There will always be movies that you personally love that everyone else hates. Think back to when you were a kid and the kind of movies that you personally loved and needed to see over and over again. Now think about the reaction you received from your parents when you told them that you wanted to watch that movie. For many parents, all I have to say is the word “Frozen” and they collectively cringe in fear as “Let It Go” begins to play in their brains. Bad movies can be a guilty pleasure for some, like a trashy novel or a tabloid newspaper. My guilty pleasure is one of my favorite movies of all time, the universally panned box office failure Howard the Duck.

Now when I say that Howard the Duck is one of my favorite movies, I absolutely mean it. I’m not some hipster who ironically likes things everyone hates because I want to prove how cool I am. I genuinely love this movie and I will be the first one to tell you, the movie is really bad. I don’t love the movie because it’s bad. I’ll get into the reasons why I love it soon enough, but if you’ve been reading this long, you deserve to know what you’re getting into.

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Howard the Duck came out in August of 1986. The movie, based on the Marvel Comics character, is about an anthropomorphic, talking duck that lives on a planet similar to Earth called Duckworld. Howard is an advertising copywriter who would rather be a musician. While sitting in his apartment, flipping through his latest issue of Playduck, he is sucked out of his chair, transported through the galaxy and lands in Cleveland. (Don’t start rolling your eyes yet, it does in fact get worse.) After running from biker gangs and other assorted 80’s stereotypes and┬ásaving the life of Marty McFly’s mom (Lea Thompson or my first crush. Seriously, I was ten years old and fell hard for her in the movie Spacecamp and then after that in the first Back to the Future.) Howard and Beverly (Thompson) eventually end up at her apartment after he beats up the manager of her band Cherry Bomb using, I shit you not, Quack-Fu.

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Beverly’s friend and apparent stalker Phil (Tim Robbins) and his research bosses visit Howard and Beverly in one of the most awkward scenes I have ever seen in a movie involving what is essentially a human/humanoid duck seduction scene. The scientists reveal that they were working on a dimensional-jumping device that accidentally got pointed at Howard’s planet and that they would like to try to send him home. After they attempt to reverse the process, the machine brings something else to Earth which possesses the head scientist and calls itself one of the “Dark Overlords of the Universe”.

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I won’t ruin the rest of the movie for you if you decide to check it out yourself, but I will tell you that it becomes an escape movie, then it becomes a chase movie and the final battle is between the Dark Overlord in its actual form vs Howard the Duck using an experimental “Neutron Disintegrator”.

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Now the people who know me, I would like to think, believe that I do have some taste when it comes to picking good movies from bad but this movie holds a special place in my heart and I will tell you why (No, it isn’t my pre-pubescent lust for Lea Thompson and her still gorgeous dimples). My love for Howard the Duck is forever linked to the time I spent with my best friend Ryan.

My family and I moved to Los Angeles when I was in the second grade, I think. I had always been a shy kid and to this day, I still find myself guarded when it comes to meeting new people. It takes a lot for me to consider someone a friend because I have always had issues with opening up to people personally. From the time I was in school to literally the day we moved back to Chicago, my best friend was Ryan Smith. Ryan was always funny. We were both fat kids and outcasts and really just had each other and our mutual friend Renzo to hang out with. We talked about everything. Ryan had a singular determination to become an astronaut, which made sense because his father Paul worked for NASA.

On weekends, we would have sleep-overs at his house with other friends that we had made and Ryan’s dad had a bunch of movies on Laser-Disc. Laser-Disc was a precursor to DVD’s as a format and they were the size of vinyl records. We would watch movies like Star Wars and Masters of the Universe while chowing down on Yum Yum Donuts. We loved those freaking donuts like people today love Krispy Kreme. We loved Yum Yum Donuts so much that we had our own Yum Yum Donuts song with lyrics, which my father didn’t know had lyrics until twenty years later, because I usually sang the chorus over the phone. For the sake of context, the lyrics (created by two 9-year-old boys) were :

Get Your Yum Yum Donuts

(Yum Yum Donuts!)

Just $1.99

(Yum Yum Donuts!)

Get your Yum Yum Donuts

(Yum Yum Donuts!)

They taste just fine.

(Yum Yum Donuts!)

Get your Yum Yum Donuts

(Yum Yum Donuts!)

Don’t they taste so good?

(Yum Yum Donuts!)

I knew that they would

(Yum Yum Donuts!)

(Together) Yum Yum Donuts!!

I remember the year 1986 in a series of moments, most of those moments spent with Ryan. Earlier that year, my best friend Ryan was sitting next to me in class when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded while we watched live on television. I watched him openly sob, but didn’t do much else. We were kids. I felt for him, but I had no reference at 10 to think about asking him what I could do to help. At recess, we just sat and watched the traffic down the hill and didn’t really say much to each other the rest of that day. The rest of the week was pretty much a blur and I wondered if Ryan was ok. When he finally told me that he was, he told me that he didn’t think he wanted to be an astronaut anymore.

After that, we went back to being kids. Life generally got better and we had each other to lean on if we needed to and early the next year, around the anniversary of the Challenger disaster, Ryan and I were at his house and we decided to watch Howard the Duck. As absurd as the movie is, we could not stop laughing at it. We were thrilled and exhilarated by it and it became one of our favorite movies to watch. To this day, I can’t watch the movie without thinking about Ryan Smith.

After my family moved back to Chicago, Ryan and I drifted apart, the way kids do. We made other friends, we had our own lives and eventually, those times together as best friends faded to memory, but anytime I see Howard the Duck or Masters of the Universe, I think about Ryan and how much we laughed. The year before I moved out, Ryan had moved to Chicago.

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In the time after I moved, Ryan had become an accomplished opera singer. He’d won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and had opened the MET in February 2008 in the opera Ernani. He moved to Chicago and became an ensemble member of the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center. Out of 400 applicants, he was one of seven chosen. After he moved to Chicago, he was diagnosed with lymphoma. He passed away in November of 2008 and I never knew it. I never knew he was so close and I never got a chance to say goodbye to him. I often wondered if we ever passed each other on the street and didn’t recognize each other. You think about the best friend relationship when you’re a kid as something that can never change, that will be forever. Often, those relationships end, but if you can remember the things that made that relationship special in the first place, they don’t really have to.

I regret not being able to see my best friend before he died. I regret that we were so close in proximity, but never bothered to try to reach out to each other. I regret those things, but what keeps me from living in that regret is that my best friend and I had Howard the Duck. We laughed honestly to that movie and those memories continue to be precious to me every time I watch it.

For You Ryan. One of your favorite scenes.

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