Release Date: September 26th
Box Office: $174,803,506
As we’ve seen, and are still to see, 1986 had some pretty big films. The biggest one of which was Top Gun (1986) which. ended up somewhere around $175m at the box office. Second to this, and by second I mean a really close second, was a low budget Australian produced film with no real stars in it.
Possibly, we should have seen this coming. Australian cinema had been bubbling under for the last few years, with the occasional critical hit like Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and Gallipoli (1981). Of course, at the same time we had the Ozploitation movement that was spreading across the grindhouse theatres and early VHS libraries. This movement was, of course, spearheaded by the Mad Max series and one Mel Gibson.
Mel Gibson who was born in New York and moved to Australia when he was 12. But anyways.
The point is that Australia, as a culture, was becoming the popular thing. You know how it goes, every now and then a culture rises to the top, like with the Liverpool music scene in the 60s or the New York punks of the 70s. Maybe it was the increasing tourism to the country over the decades as flights became more accessible, maybe it was the spread of cable TV that meant that there was more air time to fill. Whatever it was, you couldn’t get away from Australians in the 80s.
Dame Edna Everidge, INXS, Crowded House, Neighbours, Kylie Minogue, it seemed like it was everywhere and, arguably, it all peaked with Crocodile Dundee.
The film starts in the Outback with a journalist from New York looking to track down one Mick ‘Crocodile’ Dundee. She wants to find out about his story, a story of having a leg bitten by a croc and having to crawl out of the wilderness to safety. Of course, Mick is a bit of a blow hard but has an easy going charm that wins her over. She offers to take him back to New York to carry on the story, which is mainly of how this man from the Outback deals with the city so nice they named it twice.
It’s your typical fish of water comedy mixed in with a good amount of romance. How does Mick navigate the concrete jungle? Well, pretty much the same way he does the outback because we’re all really the same right?
That sounds a bit cynical. It’s easy to look at the film with that eye, to look at a defining cultural stereotype and snort derisively.
Thing is though, that easy going charm must have worked on the audiences as well as it raked in the money. For a film with no names in it at all it’s impressive.
The journalist is played by Linda Kozlowski in her first lead role. Similarly Dundee was played by Paul Hogan in his first major role, however whilst his name may not have been that well known he face on TV may have been.
His TV show The Paul Hogan Show) ran for a decade on Australian TV, he appeared in adverts for cigarettes, Fosters lager and the Australian Tourist board. You may not have known his name but you probably half recognised his face.
He specialised in Ocker humour. a phrase in Australia used to describe some who speaks and acts in an uncultured manner. Simple blue collar humour, working class, that kind of stuff. The kind of stuff that the critics frown on but gets lapped up by the audiences.
Crocadile Dundee was written by Paul Hogan so that earthy humour rubbing up against ‘proper’ society is baked into the film. It was a deliberate attempt to make a commercial film, to break out of the art house/grindhouse boxes that Australian cinema was trapped in. Before this film the biggest Australian film was Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome which was only really a moderate hit as those things go.
And Dundee was a huge hit. To this day the only Australian film that has made more money than it in the US is Happy Feet (2006) which had the full force of cute animal CGI behind it. American audiences embraced the film, maybe reinforcing that negative stereotype of the uncultured Australian. The easy going nature of the film doesn’t hurt, bucking against the 80s trend of films ending in gun fights. Mick Dundee is a much more laid back hero, if you can even call him that. He’s just a guy going around and enjoying life with a beer in one hand and a grin on his face.
This was the peak for Hogan though. More films in the series would follow and a few others but none would have the same level of success as this. He would marry his co-star Kozlowski and she would move away from acting.
Australian cinema never really hit the same heights after this. Sure, more stars came over to Hollywood like Russell Crowe and Guy Pierce and Nicole Kidman. But they would subsumed into the Hollywood machine, in the main losing the accents. Production in Australia became a big thing, sure the industry there still created stars but no films would really hit worldwide the way Dundee did.
Arguably, you could argue that there was no real legacy from that boom in the 1980s. Hell, you could go as far as to say that the only legacy from Dundee is a really good joke in The Simpsons.
Apart from a few outliers everything was absorbed into the homogenous pot of pop culture, people were building on trends and ideas from elsewhere with out really keeping their identity. Doing what they had to do in order to fit in.
Mick Dundee never did. He walked his own path and was as Australian as he could be and made a hell of a lot of money along the way.
Didn’t pay much tax, though.