Movies We Still Care About – 1978

(For an explanation of this, read the Introduction.  Other posts in this series can be found here.)

Movies We Still Care About

  • Superman
  • Grease
  • National Lampoon’s Animal House
  • Halloween

Best Picture Nominees:

  • The Deer Hunter (Winner)
  • Coming Home
  • Heaven Can Wait
  • Midnight Express
  • An Unmarried Woman

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Grease
  2. Superman
  3. National Lampoon’s Animal House
  4. Every Which Way but Loose
  5. Heaven Can Wait
  6. Hooper
  7. Jaws 2
  8. Halloween
  9. Dawn of the Dead
  10. The Deer Hunter

This is a year in which the box office numbers were a much better predictor of long-term quality than the Oscars.  The top 3 (and 8th) box office movies have stood the test of time, while most people are at best dimly aware of the existence of the Academy Award Nominees.  The Russian Roulette scene in Deer Hunter is memorable, but beyond that, I think only a tiny minority of people could picture a single scene from any of the nominated movies.

Movies We Still Care About

Superman

On an objective level, Superman is not a very good movie.  It’s a lot better in our memories than if you actually watch it.  It has poor pacing, and an incoherent plot.  (The best summary I can come up with is “Superman does some stuff, and Lex Luthor has a ridiculous scheme involving missiles.”)  Plus it has the single worst ending from a writing perspective that I’ve ever seen in a major motion picture.

It also is the eponymous example of what I call “The Superman Problem.”  That’s when a hero is so incredibly powerful that the only way he can possibly be challenged is for him to be so incredibly stupid that he forgets his own abilities.  Since on a fundamental level, a movie is about the hero overcoming difficult challenges, it’s very difficult to make a movie work when the hero can’t be challenged.  Which is why this “How it Should Have Ended” cartoon for Superman makes a lot more sense than the actual movie.

So why is it on this list?  Two reasons: The first is that nobody was trying to make the movie work well as a story.  Superman is what I call a Spectacle Movie.  This is a movie that gives such a compelling spectacle that the viewers don’t really care about the story or characters.  The spectacle can come in the form of jokes, song-and-dance numbers, fight scenes, action scenes, or in the case of Superman, special effects.  Note that the tagline for Superman had nothing to do with any sort of story.  It was simply “You will believe a man can fly.”

The other reason it’s on this list is that Superman created the comic book tentpole movie.  That’s a genre that really came into its own in the 2000s, but it can be traced back to this.  Before 1978, comics were considered to be kids stuff, relegated to Saturday morning cartoons.  Superman demonstrated that, done right, comic book movies could be big business that would play to a general audience.

Grease

Does this appeal to everyone?  No.  But if you like musicals, you’ve seen Grease.  When I mention the songs “Summer Lovin,” “Look at Me I’m Sandra Dee,” “You’re the One That I Want,” and “We Go Together,” you probably heard those songs in your head, and possibly started humming them.  In general, this is just an all-around fun movie to watch.

Halloween

Halloween is generally seen as creating the modern slasher genre.  The idea of a soulless killer slaughtering promiscuous teenagers dates back to this movie.  If you’re a fan of the horror genre, you almost certainly have a fondness in your heart for this.  And even if you don’t care for horror, you probably still know who Michael Myers is.  He may not be quite at the level of mythology as Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger, or Norman Bates, but I can’t think of any other horror movies characters that are better known.

National Lampoon’s Animal House

This is the trailblazer of both the gross-out comedy and college comedy genres.  Like Superman, it is more of a spectacle movie, working due to jokes rather than story.  The characters are mostly a bunch of obnoxious jerks who could easily be the villain in another movie, but are funny enough that you end up caring about them.

Plus in my personal opinion, John Belushi’s guitar smash is one of the all-time funniest moments in film.

– – – – –

Do you disagree with any of these choices, or think that I missed something?  Leave a comment below.

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3 thoughts on “Movies We Still Care About – 1978”

    1. Certainly Tim Burton’s Batman built on the foundation that Superman laid 11 years earlier. Batman will be included in the 1989 entry of this series.

      I was approximately 0.25 years old when Superman was released, so I don’t exactly have a memory of how it was promoted. But I do think you’re correct that Batman was the trailblazer for the sort of promotional mania for tentpole movies that we saw in the 90s and 2000s.

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  1. No mention for Dawn of the Dead? Sure Night of the Living Dead was a bigger deal, but Dawn could probably be classified as the first zombie box office hit.

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