We Long for the Bygone Magnificence of the Insane 1988 Oscars Opening Number

Robin Williams’ shocked incredulity at the incredible music number is more entertaining than most years’ entire ceremony
We Long for the Bygone Magnificence of the Insane 1988 Oscars Opening Number

The date is April 11, 1988. A secretly senile Ronald Reagan is three months into the last full year of his presidency. Michael Jackson’s hit single “Man in the Mirror” maintains its dominance of the airwaves. And at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is about to unleash an unprecedented, uninhibited and entirely unstoppable opening number upon an unaware wash of Hollywood’s best and brightest at the 60th Academy Awards.

Here in the present day, we await tonight’s Oscars ceremony with slightly less eager anticipation than the concurrent season finale of HBO’s The Last of Us. But there was once a time when Hollywood’s biggest night put on a display of shameless extravagance that shocked Robin Williams into a stupor as he hoped to hear his name called for the Best Actor award. At a ceremony where Bernardo Bertolucci’s epic biographical drama The Last Emperor would sweep all nine categories for which it was nominated, the star of the show was not a movie, a director or even an A-list actor. No, the highlight of that night — and Oscar night in perpetuity — was the bombastic, opulent opening number that, to this day, has not been surpassed in terms of sheer spectacle. 

Here is the 1988 Oscars’ opening number set to “I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line in all its campy glory:

I can’t decide on my favorite part of the performance — the stacks of octagons containing tableaus of Oscar-nominated performances, the golden Oscar statues coming to life on rolling risers or the sheer incredulity of the actors in the audience who, ostensibly, were supposed to feel some version of flattered by their singing, dancing portrayals. 

The rest of the ceremony, hosted by Chevy Chase, was unremarkable in comparison to the opening number, and we don’t expect anything in tonight’s festivities to match the heights that were reached 35 years ago. This Sunday, as we watch Jimmy Kimmel trot out another three-and-a-half-hour praise fest that probably could have been an email, let’s remind ourselves of what Hollywood once was — and what it could be again.

If the Academy wants to make the Oscars watchable again, they’d better bring back the octagons.

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