Movies in the 1980s

1980s Movies Collage by Paul Phipps

The 1980s were one of the best, if not the very best, decade for movies of all time. Both story writing and special effects were climaxing at the same time and it made for an awesome time for all.

A short list of movies from the 80s, even a top ten list, is almost impossible to make. A Top 100 list is even hard. There are just so many great movies in almost any category.

From E.T. to Goonies to Freddy Krueger, there was something for every age group. Want some comedy? The best comedies are from the 80s. Police Academy was one of my favorites ever.. I love all the characters.

Gremlins were taking over every town while every kid in America was taught not to feed Mogwai after dark.

Jack Nicholson solidified his place as a Hollywood legend with captivating performances in The Shining and Batman. He truly was the quintessential crazy man.

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Movies in 1980

The movie industry struggled to make money in 1980. Only one film, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, had any guarantee of viewership.

Unfortunately, The Empire Strikes Back accounted for 25 percent of all ticket sales in the summer.

The Shining (1980)

Critics considered The Shining a failure in 1980.

Other movies that were released in 1980 have done much better after the fact than they did at the time. In fact, many movies that we consider to be classics were trashed by critics and fared poorly at the box office.

The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation to the Steven King thriller, features some of Jack Nicholson’s best acting. But people didn’t care for it much then.

A few films were surprises: The Blue Lagoon, Airplane (one of my favorite comedies of all time) and Friday the 13th were all very popular and made huge profits compared to how much they cost to make.

Otherwise one commercial failure followed another, including ones with high priced stars. Movies like Bronco Billy, Rough Cut, Brubaker, and Urban Cowboy were box office disasters.

Even The Blues Brothers was considered a complete failure at the time. They just didn’t know how great they had it, did they?

Movies in 1981

1981 had its fair share of blockbusters. The most notable being Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It was conceived and produced by George Lucas and directed by Steven Spielberg. It was a witty, expensive version of the action-packed movie serials of the 1930s and 40s. The film was released in June and took in $125 million during the summer season.

Superman II (1981)

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s the most successful movie in 1981!

The summer’s other blockbuster was Superman II, which grossed over $100 million. Critics said that Superman II was even better than the first one.

Several comedies were popular at the box office. Stripes, starring SNL star Bill Murray, Arthur, featuring Dudley Moore and Time Bandits all rocked the box office.

More movies than usual were directed toward mature audiences. On Golden Pond, Ghost Story and Atlantic City all feature characters dealing with less than lighthearted issues.

But the industry still had its share of lightweight numbers. These included Prince of the City and Whose Life Is It Anyway?, an adaptation of the play about a quadriplegic, with an outstanding performance by Richard Dreyfuss.

True Confessions, a pretentious police story with existential overtones wasted the talents of Robert DeNiro and Robert Duvall.

Much was made about Warren Beatty’s movie titled “Red.” Not forgotten was the fact that he spent $33 million making the film. In the wake of the 1980 Heaven’s Gate disaster, general sentiment was strongly against such extravagant productions.

Movies in 1982

The motion picture industry in 1982 had a year of remarkable commercial highs mixed with discouraging low points. The summer brought a genuine bonanza that made 1982 a financial banner year.

The Summer of 1982 was highlighted by the release of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. The sweet-natured fantasy about a kindly alien who is stranded on Earth on protected by children until he can arrange a passage home. The movie earned $300 million at US box offices by mid-December, tripling the $100 million figure that traditionally established a blockbuster at the time.

E.T. (1982)

E.T. was the movie of the year in 1982

E.T. solidified Steven Spielberg’s standing as a creator of top-grossing, critically acclaimed films.

Both Rocky III and An Officer and a Gentleman grossed over $100 million that year.

1982 brought some very notable performances from veterans of the film industry. Meryl Streep’s performance in Sophie’s Choice earned her great acclaim, as did Jessica Lange’s in Frances.

Action-packed 48 Hrs. hoped to launch Eddie Murphy’s career from an SNL star to a worldwide celebrity.

Mephisto won the award for best foreign film in 1982. The story of an ambitious actor’s rise in Nazi Germany, Mephisto benefited from a mesmerizing performance by Klaus Maria Brandauer.

Hollywood continued to attract a youthful audience that adhered to one of two themes: teenagers indulging in sex (Porky’s, Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and teenagers being victimized by mad killers (Friday the 13th, Part III).

Friday the 13th, Part III was also filmed in 3-D and experienced mild success, encouraging thoughts that 3-D might be a viable option for the future.

1982 had its fair share of flops. Some of the more notable commercial failures were “One From The Heart,” “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy,” “Yes, Giorgio” and “Inchon.”

Movies in 1987

1987 proved to be a great year for the motion picture industry. Box office records were being broken and rentals were through the roof. Life was good for Hollywood.

Joel and Ethan Coen broke out with Raising Arizona. And Steve Martin grew a long nose in Roxanne.

The biggest hit of the year, however, was the steamy Fatal Attraction. The movie, in which respectable married attorney Michael Douglas is hounded by his former lover Glenn Close, was a conventional if voluptuously filmed variation of a theme explored in 1971 in Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me.

Dirty Dancing (1987)

Dirty Dancing was a surprise hit in 1987

Dirty Dancing, starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, proved to a surprise hit as well. The movie told a nostalgic story of a sheltered young woman’s sexual awakening at a Catskills summer resort in the early 1960s.

Charles Martin Smith, Kevin Costner, Sean Connery and Andy Garcia played federal agents who take on the mob in the 1987 hit The Untouchables.

Woody Allen told a Senate subcommittee in May about his opposition to colorization — the process used to add color to black and white films.

After three horrible movies, Tom Selleck finally made a movie people liked in Three Men & A Baby. Beverly Hills Cop II did pretty well at the box office too.

Oliver Stone’s Platoon won the Academy Award for best picture in 1987. Stanley Kubrick made his long awaited return to filmmaking with Full Metal Jacket. The wait was well worth it.

Good Morning Vietnam opened late in the year to raving reviews.


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Last modified: Aug 07, 2013 | Written by Paul Phipps