It’s no secret that the 1980s are a special decade for film fans when we look back at its influence on cinema today. The decade is bookended by two of the most well beloved films ever in a sequel to the biggest pop culture phenomenon in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and the start of a franchise in James Cameron’s The Terminator. Even just looking at these two films, we see one that changed the game in how sequels are viewed and one that revolutionized sci-fi blockbusters for the decades to follow. In between these bookends are films like Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, The Breakfast Club, Die Hard, and many more in what some would call, “The Best Decade for Film.” Not only does the 80s have a seemingly endless catalog of all-time classics, but this decade redefined the movie-going experience. In this article I showcase my endeavor into discovering the highlights of the 1980s that I had yet to experience, and delve into the influence these iconic films have had on the decades of cinematic achievement that have followed.
When I think of the 1970s, I think of three films that defined that decade of film. Those films are Superman: The Movie, Star Wars, and Rocky. These three movies define a decade that was full of optimism and childlike wonder. Juxtaposed to that optimism is the maturity and weighty themes of the 80s through The Terminator, The Empire Strikes Back, and Blade Runner. This is a decade that ultimately was the evolution of every genre that makes up the medium. Die Hard and Robocop for action, Caddyshack and Airplane! for comedy, The Shining and A Nightmare on Elm Street for horror, and many more examples you’ll uncover if you just search for 80s classics on your nearest search engine. It’s no secret that this decade inspired so many of the movies I love and adore, but much like many of my peers, the 80s still has a lot left to be explored. In honor of this week’s release of the sequel to the 35-year-old Ridley Scott directed Blade Runner, I decided to visit some of the best films from the 80s I had yet to see. Some of them have already been mentioned in Robocop and A Nightmare on Elm Street, but tagging along is the underrated 1985 comedy mystery in Clue and the 1989 sports comedy Major League. Despite some 80s classics being amongst some of my favorite films ever, there is still a lot left of this decade I had yet to see. The 80s has an extensive amount of films that are more adult oriented so it was always difficult to see them growing up because my parents didn’t want me getting a glimpse at Robocop shooting off a criminal’s genitals. In honor of Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, I decided to revisit the era when the original Blade Runner was birthed. This time I decided to actively look at the four films I previously mentioned and see if they had made an impact on the future of Hollywood and why they were so highly revered.
First up is the 1987 action film starring Peter Weller as Robocop. Right off the bat, Robocop does what a lot of other 80s films did in regards to advancing technology in a futuristic America. In a similar fashion to Blade Runner, Robocop makes advancements in technology to craft the “ultimate human” (Replicant) or the “ultimate police officer” (Murphy turning into Robocop). Back in the 80s they had wild imaginations of what America would advance into when, in reality, in 2017 we’re getting the same exact iPhone we’ve gotten for the last 10 years. But . . . I digress, Robocop not only makes advancements in it’s world, but advancements for the action genre itself. Director Paul VerHoeven does a masterful job of getting us immersed in this world because he justifies the violence of Detroit instantly. He explains the existence and actions of Robocop because of the world he resides in and I find a lot of action movies today struggling with doing just that. Outside of special movies like John Wick and Mad Max: Fury Road, many action movies contain action for the sake of “wowing” the audience without giving the action much motivation or purpose. When looking at Robocop I see one of the first of its kind to make the world surrounding its action come alive.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of those films that I managed to unintentionally dodge for most of my life. Now seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit Elm Street. Nightmare on Elm Street has been regarded as one of the most influential horror films of all-time and one of the best the genre has seen. Elm Street is simply put, a great film from start to finish. Having watched this film after the release of 2017’s It, I can certainly see the homages and influence upon that film. The most impressive part about Elm Street is that the movie isn’t riddled with jump scares and cheap thrills, it’s almost like a psychological horror flick in many ways. When you think about what is so terrifying about Elm Street it boils down to the idea of not being able to fall asleep at all. As humans, we all need sleep to survive and to keep our bodies healthy, but imagine being stalked by someone who haunts your every sleeping moment. That’s truly and utterly terrifying and I couldn’t imagine seeing this film back in 1984, it probably kept children and adults awake at night. When looking at a lot of the underseen horror flicks of our time, I see lots of them influenced by that psychological horror angle implemented into them. Film like The Witch, It Comes At Night, and The Babadook use that to their advantage to make you feel scared instead of physically scaring you. It’s the type of horror I love and why I can see myself revisiting A Nightmare on Elm Street time and time again.
The next two films I’m going to mention are two highly underrated comedies in Clue and Major League. You wouldn’t think that these two films are similar when you first think about them, but both films sort of changed the game for sports films and movies based on games. Starting with Jonathan Lynn’s Clue we see a film that is sharply written and chock full of interesting characters, played by some of Hollywood’s finest character actors. Outside of focused direction by Lynn, performances, and writing, the most interesting part about Clue is how they handled the conclusion to their film. In talking with the host of Geeks + Gamers very own “Super News” Chris ‘Kiku’ Kubiak, he had told me that each theater had a different ending to the film. This created lots of discussion amongst movie goers and gives us really the only film of its kind, and I would love to see more movies try and tackle something as ambitious as this. As for 1989’s Major League starring Charlie Sheen we are gifted with a very unique sports film. Just nine years prior Caddyshack had released and is still viewed as one of the best comedies ever made. In between 80 and 89 we didn’t quite have as many sports comedies that you would come to expect after Caddyshack was so well received. We saw movies like Raging Bull, Rocky III and IV, Over The Top, and Karate Kid which took themselves quite seriously despite some of the inherent cheesiness apart of their DNA. So when watching Major League it felt like a huge breath of fresh air from the rest of the sports films that made up the decade. If you’re a big fan of baseball the comedy will continuously bust your gut because of the entire cast’s ability to bring the dynamic between teammates on the diamond to life.
It’s no surprise that the 1980’s is a decade that defined a generation of film and film fans around the globe. It is a decade full of inspiration, wonder, and maturity and that has continued on into the decades following it. Today we see so many remakes and talks of remaking 80s classics because of what it managed to capture then, studios want to recapture now with higher end visual effects and bloated budgets backing them. Truth be told, these movies I visited wouldn’t be the same if gifted those things because then you end up with the horrendous Robocop remake we got in 2014. Trying to make something more in line with a modern audience makes that film lose a little bit of magic and sincerity, and that’s why I’m happy we’re getting a sequel to Blade Runner instead of a remake. I’m kind of shocked that I never got around to the films I mentioned prior to this article, and in visiting some of that decade’s highlights it has me itching to go back and visit more of the beloved 1980s. It’s an era that wasn’t afraid to take risks and an era that you see constantly referenced by modern entertainment today. In a show like Stranger Things it’s a callback to the science-fiction horror flicks of the 80s. In next year’s Ready Player One we’re going to see Steven Spielberg dish out the look and feel of the 80s like Oprah giving away free gift bags under your seat and audiences cannot wait to get more of that. Audiences thirst and hunger for the 80s so much because it’s an era that defined a portion of our life and it gives us the best memories that we never want to lose. It’s an unforgettable era because, not only are the movies extremely good, but because so many films today associate themselves with the look, feel, and influence of the 1980s.