Box Office Flashback: January 28, 1982

As the latest round of would-be blockbusters lines up at a theater near you, Popdose looks back at the box office totals of yesteryear. This week we revisit the top ten films of January 28, 1982!

10. Reds (distributor: Paramount; release date: 12/4/81; final domestic gross: $40.3 million)

Reds is Warren Beatty’s directorial follow-up to Heaven Can Wait (1978), which he codirected with Buck Henry. I saw it for the first time last year, and I think it’s safe to say that they don’t make ’em like this anymore, possibly because most video games move at a faster pace than Reds.

A three-hour historical epic in the vein of David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago — Beatty had even hoped to cast Zhivago‘s Julie Christie, his ex-girlfriend, as Louise Bryant, but the role went to his then-girlfriend, Diane Keaton, instead — the film tells the true story of American journalist John Reed (Beatty), who covered the Russian Revolution in 1917 with Bryant and became a Communist but failed to foment a stateside revolution once he returned home. Reds features one of the most romantic reunions between two lovers ever captured on film, and Beatty ended up winning Best Director for his efforts at the Oscars ceremony on March 29, 1982. (The film lost Best Picture to Chariots of Fire but was nominated for 12 Oscars in all, including Best Actor for Beatty, Best Actress for Keaton, Best Supporting Actor for Jack Nicholson, and Best Supporting Actress for Maureen Stapleton, who won.)

Of course, he won Best Director for his second film, not his first. Who won Best Director the year before? Robert Redford, that other handsome, intelligent, politically active matinee idol, for his directorial debut, Ordinary People. In the biography Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America (2010), author Peter Biskind notes that Beatty couldn’t stand the Sundance Kid. No real reason is given, but in my opinion Beatty owes Redford a debt of gratitude, because without that award for Ordinary People gnawing at his vanity, Beatty wouldn’t have been properly motivated enough by jealousy, rage, and gorgeous hair to complete his masterpiece.


9. Modern Problems (Fox; 12/25/81; $26.1 million)

Ken Shapiro has directed only two feature films, 1974’s The Groove Tube and 1981’s Modern Problems. Both star Chevy Chase, but one was made when he was just a working actor who shared a name with a D.C. suburb and the other was made after he became Chevy Chase.

By January of ’82 he was five years removed from his brief stint as a Saturday Night Live cast member, and after finding initial success as a comic leading man in Foul Play (1978) with Goldie Hawn, he stumbled with Oh Heavenly Dog (1980) and Under the Rainbow (1981). His supporting role in Caddyshack (1980) paid off for years to come, but it wasn’t until National Lampoon’s Vacation in ’83 that Chase finally became a bankable movie star.

Okay, so that bankability only lasted for another six years or so, but these days Chase is a consistent bright spot on the NBC sitcom Community. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever found him funnier. Therefore it’s a good thing he didn’t die after he was electrocuted on the set of Modern Problems, which costars Dabney Coleman, who wasn’t electrocuted, unless Wikipedia is lying to me.


8. Private Lessons (Jensen Farley; 8/26/81; $26.2 million)

There’s more Oscar bait to come, but for now let’s get our sleaze on and discuss the jailbait aspect of Private Lessons, a teen sex romp in which a horny 15-year-old (Eric Brown) is willingly seduced by his 30-something housekeeper (Sylvia Kristel, the star of three Emmanuelle films). The movie’s tagline is “What happened to him should happen to you,” but if the genders were reversed here, wouldn’t that tagline be “What happened to him is that he was stoned to death for doing what he did to her”? (That would give away the ending, of course, but now you know why no one’s ever hired me to create a marketing campaign.)

Private Lessons opened in August and was still in theaters five months later. For those readers who are under 30, it may sound inconceivable that a movie could play that long, especially one like Private Lessons, but keep in mind that video stores were still a novelty of sorts in 1982. (For those readers who are under 20, please ask your parents what a video store was — I don’t have the heart.) In the clip below, Ed Begley Jr. makes an appearance as the horny kid’s tennis instructor, and the gopher from Caddyshack shows up as Howard Hesseman’s toupee. Enjoy.


7. Sharky’s Machine (Warner Bros.; 12/18/81; $35.6 million)

Burt Reynolds grew up in the south and began his reign as the top box-office star of the ’70s with Deliverance (1972), which was shot on location in north Georgia. He returned to the Peach State a few years later for his directorial debut, Gator (1976), and stuck around to star in the 1977 smash hit Smokey and the Bandit with Sally Field. After he helmed the dark comedy The End (1978), Reynolds made his way back to Georgia once again for his third directorial effort, Sharky’s Machine, a cop thriller set in Atlanta and based on William Diehl’s 1978 novel of the same name. Reynolds filmed at various locations throughout the city, including Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, where the Braves played until 1997, and Peachtree Plaza, where stuntman Dar Robinson set a record by free-falling 220 feet after crashing through a window. Reynolds reportedly nicknamed the film “Dirty Harry Goes to Atlanta,” and in 1984 he starred with Harry himself, Clint Eastwood, in the action-comedy City Heat.


6. The Seduction (Avco Embassy; 1/22/82; $11.3 million)

This film might as well be a cautionary sequel to Private Lessons, showing what happens when the horny 15-year-old grows up to be a deranged stalker who can’t understand why his love life went downhill after his affair with Mary Kay Letourneau. The stalker is played by Andrew Stevens, who cofounded Franchise Pictures in the late ’90s and helped finance and produce dozens of films, including Sean Penn’s haunting thriller The Pledge (2001) and the disastrous Battlefield Earth (2000). Morgan Fairchild plays the stalkee, and Michael Sarrazin is the guy who’s a long way from costarring with Jane Fonda in Sydney Pollack’s 1969 classic They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

January is often the worst month of the year for movies, a chance for studios to dump their overstock from the previous 12 months and start with a clean slate. To be fair, I haven’t seen The Seduction, but from the looks of its trailer, neither has the director.


5. Vice Squad (Avco Embassy; 1/22/82; $13.2 million)

In Sharky’s Machine Burt Reynolds’s character, Tom Sharky, is demoted from the Atlanta Police Department’s narcotics unit to its vice squad, but since Rachel Ward’s high-class hooker with a heart of gold falls for him in the process, he’s not exactly worthy of pity. In comparison, the streets look a whole lot seedier in Vice Squad, which has a tightly edited trailer that promises lots of violence and very little in the way of hugs from Wings Hauser’s psychopathic pimp, Ramrod. Original MTV VJ Nina Blackwood plays “Ginger,” according to IMDB, and director Gary Sherman went on to direct 1988’s Poltergeist III.

Man, I could really use a shower. Can we please go back to talking about Oscar contenders?


4. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Paramount; 6/12/81; $242.3 million)

Ah, that’s better. All clean now.

Private Lessons may have hung around in theaters for five months and collected $26 million, but Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, my all-time favorite popcorn movie, earned $209 million in its original release, with an extra $33 million brought in through reissues in ’82 and ’83. The film received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won four in technical categories like Best Editing and Best Visual Effects.

Since I can’t tell you anything about Raiders that you don’t already know, I’d like to go back to Warren Beatty for a minute and quote from an essay that William Goldman, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of All the President’s Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (both of which starred Robert Redford), wrote for Premiere magazine in 1998 about that year’s Oscar race.

“There are some stars who are terrific working directors, such as Clint Eastwood. But most of them are Deities who only occasionally choose to come down and sweat,” said Goldman. “Warren Beatty has directed four films in twenty years. He won his first time out as a sole director, with Reds, in 1981. Know what I think? It was the worst directed of the five nominated flicks that year, the others being Atlantic City, Chariots of Fire, On Golden Pond, and, most brilliantly, Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Are you hearing this, Warren? Are you gonna take it lying down? You can’t let this Redford-lovin’ writer tear you apart like that — you have to direct another movie ASAP. Or at least act in one more, because I refuse to see you go out on a not-so-fine mess like 2001’s Town & Country. At least think about it, okay? Annette and I are worried. That is, I assume she’s worried. She has no idea who I am.


3. Taps (Fox; 12/9/81; $35.8 million)

Oh, look — it’s Oscar winner Timothy Hutton from Redford’s Ordinary People. And is that Oscar rejecter George C. Scott from Patton over there in the corner? So it is. Cool. Lots of Oscar-caliber Oscar winners here, doing their Oscar-winning—

Wait, who’s that baby-faced kid marching down the hallway with such freakish intensity? Is that … no, it couldn’t be … oh my god, it is … IT’S TOM CRUISE!!!!

Oh. Hi, Sean Penn. You’re in this movie too, aren’t you? Sorry, I didn’t see you in the trailer. But I was pretty focused on Tom, seeing as how Taps was only the second film he’d appeared in up to that point, after Endless Love.

Oh, you say Taps was your film debut? How ’bout that. You seem angry, Sean. Are you? Wait, are you angry because I seemed to care more about Tom than you and your two Best Actor Oscars, or do you always look like that? The latter, you say? Okay, just checking. I loved The Pledge, by the way. You’re even better than Burt Reynolds behind the camera.

And Tom, you were excellent in The Firm. I especially loved when you kicked the crap out of Wilford Brimley in that movie. Do you two still exchange Christmas cards? Or oatmeal recipes?


2. Absence of Malice (Columbia; 11/18/81; $40.7 million)

Speaking of Mr. Brimley, he steals Absence of Malice out from under Paul Newman and Sally Field in the film’s third act, as witnessed in the clip below. Luckily for him, they don’t seem to mind.

Sydney Pollack’s drama about a newspaper reporter (Field, who’s miscast) and the son of a Mob boss (Newman), whose life she increasingly complicates with one of her stories, doesn’t have the crackle of his 1993 thriller The Firm or the romantic sweep of 1985’s Out of Africa (Redford strikes again!), which won Pollack a Best Director Oscar, but it does have Wilford Brimley, who makes the most of his limited screen time, just as he did in The Firm when he played a Mafia enforcer.

Still, Absence received three Oscar nominations, including a Best Actor nod for Newman, and at the end of ’82 Pollack returned to cinemas with Tootsie, which was nominated for even more Oscars. It’s his only comedy — Pollack died in 2008 — but it just so happens to be one of the funniest comedies ever made.


1. On Golden Pond (Universal; 12/4/81; $119.2 million)

Because Dabney Coleman wasn’t electrocuted on the set of Modern Problems, he was able to appear in On Golden Pond as Jane Fonda’s fiancé. (He also had a nice turn in Tootsie as a chauvinistic soap opera director. Currently, he stars on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire in a dramatic role.) And because Henry Fonda was Jane Fonda’s dad, he was able to convincingly play her dad in a movie. Simple as that!

Henry won Best Actor for his portrayal of Norman Thayer in the family drama, but was too ill to attend the Oscars ceremony, so Jane accepted the award on his behalf; he died less than five months later, at age 77, from heart disease. Katharine Hepburn won Best Actress for her performance as Norman’s wife, Ethel, and it was her fourth and final win in that category, a record that remains to this day. On Golden Pond also won Best Screenplay for Ernest Thompson, who adapted his 1978 stage play, and was nominated for seven other Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director (Mark Rydell), and Best Supporting Actress (Jane Fonda).

A remake is reportedly in the works, with Warren Beatty directing himself as Norman and Robert Redford as Ethel. Yeah, it’s a passive-aggressive move on Beatty’s part, but at least he’s making an attempt to reconcile his jealousy. We should all support him in his endeavor.

Box-office tallies and release-date information provided by Box Office Mojo and IMDB.

Robert Cass
Robert Cass lives in Chicago. At Popdose he's written the series Sugar Water, Bootleg City, and Box Office Flashback and spearheaded the collaborative series 'Face Time with Jeff Giles and Mike Heyliger.