Believe it or not, movies used to be able to come out any time of the year without incurring any kind of judgment about their quality. Then Congress or whoever passed a law stating that good movies can only come out between the months of May and August, and occasionally November and December if they’re animated and/or they have hobbits in them. If a movie has the misfortune of releasing during any other month of the year, we tend to assume it’s at least kind of a piece of shit. However, if a movie limps into theaters in the forsaken month of January, it is a guaranteed shit kaleidoscope. We believe this with all of our hearts, because for three or four decades it was absolutely true.
Nowadays, release dates have reverted back to being a little more fluid, although studios still save their big blockbusters for the summer months despite the fact that the next Fast and Furious movie could drop on a Tuesday afternoon in September and still make a billion dollars. But for a long stretch, January was a cinematic wasteland, playing host to some of the worst, most bizarre, and wholly forgettable films ever produced. In the interest of uniting the nation, I went back through 30 years of January releases and tallied up the most bonkers projects ever hurled into theaters during that frigid first page of the calendar. Please note these are not the worst January films ever released, simply the ones that have been most completely lost to the sands of time.
I could almost just leave you with the poster of the 1986 film Youngblood and let your mind construct the film of your dreams based only on this image, but there are details I simply cannot leave out. For starters, Rob Lowe’s hockey-playing character is actually named Dean Youngblood, because the 1980s were a time in which we titled films after common phrases that related to the theme but still felt the need to make those phrases the main character’s name just in case anyone was confused. Also, Keanu Reeves stars as Youngblood’s goalie Heaver, who helps him win the big game against his bullying rival Racki (George Finn) after Racki cripples his mentor Patrick Swayze. In a very important twist, Youngblood beats the everloving shit out of Racki immediately after winning the big game, which arguably makes it the greatest sports film ever created. It’s like a fever dream, and the poster appropriately looks like the film’s cast drove their collective dad’s sports coupe to an A-ha video.
Two If by Sea
Image via Warner Bros.
In January of 1996, we were still trying to figure out what Denis Leary could be. It would be several years before we settled on “angry firefighter,” even though that should’ve been obvious from the get-go, so we just tossed him into different genres to see what would stick. Two If by Sea is the rare Denis Leary romantic comedy, starring him and future Oscar winner Sandra Bullock as a pair of thieves trying to fence a stolen painting to Stannis Baratheon. I think Leary actually works as a thief (The Ref is one of my favorite movies and my wife and I watch it every Christmas), and he’s not without his own brand of charm, so the idea of him playing a loveable crook isn’t that far-fetched. The wild thing here is that he made a 90s rom-com with Sandra Bullock and people simply do not remember it exists.
Image via Columbia-EMI-Warner-Universal
Peter Coyote has a specific dedication to children of the 1980s. He represented a terrifying branch of the United States Government in E.T., but ultimately lets Elliott free E.T. and send the alien back to his home planet without disappearing Elliott’s entire family to a CIA black site. (Presumably, that is. We don’t know what actually happens after those credits roll.) 1983’s Slayground casts Coyote as Stone, a thief who plows his getaway car through a small child while escaping a robbery. Perhaps, after the iconic bicycle scene in E.T. captured the world’s imagination, Coyote took it upon himself to demonstrate the dangers of playing in the street as a public service. The kid’s father sends a carnival-themed assassin after him, because some disputes simply cannot be solved with an edible arrangement. What’s really interesting is that Slayground is an adaptation of one of Donald E. Westlake’s popular Parker novels, about a hardboiled thief with virtually no redeeming qualities. Over the years he’s been played by Mel Gibson (in Payback), Jason Statham (in Parker), Jim Brown, Robert Duvall, and Lee Marvin, and for some reason 1983 felt Peter Coyote belonged in that group.
Image via MGM
Folks, Turbulence is a movie about a crazed Ray Liotta taking over a commercial airliner, and only flight attendant Lauren Holly can stop him. It has an absolutely wild cast (Brendan Gleeson appears alongside 90s mainstays Jeffrey DeMunn, Rachel Ticotin, and Hector Elizondo) and some of the worst special effects a $50 million budget could buy in 1997. I saw this movie in theaters when I was 12 and the only things I remember about it is that White Zombie’s “More Human than Human” played during the trailer and that it ends with a snarling Ray Liotta getting shot in the face. I think it was trying to repeat the success of the previous year’s midbudget action January release Broken Arrow, but that movie had the distinct benefit of being directed by John Woo. This film, meanwhile, was made by the director of Night of the Juggler.
Image via 20th Century Fox
There are few joys greater in life than gathering a group of your friends together to watch the Howie Long action thriller Firestorm, which is a thing I did in middle school. Long stars as a smokejumper who gets caught in the middle of the titular firestorm with a gang of escaped convicts prowling the burning Wyoming forest in search of a stash of stolen money they’d hidden before being arrested. They set fire to the woods to cover their escape, which is an incredibly bonkers thing to do but also I respect the chaotic flex. William Forsythe plays the leader of the thugs, who have to do battle with Long’s scrappy firefighter as the blaze rages around them. It’s not a bad premise for a movie I suppose, but Long’s acting ability is limited entirely to his haircut and a single facial expression. However, the film makes a few compelling arguments for its existence, including a scene wherein Long flings a chainsaw through the villains’ windshield and the epic finale in which Long roasts Forsythe’s head by shoving it into a literal cloud of fire (a firestorm, if you will).
Image via MGM
Supernova is like an accidental wish from a monkey’s paw. Directed by Alien franchise producer and co-writer Walter Hill with some uncredited work by Francis Ford Coppola, the 2000 sci-fi film threw James Spader into space with Angela Bassett and the bully from Can’t Hardly Wait. It was originally developed as a horror film, dubbed “Hellraiser in space” and featuring concept art by H.R. Giger, but it became a boring-ass glossy year 2000 film featuring a Sugar Ray song and a CGI sex scene between Spader and Bassett. (That scene originally featured two completely different actors, with Spader and Bassett’s faces superimposed onto the bodies in a homunculus of uncomfortable horniness.) This paragraph is a collection of curses and I happily thrust them upon you so that I might no longer bear them alone.
Hot Dog the Movie
Skiing sex comedies are an entire genre, and I’m pretty sure Hot Dog the Movie was the very first. However, the film’s tagline “There’s more to do in snow than ski” feels more like a threat than a titillating promise of nudity. Starring Shannon Tweed and An American Werewolf in London’s David Naughton, the film’s poster trades heavily on the art style featured in the lewd comics of Playboy and National Lampoon, which is to say that it is deeply unsexy and feels vaguely felonious. (The film’s writer, Mike Marvin, would go on to direct the dizzingly unrelated Hamburger: The Motion Picture, a project that shares gratuitous nudity and a January release date with Hot Dog the Movie and absolutely nothing else.) I assume this movie was pitched as “Caddyshack on a ski slope” by Marvin shouting across a parking lot at a group of fleeing executives. I was just over a year old when this movie lurched into theaters and I earnestly hope my parents took me to see it.
The Buddy System
This film’s tagline is the most cursed sentence in the English language.
I had no idea this film existed until I stumbled upon this glorious poster. It’s like finding $100 while searching for breakfast in a dumpster. James Spader stars as a streetwise teen who must do battle with the leader of a dangerous Los Angeles gang in order to win the heart of Kim Richards, a.k.a. the girl from Escape to Witch Mountain. Also Robert Downey Jr. is there as Spader’s best friend Jimmy Parker, years before Spader would torment him with a vicious coke debt in Less Than Zero. The greatest thing about this movie is how miscast Spader is, an oversight Hollywood quickly realized as they spent the next decade and a half correctly hiring him to play villains, with an occasional Stargate thrown in to keep things interesting.
The Couch Trip
Image via Orion Pictures
Listen, Dan Aykroyd made a lot of movies in the 1980s, so much so that I’m not convinced he didn’t invent time travel. The Couch Trip casts him as a mental patient masquerading as a popular radio psychiatrist alongside Charles Grodin and Walter Matthau. It’s a little like the Michael Keaton / Peter Boyle film The Dream Team, only much less popular and with a more indecipherable title. The fact that Aykroyd starred in a film with Matthau is the kind of knowledge you’d arm yourself with to win a $50 gift certificate at bar trivia night, but unfortunately The Couch Trip isn’t good for much else.
The New Kids
Image via Columbia Pictures
Written by Jake Gyllenhaal’s dad and directed by the original Friday the 13th’s Sean S. Cunningham, The New Kids stars Lori Loughlin and Shannon Presby as a sister and brother who must do battle with a ruthless gang of 1980s Florida violence teens led by James motherfucking Spader. Tom Atkins is also running around in there, inexplicably playing Louglin’s father until he gets beefed in a car accident, setting the events of the film in motion. Think a teen slasher version of The Warriors and that’s close to what’s happens in the glorious 89-minute runtime of The New Kids, a film which may or may not end with Spader’s head getting lit on fire by a gas pump.
The Best of Times
Image via Universal Pictures
The fact that Robin Williams and Kurt Russell made a nostalgia-driven football movie about settling old high school scores in the mid-1980s and I somehow have never heard of it makes me want to turn myself in to the FBI. Williams stars as Jack Dundee, who dropped a potential game-winning pass from quarterback Reno Hightower (Russell) to end a game against their bitter rivals in a scoreless tie. Jack is convinced his life would’ve gone better if he’d caught the pass, and convinces everyone in town to restage the game 14 years later. Now, I understand feeling like you’re responsible for blowing one of the biggest moments of your life, but let’s be honest, Jack – the game ended in a scoreless tie. Everyone on the field should be ashamed of themselves, that’s the shittiest game of football two teams could ever play. Also if we could all please take a moment to meditate on the fact that Russell’s character is named Reno Hightower and be thankful that we get to share this knowledge with the universe.
Gleaming the Cube
Image via 20th Century Fox
“Gleaming the Cube” is a phrase which does not exist that the makers of the film Gleaming the Cube invented to sell a movie about a bunch of skateboarders investigating a brutal murder. Christian Slater stars as a young cube-head, ripping up gnar-gnar a-phalt and clutching skoozy air twirlies in a quest to discover the villains responsible for killing his adopted brother. Several real pro skaters appear in the film either as characters or stunt performers, including Tony Hawk as Buddy the skateboarding pizza delivery man. It’s one of the better extreme sports movies to come out of the 80s (although the competition from the likes of Rad and North Shore is admittedly not that intense), and while the plot is absolutely ludicrous, it’s better than the “underdog has to win the big competition and get the girl” storyline that these movies tend to follow. Give me a bunch of skate punks trying to solve a murder, I do not give a fig. Also, put “All he cared about was gleaming the cube. Until the night they killed his brother.” on my tombstone.
The January Man
I’m legitimately angry that I didn’t know The January Man existed until now. The film stars Kevin Kline as a bumbling detective who enlists Alan Rickman to help him catch a serial killer, and my god do you even need anything more than that sentence? Written by Oscar-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley (who also, I must add, wrote the screenplay for Congo), the movie also stars Harvey Keitel as Kline’s grizzled police commissioner brother, Susan Sarandon as Kline’s former girlfriend and current sister-in-law (ahem), and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as the mayor’s daughter who gets caught up in Kline and Rickman’s investigation. The reviews were abysmal and the film imploded at the box office like a secondhand kitchen appliance, but please understand that I simply will not rest until I’ve watched The January Man.
Cohen and Tate
Image via Hemdale Film Corporation
Roy Scheider and Adam Baldwin teaming up for a high-octane crime thriller adaptation of O. Henry’s “The Ransom of Red Chief” is a sentence my dying brain would produce as the synapses misfire. How the classic comedic short story became a hyper-violent, humorless movie about a pair of psychopathic hitmen abducting a little boy after murdering his parents is the mystery my brain would’ve self-destructed attempting to solve. Everything about Cohen and Tate seems like the product of a dare. The premise appears to have come from the fact that “killing people for money” is the only possible answer to the question “What would Roy Scheider and Adam Baldwin ever do together?” Cohen and Tate is like Tango & Cash’s angry stepfather. If you’ve ever wondered how much child endangerment can be crammed into 85 minutes, this film will captivate and astonish you.
The Lonely Guy
The 1980s were a home to a Hollywood trend of cramming roughly 300 words of text on your poster to explain the premise of your movie. It’s like reprinting the Wikipedia plot summary of Rain Man on the film’s poster right in between Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman’s heads. Steven Martin’s beyond-obscure 1984 comedy The Lonely Guy might be the worst offender of this trend I have ever seen, surpassing heavyweights like The Breakfast Club and ranking right alongside the champion Sixteen Candles. The Lonely Guy’s poster contains an entire fucking Reader’s Digest clipping breaking down the movie’s storyline, when I’m pretty sure I got everything I needed from the image of a dopey-looking Martin riding a tandem bicycle with a dog. Somehow, Neil Simon has a writing credit on this film, which features a substantial subplot revolving around Charles Grodin toying with the idea of killing himself. January was too good for you, The Lonely Guy; you should’ve been released on the eleventeenth of Neverween.
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About The Author
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Tom Reimann is a writer and comedian and somehow an Associate Editor at Collider. He has written for Cracked.com, Mad Magazine, BunnyEars.com, and Some More News, and is the co-founder of the Gamefully Unemployed podcast network.
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