armchair cultural observation since 1995

Howard the fail

Failure goes by many names. Waterloo. The Edsel. The ’62 Mets. Joey. These disasters can fairly be called upon to convey calamity on a large scale. But some reputations for failure are undeserved. Here’s one: Howard the Duck, a synonym for artistic and financial disaster since the premiere of a little-loved movie in late-summer 1986. Released with great fanfare and rejected emphatically by critics and audiences alike, Howard the Duck quickly became a favorite target of late-night comics (and even, in one episode, The Golden Girls). It wasn’t available on DVD until last month.

Howard the Duck, the movie, is as bad as you’ve heard. Actually, it’s worse. But its failings as a film have overshadowed the frequently brilliant 1970s comic book that inspired it. Using only the most superficial elements of its source material while discarding most of what made the comic interesting, the film serves as a textbook example of how to turn something into nothing.

Keith Phipps

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