As the latest round of would-be blockbusters not starring Seth Rogen and James Franco packs ’em in at a theater near you, Popdose looks back at the box office totals of yesteryear. This week we revisit the top ten films of December 22, 1983!
10. Silkwood (distributor: Twentieth Century Fox; release date: 12/14/83; final domestic gross: $35.6 million)
In November of last year I asked Kurt Collins, a frequent contributor to this infrequent series, to give me his thoughts on the following ten films. He did, and then I fell asleep until this November. But a promise is a promise, so here’s Kurt’s analysis of Silkwood: “Never saw it. Is this with Glenn Streep? Isn’t it a true story about deadly contamination in a factory, with the most famous shower scene of the decade this side of the gang from Porky’s? Serious dramas like this were too mature for silly 13-year-old boys like me. (My apologies to Meryl Close, who won the Oscar. Unless she didn’t, but that’s why Popdose has a stable of fact checkers, right?)”
Now I remember why I fell asleep.
Meryl Streep did not win an Oscar for Silkwood — and let’s not even begin to think about how long Kurt’s had shower fantasies starring Glenn Close (my apologies this time, Glenn — it’s just that your shower scene in 1983’s The Big Chill was a downer) — but the film did provide her with her fifth nomination in six years. Streep had already won Best Supporting Actress for Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979) and Best Actress for Sophie’s Choice (1982), and although she wouldn’t win again until almost 30 years later, for her lead performance in The Iron Lady (2011), in between she was nominated three times a year, every single year — that’s a Kurt Collins no-look fact! In other words, pay no mind.
Silkwood received five Oscar nominations in all, including nods for Cher (Best Supporting Actress), Mike Nichols (Best Director), and Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen (Best Original Screenplay). It was Nichols’s first feature film since The Fortune, starring Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson, eight years earlier, and he teamed up with both Nicholson and Streep again for 1986’s Heartburn, written by Ephron and based on her autobiographical novel of the same name. (Nichols passed away last month at the age of 83; Ephron died two years earlier at 71.)
9. D.C. Cab (Universal; 12/16/83; $16.1 million)
“D.C. Cab was one of those cable movies we boys would watch until 2 AM in the hopes of seeing a brief glimpse of boobs,” says Kurt. “These kids today have no idea how lucky they are to have a virtual treasure trove of erotic delight just a mouse click away. All I had was a bag of waterlogged magazines in a hole behind my friend’s treehouse.”
Yes, but waterlogged or otherwise, Highlights for Children provided both education and entertainment — or, as I like to call it, entercation — whereas film scholars are still debating whether D.C. Cab, cowritten and directed by Joel Schumacher (St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys, Batman Forever, A Time to Kill, etc.), provided anything at all aside from the chance to see Mr. T, Irene Cara, Gary Busey, Paul Rodriguez, and Bill Maher (yes, that Bill Maher) sharing screen time for the first — and, I assume, last — time in their careers. Does the rise of Uber mean we can’t expect a reboot of D.C. Cab in the coming years? Kurt and I will keep our fingers crossed, particularly for those magic words “partial nudity,” just in case.
8. Christine (Columbia; 12/9/83; $21.0 million)
“A scary car that can operate on its own? Not buying it, but I guess America’s love affair with KITT from Knight Rider convinced Columbia Pictures to greenlight this one,” says Kurt. “As a kid I always thought that movies based on Stephen King books went directly to HBO. Did anyone actually pay money to see Cat’s Eye or Cujo in the theater?” You heard the man — identify yourselves.
What I’d like to know is, how come the Chrysler Corporation didn’t recall Christine and every other demonically possessed Plymouth Fury in the ’80s? You dodged a bullet there, Lee Iacocca, but I can’t say the same for Sony, the corporate owner of Columbia Pictures since 1989: it recalled the Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy The Interview on December 17, just eight days before it was scheduled to open in theaters across the U.S., because of terrorist threats made by a hacker group dubbed the Guardians of Peace, which allegedly has ties to the North Korean government. In The Interview Randall Park plays North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who’s incinerated on-screen by Rogen and Franco’s characters at the end of the movie. Call that a “spoiler” if you want, but the biggest spoiler is that North Korea appears determined to make sure that no one aside from the critics who attended prerelease studio screenings ever sees the film. (SPOILER #3: Those critics’ reviews are decidedly mixed.)
Can’t the U.S. enlist Dennis Rodman to take Kim, his number one fan, for a ride in a restored 1958 Plymouth Fury this Christmas? Since it’s a devil car, I doubt the air conditioning is reliable, which would be hell on a hairdo like Kim’s.
7. Yentl (United Artists; 11/18/83; $40.2 million)
When pressed for his thoughts on Yentl, Kurt wrote, “Does Babs dress up as a boy in this? Who cares.” He then talked about her second film behind the camera, 1991’s The Prince of Tides, for which she was controversially passed over for a Best Director Oscar nomination. But was the Academy being sexist, or did Streisand really deserve it? No less so than Warren Beatty for Reds (1981), Kevin Costner for Dances With Wolves (1990), or Mel Gibson for Braveheart (1995) if we’re talking about movie stars directing themselves, but it’s all a matter of opinion — unless Kim Jong-un wants to deliver the final word, of course. Just as long as the actor-director in question isn’t Seth Rogen, I’d bet he’s pretty chill about the whole thing, as he is with most political issues.
Amy Irving’s supporting turn in Yentl garnered one of the film’s five Oscar nominations, and although Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, and Michel Legrand lost Best Original Song — they had two horses in that race, “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” and “The Way He Makes Me Feel” — to D.C. Cab star Irene Cara’s “Flashdance … What a Feeling” (Cara shared the award with cowriters Keith Forsey and Giorgio Moroder), the trio still won Best Original Score. Streisand herself didn’t receive any Oscar nominations for Yentl, but she did beat out Mike Nichols and Terms of Endearment‘s James L. Brooks (see below), among others, for Best Director at the 1983 Golden Globes, a first for a female director in that category.
6. The Rescuers (Walt Disney; 12/16/83; $71.2 million)
“This may come as a shock to your readers,” warns Kurt, “but I saw The Rescuers in the theater — during its original release in 1977, though, not in ’83. (What a twist!)”
Brace yourselves, readers, there’s more: “I remember this only because my mom made my older sister take my twin brother and me to the Rte. 52 theater in Nanuet, New York. The movie started, and she angrily uttered out loud, ‘Are you kidding me? It’s a goddamn cartoon?!’ That’s literally the only thing I remember about the movie.” That’s okay, Kurt — I’ve only seen two of the eight movies in this top ten, and we haven’t discussed either of them yet, so I’m flying blind here myself, much like Kim Jong-un after his eyeballs catch on fire and melt into puddles of dictatorial goo in The Interview.
Kurt adds, “As a side note, I was always reluctant to see another cartoon until some of my friends and I got high and went to see The Lion King along with approximately 92 kids and 18 moms. We loved it! My third and final cartoon movie that I saw — with my future wife, before our three girls were born — was Spirited Away. I should’ve smoked before that one: it joined Little Shop of Horrors as the only movies I’ve ever walked out on.” Cover your ears, Rick Moranis! You too, white-liberal NPR listeners, who are reportedly the main consumers of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films. (I’m reporting that. Therefore it’s officially reported.)
The 1983 rerelease of The Rescuers grossed $21 million, as did a second rerelease in ’89, priming the pump for a 1990 sequel, The Rescuers Down Under. However, its total box office amounted to only $27.9 million, ensuring that The Rescuers Travel to North Korea to Save Two American Journalists and Possibly Assassinate That Country’s Leader If Their Return Flight Is Delayed, Thus Leaving Them With Some Time on Their Hands didn’t see the light of day two decades later.
5. Uncommon Valor (Paramount; 12/16/83; $30.5 million)
In hindsight it’s a shame the title of The Rescuers was already taken.
“Loved this movie,” raves Kurt. “The first and best movie focused on ‘getting our boys the hell out of ‘Nam.’ Sorry, Chuck and Rambo, but if my son had been left behind, I’d send in Colonel Gene Hackman and Private Randall “Tex” Cobb to make sure the job’s done right! By the way, why is it that for the first 25 years of my life my only knowledge of the Vietnam war, America’s second longest (‘Mission Accomplished!’) and second deadliest (‘Mission Accomplished, Abe!’), was thinking a dozen U.S. soldiers were still being tortured daily for over a decade after it ended, requiring a few brave middle-aged men to overtake a small Vietnamese hamlet?”
I assume that’s a rhetorical question, but if anyone wants to answer Kurt, the comments section is waiting. I’ll just add that Uncommon Valor also stars a pre-Dirty Dancing Patrick Swayze and was directed by Ted Kotcheff, who, one year earlier, helmed First Blood, the big-screen debut of Vietnam vet John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone). Before the ’80s were done, he would help build another franchise: Kotcheff directed the comedy Weekend at Bernie’s (1989), which somehow managed to spawn a 1993 sequel.
4. Scarface (Universal; 12/9/83; $45.4 million)
“This hit / That ice cold / Michelle Pfeiffer / That white gold,” sings Bruno Mars in the opening lines of his infectious new single with Mark Ronson, “Uptown Funk,” and it’s safe to assume he’s referring to Pfeiffer’s role in Brian De Palma’s remake of the 1932 gangster film Scarface, not Tim Burton’s remake of the 1960s soap opera Dark Shadows (2012). Scarface, starring Al Pacino as Cuban cocaine kingpin Tony Montana, did just fine in its original run in theaters — it was briefly rereleased in 2003 to promote a 20th-anniversary DVD of the film — but over the years its reputation grew and grew, especially among hip-hop artists and their fans, including Geto Boys member Scarface, who’s cited by Chris Rock’s character in Top Five as one of the best rappers of all time.
Even so, I like De Palma and Pacino’s second collaboration, Carlito’s Way (1993), much better. That doesn’t mean I’d change the lyrics of Ronson and Mars’s song to “This hit / That ice cold / Penelope Ann Miller / That white gold”; for one thing it competely screws up the rhyme scheme. But I suppose I am a sap for gangsters with a heart of gold, and De Palma outdoes himself with the climactic shoot-out in Grand Central Station. He’s set to reteam with Pacino for an HBO movie about disgraced Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, but the project’s currently in limbo because of budgetary concerns.
“I must have uttered the factoid ‘Did you know Scarface was originally rated X for violence?’ about 567 times,” says Kurt. “Is it even true? While you’re researching that, Popdose fact checkers, what flavor of Pop Rocks was Mikey from the Life cereal commercial mixing with his Pepsi when his stomach exploded?” I bet he’ll forget he asked either of those questions a year ago if we don’t remind him, so stay focused on finding Michelle Pfeiffer’s phone number from 1983 for me, okay?
“Scarface rocks on all levels, pure and simple,” says Kurt, completely ignoring my superior opinion of the superior Carlito’s Way, “though it’s hard to say what’s more upsetting: Is it when Tony assumes control of the cartel after killing Robert Loggia? The infamous chainsaw scene? When Tony coldly shoots his best friend, played by Steven Bauer, for sleeping with his sister right after they’ve tied the knot? Or was it when the Academy gave Pacino the Best Actor Oscar for Scent of a Woman in 1993 after not even nominating him for Scarface? Hoo-ah!”
3. Two of a Kind (Fox; 12/16/83; $23.6 million)
Reuniting John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in a movie not called Grease 2 — the 1982 sequel stars Michelle Pfeiffer, as a matter of fact, who still hasn’t returned my time-machine calls from 31 years ago — “this romantic comedy features some of the most tender moments ever captured on film,” according to Kurt.
Wow! Tell me more, my friend!
“But what’s really interesting about Two of a Kind is nothing: I never came close to seeing it, so I made up that part about ‘tender moments.'”
Wow! I really need to rethink Kurt’s status as a Box Office Flashback “contributor”!
“The truly amazing thing about this movie,” he says, “is that it came in at number three on its opening weekend. That means moviegoers actually stood in line and chose to spend their $3.50 (wake up, fact checkers, I need some help here) on this instead of Scarface or Silkwood. I wonder how many of the parachute pants-clad fellas in that embarrassing population sample hooked up with their leg warmers-wearing dates after relenting to the better half’s wishes. The fashion trends and the price of popcorn may have changed (take a break, fact checkers — I’ve got this one), but the goal remains the same: if I see this rom-com piece of crap, do I improve my chances of scoring?”
He continues, “Do producers bank on that? Is it something discussed behind closed doors in Hollywood? The ‘P-whip factor,’ for lack of a better term? For example, ‘Based on early test screenings, the PWF is off the charts for the new Gosling vehicle’?”
Again, the comments section is open if anyone from Hollywood wants to answer Kurt. And if anyone else out there wants to watch Two of a Kind, which features an uncredited Gene Hackman as the voice of God, the entire movie is available at Veoh. It’s the directorial debut of John Herzfeld, who moved over to television after it bombed, but when he returned to the big screen in 1996 with 2 Days in the Valley, an entertaining combo of Pulp Fiction and Short Cuts, the Los Angeles Times called him out for referring to it as his first feature.
Even though Two of a Kind didn’t catch on with moviegoers, its soundtrack album was a hit, a fate shared by Travolta’s Staying Alive, the sequel to Saturday Night Fever that was cowritten and directed by Sylvester Stallone and released earlier in ’83. (The movie is one long training montage, a trick Stallone pulled again two years later in Rocky IV.) “Take a Chance,” a duet between Travolta and Newton-John, probably isn’t the one that you want (honey), but it’ll do in a pinch (sha-la!).
2. Terms of Endearment (Paramount; 11/23/83; $108.4 million)
“I think Terms of Endearment was the first time a movie made my throat experience the pain that can accompany the desperate attempt to fight back tears for fear of total mockery from my older brother,” reveals Kurt, proving that I can’t fire him as a Box Office Flashback contributor since one of his 11 siblings or their countless offspring will surely take his place before I’ve even noticed he’s gone. The Collins Hydra of Montvale, New Jersey, is a force to be reckoned with.
So was James L. Brooks in the ’80s, having already established his dominance on the small screen in the previous decade with hit shows such as Room 222, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, Lou Grant, and Taxi. He’d written the screenplay for Alan J. Pakula’s Starting Over (1979), but Terms of Endearment, his adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s 1975 novel and his debut as a director, won him three Oscars: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture. In addition, Shirley MacLaine won Best Actress for her performance as Aurora Greenway, and Jack Nicholson won Best Supporting Actor in a role Brooks originally wrote for Burt Reynolds, the star of Starting Over; Reynolds told Larry King on CNN in 2000 that he declined the offer due to a previous commitment to The Cannonball Run. (Ouch.)
By the end of the ’80s Brooks had scored two additional Oscar nominations — for Broadcast News (1987), my favorite of the six films he’s directed — and brought The Simpsons into American households on Rupert Murdoch and Barry Diller’s new TV network, Fox. Meanwhile, Kurt was getting high with his friends at Providence College and debating whether or not to see The Little Mermaid on shrooms, and I was lying on my bedroom floor on Friday nights thinking, “Yeah, so I’m a 14-year-old shut-in, but one day these scrapbooks I’ve created of newspaper movie reviews and ads are certain to bring me fame and fortune.” Or a chance to regurgitate some of what I read 25 years ago in Box Office Flashback, but it’s about the journey, not the destination. It also doesn’t hurt to be incredibly delusional.
1. Sudden Impact (Warner Bros.; 12/9/83; $67.6 million)
“Not to drop some sudden impact on your readers, Robert, but I never saw one Dirty Harry movie in my life,” says Kurt. “Just never got into it. Never saw a Charles Bronson flick either, and I never got into heavy metal. What does that make me? A fan of Terms of Endearment, that’s what.” Good for you, my friend — stick to your guns! But only metaphorically speaking, okay? “Dirty Harry” Callahan, played by Clint Eastwood in five movies between 1971 and 1988, has the literal ones covered.
Sudden Impact, the only film in the series to be directed by Eastwood, was also the highest grossing of the five, though I don’t know what made it more compelling to moviegoers in 1983 than the others. Maybe the popular catchphrase “Go ahead, make my day,” which was introduced here? The story of a rape victim, played by frequent Eastwood costar (and then-girlfriend) Sondra Locke, getting revenge on her attackers? The absence of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John?
Whatever the case, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Eastwood was once primarily known as a top-grossing star of action movies. A decent actor, but not someone you expected to win an Oscar for his talents, who directed his first movie, Play Misty for Me, in 1971, the same year he starred in Dirty Harry. Working behind the camera wasn’t a passing fancy for Eastwood, though, and he didn’t take eight years to choose a follow-up like Streisand and Robert Redford did (the latter won the Best Director Oscar for 1980’s Ordinary People, but The Milagro Beanfield War didn’t reach theaters until ’88).
Sudden Impact was Eastwood’s tenth directorial effort, with well-received films such as The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) and Honkytonk Man (1982) along the way, and he kept going from there, culminating with wins for Best Director and Best Picture in 1993 for Unforgiven, not to mention his first nomination for Best Actor. Since then he’s won Best Director a second time, for 2004’s Million Dollar Baby (also his second Best Actor nod), and been nominated for both Mystic River (2003) and Letters From Iwo Jima (2006). This year, at the age of 84, he’s completed two more films as director: Jersey Boys, the jukebox musical that opened in June, and American Sniper, a war drama that opens in limited release on Christmas Day and is already receiving praise for Eastwood’s direction and Bradley Cooper’s lead performance.
Eastwood is considered by many critics and film scholars to be one of the greatest living American directors, if not one of the greatest directors, period. He’s come a long way from playing Rowdy Yates on the CBS western Rawhide in the ’60s, and even from playing Dirty Harry in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s enough to make Kim Jong-un’s eyes melt all over again.