Carl looks back to 1985 and a box office dominated by Rambo, James Bond, Rocky and Back To The Future
Thirty-Five years ago, the worldwide box office was full to the brim of top quality movies. Many of them are still, to this day, regarded as classics in one way or another. The top ten worldwide box office of 1985 contained a nice mix of genres, whether it be comedy, action, drama or science fiction, all tastes were catered for. Look at the films that DIDN’T crack the top ten hits of the year. ‘Teen Wolf‘, ‘Commando‘, ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome‘, ‘Pale Rider‘, ‘The Breakfast Club‘, ‘Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment‘, ‘Spies Like Us‘ and ‘The Goonies‘ all were outside the biggest films of the year. What did make the top ten in their places?
Harrison Ford’s finest hour (outside of Indiana Jones and Han Solo), this quite brilliant drama focused on Detective John Book (Ford) and his investigation into the murder of an undercover police officer inside the men’s room at the 30th street station in Philidelphia by two men. The main witness to the crime is a young Amish boy (Lukas Haas) who is there waiting for a connecting train to Baltimore with his mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis). Although the boy cannot identify the killers from mug shots or a lineup, he sees a photo of Narcotics Officer James McFee (Danny Glover) receiving an award and identifies him as one of the two men who killed the undercover cop. Book takes his suspicions to the chief of police Schaeffer (Josef Sommer) who tells him to keep the case a secret so they can develop a way to move forward with the investigation. Book is later ambushed and wounded by McFee in a parking garage, coming to the realization that Schaeffer tipped off McFee and is also corrupt. Helping Rachel and her son flee back to the Amish community in Lancaster County where they can disappear, Book’s loss of blood causes him to pass out in his car as he tries to return to the city. The Amish people take him into their homes and treat his wounds, even making him dress in the traditional clothes Amish men wear. Book starts to develop feelings for Rachel all the while, Schaeffer and the killers are closing in. Ford was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Book which he lost out to William Hurt for ‘Kiss Of The Spiderwoman‘ but he showed there was more to him than the two characters he was best known for. A gripping and thought-provoking drama.
(9) The Jewel Of The Nile
Now, I loved ‘Romancing The Stone‘ when it came out in 1984. It was a terrific and quite hilarious action romp that starred Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, and Danny DeVito. With a score by Alan Silvestri which fits the film perfectly, the film was a great success at the box office. A year later, ‘The Jewel Of The Nile‘ was released. And showed the world how something that was so right the year before could go so wrong a year later. That isn’t to say the film is bad, it’s not. It just had the misfortune of following a brilliant original movie with something inferior in every way. The main problem with the film is that it seems forced this time around whereas the original let the charm and enjoyment flow naturally. Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner still managed to bring their roles as Jack Colton and Joan Wilder to life with ease but with Danny DeVito, even though you still find him lovable and enjoyable to watch, the script lets him down badly. Set pieces that should have entertained and thrilled the audience were a letdown and an anti-climax. The thing with the film is, if ‘Romancing The Stone‘ didn’t exist, then the film would be and would have been better accepted than it was and still is. It is a good action/romance/comedy feature film and is still enjoyable. But when the best thing in the whole film is the classic Billy Ocean song ‘When The Going Gets Tough’ and it plays over the end credits only, you know the film is a letdown.
(8) The Dream Is Alive
This ‘film’ didn’t make it to the United Kingdom at all and little is known about it over here. But considering the film runs for 37 minutes in total and made over $70million, you have to take notice. The film is an IMAX documentary movie featuring footage of the Space Shuttle launches and landings and its missions above the Earth. Narrated by Walter Cronkite and directed by Graeme Ferguson with appearances from astronauts George Nelson, James Van Hoffen, and Sally Ride, this extraordinary little film, made over the space of 15-18 months, is enjoyable, insightful and a joy to watch. Sadly though, the year after it was made and released, the world watched in horror as the Shuttle Challenger, which also appeared in the film alongside two of the crew aboard it that fateful day, Francis Scobee and Judith Resnick, exploded minutes into its mission. The film also only gave a passing mention to the dangers involved in the launch of the vehicles and glossed over many of the safety concerns, a fact that has been highlighted ever since the disaster.
Nobody would have thought that this tale of aliens and the residents of a retirement home meeting up, joining forces, and rediscovering life would have been the smash hit it became. However, this Ron Howard directed sci-fi fantasy/comedy/romance/drama managed to find itself taken into the hearts of all who saw it. With an Oscar-winning turn from veteran Don Ameche and award-winning special effects, the film is a charming and lovable tale and brings the warmth and emotion to the audience. The premise is quite simple. The residents of a retirement home notice a group of people has rented the property next door to them. Three members of the community, Ben, Artur, and Joe constantly trespass onto their neighbor’s property and use the swimming pool they have, noticing the strange ‘Rocks’ that line the bottom of the pool. The three men find themselves rejuvenated and with high levels of energy, with all their aches and pains completely gone. It is discovered that their new ‘Neighbors’ are really a race of beings called Antareans, who thousands of years previously, had set up an outpost on Earth of Atlantis. When Atlantis sank, twenty of the aliens were stranded, left behind in rock-like cocoons at the bottom of the ocean. The Antareans have returned to bring their friends home and have deposited the cocoons at the bottom of the pool where the water has been charged with ‘Lifeforce’ to keep them alive. The power that is keeping the cocoons alive has also transferred to the three men who have used the pool. Of course, they are discovered but a truce is formed between the aliens and the humans. What follows is a charming and at times, sad tale that never outstays its welcome. With Steve Guttenberg and the late Brian Dennehy amongst the cast, the film is still to this day an original and lovable watch.
(6) The Color Purple
Steven Spielberg directed this version of the coming of age story based on the award-winning novel by Alice Walker. The film gained eleven Academy Award nominations but failed to win a single award. The film tells the story of a young African-American girl and shows the problems African-American women faced at the start of the twentieth century which included racism, incest, pedophilia, sexism, incest, poverty, and sexual violence perpetrated against them. In the main role of Celie Harris, Whoopi Goldberg gave one of the best performances of her career. In fact, I think its a better performance than the one she won an Oscar for, as Oda-Mae Brown in ‘Ghost‘. Goldberg was nominated for an Oscar for the film but was (wrongly) overlooked. With support from Danny Glover as Mister, Oprah Winfrey in an excellent performance as Sofia, Rae Dawn Chong as Squeak, and Lawrence Fishburne as Swain, the film deserved far more recognition than it was afforded. It made a great profit, $142million against its $15million budget but looking back on the film, it was unfairly ignored by the major awards. With everything that’s happening in the world at this moment in time, with the Black Lives Matter movement, for example, its this film that people should be looking at for inspiration and to hold up to the world. The film being overlooked for the major awards came during the middle of the 1980s but until a few years ago, with the Oscars Too White protest, it seemed like every film with an African-American cast wasn’t considered for a reward. The film is a moving and emotion-filled drama that is one of the finest films that came from the 1980s and believe me when I say that the audience’s emotions will go through the wringer over the running time of the film. An underappreciated classic.
(5) A View To A Kill
Roger Moore’s swansong as the world’s least secret, secret agent, this James Bond film managed to make the top five at a time where the formula was starting to look threadbare. Moore was obviously far too old to play the suave, sophisticated 007, and looking back at the film, it seems wrong that he managed to bed so many young women throughout the movie. Taken today, Bond comes across as a sexual predator rather than an action hero. But with that aside, the film is still a good entry into the franchise.
The film starts with a thrilling opening sequence which the series is famed for before slowing down to a pretty slow pace with bursts of adrenaline-fuelled action and then back to a crawl. Around the halfway point though, Bond finally raises his aim from above his groin and starts to move a pretty decent pace. The best thing about the film is the addition of Christopher Walken as the villain, Max Zorin. I always thought that Walken would make a good Bond villain and so it proved. The basic plot is once again about a megalomaniac determined to grab world domination, this time by controlling the manufacture of microchips and the software by wiping out Silicon Valley in a man-made earthquake and only 007 can stop him. Moore and more importantly, his stunt doubles, bring the action home in delightful form. The chase sequence on the Eiffel Tower in Paris is brief but thrilling, the final fight on top of the Golden Gate bridge is completely agreeable nonsense and the humor comes thick and fast. It all depends on whether you like Bond films or you don’t. And I do and this one was great fun.
(4) Out Of Africa
The movie adaptation of the 1937 novel of the same name by Isak Dinesen, which was in actual fact, the pseudonym of Danish author Karen Blixen who is the main protagonist of the novel, thereby making it autobiographical with additional material from Dinesen’s 1960 book ‘Shadows On The Grass’ thrown into the mix. Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, and Klaus Maria Brandauer led the cast with Sydney Pollack directing. The film opened to mixed reviews from the critics who obviously didn’t get the film at all as it went on to win seven Oscars including best picture and best director for Pollock and best original score for John Barry. The film follows Karen Blixen as she recalls her life in Africa in 1913 as an unmarried wealthy woman where she was spurned by her Swedish nobleman lover, later accepting a marriage proposal from his brother, Baron Bror Blixen. The Baron uses Karen’s money to set up a cattle ranch with her joining him later in a marriage of convenience. Along the way, she meets the big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton who knows her future husband and entrusts his haul of ivory to her. She later learns that Bror has set up a coffee farm instead of the agreed-upon plan and that Bror has more interest in guiding big game hunting safaris than running the farm. Over time, a relationship develops between Karen and Denys and after he acquires a Gipsy Moth BiPlane, he often takes Karen flying while in the evenings, she concocts exotic fables to keep him entertained. Of course, tragedy is just around the corner and one of the pair is fated to die. The cinematography of the film is beautiful and the African country has never been filmed or represented better. The film itself is entertaining enough and is a great film to sit by a warm fire and watch with your significant other.
(3) Rocky IV
The fourth and most financially successful sports film for twenty-four years until it was beaten by ‘The Blind Side‘, the return of Sylvester Stallone‘s underdog remains the most successful of the franchise to this day. It is also the film that it seems EVERYONE enjoys the most out of all the films. Everyone knows the story by now. Rocky Balboa is the Heavyweight Champion of the world and is living the life he has always dreamed of. When a new and formidable Russian athlete, Ivan Drago challenges him to an exhibition bout, Rocky refuses. His former enemy and now friend, Apollo Creed decides to take his place, a move that proves fatal for him. Enraged, Rocky makes the choice to fight Drago in Russia on Christmas Day to gain revenge for his departed friend. Cue actors with extremely dodgy Russian accents, Cold War politics and a flag-waving finale with an impassioned speech by Balboa at the final bell which, I must admit is actually pretty heartfelt from Stallone and more so than the unintentionally funny monologue at the climax to ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II‘. Looking back at the film, it is a popcorn movie at best. It is as far removed dramatically from the original ‘Rocky‘ as it could possibly be but the audiences around the world lapped it up in their droves. I have to admit that despite its flaws, I did and still do enjoy watching the film from time to time.
The main two things I have a problem with the film is the death of Apollo Creed which to be honest was not how to write the character out of the franchise. I was enraged when Carl Weathers‘ character was killed off a mere twenty minutes into proceedings. The other problem was nothing that could be done. The score was by Vince DiCola, replacing the series composer Bill Conti. It was unavoidable sadly as Conti was tied up scoring the first two ‘Karate Kid‘ films. Although DiCola did use some of Conti’s cues in his score (he couldn’t be fair), his score was more of a techno piece instead of the classic and understated music of Conti. Behind the scenes, there were also problems with Weathers and Dolph Lundgren (Drago) when Lundgren threw Weathers into the corner of the boxing ring, forcing Weathers to quit the film and walk off the set for four days until Stallone managed to get the two actors to sit down and clear the air with each other. Lundgren had to tone down his aggressiveness for Weathers to continue filming. Lundgren also managed to injure Stallone himself. Stallone wanted the punching scenes between himself and Lundgren to be completely authentic to which Lundgren agreed to, causing the actors to engage in legitimate sparring. One forceful punch from Lundgren to Stallone’s chest caused the actor’s heart to slam against his breastbone, causing Stallone to suffer from breathing difficulties and blood pressure over 200. Stallone was hospitalized for eight days in intensive care in Santa Monica. However, a $300million take at the box office soothed all the wounds and made all the problems and pain worthwhile.
(2) Rambo: First Blood Part II
Sylvester Stallone managed to grab two out of the three top places in the 1985 box office chart with the return of his haunted Vietnam veteran. Three years after the original ‘First Blood‘, Rambo exploded back onto the screen with a cartoonish, violent but brilliant sequel that had men dragging their partners to the theatres to watch the one-man army wreak havoc against Vietnamese and Russian forces. I recently wrote a throwback article about the film and so, I can’t really add more to my thoughts on the film. However I, like many other movie fans across the globe couldn’t help but lap up the violent mayhem that we witnessed on the screen. From the low key start to the final revenge filled destruction and that brilliantly over the top helicopter climax that ends with Rambo destroying a Russian helicopter gunship with an RPG (where did he get it from? I’m still in the dark where it came from thirty-five years later) and to the hilariously funny speech from the main character as he walks away at the end, the film was a highlight of the cinematic year and still ranks highly on my favorite action films of all time. The tagline for the film was ‘No Man, No Law, No War Can Stop Him’. But guess what? One film DID stop him. It prevented Rambo from taking the top spot in the top ten highest-grossing movies of 1985. And that film was…
(1) Back To The Future
Michael J. Fox saw his career take off for the stratosphere with this Robert Zemeckis directed, Steven Spielberg produced blockbuster that grabbed audiences and took them for a ride that they couldn’t get enough of. Zemeckis and Bob Gale wrote the screenplay based on an idea that Gale had of what if he had befriended his father at film school. The film studios rejected the idea until Zemeckis hit it big with ‘Romancing The Stone‘, leading him to approach Spielberg with the idea and getting Spielberg on board in a producing capacity. Fox was always the choice to play Marty McFly but due to his commitments filming the ‘Family Ties‘ television series, wasn’t available. The makers turned to Eric Stoltz instead and cast him in the role. After two weeks of filming, the producers realized that Stoltz wasn’t right for the part and worked out a deal to release the actor from the role and hire Fox without disrupting his TV filming schedule.
With actor Christopher Lloyd aboard in the role of Emmett ‘Doc’ Brown, a fantastic and rewarding on-screen partnership was born. The character of Biff Tannen was named after a studio executive named Ned Tanen, who was nasty and aggressive to Zemeckis and Gale during a script meeting on the pair’s 1978 film ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ and it was also claimed that the character was based on Donald Trump. The character of Lorraine was developed by Zemeckis as a mother claiming she never kissed a boy in high school when in fact, she was promiscuous instead.
Originally, the time machine was set to be a fridge that Marty would need the power of an atomic explosion in a Nevada test site to get home until Zemeckis realized he was afraid that young children may copy the character and lock themselves inside fridges and possibly die, thus changing the concept into a DeLorean instead. And so, most of the pieces that made up the classic time-traveling comedy were in place. The film opened on July 3rd, 1985, and against its budget of $19million, went on to grab a worldwide total of $389.1million. Michael J. Fox must have been thanking his lucky stars that the makers really wanted him for the role of Marty. Although the film ended with a ‘To Be Continued…’ line, there were no plans in place for a sequel to follow or be made. The world had to wait four years for a second film to follow but the makers decided to make TWO films instead of one and so, a third film followed a year later. But the original was and to this day, still the best of the trilogy. Rumors still abound that a fourth film is in the offing but, to be honest, I’d rather they left the property alone, allowing us the chance to experience and enjoy what we have already been given. But the roads of Hollywood are never that easy. ‘Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!’. (I still love that one-liner).
So there we have it. The top ten grossing movies of 1985. It seems like only a while ago I was in line to see a fair few films listed here and some of the ones that didn’t make the top ten. It is a nice look back at movies I saw as a teenager on my way to becoming an adult and at some of the classic films, I still watch to this day. DVD, Blu-Ray, and streaming services have managed to bring them to a whole new breed of movie fans and while it makes me happy that a new generation can now enjoy them, it fills me with smug satisfaction that I saw them on their original release. Sitting in a theatre, with an audience and discovering the joys they contained within them, It was a fantastic time to go out to the movies.
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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!