This was the year of "Ghostbusters." With domestic grosses totaling around $220 million, "Ghostbusters" became the second comedy (the other was "Tootsie," in 1982) to enter the all-time Top 10, finally putting to rest the received Hollywood wisdom that a comedy couldn't gross more than $30 million. Its director, Ivan Reitman, is now mentioned by studios and exhibitors with the hush of awe usually reserved for Spielberg and Lucas; and Bill Murray is now one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, his pictures virtually guaranteed success (as long as he sticks to comedy -- his "Razor's Edge" flopped).
But more than commercial success, "Ghostbusters" exemplified the coming of age of a generation of comedy. Murray, costar-cowriters Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, and supporting performer Rick Moranis all came out of the "Saturday Night Live"-"SCTV"-"Second City"-"National Lampoon" breeding ground, a school of pop culture satire epitomized by the opening "SCTV" scene in which television sets crashed to the ground from an apartment window.
"Ghostbusters" was the flagship in what proved to be a year for comedy: "Splash," "All of Me," "Repo Man," "This Is Spinal Tap" and "Beverly Hills Cop" were among the best and most successful movies in a period that had no drama like "Terms of Endearment."
And "Ghostbusters' " huge popularity fueled a pretty good year for the movie business, in which gross receipts, after accounting for inflation, kept pace with 1983, despite the ever-increasing pervasiveness of videocassette recorders. Unlike the rest of the world (where videocassette viewing has cut into box office), Americans continue to be a moviegoing people -- there are more movie screens now than at any time since the '40s.
Then again, it was a bad year for movies as an art form. There was plenty of entertainment, but there were very few pictures that you can imagine anyone looking at again next year. Critics scrambled to fill their "10 Best" lists; there was so little enthusiasm at the annual meeting of the New York Critics' Circle that every decision took three or four ballots. "A Passage to India," which has yet to open here, won Best Picture by default.
Sequelmania continued in 1984, with "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock." Such sequels are favorites with studio executives because they allow them to regularize what has always been a chaotic business -- making movies becomes as predictable as, say, making furniture. But after vowing never to lose control of a budget after the disaster of "Heaven's Gate," the studios blew a fortune on "Dune," "The Cotton Club" and "2010," all of which will probably lose money. Nobody seems to realize that making good movies means more than spending money.
The year included a great shuffling of studio executives. The team that has made Paramount the most successful company in Hollywood was split up: chairman Barry Diller went to 20th Century-Fox; president Michael Eisner and production chief Jeff Katzenberg ankled for Disney; Frank Mancuso, Paramount's marketing wizard, took over the reins. These changes initiated a game of musical chairs among lower studio executives that still continues. "I've often said that if Hollywood had a coat of arms, it would be a spinning turnstile rampant on a field of gold," says Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America.
Paramount had a typically lucrative year, with films like "Indiana Jones," "Star Trek III," "Footloose" and "Beverly Hills Cop"; the question is whether Diller will be able to invigorate the ailing Fox (which after the washout of its big summer release, "Rhinestone," was one of the year's big losers), and whether Eisner and Katzenberg will do the same for Disney, which hasn't been a force in motion pictures since Walt himself sat at the helm.
The other big winners were Columbia, which added the surprising success of "The Karate Kid" ($80 million) to "Ghostbusters"; and Warner Bros., top dog going into Christmas after clicking with "Gremlins" ($143 million), "Police Academy" ($81 million) and "Purple Rain" ($58 million plus a brisk videocassette sale). Besides Fox, the big losers were Universal, MGM/UA and Orion, which limped by with the surprising success of "The Terminator."
It was a year in which the only romance came from underwater ("Splash"), outer space ("Starman") or behind the Iron Curtain ("Moscow on the Hudson"). And it was a year in which three studios made surprisingly identical movies about the rigors of farming: "Country," "Places in the Heart" (a legitimate Oscar contender) and "The River," which, scheduled for September release, was held by Universal to avoid the countrified clutter.
Black artists had a good year, too. Eddie Murphy has emerged as perhaps the biggest black box-office draw in history -- "Beverly Hills Cop" is already setting records. "Purple Rain" made stars out of Prince and Morris Day, who has signed a three-picture deal with Fox. And Michael Jackson agreed to make his first movie since "The Wiz," signing with the Geffen Co. Blacks have too often been pigeonholed as singers, dancers and comedians; what remains to be seen is whether the surprising success of "A Soldier's Story" augurs a breakthrough for black dramatic actors, who have long been frozen out of Hollywood, supposedly because white American audiences, and particularly foreign audiences, aren't receptive.
With the success of "Tightrope," Clint Eastwood continued his reign as king of the box office; Ralph Macchio, star of "The Karate Kid" and the moderately successful "Teachers," has emerged from the pack of young talent introduced by Francis Ford Coppola in "The Outsiders." Tom Hanks also entered the star ranks this year, with "Splash" and "Bachelor Party"; "Splash" and "Gremlins" made Ron Howard and Joe Dante, respectively, two of the hottest directors in Hollywood. Blake Edwards, canned from "City Heat," came back with his best movie in years, "Micki and Maude." After the failure earlier this year of "The Lonely Guy," Steve Martin was revived by "All of Me." Arnold Schwarzenegger might as well be made of gold, after the success of "Terminator" and the fairly popular "Conan the Destroyer." And after the failure of "Thief of Hearts," producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer bounced back with "Beverly Hills Cop," which also revived the career of director Marty Brest, on the ropes since he was fired three weeks into the production of "WarGames."
"Police Academy," "Revenge of the Nerds" and "Bachelor Party" all did well enough to keep the teen-sex genre alive, although the failures of everything from "The Joy of Sex" to "Meatballs II" made the formula seem more difficult than you'd think.
Among those on the outs are Ryan O'Neal, whose "Irreconcilable Differences" proved once again that he's better at getting himself into People magazine than at making movies; Michael Keaton, who, in "Johnny Dangerously," seems to have lost his batteries; Rob Lowe, whose "Oxford Blues" and "Hotel New Hampshire" were among the worst of the year, in no small part because of his preening presence; Louis Malle, whose "Crackers" was one of the year's biggest dogs; Frank Yablans, the head of MGM, who staked his all on "2010"; and, of course, the Dereks and Paul McCartney -- "Bolero" and "Give My Regards to Broad Street" showed that the public knows vanity when they see it.
Some of the best movies of the year, like Jim Jarmusch's small masterpiece, "Stranger Than Paradise," and Jean-Luc Godard's "First Name: Carmen," never came to Washington; then again, some of the worst, like Armyan Bernstein's "Windy City," never made it here either.