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Looking Back: Movies in Theaters when "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" Premiered

On the occasion of the latest cinematic voyage of the Starship Enterprise, we're taking a look at the cinematic landscape back when Ricardo Montalban first put that worm in Chekov's ear.

The Movie: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Premiere Date: June 4, 1982

The very first Star Trek motion picture (titled, creatively enough, Star Trek: The Motion Picture) actually did not set the American imagination ablaze. It wasn't exactly a bomb, but there was some franchise resuscitation to be done. And whether it was the inclusion of Ricardo Montalban as the villainous Khan or the casting of a pre-Cheers Kirstie Alley as a Vulcan Starfleet member (it was probably not that), The Wrath of Khan was a blockbuster from the start. It even set a world record for opening-day box-office. A franchise was truly born on that day, and now, nearly 31 years later, the sequel to its J.J. Abrams-produced reboot is about to hit theaters.

The world of cinema was a very different place in the summer of '82. What did it look like the day that Khan changed the movie-geek universe forever?

The #1 Movie in America: Duh, it was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. We just told you so. It would only spend one weekend at the top of the charts, however, as the very next week it would be supplanted by a tiny little film called E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

Horror in June: The second highest-ranking debut that week was the birth of a horror classic. The Tobe Hooper-directed Poltergeist floated into America's heart on a cloud of TV static and Zelda Rubenstein's reassuring drawl. It would remain in the Top 10 for ten weeks and finish as the year's eighth highest-grossing film, but it's just weird that it opened in June. (Also in theater in June was the Michael Ironside-starring slasher flick Visiting Hours.) What opened on Halloween weekend that year? National Lampoon's Class Reunion. Though, to be fair, Halloween III opened the weekend before, but it's been scientifically proven that nobody liked Halloween III. (By the way, Poltergeist re-entered the Top 10 on Halloween weekend after doubling its theater count for the holiday.)

Unlikely History: Also debuting in the Top 10 that week was Hanky Panky, a middlebrow murder-mystery/comedy that was notable for two reasons: 1) it was directed by Oscar-winning actor Sidney Poitier, and 2) it starred Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner and was in fact the film where the two met and fell in love, en route to getting married.

A Glut of Action Hero Options: A trio of the biggest action stars of the 1980s were featured in the Top 10 that week. Sylvester Stallone finished 2nd with Rocky III in its second week of release and Mr. T working his crowd-pleasing magic. Arnold Schwarzenegger was still hanging around the Top 5 with Conan the Barbarian, his first big leading role and the kickoff of a decade's worth of Terminators and Predators, Running Men and Red Sonjas. Finally, in about half as many theaters but still hanging in the Top 10, was The Road Warrior, the Mad Max sequel starring a just-about-to-blow-up-Stateside Mel Gibson.

The Champion Reigns: In its 37th week, the little film that could and all-time beach-running classic Chariots of Fire was still doing great business, enough to land it in 11th place. This a good 67 days after it took home a rather shocking Best Picture win at the Academy Awards. For comparison's sake, this year's Oscar champ, Argo, was out of theaters entirely by its 28th week.

Truth in Advertising: So what do you suppose the #8 film of the week The Sword and the Sorcerer was about. I suppose if you're looking for an entrant in the swords-and-sorcery genre, you won't find any better fitting entry than this Lee Horsely-starring effort. Seriously, though, when your plot involves a three-bladed sword, "sword" really should be in your title.

First-Billed Stars of the Box-Office Top 10 in 1982: William Shatner, Sylvester Stallone, Craig T, Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Ironside, Lee Horsley, Steve Martin, Mel Gibson.

First-Billed Stars of the Box-Office Top 10 in 2013: Robert Downey Jr., Leonardo DiCaprio, Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg, Craig Robinson, Chadwick Bozeman, Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey, Robert DeNiro, James Franco.


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