“They’re really out of ideas these days. Everything has to be a franchise or a sequel, anything with a plotline gets optioned, and the new Superman film looks like it’s going to be terrible.”
– Curmudgeons in 1978
In preparation for yesterday’s totally necessary Harper Valley PTA recap, I looked up the general state of movies in 1978. I’m going to be upfront, it was for a joke about how everyone gets all up in arms about the modern industry doing things like adapting board games into blockbusters (although I would like to remind everyone that 1985’s Clue was almost thirty years before Battleship, and it’s hilarious) when in back in the halcyon days of polyester, the film landscape was pretty much identical to what we have now.
People were even worried that zombies had been played out when George A. Romero released his Dawn of the Dead in April. Even though it was only Romero’s second zombie film, zombies had been chomping away on the international horror scene for a good while. And there were all these entertainment journalists being all: “Why are zombies so appealing to our culture? Is it because of rampant consumerism and fear of overpopulation?”
Also, the blockbuster was destroying cinema! And, as anyone can tell you, those fears were accurate because there hasn’t been a single good movie since All the President’s Men – thanks for nothing Star Wars! Which reminds me, Star Wars had just happened and everyone was blown away by how much money it made and the whole world was obsessed with Harrison Ford.
Musicals were experiencing a pseudo-revival thanks to the massive success of Grease, but they weren’t really coming back, they were just kind of happening sometimes. Nobody was sure if people were legitimately enjoying them, or seeing them ironically, or what was going on.
Superman was happening, too, and all the Superman fans were like: “NO! This casting is all wrong! It’s not going to work!” And all the film critics were like: “Didn’t we already adapt Superman in the 50’s? How many films about Superman do we need?”
Everybody went to see it, because if you were going to pay for a movie ticket in an economic crisis, you wanted to see something spectacular. It was really good, to the chagrin of the fancy pants crowd.
Jaws 2 was a massive hit, and that was also because art was dying. Other evidence included Damien: Omen II, Revenge of the Pink Panther, The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, Return to Witch Mountain, Warriors 2 – what was with all the sequels?! It was totally a new fad in 1978, and not something that had obviously been happening since the 1930’s.
Audiences also really liked Every Which Way But Loose, even though critics tried to tell them it was terrible. But Clint Eastwood, who was a major and serious action star at the time, was co-starring with an orangutan. Only crazy people don’t want to see that movie at least once.
Speaking of broad appeal, the subtle comedy of… some subtle comedy films that I’m sure actually existed was pushed aside for Animal House. Films were probably doomed to never been sophisticated again.
And, even though everybody went to see it and it rounded out the top ten earners in a significant year, more people should have gone to The Deer Hunter, according to the experts on cultural decay. It also pretty much swept the Oscars.
It’s like if you had a machine that could play you the wailings about the state of the film industry from any decade in history, once you get to talkies, you’re just going to hear the same complaints from different voices.
So whenever you see people who get mad about the current problems with Hollywood, try to get them to calm down about it. Hollywood’s natural posture is a state of decline. Good stuff is still made, bad stuff is still made, and it’s really not different from how it used to be. Technologies come and change how we interact with stories – television, streaming services, VCRs. Writers have more bad ideas than good ones. Moguls fund baffling vanity projects. That’s the way it goes.