The 80’s had some spectacular movies. As I sit here writing this post, I look back on my life with a love for cinema, but now my news feed is our current political climate. I think what happened to the love of our neighbors. We live in a constant state of apology and open bigotry. We march, we complain, we are given participation awards and have never been more divided.
Don’t worry…this is not a political rant or a cry for us to unite. As a matter of fact, this is a distraction from these very issues. Having now been around for nearly 4 decades, I’ve built quite the love for the cinema. I studied cinematography in college, I’ve produced shorts, I’ve worked on 200 million dollar mega budget films and I’ve even tried my hand in documentary production. During all of this time, I’ve found that the film arts are my salvation. With that being said I figured I would give a subjective look at my 10 favorite films of each decade: The 80’s, 90’s and 00’s.
These lists are meant to be my personal favorites that I watch often, or they’re movies that changed the landscape of the industry through storytelling, production, acting, etc. I hope you enjoy!
The 80’s…As Tim Dirks of FilmSite.org eloquently says, “The decade of the 1980s tended to consolidate the gains made in the seventies rather than to initiate any new trends equal to the large number of disaster movies, buddy movies, or ‘rogue cop’ movies that characterized the previous decade. Designed and packaged for mass audience appeal, few 80’s films became what could be called ‘classics’. The era was characterized by the introduction of ‘high-concept’ films – with cinematic plots that could be easily characterized by one or two sentences (25 words or less) – and therefore easily marketable and understandable.”
With this mentality we were introduced to a slew of teen angst films, sequels galore and the birth of the modern day “Hollywood Blockbuster.” Here are my personal favorites.
Back to the Future is a timeless coming of age story about time travel and the dangers it presents. As a key influence to modern hit Rick and Morty, Back to the Future also capitalized on nearly every key 80’s theme: Buddy Movie (check), Teen Angst (check), Serialized (check). Brought to us by the by Robert Zemeckis, Back to the Future was an early member of the Summer Blockbuster Club trend of the 80’s. This success allowed for two sequels, a Universal Studios ride and a spot among the most iconic films of all time.
“This is Heavy.”
Successfully blending the wonders of animation and gritty film noir, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was an innovative masterpiece. Loosely based on the novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit, this dark tale of seduction takes inspiration from classics like Chinatown.
Following the themes of film noir, Roger Rabbit utilizes the magical world of Disney, the literal slapstick of Toon Town and heavy handed adult innuendo to create a classic fit for both children and adults.
“Tell Me Eddie. Is that a Rabbit in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”
At number 8 we have my personal favorite story of true love, and all we do to feel it’s embrace: The Princess Bride. Combining elements of fantasy with childhood story-telling, The Princess Bride shows us that true love never dies. Directed by Rob Reiner The Princess Bride taught us all at a young age that “Kissing books are okay,” and that the most important part about a story is not the story itself, but with whom you share it.
“Death cannot stop true love.”
Aliens taught us that not all sequels have to follow the formula of their predecessors, and that sequels can in fact be better than originals! By abandoning suspense horror and minimalist survival, while toting bigger guns and a more explosive story, James Cameron created a masterpiece. Although Aliens is still a Sci-Fi Survival Horror, Cameron and the 80’s proved that bigger can be better while still honoring what made the concept great. In horror your film is only as good as you antagonist.
“That’s it… GAME OVER MAN! GAME OVER!”
Next at number six is my personal favorite Christmas movie of all time Die Hard … Yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Die Hard is the story of how Det. John McClane saves Christmas from greedy false terrorists. Director John McTiernan and Bruce Willis taught us that heroes can be hurt, but they never say die. It was this mentality that gave birth to the “me against the world”mentality that would rule the 90’s blockbuster landscape. As a follow up to 1987’s Predator, Die Hard, would propel Director John McTiernan into the Action Movie Director’s Hall of Fame … I mean…if it existed then he’d be in there.
“Yippee ki yay mother fucker!”
Ridley Scott’s Sci-Fi-Noir Masterpiece Blade Runner is an eerie and accurate look into the future. It became one of the most thematically and visually inspirational Sci-Fi films in history paving the way for hits such as The Fifth Element. Through the use of practical lighting, gritty set design and heavy Asian themes, Blade Runner, much like Roger Rabbit, feels like Chinatown but creates a legacy of it’s own. The film has spawned four celebrated cuts and a sequel 35 years after it’s initial release.
“Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.”
What happens when the hunters become the hunted? Predator is a story of man’s will to survive. With steroid juiced action stars (don’t forget…steroids were legal in the 80’s), and the most dynamic antagonist in film history, Predator can also proudly proclaim that its cast featured two future governors. Acted by Jean Claude Van Damme, Predator was originally supposed to be a breakout role for the future action star. There are plenty of theory’s as to why Van Damme was replaced, but let’s just chalk it up to good fortune, and say Thank You Kevin Peter Hall.
At number 3 we have one of the greatest tales of childhood innocence, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. This is a film we could learn a lot from as a society today. While teaching us that we are all connected, E.T. features a story ripe with nostalgia, friendship, love and all of the other feels we miss from our childhood. While continuing his trend of success, Steven Spielberg would hit a home run with E.T. gaining nine Academy Award Nominations. When adjusted for inflation, E.T. still sits as the 4th highest grossing film of all time sitting behind Gone With the Wind, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and the Sound of Music respectively.
“I’ll… be… right… here.”
At number two we have the age-old battle of good and evil, light and dark with stunning set design and undoubtedly most terrifying portrayal of the Lord of Darkness to date… Legend. This magical realm was created for us by cinematic icon Ridley Scott and is personally my favorite of his work. To create this magical world, Scott and his art direction team literally grew an indoor enchanted forest on the famed Bond sound stage in England. Credited as being one of the largest sets ever constructed, the enchanted forest had hundreds of animals living inside; however, tragedy struck shortly after the wrapping of Mia Sara’s famous “Dance with the Devil” when the set caught fire burning the sound stage to the ground 3 weeks prior to wrap.
“There is no light without dark.”
“I love you…. I know.” My favorite film of the 80’s is also my favorite Star Wars film. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back taught us what the term cliffhanger really means, and that not every movie has to have a happy ending. Taking a step back from his director’s role will likely go down as the smartest move George Lucas ever made. Without the added stress of direction on Lucas, Empire feels more personal, full, coherent and all around better produced than it’s predecessor. This centerpiece destroyed us on all emotional levels in the best way, while introducing us to, arguably, the most famous and certainly most badass puppet of all time.
“Do or do not. There is no try.”
I hope you enjoyed my look back at my favorite films of the 80’s, and while Tim Dirks may have been on to something when he said “few 80’s films have become what we call ‘classics,'” there were certainly some masterpieces strewn about the decade that are still alive and driving trends that we see today. Be sure and check back for part two (90’s) and three (00’s) of this series!
Here are some films that just missed the list, but I feel deserve a shoutout…
Honorable Mention: Akira, Clash of the Titans, Beetlejuice, Ghostbusters and The Shining
What films do you think should have been included??