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Mar 12 2013

Top Ten 1980s

for discussion fun

Tootsie,one of the inarguably great American comedies

"TheTuesday Top Tenwill get more article-like soon,"he said (again)."It really will."But it was so much fun todiscuss the 1930sandthe 1970s,which are arguably the two most respected decades (critically speaking) of American cinema.So how about a decade that gets no respect?The 1980s.The '80s are tough for me to feel discerning about because I lived through them and was a) young and b) just falling in love with the movies and c) just fallinghardfor the movies so how could the cinema possibly have been hitting its nadir?I still have inordinate fondness for movies that might more safely be called guilty pleasures likeYentl,Superman II,Splash,Return of the Jedi,Clue,and about half of the filmography of John Hughes...and so on.I even like revisitingreallybadmoviesfrom that decade.

Off the top of my head my ten favorites of the decades.

A Sean Young polaroid from the set of Blade Runner

  1. The Purple Rose of Cairo (Woody Allen)
  2. Blade Runner (Ridley Scott)
  3. A Room With a View (James Ivory)
  4. Tootsie (Sydney Pollack)
  5. Dangerous Liaisons (Stephen Frears)
  6. Amadeus (Milos Forman)
  7. Hannah and Her Sisters (Woody Allen)
  8. Aliens (James Cameron)
  9. Law of Desire (Pedro Almodovar)
  10. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg)

With apologies too...Silkwood,Reds,Diva,The Empire Strikes Back,The Little Mermaid,The complete works of Michelle Pfeiffer,Moonstruck,Raging Bull,Jean de Florette,Manon of the Spring,The King of Comedy,Heathers,sex lies and videotape,The complete works of Kathleen Turner,The Shining,Victor/Victoria,The Right Stuff,Bull Durham,Little Shop of Horrors,The Terminator,Witness,Broadcast News,Running on Empty,Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,Who Framed Roger Rabbit,andRaising Arizona.I could go on and on and on but I'd better stop before I start singingXanaduagain.

I'd love to hear your lists,both guilty pleasures and critically lauded efforts you think deserve their reputations.

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Reader Comments (101)

Your list of the best of the 80's is a great one - at least half of those would make my personal list.
But for me the best movie of the 80's is definitely Amadeus,which is simply the best biopic ever made.

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterVictor S

So many great movies.My #1 is without a doubt The Little Mermaid,which was the first movie I have memory of ever seeing.Followed closely by The Shining,Amadeus,Blade Runner and Little Shop of Horrors.

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

The 80s were really fascinating.When I watch films from that decade it feels like they were less modern than those of the 70s (and maybe even the 1960s for that matter).It's very strange.My current Top 10 for that decade would look like this:

1.The Color Purple
2.The Evil Dead
4.Dead Poets Society
6.Salaam Bombay!
7.The Karate Kid
8.Full Metal Jacket
9.Do The Right Thing

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterSquasher88

The Shining
The Breakfast Club
My Dinner With Andre
A Fish Called Wanda
The Goonies
Maximum Overdrive
The Princess Bride
Stand By Me

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

My own eighties top ten:

The Shining
The Elephant Man
Distant Voices,Still Lives
Fanny and Alexander
The War of the Roses
Blow Out
The Fabulous Baker Boys
The Thin Blue Line

plus,David Byrne singing 'Heaven' in 'Stop Making Sense',John Barry's score for 'Out of Africa',Jessica Lange in 'Frances',Glenn Close in 'Fatal Attraction',and Mia Farrow/Woody Allen's joint body of work.

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterLaika

Oh,and probably a fight to the death between Terminator and Ferris Bueller for the number 10 spot.

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

I would say,also off the top of my head

1.Blue Velvet
2.Do the Right Thing
3.My Beautiful Laundrette
4.Fanny and Alexander
5.Hannah and Her Sisters
6.Blade Runner
7.Broadcast News
8.The Purple Rose of Cairo
9.Dangerous Liaisons

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterSean D

In terms of guilty pleasures/overlooked gems,I just recently saw 'Visiting Hours',a 1982 slasher movie,with Lee Grant as the final girl (!) and Michael Ironside as the killer.I thought it was unexpectedly fantastic - visually striking,genuinely suspenseful,and never developing along the obvious generic lines (characters survive who really wouldn't in any other film).

It needs reviving!

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterLaika

I usually think of the 80s as a bum decade for film,but your top 10 + honorable mentions makes a pretty compelling case for them.
I often think of Purple Rose as my favorite movie (give or take Nashville),so I can't argue with your #1.
I've been meaning to see A Room with a View for about 12 years now...I'm gonna take this post as a sign that I should MAKE THAT HAPPEN.

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Nathaniel,do you use flickchart?It's useful to a) keep a record of your own 'canon' and where things stand and b) waste a ton of time.

My list:

1.My Neighbor Totoro
2.Hannah and Her SIsters
3.Do the Right Thing
4.The Shining
5.Broadcast News
6.Down by Law
7.Radio Days
8.Pennies from Heaven
10.Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

I also love: Aliens,Raiders of the Lost Ark,Poltergeist,Pee-Wee's Big Adventure,Who Framed Roger Rabbit,and E.T.

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterNate B.

That is an excellent top ten list of the 80's

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

2.broadcast news
3.purple rose of cairo
4.blade runner
5.raiders of the lost ark
6.raising arizona
7.pee-wee's big adventure
8.body heat
10.distant voices,still lives

March 12,2013 | Unregistered Commenterpar3182

Great List!!I also ADORE Purple Rose,and would also include Amadeus,Hannah,and Raiders.

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterBen

1.The Purple Rose of Cairo (ee-hee!!)
4.Dead Poets Society
5.Blade Runner
6.The Wings of Desire
7.Blue Velvet
8.The Elephant Man
9.Full Metal Jacket
10.Blood Wedding

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterGustavo


I forgot sex,lies and videotape!

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterGustavo

mmmmm,80's fun!love it.

1.Raiders of the Lost Ark
2.Empire Strikes Back
3.Crimes and Misdemeanors
5.Back to the Future
6.The Shining
9.Steel Magnolias

Also love E.T.,Christmas Vacation,Victor/Victoria,Mona Lisa,and The Color Purple

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterTravis

Great lists there.Blade Runner,Amadeus and Tootsie are my top,but Victor/Victoria has my favorite scene.The roach in the restaurant where Edwards cuts to outside just as the chaos begins and we only see it,imagining the noise.And Lesley Anne Warren was priceless.

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

I've seen so little of the '80s,especially compared to other decades,but JESUS,my list is strong and it was hard to rank.And the the top six are hard contenders for my overall top ten (which I've never actually attempted because it would KILL me).

01.Fanny and Alexander
02.Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
03.Hannah and Her Sisters
04.The Purple Rose of Cairo
06.The Last Temptation of Christ
07.The Last Emperor
08.Grave of the Fireflies

The only one of those that I wouldn't consider its director's best film is,well...TPRoC.But seriously not by much.

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterJ.D.

Castle in the Sky
Chariots of Fire
The Decalogue
ET;The Extra Terrestrial
Fanny and Alexander
James Joyce's The Dead
The Sacrifice
Stop Making Sense
The Unbearable Lightness of Being

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

In no order...

My Neighbor Totoro
Raging Bull
Hannah and Her Sisters
Evil Dead II
Grave of the Fireflies
Do the Right Thing
Strangers in Paradise
Blade Runner
Broadcast News

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

A few of my favourites that haven't been mentioned yet:

Blood Simple.
Mississipi Burning
Stranger than Paradise
Trading Places
When Harry Met Sally...

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

Sorry,have to sub out Evil Dead II for Fitzcarraldo,which I always think of as 70s but isn't.

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

I love these lists but it's so hard to choose just 10!In no particular order:

Torch Song Trilogy
Crossing Delancey
A Room with a View
Baby Boom
Running on Empty
Die Hard
9 to 5

In contention:
Raiders of the Lost Ark,Seems Like Old Times,Romancing the Stone,Back to the Future,Return of the Soldier,Hannah and Her Sisters,Tootsie,Suspect,No Way Out,Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,Ruthless People,Outrageous Fortune,Moonstruck,Big,Stakeout,Adventures in Babysitting,Back to School,84 Charing Cross Road and Parenthood.I'm sure I forgot many fine films.

March 12,2013 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Nice to see so much Miyazaki on here.

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

I think you got most of the best up there.Just would like to add one onto that list: Back to the Future.

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterPJ

My baker's dozen:
2."La Femme d'a Cote"'81
3."Evil Under the Sun"'82
4.Zeffirelli's "La Traviata"'82
5."Careful,He Might Hear You"''83
6."Once Upon a Time in America"''84
7."Au Revoir les Enfants"'87
8."Brighton Beach Memoirs"'86
9."A Handful of Dust"''88
10 "Steel Magnolias"'89
11 "Places in the Heart"'84
12 "Broadcast News"'87
13 "Valmont"'89

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterTrippy Trellis

As a '93 baby,I don't feel knowledgeable enough to truly choose.But I know for a fact Stand By Me would make it (one of my favorite films ever),and probably E.T.

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

My Choices

1.Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown - Pedro Almodovar
2.Full Metal Jacket - Stanley Kubrick
3.The Shining - Stanley Kubrick
4.Pixote - Hector Babenco
5.Blue Velvet - David Lynch
6.The Breakfast Club - John Hughes
7.Videodrome - David Cronenberg
8.Mala Noche - Gus Van Sant
9.Amadeus - Milos Forman
10.Raising Arizona - Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Honorable Mentions:

Everything Almodovar made during the 80's
Back to the Future Part II
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
Do the Right Thing
Drugstore Cowboy
Fatal Attraction

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterChecko

The Shining d.Stanley Kubrick
Brazil d.Terry Gilliam
RoboCop d.Paul Verhoeven
Raising Arizona d.Coen Brothers
Fanny & Alexander (The epic TV version) d.Ingmar Bergman
The King of Comedy d.Martin Scorsese
My Dinner with Andre d.Louis Malle
Repo Man d.Alex Cox
The Empire Strikes Back d.Irvin Kershner
Do The Right Thing d.Spike Lee,

Other Notables: Tootsie,The Evil Dead,My Neighbor Totoro,Who Framed Roger Rabbit?,The Great Mouse Detective,Radio Days,Hannah & Her Sisters,John Carpenter's The Thing,Nostalgia,The Sacrifice,The Return of the Living Dead,Videodrome,Lost in America,Pee Wee's Big Adventure,Clue,Blue Velvet,Withnail & I,Mystery Train,Hairspray,The Decalogue,and After Hours

March 12,2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

2.The Shining
3.E.T.The Extra-Terrestrial
4.E la nave Va (And the Ship Sails On)
6.Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
7.The Elephant Man
8.Law of Desire
9.Fanny och Alexander (Fanny and Alexander)
10.Raging Bull

Honorable mentions: Paris,Texas,Full Metal Jacket,The Terminator,Dangerous Liaisons and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

March 13,2013 | Unregistered CommenterLuiserghio

That is a stellar list.

March 13,2013 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

I was born in 1993 so I really haven't seen that many movies,but here you go.

1.Star Wars - Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
2.Chariots of Fire
3.The Little Mermaid
4.Back to the Future
5.When Harry Met Sally...
6.Dangerous Liaisons
7.Driving Miss Daisy
9.Ordinary People
10.Coal Miner's Daughter

Last 80s movie watched: The Breakfast Club,and I couldn't believe how bad it was!It's supposed to be a classic!

March 13,2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

No mention of REDS?Such a excellent epic that one

March 13,2013 | Unregistered Commenterkent

My husband and I are watching (or re-watching) all the Best Picture winners.Amazingly,neither of us has seen Amadeus and we're leaving it 'til the end so we have something to look forward to.People of many film persuasions seem to love it.

Also,Oscar seems to have gotten the big prize wrong a lot during the '80s -- perhaps more so than in any other decade.Some of the acting awards are head-scratchers,too.Do people really think Dustin Hoffman is better in Rain Man than in Tootsie?I know they were in different years with different competition,but it seems crazy to me.I want to go to Dustin's house,scratch out "Rain Man"on his Oscar and write "Tootsie"on top of it.

March 13,2013 | Unregistered CommenterCash

kent -- REDS is the second film i mentioned in my "apologies to"list.Love that movie.

Cash -- ooh,fun project and good is one of the most warmly regarded winners.I think that' sbecause it fits right into Oscar's wheelhouse (period/epic/biopic) without actually having the traditional flaws of those types of movies.

CMG -- awww the great mouse detective.i loved that one as a kid.forgot about it!

Trippy -- i fear i was too young when i saw au revoirs les enfants and careful he might hear you because though i remember thinking they were both very strong movies i have virtually no recollection of their actual content or why i thought they were good.

Mike -- DO IT.and report back.

March 13,2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Dead Ringers
The Verdict
Hannah and Her Sisters
Under the Volcano
Prizzi's Honor
The Killing Fields
Terms of Endearment
Ordinary People

March 13,2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

1) Fanny and Alexander (1983)
2) Amadeus (1984)
3) Broadcast News (1987)
4) Hannah and her Sisters (1986)
5) Reds (1981)
6) Ran (1985)
7) Raging Bull (1980)
8) Do the Right Thing (1989)
9) The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
10) A Room With a View (1986)

Honorable Mentions: Ordinary People,The Shining,Nine to Five,Annie,Terms of Endearment,Clue,The Color Purple,Little Shop of Horrors,The Princess Bride,My Neighbor Totoro,Grave of the Fireflies,Working Girl,The Little Mermaid

March 13,2013 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam

Your byu roots are showing through.
But no "princess bride"?

March 13,2013 | Unregistered CommenterTroy

The 80s is a decade that I'm still learning to love,but these are 10 that I love unabashedly:

1.The Little Mermaid
3.Blow Out
5.Broadcast News
6.The Fabulous Baker Boys
7.Do the Right Thing
8.The Color Purple
9.Something Wild
10.The Cotton Club

I don't know how people can be so definitive about these lists...gahhhh!

March 13,2013 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

Not as challenging as the 70s,but still tough.In no particular order:

Liquid Sky
Blade Runner
Blue Velvet
The Decalogue
The Last Emperor
The Cook,the Thief,His Wife & Her Lover
The Color Purple

Like Nate,could add about 10 more to the list,depending on the day of the week....

March 13,2013 | Unregistered CommenterCraig

The reason I love looking at other people's lists for the 80s is that there aren't as many consensus picks as there are for other decades,so there's usually a lot more variety and eclecticism in the choices.

Mine would be:

2.Hannah and Her Sisters
3.Sans Soleil
4.My Neighbor Totoro
5.Blue Velvet
6.The Fly
7.Wings of Desire
8.Something Wild
9.Stop Making Sense
10.Do the Right Thing

Honorable mentions: Blade Runner,Diner,Mystery Train,E.T.,Amadeus

March 13,2013 | Unregistered CommenterEdwin

Ooh,fun game!

1.Clue (will always be among my favorites)
2.My Beautiful Laundrette
4.Law of Desire
5.When Harry Met Sally
7.My Left Foot
9.The Color Purple
10.The Times of Harvey Milk

Amazingly,looking at this list,I'm thinking the 80s were far and away the best decade in film for gay classics.Perhaps that shouldn't even surprise me.

Also amazing: The Accidental Tourist,Airplane,Aliens,Dead Poets Society,Fatal Attraction,Gandhi,The Little Mermaid,Ordinary People,Platoon,Romancing the Stone (a childhood favorite),The Shining,Steel Magnolias

March 13,2013 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

In chronological order (including not one,but two TV mini-series - and 'Dekalog' barely misses the cut):

Berlin Alexanderplatz
Diva (favorite of the decade)
Fanny and Alexander
Hannah and Her Sisters
Baghdad Cafe
The Thin Blue Line
Grave of the Fireflies
Crimes and Misdemeanors
Do the Right Thing

A few more close calls: Blade Runner,Koyaanisqatsi,This Is Spinal Tap,The Official Story,Shoah,The Princess Bride,The Decline of the American Empire,A Fish Called Wanda

March 13,2013 | Unregistered CommenterMrW

Fanny and Alexander (I.Bergman)
Cinema Paradiso (G.Tornatore)
A Sunday in the Country (B.Tavernier)
Querelle (R.W.Fassbinder)
La Famiglia (The Family -- Ettore Scola)
Yentl (B.Streisand -- not a guilty pleasure,but a great movie musical marred by a questionable scene..but still one of my favorites of the decade in a genre that the 80s were not kind to)
The Night of Shooting Stars (Taviani brothers)
Marianne and Juliane (M.Von Trotta)
The Decalogue (K.Kieslowski)
Heimat: A Chronicle of Germany

March 13,2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavide

Tootsie might just be the best movie ever made.

March 13,2013 | Unregistered Commentermurtada

Seriously,no one loves Stand By Me?I'm literally in pain right now at the thought.

March 13,2013 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

Oh Maaaaaannnnn!!!!!!This is a hard one:
Times Square
Making Love
Hairspray (Waters)
The Outsiders
Eating Raoul
Less Than Zero
Near Dark

March 13,2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohnnyBS

In no particular order:

Blue Velvet
Dangerous Liaisons
The Empire Strike Back
Blade Runner
Full Metal Jacket
Fatal Attraction
My Left Foot
The Colour Purple

Bubbles: Scarface,The Elephant Man,The Shining,The Purple Rose of Cairo,The Fabulous Baker Boys,Wall Street,Fatal Attraction,8 1/2 weeks,Batman,The Terminator,Raging Bull,Sophie¨s Choice,

March 13,2013 | Unregistered CommenterManuel

One more time,I think you really really need some foreign stuff here,but yours is a great TOP 10 American movies in spite of Almodóvar.

I think my list would go something like this:

1 - Love Streams,John Cassavetes
2 - Dead Ringers,David Cronenberg
3 - Come and See,Elem Klimov
4 - E.T.,Steven Spielberg
5 - The Last Temptation of the Christ,Martin Scorsese
6 - Veronika Voss,Rainer Werner Fassbinder
7 - The Woman Next Door,François Truffaut
8 - Once Upon a Time in America,Sergio Leone
9 - Bird,Clint Eastwood
10 - A Time to Live,A Time to Die,Hou Hsiao-Hsien

Honorable mention as the most visually stunning movies of the decade: Ran,Kagemusha and Dreams,by Akira Kurosawa

The male performances of the decade:

1 - Jeremy Irons,Dead Ringers
2 - Robert De Niro,Raging Bull
3 - Robert De Niro,The King of Comedy
4 - Forest Whitaker,Bird
5 - William Hurt,Kiss of the Spider Woman

The female performances of the decade:

1 - Isabelle Huppert,Story of Women
2 - Gena Rowlands,Love Streams
3 - Isabelle Adjani,Possession
4 - Norma Aleandro,The Official Story
5 - Meryl Streep,Silkwood

Best guilty pleasure (not so guilty): Splash

Favorite Oscar win: Amadeus

March 13,2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

1.Blade Runner (1982)
2.The Shining (1980)
3.The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
4.The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
5.Reds (1981)
6.Videodrome (1983)
7.The King of Comedy (1983)
8.Fanny and Alexander (1982)
9.The Last Metro (1980)
10.Scarface (1983)

Honorable mentions & guilty pleasures:
81.Raiders of the Lost Ark;Mommie Dearest
82.E.T.;Victor/Victoria;Grease 2
83.Silkwood;Return of the Jedi
84.A Passage to India;Splash
85.The Breakfast Club;The Purple Rose of Cairo
86.A Room with a View;
87.The Princess Bride
88.Dangerous Liaisons;Working Girl
89.The Fabulous Baker Boys;When Harry Met Sally

March 13,2013 | Unregistered CommenterJesper

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