With movie theaters closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, this is a most difficult time for film lovers. Every night, I lie in bed dreaming of the glorious day when the Megaplex opens again — ahh, the mental picture makes it feel so close while the actual event is (likely) so far away. While there is no shortage of newer content to stream at home in the interim, it’s also a perfect time to engage oneself with classic cinema.
An ardent admirer of ‘80s culture, I often find myself preferring movies from that era over modern offerings. Don’t get me wrong, there have been a lot of good films lately — but something about ‘80s movies is truly exceptional. In that spirit, I’ve compiled (after narrowing it down from a list of over 100) a three-part list of the movies that truly stand out to me from the era of Reaganomics and hair metal.
I have taken care to not include the obvious ones like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Die Hard. Some of these films were released to critical acclaim, others not so much — regardless, it is my contention that each of these has something special and are worth a viewing. Without further adieu, and in no particular order:
9. About Last Night
Dan “Danny” Martin (Rob Lowe) and Bernie Litko (James Belushi) are a couple of single Chicagoans who struggle to balance their desire for sex with the possibility of love. When Danny meets Debbie (Demi Moore), the two enter a committed relationship for the first time and experience many hardships along the way.
One of the best romantic comedies of the ‘80s, Rob Lowe and Demi Moore were great together. Romance off the charts. And one of Sheena Easton’s songs is featured in the film, “So Far, So Good” — what a classic!
FBI criminal profiler Will Graham (William L. Petersen) is called out of early retirement to assist on a serial murder case; the suspect is a killer known as the “Tooth Fairy” (Tom Noonan). Graham enlists the help of imprisoned cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox). Graham and the FBI are eventually engaged in a deadly cat-and-mouse game between the Tooth Fairy, Lecktor, and an interloper journalist (Stephen Lang).
I greatly prefer Manhunter to Silence of the Lambs. Manhunter focuses more on the police element, rather than the traditional serial killer genre motif that dominates Silence. Also, amazing visuals and soundtrack.
11. 52 Pick-Up
52 Pick-Up follows a plot to blackmail wealthy industrialist Harry Mitchell (Roy Scheider). Married to an aspiring politician (Ann-Margret), Harry has been caught having an affair with Cini (Kelly Preston), a much younger woman. When Harry doesn’t play along with his blackmailers’ rules, they begin to respond with a brutal streak of violence that eventually results in murder and kidnapping. Harry decides to fight back against the criminals.
It’s such a good thriller, gritty and laced with brutality. Clarence Williams III gave a truly unnerving performance as Bobby Shy, one of the blackmailers. The film’s final scene is one of the best endings I’ve come across in a movie.
12. The Secret of My Success
Newly graduated from college, Brantley Foster (Michael J. Fox) travels from his home in Kansas to New York City to pursue a finance job. When Brantley arrives, he learns that his position has been eliminated due to a hostile takeover and he’s forced to take a mailroom job for his uncle, Howard (Richard Jordan), who became president of the company through marriage. Unsatisfied with his dead-end job, Brantley begins posing as an executive.
The script is rather by-the-numbers, but Michael J. Fox’s performance gave it so much life. Amusing throughout and an epic soundtrack — the main theme is performed by Night Ranger.
Sales executive and perfectionist Gil Buckman (Steve Martin) is troubled by the struggles of his children, fearing he is a bad parent. Gil’s siblings have problems of their own to contend with. One of his sisters, Helen (Dianne Wiest), a divorcee, faces conflict when her teenage daughter, Julie (Martha Plimpton), becomes pregnant and a son, Garry, enters puberty.
Another sister, Susan (Harley Jane Kozak), clashes with her husband, Nathan (Rick Moranis), when she asks for more children and he sets impossibly high standards for their daughter. Finally, Gil’s immature brother (Tom Hulce) turns up as well with a gambling addiction and a young son no one knew about.
Parenthood has so much heart. It is an endearing look at family life and a poignant reminder that within imperfection dwells perfection. Steve Martin gave a truly memorable performance, one of his more substantive — next to Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
14. Adventures in Babysitting
When Friday night plans with her boyfriend fall through, high school senior Chris Parker (Elisabeth Shue) ends up babysitting the Anderson kids, Brad (Keith Coogan) and Sara (Maia Brewton). Instead of a quiet night in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, the group — along with Brad’s incorrigibly mischievous friend, Daryl (Anthony Rapp) — finds themselves in a series of dangerous adventures after leaving the house to pick up Chris’ friend, Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller) in downtown Chicago.
The directorial debut of Chris Columbus, Adventures in Babysitting is a fun show for the entire family. The story is captivating and there are plenty of laughs throughout. Especially memorable is a scene in a South Side blues club with blues singer/guitarist Albert Collins.
Lt. Tuck Pendleton (Dennis Quaid), a naval aviator, agrees to be scientifically miniaturized and injected into a rabbit. However, complications ensue and he winds up floating around the body of a hypochondriac Safeway grocery clerk, Jack Putter, (Martin Short) and trying to stay ahead of criminals who desperately want the device that shrank him.
The concept is so different and in a good way. A hilarious blend of sci-fi and romantic comedy. Martin Short and Meg Ryan gave exceptional performances.
16. Uncle Buck
When Cindy’s (Elaine Bromka) father suffers a heart attack, she and her husband, Bob (Garrett M. Brown), have to leave their suburban Chicago home in the middle of the night to go be with him in Indianapolis. To Cindy’s great annoyance, there is only one person available to babysit for their three kids: Bob’s lazy, carefree, unreliable brother, Buck (John Candy). He immediately connects with the two younger children, Miles and Maizy (Macaulay Culkin and Gaby Hoffman), but clashes with his angsty teenage niece, Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly).
One of John Candy’s best movies, Uncle Buck is both heartwarming and funny. It’s unendingly charming and the plot is simple but stays on point.