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You’re the best around: 1984’s blockbuster summer – 30 years on, the greatest ever?

August 1, 2014

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Six of the best: fan-art inspired by and detail from the posters of half a dozen of 1984’s summer (and autumn) offerings courtesy of Hollywood – back when it genuinely was a dream factory

Hmm, so, as far as I can tell this summer season of blockbusters on offer from Hollywood have been headlined by a CGI-driven Planet Of The Apes second sequel – or prequel – and yet another CGI-driven Marvel Studios adaptation of one of its comic book creations that looks intriguing and ‘different’ because it features a snarling (albeit still cute) raccoon whom shoots stuff. You know, once upon a time, when it rolled round to May/ June, it wasn’t like this. But it sure seems like a long time ago.

And that’s because, peeps, sadly it was. The last truly great cinematic blockbuster summer I can recall is that of 1994 (The Lion King; Forrest Gump; Speed; True Lies; Four Weddings And A Funeral; Maverick). That’s 10 years ago. And even that was arguably a flash in the pan. Because, really, the majority of them came in the ’80s. It seemed that most summers back then, we yoof were blessed with original and oh-so exciting fare from one fortnight to the next. Not only did the sun shine, but our eyes, ears and imaginations were given an explosion of thrills, spills, laughs and excitement. Take 1989’s, for example (Batman; Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade; Lethal Weapon 2; When Harry Met Sally…; Back To The Future: Part II; Ghostbusters II; The Abyss) or 1985’s (Back To The Future; The Goonies; Rambo; Fletch; St. Elmo’s Fire; National Lampoon’s European Vacation; A View To A Kill; Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome; The Black Cauldron). And, if you go back further, even 1977 arguably offered a classic cinematic summer thanks to the thunderous triumverate that was The Spy Who Loved Me, Smokey And The Bandit and, of course, the very first Star Wars.

For me, though, the greatest blockbuster summer of all occurred three decades ago. However you look at it (in terms of originality, diversity, depth and breadth), 1984’s always was, remains still and surely always will be the sun-soaked season at the flicks to beat. In which case, in celebration of its 30th anniversary, here’s my countdown of the 10 greatest summer blockbusters that were released in ’84. And, what’s more, at the very end of the post, you lucky folks have the chance to agree or disagree with me, by voting for your top movie out of ’em all in a poll. Oh yes, we’re not doing things by half in this post – it’s summer ’84, after all…

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10. Police Academy

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Who? Hugh Wilson directs Steve Guttenburg, Kim Cattrall, Bubba Smith, Michael Winslow, David Graf, G W Bailey, Leslie Easterbrook and George Gaynes

What? Infinitely infantile, slapstick-reliant comedy about a hapless group of new recruits in the eponymous police academy of an unnamed metropolis. Mild and silly sex, fat, height, gun and authority-undermining gags ensue before the disparate gang reach their unlikely graduation.

When? Released March 23/ box-office gross: $81.2m (domestic)

Well? Easily the weakest entry on this list (not least because its run at cinemas could only just be said to squeeze into ’84’s cinema summer), but hugely popular; especially in the States. The best things about it are Steve Guttenburg’s likeable leading (straight) man, which he’d replicate for Short Circuit (1986) and Three Men And A Baby (1987), and Michael Winslow’s incredible electronic-esque aural impressions. The bad things about it are, erm, everything else. And the fact that six even worse sequels followed. Somehow, though, it’s still very whimsically recalled.

Wow? Legendary critic Roger Ebert claimed of Police Academy: “it’s so bad, maybe you should pool your money and draw straws and send one of the guys off to rent it so that in the future, whenever you think you’re sitting through a bad comedy, he could shake his head, and chuckle tolerantly, and explain that you don’t know what bad is”

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9. Purple Rain

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Who? Albert Magnoli directs Prince, Apollonia Kotero, Morris Day, Clarence Williams III and Olga Karlatos

What? Vehicle for pop-pixie-cum-sex-god Prince’s mid-’80s idiosyncratic funky sound disguised as a thinly veiled would-be biopic of the Minneapolis-hailing hero

When? Released July 27/ box-office gross: $68.4m (domestic)

Well? More feature-length, MTV-friendly flashy video (therefore advert) for the album that shares its name than a convincing commercial movie venture, and yet, no question, it somehow proved to be the latter too, defying the odds to become a huge hit and, thus, a rare out-and-out success as a modern pop/ cinema crossover

Wow?  Prince and Day (and their respective bands The Revolution and The Time) returned for a Prince-directed sequel Graffiti Bridge (1990); it unceremoniously bombed, failing to make back its $6 million budget

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8. The NeverEnding Story

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Who? Wolfgang Petersen directs Barret Oliver, Noah Hathaway, Tami Stronarch and Thomas Hill

What? Fairy tale-esque fantasy adventure wrapped up in a natty story-in-a-story-book narrative that captivated a generation of ’80s kids whom never wanted its (ahem) ‘never-ending’ story to end

When? Released April 6 (West Germany)/ box-office gross: $100m plus (worldwide)

Well? Curiously over- and underdone at the same time, it nonetheless remains a much-loved family favourite, full of magic, mysticism and the fantastical and surrounded by, dare one say it, something of a refreshingly un-Hollywood feel (owing to the fact it was a product of Euro-cinema). Best not to mention the sequels, though.

Wow? Giorgio Moroder’s unmistakeable techno-pop score – including the classic title tune performed by Kajagoogoo’s Limahl (see above video clip), which is absolutely impossible to separate from the film – oddly wasn’t present on the print of the movie released in West Germany, where much of it was filmed and from where much of its budget derived

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7. Splash

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Who? Ron Howard directs Tom Hanks, Daryl Hannah, John Candy and Eugene Levy

What? Light, frothy romantic comedy about a not-so-little mermaid whom steps out of the frothy surf to sample Noo Yawk, her guide around the Big Apple being Tom Hanks in his original ‘comic everyman’ role – and the one that made him a Hollywood star

When? Released March 9/ box-office gross: $69.8m (domestic)

Well? Comfy as your toes in Granny’s knitted woollen socks it may be, but this debut directorial effort from Ron ‘Richie Cunningham’ Howard is one of his most successful; genuinely charming and, at times, tittersome, it’s a tamely but finely crafted slice of Tinseltown-served family entertainment that, owing to its quality, has dated well. And Daryl Hannah’s damned hot.

Wow? It was the first film to be released under Disney’s more adult-themed Touchstone Pictures stable, owing to the big-wigs deciding its brief moments of cussing and nudity didn’t fit the Disney brand and, going forward, the creation of such a spin-off studio wouldn’t be a bad move

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6. The Karate Kid

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Who? John G Avilsden directs Ralph Macchio, Noriyuka ‘Pat’ Morita, Elisabeth Shue, William Zabka and Martin Kove

What? Baby-faced handsome new kid in town calls on the Japanese answer to Yoda  to toughen him up and fend off the cool, buffed-up crowd that frequent the local karate club (yep, seems unlikely they’d hang out there, but hey, it’s the ’80s) and, in doing so, learns and earns much more than a black-belt. Such as how to correctly paint fences – wax-on; wax-off, apparently.

When? Released June 22/ box-office gross: $90.8m (domestic)

Well? Basically an adolescent-does-martial-arts version of 1976’s Rocky (it’s even directed by the same bloke), Karate Kid nonetheless remains almost as enduringly popular and well recalled. It hit a huge chord with ’80s teens and kids, leading to its sequels (each of which inevitably got crapper as they went along) and an unlikely merchandising blitz, but did so not just because it was timely, perky and marketable, but also because it was a decently drawn and paced drama that engaged audiences as much as it kick-started a karate club boom.

Wow? Studio backer Columbia Pictures’ first choice for martial arts mentor Mr Miyagi was Japanese screen legend (and frequent Akira Kurosawa collaborator) Toshiro Mifune 

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5. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock

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Who? Leonard Nimoy directs William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Christopher Lloyd, Robin Curtis and himself

What? Following hot on the heels of 1982’s hot-to-trot Wrath Of Khan (and, thus, forming the middle part of a mid-movie-series-trilogy that would conclude with ’86’s The Voyage Home), this entry in the not-quite-yet-geriatric first Trekkers’ quest to conquer the silver screen saw Shatner and friends attempt to retrieve from beyond the grave the recently self-sacrificed Spock (Nimoy; whom also directed – not from beyond the grave)

When? Released June 1/ box-office gross: $76.6m (domestic)

Well? The weakest of the three flicks in the aforementioned sort-of-trilogy, meaning it’s the third best Star Trek movie of, erm, however many of ’em have been made, Search For Spock also obviously features little of the unmistakeable pointy-eared one, yet it somehow doesn’t diminish proceedings, caught up as we are in Kirk & co.’s desperate bid to retrieve their Vulcan chum via hot-tailing it in their (stolen) spaceship, battling ruthless Klingon thugs and dodging doom on a quickly self-destructing planet. Genuinely, heroic sci-fi hokum rarely rollicks more.

Wow? Despite actively dieting to get in shape to play Kirk again, Shatner’s weight fluctuated during the shoot so much that 12 shirts of different sizes had to be made for him

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4. Romancing The Stone

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Who? Robert Zemeckis directs Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito, Zack Norman, Alfonso Arau and Manuel Ojeda

What? Bestselling romance author (Turner) finds herself in a real romantic adventure when she schleps to South America to save her sister from the clutches of a dodgy army colonel, encountering Douglas’s ‘B-movie’-esque herioc rogue along the way and, together with him, facing fatal waterfalls, snap-happy crocodiles, deadly drugs barons and Danny DeVito

When? Released March 30/ box-office gross: $86.6m

Well? Indy-lite it may be, but it’s a winner all the way. Judged and paced perfectly with a smart, witty script and cracking casting (the Douglas-Turner pairing’s spot-on and DeVito a fine foil; so much so they’d all team up for 1986’s sequel The Jewel Of The Nile and ’89’s very different, DeVito-directed The War Of The Roses). Often overlooked and undeservedly so – not least because it persuaded Spielberg to take a punt on another Zemeckis project named Back To The Future.

Wow? Stone wasn’t actually inspired by Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981); its script was written in the late ’70s by screenwriter Diane Thomas, whom pitched it to Michael Douglas while serving him as a waitress; her job at the time to pay the bills. Tragically, shortly after Stone premiered (and while working on a Raiders sequel and the Spielberg film that would become 1989’s Always), she was killed in a crash – in the car she bought with her pay from Douglas.

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3. Gremlins

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Who? Joe Dante directs Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Frances Lee MacCain, Corey Feldman, Polly Holliday, Judge Reinhold and Keye Luke

What? Yuletide-set comic-horror in which an eccentric inventor dad gives his teen son the most unique Crimbo gift imaginable, a sweet, furry, otherworldly creature nicknamed ‘Gizmo’, with which the adolescent fails to follow the rules (as is so often the case when it comes to horror protagonists), the results being the thing spawns macabre and devilish – and yet still somewhat cute – versions of itself, reaping violence and chaos throughout his sleepy, snowy town

When? Released June 8/ box-office gross: $148.2m (domestic)

Well? A delicious black-comedy delight from start to finish, Gremlins is easily one of the most original, inventive and satisfying of all ’80s blockbusters. And a huge hit it was too, despite its sly skewering of US festive cultural norms (and, in doing so, sending up of the likes of 1946’s classic It’s A Wonderful Life) being received by an eager American audience slap-bang the middle of ’84’s cinema summer – and even coming out on the very same day as, yes, Ghostbusters.

Wow? Gizmo’s voice was provided by Howie Mandel, well known in the US as a comedian and host of game-show Deal Or No Deal; outside of the US he’s best known for portraying  Dr Wayne Fiscus in legendary hospital semi-soap St. Elsewhere (1982-88)

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2. Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom

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Who? Steven Spielberg directs Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Key-Huy Quan, Amrish Puri, Roshan Seth and Philip Stone

What? Sequel (or, to be precise, prequel) to Raiders, in which the awesome archaeologist sets out to retrieve sacred stones for an Indian village (read: really, an adventure conducted at break-neck speed in which the iconic ’80s film hero, with ditzy blonde chanteuse Willie Scott and ultimate short-arse sidekick Short Round in tow, faces-off against evil religious fanatics via a series of eye-boggling action set-pieces, such as on a mine-cart railway and an epic rope-bridge)

When? Released May 23/ box-office gross: $333.1m

Well? It’s Temple Of Doom, for chrissakes; of course it’s awesome. All right, it might not quite be in Raiders’ class and, while the playing around with the Indy formula (i.e. attempt to darken the tone in several respects) remains controversial, its risky audacity and stand-out sequences still undoubtedly thrill three decades down the line. Like the it’s-clearly-really-a-rollercoaster rollercoaster-like mine-cart chase, Doom was, is and always will be one hell of a ride.

Wow? David Niven was apparently attached to the British army officer role Captain Blumburtt (eventually played by Philip Stone), but died before filming began

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1. Ghostbusters

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Who? Ivan Reitman directs Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Oh, and Slimer.

What? A trio of New York paranormal scientists strike out on their own as ‘ghostbusters’, setting up their HQ in a disused fire-station and crashing about the city in a knackered old ambulance, just as the Big Apple’s barraged by a plague of ghouls; the lead up to a potential demonic apocalypse (‘cats living with dogs’ etc.). Can our unlikely heroes save the day?

When? Released June 8/ box-office gross: $291.6m

Well? Possibly the greatest ever comic-adventure summer blockbuster, slyly mixing its heroics and top comedy with mild (and finely realised) horror, excellent characterisation from the leading and supporting players (all of it comic and all of it spot-on) and an irresistible theme song hit. Ultimately, though, Ghostbusters’ undoubted quality and deserved success comes down to the superb script from Aykroyd and Ramis and pitch-perfect direction from Reitman. In the summer of ’84 there was no question who most peeps were gonna see – and, had they existed in real life, who they were gonna call too.

Wow? Aykroyd initially envisaged Ghostbusters as a vehicle for himself and fellow Saturday Night Live alumnus John Belushi, in which they would travel through time, space and even other dimensions to tackle ghosts; director Reitman suggested reigning in his ambitions owing to inevitable budgetary constraints

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And making it an Indian summer were…

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A Nightmare On Elm Street

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Who? Wes Craven directs Heather Lagenkamp, Robert Englund, John Saxon, Johnny Depp, Ronee Blakley, Amanda Wyss and Jsu Garcia

What? A quartet of teens experience horrific nightmares in which hat-wearing, stripey jumper-sporting, severe face-burned killer Freddy Krueger stalks them, attempting to kill them with the knives that protrude from his gloves – only, it turns out, when he murders them in their dreams he bumps ’em off in real life too

When? November 9/ box-office gross: $25.5m (domestic)

Well? Not exactly deserving in this company in terms of cinematic gross, Nightmare was nonetheless a big hit on initial release given its minuscule budget ($1.8m) and hugely unexpected commercial success. Like Police Academy, its popularity led to a dearth of inferior sequels, yet unlike Police Academy, it was a critical success and deservedly so; an imaginative and genuinely shocking slasher-horror and massive influence on its genre

Wow? Protagonist Nancy Thompson could have been played by either Courteney Cox, Demi Moore or Jennifer Grey, while her boyfriend character Glen Lantz (Johnny Depp) saw auditions from Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, C Thomas Howell, Brad Pitt, Charlie Sheen and Kiefer Sutherland

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The Terminator

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Who? James Cameron directs Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, Paul Winfield and Lance Henriksen

What? Fantasy actioner in which a near-indestructible human-looking cyborg from the early 21st Century is sent back in time to 1984 Los Angeles to kill unassuming local girl Sarah Connor, as she’s about to give birth to a son who’ll grow up to lead a resistance movement to the über-artificial intelligence entity that has laid waste to humankind via nuclear war – and is the creator of the robot-warrior-assassin

When? November 26/ box-office gross: $78.4m

Well? A sci-fi action adventure for adults (of now legendary proportions), the original Terminator movie is basically a dark, violent comic book translated to cinematic form. That, though, doesn’t do it justice, for it’s also a smart, stylish, compelling and wholly satisfying experience – with a genuine superstar-making turn from Arnie as the titular antagonist

Wow? Initially, studio backer Orion suggested casting O J Simpson as the Terminator – but Cameron nixed the idea because he didn’t feel the public would find Simpson a believable killer

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And finally, of course…

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Beverly Hills Cop

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Who? Martin Brest directs Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Lisa Eilbacher, Steven Berkoff, Ronny Cox, Gil Hill and Bronson Pinchot

What? Sweary comedy-adventure that sees streetwise Detroit police detective Axel Foley (Murphy) travel to Beverly Hills in order to track down his friend’s murderer, whom he suspects to be his previous employer, an LA tycoon. While investigating the latter, however, Foley irritates the local police (owing as much to his willful practical jokes as his probing), in particular those charged with dealing with him, Detectives John Taggart and Billy Rosewood

When? December 5/ box-office gross: $316.6m

Well? A home-run of an ’80s blockbuster if ever there was one (and certainly for me, after Ghostbusters, ’84’s best), Beverly Hills Cop is an utter joy. Strip from it Murphy’s terrific lead role, full of swaggering charm, street-smarts and underdog heroism, and you might think it’d be a humdrum (somewhat) hard and violent cop thriller, but that’d be to dismiss its sly and witty script, engagingly comic supporting turns (especially from Reinhold and Ashton), tone-perfect direction from Brest and, of course, Harold Faltermeyer’s iconic score and that Glenn Frey opening credits tune – as big a hit in the charts as the movie was at the box-office

Wow? The now deceased Christopher Hitchens once claimed that the similarly late, acclaimed British author Kingsley Amis believed Beverly Hills Cop to be a ‘flawless masterpiece’

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