When it was released in June of 1981, Clash of the Titans was a box office success that was the year’s 11th highest grossing film thanks to its take of $41,000,000. The movie presents the story of the Greek myth of Perseus (Harry Hamlin) and is most notable for featuring the final special effects work of the legendary Ray Harryhausen, whom director Desmond Davis handed the film’s many spectacular sequences over to. Hamlin shines as the son of Zeus, who must tame the winged horse Pegasus, slay the snake-haired Medusa, and rescue the beautiful Andromeda from the Kraken, a giant four-armed sea monster. Another aspect of the film that is much heralded is its supporting cast, which includes such acting heavyweights as Maggie Smith, Burgess Meredith, Ursula Andress, and Laurence Olivier as Zeus.
However, despite doing well financially and featuring a stellar cast, the movie has a reputation in certain circles of being cheesy and dated. To this we say nonsense, for this is a film that is more of a last hurrah for the classic — and still impressive from a 2017 perspective — special effects that Harryhausen ushered in with films like Jason and the Argonauts and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. By the time the summer of ’81 rolled around, movies like Westworld, Logan’s Run, Star Wars, Superman, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Raiders of the Lost Ark had made Harryhausen’s techniques seem quaint and old fashioned. There’s a validity to that for sure, but by no means are Harryhausen’s effects dated, and many of the technicians who worked on subsequent FX-heavy pictures were quick to acknowledge how much his work influenced what they do…and still does. (And yes, the effects in the 1981 version of Clash of the Titan, even Bubo, are still more impressive than those featured in the hollow 2010 remake).
There would be no future without the past. And although the original Clash was released at a time when the special effects industry was moving ahead at warp speed, there is still time to pause and take in the mastery of the craft that is on display in this fantastic fantasy flick. This may have been his last mainstream effort, but Harryhausen continued to talk about his craft until his death in 2013. He remains a vital influence on anyone whose job it is to bring the fantastic to life on screen, and we have no doubt that his peerless work will continue to resonate throughout pop culture well until the end of time.