Here we go with another By The Decade post to help broaden my cinematic horizons and welcome your recommendations from a specific era – and this one is sure to pull together a decent list!
Following the previous 3 From The 30s, 4 From The 40s, 5 From The 50s, 6 From The 60s and 7 From The 70s posts, and the brilliant suggestions from readers for their favourite films from the 1930s, the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s and the 1970s, there are loads of great suggestions for you to check out too in the By The Decades section.
Now I was worried that my 1970s choices were pretty mainstream, and I think that’s going to be a concern this week too. Not to say there’s anything wrong with mainstream – watch what you want to watch, people! – and there were plenty of hidden gems that decade too, these just happen to be the ones that I either revisit most often, or feel strongly about.
Oh, and I’m aware there are some Amblin-shaped gaps in my choices, but that’s mainly because I’m absolutely certain they’ll be filled by other people!
As ever, I’ll add the reader recommendations later, but for now, here are my eight from the eighties…
Big Trouble In Little China (1986)
It was really tough to choose just one Kurt Russell/John Carpenter team-up for this shortlist, but as much as I love The Thing, Big Trouble In Little China just pipped it at the post.
I love it because it’s silly, but completely true to the world it creates. It embraces all the daft elements it introduces, and all the time Kurt Russell’s Jack Burton thinks he’s being John Wayne, he’s actually just a well-meaning, tough-talking nincompoop. It’s funny, it’s thrilling, and has some of the best (and most 1980s), sets and fight choreography of the decade, and most importantly, it’s just hugely entertaining.
Also, it reminds me of seeing it when I was visiting family overseas and was too young to watch it. Russell firing his machine gun into the ceiling and getting knocked out by falling rubble made me laugh like a drain, and the lightning-themed villain scared the hell out of me but I couldn’t look away. Revisiting it now – as I try to do fairly often – I still get that sense of excitement.
Another 1980s classic that creates and embraces its own unique world, I reckon Robocop has dated surprisingly well.
That blend of Verhoeven’s sarcastic, mocking commentary on the state of US news and TV programming, the still-impressive practical effects, that classic score and OTT violence as well as proper ‘boo-hiss baddies’ and a reasonably decent plot, means the original stands head and metallic shoulders above its inevitable remake and also over the sequels too.
Weirdly, this is one of the last films I saw on the big screen pre-pandemic too, and while I’m sure most of the audience had seen it before, it still went down an absolute storm. Oh, and who doesn’t love the adorable stop-motion work on ED-209?
Back To The Future (1985)
You can keep your Lord Of The Rings, Three Colours and Godfathers, for me, Back To The Future holds up as the greatest cinematic trilogy.
Every entry has its merits and I do have a real fondness for part two, but you wouldn’t have that without the perfect opening film of the franchise.
Leaving aside some of the problematic elements that it’s so popular to pick out these days, it’s such a tight and well-structured script – with elements being seamlessly set up and paying off throughout – it’s more or less impossible not to enjoy it.
If you haven’t seen it, there’s a terrific feature-length documentary about the film and its legacy which I’d highly recommend seeking out. If you get chance to see the film being scored by a live orchestra performing Alan Silvestri’s amazing music (as I was lucky enough to experience in Leeds a few years ago), I’d highly recommend it, and I’m hoping to see the stage musical later this year (depending on All This), so I’ll report back if/when that goes ahead.
Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1982)
I mean, it’s Raiders. More brilliant storytelling, adventure, incredible stunts and effects, amazing John Williams score and a note-perfect cast. It’s cinematic lightning in a bottle, what else is there to say?
Oh, except please check out the amazing Marvel comic book adaptation from 1982, which is a lot of fun.
This is one I feel like I should remember from 1989, but if I’m honest, I don’t think I saw the film for a couple of years after its release.
What I did have was a brilliant DC comic book tie-in release from around the time it came out which I remember reading cover to cover many times during a family holiday as a kid. By the time I came to actually watch the film, I knew every beat (and I think a couple of bits that weren’t present), but loved it anyway.
I rediscovered it in the loft not that long ago, as well as a few others, and immediately sat down to read the whole thing again instead of finding what I’d gone up there for.
It’s another pitch-perfect cast, with iconic set-pieces and sets, and while I know people tend to favour Tim Burton’s second entry in the franchise, this is the one I’ve revisited the most. The full pre-Nolan box set is on the Late Review pile – I’ll get round to it eventually, and I’m looking forward to it.
I mean, of course this was going to be here.
The stories behind its creation are almost as entertaining as the film itself, and outlined brilliantly in Nick De Semlyen’s excellent book Wild And Crazy Guys.
This is another film where it’s almost surprising that the effects hold up so well, but they do, and again, while the number of people who were almost in this film is a great read, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else making such an impressive team.
I actually saw this on the same holiday as Big Trouble In Little China, and was way more scared by it (particularly the librarian ghost), and again, that’s really stuck with me. Endlessly rewatchable (and apparently remake-able), and always entertaining.
My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
I’ve spoken before about my love for this film, and even though it’s something I only discovered a couple of years ago, for sheer comfort, originality and revisitability (I know that’s not a word, but go with it), it had to make the list. Just a lovely, lovely film.
Evil Dead (1982)
Where to start on this one? It basically changed the horror genre forever and introduced the world to Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi.
Yes, the sequel is more polished and has better effects, and yes, the third part is way funnier (you could probably expect to see that in 9 From The 90s), but the original is still brutal, shocking and scary, even if the plasticine monster at the end looks a little goofy.
Again, this is a film where the story of its creation (as outlined in numerous documentaries and Campbell’s hugely entertaining autobiography), and the aftermath of its release and condemnation in the Video Nasty era are just as fascinating as the film itself.
It’s scrappy but stylish, and changed the rules about how horror movies could be made, and I’ll rewatch any of that series at the drop of a hat.
What Did I Miss?
Like I said, there are some notable films missing from this list, not because I don’t care for them (well, most of them), but because if the reader responses are as popular as they were for the 70s entry, I’m pretty sure I’ll see them!
So what would you put forward as your recommendations for great films from the 80s? Mainstream is fine, but if there’s anything off-the-wall (but easily findable), I’d love to hear about it!
Get in touch on Twitter, Facebook or in the comments section, and I’ll upload the full list over the weekend.
UPDATE: You can now find the full list of reader recommendations from the 1980s right here – thanks to everyone who took part!