VHS Revival brings you all the box office and rental happenings from March 1988
Comedy was the order of the day in theatres back in March 1988, with low-key brat pack entries, overbearing sequels and an emerging director who wowed with the kind of visuals that would land him a rather lucrative comic book franchise in the coming months.
Bob Swaim was feeling less jovial with his well-received romantic thriller Masquerade. The movie would star a young Meg Tilly as Olivia, a recently orphaned millionairess who finds love with Rob Lowe’s yacht racing captain. Forced to live with her gold-digging stepfather and his girlfriend, Olivia finds relief in her dashing new beau, but when a cop friend turns a blind eye to some incriminating evidence she begins to realise that he isn’t all that he seems.
Written by TV stalwart Dick Wolf (Miami Vice), Masquerade was nominated for the 1989 Edgar Alan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture. The movie was considered mushy in some quarters, though the already Oscar-nominated Tilly would once again turn heads with her airy diction and trademark dreaminess. The movie would also feature a topless role for Sex and the City‘s Kim Cattrall, a persona that would contribute to her casting as empowered, big city harlot Samantha Jones.
Masquerade was originally named Dying for Love, a title that was eventually dropped by MGM after fears it would be associated with a growing AIDS epidemic that would even stunt James Bond’s libido during Dalton’s short-lived reign as the irrepressible super spy.
Also opening in theatres was Brian Gilbert’s fantasy-comedy Vice Versa. A male variation on Disney’s body-swapping fantasy romp Freaky Friday, the movie stars Beverly Hills Cop‘s Judge Reinhold as a divorced executive who winds up in the body of his 11-year-old son thanks to the magical powers of a Tibetan skull. Incredibly, this was the fourth adaptation of a novel that is more than a century old, the first of those a silent fantasy film directed by Maurice Elvey, who with almost 200 films to his name still holds the title of the most prolific British director in history, a record which will likely never be broken.
A box office flop met with lukewarm reviews, Vice Versa would also star Fred Savage at the peak of his Wonder Years popularity, his turn as a grumpy office dad of peewee proportions the movie’s one saving grace, with co-star Reinhold lacking the endearing qualities required to pull-off the opposing switcheroo. Vice Versa would soon fade under the colossal shadow of Penny Marshall’s Big, a similar and vastly superior movie released that summer.
Co-penned by Steven Spielberg sibling Anne, Big would prove the breakout mainstream performance for the already prolific Tom Hanks, who would receive his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Big would also receive a nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Not satisfied with the Golden Raspberry-winning Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol, Warner Brothers would subject audiences to a fifth instalment on the weekend of March 18. Minus Steve Guttenberg’s Mahoney (sometimes enough is enough), Hightower and the gang get up to their usual hi-jinks after the insufferable Commandant Lassard goes to Miami to receive an award.
Though Guttenberg’s character was set to receive an onscreen promotion to Lieutenant, he was adamant about never returning to the role as he looked to expand his creative horizons, but would later regret his decision when the parts inevitably dried up, a fact he would confess to in an interview almost two decades later.
Another big name to drop out of pre-production was legendary poster artist Drew Struzan, whose original concept was pulled due to a monetary dispute relating to his work on previous instalments. Following the release of Police Academy 4 the year prior, notoriously sardonic critic Rex Reed would state, “If they make another Police Academy movie, I’ll leave the business.” Unsurprisingly, he would later renege on that promise.
Subtitled Assignment Miami Beach, Police Academy 5 was as dire as expected, but despite the inevitable backlash the movie did big numbers at the box office in a month which presented stiff competition. Such unwarranted financial success would lead to the cack-handed Police Academy 6: City Under Siege, a movie which defied all odds by becoming the very worst in the series.
Storming the box office charts in March was Mike Nichols’ comedy-drama Biloxi Blues. Adapted from a semi-autobiographical play by Neil Simon, the movie would star Ferris Bueller’s Matthew Broderick as a young army recruit attending boot camp during the Second World War.
Broderick would create the role of Eugene on Broadway, a character with three goals in life: to become a writer, lose his virginity and fall in love. It would also explore bigotry and racial segregation through the eyes of its Jewish protagonist.
Biloxi Blues would feature a superb supporting cast that included Christopher Walken as a wonderfully conceived army drill sergeant, a character inspired by a real-life military consultant who was feared in spite of his soft-spoken voice and pleasant demeanour. Walken would incorporate both personalities in creating the character of Sgt. Toomey, who was the antithesis of the stage play variation, a production that would win three Tony Awards in 1985 for Best Play, Best Featured Actor and Best Direction.
The movie adaptation would also prove a critical and commercial success, with a cumulative worldwide gross of $51,684,798. Biloxi Blues would also mark the onscreen debut of actor David Schwimmer, who would later go on to to achieve global fame with mainstream sitcom Friends.
Not so well received was Bud Smith’s teen sports comedy Johnny Be Good. The movie would star John Hughes’ Brat Pack favourite Anthony Michael Hall as a scrawny high school football star facing a romantic dilemma involving a young Uma Thurman — a promising up-and-comer who would receive an “Introducing” credit years before shooting to superstardom in Quentin Tarantino’s game-changing crime drama Pulp Fiction. The movie would also star Tinsel Town wild child and future Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. and American Ninja‘s Steve James.
Hall had proven himself a major box office draw as John Hughes’ go-to actor, starring in such cult hits as Weird Science, The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, and would gain notoriety as an offscreen tearaway on the ’80s Hollywood scene. As his cutesy appeal waned, Hall would hit the weights and try his hand as a fictional bully in 1990‘s Edward Scissorhands, a move that would all but kill his mainstream momentum.
March would end with a Gothic explosion as Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice opened in theatres. Played with frenetic vulgarity by Michael Keaton, the movie’s eponymous villain would become an instant cult figure, his brand of lovable menace as endearing as it was disgusting.
Dissolving the lines between acceptable suburbia and the mysteriously Gothic, the movie tackles the ruthless nature of corporate America through the tenuous lens of the afterlife as a recently deceased couple struggle with their purgatorial predicament. The movie would benefit from a wonderful supporting cast including Home Alone‘s Catherine O’Hara as an unscrupulous family matriarch looking to exploit the deceased and a young Winona Ryder as her whimsical offspring.
At the time, the movie’s unconventional title would become the topic of much discussion, and it didn’t come easy. The studio would originally settle on the much blander House Ghosts (really?!), and perhaps as a thinly veiled display of derision Burton would counter with the transparently ridiculous Scared Sheetless. He was later horrified to discover that the studio actually considered using it.
Bold, creative and crammed with mind-bending practical effects, Beetlejuice was unusually dark for a movie of such comic sensibilities and was originally written as a horror film, its antagonist a reptilian demon with much darker intentions. The movie would catapult Tim Burton to superstardom, landing him the directorial hotseat for comic book adaptations Batman and Batman Returns.
Top Video Rentals
March would see a fiercely contested video arena crammed with a plethora modern classics. Leading the way with two months in the number one spot was Oliver Stone’s devastating war movie Platoon. Starring a young Charlie Sheen, this late-to-the-party portrayal of Vietnam would focus more on the individual, exploring the confusion and conflict existing within a single platoon.
The movie would also star Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger as warring Sergeants with opposing political views, the latter giving a career-high performance as a battle-scarred soldier pushed to the brink of insanity in the midst of a pointless and unprofitable war. Interestingly, the two were first considered to go against type and assume opposite roles. In relative terms, Platoon is perhaps the most non-polemical vision of the 20th Century’s last ground-fought battle.
The Doors frontman Jim Morrison was originally considered for the role of protagonist Chris for a previous draft of the movie way back in 1971. Known for his strong political beliefs, Morrison was one of the biggest mainstream detractors of the Vietnam War, his signature track The End a prominent part of Francis Ford Coppola’s superlative Apocalypse Now. Morrison had a version of the Platoon screenplay in his possession when he was found dead in a bathtub in Paris that same year.
Another soldier movie riding high in the rental charts that month was sci-fi blockbuster Predator. The story of a group of soldiers sent to liberate comrades in the South American jungle, the film would surprise audiences by flipping genres, swapping blistering action for stalk-and-slash horror with a sci-fi twist.
Featuring groundbreaking special effects and the kind of concept that would spawn an entire franchise, John McTiernan’s slice of hypermasculinity starred a peak-of-his-powers Arnold Schwarzenegger, a box office giant who had evolved from a lunkheaded dummy into one of the most charismatic stars in the industry. The movie was initially set to star a young Jean-Claude Van Damme as a much leaner version of the eponymous monster until the Predator’s design was ultimately changed.
Though the movie proved more intelligent than the majority of action fodder polluting the mid-’80s, it would feature a musclebound cast that included Rocky‘s Carl Weathers and former pro wrestler and future Governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura, who would benefit from a real-life background as a Navy Seal.
Behind the scenes, Ventura was delighted to discover that his arms were actually an inch bigger than former Mr Olympia Schwarzenegger, though Arnie would win their bet after convincing the wardrobe department to lie that his were in fact bigger. Arnold would later govern the state of California. Yes, these people each had a hand in running the most powerful country in the world. The mind boggles.
Sharing the rental top spot that month were two very different movies. The first was bloodthirsty sci-fi satire Robocop, Paul Vernhoeven’s first foray into the realms of Hollywood extravaganza in a career that would go on to boast such exploitative classics as Total Recall, Starship Troopers and the much maligned, über erotic Showgirls.
Previously known as a director of high art features, the Dutch filmmaker was initially resistant to the idea of directing a movie of Robocop‘s nature, but was convinced otherwise by his wife after she had highlighted the screenplay’s satirical potential, resulting in a movie that would give the genre a much-needed boost of intelligence while appealing to the wild excesses of ’80s America.
Starring Peter Weller as a gunned-down cop given the cyborg treatment, Robocop would cause quite the stir with the censorship boards, who would later pass the violence in its full, uncut form due to its savvy tongue-in-cheek style and comic book gore — quite the achievement for a director who is known for leaving nothing to chance.
The second of those movies was superlative chick flick Dirty Dancing. Starring the late Patrick Swayze as a roguish dancer beset on liberating an oppressed, small-town girl (Jennifer Grey), the movie would achieve cult status in subsequent years, featuring one of the best-loved romantic pairings of the decade. Ironically, Swayze would have to personally convince Grey to star in the movie after she refused to appear alongside him based on an intense dislike forged during their previous collaboration in Cold War propaganda vehicle Red Dawn.
Dirty Dancing would also land Swayze a short-lived pop career after he was chosen to perform She’s Like the Wind, one of many hits featured on a feelgood soundtrack that included chart-topping cult smash (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life. Thanks to its stratospheric popularity, Dirty Dancing would prove somewhat resilient in the rental charts, ending the month back in the top spot having fallen to third during its then 9 weeks in the charts.
Speaking of resilient, one movie that wouldn’t go away was Richard Donner’s genre-high buddy picture Lethal Weapon. In a month crammed with fresh, big-budget action flicks, Riggs and Murtaugh stayed the course like only they can, their inimitable brand of action-comedy proving an unmitigated financial draw. The following year would see the release of superlative sequel Lethal Weapon 2, which would add Joe Pesci’s smart-mouthed shyster Leo Getz to the fray, completing a three stooges act that would become more prominent as the series progressed.
Flying the B-movie flag for March was low chart entry Revenge of the Nerds II. Subtitled Nerds in Paradise, this critically panned Revenge of the Nerds sequel did fantastic numbers at the box office, owing to the cult following of its superior predecessor. A lousy movie with the kind of flimsy characters that fail to hold the attention, I have too much respect for our readers to bore you with the plot details.
Still, the series had quite the cultural impact, fictional fraternity Lambda Lambda Lambda becoming a reality at the University of Connecticut when it was founded almost two decades later in 2006. The Spanish title for the movie was La Revancha de los Novatos or Revenge of the Freshmans owing to the lack of an official translation for the word Nerd, a semantic void that has since been filled. What wonderful times we live in!
An unlikely chart entry that month was exploitation flick Surf Nazis Must Die. A revenge story involving a neo-Nazi surf gang in a post-apocalyptic future, the movie would become a favourite amongst bad movie aficionados, joining the exquisite B-movie canon of cult distributors Troma Entertainment. With characters as transparently named as Adolf, Eva and Mengele, this movie may have the capacity to offend, and Troma’s brand of offbeat cheapery isn’t for everyone. Still, this is one you should really take a look at for reasons that are largely inexplicable.