Movie lovers have been celebrating a lot of milestones in 2012: the 30th anniversary of "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," the 50th anniversary of "Lawrence of Arabia," "To Kill a Mockingbird," and the first James Bond film, the 75th anniversary of Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and the 10th anniversary of "Sorority Boys." All of these have given us great cause for rejoicing and reflection.
But we have overlooked a darker milestone, and it is this: 2012 marks the 25th anniversary of what may well be the worst year in film history.
The 1980s were a dismal decade in general, the reckless creativity of the 1970s having been re-stifled by studio control and corporate influences. There were still good films in the '80s, of course, but they came to be outnumbered by mass-produced, blockbuster-minded, artistically bankrupt fluff. For every "Ghostbusters" you had, literally, a half-dozen "Police Academy"s. Studios were cranking out bland, vanilla-flavored sausages in what amounted to a terrible mixing of metaphors.
1987 marked Hollywood's low point before the indie boom of the late '80s and early '90s helped it bounce back. I know it's subjective, but I believe the ratio of bad to good wide releases was worse in 1987 than in any other year. Look, the year's highest-grossing movie was "Three Men and a Baby." That was the 1987 release that more people saw than anything else, and it was at best -- at best -- mediocre. So not only were the movies bad that year, but we had bad taste in them, too.
Oh, there were some gems in 1987, sure. We got "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," "Raising Arizona," "Lethal Weapon," "Full Metal Jacket" and "The Princess Bride." Nobody's saying the entire year was a bust. But we need to do what our mothers always told us and quit focusing on the positive so we can obsess over the negative.
I began formulating my 1987 theory after I happened to notice that that year was represented more heavily in my Eric's Bad Movies column (every Monday at Film.com!) than any other year. Fourteen of the 191 movies I've covered so far were 1987 releases. Among them:
- "Masters of the Universe," a live-action He-Man movie with Frank Langella as Skeletor.
- "Garbage Pail Kids," based on the popular line of parody trading cards, featuring grotesque, foam-headed monsters.
- "Leonard Part 6," the worst thing Bill Cosby ever did until the "Fat Albert" movie.
Another sign that 1987 was a bad year: lots of Part 4s, possibly more than any other year. You know how Part 3 of a franchise tends to be disappointing? Well, it gets exponentially worse when you get to Part 4. In 1987, we had "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace," "Jaws: The Revenge," "Death Wish 4: The Crackdown" and "Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol" -- all bad, all the time.
That's not to mention the other unfortunate sequels that came out that year, including "Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise," "Creepshow 2," "House II," "American Ninja 2," "The Care Bears Movie 3" and "Meatballs III." And while "Beverly Hills Cop II" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors" may not have been terrible, they certainly weren't very good. (On the bright side: "Evil Dead 2.")
Consider also the brainless action flicks like "Over the Top" (Stallone arm-wrestles!), "Allan Quatermain and the City of Lost Gold" ("Indiana Jones" rip-off), "Steel Dawn" (post-apocalyptic Patrick Swayze), "Wanted: Dead or Alive" (Rutger Hauer hunts terrorists), "Assassination" (Charles Bronson is a Secret Service agent), and "Fatal Beauty" (Whoopi Goldberg is an undercover narcotics officer).
But wait, there's more! We can't forget teen-oriented drivel like "Flowers in the Attic" (with the book's famous incest removed), "The Allnighter" (starring the lead singer of The Bangles), "Hunk" (about a dweeb who wishes himself into being a hot dude) and "The Gate" (in which Stephen Dorff opens a portal to hell).
We should also address films like "My Demon Lover" and "Date with an Angel," whose titles almost guarantee badness, and "Who's That Girl?," which starred Madonna. And "Like Father, Like Son," a body-swapping comedy with Kirk Cameron and Dudley Moore. And "Hello Again," in which Shelley Long dies and is, for some reason, brought back to life.
There is a trend here. Most of these movies are bad in generic ways. Instead of being ambitious failures, most are simply run-of-the-mill failures, the kind of movies that are lousy for mundane reasons: too many producers trying to manufacture a "product" instead of entertainment, too many half-hearted cash-grabs, too many one-sentence plot summaries. Hollywood had given up on making good movies, and had apparently given up on making interesting bad ones too. No wonder everybody was doing cocaine all the time!
We conclude our stroll down bad memory lane with a terrible irony: The most notorious flop of 1987 was "Ishtar" -- a movie that isn't even bad. So many actual bad movies to choose from that year, and poor "Ishtar" becomes the poster child. Let us never speak of 1987 again.