1986: Looking Back At HOWARD THE DUCK

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Nathan Browne laughs at a master of Quack Fu!


Howard The Duck is notorious for being one of the biggest box office bombs to ever come out of Hollywood. After grossing just $16,295,774 in the United States, it was renamed for International markets and released under the title of Howard: A New Breed Of Hero. The Duck himself was heavily played down in the new advertising posters, instead George Lucas' name was emblazoned in an effort to recoup some of the outlay.


It didn't work! The "new breed of hero" took just $21,667,000 worldwide for a total of $37,962,774, less than $1 million above the production budget.

Back in the Summer of 1986, when Howard The Duck was originally released, you'd be hard pushed to find a single favourable review for the movie, and the following year it went on to receive seven Golden Raspberry Award nominations including Worst Supporting Actor (Tim Robbins), Worst Director (Willard Huyck) and Worst Original Song ("Howard the Duck"). It won four trophies for Worst Screenplay, Worst New Star ("The Six Guys and Gals in the Duck Suit"), Worst Visual Effects, and Worst Picture. Yet despite all this I can't help but find Howard The Duck to be original, fun and entertaining.


The plot sees a science experiment go wrong and bring an extraterrestrial life form to Earth through a laser beam. That extraterrestrial is none other then cigar smoking, beer drinking, duck named Howard. Unfortunately, another experiment brings home a second alien life form bent on destroying the human race. So tell me, how can you dislike a film about a talking duck from another planet who (with the help of Lea Thompson's Beverly and her gigantic 80's hair) saves Earth from impending doom? Not only that, but the menace threatening Earth is the Dark Overlord of the Universe, an evil force that has invaded the body of Jeffery Jones! It's just pure enjoyable madness, B-Movie of the highest order. Sure it's cheesy as hell, and some of the jokes are just terrible, but the charm this movie oozes comes at you in bucket loads.


I've seen a lot of criticism that the film should've used CGI or traditional animation to bring Howard to life, but I disagree with this. Part of the appeal of Howard is the fact that he is actually physically there and not some ghost who has been photo-shopped in afterwards. I love the duck suit, to me it is completely convincing and Chip Zien's voice work is perfect. I also love the approach taken, that almost no one in the city really cares that Howard is a Duck. He spooks some people, but for the most part they just ignore the alien wandering around, and rather than this coming off as being unbelievable, it plays out as delightful satire.

Watching the movie now there are moments that just went straight over my head when first viewed as a child, but then this is true of many 80's films when reflected upon today. The inter-species love affair propels itself along very quickly, and is a little awkward when you *know* what the intentions are (although Lea Thompson is very hot, so what's a duck to do?). It sort of pushes the boundaries of a PG rated movie, from the mob trying to cook Howard, to the duck condoms, Howard's feathers becoming 'erect' during the love sequence, and Howard reading Playduck before crashing through the wall to reveal a lady duck who is topless. But, as I say, I never gave this a second thought as a kid, I just laughed, and today I see it as brilliant surrealism.


Although unlike anything else that was released at the time (or, let's be honest, before or after it) Howard The Duck is very much a product of its era, and is seeped in 80's movie stereotypes. From Beverly's all girl group Cherry Bomb, the sleazy clubs featured, the punks which come straight out of Double Dragon, and the all important 80's soundtrack. Thomas Dolby and George Clinton provided the songs, with legendary composer John Barry responsible for the futuristic score. That song that was voted the worst of the year is actually pretty catchy too, and, dare I say it, I always thought it was slightly like a song Prince & The Revolution would've released at the time...



Thirty years is a long time for a film to carry around a stigma that it doesn't really deserve. Admittedly, Howard The Duck is not the greatest film of the decade but there were far, far worse movies released in the 1980's and many of them are now looked back upon lovingly. I propose it's time for people to give this film another try. Watch it without the prejudice of seeing it as a huge box office bomb and I think you'll find a one of a kind experience, a wholly original idea, a charming, corny but fun movie that just sets out to entertain. It achieves that in bucket loads.

Not bad for a duck from outer space.

Nathan is getting too old too quickly and is rapidly approaching his pipe and slippers phase.

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