This is my own personal list of the top films of the 80's. It includes my own views, as well as views from e-mails, other critics and websites. I tried to include films from all the main genres; including, war, horror, sci-fi, romance, kid's, etc. As well as movies that were groundbreaking from a technology point of view or changed the industry in some way. I did not include foreign filmsl. The top films are placed in alphabetical order. Each are great in their own way and would be quite difficult to arrange in a 1-20 list. The movie titles are linked to the IMDB (Internet Movie Database) which contains extra information on each film, including the cast and crew. To get back to my site from this link, you will need to use the "back" button. By viewing these 20 films, I believe you will have a great feel for what the American film was all about in the 80's.
James Cameron takes this sequel of Ridley Scott's orginal "Alien" (1979) to new levels of terror and suspense. Like the first film, it's hard to put this movie into a specific genre. It has a setting of outer space, so it gets the label of Sci-Fi, but it has more characteristics with horror and action films. Sigourney Weaver stars as Ripley, a "space" cargo worker, who is forced to journey back to a planet, with a group of space Marines, to investigate the loss of communication with a space colony. Ripley believes that the problem may stem from the same indestuctible creature that haunted her in the first film. Unfortunately for her, and the rest of the group, this creature has multipied tenfold and brought along its mother. The action, suspense, art direction and creature design makes this a heart pounding thrill ride, and even though the hero of this series is a female, she shines brighter than most of the male action stars that littered the 80's movie houses.
In a very weak year for movies, this film was so far superior than anything else that it swept the Oscars. Taken from the brillant Broadway play of the same name, it tells the story of the young, outrageous, musical genius, Amadeus Mozart and the jealous, older, court composer, Salieri. Rumors abound that Salieri may have helped in the death of Mozart. Milos Forman gave great direction, along with amazing art production, and how can you go wrong with a soundtrack of Mozart!!!! The only problem I have with the film is Tom Hulce as Mozart. He gives a great performance, but every time I see him I think of "Animal House". Although, I love this film, I'm not sure it deserves being named on the AFI list of the top 100 films of all time, but it is there at number 53.
This movie has always just made me smile. It blends science fiction, fantasy and comedy. Michael J. Fox stars as a teenager from the 80's who accidently travels back to the 50's with a time machine invented by the crazy scientist, Doc. Brown, played wonderfully by Christopher Lloyd. He meets his parents as teenagers and must reunite them so as not to alter the future and his own existence. It contains high production values, great special effects and sound, but it's the screenplay and actors who make this one shine. Looking back on this movie now, I believe this is the quinessential 80's film. Since the film wanted to play up the differences and humor between the 2 eras, they had to emphasis the cultures even more. Because of this, the film becomes a time capsule of the 80's themselves, from the star, clothes, language, music (supplied by Huey Lewis and the News) and look. It spawned an amusement park ride and 2 sequels which were good, but never reached the simple , charming feel of this film.
One of the most influential science fiction films in it's style and setting. Ridley Scott combined bits from the 1920's classic "Metropolis" and Film Noir elements from the 50's to create a dark, overpopulated, polluted, technology driven city. The look was so realistic, that it didn't seem too far off and quite possible for the future. The story follows a bounty hunter on the trail of 4 androids who have come back to Earth to try and find their maker and have him fix the self-destruct program built into them. The film brings up many moral and religious issues. The director's cut of this film suggests even more interesting ideas, with the possiblity that the P.I. may be one of these androids himself. It's also quite interesting that the film lacks much dialogue (compared to most films of this time) and works like a silent film.
Writer/director David Lynch sets this unusual tale of murder, torture and sex in small town America. Two innocent college students, played by Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern, discover a human ear in a field and it leads them on a trail to a sultry lounge singer played by Isabella Rossellini. He soon discovers that she is in a bizzare relationship with a psychopath played by Dennis Hopper. This manic has supposedly kidnapped her husband and son and is making her succumb to his sexual fantasies, which turn into S & M torture that she seems to enjoy. It's a distrubing film that never lets the viewer off easy.
This surrealist, black comedy tells of a future society that is drowning in its own bureaucracy. A preoccupied paper clerk, played by Jonthan Pryce, clings to his own ideals and dreams when he is thrown into a Orwellian nightmare due to a computer malfunction. Director Terry Gilliam, of Monty Python fame, applies English wit to his elborate vision. The art direction and production design is astonishing, especially the dream sequence of Pryce flying through the air with the love of his life. The film tends to be a bit too long, with the second half repeating many of the same issues. But there are many star cameos, by Robert DeNiro, Bob Hopkins and Ian Holm, and Katherine Helmond's surrealist appearance is pure fun. A creative sparkle to the cookie cutter films of the 80's.
This is the movie that I got talked into putting on this list. I must admit, I was never a big "Breakfast Club" fan, but I do acknowledge that this film is the meaning of life to many generation Xer's, and has become a huge generational, cultural icon. The story is the simple tale of an assorted group of high school misfits; the jock, geek, princess, etc., who grow to become friends while serving weekend detention. The movie was directed by John Hughes who made his living out of these teenage films. In fact, the 80's were filled with some of the best (and cheesiest) films from this genre. I included a special section on the 80's "teen angst" film on a seperate page. But be forewarned B.C. lovers, I don't know how long this film will remain on this list!
Some people consider this one of the best sport's movies ever made. It is humorous, sexy and takes a serious, personal look at many aspects of a baseball players life including streaks, both good and bad, superstitions, thoughts in the batters box, making it to the big leagues, and becoming too old for the sport you love to play. It follows "Crash" Davis (Kevin Costner), an older player, who is brought to the Durham Bulls to teach an up and coming pitcher (Tim Robbins) the skills he needs to make it in the majors. One of the groupies of the team (Susan Sarandon) believes this is her job as well, but she goes about it in a little different way! The film works nicely on many different levels.
This is still Spike Lee's best film to date. Lee, the most influential African American director working today made this stylistic and stirring movie almost completely by himself, writing, producing, directing and co-starring. It tells of the events in a Brooklyn neighborhood on one of the hottest days of the year. It's not just the heat that's boiling over, but racial tension between a group of blacks and Italians. An Italian pizza restaurant owner, that Lee is a delivery boy for, soon finds himself on one side of the neighborhood war. Spike Lee never takes sides as he delivers a powerful drama with a great cast of characters and images.
My personal favorite Star Wars picture (and many seem to agree)! For those of you not from this planet, this is George Lucas' space saga that takes from the early movie serials, western stories, the nazi empire and mythology to tell a tale of good vs. evil. All the main characters are back from the orginal movie Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, C3-PO and R2-D2 and Darth Vader. This film adds some of the best new characters into the mix: Yoda, the Jedi Master, Boba Fett, the ultimate bounty hunter, and Lando. It brings us to some of the most interesting settings: Hoth, the ice planet, Dagobah's swamp, an asteroid field and Bespin, the city in the clouds. And the film pushed visual effects to an all-time high. I think a lot of success should be given to Irvin Kersher, who directed this film and was able to have the right vision, style and feel for this picture, that really hasn't been seen in the series since. The lightsaber duel and final story twist are still the best in the series with the humor and romance just right.
This film is the simple story of a little green alien being left behind on planet Earth and making friends with a 10-year-old boy as he tries to send a message back home for rescue. This was Speilberg's second "Science-Fiction" film after 1977's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and he changed the way space aliens were viewed. Gone were the 40's - 60's aliens who were just coming to Earth to take it over or destroy it. Speilberg's aliens were friendly. They want to be our friends, but it is us who are hunting them. Just about every adult in this film is the bad guy with their faces hidden in the dark or with scary space suits. Only the children understand. The visual effects, specifically the creature design, are stellar. It's quite amazing the emotion Speilberg got from the animatronic E.T., the small actor Henry Thomas and a very young Drew Barrymore. Some people have stated that this is just a retelling of the Christ story; Coming to Earth, healing, death, resurrection and ascension to heaven. I see the similiarities, but that may be pushing it. It spawned an amusement park ride, but luckily no sequel. The film was the highest moneymaking film for about 10 years and truely a part of film mythology. It appears on AFI's list of top 100 films of all time at number 25.
I still remember seeing this film opening weekend in a 2000 seat, sold-out theater. When the movie ended there was not a sound from anyone. I'm not sure if it was from shock or as a small memorial to the hell that so many Americans had endured during the Vietnam War. Writer/director Oliver Stone brought his shattering account of the Vietnam War in this first of three films ("Born of the Fourth of July" and "Heaven and Earth" being the other two). The story views the war through the eyes of a young soldier who enlisted by choice. He finds himself in a platoon run by two sergeants on opposite sides of the sanity spectrum, played wonderfully by William Defoe and Tom Berenger. But it is the all too real, chaotic, battle footage, intensified by the quick editing and camera motion, that will shake all who see it.
I have a few personal favorites on this list and this is one of them. This is a movie that every aspect of the production was just right: story and script (taken from the William Goldman book) casting, directing by Rob Reiner, and art production. The movie begins with a grandfather arriving at his sick grandson's house to read him a book. The story tells of a farm boy who has fallen in love with a maiden named Buttercup, but must leave to find a fortune, so he can marry her. While gone, he's supposedly killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts. Five years pass and the evil Prince Humperdink wants to take Buttercup, as his bride. She becomes kidnapped by a trio of likable mercenaries only to be pursued by a mysterious man in black. The sick grandson occasionally interupts the movie to make comments only a small boy would make which just added to its fairy tale charm. The movie is filled with memorable characters and some of the most recitable dialogue of the 80's.
Not only is this the best adventure movie of the 80's, but could very well be the best of all time. Steven Speilberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford helped to create one of the most memorable characters ever made solely for the movies, Indiana Jones. Jones is a part-time professor, part-time archaeologist, who travels the world during the early and mid 20th century looking for artifacts. Two U.S. government officials come to ask for his help after secret transmissions reveal that Hitler may have found the anicent city of Tanis; the buried city that may be the location of the lost ark of the covenant. This ark, from the Bible, is said to hold ultimate power for any army who controls it. Indy heads off, with bullwhip and fedora in tow, to try and locate the ark before the Nazis do and the action never stops. John Williams creates one of the Classic Musical Themes. The stuntwork and special effects were outstanding. The opening fifteen mintues work as a silent, short film in and of itself. It has nothing to do with the story as a whole, has very little dialogue, but is such a classic cinematic sequence it's hard to imagine the movie world without it. It sets up the feel; through art production, music, and action on what was to come. It went on to spawn 2(?) sequels, a TV show, books, a role-playing and video games, and amusement park rides. It rightfully appears on the AFI list of greatest movies at number 60.
Said by many to be the best film of the 80's, this is one of those films that at times is difficult to watch and at others mesmerizing to the eyes. Martin Scorsese develops a compelling drama about the boxer Jake LaMotta, from his early rise as a boxing champion, to his possible throwing of a match, being kicked out of the sport, his jealousy and abuse of his wife, being accused of sinful crimes and finally dabbling in Stand-up comedy. One of the starkest glimpses of the human soul put down on film, this is not a uplifting, feel-good movie. But while the story is grim, it is the acting and construction of the film that is masterful! Scorsese worked with black-and-white visuals and a variety of film speeds, edits and angles to create the feel of the mid-20th century boxing world. He shot each boxing match a little differently and it truely is a textbook for editing and cinematography. The acting is superb with rookies Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty nominated for Supporting Oscars, but it is Robert DeNiro giving an amazing performance, aging (and adding 50 pounds by the end of the film) before our eyes. One of the last scenes of him standing before the mirror reciting Brando's "Contender" speech from "On the Waterfront" is haunting.
This film's biggest impact was how it was made. All of the 80's movie industry was interested in making money. They did this by buying out the smaller movie companies and sticking with cookie-cutter blockbusters (especially through sequels) that made lots of money, but had very little substance. This film was made without a studio company and with a budget of about $3 million. Known as an independent film, it would soon make more money, percentage wise, than any other film to that date and it would begin the creative "Indie" films of the 90's. The story centers around a yuppie lawyer who is cheating on his beautiful wife with her carefree sister. One of his old school buddies shows up and begins interviewing people, especially the lawyer's wife, on videotape. The conversations become more intimate and so does their relationship questioning the lawyer's double standard. This was director Steven Soderbergh's first film and went on to win the Cannes Film Festival's top honor. It was the closest an American film would come to the Ingmar Bergman style.
This film is part science fiction, part action/chase movie. In the future, the machine's have taken over the world and the humans are struggling to survive. An indistructible killing machine is sent back to the present to kill the woman who would give birth to the savior of the world. A rebel fighter also makes the journey back to try and save her. Made with a relative small budget, the movie contained many supenseful action sequences and wonderful animatronic, stop-motion special effects, as the bounty hunter's skin was slowly detroyed to reveal the machine underneath. This was only director James Cameron's second film and it would make a star out of Schwarzenegger as an action hero. He, along with Stalone and Willis, would create a string of action films that littered the 80's movie houses, each becoming progressively worse. The film would lead to a blockbuster sequel in the 90's and one of the best 3-D amusement park rides.
Like the classic "Some Like It Hot", this film goes into crossdressing territory. Dustin Hoffman plays an unemployed actor who decides to dress in drag and tryout for a soap opera. "Dorothy" gets the role and slowly begins to fall in love with one of his female costars, played by Jessica Lange. The humor is supplied by the strange situations, usually accuring in a genderbending comedy, and from the supporting cast of Bill Murray and Teri Garr. The film doesn't play just for laughs, but gives a heartfelt look at relationships between the sexes. It enjoyed a brief reign as the most successful comedy of all time, and appears on the AFI lists of greatest and funniest films.
It's hard to imagine this film ever being made, especially during the 80's when big business just wanted to make money. "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" was a film that combined live action and animation together so fluidly you actually believed real people could visit the fictious Toon Town. A good animated film (especially one combined with live action) hadn't been prohibitible or attempted in a good 15 years. Most company had closed or were thinking about closing their animation departments. When the Disney studio decided on this gamble, they soon found out the technology to create such a production would have a larger price tag and take an extra year or more to create. The next hurtle was Toon Town itself. Sure Disney could inhibit this town with just 'Disney" characters, but needing the extra backing went to other studios for money and the use of their signature animated characters. Amazingly, Warner Brothers agreed. This animated backlot, where all the animated people lived, could now hold both Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, Daffy and Donald Duck, and hundreds of others. Disney was also able to create two wonderful new creations in Roger and Jessica Rabbit. (Both of which they could do more with, but don't seem to bother). Bob Hopkins, wonderfully acts as the P.I. who must journey into this animated world to solve a case. The movie went on to make tons of money, receive a special Oscar for it's technology breakthrough and along with "The Little Mermaid" (see below) help to fuel the second golden age of animation!
This is Rob Reiner's second film on the list. This wonderful romantic comedy harkens back to the golden days of Hollywood. Nora Ephron's script sparkles with humor, intelligence and a simple conversation style that relates to the way normal people might talk. This style would go on to effect other film and T.V. (Seinfeld) dialogue. The cast of Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan shine together as likable, quirky characters who develop a relationship over a 10 year period. It made a star out of Harry Connick, who arranged old music standards for the film. The scene of Sally in the resturant showing off a woman's acting abilities is timeless, with Reiner's own mother adding the classic line, "I'll have what she's having!"
These are those special moments from the movies that once you see them you will never forget them. The rest of the movie might not stay with you, but these shots or sequences are now emblazed in your psyche. It may be a special effect, or an actor or actress, or the cinematography, but these are the moments that movies were made for!
God's Mission (1980):John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd would bring the famous duo, "The Blues Brothers", to the screen.
Boldly Going (1982-1986): The Star Trek crew make an enjoyable jump to the big screen in their second through fourth movies, bringing back the great villian Khan, killing off Spock and saving the whales! Still the best in the series.
Baring a little Shoulder (1983): Jennifer Beals tells the Cinderella story of an erotic dancing steel worker!?! Starts the fashion treads of leg warmer and big sweaters. Also gives many of us our first look at break dancing.
"He Slimed Me" (1984): One of the funniest movies of the decade came from a group of "Ghostbusters" assigned to rid Manhattan of ghosts.
What A Ride (1984): Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas sliding down a muddy slope in "Romancing the Stone".
"If You Build It, They Will Come" (1989) The haunting words coming from the cornfield that leads Kevin Costner to build a baseball diamond on his farm, in "Field of Dreams". This baseball field is still one of the biggest tourist attractions in Iowa.