Richard Donner’s Goonies has become a cult classic of cinema since its release in 1985. At 34 years old Goonies is still full of childhood wonder, adventure and imagination, playing with multiple genres to deliver a truly unique film that has never been equalled.
1985 was an impressive year in American film releases, with nervous studios fearing the impact of VHS home video, many films were given the green light that traditionally may have never made it to cinema screens. Coming just a year after anarchy of Gremlins and fantasy of Ghostbusters, 1985 gave us Back to the Future, Brazil, The Breakfast Club, Fright Night, The Explorers and many more films that broke through a restrictive studio system. Goonies added to a year of truly creative cinema aimed squarely at pulling in diverse audiences, with its genre bending mix of pirates, adventure, fantasy and coming of age. It’s difficult to see how a film like Goonies would ever make it through the mainstream studio system today; the sheer creative force of Donner, Spielberg and Columbus proving enough to green light what could have been a huge financial risk.
Although Spielberg is listed as Executive Producer, Goonies was undoubtably his vision, with Spielberg bringing in Chris Columbus (Gremlins) to develop his story into a workable script. The result is a screenplay that weaves between childhood innocence, fantasy, adventure and teenage discovery, with the latter echoing the early work of John Hughes, and paving the way for Chris Columbus to make his own directorial debut in 1987s Adventures in Babysitting.
By the time Goonies was ready for production, Spielberg was on directing duty with the award winning The Colour Purple leaving the directors chair vacant. Spielbergs choice of Richard Donner as director brought a stable and creative hand to the film, alongside a vision and style homed through films such as Lola, The Omen and Superman the Movie. All three creative giants gave Goonies a truly unique visual and artistic style, with each bringing their distinctive presence to the final picture, from the writing style of Columbus, through to Spielbergs adventure and Donner’s mix of fantasy and reality. All packaged alongside links to their previous work; the superman t-shirt reveal and theme tune, the references to creatures that multiple when wet and adventure of Indiana Jones and innocence of E.T. In turn this created a film that still feels unique and fresh 34 years later, transcending its age in its ability to speak to new and old generations.
There are elements of Goonies that could never exist in a modern film of this nature, from the depiction of Sloth through to the loose cultural stereotypes inherent in mouth, chunk and data. However, these do not distract from impact of Goonies and the joy of the Columbus script, which dovetails humour and adventure in a manner that never allows the film to take itself too seriously.
The choice of a largely unknown young cast gave Goonies an honesty and naturalistic style; the final years of childhood adventure and the dawning adult world conveyed beautifully. Mixed with the often underrated soundtrack of Tootsie composer Dave Grusin, Goonies is as much a coming of age journey as it is an adventure and fantasy. Adults are kept at an arms length, with the villains never equalling the intelligence and ingenuity of the young adventurers (A theme Columbus would return to in both Adventures in Babysitting and Home Alone).
In the years since its release, many films have attempted to recreate the magic of Goonies, with limited success. In modern TV and film Goonies continues to provide inspiration, with the Netflix series Stranger Things and 2019s The Kid Who Would Be King both evidence of Goonies continued cultural and artistic impact.
At 34 years old Goonies still provides a journey into adventure, fantasy and emerging adolescence unparalleled in its sheer vision and creativity. Goonies enthrals it’s younger audience while asking its older viewers to suspend the realities of adulthood and remember the excitement, discovery and energy of youth.