While March has never been known as a month for hugely-anticipated films, let alone is it a month studios have ever scheduled potentially-huge tent-pole fare, you will find that, now and then, a little gem does end skedded for what’s essentially a fairly ho-hum month – likely because the film doesn’t have any huge stars, or the studio isn’t confident in it – and does big business, going on to become not only a huge box-office smash but, in the case of some of the films released in March 1984, a classic.
While the third month of 1984 didn’t give us all gems – it also gave us “Racing the Moon”, “Misunderstood”, “Purple Hearts”, “Sahara”, “Over the Brooklyn Bridge”, “Mike’s Murder”, “The Ice Pirates”, “TANK” and “Le Bal” – at least half-a-dozen of the new releases went on to snag big bucks, and even larger fan bases.
1. Police Academy
I don’t think anyone could have envisioned the success of the Warner Bros comedy – nor could they have predicted it’s success would result in six sequels. But thanks to some hilarious turns from the likes of Steve Guttenberg, Michael Winslow and George Gaynes, what might’ve otherwise been ‘just another’ easily-dismissible tits-and-arse comedy (and there were plenty of them at the time) instead turned out to be one of the better comedies of 1984. “There were no expectations”, Winslow told Back to the ’80s. “No one thought it would make it, but here we are [still promoting the series]”.
2. Against All Odds
While it didn’t win over critics, it’s title track won over Grammy voters – winning Phil Collins a statue for the song of the same name. The movie, starring Jeff Bridges and Australia’s Rachel Ward, opened at #2 at the box office, and went on to do quite good business. While not revisited like something like “Police Academy” or “Splash”! – to name but two other March 1984 releases – are, you’d still find most VHS copies are well-worn due to a hefty amount of rentals.
Star Tom Hanks was a nobody at the time; in fact, the story goes that director Ron Howard only cast the future box-office superstar in his cutesy romantic comedy because he thought he did a good job on an episode of “Happy Days” (which Ron, of course, was a regular on). But, of course, Ron Howard wasn’t known for a director then either – he was ‘Ritchie’ from “Happy Days, and Opie from “The Andy Griffith Show”. And though, like Hanks, they’d go on to do big things, support players Daryl Hannah and John Candy weren’t draws at the time either. A movie from Hanks and Howard get a plum Summer release date now, but in 1984, the smash hit “Splash!” didn’t have much to market – besides Daryl Hannah’s hot, erm, tail – so it’s understandable Disney would release it in a less-risky release date. Things would never be the same for Hanks and Howard, in particular. “I didn’t think it would be a stinker, maybe a little cartoonish, but the first weekend I get a call: ‘Six million bucks at the box office.’ You’re in your first big film. It’s beyond my comprehension”, Hanks told People Magazine in 1984. “That’s a lot of money. You can’t get it much better, right outta the box. It’s perfect.”
4. Romancing the Stone
The film that relaunched “Streets of San Francisco” star Michael Douglas as a leading man, saw Kathleen Turner go onto super stardom, and solidified Robert Zemeckis’s career in Hollywood (his next film would be his biggest, “Back to the Future”). Not that 20th Century Fox believed it was anything but a sloppy rip-off of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – and, in fact, it’s been said that after the first test screening of the movie, the studio were disgusted with the movie, so much so they fired Zemeckis from the film he was attached to at the time, “Cocoon”. Zemeckis – and co-stars – had the last laugh of course, with “Stone” going on to be Fox’s only hit of 1984, and critics going nuts for the film – even today, it’s got a very positive 86% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
5. Repo Man
Okay, so “Repo Man”, starring then-newcomer Emilio Estevez (“The Outsiders”, “The Breakfast Club”), was far from a hit (far, far…) but Alex Cox’s low-budget, experimental punk-science-fiction/comedy/action movie went on to become one of the most beloved cult classics of all time. The film was discovered on VHS, where it became a top-renter, spurring a theater revival in cinemas like New York’s Eighth Street Playhouse, where it ran for months.In a 2000 interview with AV Club, Cox said “It’s quite incredible, since the film, according to the studio, didn’t break even until last year. It didn’t recoup its $1.2 million until 1999. But it’s not true, because you know the film has been seen by a lot of people. It’s unfortunate in the sense that the creative accounting in the studio says to me that you never really see any money. It is gratifying that people have seen it, although the studios are very bad and criminal, and they keep all the money and defame the filmmaker and all that kind of stuff. But they never actually altered the content of the film. The version of Repo Man that plays in the cinema and on the DVD really is the one I edited. It’s the best attempt I could make at the film. And it was the same studio with Walker, although there was disastrous distribution with that, as well. They never actually altered the content of it or messed with the film, so I have to say thanks, because I think things have gotten much worse now. I think there’s so much market testing that quite often the director gets thrown off, they bring on another director, and they re-edit the film, and I was very lucky that that didn’t happen.”
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