Howard the Duck is a 1986 American science fiction comedy film directed by Willard Huyck and starring Lea Thompson, Tim Robbins, and Jeffrey Jones. Produced by Gloria Katz and George Lucas and written by Huyck and Katz, the screenplay was originally intended to be an animated film based on the Marvel comic book of the same name, but the film adaptation became live action because of a contractual obligation. The film received overwhelmingly negative reviews from critics and was a box office failure. Contemporary critics saw the decision to shoot the film in live action instead of as an animated film and the appearance of Howard as primary obstacles to its success, while more recent commentators tend to focus on the film's writing.
The film is notable for being the first comic book-based film to win a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture (tied with Prince's Under the Cherry Moon), followed by Catwoman in 2004 and the 2015 Fantastic Four film.
Twenty-seven-year-old Howard the Duck (Chip Zien) lives on Duckworld, a planet similar to Earth but inhabited by anthropomorphic ducks. As he is reading the latest issue of Playduck magazine, his armchair begins to quake violently and propels him out of his apartment building and into outer space; Howard eventually lands on Earth, in Cleveland, Ohio. Upon arriving, Howard encounters a woman being attacked by thugs. He defeats them using a unique style of martial arts. After the thugs flee, the woman introduces herself as Beverly Switzler (Lea Thompson), and decides to take Howard to her apartment and let him spend the night. The following day, Beverly takes Howard to Phil Blumbertt (Tim Robbins), a scientist whom Beverly hopes can help Howard return to his world. After Phil is revealed to be only a janitor, Howard resigns himself to life on Earth and rejects Beverly's aid. He soon applies for a job as a janitor at a local romance spa. Because of unfair treatment by his boss, Howard resigns and rejoins Beverly, who plays in a band called Cherry Bomb. At the club at which Cherry Bomb is performing, Howard comes across their manager (Richard Edson), and confronts him when he insults the band. A fight breaks out, in which Howard is victorious.
Howard rejoins Beverly backstage after the band's performance and accompanies her back to her apartment, where Beverly persuades him to be the band's new manager. The two begin to flirt, but soon after that they are interrupted by Blumburtt and two of his colleagues, who reveal that a dimensional-jumping device they were inventing was aimed at Howard's planet and transported him to Earth when it was activated. They theorize that Howard can be sent back to his world through a reversal of this same process. Upon their arrival at the laboratory, the device malfunctions when it is activated, arousing the possibility of something else being transported to Earth. At this point, Dr. Walter Jenning (Jeffrey Jones) is possessed by a life form from another alternate dimension. When they visit a diner, the creature introduces himself as a "Dark Overlord of the Universe" and demonstrates his developing mental powers by destroying table utensils and condiments. A fight ensues when a group of truckers in the diner begin to insult Howard. Howard is captured and is almost killed by the diner chef, but the Dark Overlord destroys the diner and escapes with Beverly.
Howard locates Phil, who is arrested for his involvement in the diner fight. After they escape, they discover an Ultralight aircraft, which they use to search for the Dark Overlord and Beverly. At the laboratory, the Dark Overlord ties Beverly down to a metal bed and plans to transfer another one of its kind into her body with the dimension machine. Howard and Phil arrive and apparently destroy the Dark Overlord with an experimental "neutron disintegrator" laser; however, it has only been forced out of Jenning's body. The Dark Overlord reveals its true form at this point. Howard fires the neutron disintegrator at the hideous beast, obliterating it, and destroys the dimension machine, preventing more creatures from arriving on Earth, but also ruining Howard's only chance of returning to his planet. Howard then becomes Beverly's manager and hires Phil as an employee on her tour.
Why It Sucks
- Awkward acting for most actors.
- Howard's costume nosedives straight into the Uncanny Valley.
- Tim Robbins' poorly done portrayal of Phil Blumbertt.
- Poorly done special effects.
- The film can get really boring at times.
- When the scientists take Howard to the laboratory to send him home, the film could have stopped there, but it decided to keep going and get stupider.
- All of the duck puns.
- Some scenes are too inappropriate for children. Examples include swearing, mean-spirited content, and sexual parts, highlighted by (as shown in the Nostalgia Critic's review of the film) "Ducktits".
- Two death fake-outs.
- Lea Thompson and Jeffrey Jones's performances are fine (aside from when the latter is possessed and starts talking in a high-pitched voice).
- The ending song is pretty catchy.
- The Howard comic later spoofed the movie in a storyline featuring Lea Thompson herself!
- Howard the Duck later appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy