The Concession Stand

Friday, May 26, 2017

#1 in 1980: Empire Strikes Back

The movie that nobody really wanted to make now had a sequel that nobody thought would ever get made. The Empire Strikes Back was almost never produced because of an argument between George Lucas and Twentieth Century Fox. At the time, Fox owned all the rights and trademarks to the Star Wars universe. However, they had given the merchandise rights to George Lucas in exchange for his directing fee, believing them to be worthless. When George Lucas made millions, he established his own company- Lucasfilm- and he wanted to buy all the rights to his creations. If Fox didn't agree to sell, they'd get no sequels; not from Lucas anyway. Fox initially stood firm, but soon relented. George Lucas would get his empire and Fox would get its sequel.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

#1 in 1979: Kramer vs. Kramer


In yet another dramatic shift, the number one film went from being a lighthearted, romantic comedy to the depressing divorce drama Kramer vs. Kramer. As the 1970's drew to a close, it would be the perfect bookend to a seemingly confused moviegoing Decade.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

#1 in 1978: Grease


The 1970's were scary for movie studios. Every time they thought they figured out what people wanted, it seemed to change. Long after musicals were supposed to be dead, the public embraced Grease, a hit Broadway musical that rode the 1950's nostalgia craze all the way to number one.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sir Roger Moore, 1927-2017

#1 in 1977: Star Wars


The film world seemed to change in 1977 when Star Wars exploded onto the scene. Jaws may have opened the door for the modern day blockbuster but Star Wars busted through it, taking the world by storm and Hollywood by surprise. Just like many of the other films on this list, Star Wars' success was improbable. Twentieth Century Fox only made the picture because they wanted George Lucas to make other films for them. They had such little faith in the film that they gave the merchandising rights to George Lucas in lieu of part of his salary. The ensuing merchandise explosion allowed George to take control of the franchise and control his own destiny. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

#1 in 1976: Rocky


Rocky was another film that Hollywood didn't really seem interested in. The story of an underdog who (surprisingly) doesn't actually win in the end, Rocky somehow went all the way to number one.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Happy Road House Day!

#1 in 1975: Jaws

The movie Jaws had much going against it; the expensive shark robots never really worked as expected, Steven Spielberg was still somewhat untested as a director and the film went outrageously overbudget. The film's failure could have sunk Spielberg's career before it got off the ground and further dented Universal Pictures at a shaky time in its history. 

Instead it was a massive success, ushering in an era of summertime blockbuster films and propelling Steven Spielberg onto the A list. The studio would mar this success with lousy sequels made without Spielberg's involvement, but the picture's legacy is unmistakable.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

#1 in 1974: Blazing Saddles

Blazing Saddles was a surprise for Hollywood. Mel Brooks was seen as being talented, but not a box office draw. Westerns were considered old and passé and the cast was filled with familiar but hardly huge actors. Plus, the content was a bit risqué. Perhaps it was serendipity that made this film a hit, but it still stands decades later as a classic, popular  picture.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

#1 in 1973: The Sting

For the second year in a row, the number one film was also the best picture winner at the Oscars. The Sting melded a 1970's sensibility with a film set in the 1930's; not an easy task.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

#1 in 1972: The Godfather

It was a film that many didn't want made- even the studio making it. Francis Ford Coppola faced many obstacles when making the film- the studio didn't want Marlon Brando or Al Pacino. They hated the fact that he was turning what had been considered a pulpy novel into a more ambitious project. The mafia itself weighed in, threatening the production, which resulted in Coppola not even using the word 'mafia' in the film. Despite all this, the film came together, becoming an instant classic; one of the greatest films ever made and the number one film of 1972.

Monday, May 15, 2017

#1 in 1971: Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof temporarily brought back the idea of movie musicals produced in a more traditional fashion. The film was a fairly faithful adaptation of the Broadway musical, a genre that had been left for dead just a few years earlier. The success of the film further cemented the idea of big business taking over Hollywood; the film was produced by United Artists, which had been purchased by Transamerica in a diversification effort.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Crazy Curse Unleashed?

Hollywood can be a superstitious place. Universal Studios was not immune from the uneasy showbiz superstitions. Its massive Stage 28 was a perfect example.

Used for the 1925 silent film The Phantom of the Opera, the soundstage was kept operational for decades because it was believed that bad luck would descend upon the studio if the set were ever struck.

The stage quickly became the oldest facility on the lot. Sadly, the stage would become a victim of Universal's new corporate owners- Comcast. 90 years after being built, the stage was demolished, though the sets allegedly remain in storage.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Hitchcock Changes The Movies

The movie going experience was much different during Hollywood's golden era. Moviegoers were presented with an entire program of content- newsreels, cartoon shorts, a B picture and the main attraction. As a result, theaters would allow moviegoers to show up whenever they wanted. During a film, audience members would go in and out of the theater constantly and nobody would think anything of it.

Flash forward to 1960. Even though the days of multiple features, newsreels and cartoon shorts were waning, theaters were reluctant to change audience habits. It was still common for audience members to show up late then stick around to catch the part of the film they missed. Few theaters dared clear the auditorium between showings and viewers would drift in and out of the theater as they always had. Alfred Hitchcock, meanwhile, was betting a ton on the success of Psycho. How could he make his film stand out? By eliminating the tradition of flittering in and out of the picture.


Ads for the film featured Hitchcock himself somberly looking at the viewer pointing at his watch. He wanted theaters to strictly enforce his policy of making theatergoers arrive on time. Theaters were skittish. This was seen as not being a customer friendly policy. Hitchcock was firm, however, and he eventually won out. Instead of angering customers, it greatly piqued their interest. On opening day, theatergoers lined up around the block at theaters around the country, eager to get into Hitchcock's latest film on time. Psycho became his greatest hit and his biggest success. Psycho's influence, however, was far reaching. It practically changed moviegoing habits overnight- no longer was it considered polite and normal to arrive late to a film.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Whys of Bad Films: The Passion Project

The process of making films can be an arduous one. Often it takes years of planning and selling just to get things off the ground. Someone has to have the idea, sell it to a studio, engage the actors, get funding, etc. After such a long road, how do so many terrible and disastrous projects get off the ground? In The Whys of Bad Films we'll take a look 


Today's Episode: The Passion Project

The biggest culprit when it comes to making people blindly push forward with a picture that everyone should have seen was a bad idea is "The Passion Project". Often, an actor, director or producer will become so enamored with a project that he or she will do anything to see it through. This often blinds everyone to the shortcomings of the project. The studio, eager to keep a top draw happy, goes along with the insanity and overlooks the ridiculousness. The result? Colossal embarrassments like Battlefield Earth.


Battlefield Earth was based on a novel written by Z-List author and insane madman L. Ron Hubbard. As a loyal scientologist, John Travolta dreamed of turning the pulpy, ranting novel into a blockbuster hit. Blinded by his loyalty to his crazy cult, Travolta believed that the awful book could become a massive summer hit. When he first began pre-production, Travolta saw himself as the young hero of the story. By the time he finally got around to making the film, the paunchy middle aged Travolta cast himself as the villain since even he wasn't deluded enough to believe he could pull off playing the young hero.


Kevin Spacey, on the other hand, was a different story. His passion project was Beyond the Sea, a film where he would portray singer Bobby Darin. Despite being told that he was too old to play Darin, Spacey pushed forward, proving that everyone else was absolutely right.

The results? Two gigantic flops, produced because the principals let passion and not reason guide their actions.

Friday, May 5, 2017

#1 in 1970: Love Story


Love may mean never having to say you're sorry, but this schmaltzy relic of a film never apologized for turning a cheesy airport romance novel into a huge hit. The film turned Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw into huge stars and forced boyfriends to pretend they didn't mind when their girlfriend suggested this flick. Its one saving grace- introducing the world to Tommy Lee Jones, who took a minor role in the film.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

#1 in 1969: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid


On the surface, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid looked like a square western film. With similar films failing at the box office, it was somewhat of a surprise that there was a bidding war for this script. In fact, the winning studio paid twice as much for the project as had been approved. What made this film special was that unlike traditional westerns, we were meant to root for the bad guys. This simple twist made the film popular with both the counterculture and traditional filmgoers.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

#1 in 1968: 2001- A Space Odyssey


MGM had been seen as a stodgy studio whose glory days were far behind it. Its purchase by a casino magnate who sought to strip mine the studio's value and slap its name on the first themed casino resorts didn't help things. As a result of this behind the scenes drama, the studio began taking more risks than it might have just five years before. The early result was 2001: a space odyssey. The film heavily used special effects and unconventional plotting to craft an intriguing story. At first, the film drew mixed reviews and so-so box office. Since this was at a time when studios were willing to be patient with a release, the movie steadily grew notice, resulting in amazing box office receipts. MGM's patience paid off with the number one film of the year.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

#1 in 1967: The Graduate


What was being billed as "The New Hollywood" reared its head in 1967. While film critics had been warning the big studios that their products were increasingly becoming irrelevant, the warnings had gone largely unheeded. The same big budget spectacles and amazingly tone deaf musicals were still coming out of Hollywood to lower and lower grosses. It wasn't until The Graduate became the number one film that Hollywood began to finally see that it needed to adapt to changing audience tastes.

Monday, May 1, 2017

#1 in 1966: The Bible... from the Beginning


The Bible ... in the Beginning is an oddity. It was the number one film in 1966 with an all-star cast yet is virtually unknown to today's audiences, unlike other films of this era. The film was dated in its time, however, appealing to an audience that was rapidly dying off of old age and no longer a reliable presence at movie theaters. The counter culture would soon begin to demand and create its own films. Hollywood would struggle to adapt to this new audience.