The 80s was defined by fast-paced, action-packed, soundtrack-fuelled masterpieces that would gain new and wider audiences on home video. Frat boy comedies would gain notoriety while naughty sex would also rear its head in the bid to fill multiplexes.
Most importantly of all, the 80s would turn out to be the building blocks for the concept of the modern day blockbuster. A golden age for the Hollywood franchise and sequels, the decade would make household names of Lucas, Spielberg and Scott and many of its films would make an indelible imprint on the minds of filmmakers all over the globe.
It’s little surprise, then, to see directors return to the ethos and themes of the 80s, time and time again. The latest example is the comedy Hot Tub Time Machine, which arrives in cinemas in the UK today.
Here, we’re picked out ten of our favourite 80s films that weren’t made in the 80s. Clearly inspired by the decade, these are all films that owe a great debt to a time when men were men, clothes were loud and skateboards were the only way to travel.
Paul Verhoeven has made some outstanding movies. Robocop. Total Recall. Hollow Man. Basic Instinct. Sadly, Showgirls cannot be included in that list. Resolutely entrenched with the spirit of the 80s, Showgirls forgets the 90s ever happened.
Forget sexual equality, forget that leering over the female form is widely considered to be a bad thing. This is a movie that glamorises the female body in a way rarely seen throughout the 90s and beyond.
Basic Instinct featured plenty of sex and nubile bodies, but at least it did so with at least some, er, degree of class and intelligent camerawork. Showgirls just throws up its nakedness on the big screen and is so in your face it could only be an 80s-inspired work.
Showgirls is often cited as being so bad it’s good. It’s not. It’s just bad, but it is pure 80s. Naturally, finding a suitable clip for this was tricky but we’ve done our best. Here’s Saved By The Bell‘s Liz Berkley in training. Thrust-tastic.
Yes, you read that date correct. Eraser was, indeed, made in 1996, but you wouldn’t know it from watching the film. For starters, the decidedly ropey special effects (alligators should look scary, not fake) mirror those showcased in several 80s films (The Terminator is a great movie but, my, those effects haven’t held up well).
Then there is the silly, larger-then-life plot and action sequences which held such sway throughout the 80s. Arnie too looks like he’s regressed to his 80s days, the intelligence of Total Recall apparently forgotten about entirely.
The fact that James Caan appears helps too, although, in truth, it’s the film’s refusal to play out anything more intelligent on screen beyond two blokes trying to blow each other up that works so well.
Eraser feels like it was made in the same era as The Running Man, and it’s all the better for it.
Even the teaser trailer is pure 80s. Check out those funky beats.
The Phantom (1996)
Ah, Billy Zane, sit down sit down. Cup of tea? No? OK. Well, we’ve brought you here to talk about your crimes against cinema.
Sure, you were OK in Tombstone, and Dead Calm is an above-average work, but beyond the cameo in Zoolander, what have you done to be proud of lately? Titanic? I don’t think so, Mr Zane. You were quite awful in that. Bloodrayne? Please, Mr Zane. You’re delirious. The Phantom? Ah, now there’s a film.
Prancing around New York in a pink jumpsuit in order to foil a rich genius from destroying the world. Pure 80s cheese. Made in the mid-90s, you say? Bloody hell, Mr Zane. What the flip were you thinking?
Now stop all this silly talk and cease from making movies immediately. Oh, and while you’re at it can you tell the chap behind the trailer to find a new font effect? Thanks.
The Cutting Edge (1992)
Here’s a curious little film. Set in-between the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, The Cutting Edge is a romantic comedy, the likes of which we like to steer clear of. Usually. We make an exception in this case for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, it’s such an odd concept (hockey player meets ice skater to make a bid for Olympic glory) that it kind of works. Secondly, it features early performances from Lost‘s Terry O’Quinn and The West Wing‘s Moira Kelly. Thirdly, it signifies every romantic movie of the 90s that could have been made in the previous decade.
There is nothing about the film that signifies it belongs in the 90s and the clothes, the looks, the defiantly sexist behaviour of the males of the cast only serve to cement its 80s roots.
This, frankly, appalling attempt at a Russian accent helps.
The Wedding Singer (1998)
The Wedding Singer is the one film on this list that’s a true celebration of the 80s. The clothes, the music, the hair, it’s all here. Nods to Boy George, Miami Vice and Madonna are strewn throughout the film (although it’s the grannie’s rap that has us in stitches), and while Sandler’s performance grates at times, there is enough here to warrant a second viewing.
It certainly plays heavily on the nostalgia factor, but then, when it’s as well realised as this, we don’t really mind.
Steve Buscemi’s drunk speech is the best thing about the film, so watch it again here. Watch out for the bad language.
Boat Trip (2002)
What happened Cuba? Your star used to shine so brightly… and then you made Boat Trip.
Considering the film was made in the new millennium, it would have been fair to assume that gay jokes would have been long since dismissed, but here is a movie whose entire premise revolves around two guys, looking to get laid, ending up on a gay cruise ship.
While the 80s were full of frat humour, lampooning the gay community without a care in the world, it’s perhaps only the Police Academy films which would have the nerve (or lack of thought) to continue paddling out lame gay jokes in lieu of any real humour.
But that was in the 90s.
It’s surely unforgivable for a 2002 effort to continue the trend, and with a former Oscar-winner in the cast? Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
It’s not that Boat Trip is offensive. It’s that it’s so way off the mark in its humour that it feels like you’re stuck in 1984. For once, that’s not a good thing.
Here’s a perfect example of the type of humour to be found throughout the film. Worst thing of all, the mighty Roger Moore should know better.
In an era when CGI was becoming all the rage, it’s gratifying to see that Congo opted for costumes and puppets to play the gorillas in the movie. Using animatronics and masks where necessary, it harks back to the more honest effects of the 80s. Shame, then, that the results were laughable.
Mind you, it’s not the only thing in the film which fails to work. Tim Currie’s dreadful accent staking its own claim for worst voicework ever seen in a movie.
There are things we really like about Congo, though. Bruce Campbell is always good value and it does hark back to an era when the big jungle adventure was a marvel to behold.
It’s hard to ignore those ape outfits, though. And if this isn’t the worst teaser trailer made that year, it’s got to be up there. Gives us a headache just watching it.
Only Stallone could bring an 80s franchise kicking and screaming into the new millennium to then present a movie circa 1985.
With an opportunity to bring something fresh to the genre, to breathe new life into a character that helped make his name, we’re instead presented with a level of violence the 80s celebrated. The final fight between Rambo and the Burmese army is a case in point.
As the bullets fly and Rambo, naturally, wins the day, you’re really past caring, as all you can think is ‘why did Stallone bother to remake a franchise that wasn’t that great in the first place?’
As a film in its own right, Rambo bombs. As an ode to the brash, loud 80s action flick, it’s a triumph.
Escape From LA (1996)
Escape From New York is one of the films of the 80s. Kurt Russell’s best work, it introduced a world to Snake Plissken (an 80s name, if I ever heard one). Perhaps a sequel was inevitable, but it was a surprise to see it come fifteen years later.
Mind you, you’d never know there were so many years between the two from watching the sequel, as this is a perfect companion piece to the first effort. That’s not to say it’s anywhere near as good, as it isn’t.
Essentially a rehash of the original’s plot, the film doesn’t get close to New York‘s brilliance. What it does do, however, is bring back the bad outfits, the sets and the general sense of political and economic apathy that was relayed so successfully in the first film. It could have been made a year after New York. It certainly looks like it was. Amazing trailer, too.
Our final and very possibly our favourite of all the films mentioned here, Fortress is the kind of action film they just don’t make any more. It wasn’t released in the UK until 1994 but it was aired around Europe and the US throughout ’92 and ’93, and yet, every part of the film screams 80s action movie.
It has a ridiculous vision of the future, it has fantastical gadgets like the intestinators, and it features 80s stalwart, Kurtwood Smith, in the role of Prison Director Poe.
But more than anything else, Fortress has a style and a no-nonsense attitude that betrays its 90s production. This is a film all about big bangs, big explosions and big ideas. It could have starred Arnie or Stallone. It should have made a huge star of Lambert.
As it happens, Fortress is one of those films that, if you’ve seen it, you cherish. And you’d swear it was made in the 80s.
If you don’t like swearing, violence, or subtitles, don’t watch the video below. Everyone else can enjoy the sheer silliness of this iconic face-off between Brennick and prisoner ‘187’. Makes you feel all funny inside.
Hot Tub Time Machine is out in the UK today.