80’s movies have always had the unfortunate place of being stuck between the 70’s, considered the second golden age of Hollywood and the 90’s, which saw a glut of great movies being released along with some new director’s taking Hollywood in a new direction.
Even though a few movies from the 80’s make lists, they always seem to be the same 4 or 5 (Road Warrior, The Thing, The Empire Strikes Back, etc.). Hidden in the 80’s though are some real gems that should not be overlooked.
These movies weren’t big awards winners and probably shouldn’t be, but many at the time were big hits, containing some today’s biggest stars when they were first starting out and show hidden in the 80’s were some classic movies to rival some more frequent visitors to the movie lists.
1. Cat People
If there is one thing that can be said about the 80’s, there was no shortage of movies being made in the horror genre. Most of these being the recycled slasher chasing the teen and finding new and interesting ways to kill and the endless cycle of sequels regurgitating the same thing.
With that said, there were some few good horror movies made that seem to constantly make the lists, The Thing and A Nightmare on Elm Street usually leading the way. These are fine movies that deserve their place, but hidden in there is the gem of a remake of Cat People.
The movie stars a never sexier Nastassja Kinski who comes to live with her brother played by Malcolm McDowell in New Orleans. She soon discovers that she belongs to a race of people that turn into black panthers when they mate. The original was a classic movie in its own right, but severely hampered by 1940’s censorship.
Free from censorship and in the capable hands of the never afraid to go there Paul Schrader, we have the much improved version that sidelines the usual blood and gore in favor of style and atmosphere. The acting is fine in the movie, but what really sets the movie apart is how Paul Schrader uses the New Orleans setting to full effect and his willingness to embrace the more erotic tones of the story.
This movie does fly below the radar when it comes to horror movie lists and even great remakes lists, but is worth a visit the few times you can see it on cable. Don’t waste your time when it’s on commercial television though, the edited version isn’t worth the effort.
The 80 ‘s saw the start of the teen movie craze with movies like Porky’s and Fast Time at Ridgemont High leading the way. These movies for the most part were forgettable comedies that played to the lowest common denominator. But a few are worth looking at with the forgotten Taps being high on list of watchable teen movies.
Veteran actor George C. Scott gets top billing but he is in it for only about 30 minutes. Timothy Hutton fresh off an Oscar win is the real lead, helped along the way by early supporting roles from Sean Penn and Tom Cruise.
The movie is about a group of students at a military school through a series of unfortunate events feel the need to arm themselves and take over the school. Once the takeover happens and the siege begins, we are left in a claustrophobic setting with a group of teens to immature to deal with the situation.
Adding to the claustrophobia is the fact that the movie takes place almost entirely in the school, forcing us to focus mainly on the students who have spent their childhood being taught the heroics of taking up arms for idealism without being shown the real world consequences.
Sadly even with the fine performances from its then young cast, it has been largely forgotten, let alone making a movie list. Watching the movie though makes you ask one question, whatever happened to Timothy Hutton?
It is baffling that this movie is left off so many lists especially when the list is about 80’s movies specifically. Excalibur came out in the early 80’s and became a big enough hit to usher in a series of copycat sword and sorcery movies.
Directed by not mentioned enough John Boorman, this is the most faithful telling of the Author legend ever put to film. Even the dated special effects don’t get in the way of the grand story John Boorman has presented us and the movie holds up as well today as it did when it was first released.
Lacking any big named actors of the 80’s, it allows the viewer to concentrate on the narrative which is compelling from beginning to end, each scene giving us more insight into the characters motives than the previous. Told through the viewpoint of Merlin (A scene stealing Nicol Williamson), we get everything a movie like this should give us. High drama, humor, excellent acting and some of the bloodiest medieval battle scenes ever put on film.
One of the best ways to judge a movie is on how it holds up to repeated viewings. This movie meets that standard by a wide margin, Every time you watch it, there seems to be some new thing you didn’t pick up that adds a new depth to the movie. On a side note, Helen Mirren, Liam Neesan, Patrick Stewart and Gabriel Byrne all have early interesting roles in this Excalibur.
4. The Flamingo Kid
Whenever anyone talks about Gary Marshall, Pretty Woman is where the conversation goes to, which is why it is usually the movie that winds up on the lists instead of this one.
The Flamingo Kid is a light hearted teen coming of age comedy that doesn’t rely on nudity or bottom barrel jokes to get by. the movie centers on Matt Dillon’s character who get a summer job at a 1960’s upscale New York country club for the summer before heading off to college.
Being a teenager, he is easily influenced by the surrounding environment and starts to butt heads with his hardworking father after starting to have second thoughts about his future.
Matt Dillon is at the center of this movie and for being so young at the time more than carries the movie on his shoulders. What really sets the movie apart though is that it effectively plants us in the early 60’s, a time when people seemed to be enjoying themselves before war and politics took over the national conscience.
Like Pretty Woman, it has a breezy light heartiness that will leave you with a smile on your face at the end of the movie. Unlike a lot of coming of age movies, the laughs don’t come from forced unrealistic situations but from seeing the Matt Dillon character make honest mistakes and the humorous ways he tries rectify them. With a solid supporting cast, this movie will make you wonder how this does not at least fall on the occasional list.
5. Falcon and the Snowman
One of the better dramas of the 80’s that never seems to make any lists, The Falcon and the Snowman is showcase for Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn in their second movie together. The movie is based on a true story about two would be spies who get in way over their head.
Timothy Hutton plays an idealistic young man whose ex FBI father get him a job at a private company contracting for the CIA. After accidentally getting some faxes showing the US government is meddling in other countries elections, he becomes jaded and a enlists drug dealing friend payed by Sean Penn into helping him become a Soviet spy.
Like Taps, idealism quickly falls apart once the reality of their decisions comes front and center, and life for them is never the same.
There are two reasons this movie works so well. One is the performances of the two lead actors, Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn. Both disappear in their roles effectively and play off each other in such a convincing way that we effectively see the stress and paranoia that they go through as their situation becomes bleaker.
The other is the filmmaker’s ability to transport us back to the 70’s during a time when the countries trust in government was at a all-time low. Sadly this movie like others on list for whatever reason is no longer on people’s radar, so it never makes any lists but it is definitely worth a visit.