VHS Revival brings you all the box office and rental happenings from January 1984
January is traditionally a slow month at the Box Office, and 1984 was no different following a busy festive period that saw releases for Clint Eastwood’s fourth outing as Dirty Harry and Brian De Palma’s seething gangster epic Scarface. January 13th would see the release of Hot Dog . . . The Movie, a racy, teen comedy lost in the overabundance of Porky’s clones that saturated the mid-1980s. The movie would star An American Werewolf in London‘s David Naughton as an Idaho farm boy who heads to the freestyle skiing championships at California’s Squaw Valley ski resort, an adventure where drunken hi-jinks and lewd innuendo go hand-in-hand. Animal House‘s Tracy Smith would play the movie’s spunky love interest, with Playboy superstar Shannon Tweed providing the eye candy.
So popular was this racy sub-genre that Hot Dog…The Movie managed a rather impressive return of $22,000.000 from a relatively meagre outlay of $4,000,000. Critically, the movie wasn’t a huge failure either, the majority pleased with its lighter treading approach and reduction in toilet humour, which seemed to come as something of a relief to critics, who would gorge on a tapas of moronic garbage as the genre reached its commercial apotheosis.
Also released that week was Robert Vincent O’Neill’s dual existence drama Angel. The story of a 15-year-old high school girl who spends her nights as a prostitute in downtown Los Angeles, Angel’s life is turned upside-down when a fellow hooker is murdered by a necrophiliac and suspected serial killer with a penchant for nightcrawlers. Actress Donna Wilkes would prepare for the role by spending time with real-life prostitutes and underage children living on the streets of Los Angeles. For a movie of this calibre that’s some commitment!
Angel features the kind of plot and characters that simply would not fly in this day and age, but for teenagers flocking to their local drive-in expecting a grungy dose of exploitation in the Savage Streets vein, they may have been mildly disappointed by a movie with a surprising amount of heart which ultimately reduced its cult potential. Made on a budget of approximately $3,000,000, the movie would prove an unexpected hit, grossing $17,488,564 at the Box Office and remaining in the top 10 for several months. It would also spawn a series of increasingly ludicrous sequels, including the soon-to-be misleading Angel III: The Final Chapter (1988) and Angel 4: Undercover (1993).
Unsurprisingly, those movies didn’t fair so well.
A relatively dreary January would see two high-profile stars doing mediocre business at the box office. Steve Martin’s romantic comedy The Lonely Guy would fail to make critical waves, although the year would prove a mere blip as the comedian entered his most successful period, starring in smash comedies Little Shop of Horrors, Roxanne and Planes, Trains and Automobiles, proving himself one of the genre’s biggest draws and freshest stand-up acts.
In the movie, Martin plays Larry Hubbard, a greetings card writer who makes it big after penning a book entitled A Guide for the Lonely Guy following the departure of his girlfriend. The movie suffered from a confusing offbeat approach with an almost depressing quality — the kind of tonal misfire that can break a comedy feature. It wasn’t a complete disaster, more an experiment gone wrong.
Things wouldn’t get much better critically for director Arthur Hiller, his three remaining movies of the decade, Teachers (1984), Outrageous Fortune (1987), and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) panned by all and sundry as his critical stock continued to plummet, though formidable star power including the likes of Nick Nolte, Bette Midler and comedy duo Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder kept the lolly rolling in for a filmmaker who carved out a rather prosperous career for himself.
The second of those flops fared much better critically, but with a dismal opening weekend of $953,794, Woody Allen’s 13th directorial feature Broadway Danny Rose fared worse than expected following a positive consensus at the Cannes Film Festival — the second of his movies to premiere at the festival following Manhattan five years prior — with glowing reviews for co-star Mia Farrow, here playing garish Italian smart mouth Tina Vitale. The movie’s titular character was based on producer Jack Rollins, who would appear in the film as himself.
Shot in strident black-and-white, Broadway Danny Rose tells the tale of a wretched theatrical agent caught in a love triangle involving the mob. Driven by Allen’s strangely infectious neuroticisms, the film would slowly build momentum, with an eventual gross of $10,600,497, and is now regarded as one of the innovative director’s most outstanding accomplishments. Broadway Danny Rose was the only film involved with that year’s Academy Awards ceremony that was nominated for Best Director but not Best Picture.
Top Video Rentals
Providing a much-needed antidote to the January Box Office blues, the VHS charts would be contested by a plethora of cult classics that transformed rental stores into a veritable cave of wonders.
With the much anticipated Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom set to hit the big screen, rentals for Harrison Ford’s inaugural outing as the whip-cracking Indy would soar during the month of January. First released back in 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark would spend all four weeks topping the rental charts and would remain popular until the sequel’s release in May of that year, as Indy fans flocked to local theatres in their droves.
Released with a PG rating, The Temple of Doom would cause moral outrage among parents for its graphic depictions of violence. Along with Joe Dante’s Gremlins, the movie would contribute to the founding of the PG-13 rating at Spielberg’s request, a move that displeased many traditionalists in the industry. Of course, this was Spielberg, then the most influential filmmaker on the planet, so their opinions meant precisely zero.
Tailing ‘Raiders’ in the number 2 spot was Paul Brickman’s Risky Business, the movie that shot future Hollywood stalwart Tom Cruise to superstardom. Risky Business is best remembered for Cruise’s infamous underwear dance, performed to Bob Segar’s anti-pop pop song Old Time Rock and Roll (a scene that was completely improvised), as well as a sumptuous score from electro innovators Tangerine Dream in a decade that saw the group compose for more than twenty films, producing knock-out scores for the likes of Thief (1981), The Keep (1983) and Kathryn Bigelow’s convention-slaying vampire horror Near Dark. Truly one of the great musical outfits of our time.
With his demanding parents away on a trip, Cruise’s character Joel Goodson hires a prostitute (Rebecca De Mornay) for a night of passion and awakens to find some valuables stolen, a discovery that leads the insulated youngster along an unfamiliar path. A satire on the preoccupations of materialism, the movie would receive mostly positive reviews upon release. As well as Tangerine Dream’s contributions, the film also boasts one of the most impressive soundtracks in modern cinema, featuring the likes of Muddy Waters, Prince and Phil Collins.
Though the pint-sized Cruise was positively ageless during the majority of his mainstream run, the then 22-year-old was tasked with looking more teenage, first by dropping ten pounds and then by gorging on excessively fatty foods to add a layer of baby fat. Cruise would also prove himself a fashion icon with his turn as the impulsive Joel, increasing sales for the Ray-Ban Wayfarer model by an astonishing 2,000 percent at a time when sales had plummeted. Another person wooed by the actor’s charms was co-star De Mornay, who would begin dating Cruise during production. I wonder why that one didn’t last?
The making of Michael Jackson’s Thriller would spend the latter half of January creeping up the top 5. Co-written and directed by An American Werewolf in London‘s John Landis, the 14-minute promotional vehicle would reunite the filmmaker with Oscar winning practical effects maestro Rick Baker, as the duo set about capitalising on the decade’s horror boom and zombie sub-genre. Landis saw the movie as a chance to repopularize the theatrical short, which had once been a popular Hollywood staple. Obviously, that one didn’t work out quite as he had hoped.
Filmed during the music video’s initial boom period, the Jackson choreographed dance would become a cultural phenomenon, helping to catapult it’s accompanying music album to the top of the charts for a record-breaking 37 weeks. Featuring the voice of genre legend Vincent Price, the extended video would also prove an effective exercise in horror filmmaking, one which cost many a child their nightly rest. According to an engineer working on the track, Price was startled when sound came out of his headphones, having never used them before. Still, one of the most professional actors in the business would not be startled, smashing the notoriously difficult voice over process in two takes.
Some people are just born with it.
There were other, more fleeting high-flyers in the top 5 that month, with Octopussy making a brief appearance in the third week of January. The late Roger Moore’s sixth outing as the irrepressible James Bond, Octopussy would be remembered as one of the campiest of the entire series, requiring the then 56-year-old too dress up as both a gorilla and a clown, while his decreasing ability to pull off the suave ladies man persona would lead many to believe that this would be his final outing with Timothy Dalton, already previously considered for the role, his most likely successor.
Moore would reprise his most famous role one last time A View to a Kill two years later, a sexual encounter with the peculiar and avant-garde Grace Jones the biggest sign yet that Moore’s days were well and truly numbered. Still, with a high-speed chase on the streets of Paris, a sumptuous score variation by legendary composer John Barry and a wonderfully maniacal Christopher Walken as a genetic Nazi experiment turned sour, the movie is much better than most give it credit for, and proved a nice swansong for Moore’s eyebrow-raising depiction of cinema’s best-loved super spy.
While filming Octopussy, Moore was wrongly diagnosed with heart problems before being cleared and declared fit to continue. Ironically, the movie was released in the same year as Never Say Never Again, A Warner Brothers 007 production featuring Moore’s even older predecessor Sean Connery, who would resume his most famous role minus the iconic Bond theme, John Barry declining to participate due to his relationship with long-time collaborator Albert R. Broccoli. Octopussy was the last Bond film to not introduce the title of the next instalment during the end credits, advertising the subsequent picture as From a View to a Kill before the title was ultimately shortened.
Buoyed by Irene Cara’s Academy Award winning title track Flashdance… What a Feeling, dance-orientated romantic drama Flashdance would prove as much of a smash in the rental arena as it did at the box office a year prior. The first movie to fully adopt the fledgling MTV-styled pop video approach, the movie would start a visual and pop marketing trend later used for the likes of Tom Cruise’s Top Gun.
The unlikely story of a female Pittsburgh steel mill welder who rises to the ranks of professional dancer, it would deliver the kind of fleet-footed finale that wowed female audiences across America, particularly those of the music video obsessed teen demographic. Other notable recording artists to appear on the record were Michael Sembello, Laura Branigan and Kim Carnes, but it was the movie’s titular track that would prove most successful, even bagging an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Another ’80s classic in and around the top of the rental charts for January was future Ghostbuster Harold Ramis’ cynical ode to the great American cross-country trip National Lampoon’s Vacation. Based on a short story by soon-to-be cult filmmaker John Hughes, the movie originally focused on future Hughes go-to star Anthony Michael Hall’s Rusty, but was altered to feature Griswold patriarch Clark (Chevy Chase) as the movie’s main protagonist.
In fact, the hot girl in the hot car was originally pencilled in as Rusty’s obsession ― ironic since the notoriously rambunctious Hall was reprimanded during filming for spying on his storyline mother, Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), with the hope of catching her nude, which he apparently succeeded in doing. Two years later actress Kelly Le Brock would describe Hall and his fellow ‘brat packers’ as ‘intense’ after starring in teen Frankenstein comedy Weird Science in what proved to be inspired casting on the part of Hughes. Have you seen Le Brock in Weird Science? I mean, what exactly was she expecting?
Superman III would also make a quick appearance in the top 5 in mid-late January. The movie would suffer a critical onslaught due to its campy tone, one personified by the wacky performance of comedian Richard Pryor as a synthetic form of kryptonite turned Christopher Reeve’s ‘Man of Steel’ evil. As the 1980s progressed, Hollywood’s apple pie portrayal of Superman would become passé, the burgeoning superhero genre turning to the dark side as the ’90s approached.
Incredibly, Superman III was the first of the series to advertise Reeve as the marquee attraction, the actor previously playing second fiddle to the likes of Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman. Inevitably, Reeve was not happy with the end result and had previously threatened to quit based on Richard Donner’s firing and the fact that he hated the screenplay. Pryor also called the script lousy, and made no bones about the fact he was in it solely for the pay cheque. He would earn $5,000,000 for the role.
Though the movie would recoup most of its near $40,000,000 outlay, it would mark the beginning of the end for the original franchise, which would make one last dismal attempt to stay afloat with The Cannon Group’s bankrupting effort Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. This was just one of several high-profile misfires for the company’s notoriously haphazard Golan-Globus era, who followed their one big-budget smash Cobra with commercial flops Over the Top and Masters of the Universe.
Still, Cannon’s more modest video market period would treat us to such cult classics as Death Wish II, American Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination thanks to an excellent low-key run producing mostly low-end scripts. God bless America!