The 80s, a decade like no other. Of course the same could be said of all the decades, though I got my suspicions about the 10s and 20s. The style, culture, and attitude was very different to what it is now. This was a happier era, despite perpetual troubles in the Middle East, the Soviet Union collapsed, and a new era in technology began with computers becoming more and more widespread. Teen comedies, B horror films, and cheesy action movies perpetuated the years. It introduced so many now universal actors like Schwarzenegger, Eddie Murphy, Nicholas Cage, and Sylvester Stallone. Without further ado, the films.
Alien (1979): Now technically this is not an 80s film, it was made in the late 70s and even released then too. But watching this film, this is not a 70s film, everything about it from the effects to the way its shot to the actors themselves screams 80s. So here we have one of the best good quality horror films, a contrast to many of the other horror films of the decade, focusing on buckets of blood as opposed to psychological horror. One of the most important parts of this film is, like Jaws, you rarely see the thing, nothing is scarier than the unknown. It created a standard that has been rarely lived up to let alone exceeded, and it has defined horror for all the years to come.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): I kind of hate to have two Lucas films on these lists, but his films were just so damn influential that it had to be included. A classic adventure story, featuring an opening sequence that has become so inured into the public consciousness that even those who haven’t seen the film know of it, it is truly a revolutionary film. Whoever thought an archaeologist could become such an icon. Similar to what the Half Life series has done for theoretical physicists, Raiders started many people on the path to the ‘exciting’ field of archaeology. Millions were disappointed. Even still, the film has had an immense impact, refining a genre, and creating a character who has become a cultural icon for a generation, as well as furthering Harrison Ford’s career, a move which guarantees it can not be a bad film.
Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): Here we have another horror film, this one a bit less physiological, and more buckets of blood. In one scene the cops are carrying literal buckets of blood away from the untimely death of Johnny Depp. It also popularized the slasher genre created a few years earlier with Halloween. This resulted in numerous imitators and sequels, but none quite as successful as the original. It also blurred the line between dreams and reality, stabbing the fourth wall just a little bit. Some feel it is Freudian in a way, but then some also feel that Alien is, so most of that is really a crapshoot. What this movie will be remembered most for, and what it influenced the most though is its death scenes, truly terrific in all meanings of the word.
The Breakfast Club (1985): One of those cliché teen comedies that I was talking about earlier, but one of the first and the best. There were a lot of films which could have fit in here, 16 Candles, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s day off, but what really makes this film unique is the location. A good 90% of it is just in one library, as the group of teenagers with irreconcilable differences eventually learn to appreciate their individuality, and to love and respect one another. Like I said, cliché beyond belief, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t well made, with good actors and the script to back it up. It had an enormous impact on the pop culture of a decade, and all the teen movies that attempted to follow its success. A defining film, and the best of its genre, truly a film for the ages.
The rest of these movies I was fairly sure about, but the fifth film was a huge process. I could name about ten films which could fit in here, like Brazil, Scarface, E.T., Empire Strikes Back, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Terminator, Evil Dead II, The Shining, The Blues Brothers, First Blood, Rocky IV, but I ended up with only one choice.
Die Hard (1988): Now I will argue that this is actually a 90s movie, regardless of the date it was released, but I realize now it was in fact one of the final good 80s film, a fine transition to the 90s. The best Christmas movie, no questions asked, but also one of the best action films of the decades, accomplishing something that the many explosions of Commando, or First Blood could not. One human character was all they really needed, someone the audience could relate to, not a superman but an everyday guy. This decision changed so much in the genre, creating all the “Die hard on a ____” movies that sought to emulate a tiny fraction of its success. This was Bruce Willis’ role, and it is the only role he has been able to play for the last 22 years. Sad, but true, he wasn’t acting, that was simply the director putting him in a building with some terrorists (or not) and filming it.
And that’s it, the films that helped to define a decade. If any genre was to define the decade, it would be the teen comedies. Never before, or after, was there such a great slate of films that seem like they should be similar and terrible, but aren’t. The romantic comedies of today can’t hope to compare to the genius of the Breakfast Club, the film that defined a decade.