Movies of 1987 Bracket Game: Spaceballs Vs. Raising Arizona


As we approach the end of round one, it’s time to get silly.  We had some laughs in the Steve Martin round yesterday, but today we’re just going to get stupid with two cult comedies that are all about the jokes.  Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs gave sci-fi and fantasy movies the spoof treatment.  And the Coen brothers followed up their acclaimed crime drama, Blood Simple, with one of the goofiest crime comedies ever made, Raising Arizona.

But before we get down to silly business, let’s see where we stand following yesterday’s Steve Martin showdown.


Readers had a strong preference for the movie in which Martin tolerates John Candy over the one in which he falls for Daryl Hannah.  And thus dies the dream of a Daryl Hannah-themed showdown in the finals.  Fortunately the former mermaid continues to be represented via Wall Street.  John Hughes’ Planes, Trains and Automobiles bested Roxanne with over three-fourths of the votes.  So it advances to round two where it will face the winner of today’s match.

Spoofs are heard to do.  You have to really love a genre to spoof it properly.  Brooks pulled off that feat twice in one year when he released both Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein in 1974.  For several years after that, Brooks’ was hit or miss.  There were laughs to be found in Silent Movie or High Anxiety, but those movies didn’t connect with audiences the way Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein did.

If we’re being honest, neither did Spaceballs.  A lot of people wondered why in 1987, Brooks would want to parody Star Wars.  It seemed like he was four years too late to the party.  And he clearly didn’t have the same affection for the genre that he had for Westerns and classic monster movies.  But Spaceballs did deliver quite a few dumb yuks.  And while Star Wars faded in popularity for a short while, it has endured long enough for Spaceballs to develop a following on video.  Heck, there are even rumors of a sequel despite the fact that John Candy and Joan Rivers are dead and Rick Moranis is very retired.

Critics at the time complained that the movie just wasn’t funny enough and audiences made it their second choice behind Dan Aykroyd’s big screen Dragnet spoof.  It ended up with a not-bad gross just under 40 million dollars and became the 31st highest-grossing movie of the year behind The Running Man.

Raising Arizona was the Coen brother’s follow-up to their neo noir, Blood Simple.  They set out to make their second movie as different as they could from their debut.  After several months of writing and rewriting they came up with a very eccentric comedy that is unlike anything else audiences had seen at that time and a sign of future Coen comedies to come.

Holly Hunter and Nicolas Cage star as a childless couple who go to extreme measures to start a family.  She’s an ex-cop and he’s an ex-con and together they decide to kidnap one of the quintuplets of a furniture tycoon and raise him as their own.

Most critics were won over by the Coen’s unique style.  But even the positive reviews usually fell short of raves.  And some critics, like Roger Ebert, were unimpressed.  Ebert wrote that Raising Arizona “stretches out every moment for more than it’s worth, until even the moments of inspiration seem forced. Since the basic idea of the movie is a good one and there are talented people in the cast, what we have here is a film shot down by its own forced and mannered style.”

The movie opened in limited release in March and gradually built to a wide release in April.  “Wide release is a relative term.  It topped out at roughly half as many screens as Spaceballs.  During it’s run it briefly poked into the top ten in seventh place behind Platoon which had been in theaters since 1986.

Raising Arizona only cost $5 million dollars to make, so its eventual gross of over$20 million dollars was deemed a success.  That’s seven times the gross of Blood Simple and the Coens wouldn’t top it until almost a decade later with Fargo in 1996.

Which goofy cult comedy tickles your funny bone?


Posted on January 9, 2017, in bracket game, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I saw both of these movies on the big screen during their initial release and have seen both since. My reaction to Spaceballs has always been mixed. As you mention in the article, it sure doesn’t stack up to Brooks’ classics (also The Producers), but I really don’t think it would have lasted any better for people if it wasn’t a Star Wars spoof. It does have a couple of very good gags, including the bit where they fast forward through the story to what they’re currently doing and it freaks them out.

    Raising Arizona, on the other hand, is clearly one of my favorite comedies of all time. It is so endlessly quotable and still very funny every time I see even pieces of it. It could easily be argued that it belongs on the list of the top 25 comedies of all time. I can’t imagine someone who isn’t a Star Wars fanboy arguing that for Spaceballs.


  2. “Raising Arizona” is the better film, and it’s clearly going to win this poll, but I have a soft spot for “Spaceballs”, so I voted for that.


  3. I’ve tried to watch Raising Arizona, but it’s one of those movies that just never held my attention for whatever reason.

    I voted for Rick Moranis’ doll scene in Spaceballs.


  4. I like Spaceballs a lot. At the same time, I also acknowledge it is not as consistent or as funny as Young Frankenstein or Blazing Saddles. Some of the jokes in it are way more obvious than the ones in the two earlier films (“Comb the desert”). However, it is better than most of the post 74 Brooks output and way ahead of anything he did afterwards.

    However my vote had to go to Raising Arizona as it is my favorite Coen Brothers movie and one of my favorite comedies of all-time. That’s one of those movies I can put on at any time and enjoy it.


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