Great Months in Box-Office History: June 1987

10:49 AM 6/16/2017

by Pete Keeley

A surprising number of classics were released in just a one-month span.

List index - Predator - Spaceballs - Full Metal Jacket-Split-Photofest-H 2017

Quick, what do The Untouchables, Predator and Full Metal Jacket have in common? Now, what do Harry and the Hendersons, Spaceballs and The Witches of Eastwick have in common? And Roxanne? Answer: They all hit theaters in June 1987.

Though no real scientific analysis contributed to the genesis of this article, I can say that a perusal of Wikipedia's handy "[Year] in Film" pages yielded perhaps a handful of comparable runs, where every single weekend in a month offered up to the moviegoing public at least one film that would stand the test of time. Another now-classic slice of '80s high school high adventure (and the directorial debut of Chris Columbus), Adventures in Babysitting, was released on July 1, barely missing the cutoff.

Now, of course June 1987 also had its misses. Anyone remember the Heather Thomas starrer Cyclone, or chase comedy/extended Glad-Lock trash bag promo Million Dollar Mystery? But consider, by way of comparison, May 1987, the highlight of which was probably Beverly Hills Cop II, featuring Eddie Murphy at the height of his fame doing what people at the height of their fame often do: make mediocre sequels. The only other notable release that month was possibly the most famous of all bombs, Ishtar — but at least Ishtar was memorable, which can't be said of the rest of the month's offering: The Gate? Gardens of Stone? Hot Pursuit? American Ninja 2: The Confrontation? Any of these titles stirring up a sense of nostalgia? July 1987 fared a bit better, with the aforementioned Adventures as well as Robocop, La Bamba and The Lost Boys, but contained an infamous dud of its own with Superman 4: The Quest for Peace.

Which is to say, a single calendar month containing seven films still worth watching three decades later (If you ask Roger Ebert, Benji the Hunted would make eight, but that remains, thankfully, a minority opinion) is indeed something to be celebrated.

Hopefully, this will be the first in a series commemorating months that contained more than their fair share of notable films.

  • 'The Untouchables'

    Director Brian De Palma was really able to indulge in his love of overhead shots in The Untouchables. The David Mamet-penned gangster classic stars Kevin Costner as federal agent Eliot Ness, who has to battle murderous thugs, corrupt bureaucrats and seemingly a whole city on the take in his quest to bring down bootlegging kingpin Al Capone in prohibition era Chicago.

    The acting is stellar across the board; almost every scene is a clinic. As Capone, Robert De Niro positively exudes menace (the opening scene where a hapless barber accidentally cuts Capone's cheek is chilling) in one of the great villain performances. Billy Drago holds a masterclass in "loathsome slimeball" as mob enforcer Frank Nitti. Sean Connery collected his only Oscar ever for his role as Ness' right-hand, Jim Malone, who utters the film's most indelible line: "He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way!" Andy Garcia. Patricia Clarkson. Everyone is good!

    THR's original review described the film's infamous baby carriage scene — a nod to the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin — as "excessively showy and laughable," a judgment that holds up considering how many times it's been parodied, including in the opening scene of 1994's Naked Gun 33 1/3 and, of course, on The Simpsons.

  • 'Harry and the Hendersons'

    If there were a hall of fame for films shown in grade school classrooms by substitute teachers, Harry and the Hendersons would have been voted in on the first ballot. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the film's quality, but the little movie about a family who, while on vacation in the Washington wilderness, hit a Sasquatch with their car and decide to bring him home not realizing he's still alive, has managed to carve out a bit of a legacy for itself over the ensuing decades.

    The character design for Harry, the titular ape man, was done by special effects legend and seven-time Oscar winner Rick Baker, who took home his second makeup and hairstyling statuette for his work on the film. In a 2006 interview he said it was one of the projects he was most proud of: "One of my favorites that I just really have the most fond memories of and really think the work is still good, is a film called Harry and the Hendersons. I really loved that character, and I think it still holds up. I just read an article about CG stuff and somebody was talking about animatronics and how they didn'?t think they could do something better than Harry was in that film ?— and I did that in the '80s."

    Indeed, Harry's kind, expressive face was key to the film's lasting appeal. Scenes that could have easily become fodder for an MST3K episode with a less believable monster are instead imbued with pathos, and the final 10 minutes, where the family and Harry part ways, can still set an '80s baby's eyes to watering.

    Interesting side note: Kevin Peter Hall, the actor who wears the Harry suit, also wore the Predator suit in Predator. Truly a banner month for tall-guy-in-a-monster-suit films.

  • 'The Witches of Eastwick'

    After writing and directing his first three films in his native Australia — all of which starred his countryman Mel Gibson in the role of "Mad" Max Rockatansky — George Miller came to Hollywood to direct his first studio film … a black comedy about witches? OK, sure.

    Based on a novel by John Updike, The Witches of Eastwick stars Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer as three sexually unfulfilled friends who, unbeknownst to them, use the dark arts to lure a mysterious stranger to their small New England town. Jack Nicholson brings his signature mania to the role of the man — or, as it turns out, beast — Daryl Van Horne, a "horny little devil" who causes all manner of havoc for the townsfolk before he is dispatched. THR's original review called the film a "perceptive and biting look at Puritanical repression as it affects modern women" — a theme that, arguably, Miller revisited in his 2015 return to the Mad Max franchise, Fury Road.

    For his part, Miller didn't seem to relish his first experience making a film stateside, telling Australian TV host Andrew Denton in a 2008 interview, "When I walked into Hollywood I walked into a kind of worst-case scenario with some very, very dysfunctional, and I believe immoral studio executives and producers and so on. … I don’t know whether it was cocaine or what it was, but the paradox is you not only get punished for good behavior; you get rewarded for bad behavior." He quit the film twice, in fact, and credits Nicholson for keeping him sane — and employed: "He said, 'Just sit down, lose your emotion, sit down, have a look at the work. If you think the work is good, stick with the film,' and he was a great man. I learnt more from him than anybody else I think I’d worked [with]. He was extraordinary."

  • 'Predator'

    Coming smack in the middle of Arnold Schwarzenegger's stellar 10-year box-office run that began in 1982 with Conan the Barbarian and ended in 1991 with Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Predator consistently ranks near the top of best-action-movie ever lists.

    In what perhaps should be considered a very rough Magnificent Seven remake, Schwarzenegger stars as the leader of a team of (seven) commandos sent into the jungle on a rescue mission who find themselves at the mercy of an alien hunter who makes trophies out of human spinal columns. Director John McTiernan would go on to helm a couple other action movie all-time greats including the first two Die Hard films and The Hunt for Red October. The film also stars Carl Weathers, Bill Duke and then-WWF superstar Jesse "The Body" Ventura, whose character, Sgt. Blain Cooper, totes around an M134 minigun, a weapon traditionally mounted on helicopters.

    In what could be viewed as either an indictment or an endorsement of the quality of the June '87 slate, depending on your perspective, is the fact that Predator is the only film on this list to have produced either a sequel, remake or reboot. Predator spawned two direct sequels as well as two Alien vs. Predator cross-over films. Another sequel — directed and co-written by Shane Black, who starred in the original — is due out in 2018.

  • 'Roxanne'

    Speaking of good runs in the '80s, Steve Martin is one of the only people who could've gone shot for shot with Arnold. How's this? Between '81 and '91: Pennies From Heaven, All of Me, Three Amigos!, Little Shop of HorrorsDirty Rotten Scoundrels, Parenthood, L.A. Story, Father of the Bride — and that's not even an exhaustive list!

    His contribution to the June '87 murderers' row was Roxanne, his contemporary adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac. Martin stars as small-town fire chief C.D Bales (CDB, get it?) who is confident in all things but one: his visage in profile. He meets an astronomer (Daryl Hannah) in town for the summer, and falls hard for her, but she has eyes for another new arrival — a fireman, Chris (Rick Rossovich), with a normal-size nose and a crippling fear of beautiful women. Roxanne — who's gotta know Bales has a thing for her — asks him to hook her up with Chris anyways. So Bales helps Chris pretend to be all smart and romantic because — look, we've all read and re-read Cyrano de Bergerac so I won't waste any more of your time.

    THR's original review is full of quotes ready-made for slapping on a DVD cover — "Light and likable, with hearts unabashedly all over its sleeves, Roxanne is a winning romantic comedy whose appeal should cross age barriers and backgrounds," etc. But the by-the-numbers review itself engenders a bit of nostalgia, because Roxanne is a prime example of the quirky, charmingly sappy, sincere romcoms that fell out of favor in Hollywood along with all the rest of the midbudget genres. Gonna be a lot harder to put together one of these lists 30 years from now.

  • 'Spaceballs'

    Coming as it did 10 years after the original Star Wars and four years after what at the time was the last planned sequel, the arrival of Mel Brooks' Spaceballs was met with a collective "OK." Reviews were mixed, including THR's, which called the film both "a loving and intermittently uproarious salute to the science-fiction genre" and "one mission its players may want to forget." However, thanks probably in part to the massive proliferation of the Star Wars universe and its attendant fandom in the years since its release, Spaceballs has become a certified classic and maybe the best-loved of all Brooks' parodies.

    The film featured SCTV alums John Candy and Rick Moranis — both huge comedy stars in the '80s — as, respectively, Chewbacca analogue Barf the Mog ("Half man, half dog — I'm my own best friend!") and Dark Helmet, a Pop! action figure version of Darth Vader who punishes insubordination with a crotch-shot laser. Bill Pullman, Daphne Zuniga and a golden Joan Rivers android also starred alongside Brooks in the dual roles of President Skroob, a bumbling leader who has badly mismanaged the fresh-air resources of Planet Spaceball, and Yogurt, a, well, a Yoda-like creature who specializes in merchandising (the total ubiquity of Star Wars-branded products was a joke even before the advent of the Admiral Akbar Singing Bass). Brooks told the AV Club in a 2012 interview that the gold paint he wore on his face as part of the Yogurt costume gave him a "life-threatening rash. … My eyes broke out because of the fumes. It was right in the middle of shooting it. I just kept taking Benadryl and all that stuff to fight the allergy. It was really terrible; it was dangerous."

    Despite the near-death experience making the first one, Brooks told Adam Carolla in early 2015 that the revival of the Star Wars franchise at Disney had him thinking sequel. "I'm thinking now … if I did a movie that came out right after [The Force Awakens] comes out, you know, maybe a couple of months later, Spaceballs 2: The Search for More Money, I'd have a big weekend, you know, no matter what, even if it fell on its ass and didn't get that money back."

  • 'Full Metal Jacket'

    The movie that launched 1,000 insults into the pop culture lexicon, Full Metal Jacket marked the third (anti-)war film from director Stanley Kubrick, based on the semi-autobiographical novel The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford, who also co-wrote the screenplay.

    The film is divided into two acts: the first in Parris Island, South Carolina, following a group of would-be grunts through Marine recruit training; the second in Vietnam on the eve of the 1968 Tet Offensive. The common thread is Pvt. James Davis (Matthew Modine), given the nickname "Joker" by his drill instructor Sgt. Hartman, played by actual Marine drill instructor R. Lee Ermey. (It's depressing to think that kids today might not be able to properly attribute brilliant turns of phrase such as "I bet you could suck a golf ball through a garden hose" and "I will screw off your head and shit down your neck" to Ermey, who wrote or ad-libbed much of his own dialogue).

    FMJ might hold the distinction of being the funniest war film ever, though to say the script is full of "gallows humor" if anything undersells how pitch-black it all is. In one scene, Joker asks a helicopter gunner how he can "shoot women and children." "Easy," the gunner replies. "You just don't lead 'em so much!" ("leading a target" means firing in front of them so as they run, they cross into the line of fire).

    THR's original review was not positive — calling it a "massive artistic misfire" and a "didactic, static harangue" with "verbose discussions" that "reach numbing proportions" — but we were very much in the minority, as FMJ boasts the highest fresh rating of any June '87 release with a Wonder Woman-esque 95 percent. Three decades on, it has taken its place in the pantheon of great Vietnam War films alongside Oliver Stone's Platoon and Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now.