The movie industry makes approximately a bajillion dollars per year, so understandably studios are increasingly pressured to release several high-profile films every year. With the constant barrage of premiering movies, it is understandable that many people have not seen several older movies which were hugely popular at their release. As such, I sought to create an article listing 15 Pre-90s Movies Every 90s-Born Movie Fan Needs To See. In order to formulate such a list, you have to have some pretty strict parameters. In regards to time limitations, obviously this list is limited to movies which debuted before 1990.
Secondly, I chose to exclude any films which are heavily ingrained in the American culture (think Gone With the Wind). The reason for this is that those movies are so often referenced and quoted that even if you haven’t seen them yourself, it seems like you have because over the years the plot has been absorbed into your brain. Though every rule needs SOME exceptions. After all, isn’t that what a badass does? And trust us, we have some of the biggest badasses in cinematic history below.
The final guideline for the movies chosen for this list is that they are kickass. That is, they are not judged so much for their cinematic value, as they are for how much they can tangibly excite the audience. All storylines and plot points referenced in this article are the product of the first-hand remembrances of the author. Specific dates and actors for the films are taken from IMDb.com.
15. Bloodsport (1988)
This was an obvious entry for this list. Bloodsport which debuted in 1988 centers entirely around an international mixed martial arts tournaments. What are the parameters of this tournament? Fights to the death, of course! Does it get more badass than that?
Though there is some sort of underlying storyline, but this movie pretty much amounts to Jean-Claude Van Damme kicking various villains asses for 90 minutes (and of course, impressing his love interest who is also present at the tournament so she can swoon over his half naked body for most of the film). This is the film which made Van Damme famous and starts our list of pre-’90s kickass movies. However, Bloodsport won’t be the only time you see a high-profile action star on this list.
14. Ghostbusters (1984)
The Ghostbusters franchise has been back in the news with the release of the recent remake starring Melissa McCarthy (save your 11 bucks, trust me), however, the original 1984 version of this film is the one that makes our list. Starring the incomparable Bill Murray, this film is as kickass as it is funny. Following a drastic increase in paranormal activity in New York City, these four misfits must band together to save the city from a nefarious plot. Though I considered putting the 1989 sequel on our list, the first of these films is easily the best and the one which best exemplifies what this franchise is all about. Filled with tons of Murray hijinks, an adept storyline, and some classic ’80s music, this film is simply a joy to watch and well deserving of the #14 on our list.
13. The Shining (1980)
One of only a few horror movies on this list, the 1980 version of The Shining is not just one of our kickass older movies, but it is also the book/film that made American icon Stephen King a household name. Following the family of new Outlook Hotel caretaker Jack Torrance, the film version of this story starring Jack Nicholson is not only truly frightening but also pretty bad ass. Perhaps the most memorable scene from this movie is a crazed Nicholson chasing his wife and adolescent son through the halls of this haunted hotel as she tries to hold him back with a baseball bat. Just don’t blame us if this movie ends up keeping you up a little bit later than you expected. Not to mention the ghosts in the film are pretty cool and the special effects definitely seemed advanced for their era.
12. Predator (1987)
This isn’t the only Arnold Schwarzenegger action epic to make this list, but it might be the most infamous. The original Predator debuted in 1987 and pitted an Arnold led squad of army commandos (why Arnold with his still heavy Austrian accent would be leading a US armed force is questionable) against a supreme alien bounty hunter. For its time, the Predator creature was highly original. Equipped with an array of weaponry and the ability to see in infrared, the Predator was more of a futuristic Star Wars type character than he was a traditional monster. Throw in Arnold in one of his most comfortable roles, and you’ve got the makings of our #12th non-’90s movie you should see.
Plus while we’ve tried to avoid movies that have epic one liners, how do you not love”Get to the choppah”?
11. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
When it comes down to it, what’s more kickass than a war film. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, Full Metal Jacket might be the most kickass war film of all time. Well you know, aside from those totally inaccurate Mel Gibson flicks where he just acts crazy for three hours (cough cough Braveheart). This film centers around a platoon of U.S. Marines during their training for the Vietnam War and is one of the most quotable films that I have ever seen, including a hilarious shouting match between Private Pyle and Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.
For god’s sake, the very title of the movie Full Metal Jacket refers to the types of bullets U.S. soldiers used during the conflict, and we’re sure you agree that is pretty badass. This non-90’s film is definitely worth a watch, and its kickass nature more than earns it a spot on our list here at #11.
10. Fright Night (1985)
For years now I have feared that films and shows like the Twilight Saga and Vampire Diaries have effectively killed the vampire epic. If that is true, we must lean even more heavily on the great vampire movies of our past. One such movie is Fright Night, which debuted in 1985 and starred Chris Sarandon. This film follows a young hero who must save both his mother and his love interest from the clutches of his evil vampire neighbor. In order to do so, he must not only recruit a fraudulent TV vampire hunter but also kill his lifelong best friend. This film follows a very well developed storyline and includes some downright awesome fight scenes. As such, the original Fright Night makes our list at #10 of non-’90s movies that 90s-born movie fan should see.
9. First Blood (1982)
You can’t have a list filled with ’80s action movies without including a Stallone flick. Of course the most badass of these (sorry Rocky) is the Rambo franchise. Of the franchise, the most notorious is the first ironically titled First Blood. Yes, most people just refer to these films as “Rambo” but they do have actual titles. I think one single scene defines just how plain cool this movie really is. At this point, Rambo is being hunted by the enemy force (throughout the film franchise they always seem to be Asian), he rises out of the river with machine gun in hand and covered with natural camouflage and you know sh-t is about to go down! Perhaps the most action-packed selection on this list, Stallone’s badass action hero Rambo makes our list here at #9.
8. Top Gun (1986)
Any list about great pre-’90s movies would be lacking if it didn’t include the dynamic duo of Maverick and Goose. Top Gun debuted in 1986, starring a Tom Cruise whose odd tendencies had not yet taken away from his status as a legitimate action star. Following the lives (and loves) of two best friend fighter pilots, this is one of Cruise’s most memorable roles and just a really cool film. The plot line of the film is totally unique, and it is easy to see why Cruise was making his mark as a leading man in Hollywood. This film additionally gets bonus points for quotability and it’s awesome soundtrack, allowing it to rise to #8 in our rankings. Perhaps fittingly, just behind another buddy movie starring another less than normal Hollywood star.
7. Lethal Weapon (1987)
Remember when everyone thought Mel Gibson’s portrayal of the crazy Martin Riggs was so great and a huge step for him as an actor? A lot of things have changed since then, but one thing that hasn’t is how great of a movie the first (and to some extent the second) Lethal Weapon is. Following the now iconic plot line of an aged veteran getting stuck with a hot shot (and sometimes unstable) partner, you can imagine both hilarity and kickass moments ensues. Filled with just the right combination of comedy and action, the Lethal Weapon franchise is deserving of its rank as becoming the goal for buddy cop movies. Unlike most of the films on this list, Lethal Weapon is highly dependent on the storyline to succeed, though it does have a few memorable fight scenes. Therefore while it is the ultimate buddy cop film, it doesn’t do enough to crack a spot higher than #7.
6. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
I originally reserved this spot for the first of the Tremors franchise, starring Kevin Bacon, but I was devastated to learn that the film actually debuted in 1990 thus excluding it from this list. Luckily, as a replacement, I was able to find what might be the greatest opening movie to a franchise ever made, Raiders of the Lost Ark. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Indiana Jones, I suggest that you go back and watch the whole franchise (and by whole franchise I mean the films from the ’80s because I am mentally blocking out any of the recent films).
Honestly the Indiana Jones character is so cool he could probably just exist in a vacuum and the films would still be watchable, but the incredible storyline of Raiders of the Lost Ark is what really puts it over the top. This film has everything, from guns and fist fights to an awesome treasure hunter with a whip and a fedora. Thus it is only fitting that the movie that started the Indiana Jones franchise makes our list.
5. Halloween (1978)
The oldest movie on this list, the original Halloween film is a horror movie classic and needs to be busted out every October. To this day, this movie is unique to watch, as the film takes place as one complete sequence of events on one day. What that means is that the entire movie plays out over the course of 1 hour and 31 minutes of these actor’s “lives”, which is the same length of the movie.
To add to the terrifying element, the most prominent character in the film, the maniacal Michael Myers has no lines in the film (I think he’s actually unable to talk). Also of note is the fact that part of the film was shot from the point of view of Michael himself, a fairly revolutionary concept for the 1970s. This film was pretty epic for its time and continues to be so today. For this reason, the Halloween horror epic cracks the top 5 on our list.
4. Red Dawn (1984)
Some of you may be thinking “Wait, this movie just came out recently.” To those people, you’re what’s wrong with the world. But seriously, aside from the casting of Josh Peck (from Drake and Josh fame) to play one of the film’s main badasses, the 2012 version of Red Dawn wasn’t half bad. However, that film pales in comparison to its predecessor which debuted in 1984 starring Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen. For those of you who haven’t seen either film (shame on you), it centers around a group of teenagers in Michigan who form a guerrilla force in order to fight an occupying Russian army. It was his starring role in Dirty Dancing that made Swayze a cinematic icon, but prior to this, he was quite the action star. He shows it in this film as the leader of the Wolverines and is just kickass enough to make our list here at #4.
3. Terminator I (1984)
For the 3rd member of this list, I included the film which spawned 4 sequels (so far) and countless catchphrases. The original Terminator debuted in 1984 and instantly became a cult classic. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (I know he was the villain, but trust me he was still the star) as the robotic super killer, this film provided a much more compelling story than its subsequent incarnations. I think one of the problems with the recent films is that everyone knows the Terminator storyline so well that any further storylines based on that universe seem implausible. Such was not the case with the original, as the idea of an evil machine from the future bent on destroying earth’s best hope from the womb was totally novel. Thereby, though the original Terminator was not as action packed as the sequel Terminator 2, like Raiders it is the original that earned a spot on our list.
2. The Lost Boys (1987)
My favorite movie on this list, The Lost Boys debuted in 1987 to limited notoriety. Likely limited by its horror movie label, it just never got the acclaim that other movies from this era drew. None of this, of course, takes away from the fact that The Lost Boys is one hell of a good movie. The movie centers around a pair of brothers who move to the murder capital of the world, only to be drawn into a tribe of vampires who likely cause many of these deaths. Though my vampire hunter aspirations never worked out, this film still dominated my childhood and the story was good enough that the movie would have been great even without the star power of Kiefer Sutherland, Corey Haim, and Corey Feldman. For that reason, I happily name The Lost Boys as the #2 movie on our list of pre-’90s movies that every ’90s-born movie fan should see.
1. Roadhouse (1989)
What is the quintessential kick-ass ’80s movie? One full of nudity about a bouncer who uses martial arts to protect his bar and eventually rips the bad guy’s throat out with his bare hands? Sounds about right. Such is the case with Roadhouse which debuted in 1989 starring Patrick Swayze in the prime of his action hero career. The film is just non-stop, in your face from start to finish with everything from blatant sex scenes (pretty revolutionary for the time) and a very highly choreographed bar fight scenes that will leave your adrenaline pumping. Swayze may no longer be with us, but his memory lives on through so many of his amazing roles. For that reason, Roadhouse tops our list and is the #1 non-90’s movie that every 90’s born movie fan should see.