The Goonies at 35: A treasure trove of fantasy, comedy and adventure

11 mins read

We can only imagine the scene at the Warner Brothers offices back in 1983/84. When Steven Spielberg pitched a new film to nervous executives desperate for the Spielberg magic in box office revenues. After all, this was a director who continued to push the boundaries of filmmaking. With E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jaws under his belt. His name pure gold dust for any studio, as Hollywood battled the emerging VHS era. However, for many executives the initial pitch of ‘The Goonies’ must have seemed slightly wild and incoherent; a kid led mash up of Indiana Jones, Stand by Me and Treasure Island in a coastal town due for demolition. A pitch that would ordinarily have led to a decisive ‘no’.

But, this was Spielberg, and ‘no’ was not an option even if he didnt have the time to direct the film himself. Hence, began the story of a creative partnership that resulted in a cult slice of 80s cinema. Ultimately creating a brand new genre of film in a year that redefined cinema going. Embracing pop culture, coming of age and fantasy, while layering its mix of genres with cross generational comedy.

A year of creativity and risk

1985 was far more than just an impressive year for Hollywood releases. It also marked a transition in film entertainment, as studios embraced new voices that were overflowing with creative talent. However, the journey to the stellar line up of films released in 1985 started many years before. The roots laying in the late 1970s explosion of fantasy and science fiction epics. With both Superman the Movie, Star Wars and Alien changing the landscape of cinema. Giving birth to a whole generation of writers, producers and directors. Each keen on pushing the age old boundaries of genre, by mixing themes and styles.

By the early 1980s this change had led to Raiders of the Lost Ark and An American Werewolf in London. While a few years later Gremlins, Ghostbusters and Sixteen Candles would continue the revolution in mixed genre filmmaking by also introducing layers of pop culture. However, it was 1985 that saw this journey reach a pinnacle of pure cinematic magic. With Back to the FutureThe Breakfast ClubFright Night, Cocoon, Brazil and The Explorers all receiving their premieres. However, it is arguably The Goonies and Back to the Future that stand tall at the centre of 1985s yellow brick road. Both movies embracing a changing youth culture that was unafraid to look to the past in defining the freedom of the present.

A collision of creativity

The Goonies may have been born in the imagination of its Executive Producer Steven Spielberg. But its journey to the screen and eventual cult status came from a collision of creative minds. A trait born out of Spielberg being unavailable to direct the picture himself. Or dedicate a huge amount of time to the screen writing process. This in turn led Spielberg to recruit the new Amblin Entertainment writer Chris Columbus. A man who had created the script for (Gremlins), a picture that had gone on to prove a huge success in cinemas during 1984.

Columbus surrounded the adventure and fantasy of Spielbergs vision with the nuanced tone of his first major screenplay Gremlins. Embedding The Goonies in a similar world of comic book fantasy, humour and teenage escapism. Using a 1950s inspired vision of community, freedom and belonging, while in turn translating this into a 1980s pop culture inspired journey. However, as The Goonies neared pre-production, it was clear that the choice of a director would be pivotal in ensuring the vision of Columbus and Spielberg translated to the screen. With Spielberg opting to pass the film to Richard Donner, a director who had a diversity of experience in multi genre filmmaking with hits such as  The Omen, Lola and Superman the Movie under his belt. 

Ultimately this brought together three creative giants of the Hollywood system. Each one wrapping The Goonies in their own world. From the comic book inspired writing of Chris Columbus to the adventure of Spielberg and the multi-genre experience of Donner. Each one placing their unique stamp on the world The Goonies inhabited, creating a film overflowing with ideas and pop culture references. From the use of the Superman logo and theme, to Donner’s love of James Bond reflected in the character of Data. While Columbus ensured The Goonies sat in the same world as Gremlins, while equally paying homage to the archaeological adventure of Indiana Jones. Each personal touch helping to build a film that ultimately felt part of a much larger universe of work. 

A bridge between the past and present

Despite its layers of pop culture and clear homage to the films that came before it. The true genius of The Goonies lay in a script that dovetailed a 1950s ideal of childhood freedom with a changing 80s youth experience. The films coming of age themes reflecting the same generational change found in John Hughes The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. With The Goonies not only embracing the past, but embedding this in the growing confidence of the 80s teenager. As young people became the drivers and consumers of film, TV and music. The transition between child and teenager blurring at the edges.

Throughout The Goonies adults are placed at an arms length, with the villains never equalling the intelligence and ingenuity of the young adventurers. This played to changing dynamics in the role and position of young people in society. As The Goonies challenged the ‘seen and not heard’ model of the past. While equally embracing the growing confidence, attainment and empowerment of kids. A theme Chris Columbus would return to in his directorial debut Adventures in Babysitting and Home Alone.

The continuing legacy

The Goonies success came from its ability to redefine the boundaries of genre based cinema. While in turn embracing pop culture alongside more traditional themes of childhood freedom. However, the fact that The Goonies is still relevant and celebrated comes from the overflowing creativity of mid 1980s filmmaking. A period when directors and writers were encouraged to embrace new and innovative ideas. While studios backed new writers who would today struggle to bring their work to the cinema screen.

Many films have attempted to recreate the magic of The Goonies in the years since its release. But this is a film that not only continues to inspire modern TV and film like Stranger Things and The Kid Who Would Be King. But also continues to gain new followers and fans. The evidence of its continued cultural and artistic impact spread across the landscape of media and storytelling.

Director: Richard Donner

Cast: Sean AstinJosh BrolinJeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Ke Huy Quan, John Matuszak, Robert Davi, Joe Pantoliano, Anne Ramsey

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