Monday, 7 November 2011

Best films of the 1980s

The films of the 80s should have dated worse than any other decades.  The hair, the clothes, the synthesiser music.  But for those of us born and raised in the decade of filthy excess, nothing could be further from the truth.  This decade means a lot to me.  These are the films that got me into films. 

If my favourite films of the 70s held little surprises, this list may hold even less.  Some of these films were the first 18 rated films I ever saw.  One was the film that shaped my every waking day dream until I was about 14.  All of them are classics.  From the Vietnam war to a Vietnam war allegory, from the past to the future and from skscrapers to underground caves, these are the films I've probably seen more times in my life than any others. 

I love the 80s and I love the cinema of the 80s but these are the films that, mostly taped onto VHS tapes from the TV, held my attention and have kept my affection for over 20 years.  Chuck on some Huey Lewis or Simple Minds and check out my top 10.

10. Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984) A giant marsh mallow man, a creepy opening in a deserted library, a classic theme tune and casting chemistry rarely bettered.  Bill Murray wise cracks while chasing woman of the decade Sigourney Weaver.  But its the mix of scares (to a young kid!) and comedy that get this on the list.  Some scenes are pretty terrifying and had to be watched from behind the sofa, while the special effects were great for the time but may make this a more dated entry on the list.  Not Murray's best comedy of the decade but the rest of the cast supply enough laughs and memorable characters to edge out Caddyshack from this list.

9. A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984) Also featured in my top 10 horrors, this is a film that, like the more recent Paranormal Activity plays on the fear of switching the light out and going to sleep.  However, unlike that more recent entry in the genre, Nightmare has a knife-gloved psycho who can invade the dreams of teens and slash them up for the 'sins' of their parents.  Taking the slasher template from Halloween and Friday the 13th, Freddy Krueger had more personality, more inventive killings and (in this first entry at least) was a truly terrifying and iconic boogeyman.  Who needs a mask with a face like Freddy?

8. Airplane (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, 1980)  Hugely influential spoof that has probably been responsible for spawning more awful films than any other (yes I'm looking at you Disaster/Date/Superhero/Epic Movies).  Also responsible for giving us Leslie Nielsen's half classic, half rubbish career in comedy.  But this film cannot be praised highly enough.  Working closely from the script of a straight disaster film, Airplane is full of so many hilarious lines, sight gags and performances, it's become overly quoted but never bettered.  Lloyd Bridges and the dodgy pilot are the standouts in a film full of outrageous comedy.

7. Platoon (Oliver Stone, 1986)  War is hell.  Charlie (winning) Sheen shows why he was the go-to-guy for Stone in two of the directors greatest films.  Subtle as a sledgehammer, the film sees the battle for a young grunts soul as he veers between Dafoe's Christ figure and Berenger's angel of death.  Like The Deer Hunter, Platoon shows the horror of war, this time showing just why the Vietnamese were likely to want to make American soldiers play russian roulette for their amusement.  Stone and Sheen are at the top of their game and to top it all off, brilliant music and early roles for John C. McGinley, Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker.

6. The Goonies (Richard Donner, 1985) Corey Feldman had to be on this list somewhere and it's in the company of Sean Astin, Josh Brolin and friends as they take on criminals underground in the best Spielberg film he never directed.  Forget E.T., Super 8 and all the other pretenders, this is the ultimate kids adventure.  Pirates before Depp made them cool again, water slides, booby traps, first kisses and Short Round (from Temple of Doom) all add up to make this the sweetest, funniest kids versus bad adults film there is ever likely to be.

5. Aliens (James Cameron, 1986)  Cameron's second best film of the decade and one of the greatest sequels ever made.  Upping the number of xenomorphs, the guns, the testosterone and the body count and giving Ripley a little girl that needs protecting all take this second entry in the franchise to a whole new level.  This is a war movie with a group of marines outclassed by the ultimate killing machines.  Ripley may take a back seat at the start but comes to the fore as the grunts drop like flies and the Alien Queen needs a smackdown in the mother of all movie fights.

4. The Breakfast Club (John Hughes, 1985)  The coolest character in teen films is delivered in an angsty, funny and damaged performance by Judd Nelson.  The Brat Pack get Saturday detention in the best of Hughes' films with the stereotypes peeling away to reveal the sad, lonely individuals on the inside.  With drug-fuelled dancing, a nasty piece of work for a principal and a classic 80s soundtrack, this is probably the film I fear the most being remade.  The characters were pretty much ripped off for The Faculty so I beg Hollywood to leave this one alone now.

3. Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988)  Simply the best action film of all time.  Bruce Willis is effortlessly cool.  The story spawned a whole sub-genre of one man vs a group of terrorists flicks that were often pretty good (e.g. Under Seige= Die Hard on a boat, Passenger 57= Die Hard on a plane etc.).  John Mclane took the steroids out of action cinema forever, putting an end to the reign of Schwarzenegger and Stallone.  Great stunts, genius plot elements (bare feet!), Alan Rickman in a classic piece of Euro-villain bastardry and Willis's delivery of one-liners make this the most funny, thrilling and tense actioner ever.

2. The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984)  The best James Cameron film of the decade is his first step into science fiction.  A brilliant story delivered in an incredibly fast paced movie that like it's titular character never stops to allow you time to take a breath.  Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton are both excellent as the villain and damsel in distress but Michael Biehn must also be praised for making the most of a hero character who mostly spills reams of exposition while running, driving and fighting an unstoppable machine from the future.  Cameron displays his ample talent for action, storytelling and working on a low budget.  It's a wonder why some of his lesser films have cost so damn much when you see what he did here with so much less.

1. Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)  Another science fiction that, like The Terminator, goes easy on the science and instead crosses genres to create something much more fun, less cerebral and exciting.  With one of the greatest buddy pairings in film, Fox and Lloyd nail the roles of high school teen and eccentric inventor in a tightly crafted narrative that climaxes in that brilliant clocktower set-piece.  The Libyan terrorists are laughable stereotypes but the Oedipus fuelled drama with Marty and his Mum make this icky but endearing.  Biff is also up there with the Terminator and Hans Gruber as one of the 80s greatest villains!  Huey Lewis on the soundtrack, a killer ending that leaves you gasping for the sequel and iconic characters add up to the greatest film of the 80s.

What no Raiders????  No Empire?  Or is it Raging Bull or Blade Runner missing from this list?  Don't be shy... let me know how you feel!


  1. Yep I'm a child of ther 1980's as well. As a decade it certainly holds a lot of nostaligia personally. I saw every one of the films on your list on the big screen! You can't beat Back to the Future as a quintessential 80's flick!! E.T as well.
    But for all that I don't rate the decade as having produced a great number of truly great films. I did a write up Paul Newman's The Verdict some time ago stating this.

  2. @BRENT I didn't see a single one at the big screen, I was too young for most of them! Must have been very exciting times to see such classics in the cinema. Have not seen The Verdict, will look into it! Thanks for reading!

  3. It's Raging Bull and Blade Runner missing from the list ;) haha nice work, and great list. But yeah Blade Runner and Raging Bull would be my top two. I guess they just did not work for you?

    Anyway, thanks for the comment you left at my blog, come back and see me if you get the chance!

  4. @Matt Both great, great films. I think this list just reflects that I was a kid in the 80s and the films on this list had such a huge imapct on me that when I got older and watched BR and RB, they couldn't compete with the memories of growing up with these others! Thanks for reading!

  5. This a great list. Personally, I would have to add Tim Burton's Batman, which I first saw at the drive in (and it was amazing!). I too love myself some 80s film, and none are as close to my heart as some of the films you mentioned above. Nice work.

  6. Wow never even been to a drive-in! Not sure they ever existed in the UK? Batman's a classic but not one I watched repeatedly like these. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  7. I have to agree with your number one choice. I love Back to the Future. Number two gets some hate but I like it.

    Also admire Platoon, I find it more authentic than the likes The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now as Stone draws upon his past experiences. Not watched in years though, demands a re-watch. Maybe the best Vietnam War film but the best scene in the genre is the helicopter attack scene in Apocalypse Now.

    Aliens again great, not as good as Alien, as I prefer tension but a superb action movie nonetheless. Never been a big fan of Nightmare on Elm Street, don’t get me wrong, I like it but there are so many horror films I prefer. Alien, The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby and The Orphanage are examples. Better than the remake, which is one of the worst films of the last ten years, along with the Halloween remake, which is just unpleasant without being scary.

    The exclusion of Raging Bull and Indiana Jones is acceptable.

    I've followed you.

  8. @Myerla thanks for reading! Interesting thoughts, BTTF is just so perfectly crafted, I love it! Good horrors you mention, Nightmare is just one of my first and therefore left mental scars on my fragile little mind! It's just a silly slasher really but Freddy scared the bejeezus outta me in the early days!

  9. Thinking about it, Back to the Future may be my favourite 80's film. It is just such a wonderful film- simple as that. Good to see Elm Street on here. I really enjoyed watching it properly last year. Definitely one of the most original horror films. Terrific list and a wonderful blog you have here.

    Consider me your new follower!

    Stop by my blog if possible:

    1. Yeah as much as I love The Terminator, BTTF just seems like a perfect film. Great characters, great story and set pieces and not even remotely spolit by the rest of the trilogy! Still love the original Elm Street. Just a shame about most of the sequels and the remake.


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