We are living in an age where everyone wants to be The Goonies. Why? Because Goonies is the best goddamn movie ever made (probably). Even if it isn't the best movie ever made, Hollywood certainly loves referencing it, along with all the other nostalgic Amblin movies of their youth. And it's probably time to stop.
I'm not super opposed to comparing and contrasting films; it's a natural inclination. It makes sense, plus it's an easy entry point for audiences and creators. It's a quick and easy way to convey a feeling, look, style, or speed to another human person. However, it's probably time we got some new reference material. Because let's face it folks, they can't all be The Goonies.
Earlier this week, the makers of the still very far-off Monopoly movie (based on the board game of the same name) made the tired comparison. In an interview with Collider, producer Randall Emmett was prompted with the idea that the movie was similar to The Goonies and he replied, "That's a perfect analogy to what Monopoly will hopefully be. There is a treasure map… It's a family adventure film."
Look, just having a real estate plot and a treasure map does not a Goonies homage make.
True, the Goonies comparison was more thrust upon the Monopoly producer rather than being something he derived from his own inspiration. No one is running around calling this film the "new Goonies." But we are getting so cavalier about name-checking these old films, it's hard not to see that coming. There's a plethora of up-and-coming films (some dead, some still in development purgatory) that have name-checked Goonies, including the View-Master movie, Kent Alterman's Treehouse and Zach Braff's adaptation of Andrew Henry's "Meadow."
And while we're at it, let's call out all the movies whose names are dropped into discussions of future features for seemingly no reason at all. Warner Bros. new Suicide Squad movie has been called "The Dirty Dozen with super villains." Len Wiseman is currently working on a "Dirty Dozen in Space" television series for Fox. Alex Kurtzman was once working on a "Deep Sea Pirate" movie that was described as "a pirate movie, for all intents and purposes, smashed together with 'The Dirty Dozen.'" And I shit you not, the animated foosball movie Underdogs was described, "as a coming of age film with touches of The Dirty Dozen."
Stop with this madness. Does anyone really think the kids who are paying to see the above films know who (or what) The Dirty Dozen is? And if they are familiar with the 1967 classic film, do you really think they'll see Dirty Dozen in Underdogs?
At some point, we have to stop and ask ourselves, are these comparisons helpful? Or are we reaching the saturation point of nostalgia referencing?
Sometimes, name checking a classic can be quite helpful. I stand by my tired Goonies-to-ParaNorman analogy. There are things ParaNorman dared to do that jeopardized its characters in a real way that we haven't seen on-screen (especially with younger actors) since The Goonies. ParaNorman had characters who fought and blasted others with painful magic, adults who guzzled pills and a dead body that was used for creepy comical effect (and no, not the zombies). It was reality wrapped in adventure handed over to a couple of kids who just so happened to be smarter than most of the adults in their town. There are additional similarities — in familial bonds the kid characters form with their siblings and peers, especially in the face of great adversity and growing up. I could really go on. It's there where I think the reference between Goonies and ParaNorman is both good and useful.
Just because something has a treasure map, that doesn't make it The Goonies. In fact, the plot itself is pretty secondary. When you sit and think about The Goonies, you think about the characters, the use of language, the emotional issues the characters are dealing with. And when I think of movies that really are like The Goonies, they might, at first, be surprising: on its face, Earth to Echo (another filmed that many people called "Millennial Goonies") is only superficially similar, but it did manage to capture the adult language that kids absorb and then turn around and use in their private lives.
By slapping these perfunctory labels onto new films, it's really easy to lose sight of what made the original movie so great. There is no doubt that J.J. Abrams' Super 8 channeled the look of the Amblin classics and a treasure trove of '80s film we adore. But when the climax kicked in, the story was really about a gigantic CG alien who murdered a bunch of townspeople and left Earth with some poor kid's last physical reminder of his deceased mother. That alien was a dick, and I have no love for that monster. And it started off with such a fantastic "one of us" lost suburban gang of kids looking for trouble, friendship, and love kind of promise too. It was, in the end, the antithesis to movies like E.T.
We've got to stop saying "my movie is like X" unless we're ready to take on the spirit (and unfair nostalgic ties) of that film. If not, it's just another throwaway term that is slowly chipping at why these movies were so great in the first place.