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 1986 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 1986 I’ve got Stand By Me, Top Gun, Platoon, Short Circuit, Crocodile Dundee, Clan of the Cave Bear, Hoosiers, The Hitcher, The Wraith, F/X, and Project A-Ko 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 1986.
10. Highlander (Russell Mulcahy)
I really wish Russell Mulcahy was given more chances with some of his films because Highlander proves he’s got an eye for interesting shots, can handle action amazingly well, and I’m betting, could pull off a decent swashbuckler flick or two. Christopher Lambert, Clancy Brown, Sean Connery and Roxanne Hart do a great job with this, and while Connery doesn’t really come off much as a Spaniard in this so much as himself having a good time, it works. Queen again provides the songs for what would become an extremely recognizable soundtrack, at least in my circles, and a catchphrase that gets tossed around even today, long after they’ve stopped making any kind of media related to the franchise.
9. Labyrinth (Jim Henson)
This was not actually my favorite film when I was growing up, and I didn’t really get to appreciate it more until I was into my teens. Some of the effects with the muppets haven’t kept very well, but for the most part, the visual and physical effects are pretty solid. David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly do a great job interacting with each other, and with the effects pieces, to bring this film more to life. Even now most of my friends will pick up on the ‘Babe’ thing and we’ll end up going through part of the song before too long. If you’ve seen it you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, go watch.
8. Little Shop of Horrors (Frank Oz)
This was actually one of the first musicals I got into besides West Side Story, but it was also the first cassette tape I ever bought. I love the music to the film even though I’ve never seen the musical performed live. Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene do a great job with this and I love the practical effects they use for the plants that took a lot of prep-work and time on set to make it look just right. When you’re watching the movie, they look alive and moving, so bravo. Even now I can still sing the Dentist song from memory which didn’t get me in trouble when I was younger like singing some of Audrey II’s songs at ten years old would.
7. The Fly (David Cronenberg)
While I have seen the original with Vincent Price, and it does have a classic moment or two, it was never scary for me. This version of it creeped me out on a level I hadn’t ever really felt, and left me in awe with what they did with the effects work in bringing Jeff Goldblum’s transformation into the creature to fruition. Geena Davis does a pretty good job as the shocked girlfriend and in trying to help him out, but the whole situation, and what’s going on, is what really manages to sell this film. Definitely one of those remakes that blows the original away and still one that holds up over time.
6. Transformers: The Movie (Nelson Shin)
There were few movies that ever really scarred me as a child. This was one of them. *Spoiler Warning* The death of Optimus Prime in this movie hurt. While I thought Rodimus was an OK replacement, this kind of dropped on a bunch of pre-teens like an atom bomb going off in their little hearts. *End Spoiler* With an excellent score and soundtrack, and a decent rip off of Star Wars while they were at it, the film manages to expand the lore for what would keep the TV show going for another season plus. The animation has some issues here and there as parts were farmed out to different companies and never quite matches, but in some sections looks fantastic.
5. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes)
I didn’t realize how many of Hughes’ movies I’ve really loved over the years until I started putting these lists together, but here’s another one. Matthew Broderick, Alan Rick and Mia Sara star as the school skipping teens out for a good time and they do it oh so well. With a great selection of music and some really funny sequences and dialogue, we get a great film about cutting school from the master at it. While some of the best sequences involve thwarting the principal without even being there, there are really great moments like the parade and trying to get miles off the car that really stuck with me. Save Ferris!
4. Big Trouble in Little China (John Carpenter)
While Kurt Russell and Kim Cattrall feature on the poster and are main characters, Russell’s Burton is more the sidekick of the film that falls on more dumb luck than skill. The real hero is Dennis Dun, who’s teamed up with Russell, and Victor Wong, who plays Egg Shen, to go against James Hong, portraying Lo Pan, to get back the girls Lo Pan has kidnapped. Kind of an homage film to the kung fu genre, it does stray a bit into various territories, but is a lot of fun. Russell delivers some great lines in this and manages to pull it off well, but thinking he’s the competent hero of the film would not be the way to go. One of my other favorites from Carpenter. Everyone needs to see it at least once.
3. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Leonard Nimoy)
Probably the most recognized of all the original Trek films, Star Trek IV actually falls very hard on what the original series was trying to do, which was tell an entertaining story while driving home real world issues of the time through sci-fi, but at the same time this one brings it home through time travel. All of the cast get their moments here, and while it falls more on comedy to get the message across, it all really works. There’s a reason people often used this one as an introduction to Star Trek as it’s very accessible despite being the third entry of an unintended trilogy within the film series. They did a great job with this, and it could have easily been the send-off film for the original crew, but VI does that just as well.
2. Legend (Ridley Scott)
I’ve actually got both versions of this film, and I swear there was a third that aired on TV way back when, but either way, I love the way this film is put together. A classic fantasy tale with some great acting from Mia Sara, decent acting from Tom Cruise, and especially fantastic acting from Tim Curry as the Lord of Darkness. There are two different scores for the film and both are excellent for each version they’re in, although I admit I’m partial to Vangelis. Like Blade Runner before it, Legend has a well-defined look and approach to everything, and while it didn’t affect the genre as much as Blade Runner, I remember a different approach to fantasy films after this one.
1. Aliens (James Cameron)
Probably one of Sigourney Weaver’s best performances on screen, especially in the extended edition, where we get more in-depth with the character. Either way, the film works as a great follow-up to Alien. Instead of going the haunted house in space route, we instead get the zombie horde route and get deeper into the world of Alien, and how the critters work on a massive scale. Some great world building, using the same set designers from Alien, makes the film look like it’s in the same universe, but just a bit further along, and we get some of the best suspenseful action sequences put on film. There is also great dialogue from the Marines, and especially from Ripley on different matters. This is definitely one of my favorites as it features prominently on my profile page on Letterboxd and isn’t going away any time soon.