As the latest round of would-be blockbusters packs ’em in at a theater near you, Popdose looks back at the box office totals of yesteryear. This week we revisit the top ten films of August 27, 1987, because deadlines shmeadlines! Besides, on August 27, 2017, Hurricane Harvey was upending millions of people’s lives in Houston and beyond, and now Hurricane Irma is wreaking similar havoc in the Caribbean and Florida, so writing about three-decades-old cinematic escapism can feel incredibly shallow when so many people are being forced to escape from their homes or risk drowning in floodwater. But if you want to know why the summer of ’87 was the big-screen equivalent of the “Latin pop explosion” of the summer of ’99, by all means read on …
10. Masters of the Universe (distributor: Cannon; release date: 8/7/87; final domestic gross: $17.3 million)
Twenty years before Hasbro’s Transformers were first transformed into CGI-enabled robot behemoths on the big screen, Cannon Films gave moviegoers “the first live-action film created from a toy line,” according to its PR machine. “It was kind of slightly embarrassing to sign on playing a toy,” says Dolph Lundgren, the embodiment of muscle-bound action figure He-Man in Masters of the Universe, in the highly entertaining documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014). But two years later he was playing the Punisher, a Marvel Comics B-lister, before comic-book movies were all the rage, so embrace your role as a trendsetter, Mr. Lundgren — even if you did set those trends in low-budget, quickly forgotten schlock. Actually, Masters was an attempt by Cannon, following the Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling epic, Over the Top, and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, to compete at the level of the major studios by spending big on stars and special effects. Or maybe there was nothing left in Cannon’s bank account after Stallone cashed his $12 million check — the flying effects alone in Superman IV were bad enough to ground that franchise for the next 19 years, and the action of Masters mostly takes place on Earth, where location shooting, especially within the greater Los Angeles area circa 1986 A.D., is much more cost-efficient than on He-Man’s home world of Eternia.
9. RoboCop (Orion; 7/17/87; $53.4 million)
Masters of the Universe started as a toy line from Mattel before becoming an animated TV series designed to advertise those toys and, lastly, a feature film. RoboCop has a more traditional origin story: it’s a feature film whose box-office success led to an animated TV series and, as mentioned in Screen Junkies’ hilarious Honest Trailer, a toy line from Kenner. But unlike, say, Ghostbusters, RoboCop is a blood-splattered, hard-R action movie — director Paul Verhoeven ain’t got time to be placatin’ parents with no PG-13s — so why manufacture toys based on a movie kids would never be allowed to see? Because they were going to see it anyway, just as I did, on VHS, at a sleepover in sixth grade while my friends’ parents were asleep. RoboCop was sequelized in 1990 and ’93 to diminishing returns — the second installment featured a prepubescent villain who strangled cops and offed other bad guys with a machine gun, so that one’s on you, Kenner — and remade in 2014. The remake, however, had a price tag of $100 million, while the original cost only $13 million — $9 million less than Masters of the Universe and set in the “near future” of bankrupt Detroit, not present-day Burbank, which means every penny’s up there on the screen — yet the update only grossed $5 million more than RoboCop 1.0 in the U.S., despite its more family-friendly PG-13 rating. Prime directive for Hollywood: if a crime-fighting cyborg ain’t broke, don’t reboot it. (Secondary but actually more important directive: nobody knows anything, so don’t listen to me.)
8. The Lost Boys (Warner Bros.; 7/31/87; $32.2 million)
Imagine the Brat Pack as a pack of eternally youthful vampires and you have the titular bloodsuckers of director Joel Schumacher’s follow-up to St. Elmo’s Fire (1985). In fact I’m pretty sure the ponytailed, baby-oiled saxophonist who shows up near the beginning of The Lost Boys (inspiring a Saturday Night Live digital short starring Jon Hamm two decades later) is really just Rob Lowe’s sax-playing bad boy from St. Elmo’s Fire after being bitten. The Lost Boys, which absolutely could’ve used a killer theme song with a lyrical hook like “Fangs / I’m gonna live forever,” was cowritten by Jeffrey Boam, who also worked on the screenplay for Innerspace, another highlight of the summer of ’87 and the one that got him hired by Steven Spielberg to write Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).
7. La Bamba (Columbia; 7/24/87; $54.2 million)
This biopic of Mexican-American singer Ritchie Valens, who died along with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper in a plane crash on February 3, 1959 (“the day the music died,” as Don McLean calls it in his 1971 song “American Pie”), was a big hit — it earned more than double the box-office take of Innerspace, for example, at a quarter of that film’s budget — and its title song, a cover by Los Lobos of Valens’s 1958 rock-and-roll twist on a Mexican folk song, spent three weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Yet the writer-director of La Bamba, Luis Valdez, a trailblazer for Latino theater in the ’60s and ’70s, never helmed another feature film. Why? Donald Trump. Can I prove that? No, but the current president of the United States can’t prove any of his conspiracy theories, either. No more questions. But here are some further facts, or nonfake news, about La Bamba: It was coproduced by Taylor Hackford, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Director for his 2004 Ray Charles biopic, Ray, after previously directing Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll (1987), a documentary about Chuck Berry, and The Idolmaker (1980), which, like La Bamba, was set against the backdrop of the burgeoning rock scene of the late ’50s. Lou Diamond Phillips, meanwhile, got his big break playing Valens, and starred in the western Young Guns the following summer with Lost Boys vampire Kiefer Sutherland and official Brat Packer Emilio Estevez — a Spanish-American, no less, and the real son of a fake (but nonetheless qualified) president, The West Wing‘s Martin Sheen.
6. The Living Daylights (United Artists; 7/31/87; $51.1 million)
In the action-packed previous installment of Box Office Flashback, I mentioned that Timothy Dalton was offered the role of James Bond in ’86 after Pierce Brosnan was sidelined by a contractual obligation to NBC’s Remington Steele. Dalton only made two Bond films, The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill (1989), before the series was put on hold for six years while producer Albert R. Broccoli and MGM, the parent company of United Artists, fought in court over TV distribution rights. Although he had a three-picture deal, Dalton opted in 1994 not to return for a third go-round as Bond, allowing Brosnan to take over for GoldenEye (1995). The Living Daylights was notable at the time for being the first James Bond movie in which the British spy only sleeps with one woman. “Because of AIDS,” said Richard Maibaum, the writer or cowriter of 13 Bond movies, from the very first, Dr. No (1962), all the way through to Licence to Kill, in a 1989 New York Times article. “I didn’t think he could alley-cat around,” he added. “But they felt the picture would have done better if there had been more sex in it.” Therefore, Agent 007 had two love interests in Licence to Kill — which, when adjusted for inflation, has the lowest domestic gross of any film in the Bond franchise. Sex didn’t sell? Once again, nobody knows anything.
5. No Way Out (Orion; 8/14/87; $35.5 million)
Kevin Costner’s cinematic summer of ’87 began with his lead role in Brian De Palma’s adaptation of the TV series The Untouchables (ABC, 1959-’63) and ended with an even bigger showcase for his leading-man talents, No Way Out, itself an adaptation of a 1946 Kenneth Fearing novel titled The Big Clock that was first made into a movie in ’48 with Ray Milland in the lead. No Way Out transfers the novel and original film’s action from New York to Washington, D.C. and adds an era-appropriate Russian mole in the U.S. government. Or is the whole thing a wild goose chase? A witch hunt, if you will? You wish, President Trump! Costner reteamed with No Way Out director Roger Donaldson 13 years later for Thirteen Days, a retelling of the Cuban Missile Crisis that our president should probably watch before he shoots his mouth off at North Korea again. (It’s based on a 1997 work of nonfiction, but since Trump doesn’t read books, I’d advise not going that route.)
4. Dirty Dancing (Vestron; 8/21/87; $63.4 million)
I know quite a few women who grew up in the ’80s without ever seeing a Star Wars movie. Dirty Dancing was their Star Wars: not every woman is crazy about it, but they’ve all seen it at least once. But did you know that costars Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze didn’t get along? And did you know that James LeGros’s egotistical movie star in Tom DiCillo’s 1995 comedy Living in Oblivion isn’t based on DiCillo’s experience working with Brad Pitt, pre-superstardom, on Johnny Suede (1991), but that LeGros did base his performance on his own experience working with Patrick Swayze on Point Break (1991)? So do you now feel bad for Jennifer Grey, who’d already paid her dues by making out with future Young Guns star Charlie Sheen (born Carlos Estevez, which means he’s been in denial for decades, so of course he’s a Trump supporter) in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)? Do you feel better knowing that she won Dancing With the Stars in 2010? Good. The success of the three Star Wars “special editions” at the beginning of 1997 allowed Dirty Dancing to enjoy a tenth-anniversary rerelease that same year, adding another half million dollars to its box-office tally, but the studio that made it, Vestron Pictures, was long gone, having failed to capitalize on Dirty Dancing‘s unexpected success with subsequent releases like Dream a Little Dream (1989), starring The Lost Boys‘s dynamic duo of Corey Feldman and Corey Haim.
3. Born in East L.A. (Universal; 8/21/87; $17.3 million)
The most famous line of dialogue in Dirty Dancing is probably “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” Well, nobody puts Donnie in a corner, either — he can do it all by himself, thank you very much, even with Steve Bannon out of the picture. Which is why I’d love to get his reaction to a 30th-anniversary screening of Born in East L.A., written and directed by and starring Cheech Marin as a native Angeleno who’s accidentally mistaken for an illegal immigrant and deported to Mexico. Then again, I don’t want to give him any ideas. It is noteworthy, though, to see two films centered on Latino characters in this box-office top ten from August of ’87, and by the following spring Warner Bros. and Universal, respectively, had released the true-life high school drama Stand and Deliver, starring Lou Diamond Phillips and Edward James Olmos, and The Milagro Beanfield War, directed by Robert Redford but featuring Rubén Blades and other Latino actors in a story of farming and government interference set in New Mexico. “The success of La Bamba and Stand and Deliver proves that Latinos yearn to see themselves on the big screen — and not just as gangsters, maids and immigrants,” wrote Dennis Romero in L.A. Weekly earlier this year, lamenting that the major studios gave up on movies with Latino leads shortly after the release of American Me, directed by and starring Olmos, in ’92, a slap in the face to a minority that now makes up 18 percent of the U.S. population and, according to 2016 statistics compiled by the Motion Picture Association of America and cited by Romero, is “responsible for about one in four movie tickets sold, a far greater per-capita showing than any othe race or ethnic group.” The Los Angeles Times reported that approximately 425 million tickets were sold during the summer of ’17, the industry’s lowest tally in 25 years, so if you really do yearn to see yourselves on the big screen, Latino moviegoers, exploit your leverage by staying home and causing a brownout at theaters across the nation.
2. Can’t Buy Me Love (Touchstone; 8/14/87; $31.6 million)
Can’t buy a new John Hughes movie starring Anthony Michael Hall? Make one directed by The Buddy Holly Story‘s Steve Rash and starring a not-yet-“McDreamy” Patrick Dempsey instead! (I haven’t read Trump: The Art of the Deal, which was published in 1987, but I’m pretty sure the president — or at least the guy who actually wrote the book, journalist Tony Schwartz — would agree with that piece of business advice.) In this gender-reversed high school spin on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, a nerd (Dempsey) pays a popular cheerleader (Amanda Peterson) $1,000 to pose as his girlfriend for a month in the hopes of improving his social status. Disney, the studio that released Can’t Buy Me Love (via its Touchstone Pictures imprint), probably paid 100 times that amount to Michael Jackson, then the owner of the Beatles’ song catalog, to use the band’s 1964 hit in the movie as well as borrow its title, an improvement over the teen comedy’s original name, “Boy Rents Girl.” I doubt Universal paid Cheech Marin $100,000 for the rights to “Born in East L.A.,” the lead-off track on Cheech & Chong‘s seventh and final comedy album, Get Out of My Room (1985), that was promoted with a conspicuously Chong-free music video, but it got me thinking: Is Born in East L.A. the first movie adapted from a video? And why don’t more movies borrow from music videos the way videos have routinely rummaged through film history for inspiration, from Madonna’s “Express Yourself” (1989), a David Fincher-directed homage to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, to Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” (1982), in which Russell Mulcahy references both Raiders of the Lost Ark and Apocalypse Now? The lost boys of La La Land are always looking for “presold” intellectual property they can sink their teeth into, especially if it’s cheap, and the content of music videos can be interpreted any which way. Take Rod Stewart’s 1981 video for “Tonight I’m Yours (Don’t Hurt Me),” which has “some fairly obvious ’80s imagery: a nun in a rowboat, that sort of thing,” according to Mulcahy, who directed it, in the 2011 oral history I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution. Well, who is that nun? Why is she in that rowboat? Is she braving the treacherous waters of the Sunset Marquis Hotel’s pool to retrieve a shipment of narcotics for a certain blond Englishman? And is she actually a French maid? Because she looks like one in the video, so if she really is a nun, why is she in disguise? So many mysteries to unravel. I can’t wait to see David Fincher’s $100 million adaptation two summers from now, or maybe even a big-screen version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” video that explores the backstory of the brave Planning & Zoning official who risked everything to bring light-up sidewalk tiles to the inner city.
1. Stakeout (Touchstone; 8/5/87; $65.6 million)
Since I’m already in pitch mode, how about a docudrama detailing all the bad decisions that went into the making of Billy Squier’s video for “Rock Me Tonite” (1984), considered one of the worst to ever air on MTV? As the choreographer of Dirty Dancing, Kenny Ortega dreamed up dance moves that would be widely imitated for years to come, but as the choreographer and director of “Rock Me Tonite,” this California-born Latino reminded the world that, Patrick Swayze notwithstanding, white men can’t dance. I see Oscar Isaac as Ortega and Andrew Garfield as Squier — sure, call me a dreamer, but please say it quietly or else I might be deported next spring — but if that idea swings and misses, maybe Isaac and Garfield can make a “buddy-cop” movie like Stakeout. It’s my second-favorite buddy-cop movie of the ’80s, after Running Scared (1986), because, for one thing, the cops in these movies actually are buddies when we meet them — they bicker like a married couple now and again, but we don’t have to go through the motions of watching them meet, then fight, then fight some more, then come to a mutual understanding and realize the whole is greater than the sum of its parts over the course of 100 minutes. In Stakeout Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez have an easygoing chemistry as Seattle police detectives Chris Lecce and Bill Reimers, respectively. That’s right, Estevez’s Latino heritage is ignored, but Dreyfuss is playing an Italian-American, so it’s all up for grabs. At least Madeleine Stowe, whose mother was Costa Rican, is Dreyfuss’s Mexican-Irish-American love interest, Maria Guadalupe McGuire, and she receives a bonus diversity point for taking a shower to the tune of Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine’s “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” while, unbeknownst to her, Dreyfuss watches. The music video for that song doesn’t include any footage from Stakeout, most likely because it was never intended to be the centerpiece of a Stakeout soundtrack album — none exists — but if I may return to pitch mode one more time, a character study of the Pacific Northwest’s most unethical door-to-door loofah salesman sounds like a surefire box-office hit to me.
Box-office tallies and release-date information provided by Box Office Mojo, IMDb, and The Numbers.