There are good movies, there are bad movies, and there are movies so bad they’re fantastic. A great deal of them came out in the 80s but not everyone’s seen them and honestly, they really should. To remedy that, I decided to put together a partial list of must-see films from the Neon Decade. Watch most of them with your proverbial tongue planted in your proverbial cheek.
The Last Dragon Motown founder Berry Gordy got into movies in the 70s and come the mid-80s, he decided to make a martial arts movie. Newcomer and actual martial artist Taimak stars as “Bruce” Leroy Green who must save musician/video jockey Vanity from an evil arcade mogul and arch-nemesis Sho’nuff, the Shogun of Harlem. This flick is cult film poetry.
Monster Squad A bunch of neighborhood kids must save the world from Dracula and his “classic monster” minions with the help of Van Helsing’s diary and a not-so-scary German guy. They also definitively prove that the Wolfman has nards.
Masters of the Universe The big screen adaption of the beloved cartoon “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” wasn’t exactly what anyone expected. It was gloriously terrible. Frank Langella turns in a good performance of Skeletor, Dolph Lundgren’s English isn’t so good, and a young Courteney Cox-Arquette is one of the Earth kids who come to He-Man and crew’s aid (the other is Robert Duncan McNeil aka Tom Paris from Star Trek: Voyager).
Big Trouble in Little China John Carpenter + Kurt Russell = Yes. A sort of modernized Western, Russell plays truck driver Jack Burton who finds himself getting pulled into a mystical battle in the middle of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Burton is a great character who is both cool yet reacts as one would when faced with a multi-eyed, floating, spying face thing.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure Two not-so-intelligent wannabe rockers take a travel through time (in an American phone booth *coughDOCTORWHOcough*) and bring back a few historical figures in order to pass their history presentation, and thereby keep on track to bringing peace to the world sometime in the future. Try not to think about it too hard.
Teen Witch Like Xanadu, this skews more towards the ladies as it can be best described as a teen musical romantic comedy with magic. Yeah. Nerdy outcast Louise Miller finds out she’s a witch and proceeds to cast all kids of spells, intentionally and by accident, in order to become popular and win the heart of jock Brad Powell. Zelda Rubinstein also stars as Louise’s magical mentor.
The Last Starfighter This movie is for everyone who knows, deep down, that their mad arcade skills mean they’re destined for greatness. A teenage boy in a small town beats a piloting video game and gets drafted into an interstellar war as the savior of the benevolent, losing side.
The Dark Crystal When I first saw this as a child, I was simultaneously awed and freaked out. But it’s Jim Henson so there’s inherent love. Jen, one of the last survivors of the Gelflings, is prophesied to be the savior of a planet that’s been under harsh rule for the past thousand years. Traveling through the land while the Skeksis in power hunt him, Jen must reach the crystal to restore the world to its former light and glory.
The Last Unicorn Speaking of being scarred as a kid, no movie warped my fragile little mind like this Rankin/Bass animated film. Disney it ain’t. This crazy king sends a magical fire-bull to drive all the unicorns into the ocean by his castle and keep them there. Only he missed one. An inept magician turns her into a human on accident to hide her and things don’t exactly get better from there. Be prepared for a sweet and sour ending and lots of weirdness.
Willow By far my favorite Ron Howard movie, this sword and sorcery adventure stars Val Kilmer and Warwick Davis as unlikely heroes brought together to save a prophecy baby from and evil witch-queen. It has great action sequences, great one-liners, and great characters. I watch it every time it comes on TV.
Xanadu Oh, Xanadu. How I love thee. You’ve got Olivia Newton-John as a muse, Michael Beck (aka Swan from “The Warriors”) as a painter turned entrepreneur, music by Electric Light Orchestra, and Gene Kelly on roller skates. You are so bad, you’re fantastic.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension Words can’t accurately describe the awesomeness of this film. The 1984 film simultaneously pokes fun at and honors the sci-fi and action genres. Buckaroo Banzai is a scientist, a neurosurgeon, a race car drive, and a rock star to name a few of his skills. And he’s played by Peter “Robocop” Weller. If that’s not enough to get you to watch, it also stars Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, Clancy Brown, Carl Lumbly, Vicent Schiavelli, Dan Hedaya, Ellen Barkin and Lohn Lithgow as the alien bad guy. Seriously.
My Science Project This movie doesn’t have Bruce Campbell, but it has the next best thing – Dennis Hopper as a burnout, hippie science teacher. It’s also got the hot nerdy girl, the delinquent best friend, and the sort of jock, sort of smart, handsome lead with a sweet classic car. And a fight with a T-Rex. With automatic weapons. That’s right, you heard me.
Explorers As kids, ninety-five-percent of us have had daydreams of grand, soaring adventures. They don’t get more grand or soaring then building pod capable of space travel and meeting aliens. Not only does this movie make you feel like you’re ten-years-old again, it features a young River Phoenix and Ethan Hawke as two of the three leads.
Labyrinth This Jim Henson production stars David Bowie as Jereth the Goblin King who kidnaps the baby brother of brat Jennifer Connelly (in her first role). To rescue him, she must travel through a trippy maze while encountering all manners of creatures in order to rescue baby Toby. It’s a great film with weird, great songs and fantastic characters.
They Live! Possesor of one of the most famous fight scenes ever (“Rowdy” Roddy Piper vs. Keith David in an alley for a little over five minutes) and one of the greatest non-Bruce Campbell/Bruce Willis one-liners in history. This John Carpenter masterpiece is smart, funny, and imparts social commentary without cramming it down our throats.
Bonus Pick: Better Off Dead A paragon of weirdness, it’s one of the few 80’s teen comedies that is self-aware. It stars a young John Cusack as a recently dumped outsider who tries to win back his ex with the help of a cute French exchange student who’s staying with the weirdo neighbors across the street. Supporting characters include two Japanese drag racing exchange students (only one speaks English and he sounds just like legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell), the best friend who snorts everything from Jello to snow since he can’t get a hold of any drugs, and the Terminator-like paperboy who’s trying to collect his money.
So, those are some of my favorites, what do you think of them? Which movies would you add to the list?
And get more 80s goodness in the book Celebrate The 80s – including Chunk! – from the writers of Den Of Geek.