Although he had already sold three million albums, Prince became a genuine superstar in the summer of 1984, when Purple Rain took over movie theaters, radios, MTV – the world. His music would grace countless other films to come, most notably Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, for which he wrote the No. 1 single Batdance (yeah, the song hasn’t aged well, but remember back then?)
Prince’s Hollywood career was brief, comprised of four titles, all of them released nationally by major studios:
Purple Rain (1984): Released in the summer of 1984 — a month after the soundtrack, with its first single When Doves Cry perched at the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts — this autobiographical musical about a struggling Minneapolis singer known as The Kid became an instant smash, grossing nearly $70 million — that’s $150 million in 2016 dollars — despite its R-rating and forgettable performances (remember Apollonia Kotero?). Director Albert Magnoli, who co-wrote the movie specifically for Prince, wisely let the music take center stage: This is essentially an electric, rousing concert film peppered with dramatic interludes, shot in the slick, flashy style of 1980s-era MTV. No one who saw Purple Rain came away thinking Prince was a natural-born actor. But its closing number — Baby I’m a Star, with Prince doing inappropriate things to his guitar on stage — proved prescient. Not since the Beatles’ cheeky 1964 A Hard Day’s Night had a musician conquered popular culture with this kind of one-two punch. By the time Prince accepted an Oscar for Best Original Score wearing a sparkling purple scarf, his coronation was complete.
Under a Cherry Moon (1986): Fueled by his Purple Rain success, Prince fired original director Mary Lambert and directed himself in this would-be fantasy about a hustler working the French Riviera who falls in love with his intended target (Kristin Scott Thomas, in her debut). Shot in black and white and intended as an homage to 1940s screwball comedies, the film was a dud with critics and audiences. Even though its soundtrack album Parade, with its No. 1 hit Kiss, had been released several months earlier, the movie failed to earn back its $12 million budget in July 1986 and put a permanent kibosh on Prince’s movie-star aspirations.
Sign o’ the Times (1987): Perhaps as a response to the indifference that greeted Cherry Moon, Prince went back to basics with his next movie — a low-key, psychedelic concert film, featuring music from what is arguably his most ambitious and rewarding album. Unlike Purple Rain, this one had a modest release and reception, but it deserved a bigger audience. If you like the album, track this movie down.
Graffiti Bridge (1990): This sequel to Purple Rain marked Prince’s last film directorial credit — and for good reason. Although he would continue to make some memorable music videos, Prince ended his Hollywood career after writing, directing and starring in this disastrous fantasy-musical about two warring nightclub owners. The soundtrack, which includes Thieves in the Temple, was comprised largely of outtakes and unused songs. The movie didn’t leave much of a trace, but it introduced the world to Prince’s Glam Slam nightclub, which had opened in Minneapolis in 1989 – and expanded east, to Miami Beach, in 1994.
O Cinema Wynwood, 90 NW 29th St., will host special screenings of Purple Rain to celebrate Prince’s life and work. Showtime is 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 29, and Saturday, April 30. Tickets are $12. Visit www.o-cinema.org or call 305-571-9970.