It’s strange to say but even back in the spring of 1982 many genre fans knew that summer would be special when it came to movies. Unlike previous summers, it seemed as if many film releases were catered to genre fans and that was a correct assumption.
Conventional wisdom has it that the summer season begins with the Memorial Day weekend. While that’s true for many aspects of summer, for the past few years it seemed as if the summer movie season didn’t begin with that holiday but on the first weekend of May. That reputation began with the release of several movies based on Marvel superheroes, which by the way, coincides with Free Comic Book Day. But even back in 1982, the summer movie season began in mid-May with the release of Conan The Barbarian, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first big hit.
While previous summer movie seasons boasted huge genre hits like The Empire Strikes Back and Alien, often there weren’t many genre films released in that time period. 1982 was the first year that the summer schedule was full of films that would appeal to fans of sci-fi, fantasy and horror. Since 1982, many summers featured a plethora of genre films; some were big hits, others didn’t do well and that continues to this day (case in point, the runaway success of The Avengers and the dismal box office performances of Battleship and Dark Shadows).
What makes the summer of 1982 so memorable for fans is that not only was it the first time there were many films to choose from but that so many of them are classics. For instance, Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan is considered to be the best Star Trek film to this day, then there’s Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s masterpiece about a human hunting down rogue replicants in a decaying, future Los Angeles. Or there are the two opposing alien visitation films that are as different from each other as night and day, and are both classics, Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and director John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing. The sad thing about these two films is the general audience’s reaction to them. While E.T. won universal acclaim and became the biggest box office hit until the mid-90s, The Thing was scorned by critics and audiences. In fact, it made its debut near the bottom of that week’s top ten and disappeared from theaters quickly. It’s unfortunate that people back then weren’t open to a dark and horrifying movie about an alien invader because of the happy feelings they were getting from a stranded, friendly alien and his buddy human boy.
Blade Runner suffered a similar fate, while its opening was better than The Thing’s, many viewers and critics didn’t take to Scott’s moody, future noir tale. With Harrison Ford as the lead, fresh off his breakthrough hit Raiders Of The Lost Ark, many expected a similar rousing adventure film. But both Blade Runner and The Thing had happy endings as many discovered the films on cable and home video, elevating their statures from cult hits to genuine masterpieces (Blade Runner actually made AFI’s list of 100 Years…100 Films, along with E.T.).
Of course, there were a few stinkers and some films that were generally good, but didn’t leave a lasting impression. The most infamous stinker is Megaforce, a poor man’s G.I. Joe directed by Hal Needham (who helmed those awful Burt Reynolds car chase films) and it is laughably bad. Then there’s this terrible Scott Baio comedy called Zapped about a student who gets psychic powers and the less said about it the better. Meanwhile, some underrated genre films worth looking out for are Clint Eastwood’s Firefox (about a fighter pilot who steals an advanced, thought-operated Soviet plane), and Don Bluth’s first animated film The Secret Of NIMH (astonishing, Disneyesque animation highlighted this tale about a wood mouse and rats with advanced intelligence).
While the rest of that year featured some great films like The Dark Crystal, the summer of 1982 will always be fondly remembered and the milestone to compare with other summer movie seasons. The following are some of the more noteworthy films that were released that summer and thrilled fans thirty years ago. If you haven’t seen any of them, check them out.
Conan The Barbarian, Poltergeist, Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, The Thing, Blade Runner, Tron, The Road Warrior