Nostalgia is a funny thing. So often films reappear revived and celebrated as the classics they most surely aren’t, a sad indictment of the wistful reminiscence that afflicts us all into adulthood. Yet to attribute the emergence of The Goonies as the bona fide cult classic it has become to such a sentiment would be a gross disservice. Originally conceived by Steven Spielberg as a vehicle for his new production company, Amblin Entertainment, this buccaneering quest of adolescent friends searching for the buried treasure of a mysterious pirate named One-Eyed Willy is, quite simply, pre-teen fun at its very best. For all its Indiana Jones thrills and spills and Scooby-Doo inspired plot, the real secret to the prolonged success of a movie fast approaching its twentieth anniversary rests more with its wisecracking lead characters than its shiver-yer-timbers action. As the film’s director Richard Donner acknowledged at the time of shooting, “The picture is the kids.”
Turing the cute and boisterous into genuinely funny characters would not, however, be plain sailing for the normally effervescent Donner. “I think the unique thing about working with the kids on this picture is that every night I’m contemplating suicide,” he joked in 1985. “Individually, they’re wonderful, the warmest little things that have come into my life. But in composite form you get them together and it’s mind-blowing.”
While the rambunctious Goonies cast may have left him on the verge of a nervous breakdown, a dynamic bond was nonetheless formed between the veteran filmmaker and his youthful ensemble, a bond crucial in understanding the film’s success and longevity. “He’d get mad when we were goofing around sometimes,” laughs Sean Astin, the leader of the gang. “But while he was screaming his lungs out we’d play a joke on him, like squirting him with water or something. Then it would be hard for him to be mad because he’d be laughing too much.”
Steven Spielberg dictated the story for The Goonies to his protégé Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Harry Potter) in early 1984, and charged the young writer/director with the responsibility of writing its screenplay. Throughout the eighties, Spielberg had enthusiastically invested in the talents of those whom he felt shared his creative sensibilities, offering the emerging Joe Dante the opportunity to direct Gremlins, and encouraging Robert Zemeckis to helm his self-penned Back to the Future. It was perhaps because of Zemeckis’ commitment to the iconic time travel flick that Spielberg, in his capacity as executive producer, turned to Donner for The Goonies – thus acquiring the services of a filmmaker who had already proved his own blockbuster credentials with the hits The Omen and Superman during the late seventies.