Follow by Email

Friday, 23 March 2018

What other movies were on release at the same time as Star Wars?

A 1977 line to see Star Wars. What else was showing?


Star Wars
was the film everybody was talking about. But what was its competition? If you didn't want to see it, or were just waiting for the lines to go down, what were your other options?

Episode Nothing takes a look at what else was playing alongside the biggest film in history.




The main purpose of this blog is to consider Star Wars as a film of the 1970s. With all the prequels, prequels and expanded universe stories, we're sometimes in danger of losing sight of the original film in the context of its time. That hasn't been helped by the changes George Lucas made to the movie, from the Special Edition in 1997 to the Blu-Ray in 2011.

To put Star Wars back into its proper historical moment, it's worth considering what other films were around at the time. I've based the following list on newspaper and magazine coverage from the time, but there's a proviso: The list would be different depending on where you saw it, and how far into the film's lengthy run. We'll come back to that subject later.

Here, then, is what else might have been on offer to you on the day Star Wars opened. 



The US opening, May 25, 1977


Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, 1977

  • Ai No Korida (In the Realm of the Senses). The Franco-Japanese art film that caused controversy everywhere it opened – because of its explicit sex, some of which was not simulated. Nagisa Oshima's film had been released in April and was still playing. 
  • The Eagle Has Landed. John Sturges' film about a German plot to kidnap Winston Churchill during World War II had the kind of all-star cast producers used to crave in the pre-Star Wars world: Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland, Robert Duvall, Jenny Agutter, Donald Pleasence, Anthony Quayle and more. 
  • Audrey Rose. Everybody wanted another horror hit like The Exorcist and The Omen. Audrey Rose was United Artists' attempt at the genre. Directed by Robert Wise, it starred Anthony Hopkins as a man convinced Marsha Mason's daughter was the reincarnation of his own girl.
  • Demon Seed. Science fiction of a distinctly adult kind, with Julie Christie imprisoned and impregnated by the computer that runs her house. Directed by Douglas Cammell for MGM. 
  • Annie Hall. The film that would triumph at the Oscars the following year, taking four awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Woody Allen), Best Screenplay (Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman) and Best Actress (Diane Keaton). Keaton plays the titular Annie, whose relationship with neurotic comedian Alvy Singer (Allen) the film chronicles. 
  • Cross of Iron. More World War II, this time from director Sam Peckinpah and dealing with conflict among German troops on the Eastern front in 1943. James Coburn, Maximilian Schell, James Mason and David Warner star. 
  • The Car. Diabolical horror meets the Duel-style road thriller, as a driverless car terrorises a small town. James Brolin stars in director Elliot Silverstein's film. 
  • Smokey and the Bandit. Burt Reynolds and Sally Field keep their bootleg liquor one step ahead of the law in Hal Needham's hugely successful comedy. As we saw in this post, it was on hundreds of screens when Star Wars opened. 


The UK opening (in London's West End), December 27, 1977


Richard Attenborough's A Bridge Too Far, 1977
  • Portait of the Artist as a Young Man. James Joyce's tale of a young man growing up in Ireland, brought to the screen by director Joseph Strick, starring Bosco Hogan and T.P. McKenna. 
  • Goodbye Emmanuelle. The third in the series of softcore movies, with Sylvia Kristel and directed by Francois Leterrier. 
  • The Other Side of Midnight. The film 20th Century-Fox apparently expected would be its hit of the year. Based on Sidney Sheldon's novel about a woman trying to track down her wartime lover. Directed by Charles Jarrott, starring Marie-France Pisier, John Beck and Susan Sarandon. 
  • Valentino. Director Ken Russell's wildly stylised take on the life of Rudolph Valentino, starring Rudolf Nureyev. 
  • The Deep. An attempt to follow the success of Jaws by adapting another Peter Benchley novel, about treasure-hunting divers in Bermuda. Directed by Peter Yates and starring Nick Nolte, Jacqueline Bisset and Robert Shaw. 
  • A Bridge Too Far. Richard Attenborough's all-star account of the failure of Operation Market Garden, an Allied mission to help liberate the Netherlands in World War II. Starring Dirk Bogarde, James Caan. Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox and Anthony Hopkins.
  • The Rescuers. Disney animation with a network of mice rescuing a kidnapped orphan. 
  • Slap Shot. Paul Newman in the story of a struggling hockey team whose play becomes violent, directed by George Roy Hill. 


What else was showing when Star Wars reached your area?


I based the above lists on cinema listings from the dates Star Wars opened in the US and UK. But it took a long time for the release of Star Wars to spread across the US and then the rest of the world. So the film might equally well have been competing with other movies in your area. 

In my town, for example, the films on show the day before Star Wars came out were these: Black Joy, The Other Side of Midnight, The Choirboys, Alice in Wonderland, The Sting (a re-issue), Steelyard Blues and Young Lady Chatterley (a lot of adult material there).

It's often suggested that Star Wars brought an end to an era when American cinema was exciting and surprising. Well, these lists certainly show variety, and some of those movies were very good. But to me, there's more than a hint of desperation there. Cinema attendances were going down, and you can see that studios wanted another Jaws, another The Omen, another Emmanuelle, or to hit upon some elusive new formula for huge box office returns.

I'll return another day to the subject of 1977's other films. But in the meantime, I'd be interested in your memories of that year in film-going. Do leave a comment below.

5 comments:

Rory Cobb said...

Man, I love this blog- and this is my favorite thing about it- putting this film in an his context. Yes it was the biggest-and most life changing film event I had (or would ever ha e) experienced, but it’s so hard to explain to others what it was like back then. As I’ve said before- I saw it once-ONCE- that summer. The other films I saw in ‘77 were: Airport 77, Race for your life, Charlie Brown, Smokey and the Bandit, and Candleshoe (had a big crush on Jodie Foster). After I saw Star Wars- Pete’s Dragon High Anxiety, and....what was that other movie? It was really big at that time, too...oh yeah. Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Darren Slade said...

Thanks for the kind comment, Rory.
I enjoyed your list of films you saw in '77. I wasn't even aware of Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown. I guess that shows that for youngsters, movie-going in '77 wasn't all about Annie Hall, Julia or Cross of Iron!
I'm thinking of doing more posts on individual movies of 1977, and what they tell us about the world into which Star Wars was released. I've already got some notes on The Spy Who Loved Me from that perspective. (It's an interesting one because it came before Star Wars in the UK but after it in the US). I'd be keen to know if that sounds like a good subject for an occasional series of posts.



Rory Cobb said...

Great idea! To me, the context of Star Wars in the world of 1977/1978 iis important in an historical context; and personally, vastly more interesting than Star Wars in context as a part of or a series of films. The world changed when this movie came out, and to understand that is to understand what that world was at the time (particularly with regards to popular culture- IE, film, television, music, comic books). We are bound to have a different take on this (the Continental differences, you know), but I’d personally find such perspectives fascinating and welcomed. Empire of Dreams touches on this somewhat, but barely scratches the surface.

Chris said...

I have to wonder if the massive box-office success of Star Wars was due in part to its competition. Almost nothing it competed against during its U.S. run was family-friendly or interesting to anyone under 18. Star Wars had something for every member of the family, not just the parents.

Darren Slade said...

Absolutely right, Chris. I guess Smokey & the Bandit was some sort of competition for the family market, and there was The Spy Who Loved Me later that summer. But a far cry from the crowded marketplace we have today.