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David Poland

By David Poland

Rebooting the 80s

I saw a headline, then read a story this last weekend, which snarkily telegraphed that we were running out of 1980s hits to reboot/remake/sequel-ize.

Like so many of these pieces, it left things out to make its point stronger.

To start, six of the top 20 grossers of the 1980s were already sequels, four of which were sequels to originals released in the same decade.

If you look at the 1980s Top 10 (domestic)…

1. E.T. – $359m
2. Star Wars: Jedi -$253m
3. Batman – $251m
4. Beverly Hills Cop – $235m
5. Ghostbusters – $229m
6. Raiders of the Lost Ark – $212m
7. Back To The Future – $211m
8. Star Wars: Empire – $209m
9. Indiana Jones 3 – $197m
10. Indiana Jones 2 – $180m

The only thing that jumps out? Spielberg refused to make a sequel to E.T.

That and Beverly Hills Cop, which was a straight action comedy that did mega-business. The specific comparison in 2010-17 would be The Hangover II ($254m domestic), but I wouldn’t be hard-pressed to make the comparison to Deadpool, which I don’t believe did $363 million as a comic book movie, but as a hard-R comedy about a fish out of water.

Here is the 2010-2017 Top 10.

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – $937m
2. Jurassic World – $652m
3. Marvel’s The Avengers – $623m
4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – $532m
5. Beauty and the Beast – $501m
6. Finding Dory – $486m
7. Avengers: Age of Ultron – $459m
8. The Dark Knight Rises – $448m
9. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – $425m
10. Toy Story 3 – $415m

Two Star Wars, two Marvel, two Pixar, a Batman, a Jurassic reboot, a Disney animated remake and a Hunger Games.

Avatar, which opened two weeks before 2010 is not on the list. But unlike E.T., will be sequeled… eventually.

Two Star Wars sequels in both decades.

A Batman in both decades.

I prefer the first two Indiana Jones sequels to the Marvel hits… but they live in the same genre, especially given the evolution of technology.

Pixar and the rise of the animated movie to the top of the box office roster didn’t happen in the 80s. The Little Mermaid, with $84 million domestic, was the top=grossing animated film of the 80s, representing the first life out of Disney in the Katzenberg/Eisner era that would lead to where we are today.

The Jurassic franchise didn’t start until the 90s (also a CG issue) and remains the only traditional sequel Spielberg has directed, as Indiana Jones was meant as a movie serial, not just an homage to serials.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast didn’t exist in the 80s. And The Hunger Games was a designed series, the first of which just misses the Top 10 for this last 8 yeses with $408m.

When you get to the Second 10 of the 1980s. That is when the difference between then and now starts to show.

11. Tootsie – $177m
12. Top Gun – $177m
13. Crocodile Dundee – $175m
14. Rain Man – $173m
15. 3 Men & A Baby – $168m
16. Roger Rabbit – $156m
17. Fatal Attraction – $157m
18. Beverly Hills Cop II – $154m
19. Rambo 2 – $150m
20. Gremlins – $148m

Tootsie sticks out like a green thumb there. No sequel. No sequel likely. Though there is a Broadway musical on the way.

3 Men & A Baby, which was quickly sequeled, also jumps out. Two TV actors and a B movie actor and boom, a huge hit of its time.

Comedies dropped out of the high end of theatrical in this decade, more so than drama, which didn’t have the same foothold. (And I won’t include The Martian in this category.)

2017 (to date) – Going In Style – $44m
2016 – Central Intelligence – $127m
2015 – Pitch Perfect 2 – $184m
2014 – 22 Jump Street – $192m
2013 – The Heat – $160m
2012 – Ted – $219m
2011 – Bridesmaids – $169m
2010 – Grown Ups – $162m

Only Ted cracked $200 million, when a consistent rise in box office would suggest there should be a few $300 million comedies, and certainly $250m comedies.

There is a legitimate argument that comedies have, on the high end, suffered from not scaling to the CG-driven era, thus not being theatrical must-sees. On the other hand, comedies have been a stable money maker at much lower budgets than CG-mania movies.

But back to the Second 10 discussion… here is the 2010-2017 list:

11. Iron Man 3 – $409m
12. Captain America: Civil War – $408m
13. The Hunger Games – $408m
14. Frozen – $401m
15. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – $381m
16. The Secret Life of Pets – $368m
17. Despicable Me 2 – $368m
18. The Jungle Book – $364m
19. Deadpool – $363m
20. Inside Out – $357m

Three sequels in the 80s, four sequels in 2010-2017.

Three first-films that will be sequeled in the 80s, six in the 2010s.

Rainman and Fatal Attractions are dramas in the Second 10 in the 1980s. None in the 2010s.

But unlike comedy, the dramas are tracking more to a fitting scale. American Sniper did $350m domestic and Inception did $293m. But if you took away all the films that were heavily CG-reliant (CG animation and superheroes) and limit the franchises to one title each, the 2010-2017 Top 10 feels a lot more like the 1980s.

The Dark Knight Rises
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Furious 7
American Sniper
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2
The Hangover Part II
Fast & Furious 6

Not far behind (over $200m domestic), The Martian and a number of films that could have been done without heavy CG (mostly), Ted, The Apes movies, Cinderella and Logan.

I am not arguing that the mix hasn’t changed. It has, a lot. But the assumptions about why and how (exactly) are often wrong and more an emotional reaction than based on fact.

History is a funny thing. Gone With The Wind was initially released as a wildly expensive road show release, charging multiples of what a normal movie cost at the time (making estimates of ticket sales rather iffy). Jaws never was on 1,000 screens. Star Wars, in its initial release, was never on 1,100. Yet these two movies are held up as the parents of wide releasing.

What was the first film to reach 2,000 screens at once? Beverly Hills Cop in 1984. 3,000 screens? Mission: Impossible in 1996.

And in the 21 years since, exhibition has changed drastically, making the screen count in 2017 into a venue count, a count that tells you almost nothing about wide release patterns.

Just lingering on 2010 for a moment, here are the movies that weren’t Top 20 box office titles but would be unsurprising as remakes in 2030: The Other Guys, Salt, Black Swan, The Expendables, Date Night, The Social Network, The Book of Eli, The Fighter, The Town, Unstoppable, Eat Pray Love, Dear John, Knight & Day, Easy A, Dinner for Schmucks, Tooth Fairy and more.

The paranoia is that no one will ever make movies like Easy A or a Date Night or The Fighter — remakes or originals — in the future. But that underestimates the way movies evolve and imitate… as these pictures reflected films and filmmakers long dead.

We are already well into the 2000s in terms of replicating old IP.  The Mummy, Ocean’s 11, Jurassic Park, The Fast & The Furious and Dr. Dolittle are 2001 titles in play for theatrical films this year and next.

The industry is changing. It is always changing. But the tendency to prefer overstated nostalgia for the good ol’ days that were really not that different remains an eternal irritation. Next thing you know, media will be running stories expressing surprise that Cannes will not dominate the Oscar race this year. Oy.

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3 Responses to “Rebooting the 80s”

  1. spassky says:

    “which I don’t believe did $363 million as a comic book movie, but as a hard-R comedy about a fish out of water.”

    this assumption is flat out insane. there is no precedent for a comedy to make this much money without action/genre being key to the marketing appeal.

  2. David Poland says:

    Not my point, Spassky.

    Not saying is was only a comedy… but I think that was a big part of the driver as a new action film.

  3. sam says:

    three of the 10’s comedies are centered on women. does the industry notice that or are all three an example of william goldman’s “non-recurring phenomenon?” (that’s a trick question one is a sequel!)
    and of course there was the hunger games and twilight series in the dramatic category

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