Follow TV Tropes


Film / Howard the Duck

Go To

"The cosmos... countless worlds upon worlds... worlds without end... in these galaxies, every possible reality exists. And what is reality on any one world is mere fantasy on all others. Here, all is real, and all is illusion. What is, what was, and what will be start here, with the words: In the beginning, there was... HOWARD THE DUCK!"
Opening narrator

Based on a then-relatively obscure Marvel Comics character, Howard the Duck is a 1986 live-action movie about Howard, an anthropomorphic duck who is accidentally zapped to Earth during the test-firing of a laser.

George Lucas was the executive producer of this. Yes, you saw that right.

During the course of the movie, Howard must get used to his surroundings in the human world, while trying to find his way back home. He must also avoid another alien being called the Dark Overlord, who has possessed Dr. Jenning (Jeffrey Jones, as himself), one of the scientists in charge of the original experiment.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Aliens Are Bastards: The Dark Overlords of The Universe are an evil race who want to use the inhabitants of Earth as host bodies and take over the world.
  • Aliens in Cardiff: The movie takes place in Cleveland. Well, at least it's a change of pace from New York and Southern California. Considering Cleveland is where rock bands get their start (and where the Rock and Roll Museum is now located), it fits in with the plot.
  • Asteroid Thicket: Briefly seen when the narrator is talking.
  • Beam-O-War: The climactic battle at the end. A duck with a laser cannon vs. an alien-possessed scientist.
  • Big Bad: The Dark Overlord of the Universe who possesses Dr. Jenning and tries to unleash his brethren to destroy the world.
  • Camp: Just look at the concept!
  • City People Eat Sushi: Weirdly averted, especially at a time when sushi was still almost exclusively seen as yuppie fuel. The diner Howard, Beverly and Dr. Jenning visit is packed with rowdy hick customers, but apparently specializes in "Cajun sushi", complete with a Japanese chef on duty.
  • Cool Car: The Dark Overlord snags a White WIA 64T semi truck as his transportation back to the lab.
  • Cool Plane: Howard and Phil "borrow" a Quicksilver MX ultralight.
  • Covers Always Lie: You won't see Howard breaking out of his egg while smoking a cigar.
  • Diner Brawl: Two brawls. one diner.
  • Duck!: Really, how could they have resisted?
  • Dumb Blonde: Beverly does not appear to be well-informed. Bear in mind that she's human and until meeting Howard had no idea there even was anyone living on other worlds (and the quote below may just be her way of saying that an anthropomorphic duck is a monumentally weird thing to run into, in Cleveland or anywhere else).
    Beverly: The planet's called Earth... I think.
  • Ear Ache: When Cherry Bomb's manager tries to attack Howard with an ice pick, Howard grabs it from him and uses it to pin the manager right to the bar's counter through his looped earring, causing him to scream in pain. Howard then threatens to "pierce" the manager's other ear unless he pays the band their money and releases them from their contract with him.
  • Evil Counterpart: In the comic book adaptation of the movie, once the Dark Overlord is purged from Dr. Jennings' body, he takes on the form of an anthropomorphic duck, using this form to attack Howard. Averted in the movie as the Dark Overlord does no such thing and its true form is revealed to be a giant-mawed scorpion-like creature.
  • Furry Confusion: Howard flips out when served fried eggs.
  • Goofy Print Underwear: Howard wears red boxers with white polka dots, as revealed during a police strip search.
  • Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal: Averted. Howard wears pants, though he didn't in the original comics.
    • He does now, after his pantslessness led to accusations that he looked too much like Donald Duck. "My lawyers tell me I've always been wearing these pants."
  • Hold Your Hippogriffs: "No more Mr. Nice Duck" among with countless others.
  • Hurricane of Puns: There's so ducking many of them!
  • I Choose to Stay: Howard decides to stay on Earth, destroying the machine that could send him home to prevent more Dark Overlords from reaching Earth.
  • I Know Kung-Faux: "I Know Quack Fu!"
  • In Name Only: The only things in common with the comics are the characters of Howard and Beverly.
  • Instant Soprano: Howard barely survives a butcher knife landing near his groin and he responds in a soprano.
  • Interspecies Romance: Howard and Beverly. Later, in bed, it looks like the romance might go a bit further.
  • Irony: Howard can't swim and hates flying. He is a duck.
  • Knight of Cerebus: The movie gets noticeably darker once the Dark Overlord possesses Dr. Jenning, and unlike most of the jerks in the movie, the only humor with him is how people desperately try to make the situation less threatening. Except when they took his eggs.
  • Market-Based Title:
    • Universal released it as Howard — A New Breed Of Hero in some international territories. They also edited the end of Richard Kiley's opening narration where he says "In the beginning there was... Howard the Duck!" with the last three words coinciding with the title appearing on screen — the last two words are removed and "A New Breed Of Hero" laid over where "The Duck" would have appeared. Unfortunately it sounds as if he was cut off before he was finished speaking... which, of course, he was. But...
    • The Swedish title was Ingen plockar Howard which means "Nobody's plucking Howard!"
  • The Mountains of Illinois:
    • There are palm trees in certain shots despite the movie taking place in Ohio.
    • Mountains much higher than anything in Cleveland for some shots (such as outside the museum).
  • Ms. Fanservice: Beverly, which includes a scene in underwear.
  • Near-Miss Groin Attack: After Howard ends up tied to a table during a brawl in a diner, the Dark Overlord of the Universe (possessing Dr Jenning) telekinetically spins a cleaver and cuts the rope between Howard's legs - when Beverly asks Howard if he's OK, he replies in falsetto pitch.
  • Non-Mammal Mammaries: Early on, Howard gets dragged past a topless female duck in the bath, showing her humanlike breasts and nipples. Howard's reaction to a knife nearly striking his groin implies that the "males variant" is also applicable.
  • No Smoking: The cover of the recent DVD set is a composite of the two original movie covers (beak peeking out of cracked egg + feet up and starry sky), except it has now left out the cigar in Howard's beak.
  • Novelization: Author Ellis Weiner who among other works also created the Affectionate Parody to Dune called National Lampoon's Doon wrote the novel to the film. However, Weiner consciously took the extremely ridiculous premise of the film and satirized it to a degree where he inserted completely made-up backstories to Howard's character biography (and those of various other characters) in a number of "Coverage In-Depth Inserts", effectively turning the seemingly pointless task of writing the novel to a film based on a comic book character into a piece of literary art in its own right, as a number of recent articles have pointed out.
  • Playboy Parody: In Howard's world of anthropomorphic ducks, a magazine called Playduck is shown to exist.
  • Plot Armor: One of the Dark Overlord's energy blasts is enough to instantly vaporize a police officer and blow up cars, yet he zaps Beverly and Phil four times at the climax, only managing to cause them to turn partly transparent, and then they immediately recover when Howard destroys him. (The Dark Overlord had earlier said he needed Beverly and Phil's bodies for other Dark Overlords to inhabit, so it's possible that he was deliberately using non-lethal methods on them as opposed to his full power.)
  • Puny Earthlings: Parodied with Howard, but played largely straight with the Dark Overlords.
  • Red Filter of Doom: Occurs when a horrified Howard is faintly recalling how he got sent to Earth. A sequence of flashbacks is shown with the same footage as before, only with a red filter.
  • Second-Face Smoke: When confronting Ginger, Howard blows some cigar smoke on his face.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Beverly's physical beauty attracts unwanted attention from various stalkers.
  • Showdown at High Noon: Scientist possessed by interdimensional demon versus anthropomorphic duck with a laser cannon mounted to a golf cart. Good times.
  • Something Else Also Rises: In this case, Howard's head feathers.
  • Starring Special Effects: And with this in mind, the Razzies gave the performers who alternated stints in the suit the Worst New Star award for 1986.
  • Tone Shift: From the moment Dr. Jenning gets possessed by the Dark Overlord and they stop at the diner, the movie's mood changes, turning the relationship between Howard and Beverly into a platonic one (even seemingly lampshading how it was previously depicted when Bev tries to stop the mob from eating Howard announcing that he's her boyfriend... which only provokes a disgusted reaction from the people) and becoming a Sci-Fi/Fantasy romp about Howard rescuing Bev and stopping alien monsters from arriving without any more inappropriate or jarring adult humor from the first part of the film.
  • Toothy Bird: Averted. In the comic Howard has teeth (possibly to hold his cigar), but none in the movie.
  • Trapped in Another World: Howard has to destroy the laser that could send him home in order to prevent an invasion of Earth by lots more Dark Overlords.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight:
    • Howard just walks around in public without disguising himself, and even gets a job, with little reaction. But then, people just think he is a short person in a duck suit. Not to mention that aside from the initial awkwardness in their first conversation, Beverly has no problem with Howard.
    • The female duck bathing doesn't take much notice as Howard and his chair fly through her bathroom. Even though everyone else does when he flies through the apartment hallways and beyond. She just goes back to bathing as if nothing happened.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Dr. Jenning is freed from the Dark Overlord's possession, aids Howard in defeating it and urges him to close the portal to stop the others from arriving on Earth, then he completely vanishes from the climactic scene entirely.