The Fog (1980) Written by John Carpenter & Debra Hill Directed by John Carpenter
John Carpenter is a well-known master of horror & the fantastic and in the early 1980s he was doing the best work of his career. By 1980 he’d directed Dark Dark, Assault of Precinct 13, and the film that propelled him to greater heights, Halloween. Two years later, he would make one movie a year for five consecutive years. It began with The Fog. The idea for The Fog came over several years dating back to the early 1970s as Carpenter recalled a British horror film he saw from a child about monsters in the clouds. While visiting Stonehenge while filming in the UK, he noticed the eerieness of a fog that crept over the site. After hearing about a tragic shipwreck off the northern California coast, Carpenter sat down with then-girlfriend Debra Hill and worked out the screenplay.
Wonder Woman: The Last True Hero Book One (2020) Reprints Wonder Woman Special #1, Wonder Woman #63, 64, 66-75, and Wonder Woman Annual #3 Written by William Messner-Loebs Art by Jill Thompson, Paris Cullens, Lee Moder, and Brian Bolland
In the wake of War of the Gods and the conclusion of George Perez’s Wonder Woman run, DC had a fresh start. Around the same time, Giffen & DeMatteis were wrapping up their tenure on Justice League, so several books were getting a fresh coat of paint. William Messner-Loebs was brought on to write the Amazon. His most prominent work to this point had been a lukewarmly received run on The Flash, where he emphasized the working class elements of the speedster. He brought this same element to Wonder Woman while still trying to bring in fantastic details.
Airplane! (1980) Written & Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, & Jerry Zucker
This is one of those films that had a profound influence on me as a kid, though I only knew it by the edited for television version I recorded on the family VCR. Airplane! is the origins of the modern spoof or parody film where a genre is taken and skewered with a non-stop barrage of jokes. Mel Brooks definitely helped pave the way with pictures like Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, but even those movies still had a coherent plot arc. Airplane! doesn’t care about the plot and sees it only as a delivery device for hilarious comedy. This movie still holds up today because it doesn’t couch its jokes in the contemporary pop culture of its time.
It’s not strange to see Black athletes transition into acting when their sports career wraps up. Back when Woody Strode played for the National Football League, he was one of the first Black players, and his move to becoming an award-winning actor was something unprecedented. Strode was born in Los Angeles, his parents both descended from Indigenous Americans and African slaves. While attending UCLA, Strode became a world-class decathlete and majored in history & education. Strode had posed nude for an art exhibition shown at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The inclusion of Black athletes in the art show led to the Nazis shutting down the whole thing.
Nine to Five (1980) Written by Colin Higgins and Patricia Resnick Directed by Colin Higgins
Nine to Five came to Jane Fonda after talking to an old friend who was part of a women’s office workers association called “9to5”. This organization is dedicated to improving the working conditions and ensuring the rights of working women in the United States. They have partnered with local unions to help collective bargaining efforts, establishing themselves by doing this in Boston in the mid-1970s. 9to5 continues their work to this day, expanding their reach nationally and rallying on issues from the pay gap, childcare, sexual harassment, and more. Fonda initially thought of the picture as a drama but decided that it would be too preachy and on the nose, so she opted for a classic Hollywood style farce.
Popeye (1980) Written by Jules Feiffer, Songs by Harry Nilsson Directed by Robert Altman
The making of Popeye began with a bidding war for the film rights to the Broadway stage adaptation of Little Orphan Annie. When producer Robert Evans found out Paramount had lost the bid to Columbia Pictures, he held an executive meeting about what comic properties they owned that could replace Annie. One person chimed in “Popeye,” and so it was decided they would make a movie musical based on the spinach-eating sailor man. The original concept was to cast Dustin Hoffman as Popeye and Lily Tomlin as Olive Oyl, but that fell through. At one point, even Gilda Radner was considered for Olive. However, when things finally settled and production began, we ended up with a picture that Paramount wasn’t too happy with, but that has become a cult classic.
The Blues Brothers (1980) Written by Dan Akroyd & John Landis Directed by John Landis
Saturday Night Live has spawned many film spin-offs and become the launchpad for many comedic actors. It began with The Blues Brothers, the first movie to take characters created on the show and put them in a feature presentation. The Blues Brothers were established in 1978, and over the years, Akyroyd and collaborator Ron Gwynne developed a backstory about the duo growing up in an orphanage and learning blues from the janitor. With the success of Animal House, director John Landis and star John Belushi were in a perfect position to get The Blues Brothers movie made.
As the pandemic continues to ravage the nation with no signs of slowing down, movie theaters’ future is one of many industries in peril. NBCUniversal apparently saw success with a digital first-run release of Trolls: World Tour earlier in the year and want to pursue that home streaming model. However, AMC, the largest theater chain in the country, stated they would not show Universal films in their theaters if the company went this route. Negotiations have developed a very different distribution model.
A dystopia is generally defined as an imagined society where suffering is plentiful with people living in either a totalitarian or post-apocalyptic state. As you’ll see from my list, my preference leans on the tyrannical side of things. I tend to think societies won’t collapse in as dramatic a fashion as Mad Max, but rather people will reassemble a twisted skeleton of what is familiar & comfortable. To hold things together, people will accept the glue of authoritarian rule, whether through an individual despot or a faceless corporation. In most of these dark futures, there is not tangible governmental leadership; instead, it operates behind the scenes and is typically a merger of government & private corporations.