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A Year in the 80’s – a movie sampler

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When I think 80’s movies, I first think Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Footloose, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Say Anything. They all have some form of teen angst at their center, so it’s no wonder they stuck out most for me when I was going through many of the same kinds of emotions myself.

But when I sat down to make a real list of the 80’s movies I liked, it got out of hand pretty quickly. And then , when I searched movies by release year, fuhgeddaboudit! I realized I’d have to majorly spread my movie picks out over this year, and it would still be too many films. So be forewarned: I love movies, this is my blog, and I’m gonna put as many picks and write as much as I like on these posts. Continue at your own risk.

To start, here’s a sampler of movies that made a lasting impression on me for one reason or another:

E.T. (82)
I’m 44 years old, and last week I cried my eyes out when E.T. died. Or didn’t really die. Doesn’t matter, I’m gonna cry every time, even though I know he’s coming back in the next scene. Then I cry at the end, too. You know, just for good measure. This movie never, ever, ever gets old. It just gets better every time I see it. Ahem, in its original, pre-“fixed” state, the way God intended E.T. to be watched. Here’s a super fun scene (though I’m not a fan of the CGI ET face), and one of my favorites:


Terms of Endearment (83)
I haven’t watched this movie in years, but I always remember this particular scene. I especially love it when she starts to climb in. It resonated with me from the first moment I saw it, and it’s one of my favorite opening scenes of any movie ever.  Also, I’ve done this to my dog countless times, poor guy. Terms of Endearment is still alive as a pop culture reference today, but typically when this movie comes up, people quote the hospital scene. You know, the “give my daughter the shot!” scene. But this is the one I love:


Eddie and the Cruisers (83)
I was captivated by this movie when I first saw it at about 15 or so, and I always remembered it. I watched it again about six months ago. It’s kind of dated, and I couldn’t stop focusing on how every  person in every  scene is smoking a cigarette. But it’s still good; I was still hooked on the hope and melancholy and regret and acceptance. And the music! Not so believable lip-syncing, but awesome music by John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band (as Eddie’s voice and band). I totally owned the hell out of that movie soundtrack on cassette tape, ya’ll. Here’s the trailer and a song:


Red Dawn (84)
This one made a big impression on me when I was younger, but when I watched it last year, it upset me a lot.  A lot, a lot. I couldn’t get it off my mind for a long time. It was years between viewings (mine’s on VHS, if that tells you anything), and I had no idea it would hit me so hard. But the older I get, the more I understand about love and loss and the preciousness of life. Movies like this have a much greater impact on me than they did when I was 16 or 18 or 25.

I didn’t like the characterizations in the remake; they basically ripped the heart and soul right out of the film. I felt like, “that’s too bad,” when the first Wolverine got killed in the new movie, whereas I felt absolutely soul-gutted in the original. This scene from 1984 is not as vibrant as the remake, the color and sound, the special effects, but everything about it feels more real and more heartbreaking. In this clip, green and ill-prepared kids experience combat for the first time, against an enemy that looks and acts a lot like them:


Night of the Comet (84)
I saw this in the theater when I was 14, and it’s the only time I’ve ever heard people cheer at the movies. The whole audience, not just one little group.  I just watched it again on YouTube, and I still got a kick out of it after all these years (shout out to the boombox, cordless phones with extendable antenna, and the awesomely 80’s shirt Reggie wears through most of the movie).

Hey – one guy gets eaten (off camera) by a zombie-like person in an alley, and another is chased through the house by a zombie-like kid. Those two scenes have popped into my head at random times over all these years. It never occurred to me until now that maybe this movie is how I got my zombie fear. Hm.


Prince of Darkness (87)
I’ve only seen three scary movies in the theater, and two of those were in the 80’s. This one still haunts me as the scariest movie I’ve ever seen ever. Ever, ever. And that includes The Exorcist. And The Shining – oh my goodness, The Shining! This is worse than The Shining, you guys. I’m sure it’s small potatoes to all the horror fans out there, but I wouldn’t see this movie again if you paid me. Even this trailer freaks me out:


Dirty Dancing (87)
I loved this movie, and it’s still one of my sentimental favorites. The oldest theater in town (which is now a shopping strip) had dollar movies on Wednesdays, and my friends and I saw Dirty Dancing three Wednesdays in a row. We were in love with Patrick Swayze (and who can blame us), with the dancing and the music, and with the adorable, awkward, awesome Jennifer Grey as “Baby”. We were tickled and delighted and left the theater on little happy clouds week after week. This clip has subtitles, but it’s the only one I could find of the entire scene when Baby first meets Johnny. I’m still like Baby, gawking at the moves – lots of music and dancing and awkward in this one! Not to mention, she “carried a watermelon”.


Heathers (88)
This is another movie I never forgot, but for being the complete opposite of fluffy fun. Heathers is delightfully odd and twisted and a cult classic. It’s a dark comedy about “teen angst bullshit”, and I can’t think of 80’s movies without this one rearing up its psychopathic head. It’s like the Mean Girls of the 80’s. But with a body count. The trailer pretty much tells it all:


The Accidental Tourist (88)
Here is another film about odd people who you just can’t forget.  I’m not a great William Hurt fan, but there are roles for which his stiff style are the perfect match, and this was one of them. And Geena Davis, my gosh, so good in her role as Muriel. This is a film full of quirky characters who are so vulnerable and irritating and thoroughly likable. You can’t help but root for each one to find what it is they need to make their lives feel complete.


Platoon (86) – My most memorable movie experience.
The movie started, and I was gone. When a snake slithered across the screen, a lady screamed and I was amazed to “wake up” in a full theater. I gave a nervous titter with the rest of the audience, and then disappeared again. I was that absorbed: I was inside the movie instead of watching it, I was a pair of eyes in a theater. I forgot about my body, the crowd and the uncomfortable seats. When it was over, there was silence. Just a mass of eerily silent people, sitting still in their seats or slowly shuffling out of the theater. I felt shell-shocked and numb and at a loss for words myself. When I got home, I stuck my key in the lock and suddenly burst out crying.

Unlike Red Dawn, Platoon impacted me less as I aged; the memory was more powerful than the film. What felt dramatic and real and emotional at 16 and 25, touched on self-importance, and even felt a bit contrived, as I watched in my mid-thirties. But I think that’s just because there’d been so much in between. Movies like Platoon are the point of a wedge, carving a path for others to follow. But in so doing, that sharp edge dulls a little in comparison to what comes after. Even so, for me this is still one of the most memorable and impressive films of the 1980’s. Just seeing the trailer gave me chills and brought back memories of that first amazing viewing. I want to know what I think of it now, and I guess I need to keep up that ten year pattern.

So that’s the first movie list, just a sampler of 80’s films that stick out in my mind.

What are the 80’s movies that made a lasting impression on you?

What are your movie stories?


8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great movie critiques! Apocalypse Now had the same effect on me as Platoon had on you. For three hours I was completely “there” in Vietnam. I am still amazed every time I see it. I didn’t see Dirty Dancing until five years ago, and couldn’t believe how bad the story line and dialogue were. But who cares? It’s all about the dancing and the awkwardness of first love–and sexy Patrick Swayze. I still get sucked in every single time it comes on TV!

    January 8, 2014
    • I never did see Apocalypse Now. It’s one of those movies that I always wanted to see, but never got around to it. I have to be in just the right mood for these kinds of movies.

      That’s so funny about Dirty Dancing, and I wonder if I’d seen it now, what I’d think of it. I never thought anything was bad or cheesy about the story or the dialogue, but I know I’m looking at it through nostalgic eyes. At the same time, it’s not one of the movies I “love” that I go back to over and over. I would get hooked in if I saw it on tv I think, but I almost never get a hankering to watch it.

      January 10, 2014
      • Apocalypse Now is certainly unique, but you do have to be in the mood for it.

        January 10, 2014
  2. I love most of the movies you showcase. Especially Dirty Dancing and Accidental Tourist. I look forward to your review of the 80s! Just recently I re-watched WarGames, also from the 80s.

    January 8, 2014
    • WarGames is such an iconic 80’s movie, but I’ve only seen that one the one time. I need to look it up and watch it again. I hope my 80’s Wednesdays aren’t too boring! Or too long-winded, haha! I keep thinking of more and more stuff, and I have such a hard time narrowing down the things I want to highlight! 🙂

      January 10, 2014
  3. Good list! I remember several movies that stood out from the 80s–for various reasons. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was the first movie I drove myself to after getting a license, for instance. ET I saw, 16 Candles (who can forget the Asian exchange student, or Farmer Ted!), Gremlins, Poltergeist, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back… I could go on and on and on.

    The two I watched the most, over and over, were:

    The Breakfast Club, and

    Stand By Me

    January 8, 2014
    • Thanks, Chad! I know, it’s hard to narrow anything down because there’s too much great stuff – and great memories!! All your movies are making the posts in one way or another. 🙂 The Breakfast Club and Stand By Me are two more that I own, but don’t watch much anymore. But both so good! I loved seeing Stand By Me on the big screen, too.

      January 10, 2014
  4. I’ve only seen Dirty Dancing out of this list!

    January 19, 2014

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