Whenever there’s a generic montage of the 80’s it’s always Reagan, Madonna, MTV, The Cosby Show shoulder pads, money, car phones, parachute pants and the Rubik’s Cube. Then there’s the movies.
The 70’s were the era where the blockbuster film first took hold. “Jaws” was the first movie that advertised heavily on television and opened wide. “Star Wars” took it even further, then “Superman.” By the time the 80’s came, movie studios had the blockbuster down to a science. Make videos of the theme song, market for the summer, the more sequels the better and be all over MTV. Yup, how could the 1980’s not be a golden age of cinema?
The following list isn’t necessarily the greatest movies from that wonderful decade. Rather, it’s the movies that best reflect that time whether it’s trends, character archetypes or events. They weren’t trying to be parodies, they were just holding a mirror up to society. Lastly, every movie had to pass my TBS test. Quite simply, whenever I’m flipping channels and one of these films come on, I have to watch for at least ten minutes. These are the ten most indicative films of the 1980’s:
10. Tango and Cash (1989)
Okay, cliche number one, mismatched cops with different personalities and philosophies of police work. Sylvester Stallone was LAPD Lieutenant, Ray Tango. Ray was cerebral and very much into the stock market. Kurt Russell was Lieutenant Gabriel Cash. Now, you’d think the guy who was into money would be named “Cash” but he wasn’t. That’s what we called a twist 80’s style. The two macho officers were constantly jabbering back and forth about who was the greatest cop in L.A. Hopefully, it wasn’t either one of these guys because insurance rates would skyrocket.
Since the movie took place in the 1980’s, of course, they were trying to take down a cocaine ring. There was a shadowy villain played by, of course, Jack Palance and at some point the heroes were in drag. By the end, both officers develop a respect for each other as they solve the big case. It’s so big that, of course, it makes the front page of every area newspaper.
9. Moving Violations (1985)
This one fits under the category of lovable losers uniting. Our hero is landscaper, Dana Cannon, doing a bad Bill Murray which is weird since he was played by Bill’s brother, John. Dana gets his license suspended along with fellow losers like Wendie Jo Sperber, Fred Willard, Jennifer Tilly and Clara Peller and they’re all forced to take a driver’s ed course to get their vehicles back.
The catch is that the course is taught by hard ass cop, Deputy Halik, who hates Dana with every fiber of his being. The reason the class is so tough is that Halik, along with Judge Sally Kellerman, are in cahoots to sell the classes’ impounded vehicles. The class finds out and Dana leads them in a plan to take the bad guys down which, of course, involves catching the deputy in bed wearing bondage gear. Romances are formed along the way and most importantly, the good guys get their cars back all to a synth heavy soundtrack.
8. The Secret of My Success (1987)
Another 1980’s category is the capitalism run amok movie. These movies are all about making a lot of money in the financial field and include “Wall Street,” “Baby Boom,” “Trading Places” and “Quick Silver.” This one had Michael J. Fox and a kick ass Night Ranger tune.
In “The Secret of My Success,” Michael J. Fox gets a job in the mail room at a huge firm that seemingly makes nothing. He finds an empty office and through his contacts in the mail room, assumes the identity of fictitious executive, Carlton Whitfield. From there he ends up running the company because he’s such a good person and falls in love with beautiful and seemingly unattainable executive, Helen Slater. You also get to experience class warfare 80’s style when Michael’s boss in the mail room discourages him from wanting to be an executive. “Don’t be a suit.” Because who would want to be really successful? Oh right, everybody.
7. Back to School (1986)
You simply cannot have a list of movies most reflective of the 1980’s without including one where William Zabka is the villain. This film is also another good illustration of the whole snobs vs. slobs story line, a mainstay of 80’s comedies. You’ve got Rodney Dangerfield going to college to get his whiny son from dropping out and dating Sally Kellerman. This is also, perhaps, the only movie that has making the diving team as a major plot point. Bring back the Triple Lindy.
6. Rocky IV (1985)
Our second Stallone entry. Why this one as opposed to Rocky III? Because this one involved geo-politics. After Ivan Drago kills (spoiler alert!) Apollo Creed, Rocky must avenge his friend’s death by taking on the red menace himself. It’s incredibly unrealistic, even for a Rocky movie and that’s saying something. Not only must the fight be in the Soviet Union but Rocky isn’t allowed to have sparring partners. Or, at the end, after Rocky wins and says that we’re all the same and we shouldn’t hate each other, Gorbachev applauds which makes the rest of the crowd join in. Why not go all out and say that whoever wins the fight, wins the cold war? Now, that’s stakes. And you can’t go wrong with a second rate Survivor song, “In the Burning Heart.”
5. Hardbodies / Spring Break / Bachelor Party / My Tutor / Private School
This brings us to another 80’s film genre, the t & a movie with a heart of gold. These movies are about a bunch of guys trying really hard to get laid. There’s always a bunch of misses, but in the end, they get what they’re after and end up falling in love in the process. These are the kind of movies you’d rent at Blockbuster on a Saturday night when your parents weren’t going to be home. Plus, “Spring Break” features an uncredited Jeff Garlin in the big bellyflop competition. Ah, to be young again.
4. Armed and Dangerous (1986)
This one makes the list because, at some point, pretty much every comedic star from the ’80’s was supposed to be in it. It was originally written for John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. Then rewritten for Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. After they passed it went to Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo before settling on John Candy and Eugene Levy. It’s one of Harold Ramis’s lesser works but you still get a great cheesy 80’s soundtrack and Meg Ryan, Candy and Levy in bondage gear and you can’t beat that.
3. Top Gun (1986)
Perhaps the most homo-erotic of all the 1980’s action films. The shirtless beach volleyball scene alone cements that status. The movie gives you one of the better lessons of 80’s movies: you don’t have to go by the rules if you’re really good at something and after some horrible failure, you’ll comeback more humble and willing to be part of the team. And if you hear a slow Kenny Loggins song, the hero is alone, thinking of how he screwed up.
2. Police Academy (1984)
This movie satisfies two 80’s requirements: it spawned a bunch of sequels and starred Steve Guttenberg. It’s also best filed under the “gang of screw ups end up saving the day by working together and being true of heart” genre. Having Bubba Smith on your side probably doesn’t hurt either. Kim Cattral and “Fridays” cast member, Bruce Mahler, are in it as well.
Anyone out there ever find out what happened to the guy that made all the noises?
1. St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)
Believe it or not, there was a time when Judd Nelson, Andrew McCarthy, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez and Mare Winningham were considered movie stars. Even better, this movie was the first time the “Brat Pack” appeared on screen together, so this was truly an important film. Yes, it was directed by Joel Schumacher, but still an important film.
The characters had just graduated from Georgetown and this was their first year in the real world with real challenges. So, that’s mistake number one because nobody takes anything that seriously when they’re twenty three. Here are the crises our heroes are grappling with: Judd Nelson is worried he’s gonna cheat on Ally Sheedy so he thinks the answer is to marry her. Rob Lowe can’t hang onto a job and is having trouble in his marriage. Demi Moore is dating her boss and has money problems. Emilio Estevez is trying to bed Andie MacDowell and it all takes place during the course of a year. Did you know that St. Elmo was the patron saint of sailors and abdominal pain? Well, you will after watching this movie because it’s also educational.
Plus, you’ve got great 80’s fashion, the apartments are all decked out in neon and pastels and the theme song, “Man In Motion” by John Parr rocks. There is no way this movie could be from any time other then the 1980’s, thus making it the quintessential ’80’s flick. Congrats all around.
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