In this current year we are living in, I will be honoring the history of film by posting a monthly Reel Anarchy article detailing up to four films from the past that are celebrating an anniversary. I try to pick films that are at least 10-years old, but the emphasis is on films that are at least 20-years old. You might see some high-profile classics show up, but you might see some more obscure picks as well.
This year’s films celebrating an anniversary in the month of June . . .
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
This 1971 Paramount musical fantasy classic was based on the novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Ronald Dahl. The film was directed by Mel Stuart, co-written by Dahl and David Seltzer, and starred Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Roy Kinnear, Peter Ostrum, and Julie Dawn Cole. The IMDB plot synopsis for the film states: “A poor but hopeful boy seeks one of the five coveted golden tickets that will send him on a tour of Willy Wonka’s mysterious chocolate factory.”
I was unaware of the drama behind-the-scenes getting the film made.
Dahl, co-writer of the film and author of the source material, was furious after Seltzer was brought in to add in musical numbers and make small, yet significant changes to the plot. He was also upset that Wilder was cast as Willy Wonka instead of his preferred choice, Spike Milligan. Stuart’s favorite scene – involving an English explorer, a guru, and a holy mountain – did not make it into the finished product, Wilder later claimed that co-star, Paris Themmen, was “a handful,” Peter Sellers begged to be cast as Willy Wonka, and, believe it or not, Quaker Oats Company was persuaded to finance the movie in order to promote a new Quaker Oats bar, Wonka Bar.
On the positive side, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score. It has also been nominated by the Library of Congress to be a member of the National Film Registry in 2014.
Even though Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was not a huge hit in theaters, it became a cult classic when it began airing on television. Not only is there a remastered 4K Blu-ray getting released in commemoration with the film’s 50th anniversary, but it has also been recently announced that Timothee Chalamet will star in a Willy Wonka origin film, Wonka.
“So this is planet Houston.”
Superman II will go down in history as one of the most unique Hollywood tales. Let’s start from the beginning.
The theatrical version, which debuted in theaters 40 years ago, was directed by Richard Lester, written by Mario Puzo, David Newman, and Leslie Newman, and starred Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas, Jack O’Halloran, and Ned Beatty. The film picked up where the previous entry, Superman: The Movie, left off. Here is the IMDB plot synopsis: “Superman agrees to sacrifice his powers to start a relationship with Lois Lane, unaware that three Kryptonian criminals he inadvertently released are conquering Earth.”
If you are new to the history of Superman movies, Richard Donner directed the first film, Superman: The Movie, which has become the most iconic superhero film of all-time. He directed and shot around 75% of Superman II simultaneously before getting fired by the producers, Ilya Salkind, Alexander Salkind, and Pierre Spangler, whom clashed with Donner over numerous issues, mainly budget concerns.
Because Donner chose not to keep his director credit, new director, Richard Lester, had to re-shoot most of the movie to receive credit as director. That meant reworking Donner’s footage into his own. Lester, known for his comedic tone and quick, cost-friendly shooting schedule, sprinkled more humorous moments into the film.
Since Donner was fired, writer Tom Mankiewicz, composer John Williams, editor Stuart Baird, and Lex Luthor himself, Gene Hackman, chose not to return as well (although Hackman’s already-shot scenes were kept in the film). That meant Ken Thorne was brought in to perform ever-so-slight deviations to Williams legendary score. There was also a lawsuit involving Jor-El actor, Marlon Brando, which led to his already-shot scenes getting removed and replaced with Superman’s Kryptonian mother, Lara (Susannah York).
Reeve – in addition to receiving a lawsuit for taking a role in the romance film, Somewhere in Time, during the production shutdown – was also not a fan of David and Leslie Newman’s script revisions. In his book, Still Me, he recounted a gag they wrote for the first Superman film: “In the first draft of Superman was a scene in which Superman sees a bald man walking down the street. Thinking it’s Lex Luthor he swoops down to collar him and take him away. But it’s Telly Savalas, who says, ‘Who loves ya, baby?’ That was the kind of inane material that Dick Donner got rid of immediately.” Reeve also said of Lester: “I liked him tremendously, but I thought it was unfair to ask such an accomplished director to imitate the tone and style of someone else’s work.”
All in all, the Lester-directed version was still a big hit, although not quite as groundbreaking as its predecessor. Superman II grossed $190 million on a budget of $54 million. It was also favored by critics and fans alike, sporting an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes.
What takes this movie into a category very rarely visited (at least until Zack Snyder’s Justice League debuted on HBO Max in March 2021) is the fact that Richard Donner would eventually get to piece together his version of the film with his originally shot footage. Fans began to buzz online about its existence after much of the footage was found in a vault in England while making the 2001 DVD edition of Superman: The Movie. In 2006, never-before-seen footage of Marlon Brando as Jor-El was used for Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. Later that year, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released on DVD. Some of the film’s noteworthy changes included restored footage of Brando as Jor-El, a different prologue, less slapstick comedy, a screen test scene, a few Lester scenes, and a different, yet familiar ending.
When it comes to having multiple versions of the same film existing at the same time, Superman II will always be one of the first to come to mind.
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
This fun, action-adventure Paramount film debuted in the same month as Superman II back in 1981. While Superman II was supposed to be the biggest film of the summer, that title would ultimately go to an unforeseen throwback film courtesy of director, Steven Spielberg, and the revolutionary mind behind the film’s conception, George Lucas.
Harrison Ford starred in the title role alongside Karen Allen and Paul Freeman. Star Wars screenwriter, Lawrence Kasdan, penned the script and fellow Lucas and Spielberg contemporary, John Williams, crafted the famous musical score. Here is the IMDB plot synopsis: “In 1936, archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before Adolf Hitler’s Nazis can obtain its awesome powers.”
The film became an overnight sensation at the box office and with critics, becoming the highest grossing film of the year with $354 million. It also received the benefit of getting an extended run in movie theaters, having one of the strongest legs of any film during its theatrical run. It was re-released in theaters in 1982 and 1983 as well. The film, originally called Raiders of the Lost Ark until further sequels came out, helped boost the summer movie season from low box office numbers the previous few years.
It also became the reason why the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) changed their movie rating system to include a middle category between PG and R named PG-13. In 1999, the film received the honor of being added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
As part of its 40-year anniversary, new 4K remastered edition of the film will be released as part of a box set shortly after this article will get published.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
This 1986 Paramount and John Hughes classic remains one of the more popular throwback comedies to this day. Hughes wrote and directed the movie, while Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, and Jennifer Grey starred in the film – including a cameo from Charlie Sheen. Here is the IMDB plot synopsis: “A high school wise guy is determined to have a day off from school, despite what the Principal thinks of that.”
The film’s main claim to fame was the use of breaking the fourth wall. Broderick would talk into camera as if he were making a documentary, except they never made a reference to any camera being there – a common feature of mockumentary filmmaking. It is just good old fashioned fourth wall breaking from the film’s protagonist.
Hughes also added that he wanted to capture the “spirit” of Chicago with the film, having grown up there. Famous Chicago landmarks make an appearance in the film, such as Wrigley Field, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the then-named Sears Tower (now named the Willis Tower).
Fun fact: the late-filmmaker (and hero of mine), Jon Schnepp, also made an appearance in the film as an extra during the parade scene. He talked more about the hilarious encounter here in the embedded video here.
Also, another interesting fact about the film: no soundtrack was officially released (minus a mailing list buy-and-ship version from Hughes) until 2016 when La-La Land Records released a version of the film soundtrack, although without some of the film’s biggest hits “Twist and Shout,” “Taking the Day Off,” and “March of the Swivelheads” due to licensing restrictions.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off received a mostly positive critical reception and made $70 million at the box office on a $5 million production budget. Entertainment Weekly ranked it #10 on its list of the “50 Best High School Movies.” In 2014, the film also joined the National Film Registry for preservation.
A TV-show adaptation debuted in 1990 on NBC starring Charlie Schlattner and Jennifer Anniston, but only lasted one season. Hughes was never involved.
This month featured its fair share of big hits. 1981 had two monster blockbusters debut in June. It is always great to touch on a classic like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It is also great to see multiple films celebrating an anniversary this month getting remastered versions released. Just like how John Hughes described Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as a love letter to the spirit of Chicago, seeing the same idea being applied to the history of film always warms my heart. Plus, my birthday is in June, so that only adds to the fun as a few of these films are among my favorites.
What did you think of my list? Have you seen any of these films? Are there any I should have included instead? Make sure to let us know. Thanks for reading!
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