Bring Out the Permed Hair: Remembering the 1980s

I have been an ardent film-goer my entire life, but I think I reached a peak during the 1980s. At the time, I was finishing my doctorate at Northwestern while working as a book editor, and I looked forward to weekends when my friend Maryann and I went to the movies both Friday and Saturday nights. To say we were avid movie-goers doesn’t adequately describe it: We saw anything and everything.

Now that I teach film history, I have noticed that the decade of the 1980s does not always get a fair assessment in text books. Coming after the legendary Film School Generation, in which directors like Scorsese, Coppola, Altman, Malick, Lumet, Ashby, Friedkin, DePalma, and others explored and experimented with film form and content, the 1980s saw a return to more conventional filmmaking. The decade’s focus on genre movies, return to larger-than-life movie stars, flirtation with franchises, and dependence on blockbusters are generally painted as a precursor to the aesthetically bankrupt Hollywood of the millennium. Though the current industry systems and practices that have robbed Hollywood of its imagination and craftsmanship did begin in the 1980s, I find the decade to be richer and more diverse than generally acknowledged.

CHRISTOPHER WALKEN PLAYS A SINGING, DANCING PIMP IN ‘PENNIES FROM HEAVEN.’

From Ghost to Ghostbusters, the hits and blockbusters of the 1980s are beloved by those who grew up on them, but my favorites tend to be forgotten flicks and small-scale genre works that will likely never get the “30th anniversary  Blu-Ray release” treatment or fanfare. Yet, they represent a diversity and freshness missing from today’s Hollywood movies. Below is a list of those 1980s favorites that tend to linger in my memory . . . and I am thinking of writing my own text book.

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (1981). This anti-musical starring Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters represents the stellar opposite of the optimism and faith in relationships found in traditional Hollywood musicals. Set in the Depression, the sordid storyline features Martin as sheet-music salesman Arthur Parker, who is a failure in his business and his marriage. He has a brief fling with Peters, who becomes pregnant. Instead of straightening out his life, Arthur fantasizes that everything will be alright, just like in a Hollywood musical. Pennies from Heaven is a critique of the escapist nature of Hollywood movies, which I don’t necessarily agree with, but I like its experimentation with genre. It’s worth viewing to watch Christopher Walken perform a mean song-and-dance to “Let’s Misbehave.”

MICHAEL PARE WAS MY 1980s CRUSH.

EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS (1983). A television reporter, played by a young Ellen Barkin, investigates the mysterious death of rocker Eddie Wilson, who tore up the club and college circuit in the mid-1960s with his band the Cruisers. Eddie disappeared along with the tapes of his innovative album, and the reporter interviews those left behind who wax nostalgic about the old days on the road. Tom Berenger costars as a less-than-convincing keyboard player, but it is still fun to see him in an early role. The film is a good example of the burgeoning power of the home-viewing market in mid-1980s. Eddie and the Cruisers was a critical and box office flop when it was released in the theaters, but the soundtrack album by the Springsteen-inspired Beaver Brown Band climbed the charts. When the film hit cable television and home video, it recouped money, prompting the studio to re-release the album. I had a major crush on star Michael Paré, who epitomizes the 1980s to me, because he appeared in several of the decade’s quirkier genre flicks. While visiting L.A.’s Burbank Studios back in the day, I watched the actor shoot an episode of Houston Knights; he was the most attractive man I have ever seen.

RUMBLEFISH  (1983). In the early 1980s, Francis Coppola directed two films based on the novels of S.E. (Susie) Hinton. Hinton wrote about the impact of class differences on teenagers, though Coppola’s stylized interpretations of her books romanticized the teenagers and their milieu. Rumblefish centers on the relationship between Motorcycle Boy, played by Mickey Rourke, and his younger brother, Rusty, played by Matt Dillon. Motorcycle Boy tries to live down his past as a gang leader, while Rusty tries to emulate that persona. Coppola and Hinton wrote the screenplay for the film while the director was shooting his version of Hinton’s The Outsiders. The films were shot back to back in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and feature several of the same cast members, including Dillon and Diane Lane. Shot in black and white with a splash of color, Rumblefish  is an avant-garde teen movie that alludes to the French New Wave and boasts a unique musical score by Stewart Copeland of The Police. No studio would finance such a film now, and the industry is lesser for it.

SOFIA COPPOLA PLAYS IT SWEET WITH MATT DILLON IN ‘RUMBLEFISH.’

DEBORAH FOREMAN AND NICOLAS CAFE ARE THE STAR-CROSSED LOVERS IN ‘VALLEY GIRL.”

VALLEY GIRL (1983). In the early 1980s, Hollywood films and songs began to reference the female-dominated mall lifestyle of the San Fernando Valley.  Residents of the Valley, the so-called Valley Girls, spoke Valspeak, a kind of slang that popularized such phrases as “like,” “whatever,” “as if,” and “totally” as qualifiers for expression and emphasis.  While adopting a Romeo-and-Juliet-style plot structure, the film served as a gentle spoof of teenagers’ penchant for identifying themselves as part of a tribe or group. Deborah Foreman stars as the title character who falls for a punk rocker with spiked orange hair, played by a young Nicolas Cage. Because she is a Valley Girl and he is a punk, the romance is supposedly doomed, at least according to their friends.  Even Foreman’s parents belong to an identifiable group—they are aging hippies who don’t understand their daughter’s lifestyle.

HANDSOME MICHAEL PARE AS SOLDIER OF FORTUNE TOM CODY

STREETS OF FIRE (1984). My favorite director of the decade, Walter Hill was a maker of myths. He offered morality plays wrapped up as genre-bending flicks.  Streets of Fire is his rock ‘n’ roll fable in which Michael Paré infiltrates the territory of a gang of urban toughs and rescues a former girlfriend, played by Diane Lane. The film is a hybrid of the western, the action flick, and the rock ‘n’ roll musical—a fantasy filled with archetypal characters and familiar tropes. “Every film I’ve done has been a Western,” Hill has noted. “The Western is ultimately a stripped down moral universe that is, whatever the dramatic problems are, beyond the normal avenues of social control and social alleviation of the problem, and I like to do that even within contemporary stories.” Other films by Hill that are favorites include the contemporary western Extreme Prejudice, an interpretation of the Robert Johnson titled Crossroads (1986), and the gothic allegory Southern Comfort (1981). I would definitely trade Peter Jackson, Joss Whedon, and Zack Snyder for a comeback by Walter Hill any day of the week.

REAL GENUIS (1985).  Martha Coolidge was another 1980s filmmaker whose work made an impression on me. Coolidge directed this unique teen comedy in addition to Valley Girl. While many 1980s movie-lovers embrace John Hughes’s teen-oriented films with his high-profile stable of actors, I preferred Coolidge’s quirky comedies with the likes of Deborah Foreman, Michelle Meyrink, Nicolas Cage, and Val Kilmer. Kilmer stars as the ringleader who defies authority and creates havoc at a school for teen geniuses.  Adept at verbal humor and physical schtick, Kilmer proved he was quite good in comedies. Also see Top Secret.

VAL KILMER IN ‘REAL GENIUS’

THE MEAN SEASON (1985). Kurt Russell, the most underrated actor of his generation, stars as a reporter who gets too caught up in chasing his story. A serial killer stalks Miami, and Russell is the lead reporter assigned to the story until the killer contacts him, and then he becomes the story. Once the tables are turned, Russell realizes what it is like to be on the other side of the notepad or microphone. I liked the use of the Florida locations in this film, and the way weather is a metaphor for the pall cast over the characters during the killer’s reign of terror. One of several movies during the 1980s to criticize journalism, The Mean Season offers great performances, especially by Russell, Richard Jordan as the killer, and Joe Pantoliano as a staff photographer. A terrific character actor, Pantoliano has appeared in over  100 films, including Eddie and the Cruisers.

‘THE MEAN SEASON’ BOASTS A GOOD CAST: ANDY GARCIA, KURT RUSSELL, AND RICHARD BRADFORD.

ELISABETH SHUE BELTS OUT “THE BABYSITTER BLUES.”

ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING  (1987). Criticized at the time of release for playing on people’s fears of the inner city, this comedy stars Elizabeth Shue as a responsible babysitter who is forced to drive to downtown Chicago from the cushy North Shore suburbs. With her young charges in tow, she experiences a number of encounters with a variety of urban archetypes—from mobsters to gang members to bluesmen. I liked Shue’s character, who is a resourceful , quick-thinking teenage girl and not an over-sexualized adolescent fantasy. Directed by Chris Columbus, a John Hughes protégé, the film serves as a snapshot of an authentic Chicago. Best scene: Shue belting out “The Babysitting Blues” at a club on the South Side.

MICKEY ROURKE LIVES UP TO THE TITLE OF ‘JOHNNY HANDSOME.’

JOHNNY HANDSOME (1989). One of my favorite actors, Mickey Rourke was leading-man material during the 1980s, and he did not always play it safe—or wise—when choosing film projects (9 ½ Weeks; Wild Orchid). Johnny Handsome, directed by Walter Hill, takes on an eerie connotation considering Rourke’s subsequent career path. The main character is a disfigured petty criminal who is set up by his accomplices during a crime. In prison, he allows himself to be the subject of an experiment in plastic surgery, which gives him a handsome new face. Upon release, he seeks revenge on those who wronged him. In retrospect, the film seems to be the reverse of Rourke’s real life, in which he destroyed his unusual but handsome face through a series of cosmetic surgeries aggravated by blows to his face during a misguided attempt at a boxing career.

GREAT BALLS OF FIRE (1989). A musical based on the life and times of rockabilly legend Jerry Lee Lewis, Great Balls of Fire is actually a celebration of the culture of rock ‘n’ roll. Director Jim McBride intended it as a fable about the richness of roots music and the ability of rock ‘n’ roll to unite a generation. At the heart is a romanticism of Lewis, the epitome of the individualist who won’t back down. Dennis Quaid offered an intentionally artificial performance as Lewis, which serviced the fairy-tale story. Unfortunately, the film bombed at the box office and with the critics, who didn’t quite understand the purpose behind the film’s artificiality. I recall Roger Ebert criticizing Great Balls of Fire for not accurately portraying Lewis’s life, as though it were a standard biopic.  You would think that Ebert might have caught on after  the scene in which a group of high-school kids break into a choreographed dance as Jerry Lee drives up to the school. While the film is not for everyone’s taste, I admired its production design, music, and intent.

DENNIS QUAID AS THE KILLER, JERRY LEE LEWIS

While I could easily add ten more films to the list, I would rather hear about your favorite quirky 1980s movies, preferably those that don’t get the love they should

68 Responses Bring Out the Permed Hair: Remembering the 1980s
Posted By Doug : November 5, 2012 1:33 pm

Susan, as they say in baseball, this post is ‘right in my wheelhouse’. I’ve got this, and simply looking through my
collection, I have cherished these:

’80—Popeye
’84—Johnny Dangerously
’84—Buckaroo Banzai
’85—Brazil
’85—Rustlers’ Rhapsody
’86—Absolute Beginners
’86—Big Trouble In Little China
’88—Bull Durham
’89—Nat Lamp Christmas Vacation

The highlight of ‘Absolute Beginners’: Sade, the musical artist
comes out on stage in a Blues club and sings,”Killer Blow”. She
is stunningly beautiful in this movie.
Rustlers’ Rhapsody/Johnny Dangerously- Marilu Henner improves
both movies; Andy Griffith as an villain in Rhapsody? Priceless.
Back when Popeye came out, I was a sailor, in port in Chicago. Saw it three times.
Sadly, Hudson Hawk was released in 1990, but for all intents and purposes it is an ’80′s movie. It would have graced my list.
I’m looking forward to seeing what other treasures appear on this post.

Posted By Doug : November 5, 2012 1:33 pm

Susan, as they say in baseball, this post is ‘right in my wheelhouse’. I’ve got this, and simply looking through my
collection, I have cherished these:

’80—Popeye
’84—Johnny Dangerously
’84—Buckaroo Banzai
’85—Brazil
’85—Rustlers’ Rhapsody
’86—Absolute Beginners
’86—Big Trouble In Little China
’88—Bull Durham
’89—Nat Lamp Christmas Vacation

The highlight of ‘Absolute Beginners’: Sade, the musical artist
comes out on stage in a Blues club and sings,”Killer Blow”. She
is stunningly beautiful in this movie.
Rustlers’ Rhapsody/Johnny Dangerously- Marilu Henner improves
both movies; Andy Griffith as an villain in Rhapsody? Priceless.
Back when Popeye came out, I was a sailor, in port in Chicago. Saw it three times.
Sadly, Hudson Hawk was released in 1990, but for all intents and purposes it is an ’80′s movie. It would have graced my list.
I’m looking forward to seeing what other treasures appear on this post.

Posted By swac44 : November 5, 2012 3:00 pm

Every time I think of Rumble Fish (the IMDb gives the title as two words) the theme tune by Stewart Copeland and singer Stan Ridgeway (from Wall of Voodoo) immediately pops into mind. I also loved Copeland’s scoring work on the TV series The Equalizer, wish he did more of that kind of work.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8j6Tln0lN0c

Posted By swac44 : November 5, 2012 3:00 pm

Every time I think of Rumble Fish (the IMDb gives the title as two words) the theme tune by Stewart Copeland and singer Stan Ridgeway (from Wall of Voodoo) immediately pops into mind. I also loved Copeland’s scoring work on the TV series The Equalizer, wish he did more of that kind of work.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8j6Tln0lN0c

Posted By Commander Adams : November 5, 2012 3:13 pm

What irritates me the most when people talk about Eighties cinema is that when they refer to the classics of the decade, they aren’t talking about The Right Stuff or Prizzi’s Honor or Brazil but garbage like Friday the 13th and Goonies. And the people who espouse this mentality are those currently being graduated from today’s film schools. Be very afraid.

Posted By Commander Adams : November 5, 2012 3:13 pm

What irritates me the most when people talk about Eighties cinema is that when they refer to the classics of the decade, they aren’t talking about The Right Stuff or Prizzi’s Honor or Brazil but garbage like Friday the 13th and Goonies. And the people who espouse this mentality are those currently being graduated from today’s film schools. Be very afraid.

Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : November 5, 2012 3:47 pm

Also two of my favorite Directors,made their last Films in the
80th.
Robert Aldrich(All the Marbles)with the great Peter Falk,
and Sergio Leone(Once upon a Time in America).
That was also the Career Start for the wonderful
Jennifer Connelly.She came back,one year later,in another Italian
Classic(If you ask me).Dario Argentos crazy Fairytale Phenomena.

Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : November 5, 2012 3:47 pm

Also two of my favorite Directors,made their last Films in the
80th.
Robert Aldrich(All the Marbles)with the great Peter Falk,
and Sergio Leone(Once upon a Time in America).
That was also the Career Start for the wonderful
Jennifer Connelly.She came back,one year later,in another Italian
Classic(If you ask me).Dario Argentos crazy Fairytale Phenomena.

Posted By Gene : November 5, 2012 3:57 pm

Commander Adams, you are right on. If film school grads are talking Friday the 13th as being a classic we are definitely in trouble.

RumbleFish was such an audacious production. Coppola spoke at the Denver Film Festival several years ago and spoke about his battles getting such films made. Brazil is one of my favorites and it too faced a battle between the studio ending and Gilliam’s original. What a film either though with either ending! Since it’s the 80s we shouldn’t forget Time Bandits. Not necessarily a great film but worthy of a mention.

Posted By Gene : November 5, 2012 3:57 pm

Commander Adams, you are right on. If film school grads are talking Friday the 13th as being a classic we are definitely in trouble.

RumbleFish was such an audacious production. Coppola spoke at the Denver Film Festival several years ago and spoke about his battles getting such films made. Brazil is one of my favorites and it too faced a battle between the studio ending and Gilliam’s original. What a film either though with either ending! Since it’s the 80s we shouldn’t forget Time Bandits. Not necessarily a great film but worthy of a mention.

Posted By YancySkancy : November 5, 2012 6:42 pm

Ghost was 1990. But yes, there are a great many gems from this decade, some of which are in serious need of rediscovery.

I think Used Cars, Heathers, and Carpenter’s The Thing have fairly healthy cult followings. Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero is deservedly loved by those who remember it, and it’s a shame how few are familiar with his wonderful Housekeeping. Albert Brooks’ Modern Romance is genius, with his Lost in America a close second. Jerzy Skolimowski’s Moonlighting is a brilliant film that doesn’t get much attention. Blake Edwards did a lot of good work in the decade, much of it underrated (S.O.B., Sunset, The Man Who Loved Women).

Some other forgotten favorites of mine (several of which were written off by critics at the time) include Jean-Claude Tramont’s All Night Long, Gary Sherman’s Vice Squad, Carl Reiner’s The Man with Two Brains, Jerry Lewis’ Cracking Up (aka Smorgasbord), Gillian Armstrong’s Mrs. Soffel, Zelda Barron’s Shag, John Badham’s Stakeout, Glenn Gordon Caron’s Clean and Sober, and Taylor Hackford’s Everybody’s All-American. And this doesn’t even include innumerable foreign language treats.

Posted By YancySkancy : November 5, 2012 6:42 pm

Ghost was 1990. But yes, there are a great many gems from this decade, some of which are in serious need of rediscovery.

I think Used Cars, Heathers, and Carpenter’s The Thing have fairly healthy cult followings. Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero is deservedly loved by those who remember it, and it’s a shame how few are familiar with his wonderful Housekeeping. Albert Brooks’ Modern Romance is genius, with his Lost in America a close second. Jerzy Skolimowski’s Moonlighting is a brilliant film that doesn’t get much attention. Blake Edwards did a lot of good work in the decade, much of it underrated (S.O.B., Sunset, The Man Who Loved Women).

Some other forgotten favorites of mine (several of which were written off by critics at the time) include Jean-Claude Tramont’s All Night Long, Gary Sherman’s Vice Squad, Carl Reiner’s The Man with Two Brains, Jerry Lewis’ Cracking Up (aka Smorgasbord), Gillian Armstrong’s Mrs. Soffel, Zelda Barron’s Shag, John Badham’s Stakeout, Glenn Gordon Caron’s Clean and Sober, and Taylor Hackford’s Everybody’s All-American. And this doesn’t even include innumerable foreign language treats.

Posted By muriel : November 5, 2012 9:05 pm

Call me low-brow, but the only 80′s movies I watch and re-watch are “Clue” and “Top Secret”.

Posted By muriel : November 5, 2012 9:05 pm

Call me low-brow, but the only 80′s movies I watch and re-watch are “Clue” and “Top Secret”.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 5, 2012 11:11 pm

I have seen almost all of the films everyone has mentioned so far and could have added many of them to my list. The ones I have not seen are SMORGASBORD, ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS, CLUE, and FAIRYTALE PHENOMENA. Almost put BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA on the list. Was just talking about LOCAL HERO with someone yesterday. USED CARS just cracks me up. Great decade for movies; text books be damned.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 5, 2012 11:11 pm

I have seen almost all of the films everyone has mentioned so far and could have added many of them to my list. The ones I have not seen are SMORGASBORD, ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS, CLUE, and FAIRYTALE PHENOMENA. Almost put BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA on the list. Was just talking about LOCAL HERO with someone yesterday. USED CARS just cracks me up. Great decade for movies; text books be damned.

Posted By Shuvcat : November 6, 2012 1:14 am

My low-brow only-in-the-80s films: One Crazy Summer, The Gate, Strange Brew, The Burbs, Real Genius, Gremlins, of course Back To The Future, and yes The Goonies.

Posted By Shuvcat : November 6, 2012 1:14 am

My low-brow only-in-the-80s films: One Crazy Summer, The Gate, Strange Brew, The Burbs, Real Genius, Gremlins, of course Back To The Future, and yes The Goonies.

Posted By Lisa W. : November 6, 2012 1:33 am

Swac44 YES! I remember that video and song very well. I devoured all the S.E. Hinton books and Rumblefish was my favorite one, with the Outsiders being my second favorite. I really felt the film version of Rumblefish captured the characters better, to my mind, than the Outsiders film which I remember being a bit disappointed in. Matt Dillon was my celebrity 80s crush— I just recently re-watched Drugstore Cowboy (1989) which barely squeaks into the 80s decade, taking place in the 70s, but captures a disillusionment that I think represents the 80s for me. Also, remember the 80s fascination with vampires?: The Hunger, Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow!!), and Lost Boys (although the latter is pretty art-less in comparison to the previous 2) My faves: Valley Girl, Blade Runner, Paris Texas, Repo Man…. I’m already looking forward to your films of the 80s book!

Posted By Lisa W. : November 6, 2012 1:33 am

Swac44 YES! I remember that video and song very well. I devoured all the S.E. Hinton books and Rumblefish was my favorite one, with the Outsiders being my second favorite. I really felt the film version of Rumblefish captured the characters better, to my mind, than the Outsiders film which I remember being a bit disappointed in. Matt Dillon was my celebrity 80s crush— I just recently re-watched Drugstore Cowboy (1989) which barely squeaks into the 80s decade, taking place in the 70s, but captures a disillusionment that I think represents the 80s for me. Also, remember the 80s fascination with vampires?: The Hunger, Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow!!), and Lost Boys (although the latter is pretty art-less in comparison to the previous 2) My faves: Valley Girl, Blade Runner, Paris Texas, Repo Man…. I’m already looking forward to your films of the 80s book!

Posted By Doug : November 6, 2012 4:01 am

swac44-your wish is granted. Stewart Copeland also scored the Showtime series “Dead Like Me” for it’s two year run-great music, and it’s a pretty good show.
One addition to my list: “Full Moon In Blue Water”-Gene Hackman and Teri Garr-a fine drama.
Susan, “Absolute Beginners” is a musical about the genesis of 1950′s/60′s rock and roll…in London. It includes Ray Davies of the Kinks and David Bowie, and it has to be seen to be believed.

Posted By Doug : November 6, 2012 4:01 am

swac44-your wish is granted. Stewart Copeland also scored the Showtime series “Dead Like Me” for it’s two year run-great music, and it’s a pretty good show.
One addition to my list: “Full Moon In Blue Water”-Gene Hackman and Teri Garr-a fine drama.
Susan, “Absolute Beginners” is a musical about the genesis of 1950′s/60′s rock and roll…in London. It includes Ray Davies of the Kinks and David Bowie, and it has to be seen to be believed.

Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : November 6, 2012 5:51 am

Sorry Susan ! I Wrote the Movie Title in a misleading Way.
It´s just “Phenomena”.But i always saw it as a Fairytale.
Glad you like Walter Hill.”Street of Fire”is a Kind of Cult Movie
here in Germany.For me too,Walter Hill was one of the 80th best
Directors.2013 will bring a new Walter Hill Film at least.
“Bullet to the Head” with Sylvester Stallone.

Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : November 6, 2012 5:51 am

Sorry Susan ! I Wrote the Movie Title in a misleading Way.
It´s just “Phenomena”.But i always saw it as a Fairytale.
Glad you like Walter Hill.”Street of Fire”is a Kind of Cult Movie
here in Germany.For me too,Walter Hill was one of the 80th best
Directors.2013 will bring a new Walter Hill Film at least.
“Bullet to the Head” with Sylvester Stallone.

Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : November 6, 2012 5:56 am

@ Yancy Skancy
I always wanted to see Gary Sherman´s Vice Squad.
I hope they gonna reissue it on DVD again,cause now it costs
about 70 Dollars at Amazon.

Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : November 6, 2012 5:56 am

@ Yancy Skancy
I always wanted to see Gary Sherman´s Vice Squad.
I hope they gonna reissue it on DVD again,cause now it costs
about 70 Dollars at Amazon.

Posted By swac44 : November 6, 2012 8:13 am

I belong to a local scooter club, and Absolute Beginners is a regular movie night title, along with Quadrophenia, of course (now if only we could find the ’60s film Jessica, which features Angie Dickenson riding around Italy on a Vespa, and even has Maurice Chevalier singing “The Vespa Song” on the soundtrack). AB has flying scooters in it, what more could you want?

For me, when I think of ’80s movies I still love, and have aged pretty well, the first name I think of is Jackie Chan. As a kid, I remember a lot of hype around Chan in the early ’80s when he made his North American film debut in The Big Brawl and Cannonball Run but it didn’t really pan out. Little did I know he was making brilliant action films back in Hong Kong, like the Project A and Armour of God films, not to mention the first two installments in his Police Story series (the third was finally released in the U.S. as Supercop). When I was finally able to see these films, and also those of his “Three Dragons” brothers, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, Hollywood action blockbusters seemed leaden and slow by comparison. Even more so when you add the work of director John Woo, who made the amazing A Better Tomorrow I & II and The Killer in the mid to late ’80s.

Thanks for the Dead Like Me tip, Doug. Is that the series with Mandy Patinkin in it? I think I caught an episode of it once on a U.S. hotel TV (there’s no Showtime in Canada, although I’ve seen the DVD sets around), I’ll see if I can score a rental of it.

Posted By swac44 : November 6, 2012 8:13 am

I belong to a local scooter club, and Absolute Beginners is a regular movie night title, along with Quadrophenia, of course (now if only we could find the ’60s film Jessica, which features Angie Dickenson riding around Italy on a Vespa, and even has Maurice Chevalier singing “The Vespa Song” on the soundtrack). AB has flying scooters in it, what more could you want?

For me, when I think of ’80s movies I still love, and have aged pretty well, the first name I think of is Jackie Chan. As a kid, I remember a lot of hype around Chan in the early ’80s when he made his North American film debut in The Big Brawl and Cannonball Run but it didn’t really pan out. Little did I know he was making brilliant action films back in Hong Kong, like the Project A and Armour of God films, not to mention the first two installments in his Police Story series (the third was finally released in the U.S. as Supercop). When I was finally able to see these films, and also those of his “Three Dragons” brothers, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, Hollywood action blockbusters seemed leaden and slow by comparison. Even more so when you add the work of director John Woo, who made the amazing A Better Tomorrow I & II and The Killer in the mid to late ’80s.

Thanks for the Dead Like Me tip, Doug. Is that the series with Mandy Patinkin in it? I think I caught an episode of it once on a U.S. hotel TV (there’s no Showtime in Canada, although I’ve seen the DVD sets around), I’ll see if I can score a rental of it.

Posted By Everett Jones : November 6, 2012 9:31 am

I’m not sure if it’s still up, but for a long time, JESSICA was streaming on Netflix Instant Watch. I never watched it, though.

Posted By Everett Jones : November 6, 2012 9:31 am

I’m not sure if it’s still up, but for a long time, JESSICA was streaming on Netflix Instant Watch. I never watched it, though.

Posted By James : November 6, 2012 1:29 pm

I adore Top Secret! (and, to a lesser extent, Clue) and will not apologize. The latter is much better comedy than you might expect with a movie adapted from a board game. I think both are very smart movies, and not (well, entirely) low-brow, actually!

One of my favorite overlooked gems of 80s movies is Matthew Robbins’ Dragonslayer. It’s a serious-minded, but fun, fantasy movie that is grounded in a setting of history (England, the sixth century) rather than a fictional place. Magic is slowly dying out as the people of “Urland” (England) adopt Christianity, and the last remaining sorcerer and his apprentice are asked to dispatch what might be the last remaining dragon.

There’s a darkness and genuinely strange atmosphere in the movie that sets it apart from similar fantasy films I’ve seen, helped in part by a more casual use of special effects (you see little of the dragon until the final scenes). And, as the film is set in a real time in history, the more whimsical elements of fantasy are missing, replaced by depictions of a fairly brutal way of life (almost befitting a Monty Python sketch, though this isn’t a comedy). It’s a wonderful film.

Posted By James : November 6, 2012 1:29 pm

I adore Top Secret! (and, to a lesser extent, Clue) and will not apologize. The latter is much better comedy than you might expect with a movie adapted from a board game. I think both are very smart movies, and not (well, entirely) low-brow, actually!

One of my favorite overlooked gems of 80s movies is Matthew Robbins’ Dragonslayer. It’s a serious-minded, but fun, fantasy movie that is grounded in a setting of history (England, the sixth century) rather than a fictional place. Magic is slowly dying out as the people of “Urland” (England) adopt Christianity, and the last remaining sorcerer and his apprentice are asked to dispatch what might be the last remaining dragon.

There’s a darkness and genuinely strange atmosphere in the movie that sets it apart from similar fantasy films I’ve seen, helped in part by a more casual use of special effects (you see little of the dragon until the final scenes). And, as the film is set in a real time in history, the more whimsical elements of fantasy are missing, replaced by depictions of a fairly brutal way of life (almost befitting a Monty Python sketch, though this isn’t a comedy). It’s a wonderful film.

Posted By swac44 : November 6, 2012 1:46 pm

Also a big Top Secret fan, I remember seeing that in a Toronto theatre the weekend it opened, I think there were 8 other people in the theatre. But I laughed repeatedly throughout the screening (I think the joke about the Ford Pinto was my favourite), and usually watch it once a year or so. Too bad the ZAZ team members have gone on to other things, and have been usurped by lesser practioners of the parody film genre.

James’s mention of Dragonslayer reminds me that I can’t think of the ’80s and medievel fantasy without referring to John Boorman’s Excalibur. Historically accurate? Not even close, but it’s still an amazing spectacle, with some top notch performances.

Posted By swac44 : November 6, 2012 1:46 pm

Also a big Top Secret fan, I remember seeing that in a Toronto theatre the weekend it opened, I think there were 8 other people in the theatre. But I laughed repeatedly throughout the screening (I think the joke about the Ford Pinto was my favourite), and usually watch it once a year or so. Too bad the ZAZ team members have gone on to other things, and have been usurped by lesser practioners of the parody film genre.

James’s mention of Dragonslayer reminds me that I can’t think of the ’80s and medievel fantasy without referring to John Boorman’s Excalibur. Historically accurate? Not even close, but it’s still an amazing spectacle, with some top notch performances.

Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : November 6, 2012 2:18 pm

Anybody remember “The Legend of Billy Jean” ?
That crazy 80th Texas Version of Jeanne D´Arc.

Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : November 6, 2012 2:18 pm

Anybody remember “The Legend of Billy Jean” ?
That crazy 80th Texas Version of Jeanne D´Arc.

Posted By Kingrat : November 6, 2012 3:07 pm

Some of my 80s favorites are established classic or cult films (THE BIG CHILL, DINER, A CHRISTMAS STORY, THIS IS SPINAL TAP). Here’s a chance to give a shout out to:

28 UP – great British documentary; the best of the series
EXPERIENCE PREFERRED BUT NOT ESSENTIAL – great British comedy
CHOOSE ME – masterpiece by master of quirk Alan Rudolph
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP
MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE – Best. Screen. Kiss. Ever.

Posted By Kingrat : November 6, 2012 3:07 pm

Some of my 80s favorites are established classic or cult films (THE BIG CHILL, DINER, A CHRISTMAS STORY, THIS IS SPINAL TAP). Here’s a chance to give a shout out to:

28 UP – great British documentary; the best of the series
EXPERIENCE PREFERRED BUT NOT ESSENTIAL – great British comedy
CHOOSE ME – masterpiece by master of quirk Alan Rudolph
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP
MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE – Best. Screen. Kiss. Ever.

Posted By Lauren : November 6, 2012 4:19 pm

I love Top Secret! Didn’t see it until the late 90′s (thank you, hipster high school boyfriend), but man, “Straightening the Rug” cracks me up every time.

You know what doesn’t get a lot of love? Baby Boom. I don’t know about any real cinematic value (Suzi, you will recall that I am not a film scholar and never pretended to be), but it’s actually a very smart film under the wacky career-lady-inherits-baby guise. Addresses double standards and work/life balance, plus it stars Diane Keaton and Sam Shepard. Hell yeah. One of my favorite scenes: when Keaton tells her young daughter a version of Sleeping Beauty in which the princess announces her plans to “go to medical school, so I can be a very important doctor like all women can be!”

Posted By Lauren : November 6, 2012 4:19 pm

I love Top Secret! Didn’t see it until the late 90′s (thank you, hipster high school boyfriend), but man, “Straightening the Rug” cracks me up every time.

You know what doesn’t get a lot of love? Baby Boom. I don’t know about any real cinematic value (Suzi, you will recall that I am not a film scholar and never pretended to be), but it’s actually a very smart film under the wacky career-lady-inherits-baby guise. Addresses double standards and work/life balance, plus it stars Diane Keaton and Sam Shepard. Hell yeah. One of my favorite scenes: when Keaton tells her young daughter a version of Sleeping Beauty in which the princess announces her plans to “go to medical school, so I can be a very important doctor like all women can be!”

Posted By Lauren : November 6, 2012 4:19 pm

Also, Daryl in Adventures in Baby-sitting was played by Anthony Rapp, who was the original Mark in the musical Rent!

Posted By Lauren : November 6, 2012 4:19 pm

Also, Daryl in Adventures in Baby-sitting was played by Anthony Rapp, who was the original Mark in the musical Rent!

Posted By Emgee : November 6, 2012 4:45 pm

Thief(1981)Michael Mann, James Caan, Tuesday Weld. Need i say more? Other than: See it!

Posted By Emgee : November 6, 2012 4:45 pm

Thief(1981)Michael Mann, James Caan, Tuesday Weld. Need i say more? Other than: See it!

Posted By Anonymous : November 6, 2012 8:06 pm

1980′s…well, here is a short list of the ones I can think of that are if not guilty pleasures, they are ones that I come back to. Not listing my favorite big budget blockbusters, but these I haven’t seen listed.
“Caveman”
“Never Cry Wolf”
“Mannequin”-it is just so stupid I can’t help loving it.
“Lady Hawk”

Hubby’s favorite one would probably be “Spaceballs”

Posted By Anonymous : November 6, 2012 8:06 pm

1980′s…well, here is a short list of the ones I can think of that are if not guilty pleasures, they are ones that I come back to. Not listing my favorite big budget blockbusters, but these I haven’t seen listed.
“Caveman”
“Never Cry Wolf”
“Mannequin”-it is just so stupid I can’t help loving it.
“Lady Hawk”

Hubby’s favorite one would probably be “Spaceballs”

Posted By Heidi : November 6, 2012 8:08 pm

“Caveman”
“Never Cry Wolf”
“Mannequin”-so stupid I can’t help loving it.
“Lady Hawk”

Hubby’s would be Spaceballs.

Posted By Heidi : November 6, 2012 8:08 pm

“Caveman”
“Never Cry Wolf”
“Mannequin”-so stupid I can’t help loving it.
“Lady Hawk”

Hubby’s would be Spaceballs.

Posted By Maryann : November 6, 2012 9:54 pm

Just showed The Cotton Club (Coppola, 1984) in my film history class. Students were surprised and enjoyed the combination of gangster/musical genres. This has always been one of my favorite Coppola films and was pleasantly surprised by my students reaction.

Posted By Maryann : November 6, 2012 9:54 pm

Just showed The Cotton Club (Coppola, 1984) in my film history class. Students were surprised and enjoyed the combination of gangster/musical genres. This has always been one of my favorite Coppola films and was pleasantly surprised by my students reaction.

Posted By Lisa W. : November 6, 2012 11:46 pm

Was reminded today since I heard Peter Weller is in town: Robocop and of course, The Terminator. Have seen them both a few times.

Posted By Lisa W. : November 6, 2012 11:46 pm

Was reminded today since I heard Peter Weller is in town: Robocop and of course, The Terminator. Have seen them both a few times.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 7, 2012 1:30 am

It’s been so much fun reading everyone’s shout-outs to their ’80s favorites. I think I might revise my standard film history course and try to single out the uniqueness of this decade.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 7, 2012 1:30 am

It’s been so much fun reading everyone’s shout-outs to their ’80s favorites. I think I might revise my standard film history course and try to single out the uniqueness of this decade.

Posted By tdraicer : November 7, 2012 9:04 pm

For personal reasons the 80s were the worst decade of my life, and so I find I can’t watch even films that at the time I loved from that decade. But i suppose that is a tribute to the power films have to bring us back to a specfic era.

Posted By tdraicer : November 7, 2012 9:04 pm

For personal reasons the 80s were the worst decade of my life, and so I find I can’t watch even films that at the time I loved from that decade. But i suppose that is a tribute to the power films have to bring us back to a specfic era.

Posted By thomasfhering : November 7, 2012 11:36 pm

THE GREY FOX starring Richard Farnsworth (Canada 1982, U.S. 1983).

Posted By thomasfhering : November 7, 2012 11:36 pm

THE GREY FOX starring Richard Farnsworth (Canada 1982, U.S. 1983).

Posted By Chubbles MacWuss : November 8, 2012 2:06 am

Just wanted to add a shout-out for what is probably my personal favorite cult film of the eighties: “Times Square”!! … To the unacquainted — well, wow! — I’m not sure I’d even know where to begin! Maybe shades of the sort of female “folie a deux” themes you find in fascinating films like “Ghost World”, “Heavenly Creatures”, “Girl Interrupted” etc. — but, um, let’s just say extremely different in tone, manner and feeling from those films … Just see it for yourself, as I don’t think I can find the words!!!

Other than that very unique entry, another 1980 cult fave which I don’t think has been mentioned is the much-reviled original “Fame” — which, yes, is a problematic movie in many key ways — but nevertheless well deserving of its cult status — & still exceedingly enjoyable if you’re in the mood for it …

And likewise in the musical vein, the even-more-deservedly reviled “Xanadu” is nevertheless a magnificently enjoyable relic of its particular moment in time … And it really gets even crazier and farther out as it winds up for the finale …

And “Labyrinth” with wonderful creatures & David Bowie & adolescent Jennifer Conelly …

And I very strongly second both “Repo Man” & “Valley Girl” for sure for sure … And I’d better draw this comment to a close one of these light-years — or else as she says in the legendary escalator break-up scene, “I might just prune up …”

Posted By Chubbles MacWuss : November 8, 2012 2:06 am

Just wanted to add a shout-out for what is probably my personal favorite cult film of the eighties: “Times Square”!! … To the unacquainted — well, wow! — I’m not sure I’d even know where to begin! Maybe shades of the sort of female “folie a deux” themes you find in fascinating films like “Ghost World”, “Heavenly Creatures”, “Girl Interrupted” etc. — but, um, let’s just say extremely different in tone, manner and feeling from those films … Just see it for yourself, as I don’t think I can find the words!!!

Other than that very unique entry, another 1980 cult fave which I don’t think has been mentioned is the much-reviled original “Fame” — which, yes, is a problematic movie in many key ways — but nevertheless well deserving of its cult status — & still exceedingly enjoyable if you’re in the mood for it …

And likewise in the musical vein, the even-more-deservedly reviled “Xanadu” is nevertheless a magnificently enjoyable relic of its particular moment in time … And it really gets even crazier and farther out as it winds up for the finale …

And “Labyrinth” with wonderful creatures & David Bowie & adolescent Jennifer Conelly …

And I very strongly second both “Repo Man” & “Valley Girl” for sure for sure … And I’d better draw this comment to a close one of these light-years — or else as she says in the legendary escalator break-up scene, “I might just prune up …”

Posted By Jenni : November 11, 2012 12:13 pm

Crossing Delancey- a sweet romance movie from 1988, starred Amy Irving and Peter Riegert.

Heartbreak Ridge-Clint Eastwood as a higher up Marine, having to whip a group of lazy Marines into shape for a rescue mission. My Marine son laughs at how “lazy” the platoon has become before Clint arrives to whip ‘em into shape!

Posted By Jenni : November 11, 2012 12:13 pm

Crossing Delancey- a sweet romance movie from 1988, starred Amy Irving and Peter Riegert.

Heartbreak Ridge-Clint Eastwood as a higher up Marine, having to whip a group of lazy Marines into shape for a rescue mission. My Marine son laughs at how “lazy” the platoon has become before Clint arrives to whip ‘em into shape!

Posted By Robert : November 11, 2012 6:49 pm

Very much enjoyed your list Susan, and apart from PENNIES FROM HEAVEN I’ve seen them all. Probably the ones I had the most fun with were the two Martha Coolidge comedies, but I would like to revisit THE MEAN SEASON as I have not seen the film since it hit home video. That film’s director – Philip Borsos – sadly passed away at an early age but was a deeply interesting filmmaker. Prior to THE MEAN SEASON he made his feature debut with the biographical western THE GREY FOX (1982), a beautifully made film that presented Richard Farnsworth with one of the two greatest roles of his career(the other being THE STRAIGHT STORY) as gentleman bandit Billy Miner. Borsos followed THE MEAN SEASON with the Disney holiday fantasy ONE MAGIC CHRISTMAS (1985), something of a variation of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE with Mary Steenburgen stepping into the Jimmy Stewart role and Harry Dean Stanton as her angel. That was it for the director’s output in the decade – he spent the next several years working on the biographical epic BETHUNE (1990) and only completed one more film before his death at age 41 in 1995.

Like yourself I was drawn to the films of Walter Hill during the 1980s, and as much fun as 48 HRS. remains to this day perhaps his film from that era I appreciate the most is THE LONG RIDERS (1980), followed closely by SOUTHERN COMFORT (1981). As for the last film on your list – GREAT BALLS OF FIRE – it was the prior collaboration of that film’s director (Jim McBride) and star (Dennis Quaid) on 1987′s THE BIG EASY that had me returning to watch the film several times before the 1980s ran out.

Posted By Robert : November 11, 2012 6:49 pm

Very much enjoyed your list Susan, and apart from PENNIES FROM HEAVEN I’ve seen them all. Probably the ones I had the most fun with were the two Martha Coolidge comedies, but I would like to revisit THE MEAN SEASON as I have not seen the film since it hit home video. That film’s director – Philip Borsos – sadly passed away at an early age but was a deeply interesting filmmaker. Prior to THE MEAN SEASON he made his feature debut with the biographical western THE GREY FOX (1982), a beautifully made film that presented Richard Farnsworth with one of the two greatest roles of his career(the other being THE STRAIGHT STORY) as gentleman bandit Billy Miner. Borsos followed THE MEAN SEASON with the Disney holiday fantasy ONE MAGIC CHRISTMAS (1985), something of a variation of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE with Mary Steenburgen stepping into the Jimmy Stewart role and Harry Dean Stanton as her angel. That was it for the director’s output in the decade – he spent the next several years working on the biographical epic BETHUNE (1990) and only completed one more film before his death at age 41 in 1995.

Like yourself I was drawn to the films of Walter Hill during the 1980s, and as much fun as 48 HRS. remains to this day perhaps his film from that era I appreciate the most is THE LONG RIDERS (1980), followed closely by SOUTHERN COMFORT (1981). As for the last film on your list – GREAT BALLS OF FIRE – it was the prior collaboration of that film’s director (Jim McBride) and star (Dennis Quaid) on 1987′s THE BIG EASY that had me returning to watch the film several times before the 1980s ran out.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 11, 2012 8:29 pm

Robert: Interesting background on Borsos. I remember THE GREY FOX, too, as did someone else who mentioned it earlier. Good film.

Posted By Susan Doll : November 11, 2012 8:29 pm

Robert: Interesting background on Borsos. I remember THE GREY FOX, too, as did someone else who mentioned it earlier. Good film.

Posted By John Maddox Roberts : November 15, 2012 1:46 pm

THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987)Great fantasy spoof, but a loving, not a mean-spirited spoof.

Posted By John Maddox Roberts : November 15, 2012 1:46 pm

THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987)Great fantasy spoof, but a loving, not a mean-spirited spoof.

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