The 80s?! 25 Reasons and 200 Films That Show The Much Maligned Decade Can Hold Its Own: Part 2

In a decade derided for ghastly fashion, terrible hair, some goofy songs (Pac-Man Fever or Wham! Rap anyone?) and some questionable behavior, the decades films unfairly get lumped in with the rest of the baggy, day-glow Aqua-netted pop-culture trough.

The 80’s saw the birth of some great trends, some sublime genre pics, the last explosion of the traditional Hollywood Star, some great junk, and the first and last hurrahs of many major filmmakers.

There were plenty of silly films, as there always are, that served no greater purpose than to exploit the social atrocities mentioned above, but to dismiss the decade is to amputate a hand (or at least a foot and a few toes) from the body of cinema.  Today is the second part of a few things that make the decade of the 80’s nothing short of rad.

14. The Horror Decade & The Rise of the Horror Franchise

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A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, Friday the 13th, Dead & Buried, Chopping Mall, Critters, Fright Night, Night of the Comet, Night of the Creeps, The Evil Dead, Hellraiser, Re-Animator, Childs Play, Sleepaway Camp, The Hitcher, The Funhouse, The Hidden, CHUD, Street Trash, The House on Sorority Row, Dreamscape, Fade to Black, Hell Night, Motel Hell

The seed for the modern horror film and the appetite for it was planted in the 1970’s with films like Black Christmas, Bay of Blood, Last House on the Left but is was the tremendous financial success of Halloween on its baby budget that really turned heads.  The hope for low-risk high-reward fueled early 80’s horror and the explosion of VHS gave it so much momentum that it is still chopping its way forward today.  The output became so massive it created a practical effects demand that made make-up artists like Tom Savini, Stan Winston, Rick Baker and Greg Nicotero into household names.

The success of Friday the 13th in 1980 helped give confidence to the exec producers of Halloween 2 to put the money they did into the sequel and convince Paramount that they had found a money tree with Friday.  Friday Part 2 was rushed to theaters in 1981 and Halloween 2 came out later that same year.  Both did well financially and forever more franchise would be in that back of most minds when dinero was put up for a horror film.  A Nightmare on Elm Street pumped an oil drum of steroids into that pursuit.

15. The SNL/Second City Explosion

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Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, Stripes, Three Amigos, Fletch, The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, 48 hrs, Coming to America, Spies Like Us, National Lampoons Vacation, Armed & Dangerous, Planes Train & Automobiles, Little Shop of Horrors, Outrageous Fortune, Troop Beverly Hills

In cinema history, there has not been a decade that has had one genre dominated by one thing the way comedy in the 1980’s was dominated by SNL/Second City.  Eddie Murphy, Chevy Chase, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, Rick Moranis, Shelly Long, John Candy, Eugene Levy, John Belushi and it goes on.

Every year of the decade had at least one film headlined by at least one cast member from one show or the other on the top 10 highest grossing list.  It peaked in 1984 with Beverly Hills Cop and Ghostbusters ending the year as the two highest grossing films.  Altogether 13 films from alums finished in the year end top 10, and a couple of dozen more in the top 20.  Former cast members continued to have success into the 90’s and beyond, but not with the dominance seen in the 80’s.

16. The Hip Hop to the Hippy

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Krush Groove, Wild Style, Breakin’ 2, Beat Street, Style Wars

Film, more often that not, reflects the culture of its time.  The 80’s were no exception.  Ancillary business’s like MTV and VHS helped to support even more film sub-genres than we had ever seen before.  One of the most prominent examples being hip-hop/rap/breakdancing films.  Films like Wild Style, Krush Groove and others highlighted different aspects of hip-hop culture including graffiti, fashion, music, dance and slang.  While thought of as at the time as a fad that would come and go, hip-hops influence is stronger today than ever.

17. Kid Quest Films

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Goonies, Time Bandits, Neverending Story, Return to Oz, Legend, The Last Dragon, The Last Starfighter, Explorers, The Journey of Natty Gann

While no decade has come and gone without a long list of kid friendly fare, the children of the 80s had action and adventure on the minds.  From effects driven fantasy and storybooks come to life, to a kid or kids searching for their father, lost treasure, The Glow or a dead body, the decade had something for everyone.  Even Tom Cruise got in on it, playing an odd-speaking goofball in one of the most gorgeous films of the decade. (Legend)

18. Giallo’s Last Stand

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Inferno, Tenebre, Opera, New York Ripper, Delirium, Stagefright, Murder Obsession, Macabre, Nightmare Beach, The Scorpion Has Two Tails,The House on the Edge of the Park, Regalo di Natale

Unofficially birthed in the early 60s by Mario Bava, the Giallo film officially had its hey day in the decade of the 70s.  Filmmakers such as Bava, Dario Argento, Umberto Lenzi and Lucio Fulci added defining characteristics that shaped the sub-genre in the 70’s, and fed the VHS surge of the 80’s.  Many inferior copycats sprung up in the new decade and while their presence and Bava’s absence (d:1980) don’t allow a favorable comparison between decades, Bava’s son Lamberto, Fulci, Argento, Lenzi and Pupi Avati all fired off some strong work that in hindsight stands as Giallo’s last true hurrah.

19. Cronenberg’s Peak

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The Fly, Videodrome, Scanners, The Dead Zone, Dead Ringers

After teasing so much talent in his uneven but enjoyable films in the 1970’s David Cronenberg, The Godfather of body horror, matured into one of the most interesting and artistically successful filmmakers of the 1980’s.  In his more personal efforts he worked through psychological fear of the body and its threats in great depth.  In his Hollywood work he found layers and meaning in his adaptations of The Fly and The Dead Zone, incorporating some of his body elements into both.

20. Hello Hong Kong

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The Killer, A Better Tomorrow, A Better Tomorrow 2, City on Fire, We’re Going to Eat You, Peking Opera Blues

Primarily associated with martial arts and mysticism for years, Hong Kong shot its way into the 1980’s with with a new two-gun fury.  What Tsui Hark began with genre departures like We’re Going to Eat You, a horror/comedy shift on kung fu, and Peking Opera Blues exploded into a kinetic new HK crime genre with the Hark backed John Woo films of the late 80’s.  The Killer, A Better Tomorrow and its sequel helped shape modern action film the world-over, and made Woo one of the greatest influences on modern film.  Ringo Lam’s City on Fire had a similar effect on up-and-coming young film folk and informed many action films and tropes too, although the film and Lam are not in the public consciousness quite the way Woo and his films are.

21. Funny Tom Hanks

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Volunteers, Splash, The ‘burbs, Dragnet, Bachelor Party, The Money Pit, Big

Tom Hanks. Everyman, great actor, approachable star, scandal-free and all around affable fella.  That is who we see when we look at Mr. Hanks.  There was a time when he was ALL of these things AND funny.  Very funny.  He had such charm, timing and abandon that whatever comedy he was in, no matter how poorly written or poorly conceived, was elevated by his casting.  Any Hanks comedy was watchable, and good ones were sublime and enduring.

22. Action, Action, Action….

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Predator, Robocop, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, The Road Warrior, Conan the Barbarian, Commando, First Blood, To Live and Die in LA, Cobra, Bloodsport, Tango & Cash, Black Rain, Red Dawn, The Hidden, Beastmaster, No Way Out, Night Hawks, The Exterminator, Hard Ticket to Hawaii, Blue Thunder, Code of Silence, Red Scorpion.

Action in the 1980’s came in every shape and size.  High budget, low budget, no budget.  Martial arts, political, futuristic, fantasy, whatever your flavor there was a scoop for you.  There is no list from fans or critics of best action films that doesn’t include multiple entries from the 80s’.  Predator, Robocop, Lethal Weapon and Die Hard appear on most ‘best’ lists, with The Road Warrior, Conan and most Sylvester Stallone films often appearing on favorites lists.

Not unlike horror, video helped fuel a lot of lower budget fare.  Films like The Exterminator and Red Scorpion, and producers and directors like Menahem Golan, Andy Sidaris and Yoram Globus are great entertainment and a reflection of that time.

23. Troma and Toxie

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Class of Nuke ’em High, Toxic Avenger, Surf Nazi’s Must Die

Although they had been involved with low budget pics since the 1970’s, Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz’s Troma Entertainment burst from a nuclear waste vat in 1985 with The Toxic Avenger.  It embraced its low budget and all the shortcoming that that brings, and was a fresh and loving modern evolution of 1950’s cheapo science fiction.  The popularity of Toxie led to two sequels, the first of which was in 1989.

The two men found more success and another franchise in 1986 with the release of Class of Nuke ’em High.  The following year brought Surf Nazi’s Must Die.  Not a Troma production but a film they distributed that found an enthusiastic audience.

While their productions are bargain basement and incredibly over the top, most Troma films are rooted in some form of social commentary, and every dime is on-screen.

24. Seminal Sci-fi

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Blade Runner, The Terminator, Brazil

In a three year span, three of the most influential modern science fiction films were released.  Their impact on production design, character design, special effects, music and themes have been felt in every dystopian, post-apocolyptic or futuristic society in cinema since.

25. American Animation for Adults

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Heavy Metal, Fire & Ice, Rock & Rule, Twice Upon a Time, American Pop, When the Wind Blows, Time Masters.

The great Ralph Bakshi certainly made a huge splash in the 70s with adult oriented animated fare, and he and others fed a mini boom in the 1980’s that benefitted from VHS and shows like USA networks Night Flight.  Bakshi contributed Fire & Ice and American Pop, both cult favorites, with Pop being among his better efforts.  Music fueled several entries with Rock & Rule, When the Wind Blows and Heavy Metal  joining American Pop in that regards.  The bulk of them inhabited sci-fi/fantasy, with Wind Blows the exception as it takes place in contemporary England.

Twice Upon a Time from Emmy & Oscar winner John Korty is a singular film incorporating a back-lit technique Korty called Lumage that he had used for shorts he produced for The Electric Company and Sesame Street in the early 1970’s.  It is on a short list of singular must-watches from the decade.

Author: El Cinemonster

El Cinemonster hails from the wilds of suburbia, and was raised on a diet of Zombies, Universal Monsters, Kung Fu and Grandmaster Flash. Since those early days he has lugged his bulk back and forth across the US and planet Earth, fueled by good beer and hooch, to dance with life's pixies wherever they are found. He is here to blather on about off the beaten path film, near the beaten path film, and on occasion a film that takes the path. There may also be beer, tequila and music sprinkled over things, as he finds these to be fine seasonings.

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