Some things that are popular are hard to explain: Justin Bieber. Kale. “The Goonies.”
Wait, Goonies? Heretical as it may seem, plenty of people in Astoria never got the allure around the 1985 adventure comedy.
The novelty, even pride, that a charming, coming-of-age Hollywood tale was set and filmed in Astoria and Cannon Beach is easy to understand. The international cult following — 30 years after the movie was released — is something else.
Chris Wood, a production manager at Video Horizons, was a teenager in the 1980s and remembers the buzz around the filming. He gives the movie a 7 out of 10 — IMDb users rate the flick a 7.8 — but sheepishly worries he might have a hometown bias.
Video Horizons features “The Goonies” in a “Made in Astoria” section near the front counter, along with “Kindergarten Cop,” “Free Willy” and “The Ring.” Goonies T-shirts are on sale for $21.95.
“It didn’t get robbed of any Oscar nominations that year,” Wood said of “The Goonies.” “But it was still a decent picture.”
Wood said he does not really understand the cult following or why, whenever people from Astoria travel and say where they live, the response is often so predictable.
“It seems like when they hear the name, ‘Astoria, Oregon,’ they think Goonies,” he said.
As the oldest U.S. settlement west of the Rockies and a former salmon and timber hub, Astoria was on the map long before Steven Spielberg’s story made the city synonymous with Mikey, Mouth, Chunk, Data, the Fratellis, Sloth and One-Eyed Willy.
“Pop-culture-wise, we were famous because Washington Irving made us famous,” McAndrew Burns, the executive director of the Clatsop County Historical Society, said of the famed writer behind “Astoria,” a book about John Jacob Astor and the city’s founding by fur-traders in 1811.
Astoria has been careful about preserving its history and architecture, both the beautiful and the blemishes, as the city reinvents itself as a tourist destination.
The city’s draw is authenticity, something the misfit bunch of Goonies wanted to save — in the form of an old house on 38th Street in Uppertown — from country club gentrification.
Burns, who was a teenager when “The Goonies” was released, is not a huge fan of the movie.
“I’m the right age, but this movie didn’t resonate at the time the way it does for these people that make a pilgrimage here,” he said.
But since Burns has gotten to know Goonies fans through the historical society’s Oregon Film Museum, he has had a new appreciation for the film.
“It’s a very powerful movie for the people that have embraced it,” he said.
At the Film Museum, housed in the old county jail used in the opening jailbreak scene from the movie, visitors are encouraged to leave messages for the Goonies. Thousands of fans have left little notes and their words help explain why so many have emotional connections to the film.
“Any stack that you grab,” Burns said, “you’re going to see somebody who came here because somebody died. ‘This is my brother’s favorite movie. Rest in peace, Samuel.’ ‘I had to come from St. Louis for this.’
“‘This is my best friend’s movie. He died of cancer. I came because of him.’ There’s lots of ‘My boyfriend proposed to me on the porch of the house’ or ‘We’re here on our honeymoon.’
“There are always things like that.”
The Goonies phenomenon has the largest footprint in the “Goon Dock,” the otherwise quiet, well-kept Uppertown neighborhood home to the Goonies house.
Neighbors have complained for years about movie fans who wander the streets, park haphazardly and act as if they are in some sort of theme park.
The city has improved signage to discourage street parking or driving up the steep gravel road to the Goonies house on 38th. Visitors are directed to park near Astor Elementary School and advised to walk over to the house. Some residents have turned to their own homemade parking signs.
“We ask the same respect and privacy that a tourist would anticipate in their own neighborhood back home,” one neighbor who lives on 38th said privately.
Astoria City Councilor Russ Warr, who lives a few doors down from the Goonies house, has worked with the city and the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce to respond to neighborhood concerns and help prepare for the 30th anniversary celebration this weekend.
“The Goonies” is not exactly Warr’s favorite movie. “I had trouble staying awake,” he said, laughing.
He saw the movie shortly after it came out because it was shot in Astoria. “I didn’t get the bang out of it that would make it qualify as a cult thing,” he said. “But I’ve had so many absolutely fascinating conversations with people that are coming up to the Goonie house.”
A few weeks ago, Warr said he spoke with one woman who stopped at his mailbox on her way up. “I just shook my head and I said, ‘You know, I really don’t understand.’
“And she said, ‘You know, my two brothers and I are from South Africa and we grew up with the Goonies. I mean everything when we were little was about the Goonies.
“And here I am in America, and in a few minutes I’m going to get my picture taken in front of the Goonie house and I’m going to text it to my brothers and they’re just going to sh--.’”
Larry Montoya, a retired stationary engineer, lives at the top of the ridge just above the Goonies house.
Like many transplants, he watched the movie when he moved to Astoria a few years ago, a ritual that seems as common for new arrivals as getting an Oregon driver’s license or calling Pacific Power.
“I can walk away from it,” he said. “It’s not a movie that’s going to grab me.”
Montoya’s perch gives him a bird’s-eye view and full soundtrack to both of Astoria’s most peculiar — and occasionally maddening — attractions: the Goonies house and the horde of barking sea lions at the East End Mooring Basin.
So which one is the bigger nuisance?
“I’d say the Goonies,” he said.
We asked our readers on Facebook what they really thought of “The Goonies.” Here are some of the more colorful responses:
• “Iconic movie makes for iconic fans from all over the world. We should welcome them all to our lil town. Just happy I don’t own that Goonie house ...lol,” Linda Benthin-Weirup
• “Gag!!!” Mary Casper
• “It’s fun but really ... how long can this go on? Let’s switch to Kindergarten Kid for a few decades. Then go back to Goonies,” Harry Grass
• “A truly deplorable movie. BUT, the DVD makes a great ‘gag gift.’ It’s been ‘re-gifted’ countless times amongst family members,” Jerry Lampert
• “My husband and I were attending Clatsop Community College at the time of filming. Everyone wanted to be an extra on the set. We laughed so hard about Ecola appearing as a short bike ride from Astoria,” Arlene May Stahly