Rolling Stone just put out a post of the 100 best movies of the 1980’s- and there are a lot of obscure movies that as a teenager/college student during the 80’s I never heard of. As a child of divorced parents, I spent a ridiculous amount of time at the movies on weekends. Then as a teenager and young adult, I spent plenty of time at the movies with friends, dates, and eventually the fantastic guy who ended up being my husband.
So I am here with my nostalgia hat on to put together my list of Gen X’s version of the Greatest Movies of the 80’s – the movies we shared, movies that helped us decide what growing up was all about, and more. In retrospect, some of the movies have what were commonplace attitudes about the relationship between men and women at the time, but are clearly rather disturbing now- kind of not a surprise so many men in their 50’s and 60’s cross lines- these movies and cultural norms are what they grew up to expect. Doesn’t make it right by any stretch- evolve people- but it does put in a bit in context.
The John Hughes Collection (9)
- Ferris Bueller’s Day Off- Why we all wanted to go to Chicago at some point, and fantacized about what skipping a day of school should be like.
- Weird Science– This, for me, is what I suspected my younger brother and his friends were all about.
- Mr. Mom- What it was like to be home alone with Dads in the early 80’s- they tried, but it was pretty confusing for everyone
- Sixteen Candles– For everyone who felt a little lost in the jumble of family life, this one’s for you
- Pretty in Pink– for every kid who wasn’t in the popular group and wanted to know it was ok to be yourself, Molly Ringwald made you feel a little more self-assured.
- Some Kind of Wonderful– Basically, Pretty in Pink from the Guy’s perspective
- The Breakfast Club– an inside look into highschool and something you never hear about any more- Saturday Detention
- Say Anything- some of the best dialogue out there- we still quote this movie frequently- “So if you guys know so much about women, why are you outside the Gas & Sip on a Saturday night? ” “By Choice man!”
- St. Elmo’s Fire– basically, this is the Breakfast Club kids once they got to college, more or less. And what happened as they tried to learn to be adults. It’s why so many girls crushed hard on Rob Lowe and loved him just as much when he was on the West Wing.
The Ivan Reitman Collection (5)
- Stripes– the younger sibling of Animal House- laugh out loud funny and something I will watch whenever I see it on TV. Tropes like the magazines in the end credits later used in other movies like Sister Act.
- Ghostbusters-Another true original and a perfect summer movie. A little scary and lots of comedy- with all our favorites from Saturday Night Live,
- Legal Eagles– a perfectly silly Robert Redford- Debra Winger movie that was perfect date night fodder
- Kindergarten Cop– It didn’t really come out until 1990, but I have to add it since there is a great scene where a kindergartener says “My dad is a cynagologist and looks at women’s vaginas all day” and I turned to my boyfriend, now husband who was applying for medical residencies in OB-GYN at the time and said- “There’s our boy!” Fortunately, both of our sons are far cooler than that kid, and less weirded out by dad’s profession.
- Caddyshack- it may not be a John Landis movie, but with Bill Murray – it had the same general feel.- it’s technically a Harold Ramis movie.
John Landis Movies (4)
John Landis made movies and music videos, and somehow made us love both.
- Trading Places– this came out just as I started school in Philadelphia, so I was excited to see all the places I knew around town.
- Coming to America– great fish out of water movie, showcasing both Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall’s talents
- Blues Brothers– simply a fantastic cult classic-and we see Carrie Fisher before she became solidified as just Princess Leah to everyone.
- Thriller– a music video, but should have been a movie
The Spielberg/Lucas movies (10)
It started with Close Encounters of the Third kind in 1977. Then it went from there- full of adventure, these movies were perfect in every way that mattered. And even Speilberg’s non-adventure movies were fantastic.
- ET the Extraterrestrial
- Gremlins– we still don’t want to feed our pets after midnight
- Back to the Future- We all liked Michael Fox from Family ties, but now he was more of a regular guy we all could see dating
- The Color Purple- a classic movie that taught us film didn’t have to be so suburban all the time.
- Star Wars series– the first movie came out in 1977, and from then on, we were hooked. Now even as an adult- I still wonder what it would be like to live in those worlds, and eagerly took my kids to every movie when they came out- it became something we shared together. The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were 1980’s movies, and became part of our psyche.
- Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark– classic- no doubt
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom– not as good as the first
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crucade- made me better understand why my dad was a Sean Connery fan
Rom Coms/Chick Flicks (17)
- Splash– the Tom Hanks/Daryll Hannah movie- silly but loveable
- The Money Pit- made every young adult a little more nervous about buying that first house- and I think showed us we should think small vs. big
- Big- What would happen if you really did have to grow up quicker than you were ready?
- Overboard- a silly Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russle movie, but a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon
- Pretty Woman– ok this was 1990- but let’s face it- most women wanted to be Julia Roberts
- Mystic Pizza- where we first got to know Julia Roberts and learned that guys can be jerks, and it doesn’t always work out in the end, and that’s ok
- When Harry Met Sally– the first of many Nora Ephron movies that made me think fondly of what it would like to be a New Yorker, and hoping I could be that cool and grownup.
- Working Girl– another great rom com with Harrison Ford and Melanie Griffith- I think this is what all the girls I knew who went to Wharton were hoping working on Wall Street would be like.
- Short Circuit– Robot as romantic protagonist for people from the breakfast club set.
- Flash Dance– Jennifer Beals was at Yale the same time some of my friends were- so this felt like a movie worth seeing with friends
- Footloose- what we all thought midwestern, uptight towns were like
- Field of Dreams– the baseball movie even women liked
- Dirty Dancing- a nostalgia movie that was getting us ready for Ghost
- The Princess Bride– a movie that had it all, including humor at every turn
- Desperately Seeking Susan– the movie where we all wanted to be Madonna, when it was still possible
- Labryinth- A movie that was somewhere between an adult and a kid’s movie, with David Bowie and lots of Jim Henson characters
- Tootsie– a classic with Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray that made anyone who every watched general Hospital while home sick think how crazy Soap Operas must be behind the scenes.
- Moonstruck- Cher and Nicholas Cage- again, how I wish New York was in reality
Complex Movies (10)
Body Heat– a movie that was startling provocative – and full of things I would not understand for years.
Do the Right Thing– Spike Lee’s movie brought a whole new world to life, and made us think about what life was like from a totally different point of view
Broadcast News– a romance and a piece about journalism, it shone a light on an adult world I knew little about. And had a rather jaded view of politics overall, which seems appropriate
The Big Chill– sort of like St. Elmo’s fire with grownups, made us all wonder what it would be like when we all had grown-up jobs and then met up with college friends.
Amadeus- a movie my mom loved, but one that left me with the thought of what it’s like to face your own mediocrity, and it didn’t offer many constructive answers on how to face it, to be honest.
Steel Magnolias– I feel like this should be on a list as an oscar winner and all, but as a play turned into a movie, it shows.
An Officer & a Gentleman– a mixture of a chick flick and a guy’s movie, this one seemed well balanced for any date night
Terms of Endearment– a total chick flick and sob story- strong mother and daughter interactions- in a way that seemed more honest than Steel magnolias.
Black Widow- a great film noir type movie starring strong women- unusual in that era.
Fame-The High School of the Arts movie where my main takeaway is that the kids were ambitious but also ambivalent about what they thought they wanted most- fame.
The Other “Guy” movies: (22)
Beverly Hills Cop
Lethal Weapon– funny action movies that eventually played themselves out, but were great date movies
Risky Business– Kind of a John Hughes type movie but with a harder edge
Beetlejuice– a weird movie that made us all ready to accept the weirdness of Tim Burton movies like Edward Scissorhands a few years later
Major League– the baseball movie that was funny enough to keep us all entertained
Dead Poet’s Society
Revenge of the Nerds – another version of Porky’s and other movies that look a lot more problematic now after #metoo in their attitudes towards women and sex than they did at the time.
Top Gun– a testosterone movie if there ever was one, with a side of romance mixed in making it a decent date movie
Tron– the movie as video game
Fast Times at Ridgemont High– part of that teen movie genre, but launched Sean Penn who has turned into a provocative film maker in later years
Wall Street– How many of us saw capitalism, and cut throat business people- especially after being in school with some of them at Penn.
The Karate Kid- never my thing, but my brother loved it, jut like the Rocky movies
Time Bandits– a really interesting sci-fi kind of movie by Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame- just a bit weird like Python as well
War Games– The Matthew Broderick movie that made us all remember why they made us hide in the basement in elementary school, and how maybe this computer thing should be approached with a little caution
Who framed Roger Rabbit? A movie, a cartoon, slapstick and film noir all in one.
This is Spinal Tap– a cult classic.
Airplane- one cliche and pun after another- one was good, the others, redundant
Blade Runner– another trippy movie, worth seeing
The Terminator- what made Arnold really famous, but I never loved these movies as much as things that were a little lighter overall.
Die Hard- This had the right mix of adventure and humor for me- and you gotta love Bruce Willis. Although he seems to basically play himself in every movie, he’s the smart ass we all long to be
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure– classic buddy movie with the addition of George Carlin
What were your favorite movies when you were coming of age? What made an impact? How do they hold up now?