There's been a whole raft of articles lately about how Hollywood 30 years ago, in one single year, somehow managed to produce so many of the films that became high-water marks for SF / fantasy / action cinema (and cult filmmaking, too). Among the best retrospectives around is this piece at the Guardian, which also nails how what happened in '82 dictated the future path we'd take:
With the success of ET and the relative failure of the rest of the crop, Hollywood took the safest, most obvious lessons from what had happened and the trend towards today's bland, boisterous multiplex began. It was also around this time that executives from multinationals pushed out actual film-makers in studios. Creative decisions were now made by non-creative types, there was no glory in losing money, and much more to be had in making as much as humanly possible.
Funny thing was, by '82 so many of the pieces for that kind of by-the-bucks filmmaking were already in place.
Studios were already shy of giving the keys to hot-shots who would simply drive their production companies into the ground; the colossal failure of Cimino's Heaven's Gate a year and change earlier (to the tune of, what, $36 million in 1980 money?) caused United Artists to go belly-up.
My thesis is that many of the riskier projects that came out in '82 were just cheap enough for the risk to be ameliorated — that is, they either made just enough money to be worthwhile, or didn't lose enough money for them to be truly damaging. The few that were major losers, like Blade Runner, would go on to make up their losses via this newfangled invention called the VCR (which, oh irony, Hollywood would at first throw itself into litigation to keep off the market).
With budgets in the $10-20M range on the high end for most such films, the losses were not so egregious that they caused entire types of filmmaking to be killed all at once. Rather, it was seeing how E.T. performed beyond anyone's expectations that caused everyone to abandon the last vestiges of the grim-and-grit that had underscored everything since the 1970s. Star Wars had started the process, but E.T. made it irreversible.
I'm a little reluctant to say there was something in the water that year — that there was some congeries of definable elements that caused '82 to be the year so many current generational-touchstone films (and a couple of flat-out classics) came out. Maybe it was just that a whole slew of parallel events had been set in motion by then, not only domestically but internationally, and they all just happened to come to a head at once. After Star Wars, it became much easier to produce "fantastic cinema", for one — science fiction was a shoo-on, and after Jaws anything that smacked of broadly-marketable horror was also an easy sell.
But that still doesn't fully explain so much of what came out all in that year. Look: Blade Runner, Cat People, Conan the Barbarian, E.T., The Thing, Tron, Basket Case, The Dark Crystal, Liquid Sky, Eating Raoul, The Secret Of N.I.M.H., The Plague Dogs, Pink Floyd The Wall, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, First Blood, Swamp Thing, Android, The Atomic Café, Boat People, Chan Is Missing, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, Fanny and Alexander, Koyaanisqatsi, Poltergeist, The Sword and the Sorcerer, White Dog, The Year of Living Dangerously, The Man From Snowy River, The Last Unicorn, Tex, Smithereens, Brimstone & Treacle, Smash Palace ...
.... I give up. There was something in the water. I wish we had it back.
And a total of one of them was a sequel.
(If the title of this post sounds vaguely familiar, it is.)
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