The Golden Age of teen and tween adventure movies was found in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of our readers were brought up on the films of these decades, or were old enough to enjoy them as adults. Yet the people who wrote the stories and dialogue never became as famous as the directors or child stars.
While childhood wish-fulfillment epics like Gremlins (1984) and The Goonies (1985) made writers like Chris Columbus Hollywood mainstays, and John Hughes reigned as king of the coming-of-age films, not everyone was so lucky – even if their films still enjoy sizable cult followings.
But we can’t help but wonder: whatever happened to those writers that caught lightning in a bottle once, and never again? Never ones to leave stones un-turned, we’ve done the digging to answer the question: ‘80s & ’90s Cult Movie Writers: Where Did They Go?
Written By: Jonathan R. Betuel
The story was brilliant: teenage arcade all-star Alex Rogan is recruited by aliens to save their civilization using his finely-honed skills. One of the first films to use extensive computer effects, Nick Castle’s The Last Starfighter was a dream come true for anyone who ever pumped quarter after quarter into an arcade cabinet in the hope that someday, somehow, it would all matter.
Unfortunately, whatever credit scriptwriter Jonathan Betuel earned was spent on his next film, My Science Project (1985) – and fully exhausted when he went on to write, executive produce and direct Theodore Rex starring Whoopi Goldberg and a man in a T-Rex suit.
We can’t say why Betuel felt that film deserved such an overwhelming dedication, but we applaud his effort. After that, his credits came to an end. The only bright spot: the name his follow-up film was released under in Sweden, in order to take momentum from both Ghostbusters and Back to the Future: TimeBusters.
Written By: Steven Brill
Not one, but two classic pre-teen movies under belt – one following a youth hockey team and the other a group of kids at ‘fat camp.’ Steven Brill was on a role. His work didn’t end there, but was quickly directed towards different audiences.
Brill helped pen both sequels to The Mighty Ducks before his friendship with Adam Sandler had him developing the screenplay for Little Nicky before directing it, Mr. Deeds, Without a Paddle, Drillbit Taylor and the upcoming Movie 43, among others. All that in addition to a few turns in front of the camera as well.
Brill most recently caught the Internet’s ire when he was brought in to re-cut Kyle Newman’s Fanboys, responding to fan complaints with profanity-laced threats via email. That hasn’t slowed him down, as Brill’s next credit will be writing and directing Walk of Shame.
Written By: Laurice Elehwany
Her name may not be as familiar as the young heroine she created (Vada Sultenfuss, for the uninitiated), but Laurice Elehwany is just as important. As the mind behind the coming-of-age tale centered around a young girl, Elehwany’s story of summer love made Macaulay Culkin more than a booby-trap expert.
It’s rare for any film ostensibly about and for young womem to gain attention among a far broader audience, but interest in this film hasn’t subsided, as rumors of a third My Girl (once again starring Anna Chlumsky) have been circling for some time.
Elehwany delivered a solid story that still stands the test of time (and bees), but after My Girl, the majority of her writing came as one of several script doctors on projects like The Brady Bunch Movie and The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas.
Written By: Robert Mark Kamen
Take a second to digest this one: the man who first emphasized the crane kick as a finishing move and not a balancing act in The Karate Kid series obviously took this martial arts stuff to heart. And in the process, built himself one heck of a career.
His work on both Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element brought Kamen together with writer/director Luc Besson, and the rest is history. The pair of Besson and Kamen have collectively given the world Kiss of the Dragon, The Transporter 1, 2 and 3, Colombiana, and finally, Taken.
That’s right: the writer credited with Liam Neeson’s “I have a particular set of skills” speech was the same one that twenty-four years earlier gave the world “wax on, wax off.”
Out of our entire group, that alone makes Kamen one of the only writers still consistently writing movies practically guaranteed to develop cult followings.
Written By: Todd W. Langen
It’s sad to think that the writer who helped create the first live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film – and took over solo writing duties on Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze – never got the opportunity to work on another outlandish comic book property, but Todd W. Langen was nowhere to be found for the trip to feudal Japan in the third Turtles adventure.
It really should come as no shock that Langen’s obvious brilliance in forming the lyrics to Vanilla Ice’s ‘Ninja Rap’ helped him script several episodes of the other gem of our childhood, The Wonder Years.
Most recently, Langen put himself to a test that would make any amateur filmmaker quiver in fear: 42StoryHouse. A collection of 42 sketch comedies written, performed, directed and edited by Langen himself, all set within the same location. We would think that bringing four mutated amphibious ninjas to life would be the most challenging task before any writer, but apparently, we’d be wrong.
Written By: Keith Walker
After writing a handful of TV show script scripts, Keith Walker hit the big time with his screenplay for Free Willy. A story pairing a troubled young boy with an orca whale may not sound like a story that many kids or families would be able to relate to; but then, neither does How To Train Your Dragon (2010).
While Keiko, the killer whale star of the film may have earned more name recognition than either his co-star Jason James Richter, or Walker himself, children of the 1980s will likely still know his face: he played Mikey and Brand’s father in The Goonies (1985).
We don’t know if that’s the kind of celluloid immortality that most scriptwriters hope for, but it’s a lot more than most will ever be granted.
Written By: Eric Luke
The quintessential childhood film for many young boys and girls, Eric Luke’s story for Explorers convinced an entire generation of kids that their backyards could hold secrets – not just sprinklers or swimming pools.
Surprisingly, Luke has since put his writing talents to use far beyond penning standard coming-of-age tales or pitching scripts to studios. He Co-plotted the first five-episode “Awakening” story arc that launched the ’90s Gargoyles animated series for Disney, as well as one of the most beloved ’80s cartoon shows: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Luke then left animation in favor of the comic book page, creating and authoring the entire first run of Ghost for Vertigo, before a twenty-issue run as writer of Wonder Woman for DC.
Those who wish to support Luke should check out Interference, an audiobook about an audiobook that attempts to kills its listeners, available for free on iTunes.
Written By: Melissa Mathison
What would nowadays be considered a career-making script created alongside Steven Spielberg, Mathison’s career post-E.T. the Extraterrestrial isn’t quite what one might imagine. E.T. earned her an Academy Award nomination for Original Screenplay, a category won that year by Gandhi (1983).
Indian in the Cupboard (1995) tapped into the same world of childhood fantasy and adventure as her work on E.T. and The Black Stallion (1979), while her work on Kundun (1997) led to a lasting friendship with the Dalai Lama.
Even so, the decade of quiet following her marriage to Harrison Ford and mothering two children is surprising. Sadly, the most recent memory of Mathison for many movie fans is the all-too-public divorce between the two.
Then again, considering the hardships and kidnappings Ford’s family regularly encounters (onscreen), she probably had her hands full.
Written By: Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski
The writing duo behind the most annoying ginger-haired child in cinema history, Alexander and Karaszewski first began working together leading scriptwriting seminars at USC film school – proving once and for all that the belief that ‘those who can’t do, teach’ is downright false.
Defying expectations, the writing duo went on to craft screenplays for notable biopics like Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt and even Man on the Moon.
All things considered, it could prove to be their most successful project to date.
Written By: David M. Evans & Robert Gunter
The Sandlot is an interesting case where the talent behind the camera (and in front of it, come to think of it) is concerned. Co-writer Robert Gunter never earned a major writing credit again, while writer/director David Mickey Evans had already delivered a cult treasure in the form of classic red-wagon fantasy Radio Flyer – a story that set the record for any spec script sale to that point.
Aside from providing the script, direction and voice of The Sandlot and its sequel, Evans continues to produce screenplays, take speaking tours and work on other projects, having recently founded the small publishing house Flying Wagon Books (check them out on Facebook).
The publisher’s first illustrated novel, “The King of Pacoima” is still in the works, sporting some stunning artwork sure to bring a burst of nostalgia for any fan of Radio Flyer, the film adaptation of the same story.
Written By: Dan Gordon
A horrific blend of waves, ninjutsu, and Rob Schneider, Surf Ninjas proved that ninjas don’t make everything better, and that grade schoolers shouldn’t be allowed to pitch movies to major studios. Dan Gordon provided the script, and the critics provided the scathing attacks.
Receiving criticism for downright pandering to children in the name of fads – not to mention skimping on actual surfing – the movie didn’t act as a ringing endorsement for Gordon. But that didn’t slow him down, putting Rob Schneider’s ginger locks and Leslie Nielsen’s admittedly entertaining dictator behind him and bringing his A-game.
Gordon went on to write alongside Lawrence Kasdan and executive produce Wyatt Earp, pen the screenplay for Murder in the First, and The Hurricane. He also wrote the script for Passenger 57, which proves that the mind advising us to “always bet on black” had better than Surf Ninjas in him.
Written By: David Chisholm
It was the movie that perfectly encapsulated the explosion of video games and made Nintendo Entertainment System a household name (and arguably the most influential console to date). Besides entertaining droves of young gamers, The Wizard promised that playing Super Mario Bros. 3 wasn’t wasting time – it was investing it.
But like so many gamers inspired by the events of the 100-minute-long Nintendo commercial, scriptwriter David Chisholm ran into a few speed-bumps afterwards. If Nintendo had turned their film projects into a legitimate venture, Chisholm would’ve been a no-brainer. But history isn’t written by ten-year-olds.
TV work followed, but Chisholm was never again able to create an axiom as timeless as “I love the Power Glove.” Perhaps it was futile to attempt it.
Written By: S.S. Wilson & Brent Maddock.
Not only did the writing duo of Wilson and Maddock create the story of a sentient robot seeking love and freedom in Short Circuit, they apparently had enough audacity left in them to help bring meaning to the term *batteries not included (How many movie titles are pulled from the fine print? We rest our case).
The didn’t just pen the robot adventure/comedy films we hold most dear – they were also the minds behind Tremors, Ghost Dad, Heart and Souls (don’t mind the tears, it’s just our allergies) and the Will Smith-led reboot of Wild Wild West. The pair still work regularly, and have made a career out of Tremors sequels alone.
So just to recap: 1) robot comedies, 2) Bill Cosby as an apparition, 3) underground man-eating giant slugs, 4) romantic ghost comedy, and 5) a Steampunk western for good measure. These two deserve a monument.
Written By: Blake Snyder
Better at turning spec scripts into serious money via studio bidding wars than churning out endless screenplays, Blake Snyder made his first half-million with the script that would ultimately pair Sly Stallone with Estelle Getty in possibly the only cop/granny comedy, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992).
But it was Blank Check that embodied every kid’s wish come true. We don’t know how $1,000,000 could buy everything witnessed in the film, but hey – we were kids. Also, inflation could have drastically increased the per-square-foot pricing of a mansion as big as Mr. Macintosh’s.
Snyder translated his skills into teaching, expanding his scriptwriting manual ‘Save The Cat!’ into a worldwide program of workshops and computer software, teaching budding scriptwriters the craft until his death in 2009.
Our only bone to pick: our bikes being run over rarely ended in a million-dollar shopping spree. Usually, just tears.
Oh how the times have changed, as studios these days seem just as interested in discovering hidden gems as copying the formula of successful genre films. That being said, who knows where some of today’s most sought-after scriptwriters could end up in ten years. If this list proves anything, it’s that they could be anywhere, doing practically anything.
This collection of writers all found varying levels of success and recognition, but their work will stand the test of time and be a source of nostalgia for all who experienced these stories in their formative years.
Which classic movies from your childhood did you always wish to see more of, or what adventures did you wish other studios would ape? Perhaps more importantly, is the trend of studios rebooting childhood treasures a dream come true, or sacrilege?
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.