30 years later, 'Howard the Duck' remains contender for worst movie ever made

Marvel character underperformed at box office upon Aug. 1, 1986 release

By Micah Mertes, Omaha World-Herald

We look back at movies from 10, 20 or 30 years ago.

In theaters: Aug. 1, 1986

Movie: "Howard the Duck"

Premise: An anthropomorphic duck from outer space is accidentally beamed to Cleveland, where he meets a girl, joins a band and fights a demon.

Thirty years later?: There are many, many examples of George Lucas' poor judgment, but none really compares with "Howard the Duck," the infamous live-action adaptation of Steve Gerber's Marvel character. The movie (or at least this movie) wouldn't have been made without Lucas, who clearly didn't understand the satiric appeal of the comic.

Instead of a self-aware comedy, Lucas made a children's film. But a smutty one. "Howard the Duck" was an instant catastrophe, critically and commercially, and it's now regarded as both a cult classic and one of the worst movies ever made. (It was critics' go-to punching bag before "Battlefield Earth" took the throne.)

But the film's most-enduring quirk has to be how disturbing it is.This movie is PG, but Howard is a pervert. He reads Playduck magazine and sexually harasses co-workers. He lusts after Lea Thompson, and she lusts back. The amount of zoophilic sexual tension in this movie is still alarming -- a will they/won't they that makes you scream, "Don't! Stop!"

Worldwide box office: $38 million, which was about what it cost to make.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 13 percent

What Roger Ebert said: "After the movie was released, everybody said with the benefit of hindsight that it was insane to make a movie about a duck from outer space. But I don't know. I think it would have been possible for 'Howard' to maybe have worked if only they'd started with a funny, likable duck in a comedy. Instead, they made a grim, worried duck in a special-effects adventure." (No star rating, but he called it one of the worst movies of 1986.)

Dodged-a-bullet fact: Tori Amos auditioned (and was considered) for the role of Beverly before Lea Thompson got the role.

Marvel fact: This was the first feature film based on a Marvel comic. Think about that.

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