Part big budget science-fiction, part tongue-in-cheek satire, part comic book movie, Howard The Duck was released in theaters 30 years ago on August 1 with the expectation that it would be a blockbuster hit. After all, the movie had George Lucas as an executive producer, who had just wrapped up the Star Wars classic trilogy just a couple years earlier. Unfortunately, that proved not to be the case, with a main character that was deemed too cutesy for adults, but too adult-themed for kids, the film was a box-office bomb. Over the years, Howard The Duck has found a way to split the audience, standing as a joke to some and a cult favorite to others. To celebrate the latter status and the three decades that have passed since Marvel Comic’s anthropomorphic detective debuted on the silver screen, here are some fascinating facts about the film.
It’s (Technically) The First MCU Movie
Based on the Marvel comic book character created by Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerik in 1973, the movie came out years before any of Marvel’s earliest cinematic efforts, including 1989’s The Punisher, 1990’s Captain America, and Roger Corman’s oft-forgotten interpretation of The Fantastic Four in 1994. None of those movies are canon within the MCU, of course, but since Howard The Duck was produced by Lucasfilm, (though released by Universal), and Lucasfilm (like Marvel Studios) was sold to Disney, it’s still technically in the family.
It Was Supposed To Be Closer To the Source Material
The original plan was to make the movie much like the comic book, where Howard works as a brash, two-bit detective. “It would’ve been great to do it and not explain, just have Howard be a detective,” said Lucas in the 1992 book The Creative Impulse. Things started to change after the success of Ghostbusters in 1984, though. Suddenly, the studio changed its approach with Howard The Duck, making the movie more fantastic and outrageous, drastically moving it away from its source material.
That’s Really Lea Thompson Singing
Playing the punk rocker Beverly Switzler, actress Lea Thompson did all her own singing. The studio hadn’t decided on whether they were going to overdub her vocals, and she explained to Decider that “(the producers) weren’t really sure about my voice, so I worked really hard on that.” In the end, they kept Thompson’s voice in the final cut and even released her version of “Don’t Turn Away” on the B-Side of the soundtrack’s single. The A-Side was Thomas Dolby’s version of the song, which was what made it to the film’s soundtrack. She recently tweeted that she still has that Les Paul, and will break it out and jam every now and again.
Hopefully, this all made the two hours she spent getting her hair done every morning worth it.
Tori Amos Auditioned To Play Beverly
Lea Thompson may have embodied the part of Beverly, but musician Tori Amos was offered the role initially, though the offer was rescinded when Thompson, a bankable Hollywood star, showed interest.
Several other actresses were considered for the role of Beverly, including actress Phoebe Cates and pop-star Cyndi Lauper. Belinda Carlisle, whose band, The Go-Gos, were at the height of fame, also auditioned. While Amos wasn’t as well known at the time, the ’90s and ’00s piano-centric indy rocker did release an album with her quintessentially ’80s band, Y Kant Tori Read, in 1988.
Lloyd Dobbler Almost Voiced Howard
Beverly wasn’t the only in-demand character in Howard The Duck. Martin Short, Robin Williams, and John Cusack all auditioned to be the voice of the title character. In the end, it went to Chip Zien, a veteran stage and screen actor, who was best known at the time as starring in the first ever version of Steven Sondheim’s Into The Woods.
Tim Robbins Was Worried It Would Fail
While Tim Robbins was happy to score such a well-paying gig as a struggling actor, he knew the source material, and told Crave Online that he thought “that the duck was kind of miscast.”
In the comic book it was this cigar-chomping, rude, skirt-chasing duck, and it got kind of cute-ified in the movie and when I saw that on the set — it was very early on, one of the first days we were shooting — I was worried. I was worried at the start.
By the time it was released, the movie cost more than $37 million, but only made $16 million domestically. The response was so severe that Universal Studios production head Frank Price stepped down from his role as a result. Which is saying something as he had developed the 1985 Best Picture winner, Out Of Africa, and helped shepherd Ghostbusters into existence with Columbia two years prior.
The Poor Box Office Helped Create Pixar
When Howard The Duck hit theaters, Lucas was counting on another blockbuster movie to help put him back in the black. Prior to its release, Lucas had spent $50 million building Skywalker Ranch and was still reeling from a costly divorce three years prior. Once the movie’s box office failed to live up to even the most modest expectations, he began selling off some of his assets to help avoid bankruptcy. His friend, Steve Jobs, who was still in the middle of his first term as the CEO of Apple Computers, bought the technology rights to Lucasfilm’s newly-launched computer animation division for $10 million, which was well above market value… at the time. That animation division would later become Pixar Studios, which, like Marvel Comics and Lucasfilm, was also purchased by Disney for an exorbitant amount of money. So, in essence, the egg that Howard The Duck left at the box office indirectly turned golden for someone other than George Lucas.