Follow That Bird (1985) Written by Judy Freudberg & Tony Geiss Directed by Ken Kwapis
The late 1970s/early-mid 1980s was the era of the Muppets and Jim Henson. The world-famous puppeteer worked to show the audience what his creations could do and expand the public consciousness about puppetry. He showed us a comedic variety program with The Muppet Show, a road trip picture with The Muppet Movie, action & adventure in The Great Muppet Caper, and a Broadway-style musical with the Muppets Take Manhattan. Henson created work aimed at older audiences with The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. In the middle of all of this, Henson’s company decided to bring their phenomenally successful public television series Sesame Street to the big screen with Follow That Bird.
Santa Claus the Movie (1985) Written by David & Leslie Newman Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
In the wake of the box office failure of Superman III, producer Ilya Salkind wanted to cash in on more pieces of Americana, so he conceived the idea of Santa Claus the Movie. In the same vein as that 1979 film that kicked off the Superman franchise, Santa Claus the Movie, would explore the origins of the iconic figure, explaining all the facets from how he travels down chimneys to where his red suit came from. The resulting movie is a horrible piece of garbage that lacks any heart or humor, it’s a shallow, tedious drudgery that I cannot imagine any child enjoying for more than a couple of minutes.
Return to Oz (1985) Written by Walter Murch & Gil Dennis Directed by Walter Murch
The Wizard of Oz comes with iconic images that pop into the mind as soon as you hear the name. Dorothy. Scarecrow. Tin Man. Cowardly Lion, The Wicked Witch. Emerald City. These are so embedded in the pop culture zeitgeist that to present the idea of a sequel must have been relatively daunting. Return to Oz was released forty-six years after the original and was a stark contrast to the rainbows and Technicolor of MGM’s film. Disney brought in Academy Award-winning film editor and sound designer Walter Murch (The Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation) for a brainstorming session on potential projects for him to direct. This is the only film Murch has and ever will likely direct, but it is a cult classic like few others.
Silverado (1985) Written by Mark and Lawrence Kasdan Directed by Lawrence Kasdan
The Western is a uniquely American genre of film, one of the few historical periods to have hundreds of films chronicling the history and myths. In the same way, fantasy films so often distort and reimagine medieval Europe, so too has the Western become a genre of film the audience agrees isn’t telling us the gritty details but rather evoking a sensibility and aesthetic. The 1940s and 50s were the heydays of the Western, the 1960s and 70s saw Italian influence as the spaghetti Western came to prominence, the impact of Japanese samurai films in pictures like the Magnificent Seven, and harsh unflinching violence in the movies like The Wild Bunch. Since the 1990s, we’ve seen waves of revisionist Westerns from Unforgiven to The Proposition. The 1980s was a strange time for these pictures, though, especially as the blockbuster took over the film industry.
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) Written by Phil Hartman, Paul Reubens, & Michael Varhol Directed by Tim Burton
Pee-Wee Herman was a 1980s phenomenon that aggressively embedded itself in pop culture and then fizzled out fast in the latter part of the decade. He was the creation of comedian/actor Paul Reubens who was a member of the Los Angeles-based improv troupe The Groundlings. Reubens became close friends with fellow Groundling Phil Hartman, and the two of them developed the persona of Pee-Wee. The origins of the character were slow, with components coming together starting in the late 1970s. Pee-Wee started as a character who was attempting to be a stand-up comedian but couldn’t remember jokes and engaged in antagonistic banter with the audience. The breakout occurred when Reubens was booked on The Dating Game to play Pee-Wee as a sort of troll bachelor in the competition.
Ladyhawke (1985) Written by Edward Khmara, Michael Thomas, Tom Mankiewicz, and David Peoples Directed by Richard Donner
Director Richard Donner released two films three months apart in 1985: Ladyhawke in April and The Goonies in June. That’s quite a feat and two more genres tackled by the director who was never an auteur but simply made movies he was interested in. While Donner is still alive, he hasn’t directed a film since 2006 and will likely stick to producing and semi-retirement. His filmography is quite eclectic with everything from The Omen to Superman the Movie to Lethal Weapon to Scrooged, the two films mentioned above, and more. Donner doesn’t have a particular style or signature trademark, he’s one of those journeyman directors like Ron Howard or Joe Johnston that simply do the work. This can lead to great films just as much as it can deliver duds.
The Return of the Living Dead (1985) Written & Directed by Dan O’Bannon
The Return of the Living Dead is not so much a film as it is a cinematic experience. The characters are drawn paper-thin and spend most of the picture screaming at each other in panic. The plot is super simple, zombies get lose and start wreaking havoc. The movie is more influential than you probably realize, the whole zombies wanting to eat brains trope came from this picture. Zombies being the result of military/industrial chemical experiments or accidents came from this movie. If you think about Romero’s zombies, they don’t really have an origin; they just are. Traditional zombies are related to practices of voodoo. The Return of the Living Dead established new rules while ignoring old ones and became a true cult classic.