Howard the Duck (film)

Howard the Duck (film)

name = Howard the Duck

caption = Theatrical poster for "Howard the Duck"
director = Willard Huyck
producer = Gloria Katz
writer = Screenplay:
Willard Huyck
Gloria Katz
Comic Book:
Steve Gerber
starring = Lea Thompson
Jeffrey Jones
David Paymer
Tim Robbins
Ed Gale
Paul Guilfoyle
Chip Zien
music = Score:
John Barry
Original Songs:
Thomas Dolby
cinematography = Richard H. Kline
editing = Michael Chandler
Sidney Wolinsky
distributor = Universal Pictures
released = flagicon|USA August 1, 1986
runtime = 111 min.
country = USA
language = English
amg_id = 1:23746
imdb_id = 0091225
budget = $37,000,000 (estimated)
Infobox movie certificates
United_States = PG

"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.

As of 2008, there has been no U.S. DVD release of the film, and it has been only recently released in the UK, Germany, Australia and Brazil on DVD. Second-hand copies of the VHS and fan-made DVDs circulate on eBay. It also won a series of Razzie awards in 1986, but also once claimed the title of "Film of the Day" on the Internet Movie Database.

The setting for much of the film was a museum that was hosting an exhibition of works by sculptor Jim Gary and some of his dinosaurs became essential elements of some scenes.


The film begins late at night in "Duckworld," which is a version of planet Earth, but with talking ducks living there in place of human beings. The audience sees Howard enter his apartment, a working duck exhausted by a long day (indicated by an answering phone message left by his mother). While he tries to relax, his armchair begins to vibrate violently and takes off like a rocket with Howard being unable to get off the chair. The chair enters orbit, before ending up in Cleveland on planet Earth.

Howard is immediately confronted by a gang of punks, who think he is a child in costume. The gang carry him into a club in which Beverly's (Lea Thompson) band Cherry Bomb are playing, only to be chucked out by the bouncer also thinking he is wearing a costume to get entry while being a minor. After ending up in an oil drum, Howard hears a fight going on outside, which is involving Beverly and two thugs pretending to be fans. Howard uses his skills of "Quack Fu," to defend Beverly. Intimidated by a talking duck, the thugs scamper. Beverly, after explaining to the Duck that he is on a different planet, invites him to her apartment, which is rented out by the manager of her band.

The next day, Beverly takes Howard to see Phil Blumburtt (Tim Robbins), who she believes is a scientist that can help Howard get back to Duckworld. Howard is unimpressed when Phil asks him to do impossible activities like burning a hole through a plank of wood and leaves in disgust. In desperation, Phil drops the bombshell by revealing that he is really a janitor. This only infuriates Howard further and he dismisses Beverly, leaving to cope with life on Earth by himself, with his first task to look for a job. Via an employment agency, he lands a job working in a hot tub sauna. But he leaves soon after due to unfair treatment by his boss. Howard shows his nastier side when he gets revenge by pushing his boss into a bath of green mud.

Feeling run out of self-esteem, Howard takes a bus ride back to Cleveland. Howard shortly enters the club while Cherry Bomb are inside performing and overhears the band's manager mocking the band, sardonically claiming that he's going to pay the band their salary while making it obvious to his friends that he has no intention to. Howard joins the conversation by confronting the manager and saying he does not like the way he is "talking about Beverly". A fight on the bar engages and Howard eventually threatens the bands manager to give him the money. This happens, and the manager is told by Howard that he has been dismissed. While Cherry Bomb are playing, they are unaware of Howard's presence and are disappointed at the behavior of their crowd, before Phil turns up and sees Howard with the band. Phil later manages to pull off one of Howard's feathers and quickly scarpers. Before leaving, he says the reason why Howard ended up on Earth can be discovered by comparing the feather with one they have back at the lab.

Howard rejoins Beverly and accompanies her back to her apartment. In a bizarre scene, the two begin to flirt and almost engage in sexual intercourse. They are interrupted when Blumburtt arrives (but she does claim that she's "joking" with Howard). Phil comes along with two of his colleagues in attendance, Dr. Walter Jenning (Jeffrey Jones), and Larry (David Paymer) who explain to Howard that they were doing a routine procedure at the lab, only for the experiment to go out of control, causing the laser to hit Howard's planet instead. After the resulting explosion, a single feather fell and was later shown to match the one Blumburtt got from Howard. This proves that their laser was responsible for transporting Howard out of his parallel universe to our own.

Howard suggests he can be sent back to Duckworld if the laser can be put into reverse. He is taken to the Dynatechnics lab alongside Beverly, only to find out on arrival that the laser is seriously damaged due to another explosion. The explosion brings down a "Dark Overlord" who is not seen by the audience at the time, and takes over Jenning's body. Meanwhile the police arrive and arrest Howard on the charges of "illegal alien", which the detective makes up on the spot. Aided by Beverly, Howard is able to get the keys to his handcuffs off the guarding policeman.

While on the run, Howard and Beverly bump into Dr. Jenning again, but this time he is in the state of being taken over by the Dark Overlord. With Howard and Beverly both unaware of this, they escape in Jenning's car onto the freeway with him driving dangerously due to his worsening possession. They stop outside a diner just before he is fully taken over. Inside the Diner, the Overlord explains his attempts to call forth his fellow aliens from the Nexus of Sominus so that they may take over the world. Apparently, overlords can only exist on Earth inside another human's body as their appearance would be seen as "hideous and revolting". Shortly after, a fight between Howard and a group of truckers engages, only for the fight to end with the Dark Overlord kidnapping Beverly and driving off in an articulated truck. Howard finds Phil inside a police car wearing handcuffs. After being freed (but not uncuffed), Phil leads Howard to an escape route, and they discover a light aircraft operated by pedals and a small petrol powered engine. The vehicle is inoperable, so Phil, still handcuffed, gets Howard to help him with a nearby tool kit to repair it. The next day dawns with the police discovering them just as they are about to make their escape. Initially unsuccesful, Howard succeeds in taking off. This sees Howard get revenge on a group of duck hunters, by flying low enough so they fall into the water. The pursuing police cars are eventually outrun, but the plane becomes unable to fly after having its wings demolished during an incident with a freight train. Fortunately, they land in a lake.

Meanwhile, the Dark Overlord realizes he is running out of power; he then uses the truck's cigarette lighter as a temporary source of energy to keep his strength up. To fully recharge, he attends a power station tour while Beverly stays tied up in the back of the truck.

On the tour a unit is shown to the visitors which holds one million kilowatts of power, which the Dark Overlord breaks into to recharge before escaping. With Beverly still tied up, he returns to the Dynatechnics lab and straps her to a metal bed held underneath the laser so that she will also become possessed by an Overlord.

Howard and Phil return to the lab, where Phil reveals that there is a laser projectile that can in theory destroy the Overlord, but has "not yet been tested." After breaking the lock of the storage facility that contains the weapon, and breaking the chain of Phil's handcuffs, Howard discovers an electric buggy and presses a button on it. This causes the buggy to shoot off into the lab and knock the door down. Howard jumps into the vehicle with the laser projectile on it, and activates the laser while aiming at Jenning. At first, Howard thinks he's destroyed the Overlord alongside Jenning. But Jenning comes back to life to explain that all Howard has done is free the Overlord from his body.

The Overlord, now exposing himself in his scorpion-like form, aims his tail at Phil and Beverly and shoots a laser at them, which puts them in a frozen state. Meanwhile, Howard attempts to board the buggy, but the Overlord reaches out at his leg, dragging him away. Jenning however uses an electric cutting device to slice off the tail.

Back into the buggy, Howard runs over the Overlord's foot causing considerable pain, before spinning back round to face the Overlord and once again aims the laser. The Overlord taunts Howard as a "puny little duck" and prepares to fire. But Howard beats him to it and destroys the Overlord, which causes Phil and Beverly to return to their normal state.

However, the laser is still in the process of bringing down the other Overlords, with Howard having no choice but to destroy the laser to prevent Earth from being invaded. This results in Howard's loss of a ride home, a decision he comes to accept as it means Earth is safe. Howard becomes Beverly's manager and hires Phil as an employee on her tour.


Box office performance

When "Howard the Duck" was released on August 1, 1986, it opened at 1,554 U.S. theaters, in which it grossed $5,070,136 and was the third-placed top-grosser for that week. During its run in theaters, the film made a total of $16,295,774 in domestic grossings, a far distance from its $37,000,000 production budget. In the film's second week run in U.S. theaters, its week-on-week 46.36% drop in earnings saw it drop to #8 on the box-office chart. The film was the 34th biggest-opening film of 1986 in the country. "Howard the Duck" made $37,962,774 worldwide ($21,667,000 non-USA).

Critical reception

The film was widely panned and was a U.S. box office bomb. In his "Movie Guide", Leonard Maltin calls the film a "hopeless mess of a movie... Gargantuan production produces gargantuan headache." The film was also among Siskel and Ebert's picks for the "Worst Films of 1986".

Steve Gerber told "Starlog" that he liked it better than any other Howard the Duck script that he had read. He has since retracted this statement numerous times.

cquote|As for my comments at the time about the film script, well -- to put it bluntly, I lied. I was hoping against hope that the script and the movie itself weren't as bad as I thought they were. Or at least, that they wouldn't be received as badly as I thought they would. I hated most of the movies coming out of Hollywood at the time, and the ones I hated most turned into box office blockbusters. I didn't think my own tastes were a reliable indicator of what the public might want, so I tried to say nothing that would discourage people from seeing the film.

Sadly, the HTD movie was one of the few instances in which my taste and the public's coincided.

The film's production costs were $37 million and it made $37.9 million at the box office worldwide. Although this would give the impression it at least made its budget back, this would not be the case due to distributor overheads and inflation. The film did renew enough attention on the character for Marvel Comics to keep using the character on occasion. It also still gets television showings on RTL 2 and VOX in Germany, TVE2 in Spain, Space and CTV in Canada and the occasional screening in the UK on satellite broadcasts. It's shown on the U.S. pay-TV network Encore on a regular basis. It is also a staple of Italy's Italia 1 summer and/or late night programming. Many free on-demand TV channels in the USA have been making the film available.

In the Golden Girls episode "'Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas", Rose attempts to counsel a financially distressed man who was "a principal backer of "Howard the Duck"."

Cult appeal

While the film carries a negative opinion by mainstream audiences, it does however still have a cult following which was strong enough to see a 2007 DVD release in Europe (UK in 2008), and a screening at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. A fansite titled "Misunderstood Mallard" is also online detailing the film, and many pieces of collectable memoribillia. This cult following has also been strong enough for the staff of the Internet Movie Database website, to give it their "Film of the Day" accolade in 2006. In a 2008 episode of South Park, Indiana Jones is playing on a "Howard the Duck" pinball machine.


Like the film itself, the soundtrack album has its own appreciative 'cult' despite its commercial failure. The album's rarity alone makes it a much sought after collectible; few copies were produced or sold (being the soundtrack to a movie that not many people saw in theaters), the album has been out of print for decades, as is the 12-inch single of the theme song. The 'star-power' of the soundtrack has also added to its collectibility - the original score was composed by John Barry, with additional music composed by synth wizard Thomas Dolby; George Clinton, Joe Walsh and Stevie Wonder also appear on the album.

The tracklisting for the original release was as follows:

#"Hunger City" Performed by Dolby's Cube Feat. Cherry Bomb (4:12)*
#"Howard the Duck" Performed by Dolby's Cube Feat. Cherry Bomb (3:55)**
#"Don't Turn Away" Performed by Thomas Dolby, Stevie Wonder & Cherry Bomb (5:05)
#"It Don't Come Cheap" Performed by Dolby's Cube Feat. Cherry Bomb (04:46)***
#"I'm On My Way" Performed by Thomas Dolby (2:55)
#"Lullaby of Duckland" by John Barry (02:28)
#"Journey to Earth" by John Barry (2:42)
#"You're the Duckiest" by John Barry (2:09)
#"Ultralight Flight" by John Barry (2:58)
#"Beddy-Bye for Howard" by John Barry (2:46)
#"Dark Overlord" by John Barry (5:30)

(*)Lead vocals: Lea Thompson
(**)Lead vocals: Lea Thompson, background vocals: George Clinton, guitar: Joe Walsh
(***)Lead vocals: Lea Thompson, guitar: Joe Walsh

Also, on some B-sides of some of the album singles, an alternate version of "Don't Turn Away" was released with vocals entirely by Lea Thompson and this version is the same as the one featured in the movie.

Another notable song is the "Howard the Duck Megamix", a remix of the album track, and which was released as a B-side.

ee also

*Films considered the worst ever
*Cult films
*List of U.S. box office bombs

External links

*imdb title|id=0091225|title=Howard the Duck
* [ Description of Howard The Duck (The Film) at]
* [ Howard The Duck: Misunderstood Mallard fan site]
* [ "Howard the Duck" site at]

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