I am a Kansas City Royals fan. This is now the part where I’d normally pause to wait for you to laugh and ask, “Wait, you’re serious? You like the Royals? Um, why?”
Then again, this is not a sports site I am running here. I mostly talk about movies and TV, with an obsessive tilt toward comic book-derived entertainment and frequent analysis of the business of Hollywood. Maybe you genuinely don’t know what I’m talking about. So, allow me to put this in movie terms: You remember that Jimmy Fallon-Drew Berrymore rom-com Fever Pitch about the guy struggling to be a good boyfriend when the true significant other in his life has always been the Boston Red Sox? Well, when they needed to make a joke in the film about the absolute shittiest of shitty Major League Baseball teams they picked the Kansas City Royals, Fallon rallying his friends back to the Red Sox’s cause at one point after delivering them a grave baseball insult, “Come on, you guys are acting like a bunch of Kansas City Royals fans!”
Sigh. We Royals fans grimaced, but we couldn’t muster any real defense. The team had become an outright laughing stock. Mere months after Fever Pitch came out in 2005 the Royals became a consistent punching bag in late-night monologues after losing 19-straight games, the longest losing streak in Major League Baseball in 30 years at that point. That same year through an odd set of circumstances my older brother and I were actually profiled in our local newspaper in a puff piece which basically amounted to, “When the team is this bad why are you still fans?” My brother is old enough to at least remember a time when the Royals were the toast of baseball, consistently battling the hated New York Yankees in the late ‘70s into the ‘80s, ultimately winning the franchise’s first (and thus far only) World Series title in 1985. I, on the other hand, had no real explanation I could offer the paper other than “They were the closest baseball team to the city I grew up in, and I’m a bitter-ender.”
If I had been born somewhere else maybe I would have been spared a lifetime of not really heartbreak but instead outright embarrassment. Coming into this season, it had been 29 years since the Royals last reached the postseason, the longest drought (by a fairly wide margin) in all four professional North American sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL). It’s not like they ever really even came close, though, at least not in the years I am old enough to remember. They actually have more 100-loss seasons (four) than winning seasons (three) since 1993. Things were so bad that when our sourpuss manager Tony Muser claimed after five awful years with the team that he was going to be a happier, more positive person going forward in 2002 the players responded by creating a calendar where they put a smiley face sticker on days when Muser actually smiled. He was fired 18 games into the 2002 season leaving probably very few smiley faces on that calendar.
It is because all of that I still can’t truly fathom the following reality: Tonight, the Kansas City Royals are going to play in the playoffs, matched up against the Oakland A’s in a winner-take-all game as part of MLB’s recently re-configured playoff format. As a jaded Royals fan, I fully expect them to lose in embarrassing fashion (e.g., our starting pitcher gets shelled, gives up a bunch of home runs, we fail to score even a single run) [UPDATE 10/2 – We won in one of the best playoff baseball games of all time], but even that well-earned cynicism can’t completely deter the utter euphoria I feel that at long last playoff baseball has returned to Kansas City, even if for just one night.
This is something which hasn’t happened since 1985. Back then, the most popular shows on TV were The Cosby Show, Family Ties, and Murder, She Wrote, and the biggest film of the year was the first Back to the Future. The Cosby Show was watched by an average of 28.9 million people whereas last year #1 rated show, NCIS, only mustered 14.6 million viewers.
Of course, that’s no grand revelation. Not really. There are now more channels, more programs, more ways to watch, thus fewer viewers congregating around any one thing. The same goes with films – we all know Hollywood is more obsessed than ever before with big-budget tentpole releases, sequels, animated films, comic books, and pretty much anything that can play in 3D/IMAX. That trend is typically attributed to the blockbuster formula set forth by Jaws in 1975 and Star Wars in 1977, but the first-weekend dependent Hollywood we now know truly traces back to the summer of hype with Batman in 1989, which you read about elsewhere on the site.
So, where does that leave 1985? Somewhere in-between, showing signs of leaning toward sequels while still being a time when something like Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple, kind of like 1985’s version of 12 Years a Slave, could be a top-4 release.
Here’s the Box Office Top 10 for 1985 (all numbers are domestic):
- Back to the Future – $210.6 million (equates to $481.2 million at 2014 ticket prices)
- Rambo 2 – $150.4m ($345.3m at 2014 ticket prices)
- Rocky IV – $127.8m ($288.4m at 2014 ticket prices)
- The Color Purple – $94m ($207.2m at 2014 ticket prices)
- Out of Africa – $87m ($192m at 2014 ticket prices)
- Cocoon – $76.1m ($174m at 2014 ticket prices)
- The Jewel of the Nile – $75.9m ($168.8m at 2014 ticket prices)
- Witness – $68.7m ($157.7m at 2014 ticket prices)
- The Goonies – $61.3m ($140.9m at 2014 ticket prices)
- Spies Like Us – $60m ($134.6m at 2014 ticket prices
That’s 3 sequels, 0 animated films, and clearly no comic book movies, but 3 out of 1985’s 5 films nominated for Best Picture(The Color Purple, Witness, and Out of Africa, with Out of Africa actually winning). Back to the Future was the 7th film to gross more than $200 million to that point, behind E.T. ($435m in 1982), Return of the Jedi ($309m in 1983), Empire Strikes Back ($290m in 1980), Raiders of the Lost Ark ($248m in 1981), Ghostbusters ($242m in 1984), and Beverly Hills Cop ($234m in 1984). Even so, Back to the Future only made $11m its opening weekend, playing in just south of 1,500 theaters. Rambo 2 actually had the biggest opening weekend of the year with $20m, which converts to just over $40m at 2014 ticket prices.
Here’s the Box Office Top 10 for 2013 (domestic):
- The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – $424 million
- Iron Man 3 – $409m
- Frozen – $400m
- Despicable Me 2 – $368m
- Man of Steel – $291m
- Gravity – $274m
- Monsters University – $268m
- The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug – $258m
- Fast & Furious 6- $238m
- Oz: The Great and Powerful – $234m
That’s 6 sequels, 3 animated films (2 of which are sequels), and 2 comic book movies, with only 1 of the 10 films nominated for Best Picture (Gravity). Iron Man 3 had the biggest opening weekend of the year with $174m, and Hunger Games was not too horribly behind that mark with $158m, both doing so while opening in more than 4,000 theaters. Back in 1985, only two films had ever grossed (unadjusted) more than $400m, i.e., E.T. and the first Star Wars. Well, 3 films did that in 2013, joining 14 others which have done it since ’85.
Not that any of this is stuff we didn’t already know because, yeah, the business of Hollywood has clearly changed quite a bit in the last 29 years. However, that was so long ago that nearly half of the players on the Royals roster hadn’t even been born yet. In fact, only 2 of the Royals likely starters tonight were alive in 1985. In the words of the legendary Doc Brown, “Great Scott!” It used to be that the only way most fans knew how to actually experience a winning Royals team was to steal Doc Brown’s Delorean and travel back in time to ’85, but that presented some logical obstacles (not enough plutonium being one, based in a fictional movie being another). Well, finally, no time travel device is necessary to experience Royals playoff baseball. This may be a world in which films like The Color People and Out of Africa would have absolutely no shot if they came out today, and that’s troubling and depressing as a film fan. However, it’s a world with the Royals in the playoffs, and as a sports fan I can deal with that.