In the mid 1980s, an idea that came from the comic books to come to the big screen became the major movie flop of 1986: Howard the Duck.
Written and directed by William Hyuck and executive produced by George Lucas, the film storyline was initially supposed to be animated film, based on the Marvel comic book by Steve Gerber.
Optioned by Universal Studios through a partnership with Marvel Entertainment, Lucas suggested the film could become live-action, filling an empty space in Universal’s upcoming summer film releases.
Hyuck, Gerber and producer Gloria Katz wanted an animated film, but lost out to the film company and Lucas.
Producers cast Lea Thompson as Beverly Switzler because of her work in Back to the Future. As a young woman who meets Howard, he rescues her from being attacked by thugs in Cleveland upon arriving on Earth accidentally. She befriends Howard and introduces him to Phil Blumburtt, played by Tim Robbins, who she thinks is a scientist, but is actually a janitor.
Howard realizes he is now stuck on earth and can’t return to his home planet of Duckworld, and with Beverly and Phil, tries to return but also gets caught in their lives, and helps them with Beverly’s band Cherry Bomb.
The Dark Overlord appears from Duckworld and the trio battle to survive and ultimately see if they can return Howard home.
The live-action film had many special effects thanks to Lucasfilm and the budget for the film swelled to $37 million. Released on August 1, 1986 by Universal, the film received negative reviews and was a box office flop. à
Ironically, Marvel Comics made a comic of the film version of Howard the Duck – a favourite among comic book collectors.
The film made $16 million in the US, less than half of the budget and worldwide made just over $21 million, bringing the overall total to $38 million. As the film was a huge failure for Universal, rumours were rife with which movie executive would suffer from the this box office flop.
The infamous story in September 1986 issue of Variety Magazine said it all after the departure of movie executive Frank Price from Universal with the headline “Duck cooks Price’s goose”.