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 1987 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 1987 I’ve got The Running Man, Dirty Dancing, The Witches of Eastwick, Hellraiser, Lethal Weapon, Raising Arizona, Mannequin, Roxanne, Overboard, La Bamba and Innerspace that didn’t make my cut. I’m betting there’s a few of my honorable mentions that most people reading this won’t have heard of. They’re still great films and you should check them out. Without getting into it too much more, here’s my top ten from 1987.
10. The Untouchables (Brian De Palma)
Kevin Costner and Sean Connery lit up my television screen with a story of a small group of tight knit good guys trying to take down Al Capone, played really well, and over the top, by Robert De Niro. Some great music, long take sequences with some excellent use of slow motion to really drive a number of the scenes, and fantastic dialogue really helped sell what could have been pretty standard action or thriller fare. There’s some great dramatic moments and Connery’s casting is just about perfect as he nails lines that could have otherwise absolutely destroyed the scenes they were in.
9. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (Chuck Russell)
While I love the Nightmare series as my slasher go to of choice, I only ever really need to watch three of them to really get anything out of it, and they’re the ones that all had Wes Craven’s direct touch on them. This was actually the first Freddy film I ever saw, and I got to go to see it in theaters. Do the math and you’ll see I was ten when this came out. Yes I had parental guidance with me. Nightmare 3 for me is just the right blend of what they were trying to accomplish with the sequels after the success of the first film. There’s the right mix of dark comedy – they keep Freddy from going way too over the top so he’s still scary – the effects are fantastic, and we get to see Nancy again, along with a great performance from Patricia Arquette in her first big film.
8. Evil Dead II (Sam Raimi)
The first twenty minutes or so are actually a brief retelling of the first Evil Dead film to set up the sequel, and if I remember right, it was because they didn’t have the rights to re-use footage. So Raimi got inventive, and we get to relate to Ash, played by the stellar Bruce Campbell, a bit more especially if we haven’t seen the first one, which when this hit the pay TV channels where I watched it late one night, I hadn’t. Definitely the right blend of the slapstick and dark comedy we see a ton of in Army of Darkness, to go with the horror from the first Evil Dead film, Evil Dead II bridges the gap, and is probably my favorite in the series as far as that goes. Army of Darkness is far more quotable, though.
7. The Lost Boys (Joel Schumacher)
Before Joel Schumacher decided to try and reinvent the camp of the ’60s Batman and driving a multi-million dollar franchise into the ground, he actually made some really good films. Sure, he has since the Bat-fiasco but let’s be honest, that will stain your reputation for a while. An interesting take on the vampire mythos, we get some great scenes in this one between Jason Patric and Kiefer Sutherland as the two teens dealing with blood thirst and “girl issues”. Corey Feldman and Corey Haim steal almost every scene they’re in, however, as they ham it up and just really take scenes that could have been ho-hum, and make them fun. With a great selection of songs throughout, a decent score, and fantastic cinematography, The Lost Boys is one of those ’80s films that cranks up the nostalgia for those that lived through them, is a great time capsule, and an entertaining horror flick all at the same time.
6. Spaceballs (Mel Brooks)
There are satire films, and there are cash in films, and then there are the king of all satire films that come along years after the originals they’re spoofing and end up bringing the satire to an entire genre. That’s a Mel Brooks film. While certainly a bit more toned down from some of his earlier films, Spaceballs still delivers some great punchlines and definitely holds up even though some of the jokes have aged right out of relevance. Great delivery from Brooks, Moranis, Pullman, Zuniga and Candy sell one of the movies that I absolutely loved in my childhood. Where Star Trek has its spoof with Galaxy Quest, Spaceballs starts with Star Wars and tackles just about every film series released in the decade before it in the sci-fi genre, and then some.
5. Predator (John McTiernan)
Definitely not subtle and completely bombastic and overblown, Predator takes an action flick and adds a layer of sci-fi to it with an extremely iconic new alien design in the Predator, along with some interesting traits that have been expounded upon for decades in the follow-up films, which were all pretty hit or miss, but just as equally loud and over the top. Schwarzenegger is in his element in this movie, delivering the somewhat stoic leader that, for the most part, holds the film together. The cinematography is great and the score by Alan Silvestri is one of the big driving factors in the film, and is instantly recognizable. The movie has held up amazingly well, and still has that great ’80s action kick to it.
4. Good Morning, Vietnam (Barry Levinson)
One of the better films out there, and yes, it is what would become the formula for a Robin Williams film, where you defy authority at all odds, but it works amazingly well here. While you’ll want to be up on your Vietnam history to get all the references he drops during his broadcasts, even if you don’t entirely know what he’s talking about it’s still really amusing and at the same time really sad as you see everything going on around this guy. We get a look more into the civilian life where most of the war films before it had focused on running around in the jungle. I really think this is where the film does a great job, and acts as a great counter piece to those other war films.
3. Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick)
The opening half of this film kills it for me every time. Equally hilarious, dramatic, traumatic and disturbing, it’s also the better half of the film, as the second half loses all momentum, just to build us up again and almost feels like an entirely separate film. Vincent D’Onofrio and R. Lee Ermey are really the centerpieces here, while Mathew Modine is more or less along for the ride. This continues in the second half of the film as we shift over. It’s a unique look at the training and experiences that soldiers may have gone through, and is probably one of my favorites from legendary director Stanley Kubrick.
2. Robocop (Paul Verhoeven)
Peter Weller does an amazing job bringing to life the titular cyborg character, but it’s really the villains of the film that help sell the insane corruption that Verhoeven is trying to convey, and Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, and Miguel Ferrer do it in style. With some great, and often overly violent effects, some over the top news and commercials, and an interesting blend of satire and actually producing an interesting film, they managed to put together another of those ’80s classics. This is another of those films with a great cinematic score and iconic visuals that are often replicated, and in this film’s case, modernized. While they never could quite get the sequels right in tone or feel, this one is still an amazing bit of cinema.
1. The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner)
An amazingly adapted film that hits all the right notes and manages to be all-ages without going too far down the rabbit hole of being overly cute. Yeah, it can happen. This is one of those movies that is, and will always be, timeless. Even with the book ends set in an 1980’s child’s room, it has a tone that’ll speak to a lot of film lovers for a long time to come. Wonderfully acted with a great cast, some amazing moments of dialogue, and definitely a quick wit to it, The Princess Bride can charm anyone who really sits down to watch it if they give it a chance. While everyone talks about some of the amazing sci-fi to come out of the ’80s, there were some definite fantasy gems as well, and this is one of them.