There are a handful of names that come to mind when pressed for unforgettable 80′s film characters. Marty from Back to the Future. Daniel from Karate Kid. Perhaps Lewis and Gilbert from Revenge of the Nerds. Maybe Brand, Chunk, Data, or Mouth – all from The Goonies. And of course: Jason, Freddy, and Michael.
But there is one, singular name — not necessarily an odd name, but definitely not that common (none of my 500+ Facebook friends have it; I checked two other acquaintance’s “friend lists”, 700+ and 800+ respectively, and nope – no one on their lists had this name, either) — that was used throughout the 80′s to define some of the most memorable characters, from comedy to straight up horror. A name, that for some reason, seemed to suit the fringe characters best. And that name was “Francis”.
Despite being the most angelic of names, “Francis” was attached to the best maniacs, jerks, flunkies, and a-holes that 1980′s film had to offer – and maybe that’s why it worked so well. But let’s not waste anymore time and get right to it. Here now is a chronological list of characters named Francis from our favorite decade: the 80′s.
Pvt. Francis “Psycho” Soyer, Stripes (1981)
“The name’s Francis Soyer, but everybody calls me Psycho. Any of you guys call me Francis, and I’ll kill you.”
That’s our introduction to the scowling, bug-eyed, fidgety weirdo that is Francis “Psycho” Soyer. Of course, none of his army comrades are at all intimidated by him, nor do they take his threats seriously. This scene ends with their unamused drill sergeant uttering the memorable line, “Lighten up, Francis.”
So right off the bat, this list starts with a character who not only points out his odd name, but rejects it. Very interesting. Dude kinda reminds me of Travis Bickle. Thoughts?
Francis Fratelli, The Goonies (1985)
This Francis comes from a big family of crooks. There’s Mama Fratelli, and his two brothers Jake and Lotney “Sloth” Fratelli. Francis is the preferred son, and Mama makes no secret of that. He might be a pyromaniac. He also threatens to break a little kid’s legs. And he wears a toupee, so he might be a little self-conscious about his bald head. So far, this list has begat two sociopathic loons. Let us see who’s next.
Francis Buxton, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
Another scowling thief with no responsibility and an overprotective parent!
Franics Buxton is well-known as the dude who stole Pee-Wee Herman’s bike. Stealing the bike proved pointless, however, as Francis – suspecting that Pee-Wee was on to him – panicked and had a co-conspirator get rid of it. And no, he didn’t have it stowed away in the basement of the Alamo.
How about some gum, Francis?
Francis Dollarhyde, Manhunter (1986)
Where the prior Francises have been off-kilter just enough to be charming, this one – Francis Dollarhyde – is just a flat-out terrifying monster.
Being born with a cleft lip and a fascination with metamorphosis wasn’t really a great combo for this dude. And I’m sure being named “Francis” probably just put him over the edge. When he’s not working in a lab as a photo assistant, he’s killing people and putting shards of mirrors in their eyes. Oh, and courting blind women.
We’ve had nothing but maniacs and baddies on this list. Time to lighten things up.
Francis “Chainsaw” Gremp, Summer School (1987)
“Don’t ever call me that, the name’s ‘Chainsaw’…as in Texas Massacre.”
Finally! A lovable Francis! Er, I mean “Chainsaw”. Sure, he may hate his name. And yeah, he’s obsessed with the 1974 Toe-bay Hoo-pare classic, “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”. And sure, he’s super preoccupied with blood and gore. But at least he’s a fun dude! He gets two thumbs up.
If ever I had an idol growing up – and even now, still – Francis “Chainsaw” Gremp is it.
Francis Xavier “Frank” Cross, Scrooged (1988)
Well, back to the egotistical, mean-spirited, borderline-criminal jerks. Although, to be fair, by the end of Scrooged, Frank has a change of heart – hell, a change of being – and comes to realize that you can feel as good as you do on Christmas all year round, just so long as you…put a little love in your heart. Feed me, Seymour, feed me!
Francis Smith, Christmas Vacation (1989)
Yes, not even women were safe from being branded by this quirky designation. Doris Roberts, probably most notable for loving Raymond, plays Beverly D’Angelo’s drunken mother who loves to criticize Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold through her hiccups, while trying not to spill her martini. She’s about 3/10 on the Problematic Francises scale.
And last but not least, an honorable mention:
Billy “Francis” Kopecki, Big, (1988)
Sure, it’s not his first name. But Tom Hanks does feel the need to shout Billy’s full name to make him realize the grown-up he sees before him is actually his 12-year-old buddy, Josh. Plus, Billy is just one of the good ones. I mean, he wears horror movie t-shirts everyday. What’s not to like? Billy Francis Kopecki, we salute you.
So there you have it. All those Francises, almost one for every year of the 80′s! What made that name so special then? Especially, it seems, among the more beloved films of the 80′s? Is there an explanation? Has this trend been repeated in the 90′s with a different name?