Howard the Duck (also known as Howard: A New Breed of Hero in Europe) is a 1986 live-action film produced by Lucasfilm and Universal Pictures, directed by Willard Huyck from a script by Huyck and his wife Gloria Katz. It starred Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, Tim Robbins and Chip Zien as the voice of Howard.
It was inspired by the Marvel Comics characters Howard the Duck and Beverly Switzler created by Steve Gerber, although their appearance and portrayals almost completely ignored their source material. It is the first film based on a Marvel Comics character to receive a wide theatrical release in American theaters.
Howard (voiced by Chip Zien) lives on Duckworld, a planet inhabited by anthropomorphic ducks. As he reads the latest issue of Playduck Magazine, his armchair begins to quake violently and propels him out of his apartment building and into outer space, where he eventually lands up on Earth, in Cleveland, Ohio. Upon arriving, Howard encounters a woman being attacked by thugs and decides to help her out with his unique brand of "Quack Fu". After the thugs scamper, the woman introduces herself as Beverly (Lea Thompson), and decides to take Howard to her apartment and let him spend the night. The next day, Beverly takes Howard to a supposed-scientist by the name of Phil Blumbertt (Tim Robbins), whom Beverly hopes can help Howard return to his world. After Phil is revealed to be only a janitor, Howard resigns himself to life on Earth and rejects Beverly's aid. He soon winds up landing a job cleaning up at a local romantic spa. Due to unfair treatment by his boss, Howard ultimately quits his job and returns to Beverly, who plays in a band called "Cherry Bomb". At the club Cherry Bomb is performing, Howard comes across the group's manager, and confronts the manager when he bad-mouths the band. A fight ensues, in which Howard is victorious.
Howard rejoins Beverly backstage after the band's performance and accompanies her back to the apartment, where Beverly chooses Howard to be Cherry Bomb's new manager. The two begin to flirt and almost engage in sexual intercourse, but are interrupted when Blumburtt and two of his colleagues, Doctor Walter Jenning (Jeffrey Jones) and Larry (David Paymer), arrive and reveal how Howard came to Earth: earlier, the scientists have been working on a dimensional-jumping device that just happened to be aimed at Howard's universe and brought him to Earth when it was activated. They theorize that Howard can be sent back to his world through a reversal of this same process, so they drive Howard to the lab with the intention of sending him back. The device malfunctions upon being used a second time, arousing the possibility of something else being brought to Earth this time around. Around this time, Jenning's body is taken over by a lifeform from another alternate dimension. Then, the group goes to a diner. There, the lifeform introduces itself as the "Dark Overlord" and demonstrates its developing mental powers by telepathically assassinating table condiments. Chaos ensues when a group of truckers in the diner begin to insult Howard, resulting in a fight. This results in Howard's capture and near-decapitation at the hands of the diner chef. Meanwhile, the truckers are scared off when the Dark Overlord destroys the cafe, kidnaps Beverly, and escapes in an articulated truck.
Howard then finds Phil and frees him from the police car he had been held in after being arrested for his role in the diner fight. On the run, the two discover an Ultralight aircraft, which they use to search for the Dark Overlord and Beverly. Meanwhile, having returned to the lab, the Dark Overlord ties Beverly down to a metal bed, hoping to transfer another one of its kind into her body with the dimension machine. Howard and Phil return to the lab and apparently destroy the Dark Overlord with an experimental "neutron disintegrator" laser. However, it had only been knocked out of Jennings' body. Then, the Dark Overlord reveals itself as a monstrous creature. Howard fires the neutron disintegrator at the beast, obliterating it, and destroys the dimension machine, preventing more monsters from being brought to Earth, but also removing Howard's only chance of returning to his planet. Howard then becomes Beverly's manager and hires Phil as an employee on her tour.
- Lea Thompson as Beverly Switzler
- Jeffrey Jones as Dr. Walter Jenning
- Tim Robbins as Phil Blumburtt
- Ed Gale as Howard T. Duck
- Jordan Prentice as Howard T. Duck
- Paul Guilfoyle as Lieutenant Welker
- Liz Sagal as Ronette
- Dominique Davalos as Cal
- Holly Robinson as K.C.
- Tommy Swerdlow as Ginger Moss
- Richard Edson as Ritchie
- Miles Chapin as Carter
- Richard McGonagle as First Cop
- Virginia Capers as Cora Mae
- Debbie Lee Carrington as Additional Ducks
- Miguel Sandoval as Bar Entertainment Supervisor
- Sheldon Feldner as Hot Tub Spa Owner
- Lee Anthony as Grossbach
- Paul Comi as Dr. Chapin
- Maureen Coyne as Teacher
- James Lashly as State Trooper
- Tom Parker as Steve Kanelli
- Ed Holmes as TV Duck Hunter
- David Paymer as Larry
- William Hall as Officer Hanson
- Denny Delk as Sergeant
- Martin Ganapoler as 1st Trucker
- Tom Rayhall as 2nd Trucker
- Gary Littlejohn as 3rd Trucker
- Thomas Dolby as Bartender in Rock Club
- Kristopher Logan as Punk
- Reed Kirk Rahlmann as Bender
- John Fleck as Pimples
- William McCoy as Skin Head
- Steven Kravitz as Lover Boy
- Anne Tofflemire as Lover Girl
- Marcia Banks as Mama Biker
- Nancy Fish as Homeless Bag Lady
- Monty Hoffman as Club Bouncer
- Ted Kurtz as Kirby
- Wood Moy as Chef
- Wanda McCaddon as Hostess
- James Brady as 1st Tour Guide
- Carol McElheney as Screaming Woman
- Jeanne Lauren as Bear
- Richard Kiley as the voice of The Cosmos
- Brian Steele as the voice of the Dark Overlord of the Universe
When the film was screened for Universal, Katz said that the studio's executives left without commenting on the film. Screenings for test audiences were met with mixed response. The film grossed $US10 million in rentals in the USA. Rumors suggested that Universal production heads Frank Price and Sidney Sheinberg engaged in a fistfight after arguing over who was to blame for greenlighting the film. Both executives denied the rumors. News reports speculated that one or both would be fired by MCA chairman Lew Wasserman. Price soon left the studio, and was succeeded by Tom Pollack. The September 17, 1986 issue of Variety attributed Price's departure to the failure of the film, even though he had not approved the film's production. Following the film's failure, Huyck and Katz left for Hawaii and refused to read reviews of the film. The negative reaction to the film had a difficult effect on the cast, who found themselves unable to work on other projects because of the film.
Orange Coast Magazine writer Marc Weinberg and Leonard Maltin criticized the decision to shoot the film in live action. Maltin described the film as a "hopeless mess".The appearance of Howard was criticized as being unconvincing. In The Psychotronic Video Guide, Michael Weldon described the reactions to Howard as being inconsistent, and that "It was obviously made in LA and suffers from long, boring chase scenes", but praises the stop motion special effects in the film's final sequences. Film website Rotten Tomatoes, which compiles reviews from a wide range of critics, gives the film a score of 16%. The film received four Golden Raspberry Awards: Worst Screenplay, Worst New Star, Worst Visual Effects and Worst Picture, tied with Under the Cherry Moon.
According to Gale, he was hired to work on Spaceballs because Mel Brooks had stood up and said "Anybody who's in Howard the Duck can be in my movie." Huyck and Katz continued to work after the film's failure, and chose to work on more dramatic projects in order to separate themselves from Howard the Duck. Katz states that Lucas continued to support the film after its failure, because he felt it would later be seen in a better light than it had been at the time of its release. Huyck states that he later encountered fans and supporters of the film who felt that it had been unfairly treated by critics.
- Main article: Howard the Duck (film)/Gallery
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