Seraph’s Favourite 80’s Movies

Posted on April 17, 2011 by


Okay, I’m gonna take a lot of flak for this, but let’s get this out in the open right away. The 1980’s were, in my humble opinion, the golden age of modern cinema. Yes, there was a LOT of cheesy crap in the 80’s, but the same can be said of any decade. Look at the world we live in today, with its constant Saw sequels and saw knockoffs and the putrid vomit being passed off as comedy (Date movie, Epic Movie, Scary Movie). And no, I’m not saying that I don’t think modern films, or indeed older films, are bad. Several of my favourite films ever only came out in the last few years (Dark Knight, Inception, The Good the Bad the Weird, Children of Men). Now, this article was originally intended to be a top ten, but then I actually started trying to list just ten of the best movie from the 80’s, and It simply couldn’t be done.  Now, this list is far from comprehensive. I’ve probably missed a ton of movies you think were as good (or better than) my own picks. If that’s the case, feel free to list your own in comments section.

The Empire Strikes back (1981). Without doubt, the best of the Star Wars movies. Empire brough us beloved Bounty Hunter Boba Fett, The Revelation that Darth Vader was actually Anakin Skywalker, Luke’s father, and cemented the romance between Han Solo and Princess Leia. It was a much darker movie than than Star Wars, The Empire was far from defeated, in fact, the destruction of the Death Star was little more than an inconvenience, and the Rebel Alliance is on the run, being hounded down wherever they try to hide, the first Black person to appear in the movies betrays our heroes and it ends with Luke losing his hand to Vader in a duel, Han being captured and taken away to Jabba the Hutt. I love this movie because it isn’t full of massive space battles, Lucas managed to fight the temptation to just make another movie with the same plot, and instead opted to spend the second part of his trilogy really fleshing out his characters and his universe, and it really shows.

Aliens (1986). How do you follow up one of the best horror movies ever made? Well, like this. You get James Cameron to direct a sequel that’s less horror and more action, and you Sigourney Weaver to play a woman with more balls than the cast of 300, creating a story that moves on from the original’s themes of pregnancy and childbirth (and rape) and taking on a theme of motherhood, not only with the protagonist, but with her surrogate daughter Newt, who is motherly towards her toy doll, and even the Alien Queen, who is fiercely protective of her eggs. While Weaver had the starring role in the original, I would argue that is was Aliens that really got her noticed.

Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan (1982). Oh, god. Where to begin. This is almost certainly one of the best Science fiction movies ever made, and most definitely the best Star Trek movie. This is a film you could show to people who hated the TV series and they would enjoy it. After the hugely disappointing snooze-fest that was Star Trek: The Motion(less) picture, Wrath of Khan is a balls out action movie, with tense battle scenes, an engaging plot about the return of a genetically engineered super-human, Khan, who had been marooned by Kirk years earlier, and who proves to be a far more deadly threat to the Enterprise and it’s crew than any number of Klingons. The themes of growing old and trying to recapture lost youth are really hammered home, and the death of Spock at the climax is one of the most beautiful, heart-breaking and poignant bromantic scenes ever captured on celluloid.

Raiders of the lost Ark (1981). Oh hell yeah. The first Indiana Jones movie. The third movie starring Harrison Ford on this list, I watched this damn movie so much as a kid that I wore through two VHS tapes before it came out on DVD, and I managed to wear out another two copies in that medium. As the posters claimed, Raiders really was ‘The Return of the Great Adventure’. This film gave cinema one of its most iconic heroes in Indy, and brought 1930s pulp action back to the big screen. Raiders has since spawned three sequels (only one of which is any good), a prequel series (The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles) and gave us such scenes as Indy just shooting a guy showing off with a sword, a Nazi getting his face melted off by THE POWER OF GOD, and, of course, the Boulder chase through the collapsing temple. How can you not love this movie?

Escape from New york (1981). The movie that inspired Hideo Kojima to make his hugely famous and popular Metal Gear games, Escape from New York follows anti-hero Snake Plisken, played by badassness incarnate Kurt Russell, yeah it’s a b-movie, but that doesn’t detract from how cool it is. In the distant, dystopian future of 1997, Snake is blackmailed by the government to go into New York city (now a massive walled prison island) to rescue the president of the United States, whose plane has crashed in the middle of Manhattan. In fact, this was the film that made Kurt Russell into an action star- he had in fact been Disney’s poster boy before he got signed on for Escape. You know, like Hannah Montana. It spawned a sequel/remake that polarised many fans as to whether it was a good movie or a bad one, though Jon Carpenter has suggested he prefers it. This would mark the beginning of a partnership between Russell and Carpenter that brough the world one of the best Horror movies ever made, but we’ll talk about that later.

Predator (1987). As with Alien and Aliens, there are only two true Predator movies, this, and the 2010 Predators. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger at his absolute peak, Predator starts off with a group of American Commandos sent out on a mission into the South American Jungle to rescue three presidential cabinet members who have been abducted by Guerrillas (no, not the big hairy kind. Although…). Before long, it becomes clear that Arnie and his boys aren’t the hunters, they’re they prey, and they are being stalked by something far more dangerous than themselves- The Predator. An alien hunter who tracks down the hardest targets for sport, and can turn invisible, has thermal vision, and quite happily picks off Arnie’s team one by one until it’s just him and the big man trying to out-badass each other, mano a mano. It’s tense, it’s beautifully gory and violent, and the final showdown between Dutch and the Predator, with Arnie covering himself in mud to negate the Predators thermal vision is poetry in motion.

Die Hard (1988). This is it. This is the archetypal action movie. Forget decades, this right here is a an exercise in perfection. Taking a man previously only known for doing sitcoms, Bruce Willis, and turning him into one of the hardest, most utterly badass determinators in cinematic history. Bruce is John McClane, a police detective from New York traveling to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve (that’s right, it’s a Christmas movie, too!) to try and reconcile with his estranged wife, meeting her in her place of work, the Nakatomi Plaza Building, where the company is holding it’s Christmas party. Suddenly, party pooper supreme and possibly one of the greatest cinematic villains of all time, Hans Gruber arrives with his boys, taking over the tower, taking the party guests hostage, and intend to steal a metric crapload of money. McClane isn’t about to let that happen, and an epic amount of crawling through air vents, getting the crap beaten out of him, and killing guys follows. Even if you don’t like Bruce Willis (what are you, gay?) this movie is totally worth seeing just for Alan Rickman’s performance as Hans.

Highlander (1982). I’ve seen this marked as horror down at HMV, but then those people are idiots. Like Spoony, Highlander is one of my all-time favourite movies, and the constant, vicious, evil raping of it’s name in sequels, TV shows, Cartoons and video games is one of the few things in life that makes me break into uncontrollable rage. In fact, let’s not even talk about them. Ever. Highlander has a couple of things going for it. First;y, it’s got a soundtrack written and performed entirely by Queen. And it’s AWESOME. Don’t believe me? Go watch this. Secondly, it has the coolest premise ever. A bunch of guys throughout history become, for no explicable reason (which is good, I really don’t know why audiences demand everything be spelled out for them these days) immortal. They don’t age, and they can;t be killed, except by decapitation. These guys, some of them thousands of years old, are all out to kill each other, by taking their heads, and then taking their life force via the Quickening, a process that basically makes everything within a hundred yards blow the hell up. Thirdly, because of the decapitation thing, all these guys wield swords, even in the modern day, and there are few things cooler than watching two total badasses going at it in the dark underbelly of New York city with a Japanese Katana and a massive Claymore so big it has to be taken apart to be transported. Love it.

Ghostbusters (1984). Who’re you gonna call? Everyone knows. You’re gonna call the Ghostbusters. From the rockin’ theme tune by Ray Parker Jr, to the greatest deadpan performance in history by Bill Murray, an starring Siourney Weaver (yep, she’s on here twice) in her first comedic role, Ghostbusters is probably the film most people think of when they think of movies from the 80’s, and it’s easy to see why- combining action, satire, humour, romance, drama and the supernatural, it pitted three nerdy scientist types (and their token black man) against the very destruction of the world itself. Yes, the sequel was pretty bad, and sure, the third one will probably be even worse when it finally comes out, but for everyone who wants to see a movie with amazing practical effects from the days before everybody just threw in millions of dollars of CGI to do their jobs for them, Ghostbusters is the way to go.

Back to the Future (1985). How do you follow up movies like Airplane and Ghostbusters? With the coolest, funniest time-travel movie ever made. No, it’s not Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, although that film is most excellent (Air Guitar!), it’s the film that made a cool-looking but otherwise pretty damn crappy car- the DMC DeLorean one of the most famous cars in cinematic history. Right up there with the Batmobile. No, the good Batmobile. From 1981. ‘Doc’ Emmet Brown has used said car as the basis for a Time Machine. Through a series of unfortunate events involving stolen Plutonium, the Doc getting shot by angry Libyans and some serious shit happening when Marty takes the car to escape and hits 88mph, Marty Mcfly ends up transported- and stranded- in the 1955. Upon arriving, he disrupts the original first meeting of his parents, and has to engineer a way to get them together now his own mother is infatuated with him. Flux Capacitor, Away!

Spaceballs (1987). Even today, with movies like Star Wreck and Free Enterprise, there is one science fiction spoof movie that stands head and shoulders above the rest- Spaceballs. Let’s forget for a minute that is basically parodies Star Wars. Let’s forget for a minute that it is, basically, the only good film Bill Pullman’s ever done. Spaceballs is one of the most brilliant comedies since Airplane, and in some respects even outshines it. With fantastic sight gags (Combing the desert), Performances from comedic actors at the top of their games. Mel Brooks is an unmitigated genius, and in my opinion, Spaceballs may well be his greatest creation.

The Thing (1982). Okay, yeah, it has a silly b-movie title. Jon Carpenter’s The Thing is a re-make of an actual silly B-movie, The Thing from Another World (1951), but where the original had a monster that was, basically, a giant carrot, Carpenters monster was sheer unleaded paranoia fuel. The plot is this, The Thing, an alien that can infect and make itself look like any living being, animal and human alike, crashes in the Antarctic and is accidentally dug up. It finds it’s way to an American science base, and proceeds to turn everyone against each other in one of the most tense  ‘anyone-could-be-the-thing’ moments ever. And when it isn’t pretending to be one of the scientists, it’s this huge, be-tentacled mass of stuff- and proof once again that practical effects are always going to be better than CGI (which I’m sure will be used extensively in the prequel that’s being made at the moment, to the detriment of the movie). This movie is tense, gory, and it ends on one of the best open-endings in cinematic history, and let’s be frank here, even making an open-ending slightly good is one hell of a difficult thing to achieve.  This is one of my favourite movies ever, and probably one of the greatest horror movies ever made. Saw? Bollocks.

Akira (1988). In a world where the only cartoons grown-ups still watched were Disney movies they got dragged to by their kids (although Black Cauldron was friggin’ awesome) Akira came along with it’s themes and it’s characters and its violence and drugs and OH MY GOD A GIANT MUTANT BABY THING. Based on the acclaimed 2182 page Manga by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also wrote and directed the film, Akira- is really hard to describe. A coming-of-age story of sorts, it tells the story of Kaneda and Tetsuo, childhood friends who get themselves embroiled in a massive conspiracy surrounding the titular Akira, a child Psychic who was responsible for wiping Tokyo off the face of the planet and initiating World War 3. Members of a biker gang in Neo-Tokyo some years later, Tetsuo finds himself gaining some psychic powers of his own, which basically make him go crazy. Yes, this is MASSIVE over-simplification of the plot, but I explained it in full, this article would hit 4000 words, and I have essays to write that are shorter than that. The point is that Akira brough anime to the mainstream, and finally proved (though many people are still arguing about it) that animation isn’t just for the children.