40 Years Ago Two Iconic ’80s Classics Dominated The Box Office

40 Years Ago Two Iconic ’80s Classics Dominated The Box Office

40 Years Ago Two Iconic ’80s Classics Dominated The Box Office

1984 was a magical year for cinema, with numerous films released that have since become classics. Among these, two iconic movies, “Ghostbusters” and “Gremlins,” premiered on the same weekend, creating a historic moment in box office history. This remarkable event is reminiscent of the recent “Barbenheimer” phenomenon, where “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” dominated the box office simultaneously.

In the summer of 1984, audiences were faced with a tough choice: director Joe Dante’s “Gremlins,” a family-friendly creature feature produced by Steven Spielberg, or director Ivan Reitman’s “Ghostbusters,” a supernatural comedy featuring some of the funniest actors of the time. Ultimately, viewers embraced both films, resulting in one of the most memorable double bills in cinema history.

To understand the impact of these films, it’s essential to consider the moviegoing landscape of 1984. At that time, there were far fewer theaters in the U.S., with around 18,000 to 21,000 screens nationwide. The box office relied heavily on domestic ticket sales, as Hollywood had not yet begun to depend on international markets like China. The moviegoing experience was also different, with no streaming services and limited cable options. If you wanted to see a movie, you had to go to a theater.

The theaters themselves varied greatly, from dive bar-like atmospheres to grand, elegant structures. Regardless of the setting, going to the movies was a significant part of daily life for many people. This context is crucial in understanding the success of “Ghostbusters” and “Gremlins.”

The story of “Ghostbusters” began with Dan Aykroyd, who wrote a script titled “Ghost Smashers.” Aykroyd’s family had a long history with the paranormal, which influenced the film. Ivan Reitman, known for hits like “Meatballs” and “Stripes,” was chosen to direct and worked with Aykroyd and Harold Ramis to develop the project. Ramis suggested turning the film into an origin story, which helped shape the final product.

Reitman re-teamed with Bill Murray, and the cast was rounded out with Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, and Rick Moranis. Columbia Pictures spent around $30 million on the production, a significant budget for the time.

On the other side, “Gremlins” was written by Chris Columbus and directed by Joe Dante, who was coming off the werewolf film “The Howling.” Steven Spielberg, producing the film for Warner Bros., had Dante in mind for the project. The film follows Billy, who receives a Mogwai named Gizmo as a gift. Gizmo comes with strict rules, which are inevitably broken, leading to chaos as gremlins overrun a small town.

The original script for “Gremlins” was more gruesome, but Spielberg suggested keeping Gizmo as a friendly character, which contributed to the film’s lasting appeal. With a budget of $11 million, “Gremlins” was a relatively modest production.

Both “Ghostbusters” and “Gremlins” were released on June 8, 1984, with massive marketing campaigns. “Ghostbusters” topped the box office with $13.5 million in its opening weekend, while “Gremlins” followed closely with $12.5 million. “Ghostbusters” remained at number one for eight out of its first nine weekends, with “Gremlins” holding the number two spot for six weeks.

In their original releases, “Ghostbusters” earned $229.2 million domestically, while “Gremlins” made $148.1 million. Adjusted for inflation, these figures translate to around $691 million and $446 million today. Both films enjoyed sustained success, a testament to their enduring appeal.

The success of these films led to the creation of long-running franchises. “Ghostbusters” has become a $1 billion franchise, with multiple sequels, animated shows, video games, and merchandise. “Gremlins” spawned a sequel, “Gremlins 2: The New Batch,” and an animated series, “Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai.”

The legacy of “Ghostbusters” and “Gremlins” is a reminder of the importance of originality and counterprogramming in the film industry. These movies succeeded because they were groundbreaking, not because they were trying to emulate past successes. They also demonstrated the potential of horror-comedy hybrids, a genre that remains challenging to master.

In today’s post-pandemic landscape, the success of “Ghostbusters” and “Gremlins” serves as a reminder of the value of counterprogramming and the importance of allowing films to play long enough for audiences to discover them. The simultaneous success of these two iconic ’80s classics is a testament to the power of great storytelling and the magic of the moviegoing experience.

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