Welcome to the Weekly Movie Thread, your place to talk movies.
Today’s prompt: What is your favorite movie of 1979?
I hadn’t initially planned on doing a milestone retrospective of 1979. Most of us were around to see the movies from 1989 and 1999 in theaters. A lot of us weren’t even born in 1979. And thus it seemed like looking at the theatrical landscape from 40 years ago seemed to be pushing it. Especially not when there are fantastic prompts I could fill this space with, such as “What is your favorite cinematic ornamental hedge?” or “What movie would be greatly improved if the lead were played by Neil Breen?”
It turns out, though, that 1979 is a very interesting milestone year. Ignore it at your own risk. Previous years in the 1970’s showed that you could get boffo box office returns in movies featuring Superman, a shark, or … most importantly … a Star Wars. As a result, Hollywood was going through a massive change.
Studios were pinning their fortunes on the likes of George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg, the architects of the 80’s cinematic landscape. Movies like Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark were going into production. The stage was set for the 1980’s. Audiences had different expectations for going to the movies now. Audiences wanted spectacle!
Which means that 1979 would be the very last time that a movie about a custody battle between Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep would be the box office champ… by a wide margin. Kramer vs. Kramer outgrossed the second place finisher, The Amityville Horror, by $30 million. I haven’t seen Kramer vs. Kramer, but I understand that a huge part of its appeal was that it reflected the de-stigmatization of the taboo of divorce. Most interesting is how it challenged the notion that the mother is naturally the best parent to take custody. (I am getting all of this from the Wikipedia plot synopsis, and honestly it does seem quite intense.) The movie also won a bunch of Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Star Wars, though, was too big to ignore. I also can’t speak for Disney’s The Black Hole, as I haven’t seen it … but the Building Entertainment piece on it seems to imply some heavy tinkering to make the movie more like Star Wars. It was also the first Disney film to get a PG rating.
Star Wars also popularized a gritty sci-fi landscape where it looks like everything was used and worn. This was in contrast the bright and shiny 60’s. The initial optimism of space travel was partially over, and we were left wondering: what would space be like when us regular everyday joes get up there? Alien takes place on a utilitarian freighter full of grunge, soot, and uncomfortable H.R. Giger creatures. The movie was the first one to launch a franchise that’s still churning out new installments, and it wouldn’t be the only one in 1979 with that distinction.
Even Star Trek, the poster child of bright 60’s optimism, was brought down to Earth a little. The bright uniforms of primary colors were now beige and white in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and the main three characters were at each others’ throats the entire movie. If you wanted color and fun… well, stick to the Muppets, the other TV show that would make their theatrical debut with The Muppet Movie. That said, in most other respects it’s rather surprising that Star Trek didn’t follow Star Wars‘ lead. The plot of the movie followed the tradition of high concept ideas from popular authors like Larry Niven and Artur C. Clarke (specfically 2001: A Space Odyssey). The movie may have been slow, but it did help mold a franchise that was distinct from Star Wars until JJ Abrams took the helm thirty years later.
Another weird Star Wars effect? Star Wars would get to James Bond. Moonraker moved the action from the book (which was about intercontinental ballistic missiles) to the skies and beyond. It was 007… IN SPACE! As ridiculous as this idea is (and Bond would never go into space again), Moonraker would be the highest grossing film of the series until GoldenEye.
Elsewhere, in a world with gas, George Miller would kick off the Mad Max franchise. Mel Gibson starred as Max Rockatansky, an officer and driver of a black Pursuit Special who would see the slow decline of the world around him.
Walter Hill would direct one of my favorite movies ever: The Warriors. In a way, this movie also points to the 80’s. I understand that the original book was grittier and far more depressing than the movie. It was the grim reality of a kid growing up in a gang. The auteurs of the 1970’s would have eaten that stuff up. Hill didn’t want that, though: he wanted to turn it into a comic book. As a result, our heroic Warriors fight a bunch of gangs that look like comic book henchmen … most notably The Baseball Furies and cool and suave Gramercy Riffs. The era of gritty realism was coming to a close. Fantastical 80’s movies were in. CAN YOU DIG IT?
In a way, The Warriors was ahead of its time. For comparison, Rocky II also made its debut this year. It retained a lot of the realistic elements from the first movie, but would go into full-blown cartoonish action movie by the third installment. Movies were inching ever closer to escapism.
Let’s face it, though, I already talked about my favorite movie of 1979 (and of all time) in these threads: Apocalypse Now. I already talked it about it at length, and frankly most of you already know why it’s so good.
Some of you may disagree, though. After all, 1979 also saw Monty Python’s biblical spoof Life of Brian, Steve Martin’s comedy The Jerk, the first Phantasm movie, John Huston’s southern gothic adaptation of the Flannery O’Connor novel Wise Blood, and Hayao Miyazaki’s first ever feature-length film The Castle of Cagliostro. So go ahead and discuss your favorite movie below.
And if it’s because Bo Derek ushered you into adulthood with 10, hey… I won’t judge.