Crocodile Dundee (1986)

Crocodile Dundee (stylised as ”Crocodile” Dundee in the U.S.) is a 1986 Australian-American action comedy film set in the Australian Outback and in New York City. It stars Paul Hogan as the weathered Mick Dundee. Hogan’s future wife Linda Kozlowski portrayed Sue Charlton. Inspired by the true-life exploits of Rod Ansell, the film was made on a budget of under $10 million as a deliberate attempt to make a commercial Australian film that would appeal to a mainstream American audience, but proved to be a worldwide phenomenon.

Released on 30 April 1986 in Australia, and on 26 September 1986 in the United States, it was the highest-grossing film of all-time in Australia, second-highest-grossing film in the United States in that year and went on to become the second-highest-grossing film worldwide at the box office as well, with an estimated 46 million tickets sold in the US. There are two versions of the film: the Australian version, and an international version, which had much of the Australian slang replaced with more commonly understood terms, and was slightly shorter. As the first film in the Crocodile Dundee film series, it was followed by two sequels: Crocodile Dundee II (1988) and Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles (2001), although both films failed to match the critical success of the predecessor.

Sue Charlton is a feature writer for her father’s newspaper Newsday, and is dating the editor Richard Mason. She travels to Walkabout Creek, a small hamlet in the Northern Territory of Australia, to meet Michael J. “Crocodile” Dundee, a bushman reported to have lost half a leg to a saltwater crocodile before crawling hundreds of miles to safety. On arrival in Walkabout Creek, she cannot locate Dundee, but she is entertained at the local pub by Dundee’s business partner Walter “Wally” Reilly. When Dundee arrives that night, Sue finds his leg is not missing, but he has a large scar which he refers to as a “love bite”. While Sue dances with Dundee, a group of city kangaroo shooters make fun of Dundee’s status as a crocodile hunter, causing him to knock the leader out with one punch.

At first, Sue finds Dundee less “legendary” than she had been led to believe, being unimpressed by his pleasant-mannered but uncouth behaviour and clumsy advances towards her; however, she is later amazed, when in the outback, she witnesses “Mick” (as Dundee is called) subduing a water buffalo, taking part in an aboriginal tribal dance ceremony, killing a snake with his bare hands, and scaring away the kangaroo shooters from the pub from their cruel sport. The next morning, offended by Mick’s assertion that as a “sheila” she is incapable of surviving the Outback alone, Sue goes out alone to prove him wrong but takes his rifle with her at his request. Mick follows her to make sure she is okay, but when she stops at a billabong to refill her canteen, she is attacked by a large crocodile and is rescued by Mick. Overcome with gratitude and seeing Mick’s willingness to change his bigotry, Sue finds herself becoming attracted to him.

Sue invites Mick to return with her to New York City on the pretext of continuing the feature story. At first Wally scoffs at her suggestion, but he changes his mind when she tells him the newspaper would cover all expenses. Once in New York, Mick is perplexed by local behaviour and customs but overcomes problematic situations including two encounters with a pimp and two attempted robberies. After this Sue realises her true feelings for him, and they kiss.

At a society dinner at her father’s home in honour of Sue’s safe return and of Mick’s visit, Richard proposes marriage to Sue, and in a haze of confused emotions, she initially accepts in spite of Richard having recently revealed his self-centered and insensitive “true colours” during a period of intoxication. Mick, disheartened at Sue’s engagement, decides to go “walkabout” around the US, but Sue has a change of heart and, deciding not to marry Richard, follows Mick to a subway station. There, she cannot reach him through the crowd on the platform, but has members of the crowd relay her message to him, whereupon he climbs up to the rafters and walks to Sue on the heads and raised hands of the onlookers and kisses her.

Cast

The idea to make the film came to Paul Hogan (the lead actor and one of the story writers) when he was in New York. He wondered what it would be like if a Northern Territory bushman arrived in town.

As Paul Hogan said:

There’s a lot about Dundee that we all think we’re like; but we’re not, because we live in Sydney. He’s a mythical outback Australian who does exist in part—the frontiersman who walks through the bush, picking up snakes and throwing them aside, living off the land who can ride horses and chop down trees and has that simple, friendly, laid-back philosophy. It’s like the image the Americans have of us, so why not give them one? … We’ve always been desperately short of folk heroes in this country. Ned Kelly is pathetic. So are the bushrangers.

The film’s budget was raised through the 10BA tax concessions via Morgan Sharebrokers. Paul Hogan used his regular collaborators from TV, including John Cornell, Peter Faiman and Ken Shadie. Linda Kozlowski was imported to play the American reporter; Actors’ Equity Australia objected to this but eventually relented.

The first scenes were filmed in the small town of McKinlay in Queensland, where the hotel used has original warped and polished hardwood floors. There are also no crocodiles in the area as it’s in the outback with no major water source. Six weeks of filming were spent working out of Jaja, an abandoned uranium mining camp in Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory with an additional week in Cloncurry. There was a further six weeks filming in New YorkFilming finished on 11 October 1985.

When the film finished, Hogan said he expected it would make millions of dollars around the world. Hogan also said of the film, “I’m planning for it to be Australia’s first proper movie. I don’t think we’ve had one yet—not a real, general public, successful, entertaining movie.”

Crocodile Dundee debuted at #1, and was a worldwide box office hit. The film grossed $47,707,045 at the box office in Australia and was the highest-grossing film of all-time there.

A number of minor changes were made to the film for its US release where it was released theatrically by Paramount Pictures in September 1986. It grossed $174,803,506 at the U.S. box office. It was the second-highest-grossing film that year (after Top Gun) for both the studio and the United States box office. Box Office Mojo estimates that the film sold over 46 million tickets in North America.

The film has a rating of 87% on Rotten Tomatoes. James Berardinelli of Reelviews.net gave the film three stars out of four stating, “What the storyline lacks in ambition, it makes up for in sheer, unfettered likability”.

Although Crocodile Dundee was a hit both in Australia and abroad, it became controversial with some Australian critics and audiences—who resented the image of Australians as being ocker. Robert Hughes complained in 2000 that to Americans “Crocodile Dundee is a work of social realism”, giving them a “‘Wild West’ fantasy” about Australia. David Droga said in 2018, however, that “There has been no better ad for Australia than that movie”.

The film became the first in the Crocodile Dundee series, with two sequels and a Super Bowl commercial.

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