While I’ve admittedly seen a lot of films in my lifetime, the first few years of my life are a bit sparse as far as what I’ve seen or what I remember. Being a few years old, and these waning in popularity by the time I started getting into movies in my teens and pre-teens, a few of these I haven’t seen in over two decades. The early 80’s is where my inner film geek started to open up and I started watching a lot more films, some way beyond my years. 1980 is also the year I’d memorized Star Wars line by line and would act it all out for friends and family. Such a geek even back then. I basically went through each year, added in all the films I’d seen from that year, then whittled it down and put them in order of my personal preference. You can find my actual list for 1980 on Letterboxd here and the others I’ve finished so far off my profile, but the write-ups are going to be here on Cinefessions. Without further ado, here’s my top ten from 1980.
10. Superman II (Richard Lester)
While Superman made it to the top of my 1978 list, Superman II isn’t as far up there, and even though I now prefer the Donner Cut of the film, the one I’d known for twenty plus years was the one Lester had to cobble together once Donner was removed from the film. Seeing Superman trying to fit in as his alter ego, without powers, and trying to woo Lois Lane always puts a smile on my face, and I remember being in utter awe over the Kryptonian prisoners let loose on Earth. Hackman and Stamp do some amazing work in salvaging what could have been a disaster, and while I do like the more recent take on Zod in Man of Steel, Stamp’s over the top Zod, with the classic “Kneel before Zod”, will always be there.
9. Flash Gordon (Mike Hodges)
If you thought Superman II was a little campy, you need to check out this gem. Taking everything that made the serials work back in the ’30s, and yes I’ve watched them, Flash Gordon takes that and runs with it, and while it’s not always successful, and has a few faults here and there, Max Von Sydow as Ming the Merciless always stuck with me as a classic villain. Throw in Brian Blessed, Timothy Dalton and Richard O’Brien and you have a lot of great actors having a blast bringing this film to life. Add in the soundtrack by Queen, which is still fantastic, and you have a cult classic on your hands.
8. The Fog (John Carpenter)
Fair warning: John Carpenter is going to show up a few more times on these lists. He’s one of my favorite directors, and while not every film of his is perfect, he knows how to deliver on a budget. I do have to admit that I prefer the remake over this one, if only because they took the mythology and fleshed it out a bit in the new film, but Adrienne Barbeau and Jamie Lee Curtis still deliver much better performances in this original. A definitive cult classic, Carpenter definitely brings something interesting with this one.
7. Prom Night (Paul Lynch)
I’ve only seen this a few times over the years, but I do enjoy it, along with the sequel, Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2. This is another one of those low-budget slashers from the ’80s with Jamie Lee Curtis, who does a decent job of keeping us interested when the movie falters a bit. While definitely not my favorite slasher, it’s still an interesting film and managed to pique my interest enough to stick around for the sequels.
6. Used Cars (Robert Zemeckis)
Before he was Snake Plissken and an action star, Kurt Russell was a Disney and comedy star. Robert Zemeckis tapped him for one of his most underrated comedies in Used Cars. Before Back to the Future came this diamond in the rough – and I do mean rough. The story of two used car salesman duking it out for the same stretch of highway has some really great scenes in it. Russell is excellent in the film, and a few sequences definitely stick with you. The scene where the guy takes a car out for a “test drive” with the owner comes to mind. Great stuff and worth a look.
5. Friday the 13th (Sean S. Cunningham)
I’ll admit this right here: Jason Voorhees has never been a favorite of mine. Neither has Michael Myers. Freddy was always my go-to slasher of choice. I think what makes this Friday the 13th even better is that while it’s about Jason and what happened to him, the killer isn’t revealed at all until the very end, and it’s completely unexpected. This is one of those great films that could have been completely terrible. This and Evil Dead are really responsible for the whole “Cabin in the Woods” theme in a lot of slasher flicks, and it’s definitely one of the more emulated films, even among it’s sequels, as they follow the ‘don’t fix it’ model of the sequel factory even when the property changed hands.
4. Caddyshack (Harold Ramis)
Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Murray and a gopher. I’ll admit the more adult humor was wasted on my younger mind for a long time and all I loved the movie for way back was the gopher and Bill Murray. As I got older, though, I came to appreciate more of the film. Probably one of my all time favorite comedies, the three I listed earlier are all in their prime in Caddyshack, and while they had more hits afterwards, there was only about a decade or so where they were the kings of these kinds of films.
3. Airplane! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker)
An ’80s top ten list without Airplane!? Surely you can’t be serious. If Caddyshack is one of my favorite comedies, then Airplane! is my favorite comedy. A parody and satire of all the airport disaster films of the ’70s – and quite a number of other things thrown in for good measure – Airplane! continues to be one of the funniest films ever made. Even when the references are lost a bit to time, they still manage to be funny. This was my first real introduction to Leslie Nielson, Peter Graves, Robert Stack and Lloyd Bridges and I’ve never forgotten it. One of the most quoted comedies out there, Airplane! never gets old.
2. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick)
Stanley Kubrick is nothing if not thorough with his films, and while they’re not always as close to the source material as most, they are usually excellent even when they’re not completely clicking with me. The Shining, however, always clicks. Nicholson and Shelley Duvall are fantastic in this, and the shooting location was amazing. While the hotel is nowhere near what the book had, it still works amazingly well for what Kubrick was trying to do by showing the Torrance’s descent into a wintery madness. The scene where Wendy discovers what Jack has been writing the whole time and tries to fend him off with a baseball bat always gets to me, and I love the film even more for it.
1. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner)
My favorite entry in the original Star Wars Trilogy has the heroes from the first film basically in hiding and on the run from the Empire that’s determined to eliminate them. We get an epic lightsaber fight that while it isn’t as energetic as the ones from the prequels, holds just as much gravitas and weight because of what is at stake. The effects were amazing and the Star Wars universe got even more fleshed out. And then of course the big reveal during that weighted lightsaber battle. I don’t know how many times I watched this one as a kid, and I’ve watched it at least twice a year as an adult, diving into the Machete Order for all my Star Wars needs. This is one of my favorite grand space adventures, and there’s not much that can top it.