Endless Summer: 1980s Tournament Recap

The Endless Summer: 1980s Summer Blockbuster Tournament constituted one mighty foe after another for Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. He squared off against bloodthirsty space creatures, friendly space creatures, foxes, hounds, Satan himself, orgasmic diners, sarcastic cops, sadistic superhumans, a dancing Travolta and a charming child-man. Surviving those, the conflict turned inward — finding him competing against past and future versions of himself. (Or were they competing against past and future versions of him?)

There was only one foe left to conquer: His creator, George Lucas. And as the verse says: Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker. And so it was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away — in which everyone’s favorite archaeologist even encountered a flyboy smuggler who smirked a lot like him — that Indiana Jones finally met his match at the hands of the Empire.

By a margin of 85 to 54, The Empire Strikes Back defeated Raiders of the Lost Ark in the championship to win the tournament. It’s the second straight title for a Star Wars film and, of course, the second straight title for Lucas — who was bound for this statistic no matter what given his co-writing credit on Ark.

Empire routed every competitor on its way to the podium, a field of beloved films rendered battlefield fodder: The Goonies, Airplane!, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ghostbusters and Back to the Future. Meanwhile, Raiders became the first #2 seed to make the championship, ousting mid-seed upstart Aliens in the Elite Eight — after vanquishing its prequel (Temple of Doom) and before facing its first sequel (Last Crusade). It’s thanks to Crusade’s surprise victory that neither film faced off against the overall #1, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. 

Speaking of all that Steven Spielberg: Given that Star Wars topped Jaws in the 1970s poll, this also means Spielberg is 0-for-2 in title matches. Can he finally win in the 1990s? He’s got three chances — with Jurassic Park, that film’s first sequel and Saving Private Ryan? Will Lucas keep his streak alive with one very big competitor — the #1 overall seed with Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace? Or will the onset of a new decade of blockbuster bigwigs render them both also-rans?

Cast your votes in the 1990s Summer Blockbuster Tournament — which starts with a fresh field of 64 films — on Monday, July 27! Vote here and on Twitter (https://twitter.com/MWFilmJournal) on a whole new set of impossible choices for you to make about your favorites.

Until then, here are some notes about the 1970s Tournament and the full final bracket embedded below.

  • Aliens, James Cameron’s pluralized sequel to Ridley Scott’s singular classic, was the Cinderella story — knocking out #1 seed Batman to make the Elite Eight before falling to runner-up Raiders. It is, of course, not the last we’ll see of Cameron, who has Terminator 2: Judgment Day and True Lies competing in the ‘90s tournament.
  • A close second in the Cinderella sweepstakes: Bueller making it to the Sweet Sixteen as a #12 seed.
  • Lots of electioneering in this tournament, little of it going the way those folks wanted. A large-scale campaign worked for #1 seed Return of the Jedi to survive a narrow second-round challenge from Die Hard. But even then, only once — as another effort for Jedi to top Back to the Future proved futile. Ditto for shares to save E.T. from Last Crusade.
  • Once again, every movie in the tournament got at least one vote along the way — even first-round sacrificial lambs like Staying Alive (against Temple of Doom), Superman III (against E.T.) and Stakeout (against Honey, I Shrunk the Kids).


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An award-winning film critic and features reporter, Nick has professionally written or gabbed about movies for Illinois newspapers, national syndicates, Playboy, The Art Immortal, The Film Yap and Midwest radio stations. He once drummed in a Billy Joel cover band known as Silly Joel and freely presents his Letterboxd page to engage and mock if you wish: https://letterboxd.com/ragekage79/


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