Good Enough: Celebrating 25 Years of The Goonies

Geek Culture

Image by Amblin EntertainmentImage by Amblin Entertainment

Believe it or not, June 7 marks the 25th anniversary of seminal ’80s geeks-make-good film The Goonies. And while it’s important to note that the movie is no Star Wars, a special-effects laden epic that dazzled us with an otherworldly mythos, it’s also no Star Wars, a beloved franchise done in by after-market retcons and far inferior modern incarnations. The Goonies was a moment in time, and, while we’ve grown older, the tale has stayed the same.

Some of the film’s key elements haven’t aged particularly well — the hallmark racial stereotypes of the day and Josh Brolin’s gym-shorts-over-sweatpants ensemble, just to point out a pair of obvious examples — but beneath its stone-washed denim and jelly bracelet façade, The Goonies persists as a nerd culture classic because it paints a fantastical story in relatable shades. It’s about family crisis, an entire middle class neighborhood facing destruction. It’s about adolescent adventure, the delightful recklessness and boundless energy of youth. But most importantly, it’s about outsider solidarity, that undeniable need for misfits to form their own ramshackle tribe in the name of self-preservation and, well, fun.

Written by Chris Columbus and directed by Richard Donner (with, as Sean Astin relates it, more than a little help from executive producer Steven Spielberg), the film, despite being one of the highest grossing of the year, was viewed as a box office disappointment in the face of more successful titles like Gremlins. Still, the movie has steadily attracted a growing number of fans over the decades since its initial release thanks to heavy cable television rotation and the VHS, DVD and recent Blu-ray releases.

With little more than an orphaned NES game and a handful of deleted scenes to serve as supplementary material, The Goonies has become a veritable cultural touchstone. From the eclectic Seattle hip-hoppers that adopted the name of the group’s fictitious neighborhood to Indiana punk-poppers The Ataris’ musical tribute to the film’s real-life setting, the story persists because it is as real to us as we choose to make it.

When Troy Perkins looks down into that well, he sees Andi and Stef and a cadre of titular Goonies, but we see our childhood selves. Maybe you were the frail but dedicated leader like Astin’s own Mikey, the smart-ass trickster like Corey Feldman’s Mouth or the put-upon fat kid like Jeff Cohen’s Chunk (and maybe you still are), but in the span of two minutes, during Mikey’s rousing speech, you realized that, despite all your angst and baggage, you were somebody.

More importantly, The Goonies served to remind us that it didn’t matter where we came from or even where we were going; it’s our own resolve to be who we are and the bonds we share with those who accept us as such that truly matters. That’s the kind of message that follows you, even into the drab halls of adulthood.

While most of us will start June looking toward the approaching summer, a blessed few will make a pilgrimage of sorts to Astoria, Oregon, to watch the movie, tour the filming locations and meet the cast. They’ll be there to celebrate The Goonies, and, by extension, they’ll be there to celebrate themselves. To honor whatever makes them different or weird or patently unacceptable to the world at large.

Twenty-five years ago, six kids (aided by one superpowered Italian-American mutant) went on an adventure to save their homes. We were much smaller then, and the world was much, much bigger. It was a time marked by the Cold War, AIDS, voodoo economics and, of course, our childhood. It was an intoxicating mix of boundless opportunity and abject terror, and it was ours.

For good or ill, The Goonies is a celluloid time capsule, a two-hour tribute to the children of a bygone era. But kids are still kids and the world is still a beautiful, dangerous place full of mystery and wonder and the occasional pirate ship. This is exactly the reason it persists in the hearts and minds of misfits of that age, and why it will continue to enamor future generations despite its dated mindset and atrocious sense of fashion.

The Goonies is an adventure that I enjoyed with my parents, and one that I now happily share with my kids because it’s important. More important than Sean Astin or Cyndi Lauper or even my beloved Martha Plimpton, because it’s their film, but it’s our triumphant story.

Down there, it really was our time.

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