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Monday, July 9, 2012

The Movies That Defined the 1980's: 30-21

Scene from "Brazil" courtesy of
I'll remind you that I was only born in 1983 so, while I lived part of my childhood in the 80's, a lot of these films were viewing for me long after their original release. That being said, this portion of the list contains some of my absolute favorites. If this were a list of movies that defined the 80's for me personally, a lot of these would hit the top ten. But, I have to be willing to admit there are billions of other opinions to take into account, I guess. So, I did my research and figured I'd better paint a less personal picture, what with a lot of my readers not knowing me personally. You're welcome. Anyway, let's jump into my sentimental portion of the list, numbers 30 through 21.


#30. The NeverEnding Story (1984)

I couldn't willingly put this any higher on the list, but it pains me that it's all the way down at number 30. Directed by Wolfgang Peterson (yes, the same guy that directed Das Boot, Air Force One, and In the Line of Fire), The NeverEnding Story centers on Bastian (Barret Oliver), a lonely boy who retreats into his imagination when he finds a book that seems to write itself, based on his own thoughts and decisions. NOTE: His dad is played be "Major Dad," a.k.a. Gerald McRaney. A true "choose your own adventure," Bastian slowly unravels a story involving a young boy named Atreyu and his quest to defeat "The Nothing" and keep the world of imagination from falling apart and save a nameless princess. It sounds difficult to follow, doesn't it? Well, you can do it...with LUCK. Show Falcore some respect.

#29. The Goonies (1985)

A second straight nostalgic pick that I just couldn't put any higher on the list, this Steven Spielberg production was every 80's child's favorite piece of cinema (that may be a generalization, but still). Starring a "murderer's row" of child actors, The Goonies revolved around a group of friends and their unbelievable attempts to find a treasure that is hidden in a secret cave, after they find out their homes will be torn down to build a golf course. Oh, and this is all while they run from a criminal gang named The Fratellis who have broken out of prison. Sean Astin, Corey Feldman, Joe Pantoliano, Martha Plimpton, Josh Brolin, and Anne Ramsey all star in this adventure film that is so quotable, fun, and enjoyable that kids of all ages will always have a soft spot for One-Eyed Willy, Sloth, and, of course, the Truffle Shuffle.

#28. Risky Business (1983)

America - this is Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise - this is America. This is the man who will dominate your box office for years after. The young star burst onto the scene in this film about a Chicago teenager who looks for fun while his parents are away, only to see everything get incredibly out of hand. Tom Cruise had been on screen before, but never like this. Never in all his cocky, charming glory like he is in Risky Business. It's the Ray Ban glasses. It's Rebecca De Mornay in the back of a train car. But most of all, it's Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, tighty whiteys, and karaoke to that "Old Time Rock n' Roll."

#27. Ghostbusters (1984)

An example of "definitive" - when your movie's title is the answer to the question "Who are you gonna call?" 90% of the time. Ivan Reitman directed this sci-fi/comedy about a trio of parapsychology professors and their crackpot idea to begin catching ghosts in New York City. This strange idea was a showcase for some "Saturday Night Live" alums, plus excellent supporting comedic performances from the likes of Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver. Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson made up the team, all adding their own fascinating spins on such an odd premise. The movie spawned an animated TV series and just added to the sarcastic brilliance of Murray, who would slowly build on this character type as the years went on. When all is said and done, Ghostbusters gave the world the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and Slimer, so that's enough for me.

#26. The Princess Bride (1987)

Three years after This is Spinal Tap and one year after Stand By Me, director Rob Reiner continued his winning ways with a classic fairy tale injected with a little more sarcasm, wit, and hilarity. The Princess Bride detailed a grandfather (played by the late Peter Falk) reading his grandson (Fred Savage) a story that, unfortunately, contained "some kissing." While we cut back to those two, most of the action centers on the story itself, featuring Princess Humperdink (Robin Wright) and her childhood love Westley (Cary Elwes) and his quest to get her back after she is kidnapped. Packed full of brilliant writing, a stellar cast (including Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Carol Kane, Andre the Giant, Wallace Shawn, and Mandy Patinkin), and a real sense of adventure and wonderment, this simple story about undying love is right on the money. Don't want me to give out any spoilers? As you wish.

#25. Valley Girl (1983)

It's not a great film, but Valley Girl did two important things for the decade. First, it did for the 80's what Clueless did for the 90's - it took the language, style, and mannerisms of the time and forced them down the audience's throat. Second, it introduced us to that guy in the picture above. Nicholas Cage's first big break came in this movie about a girl from the valley and her relationship with a punk from the city. It's like Romeo and Juliet, but without all that drama and death. Still, Valley Girl was a snapshot of the early 80's and what it was like to brave the halls of high schools in clothes you wouldn't be caught dead wearing nowadays. Still, it stands as a reminder of just how strange a decade can look if you cram all its nostalgia into one film. As good or bad as Valley Girl is, it's like a time capsule of what teenage life in this crazy decade was.

#24. Gremlins (1984)

In the mid-80's, the Motion Picture Association of America decided they needed to amend the rating system some. Films were being released that were just a little too violent or raunchy for kids, but not so much that only adults should be allowed see them. Enter PG-13, thanks in part to Joe Dante's horror-comedy about a teenager whose new pet multiplies and the spawn begins to destroy the little town of Kingston Falls. Starring Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates (and produced by Steven Spielberg), Gremlins introduced the world to Gizmo and a whole host of little green monsters with their own personalities. All because the rules weren't followed: no water, no food after midnight, and no bright light. It made for a nice little Christmas movie, that's for sure. Feel free to skip over what is easily the most depressing Christmas story ever from Phoebe Cates here, too.

#23. Sixteen Candles (1984)

Well, a Molly Ringwald film had to be on the list, so I picked the best one. In Sixteen Candles, Samantha Baker (Ringwald) is "celebrating" her sixteenth birthday, only to suffer more embarrassment than she could have ever dreamed of. Samantha has a crush on the most popular boy in school (Michael Schoeffling) and the nerdiest boy in school (Anthony Michael Hall) has a crush on her. Throw in a foreign exchange student nicknamed "The Donger" (Gedde Watanabe) and her sister's wedding and you get a messy trip into womanhood. It was the best of all the similar stories we saw in the decade about a teenager's yearning to be popular and find love, and featured an early appearance by John Cusack as a supporting dork. Either way, Sixteen Candles set the stage for every other teenage relationship comedy in the decade, still being "borrowed from" to this day.

#22. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

Cops were never funnier or cooler. Martin Brest's showcase for Eddie Murphy centered on a Detroit cop named Axel Foley (Murphy) and his transition into Beverly Hills and the culture shock he sees as he pursues a murder investigation. Beverly Hills Cop grabbed an Oscar nomination (Original Screenplay) and was the launching pad for Murphy's movie career. Followed by two somewhat unnecessary sequels, this landmark action-comedy was more than a template for later successes in the genre, like Bad Boys and Lethal Weapon. A buddy comedy disguised as a cop flick, Beverly Hills Cop gave us a new comedy star and an awesome, pure 80's theme song. And don't forget that Murphy's popularity because of this film eventually led to his brilliant single "Party All the Time."

#21. Die Hard (1988)

I'm not a huge fan of films that are widely considered "guy movies," due to their lack of character development and plot. But, come on. John McClane...Hans Gruber...Christmas. Bruce Willis stars in John McTiernan's testosterone-fueled film about a terrorist group led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) who takes control of a Los Angeles building during the holidays. McClane (Willis) is a New York City cop there on vacation, but finds himself as the one man who can stop them. McTiernan - a capital region product - creates a film that must be watched by every man, woman and child, solely for the sheer insanity and excitement in every scene. Forget all the male role models you've ever had in your life - watching Die Hard and John McClane single-handedly defeat a group of terrorists will make you a man. Yippee-ki-yay.

Whew...this is exhausting. Numbers 20 through 11 next.


  1. This is a great list so far... I was (and admittedly still am) a little skeptical about Ghostbusters being down as low as #27, but I have to admit that all of the movies you have above so far are ones that I would at least be willing to accept someone considering them more definitive, even if I don't always agree.

    I'm looking forward to seeing the how the rest of the list shakes out.

  2. Ghostbusters was a top 20 in my mind until I started building the list and realizing how many other films just seemed to make a greater cultural impact, in my mind...that doesn't make it any less awesome...