Monday, April 30, 2018

The 1980s: The Greatest Movie Decade?

It's a question that I'm sure movie buffs have conjured up many times, in either private or public, even published conversation: What is the greatest movie decade of all time? 

And honestly, there are some serious arguments to make, depending on genres you like best, or eras you like the most, as to which decade that might be. Unless you're a major fan of silent films (which, I'll be honest, I do like several), most film fans tend to consider the 1930s to be when the Hollywood engines really started roaring. That is when sound movies, or "talkies" came into prominence, replacing the silent scene that had existed from the late 1800s, through the 1920s (and with a few exceptions, even into the 30s). The 30s and 40s are considered the "Golden Age" of cinema, and rightly so, as that was when American film (and in many ways international film) really started finding its footing, along with its voice.

The great Universal Horror classics were from this period, excellent noir films starring the likes of Humphrey Bogart, or the dramas of Gary Cooper and musicals of Bing Crosby. Crime mysteries such as the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films, the early westerns and war films of the likes of John Wayne, adventure epics starring the likes of Errol Flynn, the uplifting classics of Frank Capra or the early budding thriller career of one Alfred J. Hitchcock. And of course, I would be remiss without mentioning what many consider the height of comedy films, featuring the likes of Bob Hope, Charlie Chaplin, Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, The Three Stooges, and The Marx Brothers.


One of my personal favorites, from one of my favorite eras.

One of my personal favorite eras, as good as the "Golden Age" was, is the following 50s and 60s era, which I suppose if you were following comic book naming conventions, we could call the "Silver Age". Now, my reasons for loving this era are probably not quite the same as others who do. The more mainstream reason that many love this era, was, for example, the continuing career of icons like John Wayne and Cary Grant. It saw the continued rise, and some of the most essential works of Alfred Hitchcock, such as North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train, and Psycho. It featured poignant dramas, like The African Queen, Rebel Without a Cause, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? It was an era rife with westerns, and war epics, and the rise of what would come to be known as "action films". And when it came to comedy, there was no one from this era bigger than the duo of Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin in the 50s, or Jerry Lewis as a solo star (and even director) in the 60s.

But for me personally, what makes this era of film a strong candidate, are the types of movies that some, both back then and even today, would consider more "schlocky" fare. Personally though, I've never cared for the popular or critical opinions of others much, and so I embrace these movies as being some of the very best ever made, from any era, because they are. The 1950s, for one thing, saw the rise of one of my greatest heroes, Ray Harryhausen, as THE singular special effects powerhouse of what would go on to be three decades of film. His work in stop-motion animation, carried on from his great mentor Willis O'Brien, was untouchable, and it helped to revolutionize special effects films of the era. Films like Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, Jason and the Argonauts, and my personal favorite, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, would inspire multiple generations of future filmmakers.

Another personal favorite.

And it wasn't just Hollywood cranking out the classics (and not so classics) in this era. Movies from the international scene were rising to greater prominence as well, especially in the "genre" markets. The 1950s saw the rise of two specific studios, one that was a huge part of my own 80s/90s childhood, and one that I would come to know and appreciate in my adult years. The Japanese juggernaut, Toho, known for their Akira Kurosawa samurai epics, would also come to be known as the "King of Kaiju", or giant monster movies, with the seminal masterwork of a friend and colleague of Kurosawa's, Ishiro Honda, in the form of the 1954 classic Gojira. From this dark and brooding film, as much a scary monster movie as it was a highly poignant statement on the horrifying and evil effects (and legacy) of "The Bomb" being dropped on Japan in WWII, not only an entire movie franchise, but a long-lasting movie genre was fully born, that of the "Giant Monster on the Loose" film.

1933's King Kong, or even the preceding 1925 silent gem The Lost World, could and should rightly be called the first "giant monster movie". But the genre didn't fully establish itself, and take off as a popular movie convention, until the 50s. And "Godzilla", as he would come to be known in the West, while inspired himself by Harryhausen's The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, would in turn inspire many other giant monster flicks, including some that were direct ripoffs or even direct competition (such as Daiei's Gamera). In my personal opinion, the 1960s was the height of both Godzilla films, and of the "Kaiju" genre in general. The 60s was certainly Godzilla's most prolific period, as in the ten years from 1960-1969, there were Godzilla films released each year except '60, '61, and '63. The original Showa Era of Godzilla films would stretch on to 1975, but the 60s, with personal favorites such as King Kong vs. Godzilla, Invasion of the Astro Monster, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, and Destroy All Monsters, was easily his greatest period of success.

Of course the other studio I previously mentioned, was the United Kingdom's Hammer Studios, who would in the 1950s begin to establish themselves as, in their own right, "The New Universal", at least for a decade or so, when it came to horror films. Their genre film fame started in the 50s with minor science fiction hits such as The Quatermass Xperiment, X the Unknown, and The Abominable Snowman. They even produced one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes films, The Hound of the Baskervilles, one of the first pairings of their two future top stars, Peter Cushing (as Holmes) and Christopher Lee. But it was 1957's Terrance Fisher adaptation, The Curse of Frankenstein, followed by '58's Horror of Dracula (also by Fisher), that would kick off a solid decade and a half or so of horror film dominance by Hammer. They would go on to make long franchises (for better and for worse) out of the Frankenstein and Dracula movies, almost all starring either Cushing or Lee (sometimes both). They would also have their own series of Mummy movies, and many other one-off gems such as The Man Who Could Cheat Death, The Gorgon, and The Devil Rides Out.

Much like Toho, in my opinion at least, Hammer followed a similar trajectory, rising in the 50s, having their absolute height in the 60s, and starting to taper off, ultimately falling somewhat flat in the 70s.

Yet ANOTHER personal favorite.

But the "Silver Age" wasn't just about Ray Harryhausen, or Godzilla, or even Hammer Horror. The period produced what I am not afraid to call some of the very best science fiction stories ever put to film. There were many that were genuinely "schlocky", often because of budget and time constraints, and I happen to love many of those too. But some of them were pure class, and had "something to say" beyond just lasers blasting and alien monsters roaring. A movie like 1951's The Day the Earth Stood Still, a movie I saw on TNT's MonsterVision as a kid, and it profoundly affected me, even in the early 90s. That film was about an alien, yes, and he had a giant "killer robot", but the message was deep as hell, certainly for the period, speaking out against war and human cruelty. Another, lesser known film with a similar premise, was 1957's The 27th Day, a movie wherein aliens give people from various world "Superpowers" hi-tech bombs, that if used, would essentially wipe out the human race, leaving the planet free for alien occupation. But the catch was, the aliens wouldn't invade, unless these humans used these bombs against their "enemies". And in very touching fashion, uncharacteristic for this "Cold War" era, even the people from the "evil" countries of China and Russia, refuse to use their bombs or divulge their secrets. In a rare turn, in that story, the human race was saved by nobility, and compassion.

So many other greats came from just the 1950s alone, such as one of my all-time favorites, 1956's Forbidden Planet, starring the at-the-time serious dramatic lead (and of my favorite actors of all time), Leslie Nielsen. That film alone is a unique classic, both from a special effects point of view, where it would influence future Sci-Fi the likes of Star Trek, Doctor Who and Star Wars, in different ways, but as a story, it too had something deep to say to the audience, warning of the "Monsters From the Id", and the hidden darkness that lurks in all people's minds. Then there's The Incredible Shrinking Man, more of a sombre and introspective story, as a man deals with the existential crisis of his place in the world, as he continues to shrink to the size of a mouse, and smaller. Or the psychological thriller Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which drums up paranoia and fear about "whom among us can you trust?".

There were minor classics that launched careers, such as 1958's The Blob, which was mega-star Steve McQueen's first starring role. Or films catching old stars at the end of theirs, such as the brief clip of Bela Lugosi in Plan 9 From Outer Space, or the legitimately wheel-chair ridden Boris Karloff in Die Monster Die! Another rising star of the 50s and 60s, was the incredible Vincent Price, who with the help of movies like William Castle's The House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler, or Roger Corman's 1960s series of Edgar Allen Poe films, became America's new leading man of horror for the better part of three decades. And this era also featured some really excellent adaptations of classic literature, such as The War of the Worlds, The Three Worlds of Gulliver, First Men in the Moon, Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mysterious Island, and The Time Machine, among others.

But for all that greatness, while I feel confident I could make a strong argument for this era being THE quintessential era for Sci-Fi and "Monster" type movies (in fact I think I just did), I would not say that, all around, the 50s and 60s were THE best movie era, or certainly standalone decades.

Such an incredible film.

Moving on to the 1970s, before I finally get to the crux of this article's point, I have to say, while the decade produced many REALLY great films, some well known and some lesser so, I personally feel that compared to the decades that preceded it, as well as followed it, that the 70s as a decade for film falls kinda short. In fact, when trying to piece together my own Top Movies lists on the website Letterboxd, while I had no problem coming up with a personal Top 100 movies for the 80s or 90s, I actually failed to come up with 100 movies I really liked from the 1970s.

That is not to say, by any means, that I think the decade SUCKED for movies, it surely didn't. For example, the two movies that I site as basically being my 1A and 1B candidates for "Favorite Movie of All Time", are Mel Brooks' amazing 1974 classic Young Frankenstein (starring another of my fav. all time actors, Gene Wilder), and the 1977 Rankin-Bass masterful TV animated adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. The 70s also provided the world with two more incredible Ray Harryhausen Sinbad fantasy epics, in the forms of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and Sinbad and The Eye of the Tiger. The decade had great comedies like Monty Python and The Holy Grail, Murder By Death, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Silver Streak. It saw science fiction greats like Logan's Run, Soylent Green, Silent Running, Westworld, Alien, and a personal favorite, Disney's The Black Hole. It saw cult classics like Rocky, The Warriors, and Enter the Dragon. And even though they were in a low period, Disney still put out some great films, such as Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Robin Hood, and The Rescuers.  

And it would be neglectful not to mention that some of the biggest directors in the history of cinema saw their rise in the 70s, such as Francis Ford Coppola with hits like Patton, The Godfather, and Apocalypse Now. Richard Donner with The Omen and Superman. Mel Brooks with the aforementioned Young Frankenstein, along with comedy masterpieces like Blazing Saddles, High Anxiety, and The Silent Movie. John Carpenter with his (at the time) most successful "indie" film of all time, Halloween. George Lucas with American Graffiti and one of the biggest movies in history, Star Wars. And of course, arguably the most financially successful director in Hollywood history, Steven Spielberg, who started the decade small with the great TV thriller Duel, and then went on to make cinema history with the likes of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

But even with all of that, I think the 70s "falls short" for me, and certainly when compared to the decade that we're ACTUALLY here to talk about: The 1980s.


I know that I took, in typical Jesse fashion, a LONG time to wind up at this point, but what this article is REALLY about, and why I'm here, is to make a case for the 1980s being, all around, THE best decade in film history. That is a very bold statement, I know. But I feel rather confident that the sheer body of incredible films, from ANY genre you could care to mention, that this decade presents, speaks for itself. Mind you, as I've already said, I think strong arguments for OTHER decades can definitely be made, when it comes to specific genres, for instance the 1950s and Science Fiction, or perhaps the 1990s and Animated films. But I think that, across the board, the 80s presents such an overwhelming cross-section of greatness in every single genre, that it would be really hard to argue, objectively, that any other single decade has produced anything close.

For instance, let's start with a genre that's one of my lesser personal favorites: Drama. And don't get that twisted, I really love a great many drama films, and depending on my mood, I really enjoy sitting down and watching a good drama. But the fact is, for me personally, when I make an attempt at listing what I feel are my approximate Top 100 Favorite Films, there are very few drama films on it. I just happen to like Science Fiction, and Monster Movies, and Animation, and Comedies, etc., a lot more. Having said that, the 80s was an incredible decade for drama, giving us some of the strongest films the genre has ever seen, such as Raging Bull, Scarface, Full Metal Jacket, The Color Purple, The Outsiders, Good Morning, Vietnam and Wall Street. And those aren't even (mostly) films that I'm personally very big on. Some of my own 80s drama favorites include The Boy Who Could Fly, On Golden Pond, Rain Man, Stand By Me, and Dead Poets Society.

THE Don Bluth Masterpiece.

While the 90s I think you could argue was a "bigger" decade for animated theatrical films, certainly for Disney, the 80s was still home to some of the best animated movies ever made. In no small part thanks to one man, Don Bluth, who rose from being an animator at Disney, to breaking out on his own and not only finding success, but in the mid-to-late 80s, actually finding MORE success than Disney itself. For a few years there, Bluth movies were doing bigger box office than Disney, even though Disney's 80s output was still excellent. The 80s was absolutely Bluth's high period, as he would sadly slip in the 90s (as several other prominent 80s directors also did), but his string of hits like The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, The Land Before Time, and All Dogs Go to Heaven, was legendary. Disney meanwhile, was hardly slacking, as their 80s output included The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver and Company, and the first hit that "put them back on top", The Little Mermaid.

Another at-the-time unknown name, Japan's Hayao Miyazaki and what would become Studio Ghibli, were also on the rise in the 80s, with incredible films such as Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind, my personal favorite Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Grave of the Fireflies and Kiki's Delivery Service. Tragically, these movies and more would go largely unknown and unseen in the United States until the 2000s, thanks to Disney, but they are still amazing works of the 80s. While they were known as a television company, Rankin-Bass also had several great 80s films, both traditionally animated as well as stop-motion, such as The Return of the King, The Last Unicorn, The Flight of Dragons, and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. And of course, the 80s was THE decade of cartoon series' based on toys (or vice versa), and many of these produced films as well, including Masters of the Universe, the Care Bears, the Transformers, G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, Rainbow Brite, and The Chipmunks. Most of those films, by the way, are surprisingly anywhere from ok to rather good.

Harryhausen's last film.

The 80s was also a very strong decade for fantasy films, arguably THE strongest. Including some of the animated fantasy films mentioned above, there were also many live action fantasy epics, some great, some not so much. But among those greats, is included Clash of the Titans, sadly the last film that Ray Harryhausen would ever work on. Ray did most of the stop-motion work by himself, and because his concepts were very ambitious, and quality of work very high, working on each successive film, especially into the 70s, took him years. The work was not only grueling, but Titans also tragically fell short at the box office, not making as much as it deserved to. Ray had concepts for future projects, but I think he felt dejected, and that perhaps the movie industry was moving beyond him, and stop-motion. He would eventually prove to be right, and I think that sucks. But if he had to leave us one final film, I think Clash was one hell of a way to go out.

Other live-action fantasy films of the 80s include the likes of Excalibur, Dragonslayer, The Neverending Story, Krull, The Beastmaster, Return to Oz, Ladyhawke, Legend, Willow, and The Princess Bride. And with the 80s rise of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, also came one of the hits that first helped establish him as a star, 1982's Conan the Barbarian. I like that film, but happen to be an even bigger fan of the two follow-ups, Conan the Destroyer, and Red Sonya. Naturally, Conan being such a big success, gave rise to a variety of (mostly shitty) ripoff films, trying to cash in on that resurgent "Sword n Sorcery" success. And last but hardly least, there were also the two Jim Henson fantasy films, the popular Labyrinth, and The Dark Crystal, which I consider his finest piece of work.

A highly underrated movie.

Science Fiction is another genre that I feel you could definitely argue saw one of it's strongest periods in the 1980s. Steven Spielberg's 1982 mega-hit E.T: The Extra Terrestrial alone, was one of the single biggest smash hits of the decade, not to mention of all time. There was also the James Cameron trio of Sci-Fi hits, The Terminator, the 1986 Alien sequel Aliens, and his 1989 oddball success, The Abyss. Another major fixture of the 80s, were theatrical Star Trek movies. Having returned in movie form in 1979, the 80s saw Star Trek movies becoming a continuing franchise, with four of them in the decade (my favorite being Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home). Of course, George Lucas followed up his creation, Star Wars, with two epic sequels to complete a now legendary trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi.

But it wasn't just well-known players getting in on the action. Pictured above, you can see the poster for 1984's The Last Starfighter, a childhood favorite of mine, which was directed by Nick Castle, the prime player of the original Mike Meyers, from Halloween. Another childhood favorite, was the Disney produced Flight of the Navigator, which featured a sentient UFO that was voiced by none other than Paul Reubens, of PeeWee fame. Other 80s Sci-Fi films included (but were hardly limited to), remakes to 50s films such as The Fly, The Blob, and Invaders From Mars, as well as varied works like Flash Gordon, Dune, Tron, The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Cocoon, Alien Nation, Batteries Not Included, Short Circuit and Short Circuit 2.

A Schwarzenegger classic.

One genre that really made a resurgence in the 80s, even though it had certainly been around in the 70s, was the "Action" genre. Arnold's rising star was a huge part of that, with hits like Commando, Predator, Red Heat, and The Running Man. Another actor whose star had begun to rise in the 70s, was Sylvester Stallone, who absolutely blew up in the 80s as well, with many action hits like First Blood and its Rambo sequels, as well as movies like Cobra and Tango & Cash. Mel Gibson was another star to get established in the 80s, with his first major blip on the radar being the dystopian 1979 film Mad Max. The 80s would see two sequels to that, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, and Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome. Gibson would also rise to further fame through the Richard Donner film Lethal Weapon (also starring Danny Glover), which would go on to have three sequels. Bruce Willis was another up-and-comer, who gained major notice for the action hit Die Hard, which would have several sequels. 

Other 80s action movies would include everything from Sci-Fi tinged films like Robocop, to Action-Comedies like Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hours (both starring Eddie Murphy), and Burglar and Fatal Beauty (both starring Whoopie Goldberg). There was also the Charles Bronson-led sequels of the Death Wish franchise, and the Chuck Norris-led Missing in Action films. Martial arts films became more popular outside of Hong Kong, and new stars in the genre like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal led the way with hits such as Bloodsport, Kickboxer, and Above the Law. There were others in addition, such as the Eric Roberts-led Best of the Best, and the early attempt at an American Jackie Chan film, The Big Brawl.

And one would be remiss not to mention the continuing James Bond films, though in my personal opinion, the 80s represented a dip for a fatiguing franchise, though there were still successful hits like A View to Kill, For Your Eyes Only, and The Living Daylights. A big part of Lucas and Spielberg's individual ascents to fame also included their collaboration project, Indiana Jones, which formed a trilogy of 80s films, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, and The Last Crusade.

One of the best.

Another genre to see a massive resurgence, arguably the biggest of the decade, was that of horror films. One of the absolute best ever made, and certainly the best the decade had to offer, seen above, is the Spielberg produced, Tobe Hooper directed Poltergeist. Helping to establish what I informally refer to as "Family Horror", this movie absolutely has its share of dark and spooky moments, but it also has a heart that is centered around a family, as they are the focus of the story, not the scary shit happening to them. While officially directed by Hooper, of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame, I hesitate to call this the best movie HE ever directed, because the fact is, even though he was busy at work on E.T. at the time, Spielberg also spent a lot of time on this film's set. It was his other pet project, and Hollywood studio rules stated he could not director more than one movie at a time, so he hired Hooper to direct this one. But it carries all of Spielberg's own trademarks, and it just plays out and FEELS like a Spielberg film. So it is hard to call it 100% a Hooper movie. Regardless, it is a classic, and one of the best supernatural "haunting" films that has ever been made.

The 80s really gave rise to the phenomenon of the "Horror Franchise". That isn't to say series of horror films didn't exist before, as they did. Universal in the 30s and 40s had their Dracula and Frankenstein and Mummy and Wolfman movies. And Hammer had their own Dracula and Frankenstein and Mummy series in the 50s and 60s. But often, those series were not direct sequels, or only loosely related, sometimes totally unrelated. In the 80s, driven in large part by the success of John Carpenter's Halloween, the "slasher" sub-genre became very popular, and it included not only sequels to Halloween, but also many sequels to the films A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th as well. Many other movies, such as Critters, Goulies, Hellraiser and Child's Play, which really didn't need sequels at all, still saw attempts at franchises too. They even tried making franchises out of older films that 100% didn't need sequels, such as 1960s Hitchcock classic Psycho.

The decade saw an almost ridiculous number of horror films, in fact I would suggest that there may well have been more horror films theatrically released in the 80s than any other decade. Just some of these films include: C.H.U.D., The Shining, The Evil Dead, The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, Fright Night, The Gate, Return of the Living Dead, The Changeling, Creepshow, Lifeforce, and Killer Klowns From Outer Space.  

John Candy, the Master.

On the lighter side of things, the 80s ALSO happened to be a huge decade for comedy. Again, there were some good comedy films from the 70s, as Mel Brooks attests to. But the 80s did once again see something of a resurgence, or even a comedy "renaissance" if you will. Much like the action genre, the rise in 80s comedy films was directly tied to the rising careers of many fairly new comedians, names such as: Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Eddie Murphy, Martin Short, and Rick Moranis. There were also stars who had risen in the 70s such as Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, who still had a big string of hits in the 80s. And while not as much a comedian as just a comedic actor, Tom Hanks became a huge star in the 80s, with films like Splash, Big, The Money Pit, and Turner & Hooch

Steve Martin's 80s hits include Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, The Man With Two Brains, Roxanne, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Eddie Murphy, of course, was all over the place, with movies like The Golden Child, Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hours, and Coming to America. Chevy Chase, the master of pratfalls and goofy sarcasm, had hits like Vacation, European Vacation, and my favorite Christmas Vacation, as well as Fletch, Modern Problems, Funny Farm, Three Amigos (also starring Martin and Short), and Caddyshack. And John Candy, who I personally consider the "biggest" comedy star of the 80s, also had many hits, like Going Berserk, Summer Rental, Spaceballs, The Great Outdoors (also starring Dan Aykroyd), and Planes Trains and Automobiles (which also starred Steve Martin).

The 1980s saw the rise of "buddy cop" movies, "screwball" comedies, and just plain weird comedies. Some of these included Stakeout, Jumping Jack Flash, Airplane!, The Naked Gun, A Christmas Story, Revenge of the Nerds, Police Academy, Scrooged, Look Who's Talking, Throw Mama From the Train, Haunted Honeymoon, and many more.

Everyone should see this at least once.

Just as the 1970s gave rise to names like Coppola, Lucas and Spielberg, the 1980s also saw the rise of several names that would go on to become big time, such as James Cameron, Tim Burton, Ron Howard, John Landis, and Chris Columbus, among others. But three such names that make it onto my "favorite directors ever" list, are Robert Zemecikis, Joe Dante, and John Carpenter. While Zemeckis is less-so one of my ALL time favorites, his 80s output especially was really stellar, with Romancing the Stone, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and the fantastic Back to the Future films. Joe Dante, who now runs the excellent Trailers From Hell site (among other things), started out his directing career with the horror films Piranha and The Howling. But he really took off, when he was chosen to direct the Spielberg produced, Chris Columbus written classic, 1984's Gremlins. That movie alone is timeless, and immortalizes Dante as a director, but he rode that wave to make several other 80s films, such as Explorers, InnerSpace, and one of my top favorites of all time, The 'Burbs.

As for John Carpenter, well, as previously stated, his career started in the 70s. Even before his breakthrough hit Halloween debuted in 1978, he had done the small-time films Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13. But it was the 80s when he really came into his own, with films like The Fog, Christine, Starman, Prince of Darkness, and They Live. However, the films he is perhaps best known and loved for, were also tied directly to the rise of yet another 80s star: Kurt Russel. Carpenter and Russel are real life friends, and he wound up casting him in a total of five films over his career, the biggest of which were the 80s hits Escape From New York, The Thing, and one of my Top 5 favorite movies ever, Big Trouble in Little China. I like most (but not all) of Carpenter's work in general, but those Kurt Russel films are my favorites of his, and Big Trouble is a movie I wish more people would see, because it is all at once SO weird and SO awesome, and was criminally overlooked for its time.  

100% 80s.

Last but hardly least, even though this article has run long (big surprise right?), I'd like to take the time to talk about what I call "80s Films". Granted, ALL of the films I've been talking about from the 80s, are 80s films. And one trait that I would say a lot of the BEST ones share, is that they are very much so a product of their time. But while I could easily have stuffed most of these in other genre sections, I think at least some of these best embody the 80s as a decade. Not only are these films a product of their time, but that is a big part of what MAKES them great, and also a huge part of why they should NEVER be remade, because they ARE "80s Films".

One of the most "80s Films" I can think of, is also one of my personal favorites, and that is Richard Donner's The Goonies. In the midst of making comedies like The Toy and Scrooged, and dark, violent action movies like Lethal Weapon 1 & 2, Donner decided to make this weird, wonderful family adventure film. The Goonies is, I'd even go so far as to say, a little hard to describe, BECAUSE it's "So 80s". It's a movie about a bunch of kids, who go off on their own (happens in a ton of 80s movies) to look for treasure to save their family homes from foreclosure, and they run into criminals and a Sloth and forgotten caves and dead pirates, you name it! As 80s as it is, it's also timeless, and such an amazing classic, it really makes me sorry I didn't see it as a kid, for whatever stupid reasons.

In fact, many of these I didn't see as a kid, such as PeeWee's Big Adventure, where a grown man who acts like a goofy child, goes on a road-trip looking for his stolen bike. Or Monster Squad, where another pack of mostly unsupervised kids set out to save their town, and the world, from Dracula and a gang of classic Hollywood monsters. Or the Karate Kid films, directed by John G. Avildsen, who also directed the first (and fifth) Rocky movies, where a goofy kid from New Jersey moves to California, gets bullied, gets trained by his Japanese apartment handyman, and winds up accidentally winning an entire karate tournament. Or Adventures in Babysitting, where a teen girl babysitting a bunch of suburban kids, winds up in all kinds of danger and crazy situations in Chicago. Or Beetlejuice, where a young married couple tragically dies, and then try mistakenly to hire a ghoul named Beetlejuice, to "excorcize" their house of its new living residents. Or hell, pretty much all of the John Hughes films, which all basically scream 80s, from Sixteen Candles, to Weird Science, to Ferris Bueller's Day Off, to The Breakfast Club, to Planes Trains and Automobiles, to Uncle Buck (another John Candy great). And of course, you simply cannot bring up 80s movies, without talking about Ghostbusters. That movie (and its sequel) IS the 80s, as much as it is anything else.


The truth is, there are a TON of other movies I haven't even mentioned that could be talked about, but I've already said way more than enough. The SHORT version, of course, is that the 80s were, I put forth, the overall BEST decade for films, beyond nostalgia, beyond personal preferences, because it just had a ton of great films in pretty much every genre you could think of. No matter what "kind" of movie fan you are, the 80s had something for you. And even for people who aren't "movie people", there are STILL landmark 80s classics that most of those people know of, and MOST of them likely like, if not love. A major film fan and amateur student of film history myself, while hardly an "expert", I'd say I know enough and have seen enough, to say with some kind of authority, that I don't think there is a single other decade someone can point to, and say that it has AS many amazing classic films, in AS many genres. And I say that as an 80s kid who grew up in the 90s, and trust me, there were/are a LOT of 90s films that I love.

Before I finally shut up, I'll leave you all with a list of what I'd say are some of THE top and "MOST 80s" films that really represent the decade, and my argument that it's the best decade in film. Some of these are movies I personally love, some aren't, but all are considered major classics, so they deserve inclusion:

The Terminator
Escape From New York
E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial
Die Hard
Lethal Weapon
Full Metal Jacket
Adventures in Babysitting
Stand By Me
The Breakfast Club
Big Trouble in Little China
Trading Places
Beverly Hills Cop
PeeWee's Big Adventure
The Karate Kid
Rocky III /IV (take your pick)
National Lampoon's Vacation
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Return of the Jedi (or Empire)
Wall Street
Top Gun
The 'Burbs
First Blood
Short Circuit
Back to the Future
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Friday the 13th
The Great Outdoors
Honey I Shrunk the Kids
Land Before Time
Superman II

Thank you for reading, and make sure to go watch some great 80s movies!