The 1980s were home to many iconic movies such as Back to the Future, Pretty in Pink, and The Breakfast Club. Today many of these iconic movies have been forgotten in lieu of more recent films that are more appealing to the modern eye. However, I feel that it is time to delve back into the world of the 1980s where people wore too much hairspray, listened to the Beastie Boys, and actually watched music videos on MTV. The 1980s produced so many iconic films that not all of them could have been included in this article. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t watch them. Movies like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Aliens, and the Star Wars saga are all worth watching as well, this is just meant to be a place for people who are interested in 80s movies but aren’t sure where to start.
1980 – Airplane!
In the 1970s disaster movies were at the top of their game. Airplane! is a spoof of these movies where the big “disaster” involves the jet’s crew getting food poisoning. In addition, the pilot is a recovering alcoholic who has to cooperate with a stewardess who doubles as his ex-girlfriend in order to save the passengers of the plane. Airplane! is a beautiful example of satirical comedy at its finest, full of puns and other ridiculous humor much like the 1984 movie Top Secret starring Val Kilmer, a parody of James Bond-esque spy movies. I consider Airplane! to be the founding father of the dumb comedy genre in the 80s, which earned the movie its spot on this list.
Raiders of the Lost Ark kicked off the Indiana Jones franchise, and it takes the cake for best 1981 movie. Indiana Jones is a college professor with a secret love of adventuring and fighting bad guys. The film has all of the integral aspects of any good action movie: a cool weapon, an unexpected fear, despicable villain, and, of course, Harrison Ford. In this film Jones races against the Nazis to discover the Ark of the Covenant which is believed to contain the original ten commandments from the Bible. Raiders of the Lost Ark earned its way onto this list by being a genuinely funny and enjoyable movie. The plot has just enough depth to compel you to keep watching, but it’s not deep enough to force youto read an analysis of the plot to understand the film.
1982 – Blade Runner
This film is definitely a movie that is harder to digest than Raiders of the Lost Ark or Airplane! and it is more so intended for science fiction fans who are willing to invest their time in a more complex movie. However, it is a quintessential piece of sci-fi cinema, and it also stars some of the biggest 80s stars– including Harrison Ford and Daryl Hanna. The movie is full of action and interesting plotlines revolving around human-looking androids called Replicants that Ford’s character Rick Deckard is responsible for destroying before they cause any damage to 2019 Los Angeles. Blade Runner made the best with the limited special effects of the 80s to create a beautiful dystopian Los Angeles. It is also considered to be one of the best science fiction movies of all time. In fact, it was so popular among its cult following that they recently rebooted it with Blade Runner 2049 starring Ford and Ryan Gosling. While Blade Runner is a more complicated movie it is still one of the most iconic 80s movies that every science fiction fan should watch, if not everyone.
1983 – Risky Business
Risky Business is basically what would have happened if Kevin from Home Alone was a senior in high school with a best friend acting as a terrible influence. Joel (Tom Cruise) is a senior looking to get into Princeton, but not before he has a wild couple days accompanied by a prostitute named Lana. The story starts with Joel not being able to pay for Lana’s “services” which results in her stealing a priceless crystal egg that belongs to Joel’s mother. Joel goes to find her in order to get the egg back and things quickly get out of hand when Joel gets into a scuffle with Lana’s manager. Risky Business may follow the typical “my parents are out of town and I’m going to party” trope, but it’s a very different take on the storyline. IMDb categorizes it as a romantic comedy, but it’s definitely not just for people who enjoy romantic comedies. There are countless hilarious scenes that would be funny to anyone who’s ever been home alone. Today Tom Cruise is one of the most popular actors in Hollywood, but Risky Business is where he got his start.
1984 – This is Spinal Tap
While this film didn’t invent the mockumentary genre that is now so popular, however This is Spinal Tap was the first mockumentary to gain popularity. It is rated number one on Entertainment Weekly’s list of the top 50 cult films of all time. The movie is almost entirely improvised, as the mockumentary follows Britain’s loudest band Spinal Tap on a fateful American tour. The film showcases the band’s downfall through scenes improvised by the actors making for a very realistic feel — so realistic that many people believed that Spinal Tap was a real band and told director Rob Reiner that he should have “chosen a more well-known band for a documentary”. This movie is meant to be satirical, however many rock stars, including Ozzy Osbourne, have said that despite its comedic intentions, it captures the true reality of being in a rock band.
1985 – The Breakfast Club
As a high schooler, it would be ignorant of me to leave out The Breakfast Club as it is easily the most iconic teen movie ever (not to mention it was directed by the biggest 80s teen movie director John Hughes). The Breakfast Club follows a group of unlikely comrades through their morning of Saturday detention. The personality diverse group includes a basketcase, the “princess” (played by Molly Ringwald, the queen of the 80s), a jock, a nerd, and the bad boy. The group overcomes their differences as they suffer through the unbearable boredom of detention, and it is one of the most accurate portrayals of teenagers in movies because it shows how everyone has problems that people don’t see, and everybody has their own personal reasons for being the way that they are. It is a coming-of-age film that will have the biggest impact on you if you watch it at the time in your life that it was intended to be seen in: when you’re a teenager. It will really make you think about your fellow classmates in a new light.
1986 – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is another exemplary teen movie from the 80s. Ferris Bueller’s day off is the day off of everyone’s dreams. Bueller’s rhetorical skills are the envy of every teenager because let’s face it, most of us have tried to fake an illness to get out of school for the day and many of us have come up unsuccessful. Bueller, on the other hand, ends up in a parade, driving a Ferrari, and getting money from his schoolmates’ “Save Ferris” campaign because they all think he’s dying. This is one of my personal favorite movies, and it has an 81% on Rotten Tomatoes to reinforce how great it is.
1987 – The Princess Bride
I know that I have used the word iconic very liberally in this article, but The Princess Bride is iconic. It doesn’t have the special effects of Raiders of the Lost Ark or the morals of The Breakfast Club, but it withstands the test of time as a great 80s comedy. While it may sound like a chick flick, it is not just for chicks. The story is being told to a sick boy by his grandfather, and the boy is adamant on keeping the romance to a minimum, so it turns into a more adventurous movie. With quotes like “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die,” and “I don’t think that word means what you think it means” this movie serves as a pop culture staple. There are countless Inigo Montoya t-shirts, “inconceivable!” pins and other miscellaneous merchandise. The effects are very primal, but that adds to the effect of the movie which is not very serious.
1988 – Heathers
Before she was Joyce Byers, Winona Ryder played Veronica Sawyer, one of the most popular girls in school. The only thing separating the girls is the fact that the other three in the group are all named Heather (hence the title). Veronica meets the brooding JD (Christian Slater) and falls in love with him, as the teen girls do. This love affair turns into a murder spree of the popular kids in school. It might sound like a dramatic movie, but it is more of a comedy (a very dark comedy, but a comedy nonetheless). It’s the source of so many references that people don’t even realize are references. Heathers was one of the first R-rated teen movies, making it a rite of passage for many 80s teens to watch. “My parents had no idea of the profane glory on the Heathers tape when they drove me to the video store to pick up a movie I could watch with my friend. Superficially, it looked like any other teen movie — and thankfully, no one at the store felt obliged to point out its R rating. I’ll never forget watching it, instantly mesmerized by a deluge of color, profanity, strength, and angst,” wrote Monika Bartyzel in an article on The Week. While the thrill of watching an R-rated movie isn’t as strong in 2017, Heathers is still a very important 80s film because it stars two of the greatest teen stars of the decade.
1989 – Do the Right Thing
Out of all of the movies on this list, Do The Right Thing is probably the most relevant. The movie follows racial issues in a New York neighborhood surrounding an Italian pizzeria on the hottest day of the year. There are instances of police brutality that are unfortunately accurate to the actual issues people of color face in today’s society. This movie isn’t a dumb comedy like the other movies on this list. It has its funny moments, but the reality of the film is very eye-opening because it makes you realize that society hasn’t changed as much as people like to give it credit for. The movie is so relevant even 28 years later, it is a truly timeless piece of cinema. The movie is enjoyable despite the more daunting theme, and it is aesthetically pleasing as the movie progresses. Even if you don’t watch any other movies on this list, this is the one movie from the 1980s that you have to watch. And that’s the truth, Ruth.