I’ve admittedly seen a lot of films in my lifetime, and the early ’80s films is where my variety and harder choices start to kick in. Bear in mind a few of these I haven’t seen in over two decades. The early ’80s is where my inner film geek started to open up and I started watching a lot more films, some way beyond my years as I snuck them on cable tv or begged my mom to take me. I basically went through each year on IMDB, 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 1985 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.
From 1982 on out I’ll have a few honorable mentions that, for whatever reason, just didn’t make the cut. For 1985 I’ve got Return of the Living Dead, Fright Night, Silverado, Commando, A Room With A View, Runaway Train, Explorers, Silver Bullet, My Science Project, Legend of Billie Jean, and My Beautiful Laundrette that didn’t make my cut. I’m betting there’s a few of my honorable mentions that didn’t make the cut that most people reading this won’t have heard of. They’re still good films and you need to check them out. Without further gilding the lily, here’s my top ten from 1985:
10. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (George Miller, George Ogilvie)
I love a good action flick. Make it post-apocalyptic with neat vehicle designs that end up getting destroyed in massive car chase sequences and it tugs at my young heart. When I first caught this one I still hadn’t seen the first Mad Max, but I loved the one element that many were turned off by in this one: the kids he rescues and recruits. The wasteland gets a bit broader portrait painted this time around with a few different locales and very different characters, although a few faces are familiar. I still love Tina Turner in this one, as well as the Master Blaster combo, and I love seeing the latter pop up in various media over the years.
9. Enemy Mine (Wolfgang Petersen)
I admit I haven’t seen this one in a very long time, and I remember the space battle effects not being all that great, but there was some great make-up effects, and I loved the dynamic between two warring alien races having to depend on each other to survive. Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett, Jr. do a great job realizing their characters and while I’m sure this probably hasn’t held up as well as I remember, nostalgia is driving my selection here and that’s that.
8. Weird Science (John Hughes)
Looking back, this is another I’m probably dropping the nostalgia glasses on. A kind of riff on Frankenstein, Anthony Michael Hall and Kelly LeBrock headline a film about two high school outcasts who can’t get dates, and use their computer to create their dream woman. They don’t get what they bargained for as she’s got some pretty interesting abilities that lead to all sorts of craziness. The movie is pretty hilarious, although, looking back, kind of off the wall as only an ’80s flick can be. There are some out there situations, and I do love how she ends up dealing with ‘misbehaving’ family members just so her boys can have some fun.
7. The Black Cauldron (Ted Berman, Richard Rich)
Arguably one of the darker animated films Disney has ever made, and one they’d love to forget about, but it’s so damned good. It uses most of the fantasy tropes – farm boy saving the world, dark nasty evil, and all that – but definitely does it in a way we hadn’t seen out of Disney before. With an interesting cast and a villain that’s possibly just as bad-ass as Maleficent, who happens to be my favorite, by the way, there’s some great animation in here with excellent visuals and definitely shouldn’t be forgotten.
6. Ladyhawke (Richard Donner)
The first of Donner’s films to grace my list for this year, Ladyhawke is an interesting fantasy with some distinct ’80s storytelling, with style going before functionality. It still manages to have a timeless flair due to the love story, and great moments leading up to trying to break a curse between the two lovers that keeps them apart and yet together at the same time. Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer, and Michelle Pfeiffer do a great job in this, with Broderick being more the slapstick comedian, but also the glue that ends up helping the cursed characters. Still a lot of fun.
5. The Goonies (Richard Donner)
My second Donner film for ’85. He was busy this year. This is another of those films that’s produced by Spielberg but you can see his stamp all over it. I thought both this and Gremlins, for the longest time, were actually his directing. This isn’t a bad thing, though, and this ends up being one of those classic kids adventure films, almost like Indiana Jones with an ensemble cast of kids instead and a mob group after them instead of Nazis. There are a lot of great moments in the film, and it’s definitely a pick-me up kind of movie. The Goonies is always great to sit and watch, no matter how old you are.
4. Mask (Peter Bogdanovich)
This is one of those movies you don’t forget easily. Eric Stoltz, Sam Eilliot and Cher star in a real-life story about a biker gang and the boy they’ve befriended through his mother. He’s got a rare medical condition that causes severe headaches and a skull deformity, and he’s pretty much rejected everywhere he turns. This is one of those heart-breaking films, though, so bring tissues. Stoltz and Cher are fantastic in this and it’s one I feel gets looked over quite a bit. This one still tears at the heart strings just thinking about it.
3. The Breakfast Club (John Hughes)
My go-to film for describing high school politics. I loved pretty much everything about this movie, including the cast, with Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy and Paul Gleason. The characters, while definitely caricatures of the stereotypes they represent, end up growing through the film, and it’s one of those “what if?” films that leaves you thinking about your own school experience. While it certainly has aged a bit with the look of the actors, cause hey, ’80s, I definitely think the themes still speak to people, and this will end up being one of those films that, even if it gets remade, will shine a bit brighter than any remake ever could.
2. Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis)
The Back to the Future series is a classic in my mind, but most of the best lines and moments come from the first film in the trilogy. Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson all deliver great performances, although Lloyd tends to steal every scene he’s in with his interpretation of Doc Brown. There’s a great musical score to this one, along with a few choice ’80s tunes from Huey Louis, and who can beat turning a Delorean into a time machine?
1. Clue (Jonathan Lynn)
When you want to turn a board game into a film, you keep the trappings of the game, but write a film that works on so many levels that it becomes timeless, amazing, and fun, and that’s where Clue lies. Tim Curry, Lesley Ann Warren, Michael McKean, Christopher Lloyd, Madeline Kahn and Martin Mull round out an all-around great cast with some great characters that leads to a fast-paced, witty comedy with a bit of slapstick thrown in for good measure. Add in a murder mystery where the dead bodies continue to pile up, and it only gets funnier from there. So many great lines and moments in the film, along with its multiple endings (only one of which was shown in theaters, but the others are compiled in the home video releases). This is one of those films I watch several times a year and still find amazingly funny every time.