We began with 84 of the coolest films from the 1980’s and now we have narrowed the field to 16. I feel like I have said everything there is to say about the remaining competitors, from rehashing the plot to giving props to the actors & directors to film reviews to box office grosses. I’ve even thrown in tidbits of interesting trivia. What else is left to say?? The next couple of rounds will be much less…loquacious…because I really don’t want to be monotonous, especially since this is the cream of the crop. These are the films that defined the youth of an entire generation. These are the films that 80’s kids are still watching over & over because they are that entertaining. These are the films that have lasted, that still resonate on some level…whether they make us laugh, think, rock out, or simply remember a simpler time…three decades after their initial run. That doesn’t happen often. I often wonder what kids growing up today will be watching when they are middle-aged. I am sure they have their particular touchstones, yet I can’t help but feel that no group of movie lovers had it better than my generation. I could legitimately end this exercise right now and call it a 16-way tie…but I won’t. Please join me as we move forward.
Starring: Robin Williams, Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles
Director: Peter Weir (Witness, The Truman Show)
Awards: Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, & Best Actor (Robin Williams), nominated for Golden Globes in all the same categories
Box Office: $236 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 85% Fresh
Quotes: “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering…these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love…these are what we stay alive for.”
“They’re not that different from you. Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But, if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen. You hear it? Carpe – – hear it? – – carpe, carpe diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
Miscellaneous: The part of John Keating was once intended for Dustin Hoffman. It was also going to be Hoffman’s directorial debut before he withdrew from the film. Robin Williams was in a sober mood during filming, as he was going through a divorce at the time, and there was no joking around between takes.
Starring: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Forest Whitaker, Ray Walston, Phoebe Cates
Director: Amy Heckerling (National Lampoon’s European Vacation, Clueless)
Box Office: $27 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 78% Fresh
Quotes: “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.”
Miscellaneous: Awesome soundtrack, featuring songs from Sammy Hagar, Jackson Browne, Joe Walsh, The Go-Go’s, Don Henley, Quarterflash, Poco, Donna Summer, Stevie Nicks, Oingo Boingo, & Jimmy Buffett. The screenplay was written by Cameron Crowe, writer/director of hits like Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, & Almost Famous.
The Verdict: Dead Poets Society. By any objective measure it is the better film. Fast Times deserves kudos for a cast that went on to have successful careers, a great soundtrack, & generally representing the quintessential 80’s vibe. Those are all good things, but I like Dead Poets Society more.
Starring: Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer
Director: Rob Reiner (Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men, The American President)
Awards: on multiple lists as one of the funniest movies ever made
Box Office: $5 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 95% Fresh
Quotes: “I don’t really think that the end can be assessed as of itself as being the end because what does the end feel like? It’s like saying when you try to extrapolate the end of the universe, you say, if the universe is indeed infinite, then how – what does that mean? How far is all the way, and then if it stops, what’s stopping it, and what’s behind what’s stopping it? So, what’s the end, you know, is my question to you.”
“There’s something about this that’s so black, it’s like how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.”
“We’re very lucky in the band in that we have two visionaries, David and Nigel. They’re like poets, like Shelley and Byron. They’re two distinct types of visionaries. It’s like fire & ice, basically. I feel my role in the band is to be somewhere in the middle of that, kind of like lukewarm water.”
“He died in a bizarre gardening accident.”
“I think that the problem may have been, that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf. Alright? That tended to understate the hugeness of the object.”
“It’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where? Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do? Eleven. Exactly. One louder. These go to eleven.”
Miscellaneous: Not a box office hit, but found great success and a cult following when released on home video.
Starring: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote
Director: Steven Spielberg
Awards: won Oscars for Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, & Best Visual Effects, nominated for Best Picture, won Golden Globes for Best Picture & Best Score, won L.A. Critics Award for Best Picture, won multiple Saturn Awards
Box Office: $793 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 98% Fresh
Quotes: “E.T. phone home.”
Miscellaneous: ET’s face was modeled after poet Carl Sandburg, Albert Einstein, and a pug dog. The filmmakers had wanted M&M’s to be used to lure E.T. instead of Reese’s Pieces, but the Mars Company denied their request so Reese’s Pieces were used instead. As a direct result Reese’s Pieces’ sales skyrocketed. More & more companies then began requesting that their products be used in movies. Thus, product placement was born.
The Verdict: Spinal Tap. I suppose conventional wisdom would call this a pretty big upset. E.T. has the numbers, the accolades, & Spielberg. Spinal Tap has spontaneously combusting drummers, Lick My Love Pump, & Dana Carvey as a mime. Perhaps if I went back and watched E.T. again I’d remember why it was such a big deal and be convinced to make the predictable decision. But the fact is that I haven’t seen it in atleast two decades, and I shouldn’t have to be convinced to love something. I mean no disrespect…it’s just that I’ve seen Spinal Tap multiple times and it always makes me laugh, and in my world that means a lot.
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Ricardo Montalban
Director: Nicholas Meyer (The Day After)
Box Office: $97 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 88% Fresh
Quotes: “I have been . . . and always shall be . . . your friend.”
“He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him. I’ll chase him round the Moons of Nibia and round the Antares Maelstrom and round Perdition’s flames before I give him up!”
“Of my friend I can only say this. Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most…human.”
“From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee. For hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”
Miscellaneous: The computer simulation of Genesis transforming a dead planet into a habitable one is the first complete computer-generated sequence ever used in a feature film. It is the brainchild of ex-Boeing engineer Loren Carpenter, whom after Boeing went on to join George Lucas Industrial Light and Magic. At Boeing in the late 1970s Carpenter discovered that Mandelbrot fractals could be used to create realistic mountain landscapes for computer animations of new aircraft designs, a previously intractable problem, and started a revolution in computer graphics and simulation. It is a running gag that there is a Federation embargo against Romulan Ale, but this still doesn’t prevent resourceful people like Dr. McCoy from procuring some for Admiral Kirk as a birthday present. It is viewed it as a forbidden status symbol, akin to Cuban cigars in the United States.
Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack
Director: Jim Abrams, David & Jerry Zucker (Ruthless People, The Naked Gun)
Awards: on multiple lists as one of the funniest movies ever made
Box Office: $130 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Quotes: “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue!”
“Surely you can’t be serious?” “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”
“We have clearance, Clarence.” “Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?”
Miscellaneous: The filmmakers chose the lead actors because of their reputation for playing no-nonsense characters. Until this film these actors had not done comedy so their staid personas & line delivery made the satire in the movie even funnier. This is an aspect of the film modern viewers miss out on. Cameos include Ethel Merman, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Barbara Billingsley, Maureen McGovern, & Jimmie Walker. A sequel was made two years later, but it isn’t even in the same league as its predecessor.
The Verdict: Airplane!. As a Trekkie it breaks my heart, but this is a necessary decision. The fact is that no matter how dearly I love it or how much money it has made films like Wrath of Khan appeal to a niche audience. Put 100 people in a room. Maybe 50 of them…if we’re being generous…are Trekkies. Now all of those Trekkies will likely agree that Wrath of Khan is awesome, but we’re still left with 50 people who couldn’t possible care less about Star Trek specifically or sci-fi in general. Conversely, when it comes to Airplane! there will likely be two types…those who have seen it and those who haven’t. Those who have seen it will almost unanimously agree that it’s hilarious, and those who haven’t seen it will quickly join the consensus after they watch. You’d be hard-pressed to find many people who don’t have a positive opinion of Airplane!. Of course none of this would matter if I disliked Airplane!…but I don’t.
Starring: Kevin Bacon, John Lithgow, Lori Singer, Dianne Wiest, Sarah Jessica Parker
Director: Herbert Ross (Funny Lady, The Goodbye Girl, Steel Magnolias)
Box Office: $80 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 54% Rotten
Quotes: “Ecclesiastes assures us that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to laugh and a time to weep. A time to mourn. And there is a time to dance. And there was a time for this law, but not anymore. See, this is our time to dance. It is our way of celebrating life. It’s the way it was in the beginning. It’s the way it’s always been. It’s the way it should be now.”
Miscellaneous: Our old pal Ebert didn’t much care for Footloose, calling it “a seriously confused movie that tries to do three things and does all of them badly.” He went on to opine that its efforts to tell a story about conflict, introduce flashy teen characters, & be a “music video” all fall short of the mark. On the bright side, there is a fantastic soundtrack with songs from Kenny Loggins, Mike Reno & Ann Wilson, Deniece Williams, Bonnie Tyler, Shalamar, & Sammy Hagar. Of course I admit that it is a soundtrack that might only be awesome to those of us that were pre-teens or teenagers in 1984.
Starring: John Candy, MacCaulay Culkin, Amy Madigan
Director: John Hughes
Box Office: $79 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 64% Fresh
Quotes: “I don’t think I want to know a six-year-old who isn’t a dreamer, or a sillyheart. And I sure don’t want to know one who takes their student career seriously. I don’t have a college degree. I don’t even have a job. But I know a good kid when I see one. Because they’re all good kids until dried-out, brain-dead skags like you drag them down and convince them they’re no good. You so much as scowl at my niece or any other kid in this school and I hear about it, I’m coming looking for you! Take this quarter, go downtown, and have a rat gnaw that thing off your face! Good day to you, madam.”
“I’m on to cigars now. I’m on to a five-year plan. I eliminated cigarettes, then I go to cigars, then I go to pipes, then I go to chewing tobacco, then I’m on to that nicotine gum.”
Miscellaneous: The scene where Miles interrogates Chanice through the mail slot gave director John Hughes the idea for Home Alone.
The Verdict: Uncle Buck. This result surprises me. Footloose is one of the signature films of the 1980’s. It made Kevin Bacon a huge star. But I cannot in good conscience allow a film with such negative reviews to go further, atleast not against such good competition. While it is true that 80’s Movie Mania is my creation, and without participation from the masses my judgement has played an even larger role than expected, I do respect the greater public perspective. That viewpoint seems to be that Footloose has a good soundtrack and produced a big movie star, but it is largely style over substance. I also feel like Uncle Buck is more…accessible. Footloose is beloved by those of us who were 12-17 years of age in 1984, but I’m not sure anyone much older or younger would appreciate its greatness.