Crocodile Dundee: When Paul Hogan Ruled the 80s

courtesy Paramount Pictures

What do you get when you cross an action star with a lovable character from the Australian outback? You get Crocodile Dundee, of course. The story of Crocodile Dundee is as much the story of the legendary Paul Hogan and how he brought Australian culture to the world. 

Crocodile Dundee was a massive hit, and it spawned two sequels while making Hogan a worldwide star. This is a look back to that period of the 80s when it seemed as if Paul Hogan ruled the world. 

I have a lot of connections to Australia. My Uncle and cousin lived there, as do my godfather and his family. I lived in Sydney for a little while years ago, too. So, growing up, we were very aware of Australian culture. When Crocodile Dundee came out, it was perfect. Not only was it funny, but felt understandable. If you’re Australian, you may or may not like some of the representation, but it certainly took the world by storm.

My Aussie family loved seeing some of their expressions and customs catching on like wildfire. Everyone now knew what a Fosters was (I know there are way better Aussie beers like Tooheys, VB, or my favorite, A Hahns Super Dry–not that I’ve partaken in too many of them.

But for a good chunk of the 80s, Paul Hogan was the hottest thing around. Crocodile Dundee hit like a sledgehammer and became a beloved favorite of the decade. This is a look back on the man behind the croc, and the legacy of the Crocodile Dundee Franchise.

A Quick History of Paul Hogan

The story of Paul Hogan is a true rags-to-riches tale. Hogan was born on October 8th, 1939 in Lightning Ridge, New South Wales. But apparently, he made this up as he was actually born in Sydney. To him, a place like Lightning Ridge just sounded better, and Sydney was too boring. 

He lived in Granville in Western Sydney and even worked as a rigger on the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge when he was younger. (the first shot of Crocodile Dundee would feature the bridge.)

Hogan’s first brush with entertainment came in 1971. If you’re Aussie–and of a certain age–you may remember a show called New Faces. It was an amateur talent show similar to America’s Got Talent. The difference here is the judges would berate and insult the contestants.

Hogan thought they needed to be brought down a notch and appeared on the show under the guise of a tap-dancing knife thrower. Hogan went on the show and proceeded to lay into the judges and ended by just throwing the knives on the floor. 

This went over big time and Hogan was invited back to the show. He would come up with a stupid stunt idea that was just a way for him to start telling jokes. Hogan was a natural entertainer, and it got him a spot on the show A Current Affair. Hogan would go on and make comedic remarks on any current news stories. It’s a little like Steve Carell when he appeared on the Colbert Report. 

Hogan soon got his own show: The Paul Hogan Show, which is where most Australians would come to know him. It ran from 1973 to 1984 and was kind of a character-driven show. Hogan does somewhat remind me of the great Jim Varney, aka Ernest P. Worrell, in that his comedy was character-based. The Paul Hogan show shares some similarities to the incredible–and vastly underrated–”Hey Vern, It’s Ernest!” Show that Varney had in the 80s. (read all about that here)

Hogan was becoming big time and appearing in national advertising campaigns. He would also become the face of the iconic Fosters Lager in England. 

Going into the mid-80s, Hogan had really elevated his presence not only in Australia but in other countries. But would he be able to conquer America?

Setting the Stage for Crocodile Dundee

If you grew up in the 80s, you know that most action-based movies were about blood and kill counts. Besides movies like Die Hard, Rambo, Predator, Red Dawn, Commando, and Terminator, it seems as if every other movie was just a bloodbath.

Paul Hogan could be an interesting alternative. He was already this rugged outback character with the “funny accent,” but avoiding the excessive violence of these other mainstream movies could be a great way for him to stand out. 

Maybe having an action hero that didn’t pull people’s hearts out of their chests could be a better approach. Paul Hogan was already so likable, and putting him into killing mode could diminish his appeal. This was a smart approach. Hogan was just so damn friendly and engaging that it just made sense to let this be reflected on the big screen.

Crocodile Dundee was no pushover, however. He just had that jovial good nature that most Aussies I know have. Yes, he could butcher you in two seconds, and fight off a croc with his bare hands, but he was just as happy to scull a few pints down at the pub and have a good time.

Paul Hogan was an action star, but funny. He was also incredibly charismatic, charming and all of this translated through the screen–either big or small. He was Tarzan, come to life. Looking back, the Crocodile Dundee formula was pretty perfect. 

I’m glad they went this route and didn’t turn him into something he wasn’t. Letting Hogan be himself obviously worked, and his appeal would help make Crocodile Dundee a massive hit.

A Quick Recap on Crocodile Dundee

If it’s been a while since you’ve seen Crocodile Dundee–or God forbid you’ve never seen it–here’s a quick plot recap. 

Sue Charlton is a writer for Newsday. She is also dating her editor, Richard. She is sent to the outback of Australia to report on a wild bushman named Michael J. “Crocodile” Dundee. Legend has it a croc bit half his leg off and after days dragging himself through the outback, he returned alive.

Sue has trouble tracking him down and we meet pub owner–and Mick’s business partner–Wally. Mick eventually shows up and Sue learns he didn’t lose his leg, but has a pretty nasty gash from a crocodile attack. A scuffle occurs in the bar between some kangaroo hunters and the crocodile hunter, who the roo hunters look down on.

Sue isn’t all that impressed with Mick. He’s a bit of a bumpkin, but then she learns how in tune with nature he is. This is demonstrated when Mick hypnotizes a giant water buffalo. There is then an amazing scene where Mick fights off the kangaroo hunters by firing back at them disguised as a kangaroo, At the end of that scene, Mick calls the Kangaroo “Skippy,” which is a nod to the Australian TV series “Skippy the Bush Kangaroo” which ran in Australia in the 60s.

Mick is pretty rough around the edges and refers to Sue as a “Sheila.” He doesn’t think a big city girl has what it takes to survive in the outback. She attempts to prove him wrong, but unbeknownst to her, Mick is watching to make sure she’s ok and ends up saving her from a crocodile attack.

Eventually, Sue invites Mick to come to New York with her. This will be her way of continuing the story, but she is developing a bit of a liking for ol’ Dundee. Mick makes it to New York and we get classic montages of him trying to navigate the big city and all its modern customs. You’re probably picturing how the movie Elf copied the Crocodile Dundee blueprint.

We get a mugging encounter which gives us one of the greatest–and most reused lines in cinema history with “that’s not a knife… that’s a knife.” Fun fact: that actually wasn’t an actual knife and was made‌ of rubber. 

But don’t forget, Sue still has a boyfriend, and at a dinner, and in front of Mick, he proposes to her. We find out, not surprisingly, that Richard is a tool. Mick is distraught and decides to “go walkabout” around the US. Sue realizes she cares for Mick, leaves Richard, and tracks Mick down at a subway station. They filmed this in an old abandoned subway station in New York. A great scene involving the crowd relaying messages between Mick and Sue takes place, and he crowd surfs by walking on their heads so the two can finally live happily ever after. The End. 

As mentioned, like Elf, Crocodile Dundee is a basic fish out of water/stranger in a strange land formula. And honestly, this always works. Yes, there are definitely some problematic things in Crocodile Dundee that don’t translate well to today, though.

You could also argue that even other modern movies like Borat simply copied the Crocodile Dundee formula by taking a small towner from another country and dropping him into big city, New York. 

Here’s the other genius part of Crocodile Dundee: it’s also a rom-com. This was such a smart idea because it stretched the movie’s appeal. Romantic comedies were getting big in the 80s, and movies like When Harry Met Sally showed how powerful the genre could be. Honestly, there was something for everyone to love in this movie. 

Crocodile Dundee tapped into this and they created a movie that was funny, action-filled, adventurers, romantic, dramatic, and ultimately–had a lot of heart. All of these components–and the charm of Paul Hogan–are what drew us in. People often wonder what makes the movies of the 1980s stand out so much. They just seem more timeless than other decades. Nostalgia plays a big part, but every decade has nostalgia.

I think one of the big reasons the movies of the 80s connect so well with people is that many films are made up of multiple genres. It gives them a wider range of appeal. Crocodile Dundee has at least five or six different genres combined as do movies like Back to the Future and Ghostbusters. With Back to the Future, it’s science-fiction, time travel, action/adventure, comedy, teen movie, and romance story all combined. 

Ghostbusters is science-fiction, supernatural, a comedy, action/adventure, and ensemble-style all combined. Or how about a movie like Gremlins? it’s fantasy, science-fiction, black comedy, Christmas movie, and regular comedy, but with an underlying teenage romance. Each genre is appealing on its own, but when you combine several together, it seems to create a lot of magic. 

Production on Crocodile Dundee

The idea for the character of Mick Dundee actually came when Paul Hogan took a trip to New York. Hogan said he felt way out of place and his accent stood out like a sore thumb. Today, we are much more ingrained with Aussie culture, but dare I say it was somewhat of a novelty in the 70s and 80s.

The Simpsons, of course, have made great reference to all of this in their classic episode: Bart vs Australia. 

Hogan wanted to be an Australian folk hero. Kind of like an Aussie Clint Eastwood. The idea for the movie was formed and it can be considered a truly independent film. Nearly 1400 different investors contributed money to the project, including INXS frontman, Michael Hutchins. 1986 was a big year for Australia; along with Crocodile Dundee, INXS recorded Kick: truly one of the best albums of all time. If you haven’t heard this album in a while, please give it a re-listen. It’s pretty astonishing.

Speaking of Aussie music in the 80s, shoutout to Midnight Oil and Men at Work. And I guess Kylie Minogue after she was on “Neighbours.” 

To my English and Aussie listeners who also grew up in the 80s, yes, I watched Neighbours when I lived in England, and yes; I was caught up in the Scott/Charlene storyline and the real-life Jason/Kylie romance. I actually got Jason Donovan’s autograph after a performance of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.” But I digress…

When it came time to film the movie, they would set the first part right in the Australian outback. The outback isn’t a singular thing, and there are many Aussie regions that have them. But If you’ve ever been to Australia, and have gone anywhere near an outback, you know it’s some of the harshest environments on earth.

Filming there would be a nightmare. The outback is as remote as it gets and the cast and crew had to sleep in huts near an old miner’s camp. Miner, I hardly know her. The crew would spend 6 weeks in that location. They filmed other scenes around Queensland and the Northern Territory. The scene where Sue is attacked obviously features a real croc, but for the water buffalo scene, the buffalo had to be tranquilized so Hogan could interact with it. 

Following the Australian filming, production would move to New York City for another 6 weeks and the film wrapped on October 11, 1985. But there was a bit of an issue; since Australian culture was still pretty foreign to North American audiences, how “Aussie” could they make this thing?

Well, the version shown in the US actually differs from the original version first shown in Australia. There were fears that American audiences just wouldn’t get the Australian slang and jokes. So, a lot of that was cut. The Aussie version also featured a few more F-bombs. The original version also featured more outback scenes. They left those in for Australian audiences and they included more footage of New York in the American release. 

And then there was the title and logo. The original Aussie version was simply called “Crocodile Dundee.” Here in North America, that was changed to “Crocodile” Dundee. The crocodile was in quotations, so audiences would know it was a nickname and that it wasn’t a crocodile/monster movie. You can’t make this stuff up. In the studio’s defense, there was a film called “Alligator” that had come out in 1980. 

The Startling Success of Crocodile Dundee

Crocodile Dundee was released on September 26, 1986. But if you’re Australian–and grew up in the 80s–you probably remember it debuting much earlier as it came out there over 5 months before. 

Fun Fact: When it was released, Crocodile Dundee was the highest-grossing film of all time in Australia, surpassing the previous champ: E.T. 

Because of the great appeal of Hogan, some great reviews, and a lot of positive word-of-mouth, Crocodile Dundee debuted at number one. And it stayed there for an astounding nine weeks. I wonder now if it would have been even more successful had it been released in the summer?

Either way, on a budget of just $8 million, Crocodile Dundee made that back in its first weekend. It would go on to gross nearly $330 million or nearly $900 million when adjusted for inflation. A truly staggering amount for what is technically considered a comedy. 

Crocodile Dundee was the second-highest-grossing film of the entire year beating out movies like The Karate Kid Part 2, Aliens, The Color Purple, Star Trek IV, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Stand by Me. The only movie to beat it? Top Gun.

Also released that year? Labyrinth, Flight of the Navigator, Howard the Duck, The Fly, and Transformers: The Movie. 1986 was truly an outstanding year for movies, and I’ve got an article right here about where the summer of 1986 ranks for best summer movies of the 80s. 

Before its release, no one thought Crocodile Dundee would be a hit. 20th Century Fox executives apparently watched only 20 minutes of the film and said no deal and refused to distribute it. Apparently, there were even talks of cutting it shorter and giving it American overdubbing.

Besides the Mad Max movies, no Australian film had made a splash in North America and there was no reason this would, either. The only one who had faith in it? Paul Hogan himself, and he predicted the movie would make millions of dollars around the world. 

Paramount Pictures would end up distributing the movie and hit the jackpot with it. Along with finishing number two in the US, Crocodile Dundee would also be the second highest-grossing movie of the year worldwide, and the highest-grossing non-US film ever. It also passed Mad Max to become the highest-grossing Australian film ever. 

Last fun fact: Crocodile Dundee was actually nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. They also nominated it for two BAFTAs, and four Golden Globes, including best actor which Paul Hogan won. 

OK, LAST fun fact: Crocodile Dundee remains to this day, the most-watched program on Christmas day in the UK. In 1989, nearly 22 million people tuned in to see Mick Dundee. 

Crocodile Dundee II: Electric Boogaloo

Because of its phenomenal success, a sequel was inevitable. Paul Hogan was a hot commodity, and they had to strike while the iron was hot. He hosted the 59th Academy Awards and went right to work on the follow-up to Crocodile Dundee.

Crocodile Dundee 2 would come out on May 25th, 1988. This time, Hogan would be an executive producer. He also co-wrote it with his son. In Crocodile Dundee 2, we pick things up a year after the first movie. Sue and Mick are living together in New York, even though Mick still sleeps on the floor. 

We then get a drug cartel story where Sue’s ex-husband is murdered for seeing something he shouldn’t have. The cartel leaders follow the pictures to New York and kidnap Sue. Mick is able to rescue her and the two of them get the hell out of dodge and head to Australia to lie low.

Mick takes Sue to his own private land where the two hide out. The cartel makes it to Australia and tracks him down through his friend, Wally. They attempt to track Mick through the outback, which proves disastrous for the cartel. Mick finally confronts the head of the cartel and, despite some mistaken identity, the head of the cartel eventually falls off a cliff to his demise. Mick had been mistakenly shot, but he’s ok, and he and Sue look to settle in Australia permanently.

Crocodile Dundee 2 had a lot of hype to live up to. But I think it held its own, and I also loved this movie. And so did many people. It didn’t hit the level of the first film but was still a box office hit. Despite a relatively low budget of $14 million, Crocodile Dundee 2 made $240 million, which adjusted for inflation is nearly $600 million.

Crocodile Dundee 3 and Paul Hogan’s Continued Popularity

Yes, you may not have ever heard of it, but there is a Crocodile Dundee 3. It would come out years later in 2001. But before that, Hogan was still a big draw. He would make other movies like Flipper and Lightning Jack.

And, this may be the fact of the article: Hogan actually turned down the starring role in Ghost. That’s right, Hogan, and not Patrick Swayze, could have been ruining poetry with Demi Moore to Unchained Melody.

Instead of Ghost, he took on another supernatural project that came out the same year: Almost an Angel. Going into the 90s, there was actually the idea for a Crocodile Dundee/Beverly Hills Cop crossover film. This seems like a license to print money, as I can’t imagine a better collaboration. A Paramount executive pitched the idea, but surprisingly, nothing came of it. 

So that brings us to Crocodile 3. I’m not sure what we can say about this thing, but it was called “Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles.” In this technical sequel, Mick and Sue move to LA. Sue is the bureau chief of a newspaper and Mick spends his time as an amateur undercover investigator. 

Many saw it as an unnecessary sequel. The movie wasn’t a box office bomb, but only made around $40 million, which was a far cry from its predecessors. It felt like a weird time to release a Crocodile Dundee follow-up. I think enough time has now passed where the nostalgia factor would create some more interest. 

During the Super Bowl in 2018, a few fake film trailers appeared which seem to hint at a new Crocodile Dundee movie. The commercial featured Danny McBride and Chris Hemsworth but was actually a Tourism Australia ad. They shot it like a real trailer and even featured a cameo by Hogan. The response to the commercial was surprisingly overwhelming, creating interest in a potential fourth movie.

I don’t know if we’ll ever get this, but Hemsworth talked about being open to discussions about one. Chris Hemsworth can do no wrong, so give me some form of Crocodile Dundee movie with him as the son of Mick or something. 

Wrapping it Up

Crocodile Dundee was a huge part of my life growing up. As mentioned, because of family, we were already pretty adverse in Australian culture. A movie like Crocodile Dundee seemed tailor-made for us. It became an instant part of our viewing rotation, and many lines from the movie became standard go-tos in our family.

There are certain lines and phrases that we still use to this day, often not even realizing they are from Crocodile Dundee. I never got to see it in theaters, as my mother wasn’t sure how appropriate it was. But I remember anxiously waiting for her and my dad to get back to hear if it was great–and it was. 

Eventually, when it found its way onto home video, it forever found a place on our VHS tape shelf. Your experience with Crocodile Dundee may be different, but there’s no denying the impact it, and Paul Hogan, made on popular culture in the 1980s. 

The premise and execution of the movie were simple, but it was the enduring appeal of Hogan that makes it a beloved character–and film–to this day.