On this day in 1986, one of the greatest action movie characters in this history of Tinsel Town made his debut in John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China. That man? Jack Burton. “Who?” JACK BURTON. Played by Kurt Russell, Jack Burton was the evolution of a John Wayne Old West hero, which is very fitting, seeing as Big Trouble in Little China was originally intended to be a Western. Alas, the people of 1986 simply weren’t ready for another John Wayne, and specifically one that was set in a modern world that was under attack from ancient martial arts, evil sorcery and monsters rising out of the black blood of the Earth.
Big Trouble in Little China was a box office bomb, earning back a pathetic $11 million of its $20 million budget, but that tends to happen when the studio and director don’t share a vision. The original script was written by Gary Goldman and David Weinstein – again, as a Western – but Carpenter thought it was a mess, as did Russell (and probably the several other actors who were considered for Burton before him), so W.D. Richter was brought in to rewrite the entire idea, and his effort wasn’t considered much better. Ultimately, Carpenter had to take matters into his own hands and turn this attempt at a new twist on the martial arts genre into a blockbuster.
Unfortunately, the studio execs calling the shots for 20th Century Fox didn’t seem to get it either. Clever or not, they didn’t think that Americans would like the idea of Burton actually being the bumbling sidekick while Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) was really the hero. Or maybe they just didn’t want to cede the role of the film’s protagonist to a non-American. Either way, between the script confusion, casting concerns, restricted budget and the fact that the movie was rushed so it could beat The Golden Child to theaters, Big Trouble in Little China was destined to fail at the box office in 1986, and that may have actually been to the benefit of all of us.
BTiLC’s legacy exists in its commercial appeal and success in its life after the box office, as it has become the definition of a cult classic. Yet in this shameless era of box office “safety” with remakes, reboots and sequels galore dominating the studio landscapes, the fact that this movie was a bomb 28 years ago is probably the reason that it hasn’t been brought back to life. Sure, there have been rumors of a remake, especially with the launch of the new comic book series, but there has never been anything substantial to make us think that David Lo Pan would be resurrected. And even when BTiLC is eventually rebooted as a gritty origin story – because it will happen (hopefully with me writing the screenplay) – there’s still a chance that Carpenter could be involved. It could be a true story of redemption, seeing as Big Trouble in Little China made Carpenter loathe the Hollywood experience.
History lessons and fun facts aside, Big Trouble in Little China is, at least in the estimation of this very handsome movie-loving idiot, the greatest movie ever made. A bumbling dipshit who epitomizes the American standard of brawn over brains, Jack Burton is a perfect character, from his flaws to his legendary one-liners, while the soldiers in the eternal war of good and evil that are battling around his arrogant idiocy are far more than just living, breathing set pieces. Burton is a classically-flawed protagonist whose pride won’t let him admit that he’s scared or even in love, but the one thing that the writers never needed to worry about was making him admit his faults. We know they’re there, but we don’t want to recognize them either. We just want to know what’s going to happen to ol’ Jack Burton and the Pork Chop Express. (Hopefully, for his sake, Wang and Egg Shen aren’t far behind.)
That said, there are a lot of people who don’t agree with me about how good this movie is. As with any film that wasn’t made by Happy Madison or Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg, I believe in the benefit of the doubt. Just as I’ve tried to consider so many movies that are recommended to me, I’ve long urged people to take advantage of the fact that Big Trouble in Little China is always available on Netflix, so they too can enjoy this brilliant masterpiece of American cinema. Unfortunately, some of the people who have watched this movie on Netflix still don’t “get it.”
Big Trouble in Little China may have been hated in 1986, but today it carries dual Rotten Tomatoes scores of 83%, as both critics and fans have grown to love it. Additionally, on Netflix it has a universal rating of 3.7 stars out of 5. Just 3.7? That’s almost as criminal as this movie only making $11 million when cocaine flowed through American streets like rivers. Seeing that score, I just couldn’t help my natural urge to make people understand the finer things in life, so I have collected some of the worst one- and two-star reviews on Netflix for the sake of talking some sense into these fools.