Turn back the clock to 1980 and a box office dominated by Airplane!, Mad Max, and The Empire Strikes Back!
Yes, it’s hard to imagine that this year marks the fortieth anniversary for some classic (and not so classic) films. 1980 marked a good year for cinematic entertainment with some films that are still loved and rewatched often today. Of course, the number one film of 1980 was always going to be miles ahead of the rest of the chasing pack. When you realize what it is, you’ll understand instantly but what the chasing pack contained was some completely enjoyable movie entertainment. To think, the likes of ‘The Blues Brothers‘, ‘American Gigolo‘, ‘The Shining‘, ‘The Elephant Man‘, ‘Dressed To Kill‘ and ‘Flash Gordon‘ were all released during the year and didn’t crack the top ten movies of the year worldwide list is amazing. So, what DID make the money back in 1980? Let’s countdown what we were watching forty years ago this year.
(10) Friday The 13th
Yes, it’s been forty years since the long-running slasher series first started. A complete rip-off of John Carpenter’s sublime horror film ‘Halloween‘, the movie went on to inspire the craze of making a cheap and nasty horror movie and getting it into the movie theatres to turn a quick buck. But where most of the imitators have faded from memory, ‘Friday The 13th‘ lingers on. And rightly so. And no, Jason Voorhees WASN’T the killer! Giving the world a slasher film to end all slasher films, the various kills were inventive and gory enough that the career of effects artist Tom Savini was catapulted into the stratosphere. Although many of the cast didn’t make the grade and faded from view (Of them all, it’s Adrienne King who still packs them in at horror conventions worldwide), the film gave the world a future Oscar nominee in Kevin Bacon. So, his character didn’t make the final credits (A nasty sharp arrow through the throat will do that to you) but Bacon managed to escape the curse of the low-budget horror movie and forged himself a great career in Hollywood. A rip-off the film may have been but it launched a franchise that is still going strong and is still in people’s minds today.
(9) Smokey And The Bandit II
Now, I LOVE this film! It’s juvenile, it’s crass in places but I find it totally hilarious. Another Burt Reynolds hit, following on from the original film and released a year before Reynolds hit gold again with ‘The Cannonball Run‘, the film is a laugh out loud classic. Featuring cameos from some of Country and Western’s greatest ever musical stars (my personal favorite is Don Williams), the movie once again follows The Bandit and The Snowman (Jerry Reed) on another cross country adventure, this time trying to bring back an elephant (No, really) to Big and Little Enos for the sum of $400,000. Once again managing to drag Frog (Sally Field) along with them, the film is nothing but a series of car crashes, stunts, and crude humor in places but is never anything but entertaining. And throw in the legendary Jackie Gleeson as Sheriff Buford T. Justice once again and to have him play his own brothers Reggie and Gaylord (don’t ask, I mean JUST DON’T!) was an inspired choice. If the film was made today, most of the humor in the film would be non-existent but, like ‘Blazing Saddles‘ back in 1974, it is a product of its time. The scene in the desert where The Bandit is chased by so many police cars only for it to turn into a demolition derby when a fleet of eighteen-wheeler trucks come to his rescue is one that still brings tears of laughter to my eyes.
(8) Coal Miner’s Daughter
Sissy Spacek won the Academy Award for her portrayal of country star Loretta Lynn in this movie adaptation of Lynn’s 1976 biography by George Vecsey. The film is a biographical musical film that follows Loretta Lynn from the early teenage years of her life, her marriage at 15 right the way through to her rise to become one of Country’s greatest ever female recording and performing stars. Tommy Lee Jones and Beverley D’Angelo co-star in what can only be described as one of the best biographical films ever made. Spacek thoroughly deserved to win the Oscar for Best Actress at the ceremony as it is, to be brutally honest, the best performance she has ever given including up to the current date. Loretta Lynn personally chose Spacek to portray her in the movie and the gamble paid off in spectacular and money earning style.
(7) Private Benjamin
Ok, I’ll spill my secret now. In all of cinema history and its wonderfully talented and brilliant actresses, I have always and still have a massive crush on Goldie Hawn. There is just something about her that makes me think she is completely lovable. And here, she is on top form as Judy Benjamin, a young Jewish woman who has, up until now, led a rather privileged and sheltered life. Realizing her lifelong ambition to marry a ‘Professional Man’, Judy is suddenly widowed, on her wedding night, when her husband suffers a fatal heart attack during sex (damn inconsiderate if you ask me). Judy is devastated and tells her story on a radio call-in show where she is contacted by Army recruiter James Ballard (the late Harry Dean Stanton) who sells her a dream of living in the army. Of course, it is all a lie and Judy must now stand up and face the real world, along the way gaining herself a new ‘family’ with the other female recruits and a lifelong enemy in Captain Doreen Lewis (the quite exceptional Eileen Brennan). The film was a box office smash around the world, making it one of the biggest successes of 1980 and spawning a short-lived TV show based on the film. The movie is ranked in the top 100 of the funniest films of all time and remains one of Goldie Hawn’s finest hours.
(6) Any Which Way You Can
Any Which Way You Can, or as most people call it ‘Right Turn, Clyde’! Although it isn’t as funny or as good as the original film, ‘Every Which Way But Loose‘, this Clint Eastwood sequel still managed to deliver the goods. Once again being supported by Sondra Locke, Geoffrey Lewis, Ruth Gordon and the legendary Orangutan Clyde (or Manis to give him his true name), the film once again followed Philo Beddoe (Eastwood) and his best friend Orville (Lewis) in their never-ending pursuit of bare-knuckle boxing, beer drinking and women chasing. Along the way, Philo once again bumps into Lynn Halsey-Taylor (Locke), the woman who broke his heart in the first film. With her reappearance comes the added problem of the Black Widow Motorcycle Gang who are out looking for revenge against him and a group of ‘Handlers’ alongside handicapper Jimmy Beekman who want Philo, the king of the West Coast Brawlers to take on Jack Wilson, a fighter from the East Coast who mixes martial arts with boxing in his fights and has already killed two people. Trouble brews when Wilson and Philo become friends and refuse to fight each other. Lynn is kidnapped to force the two men to fight, causing a rescue mission between the friends to free her before both realize that they HAVE to know which one of them is the best. Of all the cast, it is once again Ruth Gordon as ‘Ma’ who outshines everyone on screen. Her crude and vicious humor throughout proceedings are a sheer delight and her insults directed at Clyde are hilariously funny. And of course, Clyde himself is sheer comedy gold.
What else can I say about this film that I haven’t said already? Quite possibly the best spoof movie ever made, this classic comedy came out of nowhere and enticed the audience into seeing the film again and again. The film ran in Chester in the North of England for months before being taken out of the cinema only to be brought back again when people complained that it had gone from the screens. A send-up of the Universal Pictures series of ‘Airport’ films that brought in the box office dollars, the film hit the funny bone of everyone who saw it. With the likes of classic stars such as Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack and a career-defining performance from Leslie Nielsen as the doctor, playing against his style as a straight leading dramatic actor and becoming a comedian overnight, the film made us cry with laughter from the start and never let us go until the end credits finished rolling. The film played to packed houses around the globe and today, still stands up as one of the funniest films ever made.
(4) Mad Max
Mel Gibson made a name for himself in this classic action/revenge tale from Australia. I don’t think many people on the planet haven’t heard of Max Rockatansky and his violent breed of vigilante justice. The film was a low-budget, high octane thriller from writer and director George Miller, one that led to three sequels to follow it (two of which starred Gibson). A look at a post-apocalyptic world and the search for gasoline which has become one of the world’s most valuable commodities, the film contains some really good car mayhem, some violent action, and a nasty tale of revenge. It launched Gibson’s Hollywood career and although it isn’ the best film in the franchise (Mad Max 2 or The Road Warrior as it was called in the United States takes that crown), the film gave the property a great start, capturing the imagination of filmgoers the world over and started the boom in the interest in Australian cinema across the globe which lasted for around ten years before waning off. An uncompromising classic. And Max’s final act of revenge is delightfully nasty and extremely wicked.
(3) Stir Crazy
After ‘Silver Streak’ hit it big and showed what a great comedy partnership they had onscreen (they had written together a few times beforehand), ‘Stir Crazy‘ once again demonstrated the talent and chemistry that Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor had together. The pair play unemployed friends Skip (Wilder) and Harry (Pryor) who, after being framed for a bank robbery, are sentenced to 125-year terms in prison. Once behind bars, the pair befriend other inmates including Jesus Ramirez, a bank robber, and Rory, a gay man who murdered his stepfather. After Skip shows his prowess at riding the prison mechanical bull on full power, he is selected by the warden to compete in the prison’s annual Rodeo competition. But the warden and his opposite number in a neighboring prison are running a crooked operation for the rodeo, pocketing the money that should be going to the prisoners. This leads to an audacious plan for escape. The film gained mixed reviews upon release but went on to be a major box office success, taking $101million against a modest $10million budget. With the likes of Georg Stanford Brown as Rory, JoBeth Williams as Skip’s love interest Meredith, Craig T. Nelson as Deputy Warden Wilson (Williams and Nelson would later star together in the horror film ‘Poltergeist‘) and the underrated Grand L. Bush as fellow prisoner Slowpoke, the film is a funny and enjoyable one and shows the world the brilliant comedic talents of the two leads.
(2) Nine To Five
The combination of Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton as employees who are subjected to verbal, professional, and sexual harassment from slimy boss Franklin Hart played by the terrific Dabney Coleman, shows that this comedy was ahead of its time. Its depiction of the three women taking the ultimate revenge on their sleazy boss hits all the right notes and could be viewed as a precursor to the #METOO movement. The three actresses are delightful in a film that I have watched many times over the years. Fonda gives a mostly quiet and reserved performance in her role of Judy, the new employee with the company while Parton as Doralee, Hart’s secretary, gives one of the funniest performances she has ever given. Her large bust is the butt of several jokes throughout proceedings and in one scene, she is even seen without her trademark wig on. But the film belongs to Tomlin as Violet and Coleman as Hart. The two of them make the film the standout that it is. Violet is the person who trained Hart and is constantly passed over for promotion by him due to his sexist attitudes and is constantly belittled by him. Hart is a strict, overly-tight, egotistical, and wholly dishonest boss who has a one-way fascination with Doralee and leaks false rumors of the two of them having an affair. The film also contains some of the best putdowns in cinema history, the standout being Hart labeled as “A sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot”. And Tomlin’s put down to a hospital intern when she pretends to be a doctor is inspired. Again, the film spawned a short-lived TV show but that can’t take away the quality that the movie contained.
The film that completely decimated the rest of the films in the top ten of 1980. With ‘Nine To Five‘ taking $103,300,147 around the world in second place, the best of the ‘Star Wars’ original trilogy (and let’s face it, the best of the entire saga) took an astonishing $547,969,004 around the globe, almost five times the amount the second-placed film grabbed that year. And it is hardly surprising. Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, Lando, Darth Vader, and the big-screen debut of the fan-favorite Boba Fett meant that the film grabbed the audience from the start and never let them go. Two hours plus of action, adventure, romance, thrills, spills, shocks, a cliffhanger ending and a twist in the tail that NOBODY saw coming gave the film the ultimate edge in the battle for chart supremacy. To this day, it still gives me chills when Vader utters those immortal words to Luke. And I have seen the film over three hundred times and it never fails. I remember sitting in a cinema with my mother, father and younger brother, Phil when the film opened in the UK and I can still hear the huge sharp intakes of breath when Vader drops that shock to the whole world. I still remember a fellow audience member putting his head in his hands and saying ‘Oh my god! No!‘ when the twist came.
It is an amazing part of an amazing film. Which makes it all that more surprising to understand that the film suffered a difficult production history, with the death of writer Leigh Brackett in 1978, forcing Lawrence Kasdan to step in and help with the screenplay, actor injuries, a fire on the set and fines from the Writers and Directors Guilds Of America alongside a ballooning budget that went from $18million to $33million and it’s a wonder the film managed to make it into cinemas worldwide. But once the film opened, all those problems seemed to vanish as audiences embraced the film. And to think, the film opened to mixed critical reviews! Oh, the irony! The film stands the test of time and is on regular rotation in my home thanks to Disney+. Forty years ago, I was worried that I wouldn’t get to see the film. Forty years later and I cannot help but smile once the opening crawl begins.
That concludes my look back at the box office of 1980. It is incredible to sit here, writing about films that I still enjoy and love to this day and realize that it has been almost half a century since they made their bows around the world. They say time flies when you’re having fun. I’d rather say time flies when you’re watching these movies and having bundles of fun!
Until next time.
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Staff Writer and Books and Literature Correspondent for The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter @CarlRoberts2 where he uses the force frequently!