Let me take you back to September 10-16, 1982. During that week, Grace Kelly tragically died in a car crash, American ballet dancer Misty Copeland was born, Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors won the tennis U.S. Open, 36 inches of snow falls in Red Lodge, Montana, Pope John Paul II met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the first issue of USA Today was published, and An Officer and a Gentleman was the #1 movie in America.
Prior to this project, I’d never seen An Officer and a Gentleman and I didn’t quite know what to expect. It was certainly a big hit at the time and I think it has held up in the 1980s canon, but I’m not exactly sure if people remember it fondly or as something of a cliche. Opening with an instrumental version of “Up Where We Belong” isn’t a point in its favor -- the music may have won one of the film’s two Oscars, but it is painfully dated. I was definitely looking forward to seeing the other Oscar winner, Louis Gossett Jr.’s supporting performance, a performance I suspected isn’t talked about enough anymore [he is quite good, of course, though the role is smaller than I expected].
The film was not only the 3rd highest grosser of 1982, it was the tops R-rated, which is always going to be a disadvantage. This may have influenced a smaller theater count -- its peak of 1,050 screens was nearly 200 lower than any other film that finished in the top five; the next film to have that few screens [48HRS. at #7] grossed $50M less.
Another interesting fact about the film’s run to #1 is that it is another 1982 film to show up in the top 10 films that took the longest to reach the top spot [previously covered Absence of Malice and On Golden Pond took a longer route]. Obviously, the E.T. juggernaut is mostly to blame for An Officer and a Gentleman not hitting #1 until its 6th week of release. Spielberg’s family friendly sci-fi flick would actually have a nice battle with An Officer and a Gentleman over the next few weeks, reclaiming the #1 spot for three weeks before giving it back to An Officer and a Gentleman for an additional week.
The secret to the success of An Officer and a Gentleman may be that it has stereotypical appeal to both genders. It is both a romantic tearjerker and a military drama. He can come for the training scenes and male angst while she can sink into the undeniable attraction between Gere and Winger. Sure, this is a bit trite and reductive, but the film also works really well on both sides. This is a damn near perfect date night movie for adults. Zack Mayo fist-fighting Sgt. Foley and picking up [literally, in fact] Paula from her dead-end factory job within the span of 10 minutes is about all you need to know for the wild targeted emotional shifts in An Officer and a Gentleman.