Howard the Duck is the single-worst film based on a Marvel Comics character to come into existence.
A 70mm print screened during the 2018 installment of the Cinepocalypse Genre Film Festival. Aside from the sound in some places, it’s an otherwise impressive print. I cannot however say the same about the film. If you think Daredevil, Elektra, and the recent Fantastic Four movies were the worst Marvel has to offer, think again. What makes this film all the more troubling is that George Lucas is behind it. When I first learned that Lucas was behind the Howard the Duck film some many years ago, I won’t lie that the film had my interest. What I wasn’t aware of was just how bad the film really was.
Oh, my. This film was so bad that it makes some of the worst viral videos worthy of an Oscar by comparison. While there are some funny moments, it’s mostly because of how campy the film is. With someone like Lucas involved, there’s no shortage of easter eggs. Howard’s home planet has two suns a la Tatooine while there’s an Indiana Jones spoof poster in his apartment. If you want to talk about how poorly the visual effects have aged, there are films released not even two years later that are way better!
Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, and Tim Robbins star in live-action roles while Chip Zien voices the illegal alien. Wisely, the film starts out on Howard’s home planet which doesn’t just look like Earth but he even lives in Washington, DC! Suddenly, there’s an earthquake and the next thing we know, Howard lands in Cleveland. Howard soon comes to the aid of Beverly Switzler (Thompson). Freaked out as anyone would be, Beverly takes him to her scientist friend, Phil (Robbins), to understand what to make of things. Phil knows people and learns that it’s because of a mishap at a nearby lab involving a laser. This leads to Dr. Walter Jenning (Jones) being possessed by a Dark Overlord of the Universe.
Would the film have had better success if it had been an animated film as originally planned? Probably. Lucas was required to hand over a live-action film to Universal Pictures so we’ll never truly know what could have been. For what it’s worth, Howard the Duck co-creator Steve Gerber approved the script with some notes of his own. I’m happy to see that both Thompson and Robbins have had successful careers after this dent in their resume.
Howard the Duck is a film that’s going to immediately require viewing another film so as to replace the lost brain cells.
DIRECTOR: Willard Huyck
SCREENWRITERS: Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz
CAST: Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, Tim Robbins, and Chip Zien
Universal Pictures released Howard the Duck in theaters on August 1, 1986.