Now it is time to take a look at the movie releases from the summer of 1980. By this point the city movie palaces were beginning to die and those that remained open were in generally poor condition. These palaces were also no longer opening movies on an exclusive basis only so they were sharing their bookings with several suburban theaters. These suburban movie complexes were growing like weeds with three and four screen auditoriums popping up all over the place. Drive-ins were still fairly popular. Some drive-ins began to close but others were either still going strong or adding a screen or two to generate more profits.
Because of all of these screens there was plenty of product to go around and by the end of the summer of 1980 there were 38 movies released. Due to the new popularity of the mad slasher film nine of these releases were either horror or thrillers with plenty of violence. Kids were given the shaft yet again as only two films specifically geared at them would be released and only one was from Walt Disney while two others were sci-fi films not directly geared for kids but more for the teenage market.
Also notable, and not an uncommon occurrence these days, was that only five of the summer releases would be remembered at Academy Awards time and not one of them was in a major category.
Here are the summer movies from 1980 presented in alphabetical order. As always I hope they bring back some find memories and I also hope if there are a few in here you haven’t seen that should be seen, you will seek them out.
AIRPLANE! (Paramount; Directors – Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker) The sleeper hit of the summer was this spoof of airplane and the Airport disaster films with non-stop gags from beginning to end (including after the ending credits). The results are drop dead funny with many laugh out loud moments and many more chuckles. Even the groan inducing moments don’t last because the next gag is just a second from arriving. The best part of the film is the performances of the veteran performers best known for dramatic roles including Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges and Peter Graves. The film became a smash hit with mostly positive reviews and with a budget of just over $3 million, the film made back more than $40 million and inspired a lesser sequel two years later.
BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (New World Pictures; Director – Jimmy Murakami) One of the first Star Wars rip-offs was this mildly entertaining adventure with a script by John Sayles that borrows heavily from The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. A good cast includes Richard Thomas, John Saxon, George Peppard and Robert Vaughn. Despite being from producer Roger Corman the film has some solid special effects and made for a fun afternoon at the movies. Reviews were fair but the film was a box office disappointment.
THE BIG RED ONE (United Artists; Director – Samuel Fuller) A tough, uncompromising WWII drama about the lives of a squadron and its tough sergeant pulls no punches and turns out to be a rich look at life in the trenches. Lee Marvin, Mark Hamill and Robert Carradne star in this vivid film from cult director Fuller, making his first film in several years. The film received strong reviews but was a box office disappointment at the time though today it is recognized as the triumph it is.
THE BLUE LAGOON (Columbia; Director – Randal Kleiser) One of the sleeper hits of that summer was this tale of a young boy and girl shipwrecked on an island who, after many years, become sexually aware of each other. Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins played the teenage leads in what turns out to be nothing more than a tease at soft-core porn surrounding by beautiful photography. The film was panned by critics but made a whopping $29 million at the box office. The film’s beautiful Cinematography was recognized with an Academy Award nomination.
THE BLUES BROTHERS (Universal; Director – John Landis) John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd reprise their SNL characters, two bluesman brothers, out to save the orphanage they grew up in mixed in with loads of musical numbers (with plenty of cameos by music greats) and a number of amazingly filmed chases. This Sherman tank of a movie throws in everything but the kitchen sink for just over two hours and everything keeps flowing under the sure handed direction of Landis. Long thought to be a box office bomb, the movie did, in fact, gross over $32 million at the box office but the budget soared to almost $27 million. Critical reaction to the film was extremely mixed.
BRONCO BILLY (Warner Bros; Director – Clint Eastwood) Eastwood stars in and directs one of his very best films as the star of a fly by night Wild West show that tours the country one night at a time. Along the way a rich, spoiled heiress, believed murdered by her husband, joins the show to escape her everyday reality of life. This is a warm and very charming movie that somehow got lost in the summer movie shuffle despite Eastwood’s star power and some of Eastwood’s strongest reviews up to that time. Sadly the film failed to find an audience and was one of the bigger box office disappointments of the summer and the year.
BRUBAKER (20th Century Fox; Director – Stuart Rosenberg) Director Rosenberg returns to prison territory for the first time since his directorial debut 13 years earlier with Cool Hand Luke and this time brings along Robert Redford. As the film opens Redford appears to be a new inmate but it is revealed he is the new warden and posed to find the bad areas of the prison that he needs to protect. Soon he is trying to uncover corruption in the entire prison system and finds himself in danger. This is an earnest but not altogether satisfying drama that received mixed reviews but was a solid hit earning almost $20 million. The film’s screenplay would be recognized with an Academy Award nomination.
CADDYSHACK (Orion; Director – Harold Ramis) Another of the big sleeper’s of the summer is this comedy that is now beloved by most men in this world. Taking place at a posh country club golf course, the film has no real storyline but follows several characters through comedic situations and adventures. The then hot Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and Rodney Dangerfield star and it basically was (and was also promoted as) Animal House on a golf course. Reviews were mixed at best but was a smash hit making over $20 million.
CAN’T STOP THE MUSIC (EMI; Director – Nancy Walker) Everything about this big budget musical seemed to be wrong from the start. First, Grease producer Alan Carr hired television character actress Walker to direct his $20 million extravaganza. Then he brought in the disco group The Village People and Olympian Bruce Jenner to co-star with Valerie Perrine (who never looked better) and Steve Guttenberg in a musical look at the music business. Carr also had the misfortune of releasing this film as the surge against disco was at its height. A few of the musical numbers are fairly impressive but there is a high level of gay context that is fairly obvious that could easily make some audiences uncomfortable. In the end even the curiosity seekers stayed away and the film was an enormous flop making just over $1 million.
CHEECH AND CHONG’S NEXT MOVIE (Universal; Director – Tommy Chong) The famous drug duo follow up their smashing, $28 million grossing Up In Smoke from 1978 with this follow-up comedy that really has no story but follows the team through more drug escapades. Fans of the first film flocked to see this film and it was a smashing success making almost $22 million despite the expected critical lashing.
THE CHILDREN (World National Pictures; Director – Max Kalmanowicz) One of the worst horror films of this, or any, decade is this tale of little children who turn into zombie-like creatures and can kill people with their hands. By touching them they simply burn up and the only way to kill them is to cut off their hands. It’s even worse than it sounds. This film wasn’t even around long enough to get the critical drubbing it would have got and bombed at the box office and has been rightfully forgotten.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND – THE SPECIAL EDITION (Columbia; Director – Steven Spielberg) The re-release of the 1977 blockbuster was billed as a “special edition” because of promised new scenes and a trip inside the mother ship at the end. The final result was more of a p.r. stunt than anything but due to the greatness of the original film there was little backlash or cries from people feeling ripped off. A few new scenes were added, the middle was tightened up a bit with some scenes edited out and the final sequence inside the mother ship is two minutes of not much. Still it is a terrific film and seeing it on the big screen was always a treat. The film was a mild hit in its re-release.
DRESSED TO KILL (Filmways; Director – Brian DePalma) Director DePalma crafted a stylish thriller about a killer who stalks to women: one is the sexually frustrated patient of a psychiatrist and the other is a hooker who witnesses a murder and then teams up with the intelligent son of the first woman to track the killer down. Michael Caine plays the psychiatrist, Angie Dickinson plays the frustrated woman and Nancy Allen plays the hooker. DePalma keeps the tension high and has many memorable set pieces, particularly a sexy cat and mouse hunt between a man and a woman in a museum that is played entirely without dialogue. This is a well done, very sexy adult thriller that was a solid box office hit making over $15 million and received mostly positive reviews.
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (20th Century Fox; Director – Irvin Kershner) The most anticipated film of the entire year was the sequel to Star Wars with the continuing adventures of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo and the attempt to stop the dreaded Darth Vader. Considered by many (myself included) to be the best in the series, the film received mostly glowing reviews and became the highest grossing film of the year making $142 million. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards winning for Best Sound and Visual Effects and losing for Best Art Direction and Score.
FAME (United Artists; Director – Alan Parker) This solid musical drama follows the lives of several out of high school kids going through four years of school in an institute for actors, dancers and singers. The film follows a handful of kids from their first days of being green to their graduation as they prepare to make the leap into the tough world of entertainment. Director Parker presents his situations in a mostly realistic manner and sandwiches these moments with some terrific musical numbers to keep the film lively. The film received mixed reviews but was a box office flop. Fame would be nominated for six Academy Awards winning for Best Song (the title song) and Best Score and losing for Editing, Original Screenplay, Song and Sound.
THE FIENDISH PLOT OF DR. FU MANCHU (Orion; Director – Piers Haggard) Peter Sellers’s final film (released shortly after his death) is, alas, also one of his worst films. In it Sellers plays dual roles, one as the famous Fu Manchu and the other as his archenemy from Scotland Yard trying to track him down. The film is embarrassingly unfunny with Sellers sadly looking as if his life is nearing the end (especially as the Scotland Yard detective). The talents of co-stars Helen Mirren and Sid Caesar are also wasted. And just when you thought you had seen it all wait until the last scene of the film when you watch Sellers dressed in disco garb mouthing the lyrics to a song called Rockin Fu. The film received tepid reviews and was a box office bomb making just under $5 million.
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN (United Artists; Director – Don Taylor) An impressive cast stars in this adventure drama about an aircraft carrier that goes through a time warp and finds itself back near Pearl Harbor just prior to December 7, 1941. Once there the captain and crew try to figure out how to handle the impending attack by the Japanese. The cast is headed by Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, James Farentino, Katherine Ross, Charles Durning and Ron O’Neal are giving solid performances in a most enjoyable film despite some script flaws. The film received mixed reviews but was surprisingly a box office disappointment.
FRIDAY THE 13th(Paramount; Director – Sean S. Cunningham) The first mad slasher movie to be a summer smash (John Carpenter’s Halloween was a fall release in 1978) was this now familiar story of the re-opening of a summer camp some years after a little boy drowned because of the inattentiveness of two counselors fooling around. Soon enough the new counselors begin getting killed off one by one in truly violent manner. Teenagers flocked to this film no doubt thrilled by the unusual and very violent scenes of murder plus a shock ending lifted right out of Carrie. Needless to say critics tore the film apart. Late film critic Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune went so far as to (quite controversially) give away the film’s ending in an effort to keep viewers away. Of course it didn’t work and the low budget horror film grossed a whopping $17 million and would inspire countless sequels and a recent remake.
THE GONG SHOW MOVIE (Universal; Director – Chuck Barris) Mis-marketing on the part of Universal helped turn this dud of a film into a small gross instead of the bomb in turned out to be. Viewers were led to believe this would be an R-rated look at skits and contestants from the then popular game show that couldn’t be aired on television and found it was a dull, lifeless “fictional” look at creator Barris’ life at the time and how fame was not it was all made up to be. The few funny moments in the film do come from the blue material from the game show that couldn’t be aired but it was far from being enough. Critics ripped the film apart and it made a paltry $4 million.
THE HEARSE (Crown International Pictures; Director – George Bowers) Trish Van Devere (better known as Mrs. George C. Scott) stars as a woman who inherits the mysterious house of her recently deceased aunt and soon finds herself being terrorized by ghosts and a mysterious hearse that appears out of nowhere on secluded roads at night. The film has some interesting ideas and a few scares but lacks atmosphere or good direction to sustain one’s interest. The film was not a hit with critics and was a box office flop.
HERBIE GOES BANANAS (Walt Disney; Director – Vincent McEveety) The lone Disney release of the summer was the fourth (and weakest) in the Love Bug series that follows two young men taking Herbie to Brazil for a race and encountering all sorts of hijinks along the way. Cloris Leachman and Harvey Korman star in this slight film that was dismissed by the critics but still made $9 million at the box office.
THE HOLLYWOOD KNIGHTS (Columbia; Director – Floyd Mutrux) Pretty much of an American Graffiti rip-off was the story of teenagers on Halloween night in 1965 listening to the period rock music and partying while saying goodbye to their local drive-in restaurant that is closing that night. Typical sophomoric hi-jinks ensue in this average comedy with a terrific soundtrack. The film is more notable now for early appearances by Robert Wuhl, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tony Danza and Fran Drescher. Critical reaction was weak and the film was only a minor hit.
HONEYSUCKLE ROSE (Warner Bros; Director – Jerry Schatzberg) Willie Nelson’s first starring role was in this drama about the life of a country singer both at home and on the road and the complications that arise when he begins to have an affair with the daughter of one of his longtime band mates. Nelson gives a good performance in a surprisingly strong film that has more heart and soul than one would expect. Reviews were generally positive but the audience was fairly limited to Nelson fans and those fans of country/western music and the film made just over $8 million. Nelson’s famed song On The Road Again would receive the film’s only Academy Award nomination for Best Song.
HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (New World; Director – Barbara Peters) Roger Corman produced this low budget drive-in thriller about a small seaside community being terrorized by sea creatures that have an eye for the women (especially those that are scantily clad). Doug McClure plays it straight in the lead but it plays better if you don’t take a second of it seriously despite the strong amount of violence and the unusually high quotient of nudity (which is even more surprising since a woman directed). Critics and audiences alike dismissed it quickly.
THE HUNTER (Paramount; Director – Buzz Kulik) Steve McQueen’s final film is partially based on a true story of a modern day bounty hunter and how he sometimes try to help out those he brings in. The film is sometimes entertaining but has a terribly disjointed script that introduces sub-plots that go nowhere. McQueen’s charismatic screen presence is obvious and there is a terrific chase scene on the streets of Chicago near the film’s climax. Critics dismissed the film and it grossed a very disappointing $8 million at the box office.
THE ISLAND (Universal; Director – Michael Ritchie) Based on the novel by Peter (Jaws, The Deep) Benchley, Michael Caine stars as a newspaper reporter who takes his son on a Caribbean vacation but uses the time to investigate a group of mysterious disappearances of tourists. Turns out to be a band of modern day pirates who take Caine captive and make brainwash his son into becoming part of their group. This is a sometimes very violent and suspenseful thriller that received mostly negative reviews and a flop at the box office having earned $9.6 million on a $22 million budget.
THE LONG RIDERS (United Artists; Director – Walter Hill) A violent western tale with a twist as real life brothers (Carradine, Quaid, Keach, Guest) play the real life brother outlaws of the west including the Younger and James brothers. Hill’s direction is stylish and he wisely shows the old west as the violent world that it was. The film received good reviews but grossed just under $6 million.
THE OCTAGON (American Cinema Releasing; Director – Eric Karson) Chuck Norris starred in one of his early films as a man playing protector to a woman being targeted for death by ninja assassins. Action fans ate the film up and Norris proved he was a capable action star with some terrifically filmed action scenes in albeit a ludicrous story. Critics dismissed it but the film made a healthy $9 million.
OH, HEAVENLY DOG (20th Century Fox; Director – Joe Camp) Someone had the bright idea of pairing Chevy Chase and Benji (you read that right) in a mystery comedy and the film actually got a green light. What is even more astounding is that the very same geniuses that thought this idea up then decided not to put the two in any scenes together. Chase plays a detective who is killed and is reincarnated into our feline hero. For the rest of the movie we see an adorable Benji and only hear Chase as he sets out to solve his own murder. The film is pleasant enough but nothing special and received generally poor reviews. The film failed to catch on and made only $4 million at the box office.
PROM NIGHT (Avco Embassy; Director – Paul Lynch) Another entry into the mad slasher genre is this tale of revenge on high schoolers at their senior prom for a prank that went horribly wrong several years earlier. Jamie Lee Curtis stars as one of the students targeted for death and Leslie Nielsen plays it straight as a cop. The film offers little suspense and, refreshingly, is light on the violence but the identity of the killer is easy to spot fifteen minutes into the film. As expected the film was trashed by the critics but still made $8 million at the box office.
RAISE THE TITANIC (Associated Film Distribution; Director – Jerry Jameson) Based on the enormously popular Clive Cussler novel about political intrigue as American agent Dirk Pitt heads a team attempting to salvage the long sunken ship. This is a long, slow and quite dull adventure film that culminates in a truly exciting final act in which the legendary ship is brought back to the surface. This was supposed to be the first of many Cussler film adaptations of adventurer Pitt but was derailed by negative reviews and a box office take of only $6.8 million from a $36 million budget, making it one of the biggest flops of the year.
ROUGH CUT (Paramount; Director – Don Siegel) Burt Reynolds stars in this romantic caper comedy as a top jewel thief who falls in love with the gorgeous Lesley Anne-Down who plays a member of Scotland Yard who has infiltrated Reynolds to try and arrest him. This was a troubled production that went through four directors and a writer who requested a pseudonym on the credits and also features an obvious tacked on ending that was shot months after principal photography had been completed. Despite Reynolds being at the very top of his popularity at that time the film was a major flop at the box office and received mostly negative reviews.
THE SHINING (Warner Bros.; Director – Stanley Kubrick) One of the most eagerly awaited films of the summer was this horror film that coupled the talents of the most popular writer in the country at that time (Stephen King) and one of the best directors of his era (Kubrick). Based on King’s enormously popular book about a family that spends an isolated winter at a Colorado hotel as caretakers where the father (Jack Nicholson) slowly begins to go mad. Kubrick chose this film as his first in five years (after the disappointing reception of the critically acclaimed Barry Lyndon) for its almost guaranteed box office success. Kubrick’s deliberate pacing style is a detriment to this material as the movie slogs along too slowly at times and it becomes evident that he was likely not the best choice for the material. This is the one film that has divided more people than any other I can recall. Enthusiasts of the book were disappointed by both Kubrick’s changes from the book (of which there were many) and his odd casting of Nicholson and Shelley Duvall in the lead roles. Nicholson, one of our great actors, is oddly miscast here because he appears crazy from the start thus making his transformation from normal father to crazed killer anti-climatic. Duvall is whiny and unattractive and the two have no chemistry at all. Critical reaction was mostly negative and while the film did make over $30 million it ended up well under industry predictions, particularly with a $22 million budget.
SILENT SCREAM (American Cinema Releasing; Director – Denny Harris) Another of the many mad slasher films finds a group of teenagers in an eerie house with a most unwelcome guest hunting them down one by one. The film offers a few scares but is needlessly bloody and makes little sense as a story. Critics hated the film but made a small profit due, no doubt, to its low budget and its release in dozens of theaters and drive-ins at once.
SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT II (Universal; Director – Hal Needham) The sequel to the box office smash of 1977 reunited the film’s original cast and also added Dom DeLuise to the mix and still managed, with a shoddy script, to be one of the biggest disappointments of the year. Reynolds’ Bandit is foolishly written as a drunk, depressed has been instead of the happy-go-lucky hero of the first film. Reynolds and Sally Field spend the entire movie fighting (possibly mirroring the end of their real life relationship) and the film is more morose than funny. Even Jackie Gleason is wasted despite the fact that not only does he play Smokey but also resurrects some of his most famous characters from his television days. The films reviews ranged from negative to tepid but Reynolds’ enormous popularity at that time propelled the film to a strong $40 million gross.
URBAN COWBOY (Columbia; Director – James Bridges) John Travolta’s first film after the disastrous Moment By Moment is this romantic drama about a newcomer in a Texas town who gravitates to a bar that has wild women, music and a mechanical bull that brings out the best in him and the many admirers who are there but are missing from his every day real life. Debra Winger co-stars as his girlfriend and soon to be wife with Scott Glenn in an early role as a bad guy who likes Winger. The film is basically a southern version of Saturday Night Fever with mechanical bulls and country music replacing a disco and disco music. The film received good reviews and was a solid hit making over $24 million but this would be Travolta’s last major hit in almost a decade.
USED CARS (Columbia; Director – Robert Zemeckis) This is a manically paced comedy about two rival car dealerships who will do anything to get a customer on their lot. Kurt Russell stars as the sharp and unscrupulous dealer of one lot whose aspiration is to be in politics. Jack Warden is marvelous in a dual role as brothers, each of whom owns one of the dealerships. The film revels in bad taste and slippery gags but it’s all done with a wink to the audience and the characters are likable enough to make it work. The film received generally weak reviews but was still surprisingly (considering its target teenage audience) a box office disappointment grossing only $11.7 million on an $8 million budget. In recent years, though, the film has gained considerable success on tape and then DVD and is known now as a favorite.
WHOLLY MOSES (Columbia; Director – Gary Weis) A solid cast is wasted in a biblical comedy starring Dudley Moore as a man who mistakenly thinks he has become a prophet and must save the Jews. The strong supporting cast includes Laraine Newman, James Coco, Paul Sand, Jack Gilford, Dom DeLuise, John Houseman, Madeline Kahn, Richard Pryor and john Ritter but most are wasted in walk on roles that go nowhere. The film received bad reviews and was a box office disappointment as it grossed $7 million.