And finally, the best movies of the 80s. Pretty much ranked by how frequently I watch them, which is a decent proxy for their quality in my eyes. Also, I realized I forgot Totall Recall on my 90s list, which is a terrible oversight. That’s probably #8.
Looking over my list, and comparing it to my lists for subsequent decades, I think the 80s were a terrible decade for movies. I get that I was younger then, so my tastes have changed. But I’ve seen most of the important movies from then, mostly in adulthood, and eh. If you ask me, the 00s have been way better than the 80s. The themes are more interesting, and I say the quality’s been better.
1. The Little Mermaid. My favorite Disney film. Has the best music of any Disney movie, and there’s an innocence to it that later movies don’t have. Plus, I’ll be honest – in my youth, I found Ariel attractive. It’s probably disturbing for someone to be attracted to a cartoon. I’m disturbed. Just being honest. In any case, my favorite movie from the 80s.
2. The Empire Strikes Back. You know, now that I think about it, this is really the only great Star Wars movie. A New Hope has aged way too much – the pacing feels really really slow. Return Of The Jedi is good, but not a classic. Episodes 1-3 essentially sucked. So really, the quality of the entire Star Wars universe hangs on this movie. And it’s a great movie.
3. Back To The Future. Like most time travel movies, it’s completely illogical. But it’s a ton of fun and eminently watchable. I also respect how they use the original pronunciation of “giga” (in “gigawatt”).
4. Die Hard. I think I called The Matrix the perfect action movie; I take that back. The perfect action movie has to be in some sense mindless, to typify the genre. So Die Hard is the perfect action movie. Like other great movies, everything came to be described in terms of it (Speed was Die Hard on a bus, Under Siege was Die Hard on a boat, Sudden Death (a totally underrated movie) was Die Hard in an ice hockey arena).
5. When Harry Met Sally. Best relationship movie ever. The question it asks is ageless: can men and women be friends? And the answer to that question is, unequivocally, no.
6. The Karate Kid. Best sports movie ever. And it is a sports movie. Underdog overcoming the odds to become a champion. Personally, I think this is a better 80s teen movie than any of Hughes’ films. It captures the alienation of the decade, the class struggle, and the increasing interest in the Far East. Hughes talked the 80s. The Karate Kid did the 80s.
7. Airplane. In junior high school, my friends and I would quote this movie all day long for 2 straight years. It’s extremely difficult to pull off a movie like this. That they pull off so many classic bits (basically the whole movie) is a monumental feat.
8. Amadeus. I think this movie helped me formulate my levels of genius theory. To recap: the highest level contains true geniuses who know they’re geniuses. The next level contains people whom other people might think are geniuses, but they themselves know they’re not. The next level contains people who aren’t smart enough to recognize they’re not geniuses; they think they’re in the top tier. It takes a certain level to recognize the difference between the top 2 levels. That’s Amadeus. Salieri was a level 2 genius. But he knew Mozart was a level 1. Other people didn’t really. They underappreciated Mozart, like the guy saying his music had too many notes. That drove Salieri crazier than Mozart, because he was a level 2 guy, and it drove him nuts that other people didn’t fully see that.
9. Top Gun. Not much to say. Strong action film.
10. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Fun teen movie.
11. Robocop. An incredible satire of 80s culture. The laziest criticism in the world is to call something over the top, but the truth is, sometimes over the top works. Like with this movie, or Moulin Rouge. Being over the top here is largely the point, because that’s what the 80s were about. Excess. Drugs, extreme violence, corporate culture, crime, the pervasiveness of entertainment, the dehumanization of the American individual; this movie has it all. It’s brilliant.