Not every anniversary is a celebration.
It’s been a long, strange trip for Howard The Duck. Created by Steve Gerber in 1973 for Marvel Comics, the anthropomorphic fowl was a source for social satire and various misadventures, even running for president in 1976 (and allegedly receiving thousands of write-in votes). He’s disappeared and reappeared many times in Marvel comics throughout the decades, most recently in a series written by Chip Zdarsky and drawn by Joe Quinones. But in between his various escapades in the panels of Marvel comics, the character has made a brief stop over in Hollywood with 1986’s film, Howard The Duck, which was released 30 years ago today.
The film was directed by William Huyck, who also cowrote with Gloria Katz, a man best known for his work writing on American Graffiti and Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, and produced by George Lucas. Yes, that George Lucas. Only a few years after Return Of The Jedi, Lucas brought this tale to the screen for Universal Pictures, enlisting stars Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, and Tim Robbins and renowned monster creator Phil Tippett, to help him realize this tale of a misplaced, but rather sassy, duck. Oh and there is also a plot of world domination, Jones basically using force-lightning on a truck stop diner, and the very much hinted at interspecies relationships. But, on the plus side there was also music! Bland, forgettable ’80s music like “Hunger City:”
Or the titular song, all performed by Lea Thompson and her co-stars as the “Cherry Bombs:”
The film was not a success. But it endures thanks to many video rentals, misspent youths, and those who love to seek out various flops of all kind. Also, the film would have a large impact on Hollywood, albeit in a roundabout way and not for many years. Due to its failings at the box office, Lucas was forced to sell off his nascent computer animation studio he had created to Steve Jobs, which would later become Pixar Studios (and, like Lucasfilm years after, would eventually be sold to Disney as well).
But of course, no one knew such things; it was simply a flop. Not just commercially, the film was also panned by critics everywhere. In fact, Siskel and Ebert included it among their “worst films of 1986” special. But this worst film has, despite all evidence to the contrary, remained in the memories of many lovers of schlock culture with its oddball story and corny duck puns. Heck, even the film’s theme song still gets some love as it is covered here by Mike Doughty (starts at 1:24) for “The George Lucas Talk Show”:
For those that want more takes on the film, first there’s The Nostalgia Critic painstakingly going through the film, dissecting all of its weirdness, bad jokes, and hokey plot. He gets increasingly frustrated with the various duck shenanigans running rampant throughout the film, and eventually decides that it’s just a “thoroughly unpleasant movie”:
While those that are far more interested in the weird interplanetary/interspecies relationship and the ramifications, and desire others to ponder the implications of the coupling of Lea Thompson and Howard, there’s a great live episode of How Did This Get Made? podcast. Kristen Schaal joins Paul Scheer, June Diane-Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas to discuss the inclusion of duck breasts, that weird condom “joke” in the film, and basically all of the things that have left audiences befuddled lo these 30 years.
For those that aren’t familiar with the film, but have read this far, and want to know why it is such a weird mess of a movie, look no further than YouTuber Cablogula’s video which highlights the “Top 10 Most Disturbing Moments” from Howard The Duck, and then perhaps it’ll make more sense why this flop is such a trainwreck. For staters, its hard to figure out exactly who was the target market for the film, or why there’s a porn tub in the middle of it:
But hopes were high for the film, which is why there was even a licensed video game (for the Commodore 64) which is seemingly a sequel to the film as Howard is the manager of the girls’ band but must go to Volcano Island (?) to find them. It’s a wonder that the game isn’t as infamous as the movie, but perhaps not enough people played Commodore 64 or simply couldn’t care to help it rise to infamy.
History has a way of making things work out, though. The film has become a curiosity devoured by bad movie lovers, George Lucas naysayers, and even those that want to see the first Marvel character on film. (No, seriously, this was the first major motion picture based on a Marvel comic.) Howard himself has gotten redemption through his comics, which in the near future will even see a cameo by Thompson in an issue. And, even in film, Howard found some love as a cameo in the second post-credit scene in Guardians Of The Galaxy, which led to some fans artfully pointing out why another solo Howard movie may not work so well in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
So here’s to the past 30 years of cringing at “Playduck” jokes, trying to decipher what Tim Robbins was thinking, and fond memories of when people could enjoy Jeffrey Jones performances without baggage. Who knows? With the success of Marvel at the cineplex, the accolades of the current run of the comic book series, and the deep pull of nostalgia, people may yet see another Howard The Duck movie. But unless it ends with a titular song and an anthropomorphic duck rocking a guitar solo, who needs it?