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:
17. Who’s Harry Crumb?
Harry Crumb (John Candy) is descended from a long line of detectives, but he has a tendency to mess up even the simplest of cases. With this in mind, Harry’s boss, Eliot Draisen (Jeffrey Jones), assigns him to investigate the kidnapping of a rich heiress. Draisen himself is behind the crime and by putting Harry on the case he hopes he’ll be his usual disastrous self and prevent the truth from coming to light.
Who’s Harry Crumb? is silly and not to be taken too seriously, but I’d still consider it one of the better comedies of the ‘80s. It’s a laugh a minute and John Candy is stellar, as always.
18. Armed and Dangerous
Frank Dooley (John Candy), a police officer who is wrongly accused of corruption and subsequently fired, finds work as a security guard, along with incompetent lawyer Norman Kane (Eugene Levy). Frank and Norman soon discover that their employee is involved in some rather questionable dealings and the guards, along with their supervisor Maggie Cavanaugh (Meg Ryan), work together to defeat the criminal ring led by mobster Michael Carlino (Robert Loggia).
This isn’t as good as the previous Candy films I’ve mentioned, but it’s still a classic! So many hilarious moments. Candy, Levy, and Meg Ryan. make a great team, playing off each other well.
19. Revenge of the Ninja
The Japanese residence of Cho Osaki (Sho Kosugi) is attacked by several ninjas. Aside from his mother and younger son, Kane (Kane Kosugi), the whole family perishes. Cho, a highly-skilled ninja himself, kills the perpetrators and then swears off being a ninja forever.
Along with his remaining family, he immigrates to the United States and opens up an Oriental art gallery with the assistance of his business partner and friend, Braden (Arthur Roberts), and his assistant, Kathy (Ashley Ferrare). One day, Kane accidentally exposes the fact that Braden is using the business to smuggle heroin. This causes Cho to confront his past and reclaim his ninja heritage so he can fight for the safety of his family.
I absolutely loved the martial arts sequences. Revenge of the Ninja was filmed in Salt Lake City and it’s was a lot of fun seeing various landmarks during the location shoots. The final scene, which takes place on the roof of American Towers, was particularly well done. Make no mistake, this most definitely a B-movie — but of reasonably good quality.
Jonathan Switcher (Andrew McCarthy), a chronically unemployed artist, finds a job as an assistant window dresser for a Philadelphia department store. When Jonathan comes across upon a mannequin he designed at a previous job, she suddenly comes to life and introduces herself as Emmy (Kim Cattrall), an Egyptian who’s there under an ancient spell. Despite the meddling of the store’s manager (James Spader), Jonathan and Emmy fall in love whilst creating window displays to keep the struggling store in business.
The concept is absurd, but it’s a comedy with a lot of heart and is sure to uplift. Another classic ‘80s soundtrack, with great songs like “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship, “In My Wildest Dreams” by Belinda Carlisle, and “Do You Dream About Me” by Alisha.
21. Used Cars
Rudy Russo (Kurt Russell) is a dishonest car salesman who aspires to become a politician Rudy works for the nice but unsuccessful automobile dealer Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden). When Luke dies, Rudy takes over the lot but faces stiff competition from the scheming Roy L. Fuchs (Warden in a dual role) who wants his brother’s business for himself. In order to get more customers, Rudy and Roy devise ridiculous promotions to one-up each other.
A real hidden gem! I loved the humor and zaniness of it all.
22. 9 to 5
Three female secretaries (Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton) decide to get revenge on their boss (Dabney Coleman), a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” by abducting him and running the business themselves.
One of the best comedies ever and still topical after all these years. Fonda, Tomlin, and Parton are a delightful trio.
23. The Slumber Party Massacre
In the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles, 18-year-old Trish Deveraux (Michelle Michaels) decides to throw a slumber party while her parents are away. Unbeknownst to Trish and her friends, a power drill-wielding killer named Russ Thorn (Michael Villella) has escaped from prison.
So many great slasher films came out in the ‘80s, but this one often seems forgotten. Campy as hell and the electronic organ score is the icing on the cake!
24. Code of Silence
Chicago Police Sgt. Eddie Cusack (Chuck Norris) and his team stake out a drug exchange involving cocaine supplier Victor Comacho (Ron Henriquez). They are caught off guard, however, when rival Mafia kingpin Tony Luna (Mike Genovese) and crew — disguised as painters — show up, murder Comacho’s crew, and abscond with both the cash and cocaine. Victor’s brother, drug czar Luis Comacho (Henry Silva) is out for blood and now Cusack must fight both gangs as well as corruption in his own department.
One of Chuck Norris’ best. A red-hot thriller with solid acting.