In my previous article, Summer Movies of 1989: 25 Years Later, I listed my top five most enjoyable films from a wide selection of offerings. To me, that year was second only to 1984 when it comes to summer movie memories.
When I think back to the summer of 1980, I recall The Empire Strikes Back. 1981? Raiders of the Lost Ark. 1982 gave us E.T. and Star Trek II, and 1983 offered Return of the Jedi. Obviously, there were other options each year, but these were the standout movies as I recall them.
Enter the summer of 1984. Ronald Reagan was cruising toward re-election. Mary Lou Retton was becoming a household name. “When Doves Cry” was at the top of the Billboard charts. “The A-Team” was exploding (literally and otherwise) on the TV screen.
To me, 1984 doesn’t ring out as a summer with only one or two defining movies. It seemed as if every week, something new and eventful was happening, and audiences followed suit by showing up in the theaters. What follows are my top five movies released that summer:
Wait a minute… why am I starting this list with a smaller-budget Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker movie? Mainly because it’s my favorite. 30 years after its release, I still sit through this one on a regular basis. Val Kilmer plays an American rock and roll star visiting East Germany in a send-up that combines Elvis Presley musicals with World War II spy movies. Like all Z-A-Z releases, you need to watch the background for subtle jokes you may not have caught the first time around.
Fun fact: Val Kilmer and Michael Gough, who appeared in this movie, would reunite as Bruce Wayne and Alfred in Batman Forever.
The Karate Kid
I admit that it took me a few years before I watched this one. Ralph Macchio had already been well-known as a teen girl crush, and I thought there would be no reason I’d find this interesting. I was wrong. Macchio plays Damiel LaRusso, a small guy who has a tough time adjusting to a new school. After a few run-ins with the local bullies, he is mentored by Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita, who played Arnold on Happy Days). Daniel and Miyagi form a mutual friendship over time, and the end is fulfilling. Sure, it has the cliches you find in lots of movies (spoiled rich kid is the antagonist, training montage that shows the passage of time), but it’s still an enjoyable story.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Although this is my least favorite of the original Indy trilogy, it still has some good qualities. Indiana Jones, along with sidekick Short Round and tag-along Willie Scott, find themselves in a small village in India. While Indy typically embarks on adventures for valuable relics, this one is more a mission of mercy. 90% of the action takes place in and around one location (not as much globe-trotting as the other installments), but there are a good number of memorable scenes. John Williams’ soundtrack is strong, with trumpet sounds reminiscent of elephants during some sequences.
Much of the buzz surrounding this movie during its release dealt with a few dark scenes, which some felt were too intense for a PG movie, but not quite enough for an R rating. This is discussed below, when I cover Gremlins.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
I never bought in to the odd/even curse that followed the original Star Trek film series. True, this isn’t as good as the previous movie, but I still enjoy it. After the tragic events of The Wrath of Khan, Kirk learns that he may be able to make things right. Disobeying orders from Starfleet, the crew of the Enterprise sets off on a quest to retrieve their lost friend.
For Star Trek fans, this movie features a number of notable firsts: The first appearance of the Excelsior and Grissom class starships (used well into the “Next Generation” era), as well as Spacedock and the popular Klingon Bird of Prey. Although the new “bumpy-headed” Klingons appeared briefly in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, their presence (and language) is fully fleshed out here.
Don’t expose them to light. Don’t get them wet. Never feed them after midnight. This was a fun story with dark humor, about what can go wrong if you don’t take responsibility for your actions. It also helps to have Phoebe Cates in the cast. Like Indiana Jones above, this movie has some scenes that seemed a bit much for a PG rating. These two films sparked the idea to create a new “in-between” rating called PG-13. Starting with Red Dawn in August of that year, PG-13 movies have become the norm in Hollywood.
Honorable Mention: Ghostbusters
Although I find this movie to be enjoyable, I prefer the others already listed above. My favorite Ramis/Murray collaboration is Caddyshack, and this one isn’t quite up to that level. However, it’s still a fun watch with a good cast. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis (and later Ernie Hudson) set off to save New York City from paranormal menaces. The best scene? Easily the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.
These were just some of the movies appearing in theaters in the summer of 1984. Audiences were also heading out to see Sixteen Candles, Bachelor Party, Firestarter, The Natural, The NeverEnding Story, Revenge of the Nerds, Conan the Destroyer, The Muppets Take Manhattan, The Last Starfighter, Purple Rain, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, and Breakin’/Beat Street (really, I don’t know the difference between the two). As stated above, this was the first summer in my adolescence that had a good number of defining films.