For those of us who lived through it, it kinda feels like yesterday, though this year it’s been 35 years since the Summer of 1982 — one of the greatest summers at the movies for geeks ever.
Sure there have been some pretty tremendous years since, and these days entire months’ worth of Friday releases are meticulously planned to make sure there are tons of options for your moviegoing dollar. But for sheer quality and long-lasting genre love, 1982 was a very special year for scifi and horror in particular; even the films that didn’t blow the doors off the box office have, in the years since, been revered as classics.
This week we’re dedicating our Friday Five to five films that all opened in June of 1982 — see, we were talking about a whole summer, but these gems all opened in the space of ONE MONTH! — and including two franchises which feature in this month’s ROBOTIC theme. Plus!: One of these flicks, the inimitable Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, is returning to theaters with a Director’s Cut soon and we have a chance for you to WIN tickets at the bottom of the page!
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Released June 4, 1982)
It was a bit of a marvel that an NBC scifi show that had been cancelled for 10 years made a resurgence in feature films, with a cast who were all well into their forties at the time, but such was 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture… a film which didn’t really thrill anyone other than die-hard Trek fans. So it was a delightful surprise that Nicholas Meyer hit it out of the park three years later with this sequel, providing pretty much all the fixings of a great summer flick: A beloved villain (Ricardo Montalban’s nefarious Khan), some touching family melodrama, a truly cool MacGuffin in the Genesis device and, of course, that fandom-crushing ending. (Editor’s Note: This is the first time I remember watching a movie with my mom and both of us crying. Nerd bonding.) As NY Times critic Janet Maslin’s review famously opened, “Now this is more like it…”
Poltergeist (Released June 4, 1982)
Wrath of Khan had serious competition that first Friday in June of 1982, from one of the two films that Steven Spielberg had been shepherding to the screen shooting right near one another north of Los Angeles. (We’ll get to that other one in a minute…) Full disclosure: Poltergeist is easily in yours truly’s Top 5 films of all time. It’s a damn near perfect script, with an achingly real portrayal of a family with authentic quirks and foibles who are forced into an incomprehensible nightmare; that the Freelings are so relatable and so easy to identify with is part of Spielberg’s gift, and that the shocking nature of their supernatural odyssey is so terrifying is recently-departed horror master Tobe Hooper’s. (R.I.P.) Probably the earliest horror memory for a whole generation. (It was rated PG after all; let’s be honest, it’s scarier than any of the films that brought about the PG-13!)
The Thing (Released June 25, 1982)
The last Friday of that fateful summer month would be the launching ground for two very mature genre classics which both tanked at the box office (again, we’ll get to the reason why in one sec) — yet became cult classics, the first being inarguably one of the greatest remakes ever made. (David Cronenberg’s The Fly is one of the only films we can think of in the same caliber.) Horror master John Carpenter, his leading man-of-the-decade Kurt Russell and a brilliant cast join forces for one of the most unsettling and anxiety-inducing thrillers ever; the Antarctic setting is the ace in the hole, providing a similar sense of doom as the first Alien film. (There’s literally nowhere to run.) Not to mention the gross and unpredictable shape-shifting nature of this alien menace, dreamed up by then 21-year-old wunderkind Rob Bottin; Carpenter wisely threw the FX budget at the kid and let him go craaaaazy.
Blade Runner (Released June 25, 1982)
We broke down some of the book-to-film history of Blade Runner earlier this week, but the actual production of Ridley Scott’s scifi opus is legendary in and of itself. Once the exhausting principal photography was complete, the jaw-dropping look of the film coupled with its cerebral tale that deeply questions what it means to be human seemed to give studio execs a case of the “WTF do we do with this?” Notoriously, the film was edited way down and an expository voice-over that Harrison Ford himself hated recording and thought was unnecessary was tacked on. Scott spent many years since revising the 1982 cut into something closer to his original vision; the Final Cut is a joy to behold, but truthfully the original cut wasn’t exactly chopped liver either. Audiences just weren’t quite ready for it. (And in the case of Ford’s fans from Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Star Wars films, they simply couldn’t get into the rated R film.)
Which leads us to…
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Released June 11, 1982)
The Grand Poobah of Summer 1982! While a few films (Poltergeist and Wrath of Khan, as we previously noted) got the jump on E.T., Spielberg’s critically acclaimed, kid-friendly (and if we’re honest, kid-traumatizing… and that’s part of the appeal) film dropped in the second week of June and was an instant phenomenon. Again, an all-too-real family in a spectacular premise hit home for many, coupled with E.T. himself’s ugly-cute charm and some seriously talented kids. (Have you seen Henry Thomas’s audition tape? Go get Kleenex… we’ll wait.) It was such a hit, with repeat viewings for many (taking parents who might want to see something else off the table), that it pretty much steamrolled every film in its wake. The aforementioned Blade Runner and The Thing took the hit, not to mention more major family releases like The Secret of NIMH and Tron well into July. (E.T. was the #1 film in the country for seven straight weeks, and continued to pull the top spot periodically as late as Thanksgiving weekend. That’s bananas, folks.)