One of my favorite hobbies is watching movies. Now, I am by no means an expert, but I have still watched and own enough movies that I think it’s fair to call me a “buff”. Two of my favorite genres of film are cult classics and 80’s movies, and what’s even better is when the two are combined. In this column you will find ten of my all-time favorite 80’s cult films. This is by no means a definitive list, and they are not ranked. In all honesty, if I ranked all of my favorite 80’s movies for a column, it would probably take me months and the column would contain at least 100 films.
Now, the only real criteria I had for this list was that no box office smashes or true classics would be featured. As a result, you won’t see films like Back to the Future, Return of the Jedi, Raiders of the Lost Ark or anything like that. While those are all no doubt fine films (and some of my personal favorites, BTW), they were far too successful to make the list. No, this list contains more minor movies that just screamed “80’s”. While it’s hard to describe exactly what that means, anyone who is a fan of movies from this decade knows exactly what I’m talking about. Some of these movies went onto great success in later years; some just faded over time and are not as revered. Either way, these are some of my favorites, ones that I still enjoy to this day. If there’s anything you would’ve added to this list, feel free to let me know in a comment. I’d love to hear your choices and your reasons why. And now, on with the list.
*Author’s note: This was originally only going to consist of 10 movies, but after compiling the list and leaving one of my favorites off, I couldn’t find which film I wanted to replace it with, so it was simply made into a list of 11 movies.
11. THE WRAITH (1986, PG-13)
By far the most obscure film on this list, and one that I couldn’t even remember the title to until years later when I happened to be watching TV and saw that it was coming up after whatever show I was watching at the time (honestly, I think it was an episode of WCW Worldwide). The movie stars Nick Cassavetes, Charlie Sheen, Clint Howard and Randy Quaid. Nick Cassavetes stars as Packard Walsh, the leader of a gang of thugs who roam the streets at night, looking for nice cars. They challenge the drivers of said cars to race them, with the losers of the races also losing their cars. Packard is psychotic and it is revealed he once murdered another man for being with the woman he felt was his property. Walsh and his gang rule the streets until a mysterious man all in black shows up in a very futuristic set of wheels, who proceeds to systematically eliminate every member of the gang until he gets to Packard. Meanwhile, a new kid (Charlie Sheen) shows up in town, immediately taking a liking to Packard’s “girlfriend”, pushing Packard over the edge.
Overall, this movie is total cheese, but I always liked it as a kid because the futuristic car always looked so cool. What’s surprising is this movie is only rated PG-13, despite frontal nudity, murder, attempted rape and bloodshed all being prevalent throughout the film.
10. ONE CRAZY SUMMER (1986, PG)
Two best friends (John Cusack and Joel Murray) have just graduated high school and are about to spend the summer at George Calamari’s (Murray) grandma’s house on Nantucket Island. On their way, they meet a musician named Cassandra (Demi Moore), who is trying to raise money to save her family’s property on the island, which is about to be demolished in favor of a massive real estate deal by the wealthy Beckersted Family. Although she raises the money, the Beckersteds gain the property through bullying tactics. Cassandra, along with Calamari, Hoops (Cusack) and their friends (including Bobcat Goldthwait and Curtis Amrstrong) challenge the nephew of the Beckersted Family to a yacht race with the winner gaining the property.
9. THE RUNNING MAN (1987, R)
We come to the first true action movie of the list. (Very) Loosely based on a Stephen King novel of the same name (writing as Richard Bachman), The Running Man stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Ben Richards, a former government soldier who is sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. While in prison, the host of the wildly popular game show of the same name as the movie, Damon Killian (played by famed game show host Richard Dawson) sees footage of Richards trying to break from prison and wants him as the next contestant on his game show. The show features cons fighting their way through a dilapidated section of Los Angeles against combatants similar to those on a show like American Gladiators, with the prize that, should the contestant defeat them, he not only wins several prizes, but his freedom as well.
I’m a big Sci-Fi fan and the action genre is my absolute favorite, so it should be no surprise that this is on my list. Arnold was the king of action flicks in his day, despite them usually featuring a pretty lousy script. Some cameos from pro wrestling legends Prof. Toru Tanaka and Jesse “The Body” Ventura certainly didn’t hurt making the film enjoyable. On a side note, when I say this movie is loosely based on the book, I mean that about as literally as I can. Aside from the names of a few characters and the game show, the book and the movie are like night and day when it comes to differences.
8. WAR GAMES (1983, PG)
A high school kid named David (Matthew Broderick), along with girlfriend Jennifer (Ally Sheedy) accidentally wind up in a potential World War III situation after a series of bad coincidences involving computers. While researching a computer programmer, David discovers a list of games made by the programmer himself. What seem like harmless military computer games turn out to actually be military simulations that are still programmed into the systems at NORAD. When he starts a simulation called “Global Thermonuclear War”, thinking it’s a game, the U.S. military immediately gets prompted, not knowing it’s only a simulator. Instead, they see the simulation and think they are about to go to war with Russia.
I actually didn’t discover this movie until I was older, but have always loved it. I’m not sure what makes the movie so great, as it’s not an action flick or a comedy and features little to no violence of any kind. Perhaps it was the fact that it was very advanced for its time, or maybe even because, sadly, what happens in the movie could easily happen in real life if people weren’t careful.
7. FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986, PG-13)
Matthew Broderick makes his second appearance on the list in what is considered by many to be the greatest 80’s film of all time. Ferris Bueller (Broderick) fakes being sick in order to stay home from school while his parents are at work. He gets together with his best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) and girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) in order to have a day out doing all and seeing all across the sprawling metropolis that is Chicago, IL. Meanwhile, the high school’s angry principal (Jeffrey Jones) believes Bueller is ditching school despite his parents calling him in sick, and attempts to investigate the situation himself.
I really don’t think I need to explain why this movie made the list. Every kid has ditched school at one point in order to have fun and go hang out with friends. Maybe not on this large a scale, but nevertheless.
6. NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION (1983, R)
In the first installment of the Vacation series, Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase) takes his family on a summer vacation across country, from Chicago to California, in order to visit Wally World, the greatest theme park in the country. Easy enough, except every possible problem arises during the trip, from getting the wrong car to Clark’s wife Helen’s (Bevery D’Angelo) aunt dying on the way, to losing all of their luggage and money.
While Christmas Vacation is my personal favorite in the series, this is the one that started it all. The script and story are great, with Chevy Chase having some of the best lines of his entire career.
5. THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987, PG)
A young boy (Fred Savage) is sick at home with nothing to do, so as a surprise, his mother invites his grandfather over for some company. Grandpa (Peter Falk) decides to read his grandson a story to pass the time, a story he had read to him as a child. In the story, a beautiful woman named Buttercup (Robin Wright Penn) is taken away from her love Westley (Cary Elwes) by an evil and greedy prince. Buttercup, having been told Westley is dead by the prince, agrees to marry the prince. Meanwhile, it turns out Westley is alive and well, and has been spending the last few years training in order to get revenge on the prince for all of his evil deeds. He is eventually joined by former servants of the prince, Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) and Fezzik (Andre the Giant) to take the fight to the prince and his army.
I almost didn’t include this on the list due to the fact that it has become somewhat of an iconic film, and some say the greatest romantic comedy of all time. However, some still consider it a cult classic, so I went ahead and threw it on here. Either way, it’s a favorite movie of mine. I’ve seen it probably 100 times in my life, and it’s as good now as the first time I saw it all those years ago.
4. REAL GENIUS (1985, PG)
Another semi-obscure film, Real Genius is the story of two young guys, Chris Knight and Mitch Taylor (Val Kilmer and Gabe Jarret) who are legitimate geniuses, and are thus chosen to work on a top secret project at one of the country’s most prestigious colleges. While they think they are building a project that will help solve some of the energy problems in the country, it turns out they are actually building a weapon for the U.S. Air Force, one so powerful that it could eliminate a target from outer space.
Honestly, I can’t really explain why I like this movie so much. I’m not really sure. All I know is that it’s one of my favorites, and I was always intrigued by the character of Lazlo Hollyfield (Jon Gries), who lives in the closet of the genius’ dorm room.
3. ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981, R)
In a futuristic version of the United States, crime is beyond out of control, and the entire city of New York has been turned into the highest level maximum security prison in the country. While flying over the city, the President’s (Donald Pleasance) plane crashes, and the inmates take him hostage and will release him in exchange for their freedom. The government chooses an inmate from another facility, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) to take the job of rescuing the President. Due to being both an inmate and a former soldier, they feel he has the best chance of getting in and out of alive. In exchange for rescuing the President (as well as a tape that contains some very important information), he will be released from prison and allowed to go on his merry way. If not, he dies.
One of John Carpenter’s finest films, not to mention Kurt Russell’s. It created a formula for futuristic movies that has been duplicated numerous times, and is regarded as one of the best action films ever.
2. REVENGE OF THE NERDS (1984, R)
When nerds Lewis and Gilbert (Robert Carradine and Anthony Edwards) are sent to Adams College, they think they are in for a great time at the school with the best computer program in the country. As it turns out, it’s no different than high school. There are bullies everywhere who want to trash everything they do and drive them out of school. Fortunately, there are numerous other nerds at the school, and they all join together and form a fraternity. After getting bullied enough, the nerds begin to outsmart the jocks and bullies at every turn, using their intelligence to take the bullies down and run college’s “Greek Council”.
1. THE BREAKFAST CLUB
Finally, we come to what many consider the greatest 80’s movie ever (even more so than Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), not to mention one of the most quoted movies in history. On a Saturday morning in the fictional town of Shermer, IL, five high school seniors (Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy and Anthony Michael Hall)from different backgrounds spend the day in detention for various reasons. They are stuck for 8 hours, with a principal (Paul Gleason) who seems to want nothing more than to punish each and every one of them even further. Over the course of the day, in between confrontations with the principal, they open up to each other and find out a lot. The end result is five people with little in common winding up as the best of friends at the end of the day.
The Breakfast Club is, more or less, the quintessential 80’s movies. Despite never really winning awards or receiving huge amounts of acclaim during its day, it is a movie that has transcended a decade and seems to be a favorite of people of all ages and generations. 26 years after its release, the movie is still very relevant, and the characters are still people I can relate to. We have all known someone like each character in the movie at some point or another; maybe we were like one of them ourselves.
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