What did you think of “Ishtar”?

Roger Ebert called it “A truly dreadful film”, Janet Maslin (NY times) called it “genuinely inspired”, while Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader) referred to it as “The most underestimated commercial movie of 1987”.

What did you think of “Ishtar”? Leave your comments here. Who knows? We might just use them in our movie.


23 thoughts on “What did you think of “Ishtar”?

  1. Dear Mr. Hidderley,

    The budget was mentioned in every review that I have read. It seems to me that “Ishtar” was/is infamous for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with the movie itself. Janet Maslin (NY Times) wrote a great article about “Ishtar” from the time entitled “Excess Baggage and The Movies”, which might come in handy when dealing with skeptical friends.

    It’s nice to hear from a fellow “Ishtar” fan.

  2. We saw your article in the Sunday Sun on Feb. 4. My husband and I saw Ishtar at the theatre when it first came out. We have never laughed so hard! We thought the movie was brilliantly written and acted and was the best tongue in cheek we had seen in a long time. We told all of our friends to go see it but obviously not many of them did. Too bad for them.
    I hope they do release it on DVD as we will buy a copy for our movie library.

  3. lol you know its funny i loved that movie as well and for some reason i was thinking about it a couple of months back.that movie reminds me of those ugly small Toyota vans from the mid eighties that were horrible to look at but somehow were very appealing (also have discovered recently there are sites devoted to it as well on the site).i call it the ugly duckling syndrome


    Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Crombie, I would like to offer you both a HUGE ‘THANK YOU’ for taking this on! As one of the most maligned movies of all time, ISHTAR deserves a fair shake and I believe you will see your efforts successful in getting the movie it’s proper widespread POSITIVE acceptance. As it’s available on DVD in Europe, it MUST have a similar fan base here in North America.

    Our website, http://www.ishtarthemovie.com, and many others, have been created to support the same interest as, it seems, both of you have. Please let me know if there is ANYTHING we can do to help with your plans… need a grip???

    Jef Leeson

  5. Late one night, a few years ago now, I was curious to see Ishtar being shown, I endeavoured to stay up and watch it – having heard the tales of a production out of control, of Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty tormenting their producer, and of it’s status as one of the biggest flops of all time; I also remembered that it featured in Empire’s 50 worst films of all time feature back in 1997. I was confused though as the film began, as I found myself laughing hysterically – not at – but with the film as we are quickly, effortlessly sold to Hoffman and Beatty as Clark and Rogers a Simon and Garfunkel wannabe duo with all the talent of an X-Factor cast-off. However, it was late, I didn’t make it far into the film, I nodded off.
    Today, milling about HMV in London, I stumbled upon a copy of Ishtar on DVD for £5.99 and just had to buy it, it was too tempting, I had to know if my enjoyment of the film had been a product of the early hours or not. So this evening I watched Ishtar again, and this time I saw it all the way through.
    Yes, the plot is a bit of a muddle, yes.
    But, this is a film about two inept songwriters thrown into a confusing conflict where they’re confused for communists and CIA agents – at varying times – whislt bemoaning that they’re going to miss their gig at Chez Casablanca, it’s a buddy-movie, and what a great partnership it is. Hoffman and Beatty play off each other gloriously, really enjoying acting like a pair of idiots in way over their heads, their sheer mindless belief that they are supremely talented is wonderfully funny and painful at the same time. This film sits firmly on their shoulders and they carry it beautifully.
    Though it makes no sense the film is consistently laugh-out-loud funny with a glorious array of set-pieces all neatly strung together and played out with gusto by our tone-deaf heroes. Essentially, and almost spookily, the film seems like a Ben Stiller/Owen Wilson movie, with Hoffman (he played Stiller’s father in Meet the Fockers) delivering delusion and angst like an all-singing, all-dancing cross between Zoolander and Stiller’s character in Meet the Parents, whislt Beatty is all Texan charm, even sounding incredibly reminiscent of Wilson throughout. I said to my girlfriend half way through as we were laughing our heads off, “They should remake this” and she replied “Why? I like it like this.” She was baffled when I told her that it was regarded, by Empire, as one of the 50 worst films of all time, and I was too… it may not have the greatest plot known to man, but it is a comedy, and I haven’t laughed this hard at a comedy since ‘Anchorman’…
    I may sound like a mad fool, but I think this film is due a reappraisal, and Rogers and Clark need to release an album…

  6. I liked Ishtar when I first saw it in ’86. The film was rarely reviewed: it’s price tag usually was. But it’s not like the critics universally loathed it: Newsday on Long Island gave it a good review, and Vincent Canby of the New York Times said in December that it just missed his 20 best list.

    The first 20 minutes are hilarious, but the deadpan humor put off people who came in with a chip on their shoulder. And there are slow spot. It’s not a great movie, but it’s definitely a good one. I’ve commented on it further on my web page.

    I’m looking forward to seeing your film.

  7. Good luck with your documentary.

    It is interesting how some movies that seem so good are overlooked, not known or panned by so many people. There are movies like that in Australia such as the road movie Spider and Rose (c. 1995 and not available for sale on DVD in Australia) and the helium balloons-powered adventure movie Danny Deckchair (c. 2003 and available on DVD, but often in large numbers in the bargain bin at Target). I guess you hear this sort of thing a bit about other movies from people, but they are classics, just like Ishtar is. Hopefully more people will watch the movie after seeing your documentary, and remember it well.

    The workings of the library should also be interesting (esp. for people who don’t use the library much to get information). While the Internet and email are great technology for things like ebay, looking things up and downloading movies, I don’t see how they could be as interesting as real people and dealing with the library. However, perhaps looking at the availability of Ishtar movies and assoicated material on ebay and bidding and purchasing that way could still be interesting. At least the odds are better that you will actually get to see the movie, even if you have to pay for it (though one of the beauties of ebay is who knows how much you will pay for it – depends on other bidders and your bidding skills etc!)

  8. My copy of Ishtar is without a doubt the most watched movie in our collection. Being big fans of both Hoffman & Beatty my husband & I went to see the film as soon as it was released. Like other Ishtar fans, we told everyone that we knew how great it was. I guess we were the only ones that got it! In fact it became such a joke (our liking it so much) that to this day when we suggest a play, a book or a movie to someone, my sister-in-law warns them that we thought Ishtar was great. This is a fact that we’re proud of & when my husband received a copy of Ishtar in 1990 for his birthday it became required viewing for anyone visiting us @ the cottage & is often taken to friend’s cottages by my three grown children who have known from a very young age “that if you play the accordian” you can’t be in a rock & roll band. Good luck with your film, we look forward to seeing it. PS As a follow up project, you might consider “The Fortune” with Warren Beatty & Jack Nicolson. Now there’s a film that’s even harder to get a copy of than Ishtar!

  9. In college in 1992, a friend and I went to the laundromat. Bored, we began to write lame little couplets, then decided to do what we called a tag team poem. This began a strange, creative friendship that over the next several years included writing and taping song parodies, serial radio soap operas, and commercials, writing tag team letters to family members and ex girlfriends, and generally spending our free time doing odd, pointless, but creative things. We had no real talent, but we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. When we were feeling less creative, we would do things like movie marathon theme nights (Like trying to watch all 6 (at the time) Star Trek movies back to back, or find every movie Mark Hamil made after Star Wars, or once, watching in one night what we had heard were the worst movies of all time. This is what led us to Ishtar. Needless to say we loved it. Add in the fact that I had an ex girlfriend named Willa and had once when drunk said something very similar to Beattys “mean looking but with character” line to my friend, and this was a movie that described us if we stayed in the lifestyle of dorky college students into middle age. We loved Ishtar because it described us, and inspired us. I am 36 now, with a respectable job and 3 kids, but Ishtar takes me back to college and writing those cheesy songs and poems. It rocks because for a small segment of society, it is us. The songs were great, the songwriting scenes were outstanding, and the Morocco portion of the movie was like Peter Sellers classic Pink Panther scenes. It was great fun, and still is when I pull it out and watch it. Hope the documentary gets made, I’ll be looking for it.

  10. i loved ishtar! my parents were fbi agents and we would watch that movie over and over and laugh like crazy, especially at charles grodin’s character. i just never got why people thought the movie was so terrible…there is some really funny stuff in there…’i wanna buy a blind camel’! C’mon, or any of their ridiculous songs (which get in my head every now and then). And I love the scene in the end when you hear the military guy yell ‘applaud!’ after their song. i don’t know, i guess the movie makes me kind of nostalgic too…i wish they would release it on dvd with lots of extras. best of luck with your film; i’ll look out for it:)

  11. Ishtar is a staple in our family. We obviously were not intimidated by the “biggest box office flop of all time” moniker that was maliciously attached to this film upon release. We used to rent this film relentlessly growing up, and my brother can sing pretty much every Paul Williams song in the flick.

    “You can play at my worthless mansion!”

    I have converted many people over the years from the dark side, and they love it.

    While living in Japan, I bought a VHS copy with Japanese subtitles for roughly $2 bucks USD.

    We tried to have someone in California “in the biz” take the original 35mm film and transfer to digital format for personal consumption.

    I guess I will just do it with my Japanese version.

    Still one of the all time funniest movies of all time.

    I’ll defend it to my death!

  12. I was so jazzed after typing that response above yesterday, that I went home, popped in the Japanese subtitled VHS copy of Ishtar into the VCR, hooked that up to a Canopus ADVC 100 Analog/Digital Video Converter and plugged it all into my Mac.

    Opened up iMovie, and transferred the whole thing to digital. Now, I am burning DVD’s for the family to watch over Christmas.

    Columbia needs to re-release this movie on DVD for the USA with director’s and actor’s commentaries.

    This thing is filled with gems:

    “We didn’t NEED a pencil!”

  13. Ooh. I butchered that line above.

    This is the correct line:

    “l am Ahmad bin Ali. l’m the caid of Assari. lt was l that called out ”The Yellow Rose of Texas.”

    Perhaps you would care to entertain at my worthless palace?”

    That exchange is freaking PRICELESS!

  14. The blind camel. Loved the blind camel.
    In an interview on “ain’t it cool news” Dustin Hoffman says he likes Ishtar and would like to participate in a screening.

  15. I saw Ishtar in 1987… and bought the VHS tape when the movie store went out of business. I unabashedly LOVE that movie! It’s one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.. Hoffman and Beaty and Grodin are absolutely brilliant. It is rich with quotable lines that make me laugh out loud just thinking about them..
    And, it also reminded me of the innocent/naive time in my teenage years (even though Rogers and Clarke were grown men) when my best friend Freddie and I used to sit at the piano and write songs.. he wrote music and I wrote lyrics.. some of the most awful songs you’d ever believe.. and we thought they were really great!!! so when I saw Hoffman and Beaty writing songs together in “Ishtar”, I was immediately transported to that time when two kids in the 1970s, who thought they were brilliant, had the best time of their lives writing terrible songs together. We were going to be famous!
    It’s totally about how much more rewarding it is to be really terrible at something you love with all your heart, than to be good at something you really don’t like doing. “It takes a lot of nerve to have nothing at your age.”

  16. I loved Ishtar. My wife loves it too. The songs are very funny, and the vulnerability of the lead actors is endearing. When I saw the movie in the theaters I was 21 years old, and was unaware of the smarmy Hollywood press and the critical crowd. I see enjoy entertainment that I like and I don’t care what others say about it. I have always believed that the bad press about the cost overruns by a press eager to slam Oscar worthy heavyweights was persuasive to many who didn’t have the nerve to see it anyway.

    My wife and I have many many many memorable lines that we constantly quote from the movie. I quote these from memory with the confidence that I recall them accurately:

    “We did not shoot at two Americans in the desert. We did not. Who told you that? The Secretary of State? How would he know?”

    “That ain’t poverty.”

    “We didn’t need a pencil.”

    “I’m leaving some love in my will.”

    “I remember them NOT glowing.”

    I could go on for days and days. Please release this film on DVD, with your documentary on a bonus disc. I heard a rumor that a DVD was planned with Siskel & Ebert’s review attached. This film, and the reaction to it, is a perfect example of a Hollywood that is too taken with itself. I read a rumor about the business side of this film and the goings on with the people behind the film. I’m curious to see this explored. I’m looking forward to your film as a validation of everything I’ve believed for over twenty years: Ishtar is a funny movie with some great comedic acting, vulnerability by the lead actors, and excellent music that purely captures the awesome unawareness of truly bad singer-songwriters.

    What’s not to love?

  17. I rented Ishtar purely out of morbid curiosity. As a songwriter, I thought it was hilarious. And culturally, it fascinated me to discuss this movie with people who, because of a review, considered this movie to represent the epitome of bad even though they hadn’t seen it!! I can recall having a twenty minute discussion with a guy, who I thought was arrogant to begin with, about the movie. I was playing along with him as he trashed this movie and then, when the time was right, I asked him, “Well, how many times have you seen this movie?” “Oh, I haven’t seen it. I just know its bad.” That’s his loss. There is a guy in Denver who does a conservative talk show mornings 9am to noon named Mike Rosen. I usually agree with most of his opinions about politics and movies but he used to use Ishtar as a litmus test for bad movies until I called his show one time and asked him how many times he’d seen it? He hadn’t seen it and stopped using the reference. I pride myself on that little piece of cultural impact.

  18. I think future filmakers should watch this movie purely as a reference for how many ways movie can be cut. If you are able to procure a copy of the script, you will see how Elaine May was originally going to introduce the movie with the passport stamping sequence. You can sense how the producers felt the movie had to be recut, probably because of review cards after a preview. I don’t think it makes much difference in the overall presentation. Its signifigant in that you can visualize a movie in different forms.

  19. Allison, I think every guy here just decided they want to marry you! And bring your brother along!


  20. I knew it! I had a feeling that my family and I could not be the ONLY ones who treasure this movie. We have loved Ishtar since the first time we saw it. I remember combing through the used section at our local Blockbuster to make sure that we had a VHS copy for the years to come. Now, I’m anxiously waiting like every other fan for a U.S. dvd to be released.
    As for the terrible wrap it’s gotten, I think it is totally ridiculous for people to run down a movie that they’ve never seen!! I will defend this movie until I die. Not only are the songs brilliantly terrible, the performances are pitch-perfect. The look Dustin Hoffman gives the waiter who runs into the piano while singing “Leaving Some Love in My Will” is priceless. The way he points his finger at the camel. Need I say more?! I could because Warren Beatty, Elaine May, & Paul Williams are all fantastic. I am in stitches every time I watch it. There are very few movies you can say that about. The family joke is that my brother and I get such a kick out of the movie that they say, “If you haven’t seen Ishtar, you have to see it with them. Half the fun is watching them crack up at the movie.” We just watched it last night with my 13-year old nephew, James. He is now the newest Ishtar fan in the family. I’m proud to pass the love on. That movie has given us more laughs and good times than I can say. “That ain’t poverty!” I just feel extremely sorry for all those people who don’t get it. Their lives are a little less richer.
    I can’t wait to see the documentary. Sounds like it will be great. Keep us posted and good luck!!

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