This Month In…1988 (July)

VHS Revival brings you its monthly retro box office and rental rundown

July 6

When it comes to Brat Pack teen comedies, Greg Beeman’s License to Drive was late to the party, and watching it you certainly feel the fatigue of oversaturation. Thanks in large part to the films of John Hughes, the ’80s were awash with growing pains nostalgia, and though their distinctly middle class issues meant very little to me as a young working class boy from the North of England, the humour was still universal enough to appeal. Movies such as Weird Science were key to my childhood, and Hughes knew how to speak the language of teenagers in a way that was rarely inauthentic or condescending.

I’m sure License to Drive is a similar staple to millions of thirty-somethings, but not me. It had familiar faces, reuniting Corey Feldman and Corey Haim of The Lost Boys fame, but it just never did it for me, asides from the impossibly beautiful Heather Graham as the aptly named Mercedes Lane. It was humorous enough for the most part, and its young cast provided the energy one would expect, but it was never high on my list of comfort movies. The fact that I have never had even the slightest bit of interest in cars may go some way to explaining the extent of my apathy.

Still, a movie about driving, girls, alcohol and the perils of being grounded ticks all the right commercial boxes, a fact proven by the movie’s domestic box office gross of $22,433,275, a tidy sum for a production which cost somewhere in the region of $8,000,000. Not a bad day’s work for Twentieth Century Fox and Davis Entertainment, the latter of whom having just released the woeful Samuel L. Jackson vehicle Shaft.

But I’m talking about Shaft. Sorry, I still don’t dig it.

Another sub-par effort released that week was robotics comedy sequel Short Circuit 2, a movie Vincent Canby of The New York Times was particularly unimpressed with, writing, “For anyone over the age of 6, [Short Circuit 2] is as much fun as wearing wet sneakers”, and it’s difficult to argue for an unbearably mawkish outing which expands on a story that quite frankly didn’t need expanding on.

Of course, children under the age of 6, and probably some who were a tad older, would likely have lapped up the new adventures of Johnny Five in an era when Nintendo’s R.O.B had found itself in millions of homes across America, and to a lesser extent the UK. With his vaguely human characteristics, puerile wisecracks and a plethora of pop culture references, cinema’s most energetic robot was quite the draw for a younger audience unconcerned with predictable screenplays.

This time, our mechanical scamp is manipulated by a gang of criminals who wouldn’t last five minutes in New York City’s real underworld, though there must be better schemes than the utilisation of a tank track contraption that takes conspicuous to a whole other stratosphere, particularity when the job in question is a high-profile jewel heist. Lordy! Lordy! The figures were a fair reflection of the movie’s shortcomings, Short Circuit 2 managing a US domestic gross of $21,630,088 — disappointing numbers for a high-concept movie with a budget of approximately $15,000,000.

July 8

July 8 would see the emergence of an unlikely sequel almost a decade in the making in Don Coscarelli’s action horror Phantasm II. Released way back in 1979, the original Phantasm was something of a head scramble, and for any of you who have experienced the barmy slice of hokum in question, you’ll know exactly what I mean, though many consider the movie to be an exquisite hodgepodge that plays out like a particularly wild fever dream.

Phantasm II would also mark the return of one of horror’s most overlooked icons in Angus Scrimm’s gaunt and distinctly treacherous ‘tall man’, a lurching giant who once again leads a gang of bizarre minions through a plot of nonsensical treachery, utilising some rather nifty killer spheres that careen through the hallways of the infamous Morningside Cemetery, embedding themselves in the skulls of unsuspecting victims and drilling for brains the way barons drill for oil.

This time protagonist Mike, unforgivably recast, is released from a mental asylum and immediately looks to put an end to the evil misdeeds of his nemesis. The movie did reasonable numbers for such an obscure sequel, more than doubling its outlay with a US gross of $7,282,851, which speaks to the movie’s dedicated cult following. The series would spawn two more direct-to-video sequels, as well as a fifth movie as late as 2016, the latter even managing a small theatrical release.

Wonders never cease!

July 13

“Dirty” Harry Callahan would return to theatres on July 13 in The Dead Pool, many critics citing the fourth and last sequel to the hit Dirty Harry series as the best entry since the original back in 1971. That’s almost two decades of precinct rebellion by the dirtiest cop in the business. Quite the survivor! The late Pulitzer Prize winning critic Roger Ebert would even go as far as to name The Dead Pool as being, “As good as the original. Smart, quick and made with real wit.”

For those who are familiar with The Dead Pool, the movie’s stand-out scene comes in the form of a novel car chase reminiscent of Steve McQueen classic Bullitt that sees our gruff, no-nonsense protagonist pursued by a suped-up RC10 electric race buggy modified to explode when triggered, a scene buoyed by the musical contributions of composer Lalo Schifrin. Director Buddy Van Horn would hire 1985 off-road world champion R/C driver Jay Halsey to execute the scene, and the results are breathtaking. I saw this scene as a seven-year-old and it’s something I will never forget.

The movie is also notable for an early cameo by future comedy headliner Jim Carrey, who makes the most of his brief screen time doing his best Steven Tyler impression as a rock star filming an Exorcist parody pop video. I’m sure this scene wasn’t intended to be as funny as it is in hindsight, but Carrey’s rubber-faced potential is there for all to see. The Dead Pool was the sixth highest grossing movie released in July with a total US box office gross of $37,903,295.

July 15

July 15 marked the release of two of the decade’s finest movies, though each would only receive limited theatrical releases that week, which explains their paltry opening weekends.

The first of those movies was John McTiernan’s innovative action spectacular Die Hard. The story of a New York cop trapped in a corporate skyscraper with a gang of international terrorists, the movie was originally set to star Arnold Schwarzenegger until Moonlighting star Bruce Willis turned a corner with his performance as John McClane, defying the typical late ’80s muscles-to- burn template with his proletarian wit and everyman camaraderie. As much as I love Arnie, imagine him in Willis’ place! I’m sure we wouldn’t be talking about this movie in such seminal terms.

Back in 1988, Die Hard was high-tech action at its absolute finest, and not much has changed. McTiernan directed affairs as if his camera were a rocket launcher, and more than three decades later it is still arguably the genre’s high point, with believable action and heart by the burning elevator load. Part of its success it down to some impeccable casting, characters such as Bonny Bedelia’s steely matriarch Holly McClane and conflicted cop-turned-desk jockey Sgt. Al Powell putting the majority of action fodder to shame. Even side characters such as cocaine snorting ‘white knight’ Harry Ellis and happy-go-lucky limo driver argyle provide just the right amount of comic relief while never distracting us from the action.

Perhaps even more important are the movie’s bad guys. Granite henchman Carl is as memorable as most central antagonists, his side issue with McClane over the death of his brother adding an extra level of tension to the claustrophobic proceedings, and then you have possibly the finest villain in action movie history in the late Alan Rickman’s smug sophisticate Hans Gruber. It’s a dazzling performance for a thespian actor you wouldn’t imagine anywhere near a movie of this nature, but in many ways he steals the show.

Die Hard was the most successful movie released in July with a US gross $83,008,852 and a worldwide gross of $141,278,197—  incredible when you consider that Willis was a relative unknown in Hollywood at the time of the film’s release. One thing you can be certain of: nobody left that cinema feeling short-changed.

The second of those movies featured a much more recognisable cast, though it was the film’s least known comedy performer who stole the show. Directed by veteran British director Charles Crichton, lured out of retirement by lead and writer John Cleese, A Fish Called Wanda is a madcap crime caper that pits America ostentation against British pomposity and absolutely revels in it. The movie’s stereotypes don’t exist anywhere in the world, but that is besides the point, and with fellow Python Michael Palin treating us to a very Python esque series of sketches involving the accidental assassination of three unfortunate Yorkshire terriers, all you can do is succumb to the silliness.

On the American side of things, Jamie Lee Curtis puts in an incredibly assured comedy shift as a money-crazed harlot who pulls every trick in the book to escape with the loot, even going as far as to charm buttoned-down barrister Archie Leach out of his marriage, a move that results in one of the most unlikely and rewarding romantic pairings ever realised. There are too many comic highlights to list in a movie crammed with them, but very few will argue that Kevin Kline’s lunkheaded assassin Otto steals the show. I mean, how many actors have received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for such a ludicrous role? Very few as far as I can recall.

In Otto, Kline gives us a true comedy icon, a heartless assassin with a penchant for emotional torture who is as vacuous as he is pretentious. A scene in which he eats stuttering, animal lover Ken’s fish as a form of torture is comedy gold, as is his habit of getting high off the smell of his own armpits and bursting into a blind rage at being called stupid; this, from a man who has mistaken the London Underground for an an underground movement and who believes that the central message of Buddhism is every man for himself. Absolutely priceless!

It’s rare that you find a comedy of this intelligence in today’s shock-driven climate, which is a real shame. A Fish Called Wanda was the third most popular movie released in cinemas in July with a US gross of $62,493,712.

July 20

After a decade of serious roles, Robert De Niro would try his hand at comedy during the late ’80s and early ’90s with typical aplomb, starring in such classics as Martin Scorsese’s seriously dark The King of Comedy and John McNaughton’s crime caper Mad Dog and Glory, a movie produced by Scorsese as a way to bring back the long-ostracised McNaughton, who would struggle to find work on American shores thanks to a little movie known as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, a grubby character study that wowed critics but failed to break through certain commercial barriers.

Of all those comedies, for pure belly laughs 1988’s Midnight Run was arguably the most enjoyable, thanks in large part to the immediate onscreen chemistry of De Niro and comedy actor Charles Grodin and memorable secondary turns from Yaphett Koto, a young Joe Pantoliano and Beverly Hills Cop‘s John Ashton as a bumbling rival bounty hunter looking to cash in on De Niro’s latest target.

Having just completed work on Brian De Palma’s prohibition crime drama The Untouchables, De Niro would approach director Penny Marshall about starring in Big (imagine that!), and though she was interested in working with arguably the greatest actor of his generation, producers decided on Tom Hanks and the rest is history. They were also keen on Robin Williams for Grodin’s role, but director Martin Brest insisted on Grodin based on his chemistry with Bob. It’s hard to believe that the manic Williams could have pulled off the subtle, likeable irritation that Grodin manages to conjure, which is key to the movie’s magic.

Though the screenplay is undeniably bloated and the pace somewhat stifling, the movie will be remembered for its perfect comedy pairing and would become the fifth highest grossing movie released that month, with a healthy domestic return of $38,413,606.

July 22

July’s third and final sequel is regarded by many as being one of the worst ever committed to celluloid, a feeling no doubt exacerbated by the fact that it’s antecedent is one of the best-loved cult comedies of the decade.

Caddyshack II was panned by audiences and critics alike for its uninspired screenplay and moribund direction, and the fact that the follow-up to such a bawdy classic was shackled with a PG rating certainly didn’t help. Not even an all-star cast that included such comic royalty as Randy Quaid, Dan Aykroyd and a returning Chevy Chase could save this one from the bunkers of mediocrity. No wonder Bill Murray is notable by his absence.

This time around, the daughter of a self-made millionaire hooks up with a silver spoon WASP girl, who convinces her and her crude father (Jackie Mason) to join their country club. Needless to say, the other members are unimpressed by his straight-shooting attitude and intrusive friendliness. I’ve leave the rest up to your imagination, and you won’t need very much of it. As you can probably guess, Dan Aykroyd is given gopher disposal duty in the absence of fellow Saturday Night Live alumni Murray.

July 29

Things would get marginally better on the 29th with Tom Cruise vehicle Cocktail. Co-starring Aussie import Bryan Brown, Cocktail is the rather curious tail of two ‘flair bartenders’ who use their skills to pick up loose women, eventually moving to Jamaica where wealthy spinsters mean big bucks. That’s until love interest Jordan Mooney (Elisabeth Shue) drifts into his life to spoil the party. Surprisingly, Robin Williams was once again considered here; and for Cruise’s role, no less. You’d imagine it being a very different movie with the future Genie of the Lamp at the helm. I’m sure Shue, for one, would have made a sharp exit.

Though the movie turns out to be surprisingly dark, it was criticised for its shallow screenplay and inability to tap into Cruise’s mainstream charms, and it’s hard to disagree. Only in the ’80s would such an empty concept be given the blockbuster treatment. As emotionally stilted as Cocktail is, this was the era of ostentation, and on that level it can be regarded as a kitsch time capsule. Still, you’ll need rose-tinted wayfarers and a hollowed-out pineapple libation to get through this one.

It should come as no surprise that Cocktail was second only to Die Hard in the Box Office charts for July, bringing in a cool $78,222,753, with a rather impressive opening weekend of $11,789,466 — the best by some margin. Never underestimate the pull of star power.

US Box Office Charts for July

Rank Movie Title  Studio
Total Gross / Opening
1 Die Hard Fox $241,721,524 $41,059,405
2 Cocktail Buena Vista $180,981,856 $45,436,830
3 Bambi (Re-issue) MGM $51,367,375 $15,027,150
4 Midnight Run Universal $31,387,164 $8,041,972
5 The Dead Pool Warner Bros. $26,960,191 $10,448,420

Top Video Rentals

Adrian Lyne’s obsession/revenge flick Fatal Attraction would inspire a slew of pale imitators in the years following its release. Tapping into society’s sex-oriented fears as the AIDS epidemic exploded on western shores, the movie would achieve widespread acclaim, spending eight weeks at the top of the US domestic charts in 1987, grossing $156,600,000 million and bagging six Academy Award nominations in the process.

Starring a red-hot Michael Douglas and a scene-devouring Glenn Close, Fatal Attraction tells the story of an illicit one-night stand between a married Manhattan lawyer and a lovelorn literary editor, who doesn’t take to being used too kindly. This results in an obsessive crusade against Douglas and his family, which includes a rather macabre scene with a rabbit that would become a part of pop culture folklore. The movie hasn’t aged particularly well from a feminist viewpoint, but it’s a rare movie that taps into the zeitgeist so successfully.

Fatal Attraction featured

Fatal Attraction would fare similarly well in the rental charts the following year, retaining the number one spot throughout July by fending off some rather formidable competition. Similar to Clint Eastwood’s superior thriller Play Misty For Me, the movie was criticised for it over-the-top finale, one that replaced an original ending that saw close commit suicide by slitting her own throat.  Executives would nix this in favour of a frenetic, multiple gunshot finale following a test screening that convinced producers that something more was needed. This was the ’80s, after all.

Trailing Fatal Attraction in second place during the first half of July was Danny DeVito’s Hitchcock inspired comedy Throw Momma From the Train. As well as sharing the plot of Hitch’s psychological thriller Strangers on a Train, it would even see DeVito’s character Owen study a scene in which Robert Walker coolly persuades Farley Granger to take part in a murder switcheroo.

This time, it is Saturday Night Live stalwart Billy Crystal who is roped into committing the ‘perfect murder’, with perennial ’80s curmudgeon and Fratelli matriarch Anne Ramsey, here playing DeVito’s insufferable ‘Momma’, as the victim in question. Ramsey would bag a well-deserved Academy Award nomination for the role, though some critics were much less impressed. Of the movie, The Washington Post’s Rita Kempley would write, “The teeny auteur turns the murder-swapping thriller into a dispirited black comedy, “Throw Momma From the Train.” Better yet, just throw the whole thing in front of a subway and hope it gets dragged a couple of miles.”

A little harsh, if you ask me.

Orion Pictures struggled to get permission from Warner for the use of Hitchcock’s 1951 classic and would end up trading Dudley Moore comedy Arthur for the movie, as Warner were interested in making a sequel. Ironically, Arthur 2: On the Rocks would prove an unmitigated commercial disaster, while Throw Momma From the Train became one of the most successful comedies of 1987.

Entering the charts in the second week of July and also spending two weeks in the number one spot was Stanley Kubrick’s late-to-the-party Vietnam movie Full Metal Jacket. The film was famously told using a two-part structure: the somewhat underwhelming second half which sees our soldiers taking part in overseas combat and a quite astonishing first half that chronicles the frightening transition of a group of All American boys into an army of conditioned killers.

The film featured memorable turns from former real-life drill sergeant R. Lee Ermey, who would forge an entire career off the back of his performance as the spirit-sapping Gny. Sgt. Hartman, and Vincent D’Onofrio as the aptly named Private Pyle, a soft-hearted lummox pushed to the brink by a bully mentality that turns the barracks into a hive of vicious warriors. His transition from bumbling goof to sharpshooting killer is really quite astonishing, culminating in one of the most devastating scenes of the era.

Some would criticise the movie and Kubrick’s ability to endear us to any of the characters beyond the first act and its uneven moral message, with protagonist Private Joker (Matthew Modine) becoming something of an afterthought once our platoon leave the barracks for all-out warfare, though, like Leonardo Di Caprio in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, Modine’s character is more a window into events than the movie’s focal point. Author Michael Herr would defend his work on the screenplay, explaining, “The substance was single-minded, the old and always serious problem of how you put into a film or a book the living, behaving presence of what Jung called The Shadow, the most accessible of archetypes, and the easiest to experience.”

In spite of Full Metal Jacket‘s critics, Herr would share an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay alongside Kubrick and Gustav Hasford.

Further down the charts, future Arrested Development star Jason Bateman would make his silver screen debut with tepid teen comedy Teen Wolf Too (see what they did there?), the sequel to Michael J Fox’s similarly maligned Teen Wolf, which, Fox aside, proved the death knell for the majority of it upstart cast back in 1985, receiving lukewarm reviews across the board. Fox himself would shoot to superstardom with Robert Zemeckis’ pop culture phenomenon Back to the Future later that year.

This time around, Todd Howard (Bateman), cousin of Fox’s Scott Howard, is accepted into university on a full athletic scholarship, even though he has no interest in, or is even particularly good at sports in general. So how did he get in, I hear you ask? On Paul Sand’s Coach Bobby Finstock’s recommendation. See, coach is hopeful that Todd has inherited the werewolf gene that made his cousin such a formidable athlete, this time to turn the boxing team into genuine contenders. I’m sure the athletics commission would have something to say about that. It’s just a shame that Todd is more interested in becoming…wait for it…a veterinarian. Suffice to say, things get a little hairy.

Teen Wolf Too would chart as high as 24 in July after entering the charts during the second week of the month.

Also dipping into the rental charts at a lowly 39 for a solitary week was Wrestlemania IV — though it would fare better in the sales charts. Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation was still riding high after the monumental Wrestlemania III at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan, an event that drew the largest recorded attendance for a live indoor event in North America, with a purported 93,173 fans flocking to see Hulk Hogan vs Andre ‘The Giant’ Roussimoff, though in the carny world of wrestling you can bet the attendance was a far sight lower than claimed.

This time around, The Macho Man Randy Savage would walk away with the gold after defeating The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase in the final of a 16-man tournament for the vacant belt — with a little help from the limelight-stealing Hulk Hogan, of course, who at the time was taking a sabbatical to pursue outside endeavours. The event would take place at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, part of a two-deal gig with the now president of the United States which saw the WWF return the following year for Wrestlemania V, Hulk regaining his title against a now heel Savage in what was one of the hottest angles in wrestling history.

A four-hour show that is regarded as one of the most mediocre Wrestlemanias in history, the event was a monumental anticlimax to the grandeur of Wrestlemania III. Part of the deal Vince McMahon made with Trump saw free tickets given away to some of the casino’s high-rollers, which meant many of those in attendance weren’t fans of wrestling and were probably wondering what in the hell was going on. This goes some way to explaining fan apathy throughout, a fact that detracted from the overall spectacle.

Released by former porn distributor Silver Vision, the Wrestlemania IV VHS would come with two tapes, each featuring half of the event plus a few extras. And yes, I owned a copy.

Video Rental Charts Week Ending July 9th

Rank Movie Title  Distributor
1 Fatal Attraction Paramount 1987 R
2 TMFTT Orion 1987 PG-13
3 The Witches of Eastwick Warner Bros 1987 R
4 The Untouchables Paramount 1987 R
5 Baby Boom CBS-Fox 1987 PG

Video Rental Charts Week Ending July 16th

Rank Movie Title  Distributor
1 Fatal Attraction Paramount 1987 R
2 TMFTT Orion 1987 PG-13
3 The Witches of Eastwick Warner Bros 1987 R
4 Full Metal Jacket Warner Bros 1987 R
5 Overboard CBS-Fox 1987 PG

Video Rental Charts Week Ending July 23rd

Rank Movie Title  Distributor
1 Fatal Attraction Paramount 1987 R
2 Full Metal Jacket Warner Bros 1987 R
3 TMFTT Orion 1987 PG-13
4 Nuts Warner Bros 1987 R
5 Overboard CBS-Fox 1987 PG

Video Rental Charts Week Ending July 30th

Rank Movie Title  Distributor
1 Fatal Attraction Paramount 1987 R
2 Full Metal Jacket Fox 1987 R
3 Nuts Paramount 1987 R
4 Overboard Warner 1987 PG
5 TMFTT Columbia/TriStar 1987 PG-13

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