Welcome to our newest historical feature, “Gross!” which takes a look at what movies were surprise hits back in the day, and movies that didn’t do as well as you may have thought.
This time, we’ll take a look at the fascinating box office year of 1984.
Probably the biggest tentpole blockbusters expected that year were Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Ghostbusters, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Gremlins (while studios were still figuring out exactly what a “blockbuster” was). Of these, Gremlins was probably the “smallest” movie, but it had mid-’80s Steven Spielberg’s golden touch on it, so big money was expected. So which came out on top to be the highest grossing movie of ’84? None of them. The championship belt went to a little movie about a cop in Beverly Hills, called Beverly Hills Cop. How did that happen? One word: Eddie Murphy. Eddie was bigger than Steven Spielberg and Care Bears combined that year. If the producers had gone with their original lead choice of Sylvester Stallone, the movie may have been a pretty decent hit, probably going well over the $100 million mark, but Eddie was more on fire than Michael Jackson’s hair at that point, and Beverly Hills Cop was a perfect vehicle for his talents. The public ate it up like Wendy’s beef, and pushed the gross into the stratosphere. Check out the top five:
- Beverly Hills Cop: $234,760,478
- Ghostbusters: $229,242,989
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: $179,870,271
- Gremlins: $148,168,459
- The Karate Kid: $90,815,558
$235 million is a pretty impressive haul for a comedy even by 2012 standards, but for 1984 it was unbelievable. Adjusted for inflation, Beverly Hills Cop would have made $533 million today; about $85 million more than The Dark Knight Rises. Oh, and it made another $82 million overseas. But unfortunately for Eddie, outside of the Shrek movies, he’d never come close to that kind of success again. And now, well, maybe it’s best to forget about what he’s been up to these days…
Wait, what’s that up there at number 5? How can a movie about a karate kid make $91 million? Hey, it was the ’80s. We had a real soft spot for Rocky-esque stories for a while. This one just happened to be really exceptional, and resonated with just about everyone. Best teen movie of the first half of the ’80s? Possibly. Best-ever performance by Billy Zabka? Definitely.
But where is the aforementioned Star Trek III? Surely with as popular as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was, Star Trek III must have been huge in its theater run. Is it number 6? Nope, that would be the film that made Steve Guttenberg an international superstar: Police Academy ($81,198,894). Actually, Star Trek III came in at number 9 that year with $76,471,046. Why? Because the movie sucked as much then as it does now, performing lower than both Footloose ($80,035,402) and Romancing the Stone ($76,572,238).
But wait, didn’t The Terminator come out in 1984? That was a blockbuster, right? Wrong! It actually came in at number 21 that year with just $38,371,200, behind such classics as Splash ($69,821,334), Purple Rain ($68,392,977), Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan ($45,858,563), Breakin’ ($38,682,707) and Bachelor Party ($38,435,947), and barely beat out something I’ve never even heard of called City Heat ($38,348,988). That’s right, Breakin’ made more money than The Terminator. Although The Terminator did outperform Arnold’s other movie that year, Conan the Destroyer ($31,042,035).
Another movie that didn’t perform as well as you may have thought is A Nightmare on Elm Street ($25,504,513), which did OK for a low-budget horror picture but came in under Mickie and Maude ($26,080,861), The Cotton Club ($25,928,721) and The Muppets Take Manhattan ($25,534,703).
Also weird, The Neverending Story did pretty crappy ($20,158,808), getting beat by the likes of Oh, God! You Devil! ($21,538,850), Rhinestone ($21,435,321) and Hot Dog… The Movie ($20,307,325).
Probably the biggest flop in 1984 was Supergirl. Trying to bite off some of the massive success of the Superman franchise, they decided to cast one of the worst actresses of all time to fight Faye Dunaway as the female Lex Luthor who is also a witch or something. Peter O’Toole also disgraces himself. It bombed harder than Walter Mondale and only made $14,296,438 , less than Johnny Dangerously ($17,124,395), Beat Street ($16,595,791), Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo ($15,101,131, and yes, astonishingly, it came out 7 months after the first one) and Night of the Comet ($14,418,922), and barely made more than Ice Pirates ($14,255,801).
Also of note for our faithful readers, Cloak and Dagger pretty much tanked, making just $9,719,952. I guess a psychological thriller about an insane boy murdering people and committing acts of terrorism while blaming imaginary friends was just too ahead of its time for ’84.
Check out the rest of the 1984 movie grosses at Box Office Mojo!