“The Blue Lagoon” was hugely outrageous in the 80s – and even more so now!

The 1980s were a bad time for good takes on sex. If that wasn’t the problem Porky’s sexually harass women, so sixteen candles and revenge of the nerds were there to violate them by illusion. Yet somehow the 1980 version of The Blue Lagoonwhich is currently on Netflix, has aged even worse.

Based on Henry De Vere Stacpoole’s 1908 novel of the same name, the film tells the story of two children abandoned on a desert island. As they become teenagers, they begin to experiment sexually with each other. The Blue Lagoon, plus the other four films based on Stacpoole’s original book (The Blue Lagoon (1923), The Blue Lagoon (1949), Return to the Blue Lagoonand Blue Lagoon: The Awakening), was billed as a film about teenagers discovering and falling in love. But that’s not director Randal Kleiser’s legacy on the property.

For his film on sexuality, the director of Fat Throw out 18-year-old Christopher Atkins and shockingly underage Brooke Shields. When Shields appeared in the film, she was only 14 years old. The Blue Lagoon nor was it cute or chaste about its sexually explicit storyline. Much of the film features Emmeline (Shields) and Richard (Atkins) naked, and frontal nudity is common. There are also several sex scenes as well as a masturbation scene. All those risky moments combined to give The Blue Lagoon an R rating, something Kleiser vocally objected to.

Karina Longworth highlighted the film in her latest episode of the podcast, You have to remember that. “‘It’s the kind of movie you can take the kids to,'” Longworth says, quoting Kleiser in “1982: Teen Sexploitation: Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Porky’s, and The Blue Lagoon (Erotic 80s Part 5).” ‘”I’ve done things on Starsky and Hutch which were much more offensive.

Measures have been taken to ensure that The Blue Lagoon could not be classified as child pornography. But the film really takes liberties with this tightrope walk. Shields has been confirmed to have body doubles for her nude scenes. Yet one of those doubles was Valerie Taylor, who was 30 at the time, a casting choice that asks viewers to imagine a grown woman’s body over a child.

Then there was the casting of Shield itself. Kleiser never had a reason to cast a minor actor in a movie with such a mature plot and themes. But before this film, Shields already had a history with films about the sexualization of children. Two years before The Blue Lagoon when she was just 12, Shields starred in director Louis Malle and screenwriter Polly Platt’s pretty baby. The controversial, nudity-filled film followed a child prostitute the same age as her actor in the red-light district of New Orleans. Despite its subject matter, critics dismissed claims that pretty baby was a perverse movie. “It looks soberly, and with great compassion, at its period of history and the people who occupied it,” legendary critic Roger Ebert wrote in his 1978 review.

Whether this film is morally inexcusable or a clever critique of how young girls are unfairly sexualized is beyond question. In the minds of the public, Shields was already linked to child nudity and pornography when she was chosen for The Blue Lagoon. It was a reputation that would live on when Shields posed for Calvin Klein. The most memorable of his commercials featured a still underage 15-year-old Shields saying, “You know what’s going on with me and my Calvins? Nothing.” Concerns that this commercial constituted child pornography were so widespread that CBS and later ABC refused to air it.

These details are just the tip of the iceberg of Shields’ problematic casting, which Longworth covers in more detail in You have to remember that. The controversy surrounding this film barely touches on the fact that the characters of Shields and Atkins were cousins. But that didn’t matter when it came to profits. On the contrary, the scandal associated with the critical panning of the film aroused greater public interest.

THE BLUE LAGOON, Christopher Atkins, Brooke Shields, 1980, (c) Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection
Photo: ©Columbia Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

The Blue Lagoon earned an impressive $58 million against its $4.5 million budget. To put that into perspective, it was among the top 10 grossing movies of the year, a list that included The Empire strikes back, 9 to 5, plane!, and The Blues Brothers. Adjusted for inflation, the film would have made over $202 million today.

Shields wrote about this period of his career in his memoir, There Was a Little Girl: The True Story of My Mother and Me. In the book, she credits the entertainment industry for keeping her “healthy” while caring for her drug-addicted mother. “It was a really interesting disconnect. You desensitize yourself to anything sexual. In blue lagoon, I use a glue gun, glue my hair, whatever I can so my body doesn’t show that I have boobs,” Shields wrote. “And I didn’t know I was doing it, because I was a kid. I was in a cocoon with my mother.

Even now, knowing that this movie didn’t seem to do much damage to Shields, it’s still hard to watch. So, in case you’re wondering what the most controversial movie on Netflix is, be sure to add this one to the list.

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