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The 100 Best Movies of the 1980s (part 3)

In order to have the page load faster, we are breaking this list into 5 sections.

Some of you may want to skip the fluff of the extra information about the films like the image, director, actors, etc and just see the list all in one page in text. If this is you – you can visit the NO FLUFF LIST. Now, without further ado, enjoy the fruits of our labors.

#75 – The Last Emperor (1987)

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Actors: John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O’Toole

Plot Summary: A biographical drama about the life of Pu Yi, the last emperor of China, from his privileged childhood as the ruler of the Ching Dynasty, through his abdication, his imprisonment, and his reeducation during the Cultural Revolution, to his eventual release and life as a commoner.

Why This Movie Made The List

Japanese business and cinematic culture crossed the Pacific Ocean and invaded the US in the 1980s, and this film about China stowed away on the same ship. It has excellent acting and absolutely breathtaking cinematography. You haven’t seen the Forbidden City until you’ve seen it in this movie.

#74 – The Accused (1988)

Director: Jonathan Kaplan

Actors: Jodie Foster

Plot Summary: A drama about a young woman who is gang-raped in a bar and her struggles to find justice as she and her lawyer battle against a patriarchal legal system and societal attitudes toward sexual assault victims.

Why This Movie Made The List

There was a four year period when Jodi Foster won two Oscars for Best Actress. The first of those Oscars was for The Accused. Her performance was disturbing but also so powerful.

#73 – Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Actors: Matthew Modine

Plot Summary: A war film that follows a group of U.S. Marines through basic training and into the streets of Vietnam.

Why This Movie Made The List

This is one of the top 3 movies ever made about the Vietnam War – hell any war. If you think the first part where the Marines are trained at Paris Island is brutal, just wait until you see the second part where they are actually sent off to fight the war in Vietnam.

#72 – Akira (1988)

Director: Katsuhiro Otomo

Actors: Mitsuo Iwata

Plot Summary: A Japanese, animated, science fiction film set in a post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo, where a former biker gang member discovers his psychic powers and becomes embroiled in a government conspiracy involving a powerful being known as Akira.

Why This Movie Made The List

I’ll be totally honest with you – my friend Nicky paid me (in beer) to include this movie on the list. It’s his favorite movie of all time and happens to be from the 80s. If he had paid me in Sam Adams instead of Bud Light, it might have made the top 50 instead of #72.

#71 – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Director: Wes Craven

Actors: John Saxon, Ronee Blakley

Plot Summary: A horror film about a group of teenagers who are terrorized by a disfigured serial killer named Freddy Krueger, who invades their dreams and kills them while they sleep.

Why This Movie Made The List

When I saw this movie in the theater, I did not sleep for almost 72 hours. It freaked me out that bad. I did not want Freddy Krueger invading my dreams. You know a horror movie is successful when kids 40 years later are stilling wearing costumes of the character. Check.

#70 – Betty Blue (1986)

Director: Jean-Jacques Beineix

Actors: Jean-Hugues Anglade, Beatrice Dalle, Gerard Darmon

Plot Summary: A French drama about a passionate and tempestuous love affair between a unstable but charismatic young woman and a talented but struggling handyman, set against the backdrop of the French Mediterranean coast.

Why This Movie Made The List

This movie has lots of naked people speaking in French (two of my favorite things). This is a sure fire recipe for success especially when they are as beautiful as Beatrice Dalle and the movie is as quintessentially melancholy as this one is.

#69 – Gremlins (1984)

Director: Joe Dante

Actors: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates

Plot Summary: A comedy about a young man who receives a strange pet for Christmas, only to discover that it multiplies into dangerous creatures when exposed to water and causes chaos in the town.

Why This Movie Made The List

Gremlins are one part cute and one part scary. A lot people lump this movie in with ET. I don’t see it that way, though. I think Gremlins is a totally different animal. It’s more of a horror movie. And, let’s not forget that it’s also a Christmas movie.

#68 – Broadcast News (1987)

Director: James L. Brooks

Actors: Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks, William Hurt

Plot Summary: A comedy about the love triangle between a talented but neurotic TV producer, an earnest reporter, and an anchorman as they navigate the cutthroat world of television news in Washington, D.C.

Why This Movie Made The List

Broadcast News is the classic love triangle story. And what a trio of actors to play out the plot line. William Hurt had a fantastic run from 1980 to 1987 (from Altered States to Broadcast News) when everything he touched turned to gold. After that he still made great movies but never at the frequency and quality of the 1980s.

#67 – Footloose (1984)

Director: Herbert Ross

Actors: Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer, John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest

Plot Summary: A musical drama about a teenager from the city who moves to a small town where dancing is banned igniting the town’s youth with his rebellious spirit, inspiring them to fight for their right to dance.

Why This Movie Made The List

Footloose is the movie that saw Kevin Bacon make the jump from a good supporting actor to a great lead actor. The movie played the teen angst and rebellion that every generation feels. Of course, I am biased and think the 80s version of teen angst was more potent than those of other decades.

#66 – Moonstruck (1987)

Director: Norman Jewison

Actors: Cher, Nicolas Cage, Vincent Gardenia, Olympia Dukakis

Plot Summary: A romantic comedy about a practical and independent Italian-American woman who falls in love with her fiancé’s estranged, hot-tempered younger brother.

Why This Movie Made The List

Cher has been a celebrity since the late 60s but mainly due to her singing. In the 70s she transitioned to TV and in the 80s when she proved to the world that she could win at the big screen as well. This culminated with her 1987 Oscar win for Moonstruck.

#65 – Willow (1988)

Director: Ron Howard

Actors: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Warwick Davis, Jean Marsh

Plot Summary: A fantasy adventure film about a reluctant dwarf who joins forces with a warrior on a quest to protect a special baby from an evil sorceress and restore balance to their magical world.

Why This Movie Made The List

Here’s something most people don’t know. George Lucas wrote the screen play for this movie. That alone earns it a spot on our list, but the film has solid acting as well and some notable actors like Val Kilmer. And it has little people — who by the way are portrayed as real characters and not glorified props.

#64 – The Elephant Man (1980)

Director: David Lynch

Actors: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt

Plot Summary: A biographical drama film that tells the story of John Merrick, a severely deformed Victorian-era man, who is rescued from a freak show by a young doctor and becomes the subject of medical and societal fascination.

Why This Movie Made The List

This movie has the feel of a 1940s film – probably because it was shot in black in white. Just based on Anthony Hopkins’ role as Dr. Treves, it probably deserves to be higher on the list, but it didn’t have any particular connection to the 1980s.

#63 – The Blues Brothers (1980)

Director: John Landis

Actors: Don Aykroyd, John Belushi

Plot Summary: A musical comedy film that follows Jake and Elwood Blues, as they embark on a mission from God to save the Catholic orphanage where they grew up, by reuniting their blues band and performing a benefit concert

Why This Movie Made The List

The Blues Brothers started as a sketch on Saturday Night Live in 1978 and obviously was the inspiration for this movie. What most people don’t know is that despite being a part time gig for Aykroyd and Belushi – the Blues Brothers was nominated for 3 Grammys in 1980. And that’s 3 more major awards than they received for the film.

#62 – Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)

Director: Louis Malle

Actors: Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejto, Francine Racette

Plot Summary: A French film about a boy who befriends a Jewish student at his Catholic boarding school during World War II and must confront the reality of the Holocaust.

Why This Movie Made The List

The director, Louis Malle, got his start way back in 1956 making a movie with Jacques Cousteau. He shocked the world in 1978 directing Brooke Shields as child prostitute in Pretty Baby and then redeemed himself making this movie which nominated for a (writing) Oscar.

#61 – Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)

Director: Hector Babenco

Actors: William Hurt, Raul Julia

Plot Summary: A drama about the unlikely friendship that develops between two cellmates in a Latin American prison and a political prisoner and a flamboyant homosexual.

Why This Movie Made The List

This is another movie that deserves to be higher on the list if we were judging by the quality of the acting alone. The chemistry between William Hurt and Raul Julia is truly something to behold.

#60 – Do the Right Thing (1989)

Director: Spike Lee

Actors: Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson

Plot Summary: A drama that depicts the racial tensions and violence that boil over on a hot summer day in a Brooklyn neighborhood.

Why This Movie Made The List

When I first watched this movie in 1989 (or maybe I saw it in 1990). I didn’t love it. To be fair, I didn’t hate it either. But as I’ve watched in 2 or 3 times over the last 30 years, it’s really grown on me. It represents what it was really like to be black and young in New York in the 1980s.

#59 – The Terminator (1984)

Director: James Cameron

Actors: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton

Plot Summary: A science fiction film about a cyborg assassin who is sent back in time to kill a woman who will give birth to the leader of the resistance in a future war against machines.

Why This Movie Made The List

The Terminator is a rare movie where the sequel (T2) is better than its predecessor. That being said, it’s still a great movie and deserved a spot on out list. Arnold was well Arnold as he is in every movie he makes and almost despite that the movie shines.

#58 – Platoon (1986)

Director: Oliver Stone

Actors: Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Charlie Sheen, Forest Whitaker

Plot Summary: A war film about a young infantryman’s experiences in the Vietnam War as he serves with a platoon of American soldiers.

Why This Movie Made The List

This movie has to be one of 4 or 5 contenders for the best movie ever made about the Vietnam War. And, it is a really powerful film. Unfortunately, it’s so good at what it does that many people left the theater feeling depressed.

#57 – Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982)

Director: Alan Parker

Actors: Bob Geldof

Plot Summary: A musical fantasy that follows a rock star’s descent into madness, as he confronts the psychological wall he has built around himself and the events in his life that led to its creation.

Why This Movie Made The List

Lots of people would argue that The Wall isn’t a proper movie. They would say that it’s more of a long music video. I disagree. It runs 135 minutes and has a really story arc — albeit one interrupted by hilarious animated sections.

#56 – Mask (1985)

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Actors: Cher, Eric Stoltz

Plot Summary: A drama that tells the true story of a young man named Rocky Dennis, who has a disfiguring cranial disorder, as he struggles through life with the help of his mother, who is a biker.

Why This Movie Made The List

This is a great movie for so many reasons – most of them related to acting. Cher was incredible and so was Sam Elliott. But the real standout was Eric Stoltz. It’s criminal that he didn’t receive a Best Actor Oscar (or at least a nomination).

#55 – Hoosiers (1986)

Director: David Anspaugh

Actors: Gene Hackman, Dennis Hopper

Plot Summary: A sports drama about a small-town Indiana high school basketball team that rises from obscurity to compete for the state championship against longer odds and greater talent.

Why This Movie Made The List

This is my 2nd favorite sports movie of all time. FYI – my favorite is Rudy from 1993. Gene Hackman tends to get typecast as a cop (The French Connection) or a bad guy (Unforgiven), but he’s one hell of a inspiring leading man as well as this movie proves.

#54 – Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Director: Robert Zemekis

Actors: Bob Hoskins

Plot Summary: An animated film that blends elements of film noir and screwball comedy, where private eye Eddie Valiant is hired to investigate a murder case involving cartoon star Roger Rabbit and uncovers a conspiracy involving Hollywood’s biggest animation studios.

Why This Movie Made The List

This movie made film history. It was the first feature film to mix animation and real life. Other films inserted animated clips between real life acting, but Zemekis was the first to have animated characters and real life character interact with each other. My one regret for this movie is that Bob Hoskins had no chemistry with Jessica Rabbit. Would it have been too weird if had?

#53 – The Road Warrior (1981)

Director: Geroge Miller

Actors: Mel Gibson

Plot Summary: A post-apocalyptic action film that follows the lone warrior Max Rockatansky, as he navigates a dangerous and desolate wasteland, filled with marauding gangs, in search of gasoline.

Why This Movie Made The List

You can debate which was the better (in the 80s) dystopian movie – The Road Warrior or Beyond Thunderdome. I chose The Road Warrior because it was more distinctive. Thunderdome always seemed to be a little derivative of the George Lucas’ Star Wars.

#52 – National Lampoons Vacation (1983)

Director: Harold Ramis

Actors: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Christie Brinkley, Anthony Michael Hall

Plot Summary: A comedy about the Griswold family’s disastrous cross-country road trip to the fictional theme park Walley World.

Why This Movie Made The List

The reason that this movie made it into the list, despite being a little schlocky, is because every kid who grew up in the 80s spent countless hours on a family road trip. People drove instead of flying. And this movie captures that experience so well.

#51 – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Director: John Hughes

Actors: Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, Jennifer Grey

Plot Summary: A comedy about a high school student who fakes being sick to have an adventurous day off in Chicago with his girlfriend and best friend.

Why This Movie Made The List

Some people will take exception to the fact that this movie is ranked so low – others that it is ranked so high. Ferris Bueller is an iconic character, but it’s hard to make the argument that the acting is stellar. Don’t get me wrong, everyone is appropriately funny and delivers their one liners – “Bueller … Bueller” – but could it have been better / funnier ?

Continue on to part 4 – #50 to #26

The 100 Best Movies of the 1980s (No Fluff List) – The Best Decade

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The 100 Best Movies of the 1980s (part 4) – The Best Decade

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The 100 Best Movies of the 1980s (part 2) – The Best Decade

Friday 10th of February 2023

[…] #75 – #51 […]

The 100 Best Movies of the 1980s (part 1) – The Best Decade

Friday 10th of February 2023

[…] #75 – #51 […]