Friday, June 8th, 1984 was quite a day. Homosexuality was decriminalized in New South Wales, Australia; an F5 tornado struck the town of Barnevald, Wisconsin, USA, destroying 90% of it; President Ronald Reagan attended a summit in London; the Celtics beat the Lakers 121-103 to take a 3-2 lead in the NBA finals; TV gameshow “Press Your Luck” paid out the biggest ever jackpot (to that point) of $110,000 to one Michael Larson who had figured out how to beat the system; and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” was poised to knock Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” off the Billboard Charts number one spot. Oh, and modern classics “Ghostbusters” and “Gremlins” were both released.
Coming just the week after “Once Upon a Time in America” hit screens, while “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” was still in cinemas and followed a fortnight later by both “The Karate Kid” and “Top Secret!” people of a certain age and penchant for nostalgia are tempted to look back on that year and sigh, “what a vintage summer that was!” and “they don’t make summers like that anymore” etc etc. And so, intrepid reporters that we are, we decided to investigate: was the summer of “Ghostbusters” and “Gremlins” truly some sort of epochal moment, a confluence of greatness, a crossing of the streams, if you will, of film history?
Well...not so much. For every unforgettable classic, there was a stinker and for every stinker there were two middling efforts largely lost to the mists of time. But there’s no doubt that summer 1984 did straddle the highs and lows of cinematic achievement in quite a spectacular manner, which made us curious to go back and look at it all all over again. So here, ranked from worst to best, in terms of which belong in the dustbin of history and which will shine on through posterity, is every major release from that summer season (defined as always as the first Friday in May through Labor Day, which in 1984 fell on September 3rd). So dust off your Slinkys, prepare for a little body popping and take our hand as we dive headfirst into the spinning 80s graphic that denotes a time tunnel, to emerge 30 years in the past, blinking into the sunshine of summer 1984.
35. “Bolero” (August 31st)
An attempt to revive the career of Bo Derek, who’d leapt to fame in 1979 as Dudley Moore’s co-star in “10,” as directed by her husband John Derek, “Bolero” is a dismal softcore romance, a sort of film version of a housewife paperback bonk-buster about a virginal boarding school graduate who sets out on a worldwide tour in order to find the perfect lover for her first time. Both conservative and sleazy, it was mostly notable for being released without an MPAA rating, for causing a fall-out between producers Cannon and distributors MGM, and for being absolutely fucking terrible.
34 “Cannonball Run II” (June 29th)
1981’s all-star road-race pic “Cannonball Run,” a Burt Reynolds-toplining blend of “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World” and “Wacky Races,” wasn’t exactly much cop, but it proved to be an absolute bona-fide smash, the sixth biggest of its year. As such, a sequel was inevitable, but somehow director Hal Needham turned out something that made the original look like “Nashville.” It’s essentially a retread of the first movie, with a few more star cameos (Shirley MacLaine, Telly Savalars, Ricardo Montalban, Don Knotts, Jaws from James Bond, the monkey from “Every Which Way Is Loose”), but otherwise coming off as deeply half-assed. The film proved to be the last on-screen appearances for Dean Martin (returning from the original) and Frank Sinatra (reunited with his old pal for a cameo), and it’s hard to think of a more ignoble way to end a film career.
33. "Best Defense” (July 20th)
In theory, a movie starring Dudley Moore, star of megahit “Arthur,” and Eddie Murphy, who’d go on to lead 1984’s biggest hit “Beverly Hills Cop,” should have been massive. But instead, “Best Defense,” is a dire military satire penned by George Lucas pal and “American Graffiti” co-writer Willard Huyck that sees Moore as a tank designer and Murphy as the commander of said machine during an eerily prescient war in Iraq a few years later. In fact, Murphy wasn’t initially in the film: test-screenings of the Moore-only version were so disastrous that Paramount threw their new darling a truckload of cash to shoot for a few days to liven things up. It didn’t work, and Murphy later dissed the film while hosting 'SNL', calling it “the worst movie in the history of everything.” That’s probably unfair, but not by much.
32. “C.H.U.D.” (June 10th)
Does the title stand for “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller” or “Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal” is just one of the many questions you won’t care enough to ask of this deeply dull horror. Starring John Heard and Daniel Stern, “C.H.U.D” tells the story of a government conspiracy to bury nuke-u-lar waste beneath Manhattan, which then mutates some of the city’s underground homeless population into ravenous cannibals resembling spongy knock-offs of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Which could in itself be fun, but the budget is so low here that the vast majority of the film is actually just people talking, ever-so-slowly piecing together the mystery of these terminally unfrightening monsters. In fact the film’s main claim to fame now is that it was chosen by those wacky japesters at the Criterion Collection as the subject of a joke release announcement on April Fools Day, something its inexplicable “cult” following made oddly plausible. And yet not.
31. “Breakin’” (May 4th)
The other, and lesser, of 1984’s two breakdancing “classics,” (after “Beat Street”) the ropy acting and hamfisted storytelling of “Breakin’” make any moment when the protagonists aren’t dancing pretty unbearable. But the dancing is good, largely due to the presence of non-professional dancers like Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers and personalities such as Ice-T (in his debut), both of whom were imported to this narrative film directly from the German breakdancing documentary that inspired it, “Breakin’ and Enterin’” (in the 80s, nothing was cooler than droppin’ that last ‘g’). So go for the dance-offs but be warned, the threadbare plot in which a nice white girl teams up with the street dancers and, yawn, wins their respect with her awesome moves is, in Ice-T’s own words, “wack.”
30. “Sheena” (August 17th)
A contest between which of “Sheena” and “Bolero” is more in thrall to the physical charms of its leading lady would be too close to call, but the also just-fucking-awful “Sheena” gets held off the very bottom spots because of some pretty Kenyan landscape photography and the occasional unintentional hilarity of its lady-Tarzan vibe. But not too far, because the bland blonde Tanya Roberts becoming Queen of a tribe of Magical Negroes is exactly as idiotic and racist as it sounds, as comic book creation Sheena, aided by her allies the animals and hunky smitten TV reporter Vic (Ted Wass) stops an evil Prince from strip-mining her tribe’s land. When it’s not stupid, it’s boring, and when it’s neither it’s about as convincing as Sheena’s favorite mode of transport: a zebra that is very obviously a horse that’s been painted to look like a zebra.