The Popcorn Champs
The Popcorn Champs looks back at the highest grossing movie in America from every year since 1960. In tracing the evolution of blockbuster cinema, maybe we can answer a question Hollywood has been asking itself for more than a century: What do people want to see?
Midway through Top Gun, the highest-grossing movie of 1986, there’s a scene where the film briefly abandons all sense of narrative and plummets into a sort of ecstatic erotic delirium. Tom Cruise’s Maverick and Anthony Edwards’ Goose, our two heroes, play a game of glistening beach volleyball against Val Kilmer’s Iceman and Rick Rossovich’s Slider, their blood rivals. Director Tony Scott cuts the scene to a Kenny Loggins song called “Playing With The Boys.” For three minutes, the film takes a pause and just admires these oiled-up bodies, letting them flex and slap and grunt and shine. If you saw Top Gun at any kind of formative age, this scene is seared into your memory.
“Soft porn.” That’s what Tony Scott once called that scene. In a DVD interview decades later, Scott admitted that he had no particular vision for it: “I knew I had to show off all the guys, but I didn’t have a point of view… so I just shot the shit out of it. I got the guys to get all their gear off, and their pants, and sprayed them in baby oil.”
There’s really no narrative purpose for that volleyball scene. Seen from any logical angle, it’s absurd. (Cruise plays volleyball in jeans, and the sheer ball-sweat implications alone boggle the mind.) Within the film’s storyline, the volleyball scene reaffirms Maverick and Goose’s rivalry with Iceman and Slider, but it’s not like the movie hadn’t gotten that across already. It also makes Cruise late for his date with Charlie, the sexy flight instructor played by Kelly McGillis. This leads to the scene where Maverick shows up to this lady’s house and immediately asks to use her shower, perhaps one of the weirdest romantic power moves in cinematic history. But the volleyball scene doesn’t have to work within the narrative. It merely has to exist.
Tony Scott had only directed one movie before Top Gun, and that was The Hunger, a gothy and vaguely arty 1983 vampire flick that starred Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon. Scott didn’t get the Top Gun job because of The Hunger. He got the job because he’d made a 1984 Saab commercial where a car races along a runway, underneath a fighter jet. In that ad, Scott fetishizes the hell out of the plane—the cone of its nose, the shimmer of its jetstream, the fire coming out of its tail. Today, that Saab commercial looks like a Top Gun audition reel. And perhaps Scott’s real innovation in Top Gun was to eroticize the pilots just as much as the planes.
Top Gun is a beautiful movie. Tony Scott shoots everything possible in golden-hour light—insane red-streaked sunsets, faces silhouetted against skylines, sweat glinting off of every face, steam billowing everywhere. The film has a pulse, thanks to Harold Faltermeyer’s mythic synth score and the percolating Kenny Loggins and Berlin songs that Giorgio Moroder produced. When planes are in the sky, twirling and spinning and nosediving, physics almost cease to exist. It’s the most aesthetically arresting propaganda film ever created.
Producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer got the idea for Top Gun from a 1983 magazine article about the culture of fighter pilots at the Navy’s Fighter Weapons School at Miramar, California. In making the film, they got the full cooperation of the U.S. Navy, who let the producers use their ships and aircraft for virtually nothing. In return, the Navy got full script approval. That’s why Goose dies in an ejector-seat accident rather than the planned mid-air collision. It’s why, in the opening sequence, Cougar doesn’t die by crashing into an aircraft carrier deck. And it’s why the picture’s geopolitics are so maddeningly vague. Are the pilots fighting the Russians at the end? Why is there a military crisis in the Indian Ocean? What are they protecting? Thanks to the Navy’s story input, we don’t know. And thanks to Tony Scott’s visual firepower, we don’t care.
Top Gun makes the Navy look like the coolest possible place to work. Scott’s camera worships Tom Cruise, who wears the hell out of jeans and bomber jackets and aviator sunglasses, preening and posing and emitting intense sex-symbol vibes at all times. Most of the narrative energy goes toward establishing the culture of Maverick and the other young fighter pilots at Miramar. They’ve got rituals and hierarchies and cool call signs. (I like how they all have their own individualized helmets, as if there’s a graphic designer somewhere in charge of translating those call signs into logos.) When Maverick and Goose pull the impossibly dorky pick-up stunt of singing a rhythmless “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” to a girl in a bar, all the other pilots somehow intuit exactly when they’re supposed to come in on the backing vocals.
Most of Top Gun is structured as a sports movie. The villains aren’t the pilots of the Russian-built MiGs. Those enemies are too mysterious—their faces always masked like the TIE fighter pilots in Star Wars, their motivations utterly irrelevant to the machinations of the plot. If there’s a villain, it’s Iceman, whose only real sin is acting like a bit of a pompous dick. (Every time Iceman criticizes Maverick for unsafe showboating, he’s absolutely right.) Top Gun isn’t a war film. It’s a story of high-school machismo with added military firepower.
In the context of 1986, there’s something fascinating about the way Top Gun depicts masculinity. Many of the year’s other big hits are all about real men’s men trying to function in feminized cosmopolitan culture. Crocodile Dundee, the No. 2 movie at the 1986 box office, was an out-of-nowhere smash that earned nearly as much as Top Gun. It’s a low-budget Australian comedy about a charming outback bushman who proves perfectly capable of handling the urban jungle of New York City. (Thanks to scenes like the one where Paul Hogan grabs a drag queen’s nuts in front of a cheering bar crowd, it’s virtually unwatchable today.) In Back To School, Rodney Dangerfield has to teach his uptight college-boy son how to loosen up and party. Oliver Stone’s Platoon, a Best Picture winner and a legit blockbuster, is the flip side of Top Gun, a Vietnam picture that makes military life look like absolute hell. It’s also a tale about the dark side of masculinity, as war gives Tom Berenger’s magnetic psychopath all the room he needs to become a senseless killing machine.
The Tom Cruise of Top Gun isn’t like Paul Hogan or Rodney Dangerfield or Tom Berenger. Maverick brings a sarcastic peacocking swagger on his mission to prove his own mastery and dominance. For the first half of the movie, he acts like everything is funny. He has a supernatural ability to make that one guy repeatedly spill coffee all over himself. But Maverick is visibly driven by sadness and insecurity; the movie works to point out that his arrogance is a front. He feels responsible for his best friend’s death, and the film leaves open the question of whether it’s really his fault. People keep bringing up his dead father. He’s lost and haunted and immature. He’s not a king of the jungle.
Further complicating matters: Top Gun is one of the most homoerotic spectacles ever to come out of Hollywood. Cruise has absolutely zero sexual chemistry with his ostensible love interest; every time he kisses Kelly McGillis, he seems like he’s trying to eat her face. (Watching Top Gun back-to-back with 1985’s Witness is really something. One movie shows Kelly McGillis portraying believable horniness for her co-star. The other does not.) But Cruise pulses with energy in every locker-room scene. Eight years after Top Gun, Quentin Tarantino showed up in the otherwise-unremembered indie film Sleep With Me to rattle off a frenzied party-scene monologue about how Top Gun is really “a story about a man’s struggle with his own homosexuality.” His quotes aren’t quite right, but his theory has merit.
American film audiences had been absolutely primed for the sexed-out, spectacular delirium of Top Gun. In the years leading up to the film, producers Simpson and Bruckheimer had hit the zeitgeist with 1983’s Flashdance and 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop—two proudly shallow pictures that got over on coked-up quick-cutting and visual flash. MTV had helped shape the visual imagination of audiences, and Bruckheimer and Simpson, more than anyone else, had figured out how to tap into that. In Tony Scott, they found their greatest collaborator. Scott went on to work with Bruckhemer and Simpson a bunch of times: Beverly Hills Cop II, Days Of Thunder, Crimson Tide. And Scott also pretty much invented the dizzy, disorienting blockbuster style that future Bruckheimer collaborator Michael Bay would turn into something like sheer abstraction in the ’90s.
And then there’s the military. In the early ’80s, the Army had been a backdrop for the massively successful fish-out-of-water comedies Stripes and Private Benjamin. Both of those films told stories of baby-boomer hedonists who fall ass-backwards into military service, slump their way through boot camp, win over their hardass commanding officers, and eventually distinguish themselves in battle. The Bill Murrays and Goldie Hawns of the world were no longer protesting against the military. Instead, they were bending it to their will.
An Officer And A Gentleman, one of 1982’s biggest hits, used a similar backdrop for a pretty great love story. Richard Gere—just as hot and just as fetishized as Tom Cruise in Top Gun—is a go-nowhere drifter who makes up his mind to become a Marine aviator and, along the way, falls for Debra Winger. Like Cruise, Gere is haunted by the deeds of his serviceman father. (Cruise’s father is mysteriously dead; Gere’s is embarrassingly drunk.) Like Cruise, Gere radiates cockiness and gets under the skin of commanding officers. Also like Cruise, he looks almost inhumanly good on a motorcycle.
Top Gun takes that cinematic trend and transforms it into a militaristic Reagan-era fever dream. Tony Scott tells that story through myth and montage. The film’s aerial footage is breathtaking. (Scott shot actual stunt pilots doing incredible things, and one of those pilots, the cameraman Art Scholl, crashed and died during filming.) Its scenes on the ground, though often clumsy and underwritten, are just as gorgeous. The story is simple and elemental. Arrogant young Maverick loses his best friend, goes through a crisis of confidence, gets through the other side, and becomes a military hero in the closing minutes, saving his school rival and, for all we know, either causing or averting global war. (The actual love story is fully tacked-on, and Scott treats it as, at best, a distraction.) There’s nothing fancy about the story, but Scott makes it sing.
The supporting cast is both weird and great. Anthony Edwards brings a goofy charm that gives the story a humanity it might’ve otherwise lacked. A very young Meg Ryan, in her few scenes as Goose’s wife, really helps there as well. Val Kilmer gives a deeply strange performance while also looking like an action figure. Tom Skerritt and Michael Ironside bring grizzled toughness and convey the stakes. James Tolkan, the principal from Back To The Future, gets to be the bald guy who chews out the strutting young heroes in the two biggest movies of the mid-’80s. Tim Robbins silently looms in the background of the final celebration scene, raising the question of how he ever managed to fit into a fighter cockpit.
The talent and craft that went into Top Gun is undeniable. It’s effective blockbuster filmmaking, and it was an effective propaganda tool, too. The Navy set up recruitment stations in some of the theaters that were playing the film, and it reported a 500% bump in enlistments in the years after Top Gun came out. In some ways, that makes Top Gun detestable. The film really does glorify the adventures of America’s war machine, and anyone who distrusts that institution should have nothing but contempt for it. But I can’t hate Top Gun. It’s too awesome to hate—too good at its detestable job.
Sometime in the near future, we will get to see Top Gun: Maverick, the long-delayed sequel that was still in pre-production when Tony Scott took his own life in 2012. The trailer, now nearly a year old, is a small masterpiece. Top Gun: Maverick was supposed to hit theaters this summer; it’s now scheduled for December. It seems to feature Tom Cruise flying fighter planes for real. The world of 2020 is very, very different from the world of 1986, and the climate right now is not exactly a great one for the project of American exceptionalism. And yet I would probably blow a car payment to watch Top Gun: Maverick in a theater right now. This particular form of absurdist propaganda has not lost its grip on my imagination.
The runner-up: It’s one of my favorite movies, but I’ve already written a column about Aliens, the No. 7 film at the 1986 box office and a very different portrait of militarism in action. So instead, I’ll use this space to highlight the John Hughes comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the year’s #No. 10 earner. Bueller makes no sense at all; it’s simply not possible to do all the things that Matthew Broderick and his friends do over the course of one sunny Chicago day. And yet the movie works as pure slapstick and as dream-logic reverie—one kid getting to outwit the entire world and live every other kid’s fantasy.
Next time: Men! Take care of a child! Can you believe it? Outrageous! Diapers and everything! It’s Three Men And A Baby, and it’s the biggest hit of 1987. I don’t even know, dude. We’ll figure this one out together.
Disney Plus Mulan Fails to Make an Impact
Disney Plus’s most anticipated movie of the year was Live-Action Mulan, the infamous remake of the 1998 version of the Disney classic Mulan. With a budget of almost $200 million and alot of hard work involved, the film release’s expectations and excitement were at an all-time high. Disney’s marketing team left no stone unturned in promoting the film throughout the world as Mulan was one of the most influential female protagonists in a Disney movie.
Mulan was known for her power and courage to take a step towards change and create a name for herself instead of becoming a burden for her family. She brought them honor but not through finding a compatible suitor, but through her bravery in fighting amongst the opposite gender when it was considered a taboo.
But did the real Mulan walk in the footsteps of the animated one? Did it create an impact as strong as the classic version, which people love and adore even after 23 years? Sadly, no. The live-Action Mulan was nothing like the 1998 Mulan because it was not supposed to be that way.
The old Chinese folklore inspired the Live-Action Mulan. The Balad of Mulan, which was different, more serious, and portrayed a much more feminist approach by eliminating any romantic or cartoonish elements or characters from the remake.
The elimination of the character of Mushu came as a surprise for all the die-hard Mulan fans who were anticipating the voice-over of Eddie Murphy in a better-animated dragon who is by Mulan’s side, aiding in tough times. We did see a dragon, but it was a silent companion only coming in need. The remake also got rid of all the eventful songs which were hummed as we watched the animated version all the time.
Another setback was the mediocre release of Mulan during the Pandemic, which basically ruined the official March release. Mulan eventually made the screen on September 4 on Disney+ Premier Access, a pay-to-view for $30 across the US. In contrast, countries where Covid-19 was under control, saw a theater release like China. But that hardly made 50% of the total movie budget. Disney hoped to make some dollars in China by accurately depicting the Chinese culture and actors, but that didn’t happen either.
Viewers with access to Disney+ also did not venture enough on the Premier Access service. What further disappointed the release was Mulan’s availability on multiple torrents and platforms for free in HD quality on its release. VPN users worldwide watched the movie for free without paying a whopping amount of $30 for a single film, while the whole service along with other streaming services cost ⅓ of the price.
Live-Action Mulan was also under scrutiny for shooting in the Xinjiang, the region of China where Uighur Muslims were detained and imprisoned in concentration camps. This sparked outrage over the entire social media, where Muslims worldwide protested against the Chinese government’s actions. Disney+ did not state an official apology on their platform, nor did they acknowledge their wrongdoings, probably to stay clear of the Chinese government’s atrocity.
Meanwhile, even within China, Mulan failed to impact the Chinese audience as they have a much better take and approach to recreating any Chinese epic or myths. Their cinema is far more advanced in portraying their culture with local actors and a local production house. As we all know, China has a strict censorship policy on international content, and they have an alternate of their own. It applies here as well.
Lastly, the ill-natured tweet of the lead actress Liu Yifei, openly supporting the Hong Kong Police’s atrocities when China was implementing new security policies on Hong Kong, claiming it as a part of the Chinese government. The Hong Kong police came under fire for mistreating peaceful protestors and using harsh means to disperse the crowd. This tweet leads to #boycottmulan across the regions of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Thailand.
Liu Yifei made no outright apology.
Despite so much anticipation, live-action Mulan came under alot of controversy and failed to make a solid impression on the audience, despite holding a strong message for its feminist audience. Wrong timing and a few wrong decisions cost Disney millions of dollars and somewhat tarnished the reputation of their remake sagas.
5 Underrated Shows on Netflix USA You Must Watch Right Now!
American Netflix is home to hundreds of TV shows across multiple genres. Still, it could be hard at times to find something binge-worthy on it. Now we all have that one friend that’s perfectly content with re-watching their favorite TV series, but the rest of us normies find it a tad boring. We’re on a never-ending hunt for the next big show hoping to inject some excitement into our otherwise mundane existence. However, with so much to choose from, it’s only natural that a few gems go unnoticed when scrolling through the recommendations.
Don’t sweat it! After spending endless hours of research, we’ve compiled a list of the top 5 underrated shows on Netflix USA that are definitely worth your time.
Can’t access US Netflix in your home country? There is an easy way around. Just download a Netflix VPN, connect to a US server, and start streaming.
Season(s): 1 season; 5 episodes
Year of release: 2019
1994 is a modest 5-episode docu-series offering the perfect guilt-free, binge-watching experience. The show revolves around a promising presidential candidate in Mexico who stands to threaten the status quo. Seen as a threat by the powerful elite, he gets shot during one of his televised political rallies. If the events of the first episode seem unusual, then what follows is downright bizarre.
Viewers are in store for surreal events backed by actual interviews and real-life footage that ups the ante with each passing episode. 1994 is a fascinating, informative, and rich account of one of the most turbulent times in Mexico. It not only gives viewers a glimpse of the past but also a story that follows a narrative very close to what we’re seeing in our present political climate.
- Rise of Empires: Ottoman
Season(s): 1 season; 6 episodes
Year of release: 2020
Following the wildly popular show Ertugrul—at least in the eastern part of the world—Rise of Empires: Ottoman features a historic mix of immaculate production value and dramatic re-enactment of the 1453 fall of Constantinople. A Turkish production, the show is entirely in English and revolves around the life of a young Ottoman Sultan named Mehmet. It shows how the 21-year old leader risks everything to conquer a city his father and so many others failed to take before him.
This point marked a crucial juncture in history: The fall of the Roman Empire and the transition of a local regional entity to that of a global superpower. While the show does have its set of drawbacks (such as the frequent History Channel-type flashbacks), the appeal of our protagonist is sure to have viewers in for a memorable ride.
- Wild Wild Country
Season(s): 1 season; 6 episodes
Year of release: 2018
The mere mention of Wild Wild Country in front of veteran Netflix viewers is sure to garner you some respect points. Based on a true story, Wild Wild Country tells the tale of an Indian cult that’s decided to relocate to Oregon. What ensues is a series of unusual events as the locals struggle to come to terms with the new inhabits and in particular, the eccentric leader of this cult: Bhagwan. This mini-series manages to capture and re-tell a significant—albeit unusual—event in American history and media and retell it in a way that’s sure to leave some viewers scratching their heads!
- Lenox Hill
Season(s): 1 season; 9 episodes
Year of release: 2020
For those looking to embark on a roller-coaster ride of emotions, look no further than Lenox Hill. While we do recommend this docu-series especially if you’re a fan of Grey’s Anatomy or ER, Lenox Hill is not your average watch. It’s a far cry from what you’d call a feel-good series as it reveals the brutal reality associated with people diagnosed with really bad things.
Set in New York, the show follows the story of an ER physician, an OB-GYN, and two brain surgeons that are part of a small-time hospital competing with bigger establishments. It lifts the curtain from the otherwise romanticized emergency-ward that we’ve grown accustomed to and accurately depicts the struggles of both patients and doctors.
This highly emotional series might not sit well with everyone but if you want to watch a story about individuals that sacrifice everything to save others then this one’s for you.
Season(s): 2 seasons; 12 episodes
Year of release: 2016
The Office is the most viewed show on Netflix according to Chicago Tribune which is a pity because its contract is set to expire on January 1, 2021. Enter Borderline, a British comedy series and ‘mockumentary’ of sorts that follows a similar pattern and humor as The Office. Set in the fictional Northend Airport instead of an office, viewers are quickly introduced to a slew of funny and ridiculous personalities.
The best part of the series is that it has its own version of Pam, Dwight, Jim, and a Michael type-boss. It also doesn’t try too hard to resemble its more popular counterpart and a few episodes are enough to make you wonder why more people aren’t watching it!
Agree with our list? Know of some underrated shows that need more love? Let us know in the comments section below!
The Advantages of Online Casino Welcome Bonuses
When it comes to online gambling, the industry is thriving in 2020. Although casinos are banned in many countries, people still find ways to enjoy their favorite games of chance. However, considering the level of competition on the market, it may be difficult for a beginner to find a good online platform and take advantage of all offers. In this article, you will learn the benefits of casinos’ welcome bonuses.
What Is a Sign-Up Bonus?
As we have already established, the industry is growing rapidly and companies are desperately looking for new ways to attract customers. A welcome bonus is often used by online casinos to get new leads and players in the future. However, the best casino bonuses can be easily used to the player’s advantage. Here are the main reasons you should not neglect this offer.
- It saves your money
Quite obvious, right? Well, this is the main reason why you should always use welcome bonuses in online gambling: it is always better to not risk your own money. It is especially true for beginners. Since they have no experience, it is fairly common for beginners to lose their initial investment and be done with gambling for good. However, if you use your welcome bonus as a way of getting the basics skills, the chances of success will rise significantly.
- It allows you to try several games
Another common issue beginners face is a lack of understanding of which types of games they want to try: slots, roulette, baccarat, blackjack, etc. If you use your sign-up bonus, you will be able to play several games and choose the ones you like better. Moreover, you can take advantage of a welcome bonus on several online gambling platforms. That way you will try out even more options.
- It will make future gambling more profitable
Besides beneficial sign-up bonuses, good online casinos usually have great loyalty programs. For instance, the company may double up to five first deposits on the platform. If you invest 100 USD, you will get 200 USD to your account. More money — more games — more chances of winning.
Although a welcome bonus is a great way of upping your gambling game, there are a few things you should pay attention to. Firstly, a good bonus does not equal a good platform. Before choosing a casino, make sure that the company is legal and trustworthy. Since there are many scams right now, it is essential if you want to save your money. Moreover, check the available deposit/withdrawal methods and their terms.
We hope that this article has shown the true power of online casinos’ welcome bonuses and how you can use them to your own advantage. Follow our tips while choosing a platform and enjoy the best gambling experience.