real-life tragedy after three members of the production team were killed in a plane crash while out scouting for locations in Morocco. More tragedy would strike the series in the form of ex-waitress Diane Thomas, Romancing the Stone her only produced screenplay before a car accident cut her life short months before she was scheduled to embark on a project with legendary director Steven Spielberg. She was 39 years old.
In 1989, our cast 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 who resort to emotional torture and attempted murder as their marriage treads unbearable ground. The Jewel of the Nile would prove a huge box office smash, raking in $6,645,455 during its opening weekend.
December 19 marked the release of Terry Gilliam’s dystopian nightmare Brazil, a dystopian grotesquery 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.
Following high-profile movies with such directorial luminaries as Martin Scorsese and Sergio Leone, an in-demand De Niro initially wanted the role of ruthless interrogator Jack, though settled for the role of larger-than-life freedom fighter Archibald “Harry” Tuttle since Jack had already been promised to Gilliam’s Python collaborator Palin. Gilliam was thrilled to have De Niro on board, but the actor’s notorious perfectionism and painstaking attention to detail would often prove overbearing as production transpired.
The story of an oppressed cleric searching for a girl who appears in his dreams, Brazil was 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 placed 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 prove more fruitful for Akira Kurosawa with the release of his 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 (quite organically according to the director), 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.
Kurosawa would spend an incredible ten years storyboarding every shot as paintings, and the lavish production featured a mind-boggling 1400 extras. By the time principal photography for the film had begun, Kurosawa was almost completely blind and could only frame shots thanks to assistants who would use his paintings as a guide. The movie would earn the then 76-year-old his only Best Director nomination at the Academy Awards.
In spite of his condition, Kuroswa would direct three more films before his death in 1998, including magical realism movie Dreams, a collection of eight vignettes inspired by his own journeys into the subconscious. Funded by Warner Brothers, the movie was made with assistance from George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg in a fitting tribute to one of the medium’s great innovators.
Top Video Rentals
Eddie Murphy and Paramount Home Video were the rental chart’s big winners as Martin Brest’s Beverly Hills Cop spent three weeks secure in the top spot in December. 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, leading to a series of diminishing sequels and a whole host of action flicks during the ’80s and ’90s.
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’, composed by ’80s stalwart and synth maestro Harold Faltermeyer — just one of a whole host of hits to feature on a soundtrack that included The Pointer Sisters and ex Eagles frontman Glenn Frey, who would perform one of the hits of the summer in tagline track The Heat is On.
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 a 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 per unit. Paramount realised that there was more money to be made selling VHS units at a cheaper rate rather than depending on revenue from rentals.
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 in the rental charts, with the latter following closely behind during the second half 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 fantasy adventure Ladyhawke starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Rutger Hauer, while comedian Richard Pryor struck gold with inheritance comedy Brewster’s Millions, starring alongside the late John Candy. Directed by Walter Hill of The Warriors fame, Brewster’s Millions tells the story of a Minor League Baseball pitcher who becomes the subject of an oddball proposition by his great uncle’s law firm having inherited his $300,000,000 dollar fortune.
As per the conditions of his inheritance, Brewster can either receive a flat sum of $1,000,000 upfront or somehow squander $30,000,000 dollars in thirty days in order to receive the estate in its entirety. Brewster’s acceptance of the former would make his late uncle’s law firm the executor, who would then collect a fee before dividing the remainder among several charities. Naturally, a down-on-his-luck Brewster reaches for the big prize, leading to a rags to riches tale that weeds out the hanger’s on, offering him some much earned perspective as his deadline beckons.
Brewster’s Millions would be the seventh big screen adaption of George Barr McCutcheon’s 1902 novel of the same name, and would prove something of a deviation for Hill, who was best known as a director of neo-noir crime thrillers, but who would land the gig based on the success of his innovative buddy picture 48 Hrs. Hill would later claim that he agreed to his only outright comedy for financial reasons, adding, “Whatever [the film’s] deficiencies, I think the wistful quality was there. I was happy about that. The picture did well and made money.” The movie was one of many collaborations with Composer Ry Cooder, a guitarist who sessioned for musical royalty such as The Rolling Stones, John Lee Hooker and Eric Clapton.
Arguably the most famous movie starring a group of actors dubbed the ‘Brat Pack’, John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club centres on a solitary day of detention for a group of adolescents separated by high school convention and brought together by a shared sense of alienation. Though sprinkled with Hughes’ trademark sense of idealism, it trod relatively dark ground for a movie of its nature, becoming a cult hit for an MTV generation weaned on the introspective fashions of New Wave pop culture.
The movie would star Hughes go-to stars Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, with stellar support from Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy and ’80s stalwart Paul Gleason as the petty and tyrannical headteacher Mr Vernon, who would learn a few life lessons of his own thanks to the similarly pigeonholed and surprisingly sagacious caretaker Carl (John Kapelos), a character who becomes the ultimate symbol of Hughes’ judge not, lest ye be judged mantra.
In spite of their off screen reputations, the young cast proved themselves an exceedingly talented bunch who would ad lib some of the material with a helping hand from the capable Hughes, most notably a scene in which the gang open-up with a series of shared stories about their lives away from the classroom. The original idea was to have a series of sequels ten years apart that would reunite the gang at different stages in their lives, a plan which never materialised due to the director’s unresolved differences with cast members Ringwald and Nelson, the latter first igniting their feud after bullying Ringwald behind the scenes while trying to remain in character. Incredibly, it was fictional foe Gleason who would stand-up for Nelson, admiring his dedication to the role.
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 to $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.