Howard the Duck – Cinemas most important failure?

Howard The Duck 1986

My sister and I watched Howard the Duck so many times as kids. Reflecting on it i have no idea why? It’s the most weird messed up thing. James Plummer (Cultoid Writer) cites it’s because I have an infatuation with Lea Thompson-he thinks she holds an uncanny resemblance to my wife. I don’t, nor do I see it!

howard the boobsSo in the school holidays we’d head to my Nan’s house, she’d let us go to the video rental shop and get whatever we wanted. I’m forever grateful for this as we watched-what are now- absolute classics. However i’d say we rented this film 6 out of the 10 times we visited. why? It’s not that its a bad film, more of a terrible film and it was just one of those things as a governable child you become hooked. Whether it was the weird reference to boobies (a duck with breasts?), the cool rock chick or those dangerous alleyway flip knife scenes that assimilated 80’s films, i dunno. I guess it was just the sheer weirdness that made me re-watch over and over. I think if they dropped the mild titillation and crap adult jokes and made it a great kids romp (ala Goonies style) it would have been different tale. I think the reason it was commissioned in its form is because Lucas’ had become so powerful that almost everyone around him became ‘yes’ men, an uncontrollable fault that followed him into the Star Wars prequels… Had studio bosses seen this film maybe they would have been ‘Hell No!’ men.

So why was Howard the Duck so important?

George Lucas loved its adult overtones, he convinced the studio to stick to this and make a live action version instead of the animation being proposed by its copyright owners Marvel. Through ILM (Industrial Light and Magic)  Lucas had the CGI capabilities and animatronics to pull it off and convinced the films financiers the same.

Howard the Duck silhouette of sex scene - weird!

So the film was subsequently green lit and saw its debut in 1986. Around this time The Skywalker Ranch had finished construction for the sum of $50 million. The subsequent reception of the film was so poor and untimely that the worry of falling into the red was perhaps rife for Lucas.


1979 – Conjured one of Lucas’ assets, a computer graphic company set-up along with tech Expert Ed Catmull. The idea was to create the latest digital editing, printing and sound platforms for cinema, as well as key development into the lesser known area of CGI. In 1983 a certain John Lasseter joined the group and became ‘Interface Designer’, and played an integral part of initial its projects. Computer generated short film ‘The Adventures of Andre and Wally B’ would be the companies debut short in 1984 . The quality for its time is superb, to think the very same year Out Run was launched in every teen arcadium. Despite utterings of successful projects the company was still just a rumbling idea full of R&D costs, that was still yet to have marketable output and saleable value.

the pixars

Ed Catmull, Steve Jobs and John Lasseter

So, back to the Present 1986, the flop of his latest flick as well as a marital break-up did not help Lucas, and unfortunately assets had to be sold. Luckily there was a buyer for his computer graphic firm who not only saw the long term value of the project but was willing to pay over the odds to help a friend. The company of 44 staff was sold in a $10 million dollar deal and named ‘Pixar‘ with a certain Steve Jobs as its owner. I always find this amazing, and love telling people about it. You can love or hate Apple, but Jobs had an incredible vision and knack for creating success.  Incidentally Luxor Jr  was released the same year as Howard the Duck  by Pixar, and resulted nomination for Best short at the Oscars, kind of ironic don’t you think?


So this piece has turned on its head! As much as Howard the Duck was Lucas’ failure, the success via other avenues is unparalleled. Less than 10 years after the acquisition, Toy Story would become Pixar’s first full length feature- watch Steve Jobs at Siggraph 95 below. John Lasseter would go on to become the creative driving force of all it’s projects and in 2010 be honored with the Producers Guild of America. Jobs later went onto seal an amalgamation deal with Disney worth $7.4 billion dollars (74000% increase in value) Making Steve Jobs estate the largest single share holder  of the Disney Corporation. Despite all the awards and monetary value conjured from Pixars success it was the early days and Jobs sense to appoint Lasseter as its visionaire. His ability to hardcode human nature into an office full of server rooms is what rendered Pixar a huge success.

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