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

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#50 – Flashdance (1983)

Director: Adrian Lyne

Actors: Jennifer Beals

Plot Summary: A romantic drama about a female welder and part-time dancer who dreams of becoming a professional dancer and struggles to balance her passion with the realities of life, while also falling in love with her boss.

Why This Movie Made The List

I remember when this movie hit theaters. There was huge controversy that the film was pornographic. But those haters got over it and had actual heart attacks when 9 1/2 weeks was released. Seriously, though, Flashdance was instrumental in helping to reset the expectations of the censors.

#49 – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Actors: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Ke Huy Quan

Plot Summary: The second movie in the Indiana Jones franchise where Dr Jones journeys to India to find a mystical stone and battles a dangerous cult along the way

Why This Movie Made The List

Almost everyone agrees that The Temple of Doom was the weakest of the 3 original Indiana Jones movies. But, if you view the film on its own merits (and not compared with its sister movies), it deserves a spot in the top 50. It was a great adventure flick

#48 – Taps (1981)

Director: Harold Becker

Actors: George C Scott, Timothy Hutton, Sean Penn, Tom Cruise

Plot Summary: A drama about a group of military school cadets who take over their school when the administration plans to shut it down and must defend it against the army who are sent to retake it.

Why This Movie Made The List

This movie energized the young people who saw it and scared the shit out the adults. It was also the launching point for both Sean Penn and Tom Cruise. Each of them had had bit parts prior to Taps but really got to stretch their wings in supporting roles in this film. And George C Scott is a god.

#47 – Scarface (1983)

Director: Brian De Palma

Actors: Al Pacino

Plot Summary: A crime drama  that tells the story of Cuban refugee Tony Montana who rises to the top of Miami’s drug trade, but his ambition and recklessness lead to his ultimate downfall.

Why This Movie Made The List

Scarface is an interesting movie. It shows both how crappy and insecure the lives of immigrants are and how some of them resort to lives of crime. Al Pacino is excellent as usual and delivers one of the most memorable movie one-liners of the 80s – “say hello to my little friend”.

#46 – The Untouchables (1987)

Director: Brian De Palma

Actors: Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro, Andy Garcia

Plot Summary: A crime drama about a federal agent tasked with taking down legendary gangster Al Capone in prohibition-era Chicago..

Why This Movie Made The List

If you have only read the plot summary and not actually seen the movie, you may be wondering, “why all the fuss?” Great acting, that’s why. Both Kevin Costner and Sean Connery hit the ball out of the park. Connery actually garnered his only nomination (and win) for this film.

#45 – Beetlejuice (1988)

Director: Tim Burton

Actors: Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Jeffrey Jones

Plot Summary:A comedy about a recently deceased couple who seek the help of an eccentric ghost named Beetlejuice to scare away the new owners of their former home.

Why This Movie Made The List

People either love Tim Burton movies or hate them. I happen to be in the “love” camp. His movies are quirky and laugh-out-loud funny. He attracts good actors and manages to get great out of them. And, Beetlejuice is no exception.

#44 – Tootsie (1982)

Director: Sydney Pollack

Actors: Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman

Plot Summary: A comedy about an actor who disguises himself as a woman to land a role on a soap opera, causing complications in his personal life and relationships.

Why This Movie Made The List

Male actors playing women in hit movies has been a rite of passage for some of the greatest actors of our time. John Lithgow in Garp, Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, and Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie. The plot also hints at reverse discrimination for one of the first times in a major release.

#43 – Sixteen Candles (1984)

Director: John Hughes

Actors: Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall

Plot Summary: A coming-of-age film about a high school sophomore who has a crush on a popular senior and must navigate the ups and downs of teenage life, including her family forgetting about her 16th birthday.

Why This Movie Made The List

Sixteen Candles became the prototype that other directors and actors followed when making coming-of-age movies in the 1980s. They say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The acting and plot weren’t amazing, but this didn’t stop the film from shaping the way that we remember the decade.

#42 – Urban Cowboy (1980)

Director: James Bridges

Actors: John Travolta, Debra Winger

Plot Summary: A drama about a rodeo cowboy who moves to Houston to work in an oil refinery and tries to fit in with the city’s western-style culture, but finds himself torn between his new urban lifestyle and his country roots.

Why This Movie Made The List

For one hot moment in the early 80s, every boy wanted a cowboy hat, a shirt with pearl buttons, and a mechanical bull to ride. And, the movie Urban Cowboy is the reason why. Gilley’s, the bull-riding venue featured in the movie is still surviving off of the fame that accumulated from this film.

#41 – Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

Director: Stephen Frears

Actors: Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Uma Thurman, Keanu Reeves, Michelle Pfeiffer

Plot Summary: A period drama about a pair of wealthy and jaded French aristocrats who engage in a game of seduction and manipulation, leading to tragic consequences.

Why This Movie Made The List

If we were ranking movies solely based on acting, Dangerous Liaisons would probably be in the top 10. Glenn Close and John Malkovich were artful in their portrayal of these stuffy french aristocrats, but the movie doesn’t have a particular connection to the 80s.

#40 – Reds (1981)

Director: Warren Beatty

Actors: Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton

Plot Summary: An epic historical drama about John Reed, a radical journalist who was a leading figure in the American Communist movement including the Mexican Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.

Why This Movie Made The List

Reds has the longest running time of any movie on our list clocking in at a whopping 3 hours and 15 minutes. Most viewers are riveted for the whole time, though, as the movie covers a period in history that is under-represented in Western film – the Russian Revolution.

#39 – St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)

Director: Joel Schumacher

Actors: Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Andrew McCarthy, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez

Plot Summary: A coming-of-age film about a group of college kids who have just graduated from Georgetown University and are navigating the ups and downs of work, love, and life.

Why This Movie Made The List

St. Elmo’s Fire is the quintessential brat pack movie. It has 6 out of 8 stars usually associated with the group. Only Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald are missing. What makes this film stand out from all of the other 80s coming-of-age films is the fact that it is set in college (post college, actually) and not in high school.

#38 – Say Anything (1989)

Director: Cameron Crowe

Actors: John Cusack, Ione Skye

Plot Summary: A coming-of-age film, where Lloyd Dobler, an average but plucky kid, tries to date Diane Court, who is their classes’ valedictorian and virtually perfect in every way,

Why This Movie Made The List

Teenage boys in the 1980s had a love / hate relationship with Lloyd Dobler because they all wanted to be like him but hated him because he set the bar so damn high. 80s girls grew to expect the sort of blind adoration that Dobler had to offer.

#37 – War Games (1983)

Director: John Badham

Actors: Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, Dabney Coleman

Plot Summary: A sci-fi film about a young computer hacker who, thinking he’s playing a military simulation game, inadvertently triggers a global nuclear war alert and must find a way to stop it before it’s too late.

Why This Movie Made The List

Apple, Commodore and Radio Shock each owe the producers behind War Games a billion dollars. This movie about an accidental got millions of teen boys to demand that their parents buy them a personal computer so they too could be a hacker and win the girl.

#36 – Wall Street (1987)

Director: Oliver Stone

Actors: Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen, Martin Sheen

Plot Summary: A drama that follows the rise and fall of a young stockbroker as he becomes involved with a corporate raider who takes ruthless advantage of insider trading.

Why This Movie Made The List

This movie has a lot going for it – a fun plot, great actors, and some catchy one-liners. Perhaps the most compelling, though, is that it sums up the worship of greed that was so prevalent in the 80s. Gordon Gecko (best villian-name ever) said “Greed is Good” and we all nodded our heads in unison.

#35 – Purple Rain (1984)

Director: Albert Magnoli

Actors: Prince

Plot Summary: A musical drama about an aspiring musician who struggles with his troubled personal life as he rises to fame as “The Kid” with his electrifying performances.

Why This Movie Made The List

Every decade has a half dozen or so musical movies that stand out. Purple Rain is probably best of these in the 1980s. The film is basically the autobiography of Prince – who was, first and foremost, a creature of the 80s,

#34 – Friday the 13th (1980)

Director: Sean S. Cunningham

Actors: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram

Plot Summary: A horror film about a group of teenagers who are terrorized by an unknown assailant while at a summer camp, as they uncover the dark secrets of the camp’s past and the motives behind the killings.

Why This Movie Made The List

There are still unresolved lawsuits where summer camps sued this movie’s makers because it single-handedly killed their market (only half kidding). After seeing this movie, there was no way that an 80s teen was going to camp. Another interesting thing is that none – not even one – of this film’s principal actors went on to have other interesting roles.

#33 – Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)

Director: Michael Apted

Actors: Sissy Spacek, Tommy Lee Jones

Plot Summary: A biographical drama film about the life of country music singer Loretta Lynn, from her childhood in Kentucky to her rise to fame.

Why This Movie Made The List

We tend to forget what a huge star Sissy Spacek was in the 1980s. Between 1981 and 1987, Sissy was nominated for 4 leading actress Oscars and actually won the award for her work in this movie. The only other actress in that league is Meryl Streep.

#32 – Terms of Endearment (1983)

Director: James L Brooks

Actors: Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson, Jeff Daniels

Plot Summary: A drama about the complicated relationship between a mother and daughter. We could say more, but it would be a big time spoiler.

Why This Movie Made The List

This is another movie that would surely be in the top 10 if amazing acting were the only yardstick. Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger effortlessly made the audience believe that they were mother and daughter. And what an ending – not a dry eye could be found in the theater.

#31 – Field of Dreams (1989)

Director: Phil Alden Robinson

Actors: Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Gaby Hoffman

Plot Summary: A movie about an Iowa farmer who hears a mysterious voice that tells him to build a baseball field and, as he does he meets the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Why This Movie Made The List

Field of Dreams is as much a fair tale as it is a drama – except it’s fairly tale for middle-aged baseball fans instead of little kids. Million of men in America put themselves to sleep with a vision of a baseball diamond and the mantra, “Build it and they will come” on their lips.

#30 – The Outsiders (1983)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Actors: C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Diane Lane

Plot Summary: A coming-of-age drama about two rival gangs in Oklahoma, the wealthy Socials and the working-class Greasers.

Why This Movie Made The List

It’s interesting that the star studded cast in this movie have very little overlap with the famous “brat pack” of young actors from the 80s (except for Rob Lowe). In fact, they are so illustrious that they should have their own designation. Stay golden, pony boy!

#29 – Sophie’s Choice (1982)

Director: Alan Pakula

Actors: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline

Plot Summary: A drama about a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp who must make a devastating decision that haunts her for the rest of her life.

Why This Movie Made The List

Meryl Street is amazing – full stop. What;s interesting about this film is that it is Kevin Kline’s film debut. And what a debut it was. He was nominated for a New Star of the Year Golden Globe and went on to get 4 other Golden Globe nomination and win an Oscar for A Fish Called Wanda (#119 on our list).

#28 – The Goonies (1985)

Director: Richard Donner

Actors: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman

Plot Summary: An adventure film about a group of friends who set out on a treasure hunt to save their homes from foreclosure and discover a long-lost pirate’s treasure in a mysterious underground cavern.

Why This Movie Made The List

The Goonies has a cult following. It’s a great to be sure, but the Goonie-heads or whatever they call themselves will argue until their faces turn blue that this is the best movie ever made. Credit where credit’s due – this is a pretty damn good movie.

#27 – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Actors: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Denholm Elliott, Alison Doody

Plot Summary: The third movie in the Indiana Jones franchise where Indy sets out on a quest to find the Holy Grail and his estranged father, while fighting and against the Nazis.

Why This Movie Made The List

With the third installment of the Indiana Jones series, Spielberg and Lucas, re-discovered the magic that made Raiders of the Lost Ark so amazing. It’s hard to know whether casting Sean Connery as Indy’s dad or going back to fighting Nazis had a bigger impact regaining their mojo.

#26 – Raging Bull (1980)

Director: Martin Scorcese

Actors: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci

Plot Summary: A biopic about the turbulent life of Jake La Motta, a former middleweight boxing champion.

Why This Movie Made The List

Several movie critics out there call Raging Bull the best movie of the decade. And from a pure acting perspective, it may be. However, there’s nothing special that ties it to our favorite decade – the 80s. That said – this is De Niro at his best. The man gained and lost 50 lbs for this film – that’s dedication to your art.

Continue on to part 5 – #25 to #1

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

Friday 10th of February 2023

[…] #50 – #26 […]

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

Friday 10th of February 2023

[…] #50 – #26 […]

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

Thursday 9th of February 2023

[…] #50 – #26 […]