30 Years of Reese’s Pieces: The Cinematic Summer of 1982

8 May
2012

“This is the worst summer for movies ever.”

I’ve made that statement a number of times over the last four or five years, and every summer seems worse than the one that preceded it.  Two years ago, I declared 2010 to be a total waste, but then 2011 rolled around and I found myself thinking, “Man, 2010 was great: Inception, Toy Story 3, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World… so many good movies!”.  I have higher hopes going into 2012, if only because a summer that features Batman and Wes Anderson can’t be all bad (then again, Dark Shadows).  Still, it seems like the summer movie season isn’t what it was when I was younger.  Yes, summer is generally synonymous with the loudest, dumbest movies the studios have to offer, but that doesn’t mean they all have to be disposable junk.  Consider some of the great movies of summers past: Jaws (the original summer blockbuster), Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters, and Back to the Future are all crowd-pleasing entertainments that have stood the test of time and become bona fide classics.

For many moviegoers of a certain age, there is one summer three decades ago that stands apart from all the rest: the summer of 1982.  It may well be ground zero for an entire generation of movie lovers: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Blade Runner, The Thing, and even Tron were all released within a few weeks of each other, collectively blowing the minds of BMX-riding kids with feathered hair across the country.  I was only seven years old that summer, which means I didn’t see all of the movies on that list until later in life, but several of them (sorry, Tron) hold a spot on my all-time favorites list, and are titles I return to again and again for entertainment and inspiration.  I’m not alone; in fact, many of the films released that summer are considered groundbreaking, even epochal, and they’ve influenced countless others (even you, Tron) in the ensuing decades. 

And that’s just the tip of the cinematic iceberg: That same summer moviegoers also saw the likes of Poltergeist, Conan the Barbarian (which I have somehow never seen; shameful, I know), Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and the US release of The Road Warrior (aka. Mad Max 2).  An impressive line-up, and one which I bet would inspire some serious Reel Rumbles.  (I had Rocky III listed, but then I deleted it because I seemed to be negating my thesis.)

What may be surprising to younger moviegoers, given how canonized many of those titles have become, is that many were not initially successful, whether in terms of critical reaction or box office gross.  The Thing, John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing From Another World, underperformed, possibly due to its unfortunate release so close to that other movie about a (far more benign) extraterrestrial.  Thirty years later, it is widely considered to be a horror classic (the Boston Globe named it the scariest movie of all time), and even spawned a prequel-cum-remake last year which I refuse to see on principle.  No Kurt Russell = No Sale.

Kurt Russell hats became a "must have" accessory in 1982.

Blade Runner was met with a response somewhere between confusion and boredom upon its release on June 25th of that year.  I didn’t see it at the time, of course.  Like The Thing, it was Rated R, and I was only 7 — I still had a hard time with the melting Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  What’s strange, though, is that Blade Runner wasn’t even on my radar that summer.  I wasn’t aware of it until a few years later, when my uncle told me about this “crazy Harrison Ford movie” he’d watched on TV.  I made my mother drive me to the local video store to track down a copy the next day (on VHS, of course), and I was mesmerized.  Thirty years and countless imitations, knockoffs and homages haven’t failed to dull the impact of Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, and popular opinion has finally caught up with the movie (thanks in part to the 1991 “director’s cut”), which is now viewed as as one of the most influential science fiction movies of all time.

Tron is a terrible movie.  And I say that with love – it’s a terrible movie that I love.  Clearly I’m not the only one: Tron has somehow, like Blade Runner and The Thing, managed to transcend its initial box office disappointment and become something of a cult classic, revered by the many thirty and forty-somethings who saw it in its initial release and never forgot its one-of-a-kind blend of then cutting-edge computer graphics and glowing Frisbees.  Like The Thing, it even spawned a big budget sequel in 2010 (which is also terrible, albeit not in a good way).  Tron’s real gift to the world, however, was the arcade game which bore the same name.  Countless hours (and quarters) were wasted in my childhood pursuit of light cycle dominance, and if anyone wants to challenge me, I encourage you to bring it.

Pretty much how I remember the 80's.

Of course, not all of the movies were box office duds that summer.  Star Trek II was one of the highest grossing movies of the year, and helped reinvigorate the flagging franchise after the relatively disappointing Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Before Wrath of Khan, I had no interest in Trek, mostly because I was too busy obsessing over Star Wars, but also because I thought it seemed really boring and cheesy.  Star Trek II changed all that with a vengeance.  I saw it on a triple bill at a drive-in theater (yes, I’m that old) with Popeye and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and since I’d already seen Raiders (and Popeye is awful), Khan was the movie I went on and on about for days afterwards.  Director Nicolas Meyer’s skillful mix of cracking action, high drama, and sharp character moments is the textbook example of not only how to make a Star Trek movie, but how to make a great summer movie, full stop (and yes, Michael Bay, I am looking at you).

William Shatner having a meltdown on the set.

Ultimately, my own Summer of ‘82 list begins and ends with E.T..  My mother took me to see it at the late, lamented General Cinema in Bedford, NH, and it was one of those movie-going experiences that leaves an indelible impression on you.  I’m sure I will see (and probably have seen) better movies in my lifetime, but E.T. will always affect me in that special, indefinable way that a work of art sometimes does.  It’s one of the definitive film portraits of childhood – right up there with Truffaut‘s The 400 Blows – but more importantly, it’s a strikingly vivid evocation of my own childhood: I had a room like Elliott’s, I played with the same toys, and my friends and I had the same clothes and the same hair as the characters in the movie.  To this day, E.T. never fails to take me back to a singular time and place.  It reminds me of what it was like to be a kid.

It also reminds me of what it was like to go see a movie for $2.00, in a time before CGI, when word of mouth came not via Twitter, but the schoolyard, and your friend breathlessly telling you about how, “Khan put a space worm in Chekov’s ear and it was so gross!”.  I may not remember all the details of that summer (and if I’m being honest, I don’t remember anything about Poltergeist), but I remember what it was like to come staggering out of a movie theater with a huge grin plastered on your face, desperate to turn right back around and get on the ride again.  If even one movie manages to give me that thrill this summer, then I’ll happily shell out the $20.00 (or whatever tickets are up to now) for the privilege, and I won’t even complain about how awful the popcorn is.

What are your favorite movies from the summer of 1982?  Did I miss one?  Is there another summer that you consider The Best?  I’d love your feedback — just don’t berate me for not having seen Conan the Barbarian.  I’ll get right on it, I swear.

This post is part of our User Showcase series. You can find Aaron as aaron75 on Flickchart. If you’re interested to submit your own story or article describing your thoughts about movies and Flickchart, read our original post for how to become a guest writer here on the Flickchart Blog.

  • Derek Armstrong

    Nice piece. Nothing to add. 

    • Csschneider

      1982 was the year of my birth.  (Yup, fast approaching 30) but the shockwave that affected the industry was felt by my some three years later.  My parents took me, their first born, to the theater for the first time as an experiment.  That year I saw Pinocchio (still my fave Disney film) and a second run screening of E.T.  According to both my parents they were worried about scaring me, and ruining other’s enjoyment of the cinematic experience.  Thankfully I was good and apparently mesmerized by both films.  And how did that shockwave of 1982 get felt by me?  Well two days before I was born my mother went to see Poltergeist and claims it was the most active I ever was in the womb.  Couple that nice bit of personal legend with seeing E.T. and thirty years later you have an up and coming cinematographer approaching his third Indie feature as a DP and countless shorts and other such works as the legacy E.T., Poltergeist and the Summer of ’82 gave me.

    • Csschneider

      1982 was the year of my birth.  (Yup, fast approaching 30) but the shockwave that affected the industry was felt by my some three years later.  My parents took me, their first born, to the theater for the first time as an experiment.  That year I saw Pinocchio (still my fave Disney film) and a second run screening of E.T.  According to both my parents they were worried about scaring me, and ruining other’s enjoyment of the cinematic experience.  Thankfully I was good and apparently mesmerized by both films.  And how did that shockwave of 1982 get felt by me?  Well two days before I was born my mother went to see Poltergeist and claims it was the most active I ever was in the womb.  Couple that nice bit of personal legend with seeing E.T. and thirty years later you have an up and coming cinematographer approaching his third Indie feature as a DP and countless shorts and other such works as the legacy E.T., Poltergeist and the Summer of ’82 gave me.

  • http://twitter.com/SirStuckey Ryan Stuckey

    I don’t really like TRON either, and as much as it baffles people…I’m quite neutral towards E.T.

    And now that I’ve soured people on my cinematic opinion…

    I suggest giving The Thing
    prequel a chance. It is what happened to the Russian outpost that they
    visit in Carpenter’s version and is pretty good. I was bummed it
    essentially got ignored last year when it was probably in my top 15 or
    20 for 2011.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Aaron-Cochrane/619728548 Aaron Cochrane

      The real question is, does anyone in The Thing prequel wear a hat as awesome as Kurt Russell’s?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Aaron-Cochrane/619728548 Aaron Cochrane

      The real question is, does anyone in The Thing prequel wear a hat as awesome as Kurt Russell’s?

  • Ted Ehlers

    1982 is THE champion movie summer. It really was a highly concentrated run of future classics. I won’t spoil the party by mentioning Grease 2!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Aaron-Cochrane/619728548 Aaron Cochrane

       Too late, Ted; you ruined it.  You and Grease 2.

  • http://travismcclain.blogspot.com Travis McClain

    I was three that summer. I can still recall my mom taking me to see E.T., though. For the most part, however, we didn’t go to a lot of movies in my youth. I reconstructed a list as best I and my brother could recall and it was a higher count than I had expected, but it still wasn’t something we did often. Going to see a movie – even at the $1 second run theaters, which was our norm – was always a magical outing for me. Even today, I get those butterflies when the lights dim and the trailers begin scrolling and I wait for everyone else to shut up and finish opening their concessions in time for the movie to begin.

    How you feel about the Summer of ’82 is how I feel about the Summer of ’96. We finally got a theater in my small town in late Summer/early Fall ’95. 1996 was the first full year of its operation, and by then I was 17 and more than capable of deciding for myself that I wanted to go see a movie. Some have aged better than others; some I still enjoy more for the association with the feeling I had going to the theater with my friends.

    But, yeah…I know that feeling you enjoyed and want to feel again. It’s why we keep buying tickets to go to a theater at all.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Aaron-Cochrane/619728548 Aaron Cochrane

      Yeah, 1996 was a good summer.  I remember going to see a lot of movies with my roommate, some decent (Mission:Impossible), some awful (Independence Day), and at least one that I still love (Trainspotting).  I also have a soft spot for The Rock; it’s the one Michael Bay movie I can tolerate.

  • http://twitter.com/SirStuckey Ryan Stuckey

    no

  • nastywill

    et scared the shit out of me wheni was a kid i hate that movie