In The Beginning, There Was ‘Howard The Duck’

As of this posting, Disney is being used by Scarlett Johansson over a contractual dispute because Black Widow released the movie on Disney-Plus hurting her percentage of royalties most definitely. But it was bound to happen as streaming services are becoming more popular. Could this end up being a change in SAG-AFTRA contracts?

It’s a long road for Disney and Marvel Studios considering that on this date in 1986, filmmaker George Lucas was risking a big gamble on a live-action adaptation of the Marvel comic Howard the Duck. And it was a risk that Lucas lost.

Produced on a budget of anywhere between $30-37 million, the overall domestic gross was $38 million. Critics ravaged it. It was a movie that was too mature for young kids and too cartoonish for older teens.

Why did Lucas, riding high after finishing the original trilogy to Star Wars decided to take an obscure Marvel comic as his next project? It’s no secret to people who know about Lucas that in the early to mid-1980s were a rough patch.

In 1983, he got a divorce from his wife of 14 years, Marcia Griffin, and some Star Wars fans have said there were plans to do more movies throughout the, but Lucas wanted to change gears.

With the 1984 prequel Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom divided audiences with its brutal violence and tone for a PG rating, I feel Lucas felt that if he presented an animatronic duck with an attitude, more audiences would be willing to forgive him.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The movie’s production was troubled. He got his old friends William Huyck and his wife, Gloria Katz, to co-write it with Katz producing and Huyck directing.

Universal Pictures head Sidney Sheinberg pushed to work with Lucas on this project. However, at first, it was supposed to be an animated feature but this was changed. Then, they wanted Howard to be computer animated, but this technology wasn’t available. The production had to consult with Disney, nonetheless, to make sure there were no similarities to Donald Duck.

Using dwarf actors and animatronics, the cameras were ready to roll. Unfortunately, they cast Chip Zien to voice Howard after filming was completed. Ed Gale mostly performed in the suit as Howard but his voice was hard to hear.

Tim Robbins who plays the goofy Phil Blumburtt said years later when he should up to filming and saw Howard he knew they had “miscast” him.

There were difficulties. Both Robbins and Lea Thompson as Beverly Switzer, the musician who befriends and falls in love with Howard, said they were originally expected to film for three months but it was almost twice as long.

And the plot seemed all over the place. At first, the movie is set in DuckWorld with a big set-up of Howard coming home to his apartment where he has framed film posters parodying popular movies. There’s a Playduck magazine with a female duck with breasts. Howard has a picture of him in the middle of cannabis leaves.

All this set up of DuckWorld is forgotten after about 10 minutes as a force blasts Howard, while sitting in his chair, through his building and out into the sky and outer space.

Crash landing in a back alley in Cleveland, Howard is at first confused and freaked out. But he soon comes to the rescue of Beverly as she is harassed by two young men. They bond, but soon break apart and for reasons that don’t make sense, Howard decides to seek a job.

At the same time, everyone just seems to pass Howard off as someone wearing a costume. When he makes up with Beverly by fighting with her band manager, they come close to having sex together. It’s an awkward scene for many audiences.

It’s later discovered that Howard’s arrival on Earth was the result of a laser experiment at a nearby scientific lab. When one of the lead scientist, Dr. Walter Jennings (Jeffrey Jones) tells Howard they could possibly send him back, it goes haywire.

A Dark Overlord is beamed down and hides in Jennings body without explanation. Considering the Overlord which looks like a huge lobster mixed with a scorpion is as tall as a brownstone and as long as a semi hauling a double trailer, I’m left wondering how it could enter Jennings, but apparently, they can for the sake of convenience.

So, now it’s up to Howard to stop the Overlord from beaming down his other Overlords and rescue Beverly who Jennings/Overlord has kidnapped.

It’s a crazy plot and it might have worked under the right director but Huyck was not the right director. His previous movie Best Defense had been re-edited with scenes of Eddie Murphy added in. Murphy admitted this was done because he was offered a huge paycheck for little work.

Huyck never directed a movie again after this. It’s a sad ending for someone who was praised in 1973 for his work on the script for American Graffiti.

Maybe it’s that with Lucas’ name attached, the studio wanted a more sci-fi/fantasy movie, hence the appearance of Dark Overlords. I’ve never read the comics, but they seemed to focus on more absurdist comedy. While there’s comedy here, it seems it just doesn’t work in the long-run.

I liked Howard the Duck when I was younger, but as an adult, I could see all the faults in it. It’s still amazing this was Marvel’s first movie. And while Superman in 1978 set the standard, Marvel for the last decade has been leading the charge in how to make superhero movies.

But Howard isn’t the worst Marvel movie. That distinction goes to Captain America which was released in 1992. Most of the Marvel properties were sold to independent and low-budget studios. Reportedly, the Cannon Group originally thought Spider-Man was about a teenage boy turning into a huge eight-legged spider,

I haven’t seen The Punisher with Dolph Lundgren all the way through. And that Fantastic Four movie made by Roger Corman is good for what it achieves with so little. But it’s hardly up to the caliber of her Marvel movies.

Recently, Thompson said that Howard deserves its own stand-alone movie. I don’t know much about that. James Gunn used Howard in the Guardian of the Galaxy movies and Howard appeared in the battle scene at the climax of Avengers: Endgame.

But some comic book characters don’t really need their own movies. Universal still holds the distribution rights to the the Incredible Hulk movies which is why there hasn’t been a standalone movie since 2008, even though the character has appeared in other movies since then.

What do you think? Should Howard the Duck get a reboot?

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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