That summer of sci-fi

Posted by David Konow

I can’t believe this much time has passed already, but one of the most incredible summers for genre movies is thirty years behind us now.



I remember the summer of 1982 very well, because if I wasn’t at the video arcade, I was at the movies, and there was a lot of amazing flicks to see.

Of course 1982 was the year of E.T., and the adorable, long-necked alien with the glowing finger stole the hearts of America, and became the biggest movie of all time in its time, and cemented Steven Spielberg’s power as the king of Hollywood. It was also one of the first times I remember hearing about box office scores on the news, because it was making a then unprecedented million dollars a day.

Today E.T. may seem like a relic of the 80’s, and it hasn’t enjoyed the second life as The Thing, which was also released that summer, but I remember very well how the phenomenon felt, and how audiences were more than happy to pay good money to cry their eyes out and be uplifted.

There were so many hit movies out in the summer of ’82, practically every week there was a blockbuster with Star Trek II, Rocky III (the debut of Mr. T, and who could forget the Eye of the Tiger theme song by Survivor?), The Road Warrior, Poltergeist, Conan the Barbarian, and more. But there were several films that didn’t find their audiences at first that today are considered major classics.

The Thing of course belongs in the category, as of course does Blade Runner. Both came out to scathing reviews and negligent box office, but both movies enjoy bigger audiences today than ever. Both were clearly very ahead of their time, and the summer might have been the wrong time for The Thing, which initially repulsed audiences with its gore, although its effects were state of the art for the time. (And still hold up very well all things considered, especially considering it had no CGI).

And of course Tron, the big blockbuster that wasn’t, that has gone on to become one of the most beloved science fiction films of all time. I can still recall how it felt to see it in the theater, and how awesome it was on a hot summer afternoon, much like I can still recall seeing the first Star Wars in the theaters when I was a little kid, and what a big impact it made on me, along with millions of other kids my age.

There was also a great sleeper that snuck out there near the end of the summer, but any cool teenage kid could have told you it would be a hit movie: Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The story goes Universal didn’t think much of it except for the late production executive Verna Fields, who was also the editor on Jaws. Verna championed the film, but Universal opened it in a small number of theaters. Once they saw it was underbooked to audience demand, it opened on more screens, and everywhere we were quoting Jeff Spicoli word for word, and wearing his checkerboard Vans.

1982 may also have been one of the last moments of innocence for a lot of moviegoers where we didn’t hear about box office on the news, we didn’t know how every special effect in a movie was done, and we just sat back, took it all in, and were blown away by the ride. 

We all gotta lose our innocence and grow up at some point, and as we’ve seen with Blade Runner, Star Trek II, The Thing and Fast Times, a lot of movies from the summer of ’82 are still pretty damn cool from our adult perspectives today.