VHS Revival brings you all the box office and rental news from February 1986
February 1986 was a wonderful month for movie fans of all tastes in both the theatrical and VHS markets. February 7th would open with an unlikely sleeper hit that would become something of a forgotten gem in the years to follow, though it would garner enough interest to warrant a sequel. Starring flavour of the month Australian actor Bryan Brown, F/X tells the story of Roland ‘Rollie’ Tyler, a special effects genius hired to pull off a staged mob hit in order to keep a key witness out of harms way. Rollie reluctantly accepts and is subsequently framed for the murder, fleeing the scene and becoming the subject of a manhunt on both sides of the law.
The result of an unsolicited screenplay from two novice writers, the movie is a tightly-plotted thrill ride that pays homage to the art of practical effects, our frantic protagonist turning James Bond with a series of crafty visual tricks that bamboozle his pursuers. Offering typically first class support is ’80s stalwart Brian Dennehy as Lieutenant Leo McCarthy, a renegade detective with a nose for police corruption who quickly figures out that something is rotten in Denmark. Though the two would share very little screen time, the returning duo would more than make up for it in 1991‘s F/X 2, a much weaker film with enough visual gimmickry to pique the interest of popcorn movie goers.
F/X was both a critical and financial hit, bringing some much needed freshness to a genre guilty of pumping out by-the-numbers fodder by the bucket load. The film would gross $20,600,000 from a $10,000,000 outlay — a healthy return for a screenplay that was originally proposed as a TV movie.
Also released that week was Woody Allen’s acclaimed comedy-drama Hannah and Her Sisters. Allen’s 15th directorial venture explored the trials and tribulations of an extended family over two years, a period book-ended by two Thanksgiving parties in a nod to Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander. The film’s three arc structure was influenced by Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, a novel that the writer/director had just re-read, and follows the lives of three sisters through failed marriages, coke addiction and suicide.
With an all-star cast that includes Barbara Hershey, Carrie Fisher, Michael Caine, Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Max von Sydow, and Woody himself, the movie was destined for Academy Award glory during the director’s most successful creative period, earning seven nominations and one award for Best Original Screenplay.
Tragic, profound and wonderfully droll, the movie was also a critical and commercial success, and was even proclaimed as “the best movie [Woody Allen] has ever made” by legendary critic Roger Ebert. After a re-release the following year, Hannah and Her Sisters would gross $40,084,041 at the US box office, a princely sum for a film of its appeal.
The second week of February would get of to a loud and rather spurious bang. The antithesis of Woody Allen’s cultured endeavours, The Delta Force was the latest Cannon Films Chuck Norris vehicle to paint America with it inimitable brand of blood-splattered patriotism.
Released at a time when producers Golan-Globus were facing bankruptcy as they attempted to take their bottom rung scripts mainstream, the movie tells the story of an elite squad of Special Forces soldiers tasked with taking down a pack of Lebanese terrorists who hijack a Boeing 707 destined for New York City, leading to an all-out bloodbath of quasi-racist retribution.
Director Menahem Golan, a producer respected by some of the world’s finest directors for his can-do attitude and unusual love for filmmaking, was heavily criticised for his heartless exploitation of the real-life hijacking TWA Flight 847 a year prior, an event that saw the movie rushed into production, but for anyone who knew Golan there was no malice intended. Known for his colossal output and cavalier approach to movie production, Golan would often make up storylines on the spot, and his influences were nothing if not transparent, many of them leading to the kind of controversy that his most successful movies relied upon.
Shot entirely in Israel, The Delta Force would prove a welcome shot in the arm financially at a time when Cannon was living hand-to-mouth. In the end, a series of misguided mainstream punts would seal the fate of one of the most enigmatic production companies the industry has ever known, but boy was it fun while it lasted!
Another schlock-laden treat to hit theatres on the 14th was Ted Nicolaou’s absurd sci-fi horror comedy Terrorvision. Yet another movie to tap into the TV-as-horror-conduit craze started by Tobe Hooper’s Speilberg-led supernatural horror Poltergeist, the movie was written by bargain basement maestro Charles Band of Empire Pictures fame and would star Diane Franklin, an actress best known for her role as Patricia Montelli’s unerring sequel Amityville II: The Possession.
The story of an alien creature taken in and cared for by three kids as they attempt to halt its propensity for hunger-inspired rampage, the movie would replace Poltergeist‘s TV gateway for a satellite system that acts as a passageway not for a malevolent spirit, but an alien world. In his mid-80s pomp, Band made a mint out of wonderfully derivative treats such as Trancers and Eliminators, and would go on to forge the Puppet Master franchise. Unsurprisingly, the movie would prove a commercial and critical disaster, but like the majority of Band’s movies it would go on to achieve cult status among fans of the irresistibly terrible.
February was also a good month for fans of Goldie Hawn. Though something of an afterthought in recent years, American sports comedy Wildcats was a firm favourite amongst kids in the mid-1980s. The story of a female high school football coach struggling to cope with a ragtag group of inner city kids, its mawkish sense of against all odds triumph was a winner for impressionable peewee audiences who flocked to cinemas in their droves.
In the adult world, the movie was no so well received. Wildcats was slammed by critics and audiences alike due to its gimmicky nature and lack of plot, and worse was still to come. In 2014, the movie was cited in The Daily Beast for its ‘white saviour’ narratives, an outmoded cinematic trope that sees white saviours rescuing black characters from storyline peril, portraying whites are messianic figures. Ironically, the movie is notable for featuring the first onscreen pairing of future White Men Can’t Jump co-stars Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes.
Wildcats was a transparent attempt to recreate the money-spinning formula of Hawn’s previous smash Private Benjamin, and it worked, at least financially. Goldie’s next feature Overboard, in which she starred alongside husband Kurt Russell, was a step in the right direction, in spite of its reliable, well-worn premise of snob learns to appreciate those less fortunate.
At least he was white.
Rutger Hauer would tread some pretty diverse ground during the 1980s. Not only would he immortalise himself with his spellbinding portrayal of white-haired replicant Roy Batty in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner, he would play a baseball cap sporting blind ninja in Phillip Noyce’s deliciously absurd action movie Blind Fury.
Sandwiched between those two performances was his icy turn as a murderous hitchhiker who simultaneously stalks and frames his victim for a series of grisly murders. The Hitcher would suffer an unwarranted critical backlash at a time when horror movie censorship had gone haywire, particularly for the killer’s lack of motive or backstory and the kind of profound cruelty that simply has no reasoning.
As a cat and mouse thriller free from conventional resolutions, the movie works superbly, and Hauer’s performance is typically inspired as a relentless sadist who is almost supernatural in his pursuit. As with Steven Spielberg’s nerve-jangling debut Duel, sometimes the less we know about a pursuing menace the better.
If you like your sex steamy and your controversy rife, then look no further than Adrian Lyne’s erotic romantic drama 9 1⁄2 Weeks. Starring Mickey Rourke and a rookie Kim Basinger, it is the story of a Wall Street arbitrageur and Soho art gallery worker who push the limits of sexual experiment with devastating emotional consequences, chronicling the latter’s journey from sexual obsession to domination to degradation.
Realising that industry upstart Basinger would be unable to achieve the highly-charged emotions required for such a picture, director Lyne would take the controversial approach of creating a genuine, on-set “atmosphere” that would prove emotionally draining for the star, even leading to problems with real-life husband Ron Britton. Speaking of the experience, Lyne would explain, ”The limits are defined by your participants. If any of the participants can’t cope, it will show on film. They would both be basket cases. They’d fall apart.” What if the scene calls for them to fall apart? ”Then it’s legitimate. You’re doing it for the screen.”
Released a full two years after its initial completion, a movie recently dubbed the original Fifty Shades of Grey would receive a mixed critical reception, but that was besides the point. Strangely, the movie’s sexually explicit nature proved a turn-off at the US box office, the movie recouping a meagre $6,700,000 million from a $17,000,000 outlay. All was not lost, however, as the movie was received rather well in Europe, raking in $100,000,000 worldwide, also proving a huge success in the home video rental market.
The last weekend of February would see US releases for two future cult favourites. The first of those was offbeat horror fantasy House. Directed by Friday the 13th Part 2‘s Steve Miner and penned by genre maverick Fred Dekker, the movie tells the story of a divorced writer who moves to a newly inherited house while struggling with the disappearance of his young son, only to find that his new abode is possessed by a gaggle of increasingly absurd ghouls.
In spite of its huge appeal, House treads a fine line between horror, comedy and fantasy that leaves you wondering exactly which demographic the movie was aimed at. Too scary for a young audience and too ridiculous for any adult horror fan, it seems to target thrill-seeking teenagers, but fails to incorporate the kind of sex and mindless violence popularised by the likes of Jason Voorhees — ironic, since Miner produced arguably the purest slasher in that particular franchise.
As uncertain of itself as it sometimes is, House does excel in its use of practical effects, particularly regarding the design of the movie’s fully mechanised antagonist Big Ben, a zombified ‘war demon’ measuring eighteen feet that took an incredible 15 people to operate. House did satisfying numbers for a horror flick, only missing out on the box office top spot that weekend thanks to John Hughes’ latest teenage smash following on from similar cult hits The Breakfast Club and Weird Science.
A tearing down of social cliques and class divides in American high schools, Pretty in Pink stars Bratpack icon Molly Ringwald as Andie Walsh, a lovelorn teenager struggling with her working class status and the snobbery it inspires. Peddling idealism in a way that only Hughes can, this modern day fairy tale would prove a huge commercial draw, boasting a witty screenplay and fine performances from Ringwald and fictional father Harry Dean Stanton.
A master at understanding and empathising with his target demographic, Hughes would turn to the MTV new wave for inspiration, the movie’s soundtrack featuring hits from popular teen acts such as INXS, The Psychedelic Furs, New Order and The Smiths, resulting in one of the most appropriate and best-loved soundtracks of the decade. The movie would gross a mouthwatering $40,400,000 at the US box office alone, almost ten times its estimated budget.
It’s easy to forget just how relevant Hughes was during the idealistic ’80’s.
Top Video Rentals
Oh to be a home video renter back in February 1986!
Stumbling upon recent releases would have been like stumbling upon a cave of lost gold for action movie fans, particularly since February marked the return of Sly Stallone’s genre stalwart John Rambo, 4 years after mainstream Vietnam flick First Blood sparked a bidding war between potential distributors.
Stallone would take a hands-on approach to the original Rambo movie, bringing his screenwriting experience and commercial savvy along for the ride. For one thing, the Rocky writer would insist that Rambo survive the movie, a crowd-pleasing decision that would forge the path for a money-spinning franchise that is still going strong today. No wonder he’s stayed relevant all these years.
Of course, by the time First Blood: Part II came around, all notions of serious Vietnam filmmaking had gone out of the window, Stallone’s misunderstood casualty of war becoming superhuman as he returns to the jungles of his old haunt for a POW rescue mission. Written by Stallone and an up-and-coming James Cameron, the movie would sweep the notorious Razzie Awards with an incredible four wins and eight nominations, most damningly picking up gongs for Worst Picture, Worst Actor, and yes, Worst Screenplay.
Of course, any press is good press, and Rambo: First Blood Part II cleaned-up where it counted, blowing craters in the industry’s commercial minefield. After taking an eye-watering $300,400,000 million at the box office a year prior, the movie would enter the rental charts as high as 3rd, finally stealing the top spot from another action classic with an incredible 14 weeks under its belt.
The story of a street smart Detroit cop investigating the murder of his lifelong friend on the affluent shores of Los Angeles, Beverly Hills Cop was the mainstream flick that catapulted comedian Eddie Murphy to Hollywood superstardom. Originally meant as an action vehicle for Stallone himself, the latter’s various demands would see Paramount turn to his quick-witted counterpart, transforming the screenplay from a straight-up revenge flick into arguably the most influential action comedy of its era. Stallone would instead take his ‘Axel Cobretti’ pitch to audacious schlock peddlers Golan-Globus, who were looking for huge stars to pitch their flag on as they attempted to compete with the industry’s big boys. Golan-Globus would quickly cast the actor in Cobra, ditching the Axel name for what proved to be the company’s biggest financial draw to date. Stallone would even bring wife Bridgette Nielsen on board as his onscreen love interest.
Co-starring ’80s funnyman Judge Reinhold and John Aston as surrogate partners Detective Billy Rosewood and Sergeant Taggart, the movie would spawn two disappointing sequels, Beverly Hills Cop 3 a late cash-in that tarnished the franchise irrevocably. Though the movie hasn’t aged as well as genre counterparts Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, Foley’s fresh turn as the genre’s ultimate wisecracking bad ass would earn him a place in the annals of action movie legend, and deservedly so.
Martin Brest’s unlikely smash would also benefit from one of the most memorable soundtracks of the decade, featuring such artists as Patti LaBelle, Shalamar, The Pointer Sisters and former Eagles frontman Glenn Frey. It would also feature German synth legend Harold Faltermeyer’s Axel F, which would go on to become one of the most recognisable electronic tracks of any era. Beverly Hills Cop may not as durable as its closest peers, but how many action characters have their own universally renown theme tune?
Reaching 5th place after three weeks in the rental charts was the long-awaited second sequel to George Miller’s legendary Mad Max trilogy. Starring Mel Gibson as a post-apocalyptic loner with a fully warranted chip on his shoulder, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome dropped its indie roots and went full throttle Hollywood, casting pop sensation Tina Turner as corrupt Bartertown Chief and Max nemesis Aunty Entity.
Though made on a relatively miniscule budget and filmed on location in a small Australian mining town named Coober Pedy, the movie has a decidedly mainstream aura, relying more on crowd-pleasing gimmicks than wild west sci-fi and innovative car chases — particularly the titular Thunderdome, a Bartertown death cage where fights to the death provide both entertainment and retribution.
The third Mad Max instalment was co-penned by relative unknown George Ogilvie as Miller struggled to meet other demands following the death of producer Byron Kennedy to a helicopter crash while scouting for locations. Perhaps because of this, Beyond Thunderdome ditches its uncompromising tone for mawkish sentiment, particularly during the movie’s final act, when Max stumbles upon a Lost Boys of Peter Pan community which would divide critics across the board. As a side note, the Mad Max series would benefit from some of the most memorable VHS boxes of the era courtesy of distributors Warner Brothers.
Jack Nicholson would also top the rental charts in February with John Huston’s comedy-drama Prizzi’s Honor. Adapted from Richard Condon’s 1982 novel, the movie tells the story of a mafia hit man who falls in love and marries his latest target’s estranged wife Irene (Kathleen Turner), a fellow contract assassin who is then hired to take out her new beau.
Praised for its “ripe and daring comic tone”, the movie would earn director Huston the title of oldest person to be nominated for the Best Director Oscar at 79 years of age, two years before his eventual passing. Huston would accumulate an incredible 15 nominations and two wins during his long and storied career, and would even direct both his father, Walter, and daughter, Anjelica, to Oscar winning performances, the latter bagging the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as mob boss offspring Maerose Prizzi.
Another movie sitting pretty in the rental charts in February was Peter Bogdanovich’s biographical drama Mask. The real-life story of craniodiaphyseal dysplasia sufferer Rocky Dennis, the movie would star Eric Stoltz in his first major lead role, and would feature wonderful support from Cher as Rocky’s drug addict mother and Sam Elliott as the figurehead of their extended biker family. The movie would also feature a young Laura Dern as blind love interest Diana Adams and Golden Girl Estelle Getty as Rocky’s grandmother Evelyn Steinberg.
Turning a sobering issue into a crowd-pleasing commentary on the superficiality of human nature and triumph of the human spirit, Bogdanovich’s uplifting portrayal would receive rave reviews, earning Stoltz a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. There were issues behind the scenes relating to the movie’s soundtrack, however, all of Bruce Springsteen’s featured tracks pulled from the original theatrical release due to a dispute between Universal and the artist’s label — a notable incident since Springsteen was the real-life Dennis’ favourite artist and inspiration. It would be two decades before the missing tracks were restored following a 2006 DVD release.
Standing strong in the face of a spate of blockbuster newcomers was Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider, a movie that would become the highest grossing Western of a decade that had largely resigned the genre to the open plains of the outmoded, raking in a rather impressive $41,410,568 at the US box office.
In Pale Rider, Eastwood’s mysterious Preacher brings his ‘man with no name’ act to a small community of prospectors squirming under the boot heel of Richard Dysart’s unscrupulous miner, Coy LaHood. There he beds down with Michael Moriarty’s Hull Barret after saving him from a brutal attack, unintentionally drawing the romantic attentions of Barrett’s love interest Sarah Wheeler and daughter Megan as the community learn to stand up to LaHood’s gang of oppressive outlaws.
Titled after a verse from the Book of Revelation, Eastwood’s movie is ripe with spiritual and religious undertones, his avenging angel the physical manifestation of Megan’s prayers. Almost omnipotent in his abilities to set things straight, the seemingly immortal Preacher becomes a vessel of divine retribution, wielding his pistol like a quasi-pacifist on a religious pilgrimage, and, at least for a brief time, making the Western genre relevant again.
Another movie staying strong after 9 weeks in the charts was A View to a Kill. Roger Moore’s record-equalling seventh and final outing as the irrepressible super spy couldn’t have come quick enough for long-time detractors, many of whom resented his innuendo-laden portrayal of Ian Fleming’s hard-nosed 007. In fact, Moore was scheduled to relinquish the role prior to 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, a more serious entry that made light of the actor’s advancing years by having him turn down the amorous advances of spoilt hellcat Bibi Dahl.
By the time Roger frolicked beneath the sheets with formidable fashion icon Grace Jones, he was 57 years of age, struggling through heavily contrived action set-pieces that detracted from the character’s virile edge. For this reason, the movie was heavily criticised, its low-key plot, based on a Fleming short story, regarded as one of the most underwhelming in the series. But the fourteenth instalment of the tireless franchise is still a memorable entry, featuring first-rate villains and a new wave title song that would eschew the Bassey-esque ballads most synonymous with the series, becoming the only theme to reach number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
This time Bond is tasked with taking down Christopher Walken’s genetic Nazi experiment Max Zorin, an egocentric mogul with designs on destroying Silicone Valley. Pop stars David Bowie and Sting would both turn down the role before it was finally offered to Walken, something I’m sure we can all be thankful for. The film’s prerequisite eye candy came in the form of Tanya Roberts’ Stacey Sutton, the daughter of an oil tycoon caught in a potentially fatal legal dispute with the movie’s wild-eyed antagonist.
In spite of its drawbacks, the movie would prove a fitting end for Moore after more than a decade of being shaken but never stirred.
As if all that competition wasn’t enough, two re-entries would make a triumphant return to the rental charts in February, each occupying the top five a full two years after their initial theatrical releases: Ivan Reitman’s cult, oddball comedy Ghostbusters and Joe Dante’s certificate defying Christmas monster movie Gremlins, the latter climbing as high as number two and remaining there for a fortnight. Gremlins would gross an astonishing $79,500,000 during its time in the rental market, a testament to its universal qualities.
Other notable new entries that didn’t fly so high were Sam Firstenberg’s Cannon-produced slice of violent patriotism American Ninja and Conan the Barbarian spin-off Red Sonja. Originally set to star marital arts legend Chuck Norris, the movie would instead become the breakout role for a young Michael Dudikoff, a relatively low-key actor who would become something of a go-to star for Israeli producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, striking up a memorable onscreen partnership with African American bad ass Steve James, who would here have his lines altered as a stand against racial discrimination and black typecasting. Peaking at a lowly 28 in the rental charts, the movie would go on to spawn three sequels and has since become a kitsch phenomenon amongst action fans.
Even lower down the totem pole was Richard Fleischer’s swords and sorcery flick Red Sonja, which proved an underwhelming flop at the box office a year earlier, despite co-starring a post Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnie was unable to return as Conan due to rights issues, but turned up looking almost identical in a movie that is regarded by some as his worst ever performance — quite the feat when you consider his role as the eponymous Hercules in low-budget oddity Hercules in New York. Less than a decade after being told he would never be an actor, Arnie was the most sought after superstar in the entire industry, commanding unheard of fees and headlining mainstream blockbusters such as Predator and The Running Man.
Only in Hollywood.