Let me take you back to March 19-25, 1982. During that week, Joan Jett & Blackhearts’ “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” reached #1 on the charts for the first of seven consecutive weeks, actress Constance Wu [Fresh Off the Boat] and race car driver Danica Patrick were born, Iran launched an offensive on neighboring Iraq, a military coup took place in Guatemala, Wayne Gretzky became the first player in the National Hockey League to score 200 points in a season, Cagney & Lacey premiered on ABC, and Porky’s was the #1 film in America.
Porky’s was an unabashed hit with a domestic gross of $105MM and eight consecutive weeks at the top of the box office -- this was ultimately good enough for 5th on the year and one of only five films on the year to gross more than $100MM [#6 if you consider On Golden Pond, which technically opened in 1981 but went wide in ‘82]. Certainly this success helped fuel the film to become one of the most iconic films of the 1980s, for better or worse, with its famous shower scene and general high school boy antics. Though it became the blueprint for every raunchy sex comedy over the next three and a half decades, I have a hard time seeing a film about a group of high school boys who spy on their classmates through peep holes in the shower being made today. And yet, its spirit lives on.
Pertaining to its status as a high school sex comedy, the film remains paramount. It ranks #5 for comedies predominantly set in a high school, which is extra impressive when looking at the only four films that rank ahead: Spider-Man: Homecoming [which quite arguably doesn’t belong in the genre], 21 Jump Street, Superbad, and American Graffiti. Those films either have the benefit of inflation or were made by George Lucas. Porky’s made more money than American Pie, Mean Girls, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, among others, all films that are considered classics of the high school comedy genre.
One of the more interesting aspects of the film’s breakout, especially in reaching #1 right away, is its complete lack of stars. Looking at 1982 in whole, of all the #1 films, you could only argue that only three other films weren’t headline by a big Hollywood star [I include E.T., though Spielberg could be identified as “the star” that drove its early box office]. The popularity of Porky’s wasn’t driven by Sean Connery or Paul Newman or Hepburn and Fonda or Richard Pryor. Instead, its cast list is filled with names you wouldn’t recognize. The 1980s may be decades after Hollywood’s true star system, but upcoming films centered around the likes of Schwarzenegger, Stallone [more than once], and Richard Gere showed that big names could lead films to big numbers.
This was my first viewing of Porky’s [I imagine if I was born about a decade earlier it would have been a classic for me, discovered on a sleepover] and it yielded mixed results. Yes, a lot of the antics were a bit icky, but there actually isn’t as much nudity as I expected and most of it comes from the title night club and not the locker room. I was surprised by how loose the general plot was -- it is made up of a few setpieces, but the meandering flow felt almost out of a Richard Linklater film. This makes more sense when you remember that Bob Clark directed the film. Best known for Black Christmas and especially A Christmas Story, he is known for making big and ridiculous moments. Porky’s isn’t good enough to become an instant favorite in the modern context, but I could see why it achieved an iconic status among the horny young folks who saw it in 1982 and how it inspired so many movies since. It is more of an actual movie than the feature-length shower scene it is often presented as.