Quintessential Movies of the 80's

Home | Lists | Wrestling | 80's Tribute | Misc sports | Fiction & Writing | My Psyche | Links

The following is a list of movies and a brief discussion on why they are must see 80's lore for any one who like me loves the 80's, or for a younger crowd if you want to learn a bit more about the decade.
These movies were not chosen to be the best of the decade, but rather the best of describing and understanding the 80's.
They are listed chronologically. At the end of that list will be another brief list of movies that might be must see 80s' fare that I myself have not seen. I would welcome further suggestions on what movies to add or to see.

Star Wars (1977)
Okay, this movie isn't about the 80's, nor was it made during the 80's. But I will compromise by not putting in the darker Empire Strikes Back, or the more commercial Return of the Jedi. But growing up in the 80's was still tagging along with the Star Wars phenomenom.

Blade Runner (1982)
As the 80's would progress the fear of the Red Menace would lessen and we would become more focused on fears such as cloning, artificial intelligence, machines over man, pollution, and over population. Of course the media can only sell if we fear something, and we buy it when they sell it. Blade Runner was a movie ahead of its time, one of the most impressive stylistic movies you will ever see. At the core of it is the fears we had looking forward into a brave new world of computerization.

Mazes & Monsters (1982)
Made for TV movie, and not a very good one. Interesting to see an early work of Tom Hanks. Also, while the movie is incredibly bad from a research point of view (the writer did extremely little research into Dungeons & Dragons as she already had her mind made up), it is still a movie that shows what many people, especially parents, thought about Dungeons & Dragons, a cultural phenom of the 80's. From that point of view it is worth watching.

The Big Chill (1983)
What happens when your parents wake up in the 80's and realize that they have gone from being hippies to being yuppies? This movie might nail it.

Flashdance (1983)
Not one of my favorite movies by a long shot, but it was a short term cultural phenomenom. You can see a lot of dance and fashion styles of the early to mid-80's depicted here. At the time I was a devoted headbanger so of course this movie was trash.

Mr. Mom (1983)
Yet another movie by writer John Hughes. This one captures a new trend in the early 80's the stay at home Dad. Since the late 70's really saw the rise of the working mom, it only follows that when baby comes sometimes it's better for the family that Dad should stay at home. 20 years later and machismo men are still having a tough time with this issue.

Risky Business (1983)
Besides being the stimulus for the rise to power of Tom Cruise, this movie is also notable as the template for all "parents go out of town leaving sexually repressed suburban teen home alone with the house, and the ever tempting sports car, and of course he and his misfit buddies get in trouble with girls, bad guys, and sometimes cops."
Culturally significant is that this movie was one of the first big VCR rentals for all teens as 1984-85 was about the time when the VCR started to appear in many homes for the first time. I think this movie also shows the sudden feeling of many teens of being abandoned by their parents with dual careers or simply more interests then staying at home raising their kids.

WarGames (1983)
Perhaps the most quintessential movie of the 80's, and not even a John Hughes or Oliver Stone production. Computer hacking, machines taking control of decisions over mankind, nuclear war being caused by machines and hackers, youth versus establishment, its all here.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)
I didn't like this movie..and I hated the book. But growing up in the 80's it suddenly became important to study the works of George Orwell in school and marvel at his predictions of big brother. This was a short-term cultural phenomenom.

Teachers (1984)
There are better movies of this type from the 80's where a teacher attempts to turn around a bad situation (like Stand and Deliver). But this one has the most 80's cheese, with a great song "Teacher, Teacher" by .38 Special and stars Nick Nolte and Ralph Macchio.

Back to the Future (1985)
There are a few "fanatics" of this movie like myself, but most everyone who saw this movie at least enjoyed it. At IMDB it has been voted by users as the #134 movie of all time. If you go to my list it is ranked #1.
But what makes it essential 80's viewing considering that most of the story actually takes place 30 years back in time? Well the styles of the times (the 80's) become much more transparent when put into the older setting. For instance, do you remember the puffy style of jacket/vests that guys started to wear? Marty enters a diner and the guy behind the counter asks if he just got off a boat (joking? that it looks like a lifepreserver). This movie also had a huge effect on bringing back the skateboard. Back to the Future also caused a short term fad for the  DeLorean automobile. Finally, it has some solid songs on the soundtrack includling two by Huey Lewis "Power of Love" & "Back in Time" which are very 80's, and the very 50's "Earth Angel", and then a remake of "Johnny B. Goode" that blends the 50's and the 80's.


Better Off Dead (1985)
Getting dumped by the top preppie girl for a guy who ski's better then you, having a goofball best friend, a foreign exchange student, and having very strange daydreams which screw up your real life. Ahh..yes life in the 80's.

The Breakfast Club (1985)
Directed by John Hughes who either seemed to know how to capture the 80's succinctly, or just knew how to make cash. I'm not sure that this movie is truly a good pictorial of life in the 80's but it hammers us over the head with the archetypes that we lived with during the 80's. While bigger issues like racism, sexism, ageism, etc had not truly disappered in the 80's they seemed to often take a back seat to class-ism. Of course this has always been around, but perhaps for a lack of other decisive material it was ceased on even more during the 80's. As one reviewer puts it at IMDB.com watch this movie with your heart..instead of critiquing it. To me that is a large part of the 80's, having fun and leading with your heart.

Gotcha! (1985)
Remarkable only in that it captures the 80's trend of paint ball games, or paint ball tag on college campuses and elsewhere.

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
Starring William Peterson (currently of CSI Fame). As an aside if you watch another 80's movie "Manhunter" you will see Peterson in perhaps his best role, and what I personally believe was the predecessor for CSI, and even before that the series of psychic cop shows of the 90's. Back to this movie though, it has the glamour of Miami Vice, the thrills of French Connection, but also the despair of Less then Zero. How good a movie you think it is depends on how well you think it brings all those different elements together. It's an interesting 80's movie in that it tries to capture all those different styles into one moody movie.

Weird Science (1985)
Director John Hughes takes another look at archetype warfare with the nerds against the jocks/preppies.

Crocodile Dundee (1986)
Not the first of the 80's great action-comedies, following in the large footsteps of Beverly Hills Cop. However, this one is significant because it ushered in a fad of everything Australian (or at least Crocodile Dundee like), such as Bowie knives, gunbelts, and other Aussie attire. I would suggest that it even had a lot to do with the later(?) success of the Bannana Republic chain.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Girls just want to have fun..and so do boys. Another John Hughes special, and while there are sticky sweet moments of friendship in this menage-a-trois, there is also a lot of the superficial and narcissistic behaviour that the 80's are often criticized for. So watch the movie, its a lot of fun, and understand that there was a lot of living for the moment done by teens in the 80's.

Gung-Ho (1986)
A so-so movie, but it does reflect the clash between the Eastern world and Western world first felt in the automotive sector. An early Michael Keaton comedy.

Pretty in Pink (1986)
For my money, the greatest teen romance movie of the decade. Again, as in Breakfast Club, writer John Hughes uses our class awareness of the 80's to fuel the story. Where he deviates from the norm is making the girl the one from the wrong side of the tracks, instead of the boy. For the record I am not a fan of Molly Ringwald, so the fact that this movie is one of my favorites is even that much more amazing.

Less Then Zero (1987)
Don't know..I liked this movie quite a bit, but I saw it many years after the 80's were over. In general it does not get good ratings. It's kind of a superficial, glamourized look at what should be a dark subject. But viewing it now will bring back many memories of the 80's style and lifestyle..some good..many not so good.

Wall Street (1987)
One of the most quotable movies of all-time, with a stellar cast. This one depicts the greed and sensleness of making money in the 80's stock market. It was a decade where the markets were maturing due to technology, peace, and high interest rates. Oliver Stone was the director.

Talk Radio (1988)
Oliver Stone strikes again with a film that not only captured the present state of talk radio's rise in the late 80's, but also did a good job of predicting the future of the genre.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
Groundbreaking movie and short term cultural icon. Brought the mixture of animation and live action to the screen. Also helped jump start the production of cartoons for adults as well as putting "innuendo" into cartoons that was designed to get a nervous chuckle from the adult, as it passed harmlessly over the head of the kid sitting beside him.

Roger & Me (1989)
Interesting movie from 2 perspectives. First it shows a side of America we often don't see; the opposite to the glamour of the 80's depicted in movies like Wall Street. The other important part of this flick is that it marks the start of Michael Moore's movie making career.

When Harry Met Sally (1989)
As the 80's ended and we entered the 90's a new type of romance movie started to dominate the box office. Romances built around conquering difficult or personal circumstances and tragedy gave way to comedy romances that we could better associate with. Maybe this only applies to people around my age who found themselves settling down into a family life in the early 90's? This movie was perhaps the groundbreaker of that style that would influence the 90's landscape.

UHF (1989)
For those who didn't live in the 80's they probably don't remember the less then 6 station universe, as compared to the hundreds of channels many families receive now. Well this should be a primer about public television, and for those from the 80's not only remind us of the interesting talents of Weird Al, provide an early glimpse at Michael Richards (Seinfeld's Kramer), but also bring back memories of public access TV programs we used to laugh at (sometimes intentionally, most often not).

Wayne's World (1992)
Produced in the 90's but definetly about the 80's, and from the Saturday Night Live skits. Like UHF it covers the world of public access television and the dreams of making it big.

Grosse Point Blank (1997)
Starring one of the 80's most endearing and enduring stars John Cusak. It came out about the same time as another high school reunion movie did "Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion", which I have not seen. Interestingly enough it was based on a 10 year high school reunion at the same time I was going through it as well. This movie draws excellent ratings and is supposed to be quite funny. It did not click well with me personally, but I include it anyway. The music featured in the movie must have been considered "alternative" because it really wasn't what I listened to in the 80's. Oh-well.

Fubar (2002)
This is actually a pretty bad movie, or a "mockumentary" if you will. But I add it to this list to try and make 2 points. First, I actually do see some non-mainstream movies, aren't I cool!! Second, this is probably what became of a lot of the headbangers of my era if they didn't "grow up".

Miracle (2004)
Okay it's mostly about the 1980 gold medal US Olympic hockey team, but it also stresses the changes going into the 80's that had the U.S. on edge. It really overstates the importance of the win to the psyche of the United States, but none the less it sets the context well for the change from the 70's to the 80's.

The following are movies that might belong on this list but for various reasons I have not yet seen.
Gandhi (1982)
Karate Kid (1984)
Threads (1984)(TV)
St. Elmo's Fire (1985)
When Shoulderpads Ruled the World (2002)(TV)

e-mail me your comments, suggestions, or your own lists here