While every year sees the release of excellent genre movies, it’s remarkable, looking back, just how many genuinely brilliant action, science fiction and fantasy movies appeared in 1982. Here’s our run-down of the very best movies released that year…
10. Rocky III
After the Oscar-winning 1976 original, Sylvester Stallone’s underdog boxing movies descended rapidly into self-parody, but like the Rambo movies, they remained enormously entertaining, particularly if enjoyed with a few beers and a takeaway.
Having finally defeated arch rival Apollo Creed in the previous movie, Sly’s underdog boxer Rocky finds himself out of condition and increasingly complacent following a string of push-over victories.
When the singularly aggressive Clubber Lang (Mr. T, whose “I pity the fool” line became his character B.A. Baracus’ catchphrase in The A-Team the following year) beats Rocky within just two rounds, the mumbling boxer strives to retain his ‘eye of the tiger’ and defeat Lang in a rematch.
Not the best film in the franchise, but nevertheless a genuine geek guilty pleasure.
9. First Blood
It’s easy to forget, after the increasingly ridiculous exploits of the later Rambo movies, just how low key and gritty the monosyllabic Vietnam veteran’s first outing was. Sylvester Stallone starred as the traumatised ex-special forces soldier who, after being cruelly treated by the police of a small town, goes on a delusional and violent rampage.
Riding on the crest of his post-Rocky popularity, Stallone delivered another slight but sympathetic performance, while Brian Dennehy provided solid support as Teasle, the spiteful sheriff who inadvertently sparks Stallone’s town-wrecking trail of destruction.
While the later films have their own absurd, jingoistic charm, First Blood is arguably the best in the series.
8. 48 Hrs
Not the best film of the year, perhaps, but a great odd couple action film, and filled with memorably terse dialogue, the kind that 80s script writers appeared to excel at. Eddie Murphy made his big screen debut as a convict granted 48 hours’ leave from prison to help crumpled cop Nick Nolte catch a group of vicious killers.
While Murphy’s career has drifted into self-parody in recent years, his performance alongside Nolte remains one of his highlights, and the scene where Murphy’s character accosts a bar full of rednecks (“There’s a new sheriff in town…and his name is Reggie Hammonds”) is a stand-out moment.
In the year Clive Sinclair released the humble ZX Spectrum computer, Disney caught onto the videogame craze with Tron. Jeff Bridges starred as a software engineer sucked into a computer mainframe, a digital world filled with light cycles, solar sailers and a villainous programme called Sark.
The plot may have been little more than a computer-age Alice In Wonderland, but it was Tron‘s imaginative and groundbreaking visuals, the work of designers and artists Moebius, Syd Mead and Peter Lloyd, that were its greatest asset, and its light cycles remain a svelte icon of 80s cinema.
6. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan
For this writer, the most entertaining of all the big screen Star Trek outings, Wrath Of Khan came as a breath of fresh air after the first, ponderous Star Trek: The Motion Picture directed by Robert Wise.
Ricardo Montalbán provides a muscular, memorably unrestrained performance as Khan Noonien Singh, Kirk’s long time nemesis who originally appeared in the episode Space Seed in the 60s television series.
Filled with explosive space battles, deliciously overwrought dialogue (Kirk’s primal howl of “KHAAANN!” is a perfect example), and a genuinely unsettling moment where Chekov and Captain Terrell have eel-like creatures inserted in their ears, Khan is a thrilling instalment in the Star Trek canon, ending on a bravely tragic note with the untimely death of Spock.
Like Tobe Hooper’s earlier, grittier The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist has become so thoroughly instilled in popular consciousness that it’s now almost impossible to watch without thinking of the numerous parodies, homages and outright rip-offs that have emerged in the decades since.
Lines such as “They’re here!” and “Step into the light!” are more likely to evoke titters of recognition than a frisson of fear in 2010, but the quality of Poltergeist‘s writing and direction shouldn’t be underestimated, and its contribution to pop culture is undeniable.
Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams play the middle class couple whose house suffers from an infestation of a particularly spooky kind, and the late Heather O’Rourke is Carol Anne, the youngster whose unhealthy addiction to television ends with an unexpected trip to the spirit world.
4. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
It’s schmaltzy, sentimental and emotionally manipulative, but E.T. nevertheless remains a classic family film. Brilliantly acted by its young cast, Spielberg created a small scale and intimate drama (albeit featuring a friendly, benevolent alien) that contrasted sharply with the continent-spanning bombast of Raiders Of The Lost Ark.
Carlo Rambaldi’s ungainly yet sympathetic alien was an expressively wrought character considering the technical limitations of the time, while Spielberg’s expert direction, together with John Williams’ unforgettable theme, created a film whose imagery has long since etched itself on popular consciousness.
3. The Dark Crystal
Directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, the two Muppets puppeteers created an imaginatively wrought and faintly eerie fantasy tale with The Dark Crystal. Elfin orphan Jen must find a missing shard of the titular crystal to restore the world’s balance, and much of the film is simply a journey through a series of fantastical, spectral landscapes.
The Dark Crystal‘s plot may have been slight, but there’s no denying the imaginative power of Henson and Oz’s character and set design which, in the early 80s, were enough to give impressionably young minds nightmares. Or maybe that was just me.
2. Blade Runner
Ambitious, indulgent, and among the most enduringly influential movies of the entire decade, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner still stands, almost thirty years on, as one of the towering greats of sci-fi cinema.
Harrison Ford mutters and sulks his way through the movie as laconic replicant killer Rick Deckard (the actor’s artistic differences with Scott are well documented), and Blade Runner arguably belongs to Rutger Hauer and his turn as the rebellious offworld slave Roy Batty. By turns sinister, angry and touching, Hauer gives a career-best performance as the dying replicant desperately searching for an extension on his two-year lease of life.
A box office flop at the time, it’s only in the years since that Blade Runner has earned the justifiably revered status it enjoys today.
1. The Thing
John Carpenter’s icy science fiction horror was a genre classic and, we’d wager, despite serious competition from Blade Runner, the finest film of the entire year.
Adapted from John W. Campbell’s short story Who Goes There, the 1982 iteration of The Thing, where workers at an Antarctic research station are attacked by a horrific, shape-shifting alien, Carpenter’s iteration is about as far from the genteel sci-fi of Howard Hawke’s own take on the premise, 1951’s The Thing From Another World.
Like Blade Runner, The Thing was a critical and commercial failure at the time of its release (one of the most graphic studio pictures up to that point, reviewers panned the movie for its violence) and only received greater appreciation in the years that followed.
Influencing an entire generation of other movie makers and videogame developers, Dean Cundey’s claustrophobic cinematography and Rob Bottin’s remarkable visual effects, which still stand up to scrutiny even today, The Thing is one movie which we can safely say we could happily watch again and again.
How many of this year’s movies will be similarly watchable in almost 30 years’ time? Not many, we’d argue…