For a movie that dusts off 1985 with the care of an obsessive archaeologist, Adam Sandler’s The Wedding Singer makes a major historical error. During one of the film’s funnier moments, Rosie (Ellen Albertini Dow), the movie’s grandma-turned-MC, takes the stage to sing ”Rapper’s Delight” to a crowd of big-haired partygoers. Only this time the Adam Sandler sleeper doesn’t have time on its side — ”Rapper’s Delight” came out in 1979. In the words of the film’s advertising campaign: Don’t pretend you don’t remember. Okay, okay — it’s a minor detail, and not the only gaffe in the movie (see EW #421). But lesser details have started wars, especially when a defining moment from the ’70s or ’80s is concerned. And these days, thanks to the $49 million success of The Wedding Singer, the ’80s are the decade du jour for pop-culture fanatics.
Dredging up everything from the moonwalk to Musical Youth, the New Line film heralds a new wave of ’80s-inspired films, including Totally 80’s (a Universal comedy about waking up in the 1980s) — along with the dubious return of skinny ties and padded shoulders on fashion runways. But before you hop into your finest ’80s chic, consider this: This flashback comes on the platformed heels of last fall’s ’70s movies revival (the one-two polyester punch of Boogie Nights and The Ice Storm), as well as the recent opening of an honest-to-God Studio 54 disco in Vegas, and upcoming movies about glam rock (Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine) and disco (Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco).
With everyone crowing about which era rules, it’s high time to crown one decade king of commerce, culture, and contentment. So, what’s it gonna be — ’70s or ’80s? Which decade is the heavyweight champ of nostalgia? Ladies and gentlemen, start your time machines.
ROUND 1: Which decade has more bang for the buck? Our show-me-the-money slugfest begins in a galaxy far, far away. According to James Mammarella, editor of License! magazine, the ’70s score the first knockdown. ”Star Wars forever changed the way movies made money,” says Mammarella, who claims Lucasfilm’s firm grip on pop-culture licensing is unmatched by any ’80s movie franchise. The proof is in the plastic: Lucasfilm recently signed a deal with Hasbro and Galoob that’ll earn the creator of R2-D2 more than $500 million — and that’s just for toys.
The ’70s also wield a heavy lightsaber in the music biz. Rhino Records, the Jedi Knight of Nostalgia Inc. since 1978, has repackaged the ’70s and ’80s more than a hundred times, with definitive sets like the 27-volume ’70s collection Have a Nice Day, and a 15-volume compendium of ’80s new wave called Just Can’t Get Enough. Though neither Rhino release has gone gold, ”we sell in excess of 40,000 to 50,000 units,” says label senior director David Dorn, ”and our ’70s collections way outperform our ’80s.” This explains why Rhino pledges its allegiance to the ’70s. ”For us, the ’70s are generating a lot more revenue,” Dorn adds. ”It wasn’t just one-hit wonders back then, it was disco, R&B, Southern rock. The ’80s are gaining. But overall for us, it’s the ’70s.”