Who doesn’t love a good list?
This week, as part of our weekly feature Top Ten Tuesday, Chris Shortt continues his retrospective of the decades of modern cinema, with his Top 10 films from the 1980s.
Sparked in the 1970s by the likes of Jaws and Star Wars, the 1980s saw the Hollywood blockbuster consolidated as the dominant form of movie-making. It was sequels galore in the first decade of the franchise-building that still rules today’s climate – though this list indicates that this wasn’t necessarily as gloomy.
The ’80s also saw a huge proliferation in the teen movie – with director John Hughes one of the most successful and widely emblematic of the ’80s as anyone else.
10. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1988)
Put away the pitchforks (or poison-tipped darts), it’s not Raiders of the Lost Ark. Instead, it’s the third film in the Indiana Jones series that I think remains its crowning jewel.
It might be John Williams’ rousing and more varied score (best illustrated in that glorious boat chase), or the stunning array of locations (from Venice to Jordan, via Hitler’s Germany). In all honesty, it’s definitely Sean Connery – introduced as Indy’s cantankerous father – that makes this film a cut above the rest of the series, and one of the decade’s most entertaining.
9. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Not unlike her later coming-of-age hit Clueless, Amy Heckerling’s directorial debut is a riotous ode to adolescence. Fast Times boasts an impressive ensemble cast of then-unknowns – notably Nicholas Cage, Forest Whitaker’s jock, and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s hapless Stacy.
The film is now best known, however, for Sean Penn’s attention-grabbing turn as stoner Jeff Spicoli – who learns the hard way why you shouldn’t order pizza to class.
8. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Steven Spielberg’s immortal childhood classic is the director at his magical and escapist best. E.T. follows the titular creature as he crash-lands on Earth, unable to get back to his family. Hunted by dubious government forces, a group of siblings encounter E.T. and help him to “phone home”.
Accompanied by John Williams’ best piece of score to date, the bicycle chase in the third act remains Spielberg’s magnum opus. It’s little wonder it was the first film to topple Star Wars off the all-time box-office charts.
7. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Released barely 3 months after his similarly archetypal ’80s teen flick Pretty in Pink, John Hughes delivered another enduring classic in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Matthew Broderick’s titular lead is still one of cinema’s most iconic performances, and it’s not difficult to see why. His fourth-wall-breaking antics and ridiculing of society made Ferris an irresistibly likeable figure – undoubtedly preposterous, and yet still manages to appear relatable.
6. My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
Studio Ghibli’s second feature still remains one of their finest works. Like so many others in this list (and indeed Ghibli’s filmography), Hayao Miyazki’s film is a delightful celebration of wonder and childhood naivety – following a pair of sisters as they are forced to move to the country, with their mother in hospital.
Interestingly, Totoro was released in Japan as part of a double-bill with Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies. The pair exemplify both the consistency of Ghibli’s output and recurring themes, yet also showcases the productive conflict in tendencies between Miyazaki and Takahata – the company’s two fathers.
5. Aliens (1986)
When I included Ridley Scott’s Alien in last week’s list, I stressed how important his ‘less is more’ mantra was to this film’s brilliance. Ironically, James Cameron’s sequel went for completely the opposite approach here – yet the film remains arguably just as good.
Whereas in the original the Nostromo crew are faced with just the one Xenomorph, Aliens multiplies this threat to ridiculous heights. Amazingly, Sigourney Weaver got an Oscar nomination for her reprisal of Ellen Ripley – deserving recognition for this line alone.
4. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
If you read my 1960s list, you’ll know my love for Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns is no secret. This time, however, it’s his sprawling crime epic that deserves attention.
The third in his informal Once Upon a Time… trilogy, America follows Robert De Niro’s Noodles and James Woods’ Max as they struggle through an impoverished childhood into the Manhattan underworld of organised crime. At 230 minutes, it’s a big ask – but one that I can promise is worth taking.
3. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The best Star Wars film, the best sequel… indeed, it might well be one of the best entirely. George Lucas relievedly handed over the directorial reins to Irvin Kershner for this darker, higher stakes follow-up.
It may sag a little in Dagobah, but when it’s bookended by the battle of Hoth and that peerless third act in Bespin, you won’t care a single iota.
2. The Shining (1980)
A masterpiece for seemingly every genre out there, Stanley Kubrick’s first and only venture into horror is a sublime study of cabin fever (with a little help from the supernatural).
Like most of his work, The Shining is a film that rewards every further viewing – with each new discovery just showing how much thought and precision Kubrick put into every shot. Stephen King may not be a fan of this particular adaptation, but I certainly am.
1. Blade Runner (1982)
Following up his groundbreaking work with Alien, director Ridley Scott gave us another seminal entry in the science fiction genre. Like Alien, this futuristic world is a grubby and bleak one – the neon-lit streets of L.A. ridden with shady individuals and dubious affairs aplenty.
Vangelis’ score has really never been topped in the realm of electronic film composing (only mimicked at best), whilst Jordan Cronenweth’s cinematography is a staggering lesson in how you light a film like this.
If you haven’t given it a watch already, make sure it’s the Final Cut (2007) – which eases the film of a terrible Harrison Ford voice-over narration, and regains Deckard’s enigmatic aura that only neo-noir does best.