We take a look at 6 movies you won’t believe turn 40 this year, from Footloose and The Karate Kid to Ghostbusters.
To quote Jamie Lee Curtis in the cinematic masterpiece Freaky Friday, “I’m old!” 2023 has gone by like a Bullet Train. It’s still February, right? It feels like we just blinked, and here we are, already rolling into a new year with 2024. With a new year come new anniversaries designed to make you feel extremely ancient. And we’ve gathered up some real “Ow! My Back!”-inducing classics. Because we’re feeling nostalgic, we’re going to look at some films that you won’t believe turn 40 this year.
Forty years ago was 1984. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Frankie Goes to Hollywood told us we all needed to “Relax.” Sally Field took us to Places of Heart (and it won her the Oscar in 85), where she realized that we all really liked her. And Kevin Bacon showed us all he was good at dancing. Here are some films that are turning 40 in 2024.
In February of 1984, Footloose hit theaters and helped make Kevin Bacon a household name. The movie, where Chicago teenager Ren (Bacon) moves to a dance-hating small town, is about rebellion, rock music, romance, teenagehood, and so much more. There’s tractor chicken, a dance-hating Reverend played by John Lithgow, and a standout performance by Lori Singer as Ariel before she made a name for herself in Trouble in Mind. The film was directed by Herbert Ross and written by Dean Pitchford, and it made $80 million at the box office. The titular song helped cement Kenny Loggins as a music powerhouse (after Caddyshack and way before Top Gun) and is so culturally significant that it’s preserved at the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry. Not bad for a teen movie.
2. This is Spinal Tap
Before Behind the Music, This is It, and Britney and Kevin: Chaotic, there was This is Spinal Tap. The Mockumentary by Rob Reiner about a faux English heavy metal band on a tour across America for their “Smell the Glove” album was the first in its genre. It didn’t have a huge box office success, but it had a strong cult following and great critical response that would eventually help it earn a preservation spot on the National Film Registry.
This is Spinal Tap allowed the world to see how magnanimous Christopher Guests’s Nigel Tufnel really was in rising about the backstage miniature bread catastrophe. It introduced us to Derek Smalls’ (Harry Shearer) foil cucumber and gave us a geography lesson so we knew it was okay to say, “Hello, Cleveland!” And the cherry on top of the “s**t sandwich” for This is Spinal Tap, the sequel to the mockumentary will start filming in 2024, the same year it turns 40.
3. Police Academy
Police Academy started from an idea producer Paul Maslansky had while filming the Tom Wolfe-inspired astronaut epic The Right Stuff. The first movie, which debuted in theaters in late March of 1984, was about a new rule from city bureaucracy that allows weirdos, wannabees, and criminals (ahem, Carey Mahoney aka Steve Guttenberg) to go to the city’s prestigious Police Academy to try to fill a desperate shortage of police officers. Predictably, hilarious hijinks ensued, especially because the Chief of Police, Henry Hurst (George Robertson), didn’t want the misfits in his ranks, and it turns out, cadets didn’t necessarily want to be there either.
The story has blossoming love thanks to Porky’s star (and later Sex and the City, too) Kim Cattrall’s Cadet Karen Thompson and even some beatboxing. The first film, which gave us the iconic line “Don’t move, Dirtbag!,” turns 40 this year and was directed by Hugh Wilson, who was fresh off WKRP in Cincinnati.
4. Sixteen Candles
1984 was a big year for teen movies. Not only did we get Footloose, but the iconic John Hughes film Sixteen Candles debuted in theaters in May of that year, making it another title to hit the big 4-0 in 2024. Sam Baker (Molly Ringwald) has her own totally justified Marcia, Marcia, Marcia moment as her entire family forgets her sixteenth birthday because her sister Ginny (Blanche Baker) is getting married. It’s bad for your complexion to feel sorry for yourself, according to Liane Curtis’ Randy, at least, but that doesn’t stop Sam from being pouty and hurt.
High school is fraught, but Sam’s day is extra stressful with a geek named Ted (Anthony Michael Hall) and loathing the bus, a bed-stealing foreign exchange student named Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe), and a senior crush on jock Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling.) The soundtrack to Sixteen Candles is iconic, too, with David Bowie, the Thompson Twins, and others. While there are some very problematic elements to the film when viewed through the lens of today, 40 years later, the film still holds up as a look at what it is like to be a teenage girl.
5. The Karate Kid
Fear doesn’t exist in this dojo, at least not for The Karate Kid, the film starring Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita that debuted in theaters in June of 1984. The movie, about life and dealing with bullies, taught us all to wax on, wax off, and to stay balanced even when we’re frustrated. And who’s kidding: bonsai trees were a little cooler after that introspective hedge-trimming scene. Pat Morita was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Mr. Miyagi, and the film and The Karate Kid’s critical and commercial success would go on to spawn more movies and a TV show, Cobra Kai, airing with new episodes now. Not only that, but The Karate Kid has been cited as one of the reason’s the sport became so popular worldwide. Not too shabby for a movie turning 40.
Forty years ago, a crack team of paranormal investigators led by Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) saved the world from a Gozer-induced apocalypse, and we all looked at the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man a little bit differently that day. It’s pure fun in a very slime-filled form; it’s hard to pick from the many great moments from performances by Sigourney Weaver as Dana Barrett, Rick Moranis as Louis Tully, and Ernie Hudson as Winston Zeddemore that make it all stand out.
We all learned about the danger of crossing streams and why it was a big no-no (thanks, Egon!), and really, Ghostbusters came, saw, and kicked our a** with humor and heart. The movie is a cultural staple at this point, and at the time, the world recognized it was something special, rewarding it with two Academy Award nominations, including Best Song. Its sequels and assorted media spinoffs are still going strong today – Illfonic’s Ghostbusters Spirits Unleashed is carrying on the video game torch, while another movie, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is set to come out in March of this year.
This is not an exhaustive list, especially if you’re a genre fan (sorry, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom!), but revisiting these movies that you won’t believe turn 40 this year is an excellent way to kick off the New Year and populate your Letterboxd.