Universal, IStock
Universal, IStock

14 Blockbuster Facts About the Summer Movies of 1985

Universal, IStock
Universal, IStock

Despite the onslaught of automatic weapons, grenades, and political corruption, Rambo’s biggest problem in 1985 turned out to be a scrawny kid in a DeLorean.

Back to the Future was that summer’s biggest hit, earning $210.6 million and knocking Sylvester Stallone’s well-oiled deltoids off of his predicted perch at the box office. Few expected Back to the Future to perform so well, but Marty McFly’s success was just one of several surprises coming out of that year's summer movie season. Check out these 14 facts about a failed return to Oz, a geriatric Bond, and why a bunch of high school kids had such a problem with The Goonies.

1. Movies Stuck Around All Summer.

In today’s rush to have a major opening weekend before the next big movie rolls up, it’s hard to imagine any one film dominating theaters for long. But that’s exactly what Back to the Future did, arriving in cinemas on July 3, 1985 and taking the number one spot for a total of 11 weeks. Only the late July debut of National Lampoon’s European Vacation kept McFly from 12 straight weekends of victory.

2. There Were Plenty of Reruns.

Sequel fatigue has been setting in for years, with critics complaining that there are too many derivative works and not enough original material. But there was a time when studios would literally—not figuratively—rehash old titles by reissuing them. The summer months of 1985 saw the re-releases of Ghostbusters, Gremlins, and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, with the latter earning roughly $40 million in additional revenue—more than many first-run movies that year.

3. Disney Was Battered By the Care Bears.

Walt Disney

After five years of production and a reported $40 million price tag—at the time, the most expensive animated movie ever—The Black Cauldron was expected to reverse the course of underperforming Disney releases. Instead, it was a huge flop, earning less than half of its budget back and even getting out-hustled by the substantially less expensive The Care Bears Movie.   

4. They Also Paid Out the Nose for the Ruby Slippers.

Disney’s Return to Oz was expected to cash in on the brand equity of L. Frank Baum’s book series, which was last seen onscreen in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. That film, however, made such an impression with its Technicolor portrayal of Dorothy and her travels that the more faithful adaptation turned out to be too intense for kids. The film bombed: The New York Times declared it a “catastrophe,” and Disney had to pay for the privilege. Even though Baum’s books were in the public domain, the Ruby Slippers were not. They had to be licensed from MGM in order to be used.

5. Explorers Was Supposed To Be the Breakout Hit.

When has Entertainment Tonight ever lied to us? In their summer movie preview, prognosticators figured that Paramount’s Explorers, about kids that build their own spaceship, would rake in the dough. Why? Mostly because shooting children into orbit seemed like a can’t-miss proposition, and because director Joe Dante was also responsible for 1984’s Gremlins. But Explorers, which starred River Phoenix and Ethan Hawke, was rushed to meet its July release date, frustrating Dante and resulting in an uneven film that didn’t get much attention.

6. Michael J. Fox Bumped Himself Off.

Prior to shooting Back to the Future, Fox had finished Teen Wolf, an amiable if not-quite-classic comedy about a basketball-playing werewolf. Had it not been for Back to the Future’s massive success, it’s hard to know what audiences would have made of the film. But when it premiered in August, Fox had generated so much goodwill that it opened in second place, giving the actor both top slots. (Doing press for Teen Wolf, Fox told Starlog he disliked the title and was “chagrined” when the studio insisted on it.)   

7. Arnold Schwarzenegger Starred As a Non-Conan Conan.

Schwarzenegger agreed to shoot a cameo role in Red Sonja, producer Dino De Laurentiis’s attempt to feminize the sword-and-sorcery genre the two men had popularized with the Conan movies. Owing to legal reasons, Arnold’s character could not be named Conan, and the actor was assured that the role would be a surprise for viewers. But filming dragged on and Schwarzenegger’s part kept growing; when Red Sonja began its marketing efforts, Arnold was featured prominently on the poster and in advertising. He was so incensed at De Laurentiis for tricking him into a script he felt was “trash” that he refused to promote the film.

8. Weird Science Won the Three-Way Kid Genius Stakes.

In a seven-day span, three movies were released that featured teenagers using their considerable intellects to get themselves into and out of trouble: Weird Science, My Science Project, and Real Genius. Critics thought the studios were sabotaging themselves and creating consumer confusion. In the end, Weird Science—a John Hughes-scripted film about two nerds who create their ideal woman with a computer program—was weird enough to stand out, earning a respectable $23.8 million.

9. Bond Became the Butt of Jokes.

MGM

A View to a Kill marked the seventh time Roger Moore portrayed suave super-spy James Bond, but the fact that Moore was nearly 60 at the time did not go unnoticed. Moore himself was disturbed to find out he was older than his co-star’s mother, and former Bond Sean Connery chimed in to say that the character should be no older than 35. Moore resigned his post later that year.

10. The Goonies Lacked “Realism.”

The Los Angeles Times had the novel idea of gathering eight high school journalism students to quiz them on their interest in the upcoming summer film slate. Among their criticisms: The Goonies looked to be “fairly unrealistic,” with one concerned the title might be confused with Ghoulies or Gremlins; Clint Eastwood’s Western Pale Rider was a no-go since Eastwood is “not good-looking”; Chevy Chase, set to star in Fletch, reminded one of a “white Eddie Murphy.” The crew voted Explorers as the film they’d most like to see. Right on the money, kids.

11. It Was a John Candy Kind of Summer.

Candy was in four films between Memorial Day and Labor Day: Summer Rental, Volunteers, Brewster’s Millions, and a cameo in Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird. All of them performed well, except for Jim Henson’s effort: despite getting positive reviews, no one particularly cared to pay to see Big Bird when he was on television for free.

12. A Drive-In Theater Got the Twister Treatment.

On May 31, 1985, the Spotlight 88 Drive-In Theater in Beaver County, Pennsylvania was pulverized by an F-4 tornado. With business already in decline, the owners decided to convert it into a flea market. While it was being repaired, someone spray-painted a sign on the marquee: “Now Playing: Gone with the Wind.”

13. Siskel and Ebert Were Pretty Disappointed.

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were so peeved at the year’s offerings that the duo assembled an entire show about the worst of the worst. Siskel called it “one of the dullest, most juvenile, most homogenized summer movie seasons in recent memory.” Among their targets: The Bride, with Sting and Jennifer Beals as the bride of Frankenstein; the spy satire The Man With One Red Shoe, starring Tom Hanks; and Return to Oz, which Ebert declared “so depressing ... it was some kind of torture for me to sit through it.”

14. The Average Ticket Only Cost $3.55.

... leaving moviegoers with enough money to grab a New Coke at the concession stand. (Until it was discontinued on July 11th.)

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
12 Surprising Facts About Robin Williams
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA

Robin Williams had a larger-than-life personality. On screen and on stage, he embodied what he referred to as “hyper-comedy.” Offscreen, he was involved in humanitarian causes and raised three children—Zak, Zelda, and Cody. On July 16, HBO debuts the documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, directed by Marina Zenovich. The film chronicles his rise on the L.A. and San Francisco stand-up comedy scenes during the 1970s, to his more dramatic roles in the 1980s and '90s in award-winning films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; Awakenings; The Fisher King; and Good Will Hunting. The film also focuses on August 11, 2014, the date of his untimely death. Here are 12 surprising facts about the beloved entertainer.

1. ROBIN WILLIAMS GOT HIS START AT A COMEDY WORKSHOP INSIDE A CHURCH.

A still from 'Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind' (2018)
HBO

After leaving Juilliard, Robin Williams found himself back in his hometown of San Francisco, but he couldn’t find work as an actor. Then he saw something for a comedy workshop in a church and decided to give it a shot. “So I went to this workshop in the basement of a Lutheran church, and it was stand-up comedy, so you don’t get to improvise with others, but I started off doing, ostensibly, it was just like improvising but solo," he told NPR. "And then I started to realize, ‘Oh.’ [I started] building an act from there."

2. HE FORMED A FRIENDSHIP WITH KOKO THE GORILLA.

In 2001, Williams visited Koko the gorilla, who passed away in June, at The Gorilla Foundation in Northern California. Her caregivers had shown her one of his movies, and she seemed to recognize him. Koko repeatedly signed for Williams to tickle her. “We shared something extraordinary: laughter,” Williams said of the encounter. On the day Williams died, The Foundation shared the news with Koko and reported that she fell into sadness.

3. FOR A TIME, HE WAS A MIME IN CENTRAL PARK.

In 1974, photographer Daniel Sorine captured photos of two mimes in New York's Central Park. As it turned out, one of the mimes was Williams, who was attending Juilliard at the time. “What attracted me to Robin Williams and his fellow mime, Todd Oppenheimer, was an unusual amount of intensity, personality, and physical fluidity,” Sorine said. In 1991, Williams revisited the craft by playing Mime Jerry in Bobcat Goldthwait’s film Shakes the Clown. In the movie, Williams hilariously leads a how-to class in mime.

4. HE TRIED TO GET LYDIA FROM MRS. DOUBTFIRE BACK IN SCHOOL.

As a teen, Lisa Jakub played Robin Williams’s daughter Lydia Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire. “When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy,” Jakub wrote on her blog. “My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a ‘non-traditional’ student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.”

Sensing Jakub’s distress over the situation, Williams typed a letter and sent it to her school. “A student of her caliber and talent should be encouraged to go out in the world and learn through her work,” he wrote. “She should also be encouraged to return to the classroom when she’s done to share those experiences and motivate her classmates to soar to their own higher achievements … she is an asset to any classroom.”

Apparently, the school framed the letter but didn’t allow Jakub to return. “But here’s what matters from that story—Robin stood up for me,” Jakub wrote. “I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.”

5. HE WASN’T PRODUCERS' FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY MORK ON MORK & MINDY.

Anson Williams, Marion Ross, and Don Most told The Hallmark Channel that a different actor was originally hired to play Mork for the February 1978 Happy Days episode “My Favorite Orkan,” which introduced the alien character to the world. “Mork & Mindy was like the worst script in the history of Happy Days. It was unreadable, it was so bad,” Anson Williams said. “So they hire some guy for Mork—bad actor, bad part.” The actor quit, and producer Garry Marshall came to the set and asked: “Does anyone know a funny Martian?” They hired Williams to play Mork, and from September 1978 to May 1982, Williams co-headlined the spinoff Mork & Mindy for four seasons.

6. HE “RISKED” A ROLE IN AN OFF-BROADWAY PLAY.

Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California
Michael Caulfield, Getty Images for PCA

In 1988, Williams made his professional stage debut as Estragon in the Mike Nichols-directed Waiting for Godot, which also starred Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham. The play was held off-Broadway at Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. The New York Times asked Williams if he felt the show was a career risk, and he responded with: “Risk! Of never working on the stage again! Oh, no! You’re ruined! It’s like you're ruined socially in Tustin,” a town in Orange County, California. “If there’s risk, you can’t think about it,” he said, “or you’ll never be able to do the play.”

Williams had to restrain himself and not improvise during his performance. “You can do physical things,” he said, “but you don’t ad lib [Samuel] Beckett, just like you don’t riff Beethoven.” In 1996, Nichols and Williams once again worked together, this time in the movie The Birdcage.

7. HE USHERED IN THE ERA OF CELEBRITY VOICE ACTING.

The 1992 success of Aladdin, in which Williams voiced Genie, led to more celebrities voicing animated characters. According to a 2011 article in The Atlantic, “Less than 20 years ago, voice acting was almost exclusively the realm of voice actors—people specifically trained to provide voices for animated characters. As it turns out, the rise of the celebrity voice actor can be traced to a single film: Disney’s 1992 breakout animated hit Aladdin.” Since then, big names have attached themselves to animated films, from The Lion King to Toy Story to Shrek. Williams continued to do voice acting in animated films, including Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet 2.

8. HE FORGOT TO THANK HIS MOTHER DURING HIS 1998 OSCAR SPEECH.

In March 1998, Williams won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. In 2011, Williams appeared on The Graham Norton Show, and Norton asked him what it was like to win the award. “For a week it was like, ‘Hey congratulations! Good Will Hunting, way to go,'” Williams said. “Two weeks later: ‘Hey, Mork.’”

Then Williams mentioned how his speech accidentally left out one of the most important people in his life. “I forgot to thank my mother and she was in the audience,” he said. “Even the therapist went, ‘Get out!’ That was rough for the next few years. [Mom voice] ‘You came through here [points to his pants]! How’s the award?’”

9. HE COMFORTED STEVEN SPIELBERG DURING THE FILMING OF SCHINDLER’S LIST.

At this year’s 25th anniversary screening of Schindler’s List, held at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Steven Spielberg shared that Williams—who played Peter Pan in Spielberg’s Hook—would call him and make him laugh. “Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” Spielberg said. “I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.”

10. HE HELPED ETHAN HAWKE GET HIS AGENT.

During a June 2018 appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Ethan Hawke recalled how, while working on Dead Poets Society, Williams was hard on him. “I really wanted to be a serious actor,” Hawke said. “I really wanted to be in character, and I really didn’t want to laugh. The more I didn’t laugh, the more insane [Williams] got. He would make fun of me. ‘Oh this one doesn't want to laugh.’ And the more smoke would come out of my ears. He didn’t understand I was trying to do a good job.” Hawke had assumed Williams hated him during filming.

After filming ended, Hawke went back to school, but he received a surprising phone call. It was from Williams’s agent, who—at Williams's suggestion—wanted to sign Hawke. Hawke said he still has the same agent today.

11. HE WAS ALMOST CAST IN MIDNIGHT RUN.

In February 1988, Williams told Rolling Stone how he sometimes still had to audition for roles. “I read for a movie with [Robert] De Niro, [Midnight Run], to be directed by Marty Brest,” Williams said. “I met with them three or four times, and it got real close, it was almost there, and then they went with somebody else. The character was supposed to be an accountant for the Mafia. Charles Grodin got the part. I was craving it. I thought, ‘I can be as funny,’ but they wanted someone obviously more in type. And in the end, he was better for it. But it was rough for me. I had to remind myself, ‘Okay, come on, you’ve got other things.’”

In July 1988, Universal released Midnight Run. Just two years later, Williams finally worked with De Niro, on Awakenings.

12. BILLY CRYSTAL AND WILLIAMS USED TO TALK ON THE PHONE FOR HOURS.

Actors Robin Williams (L) and Billy Crystal pose at the afterparty for the premiere of Columbia Picture's 'RV' on April 23, 2006 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Starting in 1986, Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg co-hosted HBO’s Comic Relief to raise money for the homeless. Soon after Williams’s death, Crystal went on The View and spoke with Goldberg about his friendship with Williams. “We were like two jazz musicians,” Crystal said. “Late at night I get these calls and we’d go for hours. And we never spoke as ourselves. When it was announced I was coming to Broadway, I had 50 phone messages, in one day, from somebody named Gary, who wanted to be my backstage dresser.”

“Gary” turned out to be Williams.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind premieres on Monday, July 16 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.

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Walt Disney Pictures
10 Facts About Hocus Pocus
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

In a 2014 Reddit AMA, Bette Midler said she'd be interested in doing a Hocus Pocus sequel. "You have to go to send in your cards to the Walt Disney company," she said. "The ball's in their court." While you get those cards ready, here are some facts about the original, which arrived in theaters 25 years ago today.

1. THE STORY ORIGINATED AS A BEDTIME STORY.

The story for Hocus Pocus came about after writer David Kirschner invented a bedtime story for his kids. He later wrote the story up and submitted it to Muppet Magazine (why does this not still exist?), where it gained recognition.

2. THE WRITERS USED PROPS TO PITCH IT TO STUDIO EXECUTIVES.

Bette Midler in 'Hocus Pocus' (1993)
Walt Disney Pictures

To pitch the story to Disney, the writers had execs enter a dark room with broomsticks and a vacuum cleaner hanging from the ceiling. They also scattered 15 pounds of candy corn throughout the room in an effort to invoke Halloween nostalgia. It obviously worked!

3. IT WAS NOT AN IMMEDIATE HIT.

Though it’s a cult classic now, Hocus Pocus didn’t do that well when it first came out in 1993, perhaps because it was released in July instead of September or October. Though it didn’t have a terrible opening—$8,125,471, putting it in fourth place at the box office that weekend—it fell to $2,017,688 a few weeks later, and bad reviews from the critics didn’t help matters.

Entertainment Weekly was particularly put off by the movie, calling it a “piece of corny slapstick trash” and saying that “It’s acceptable scary-silly kid fodder that adults will find only mildly insulting. Unless they’re Bette Midler fans. In which case it’s depressing as hell.”

4. BETTE MIDLER LOVES IT.

Bette Midler, by the way, has said that Hocus Pocus is her favorite film out of all of the films she’s ever done. (At least as of 2008.) Thora Birch agreed, recently saying, “The most fun I ever had on a film was Hocus Pocus.”

5. KATHY NAJIMY LOVES IT, TOO.

Midler isn't the only star of the film who isn't immune to its allure: Kathy Najimy has said she watches the movie with her family every year on August 15.

6. IT COULD HAVE STARRED LEONARDO DICAPRIO.

The role of Max was originally offered to Leonardo DiCaprio. He turned it down to do What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

7. SARAH JESSICA PARKER IS RELATED TO A WOMAN FAMOUSLY ACCUSED OF BEING A WITCH.

Had Sarah Jessica Parker known then what she knows now, she might have approached the role of Sarah Sanderson a little differently. When the actress went on the show Who Do You Think You Are to trace her family history, Parker discovered that one of her ancestors was Esther Elwell, one of the women accused of being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials. After a young girl said she saw Esther’s “spectre” strangling neighbor Mary Fitch, Elwell was arrested, but escaped going to trial.

8. THORA BIRCH REVISITED THE NEIGHBORHOOD IN AMERICAN BEAUTY.

While the kids are prematurely celebrating victory against the Sanderson sisters after locking them in the kiln, they’re shown talking in front of a house as they walk to a park. The house was later used as the house Thora Birch’s character lived in for American Beauty.

9. THE KIDS WEREN'T HUGE FANS OF THE CATS.

The kids all hated working with the cats. Many different cats were used to represent Binx, and each one served a different purpose—one was good at cuddling with the kids, one would jump on command, etc. Every time a new cat was used, the children would have to coerce the kitty to trust them by using treats and a clicker. They got sick of it.

10. MUCH OF THE ORIGINAL CAST REUNITED FOR A 20TH REUNION.

Most of the cast participated in a 20th anniversary event for D23 (the Disney fan club) members. Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler were not in attendance, but pretty much everyone else was, including Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson), Vinessa Shaw (Allison), Omri Katz (Max), Thora Birch (Dani), and Doug Jones (Billy Butcherson). You can watch some of that reunion above.

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