Howard The Duck Star Pretended They Weren’t In The Movie Until It Became A Cult Classic

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By Michileen Martin
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After 14 years of successful Marvel Studios movies, it may be difficult to imagine but it’s true: there was a time when signing up for a movie based on a Marvel Comics property was not an instant ticket to stardom. Serving as possibly the best example in this or any other universe is the 1986 bomb Howard the Duck. One of its stars is being honored in Hollywood this week, and she’s confessed for quite a long time, she hid the fact that she appeared in the fowl-led flop.

This week Holly Robinson Peete spoke to Variety on the occasion of the actress getting her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Peete said landing the role in Howard the Duck during her last year of college was what she thought was her “big break.” She played the relatively small role of K.C., one of the members of female lead Beverly’s (Lea Thompson) band Cherry Bomb. But the flick lost barrels of money and was just as much of a critical failure. The failure was so complete, said Peete, that she purposely omitted it from her resume.

howard the duck
Liz Sagal (Left), Holly Robinson Peete (Center), and Dominique Davalos (Right) in Howard the Duck (1986)

Thankfully, Peete’s career bounced back fairly quickly. In fact, the following year she starred in what would become one of her signature roles. In 1987, she began her long turn as Officer Judy Hoffs on the police procedural 21 Jumpstreet. Her co-stars included the future Pirates of the Caribbean and Fantastic Beasts superstar Johnny Depp.

Holly Robinson Peete did clarify that she has since stopped hiding her Howard the Duck connection. The subsequent success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made her role in the film more palatable. “I used to not even have it on my resume but now, because of Marvel, it’s kind of a cult classic,” Peete said.

Lea Thompson is likely one of the people who would tell Peete she was smart to keep Howard the Duck off her CV. The actress recently said she thinks the combination of having one of the biggest hits of 1985, Back to the Future, followed by one of the biggest bombs of the following year ruined her film career. If so, it’s possible it’s indicative of the different challenges faced by leading men and women. Tim Robbins, for example, also starred in the movie, but his career only seemed to arc upward afterward. It was two years later he starred in what’s still considered one of the funniest comedies in cinema, Bull Durham. Two years after that he was in the mind-bending cult classic Jacob’s Ladder, two more years and he was in the indie thriller The Player, and two more years brought the iconic classic The Shawshank Redemption.

Howard the Duck is perhaps one of the best examples to use in the lesson that not every comic book is meant to be adapted to the big screen. The character has been a part of some of Marvel’s most acclaimed series over the years, but the lack of any Howard solo project on Marvel’s schedule is proof enough that they’re still not confident fancy CGI and a few better storytelling decisions could create something more successful than the 1986 embarrassment.