100 Favorite Films To Recommend Part 7: The 1980s
Thanks to a perfect storm of newfound challenges, creative control shifts, and artistic pioneering, Hollywood had survived a rough post-“Golden Age” in the seventies. But by the mid to late seventies, the industry had seen the birth of “the blockbuster”, a film that somehow catches lightning in a bottle and becomes an event that draws all kinds of audiences to their local cinemas again and again for that one movie. The result is a movie that makes tons of money, something that has become commonplace today with event film after event film coming out every summer and Christmastime and even one or two of them in the spring. But back then these movies were more of a rare breed and thus their success led to the franchising of various movies that have become part of our lives.
While the changes brought over by the French New Wave and the discovered love for smaller and more intimate, independent films were still there, the concept of having big action-packed movies or fun thrill-rides or journeys to different worlds led studios to find new spectacles to draw moviegoers back to the theaters. Furthermore, some up-and-comers that had grown up with less artsy and more fun nostalgic films were coming into the fold and wanted to make going to the movies fun again. As I stated in the previous part to this series, one of the reasons I’m not very fond of the seventies when it comes to cinema is that there’s very little fun to be found from the decade’s movies. The eighties are the complete opposite of that, and why I like to refer to it as the decade when Hollywood learned to have fun again.
That’s not to say that there aren’t good smaller and more intimate, artistic cinematic visions from this decade; there are plenty from Ordinary People to Gandhi to The Color Purple and Out Of Africa. But you’ll note this is the first time I’ve run down a list of my favorite films from each year in a decade and none of them won the Oscar for Best Picture (though two of them were nominated for that prize). I think that speaks to what kind of movies attracted me from this decade the most, and honestly, this ended up a list that was hard to form because almost every year had a plethora of personal favorites to offer, leaving me with a tinge of heartbreak when certain films I love couldn’t be featured.
The twenties attracted me to morality tales, the thirties attracted me to horror, the forties attracted me to feel-good stories, the fifties attracted me to human dramas, the sixties attracted me to epics with big casts and long running times, and the seventies attracted me to award-winning dramas. The eighties? This decade’s films attracted me with over-the-top adventure and bone-chilling horror with some comedy mixed in and one drama. A Stephen King adaptation still referenced to this day, a fun adventure film that ended up at the Academy Awards, a horror remake that has overshadowed the original, two Eddie Murphy classics, a “who done it”, a cult classic adaptation of a board game of all things, a comedic coming of age tale, a horror film that even the most hardcore horror fans might have trouble getting through, and the first Superhero-inspired film to make it on one of these lists. (It won’t be the last.) Here’s my favorite movie from each year in the 1980s.
1980: “The Shining”
This adaptation of Stephen King’s third novel is today a horror classic and is mentioned among some of Director Stanley Kubrick’s best work. And yet when this movie came out it was slow to pickup steam with audiences, got mixed critical reviews, and even got nominated for Golden Raspberries. On top of that, the source material’s author, King, to this day despises Kubrick’s take on his story and wrote his own television miniseries version in the nineties and even takes a shot at the adaptation in a note he wrote accompanying the sequel novel, Doctor Sleep. I’ve read the book as well and while I personally like the source material a little better, the movie remains one of the best psychological and creepy disturbing tales I’ve seen in cinema. One last note: there’s a documentary titled Room 237 that I’d recommend you give a watch after seeing this film; it covers all the various ways this movie has been interpreted from simple theories on film presentation to even one theory Kubrick used the movie as a veiled confession for helping fake the moon landing.
1981: “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”
The first of the Indiana Jones movies, this might arguably be the best example of the 1980s over-the-top fun style that many movies tried out. This is a good old fashioned adventure film with temples, traps, Nazis, and even supernatural forces. Amazingly, the film seemed to strike a chord even with the arguably snobby Academy and ended up getting various Oscar nominations including Best Picture. With all due respect to Chariots Of Fire I think in hindsight the Academy should’ve given the prize to this one.
1982: “The Thing”
This is a remake of an old fifties classic, The Thing From Another World, yet this is the film that is more remembered of the two. This Carpenter masterpiece featuring incredible and chill-inducing visual effects, coupled with a very real feeling of paranoia and claustrophobia, was a box office bomb in its original release and was slammed as garbage by critics. But through home media the movie became a horror classic and for good reason. It’s like taking a fifties creature feature and cranking the level up to eleven. The ending still has me hoping it’ll turn out well for our protagonists but knowing perhaps that’s unlikely.
1983: “Trading Places”
A modern-day Prince and the Pauper, this hilarious Eddie Murphy classic pairs him with Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis. But the real stars might be the antagonists of the tale, the shady Duke brothers Randolph and Mortimer, played by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche respectively, who are perfect caricatures of devious, old, rich snobs. The movie touches on issues of class and race but make no mistake, it mainly exists to make you laugh. This movie actually made some big awards shows, even getting nominated for Best Picture at the Golden Globes and getting a nomination for its scoring at the Academy Awards.
1984: “A Soldier’s Story”
Imagine a “who done it” set during World War II involving a segregated company of black soldiers and their murdered master sergeant who just so happens to be one of the biggest you-know-whats to have walked this planet. Now imagine a black Captain is sent to sort out what happened and must balance racial tensions on both sides. Plenty of suspects and plenty of motives, and as the film goes along you start to think it could have been anybody. But I’ll never forget my jaw dropping when the reveal came of who did it and why.
You’d think it would be impossible to make a board game adaptation for film but somehow Clue pulled it off. Featuring a large and hilarious cast who all seem to be having so much fun playing their parts and memorable quote after memorable quote, this dark comedic mystery was considered a box office disappointment with mixed reviews when it was first released. Thankfully, the movie grew a cult following on home media, and I am a proud member of said following. The movie’s decision to have three endings which were all randomized during its theatrical run was quite the interesting experiment as well.
1986: “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”
So I know that it’s going to be a bit controversial to pick this over the excellent Aliens, but this is actually one of the few John Hughes movies I really enjoy. A simple tale about a young man skipping out on a day of school that evolves into one of the wildest days one could have, with side characters along for the ride whether they want to be or not, I remember finally getting around to this movie about a decade ago and being pleasantly surprised with how fun it was to watch Ferris Bueller somehow get away with scheme after scheme.
To this day, Hellraiser is one of the toughest horror movies for me to watch, and yet to this day I watch it two or three times each Halloween season, including the day of. It’s an incredibly unnerving film that touches on themes like sex, mortality, and heavenly and hellish realms. The visual effects are still good enough to make you want to look away and the antagonists, the Cenobites, are one of cinema’s most horrifying villains. I even had trouble looking for a scene to place with this article, given how many horrific shots come with this movie. This is not a horror film for the weak at heart, so take that into consideration if you haven’t seen this one yet.
1988: “Coming To America”
This is hands down my favorite Eddie Murphy film of all time. Coming To America is a hilarious film about an African prince who seeks love undercover (in Queens, New York of all places). The movie’s cast is large and somehow never feels overbearing with side-plots and side characters that only make the world around our protagonist feel real, whether he’s in his home country or in a horribly kept apartment in the states, or even in a cheap McDonald’s rip-off. There’s even a funny cameo involving two Trading Places characters. After over thirty years the movie has a sequel coming out later this year.
It may be difficult today to see the caped crusader as anything but a dark detective tale, but before this film adaptation the 1960s Adam West kid-friendly presentation was what many had been used to. Tim Burton, however, wanted the character to return to the darker roots of the old Batman pre the Comics Code, and his rival the Joker was to become just as menacing. I know Nolan’s epic trilogy has become the measuring stick when it comes to telling Batman’s story (and for good reason), but this classic set a lot of precedents for future adaptations of the character, whether it be live-action or animated. This film’s major success (coupled with Superman: The Movie the previous decade) were the seeds to today’s highly acclaimed and billion-dollar-making superhero flicks.
And thus ends the list of my favorite movies from the 1980s. If you haven’t yet please do read my similar lists for the 1920s, the 1930s, the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s. and the 1970s. The goal of this series is to hopefully help others discover some great films they might want to try out while most of us are stuck at home, and as always I do enjoy others’ recommendations in the comments. Next time, I look at a decade that will probably have the most nostalgic value to me as a child of it – the 1990s.