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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
You could be forgiven for not remembering who Paul Hogan, Australian comic actor and 1980s icon, is in the year 2016. Hogan hasn’t starred in a commercially successful vehicle since the late 1980s, after all. Sure, he’ll pop up randomly in a Subaru ad from time to time, but by and large Paul Hogan has had almost zero cultural footprint since the days of George H.W. Bush. That was not always the case, however. Would you believe this guy hosted the Oscars? Would you believe he’s an Oscar nominee, even? I know, I know – I totally forgot about that too. But there was indeed a time when Paul Hogan was the most famous man in the world. Let’s remember that for a bit.
Paul Hogan became famous in his native Australia in the 1970s, when he was already in his 30s, for portraying a classic Australian “ocker,” roughly the equivalent of an American redneck and/or hillbilly, and also for hosting Australian network television variety specials. He became something of a cult figure in Australian media, and Hogan managed to eventually parley his small-screen success into a gig promoting tourism in Australia, where he coined the phrase “shrimp on the barbie.” The tourism ads became a hit in America during a time when cultural fascination with Australia was about to reach something of a zeitgeist thanks to celebrities like actor Mel Gibson, easy listening band and 1980s radio mainstay Men at Work, and entertainer Olivia Newton John.
Because of America’s growing love affair with the land down under (remember vegemite? I sort of do), Hogan was eventually able to somehow convince Australian government bigwigs and various rich native Australians to coproduce a movie idea he had that would essentially introduce Australia to the world, with the ultimate goal of creating Australia’s first mega-successful Hollywood film production. Australia has a deep and rich history of film production you might not know about (check out the documentary Not Quite Hollywood, which is excellent), with several smaller productions reaching cult status in America, including the now-ubiquitous Mad Max film franchise. But nothing had ever broken big, and Hogan intended to change that.
So with a budget of nearly $9 million US dollars (Australia’s largest production by far) and essentially zero guidelines or producer interference, Hogan set out with a bunch of his television production friends, eventually creating what became known as “Crocodile” Dundee. The film was an instant hit in America, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, creating catch phrases, catapulting Hogan to stardom in America and abroad, and earning Paul Fucking Hogan an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Even more than that, Hogan was asked to co-host the Oscars that year in order to increase buzz and viewership, as the Oscars had been lambasted in previous years for being bloated, unfunny, and self-congratulatory (not much changes). That’s right – Paul Hogan was asked to come aboard to increase viewership.
Let’s talk about “Crocodile” Dundee for a moment. It’s a putrid, racist, misogynistic, homophobic film. There’s a scene where Hogan grabs a transgendered person by the balls for fuck’s sake. It deals largely in unearned sentimentality. It’s co-lead, Linda Kozlowski, is completely devoid of both charisma and talent. But holy shit is Paul Hogan amazing in it. He steals the entire thing. He’s funny, charismatic, ruggedly handsome – the film almost dares you to take your eyes off the action, and you just can’t. In hindsight, this makes total sense. Hogan wrote the thing himself, rightly making himself the star and centerpiece. He’s the most talented person in the room, so why not? Hogan owned that film, and despite several racist and homophobic jokes, “Crocodile” Dundee, which is a bad film, almost holds up solely due to Hogan’s ocker charm.
After the first film grossed well over $300 million dollars at the worldwide box office and star Paul Hogan captured everyone’s hearts, it was assumed a sequel would be fast-tracked. Indeed, “Crocodile” Dundee 2 was released less than two years after the first one. At a budget of $14 million, the film grossed significantly less than part one but still posted a healthy profit. Critics savaged the film as well, and there was to be no Oscar nomination this time around. Still, the film managed to gross over $200 million dollars in its theatrical run, so Hogan was on the A-List in the hearts and minds of many, including money-happy Hollywood film producers, who looked at Hogan and assuredly saw dollar signs.
What Paul Hogan did next, however, made zero sense and virtually derailed his Hollywood career forever. In 1990, director Jerry Zucker’s film Ghost grossed over $500 million worldwide, becoming the year’s biggest hit by far. Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore skyrocketed to the A-List and Whoopi Goldberg of all people scored a Best Supporting Actress statuette at the following year’s Oscars ceremony. What does this have to do with Paul Hogan, you ask? Well, he turned down the role of the main character. That’s right – Paul Hogan was offered the role that eventually went to Patrick Swayze. Against all logic, Paul Hogan turned down a role in a film that went on to gross half a billion dollars.
Instead of making Ghost, Hogan decided to star in Almost an Angel, a film where he dies and tries to come back as an angel. This premise, similar to Ghost in some ways, did oddly seem more suited to Hogan’s talents. The film, which Hogan also wrote, was a colossal flop in theaters, grossing only $6 million dollars against a $25 million dollar budget. This flop essentially ended Hogan’s status as an A-List actor, and it would be four years before his next starring vehicle, 1994’s Lightning Jack, also flopped in theaters (unfortunately, as I liked that film as a kid). He would then co-star in 1996’s Flipper before returning to the well with 2001’s “Crocodile” Dundee in Los Angeles. That film was also a commercial disaster, grossing less than $40 million dollars in theaters.
So what ever happened to Paul Hogan? Hogan hasn’t starred in a major theatrical production since, and is now more known for his tax problems and car comercials. Upon return to Australia, he was arrested for years and years of suspected tax fraud. He eventually found himself divorced from Linda Kozlowski, his co-star from those “Crocodile” Dundee movies, and hasn’t really done much outside of a few indie films and the odd appearance here and there. And yet, I want so much more from this man. He’s nearly 80 years old at this point, which is almost unfathomable, but I want to see him appear as Michael “Crocodile” Dundee one more time – maybe in a Subaru or Super Bowl ad or something. Despite the crude nature of his film projects, Hogan has an irresistible charm. And with everything 1980s all the rage right now, why not give him a shot? Maybe a webseries on YouTube, Hulu, or Netflix? What harm would it do? None, I’d argue.