Written by Tyrone Bruinsma
-The Boys Next Door
-The Breakfast Club
-Code of Silence
-The Color Purple
-To Live and Die in LA
-Out of Africa
-Spies Like Us
-Year of the Dragon
-Young Sherlock Holmes
Who doesn’t love a bit of dumb 80’s pure action entertainment? Commando might be the quintessential 80’s action movie…even if that’s only in the last act. Seriously this film’s 3 act structure works as so: Act 1 sets up the hero to kill the bad guys, Act 2 has him kill a few bad guys to find where he can kill more bad guys and Act 3 has him kill all the bad guys. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role with the best one loners, best kills and badass name (John Matrix), produced by mega-action producer Joel Silver (Die Hard, The Matrix, Non-Stop), written by Steven E. de Souza (48 hrs, Die Hard, The Running Man), shot by Matthew F. Leonetti (Poltergeist, Strange Days, Dawn of the Dead), scored by James Horner (Aliens, Titanic, Avatar) and directed by Mark L Lester (Firestarter, Poseidon Rex) the film is the kind of B movie turned action classic thanks to the focus on fun action, entertainment value and a memorable turn by actions like Arnie, Rae Dawn Chung and Vernon Wells. Action junkies have probably seen it and you should too.
9. MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME
Even the weakest Mad Max film still kicks plenty of ass. While it lacks the simple exploitation cinema of the original, the simple gratifying action of the second or the simple (Mad Max certainly works when simple) blowout spectacle of the fourth film-Beyond Thunderdome is still a fun ride. While I think some random connections and the annoying kids in the 2nd half drag the film down a bit-it’s clear George Miller was looking to expand the world and mythology of Max. The performances (aside from the children) are great with Mel Gibson and Tina Turner as the MVPs. The action doesn’t have the chase mainstays previous established, but the Thunderdome cage fight is a classic scene of the franchise for its inventiveness and emotional peak. Not a classic like the rest of the franchise, but still a fun and unique installment in the 80’s action movie lineup.
8. THE JEWEL OF THE NILE
Sequel to Romancing the Stone (The film that helped pave the way for Back to the Future) The Jewel of the Nile actually got a bad reception upon release-but I think is a very strong adventure film that holds up better. While the original was little more than a basic Indiana Jones attempt with some meta commentary slapped in, The Jewel of the Nile feels more like an original film with more nuances than people give it credit for. Starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito after the events of the last film-they get sucked into a new adventure along the Nile-with the promise of a Jewel just like before. What I like is that it’s a much different film from the first, forcing different dynamics to play out and having some healthy subversions. My favourite thing about this movie is that it’s a ton of fun with some great action sequences like a Fighter Jet blowing up stuff or a horseback to train chase-making it feel like a combination of action cinema past and present (for the time). While Robert Zemeckis didn’t return, he was replaced with the often forgotten Lewis Teague (Alligator, Cujo, Cat’s Eye, NAVY SEALs) who brings enough of a unique voice-while still keeping it consistent with the original. Teague reunited with Cujo cinematographer Jane De Bont (Die Hard, Black Rain, Basic Instinct) to realise the best script Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner ever wrote. I’m disappointed the series didn’t continue as producer Michael Douglas lost interest, but I think reviving the franchise as a mid-budget adventure series could work today: get Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence and Kevin Hart.
A box office dub and critical disappoint by Cannon Films at the time-Lifeforce is a strange film, but a good one and something genre fans should all seek out. For reference, get the recently released full Blu-Ray cut instead of the originally truncated version for US theatres at the time-it’s a much better film. Lifeforce follows a fairly typical sci-fi story about astronauts finding a spaceship with beings inside and eventually this leads into an invasion of Earth by (and I’m not making this up because it’s based on a book by the same name) Space Vampires. Directed by the late Tobe Hooper after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist, with Alien screenwriter Don O’Bannon on hand-the film goes from an Alien film, to a zombie film, to an all out War of the World experience. It’s opening is pretty effective with an amazing score by Henry Mancini (Tarantula, The Pink Panther, Charade, The Great Mouse Detective, Fear) that continues throughout the film. It’s got great effects even today, especially the puppetry by the man who made Yoda no less. And it’s shot amicably by cinematographer Alan Hume (Return of the Jedi, A View to Kill, Runaway Train, Octopussy, A Fish Called Wanda) creating this really gorgeous looking film. The cast is really great with Steve Railsback giving a worthy performance considering his character, Patrick Stewart in a small but incredibly memorable role and Mathilda May as the almost always nude villain Space Girl. If you’re a fan of science fiction or horror or 80’s cult films-you must see this. And I highly recommend watching this video on it by GoodBadFlicks
6. THE BLACK CAULDRON
The Black Cauldron is often credited as the film that nearly sank Disney in the 80’s due to their failing returns and a recent power turnover that forced the film to be edited heavily (because the new heads thought animation worked like live action). But even that doesn’t stop this being one of my personal favourite films under Disney’s catalogue. An epic dark fantasy film based on a series of books (that I’ve never read), the film is told perfectly from the perspective of a young lad who needs to grow into a hero. He fails, he meets allies and encounters some scary stuff. The main appeal I have of this film (Now and always) is its dark nature and The Horned King played perfectly by the late and amazing John Hurt. The argument “Animation is for Kids” will always be a dumb umbrella statement, considering this is a kids film and is pretty terrifying sometimes. The Horned King is one of the best Villains Disney put out-his design and unexplained motives make him more of a horror villain than a Disney Villain. And Gurgi is a child favourite as the cute little silly fluff ball, even I’ll admit I think he’s still funny. The most interesting fact of The Black Cauldron is it’s nuanced princess in Eilonwy-who actually save the hero early on and isn’t Disney’s usual damsel. My only issues come in the form of its editing mandated by the new studio heads and the rather overly happy ending. There’s a rumor Disney might remake this due to its cult status and if Disney does-they should make it like Maleficent, or just keep a consistently dark tone and (if I were making this, because I totally will Disney) I’d make Princess Eilonwy the main character. While modern teens/my generation are claiming films like Robots is slept on: re-evaluate this film and others that deserve it please.
5. BACK TO THE FUTURE
A beloved classic that…isn’t one of my personal favourites. I get how Gen Xers loves this movie and I enjoyed the DeLorean showing up in Ready Player One, but to me it’s just a really well made 80’s classic that might’ve deteriorated just a little-along with not being the best sci-fi film of 1985. So the two problematic elements are the random terrorist subplot that’s just uncomfortable today (also why True Lies is a little uncomfortable) and the entire “Marty’s mom finds him hot and wants to bang him” plot. Seriously, I don’t know if Robert Zemeckis or Bob Gale had an Oedipus complex or were working through issues or thought this would be funny-but it’s one of the reasons I’m not the biggest fan of this movie. But ultimately it’s a great high concept with great effects, amazing score by John Williams, funny jokes and perfect casting in Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd. Ultimately I think that any plans for a remake or reboot should be scrapped and we should just have sequel where Doc Brown and someone go somewhere back in time and need to get out. Maybe go to pre-historic times and make it a monster movie, Rome, World War 2, roaring twenties-lot’s to do. And if you need any idea on this film’s cultural lasting effect-see how many time Family Guy has parodied and paid homage to the film.
Brazil is the best sci-fi of 1985 as it has more to say on the nature of science fiction, politics, people and does it with the exaggerated lens of Terry Gilliam (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Time Bandits, The Adventures of Baron Monchausen, 12 Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus). Brazil is a darkly comical satire on dystopias like 1984 and entire bureaucratical system Gilliam has lived under and despises (to the point Jupiter Ascending has a scene replicating it and having Terry cameo in the scene). A film that has a single cog (played well by Jonathan Pryce) who believes in the perfection and error free machine he works in begin to question when a single error occurs with dark consequences. It’s a film that challenges an audience on the world they live in, the lies they’re fed and the political nature of it all hasn’t ages a bit. It’s a potent as ever, bolstered by the surreal visuals cinematographer Roger Pratt (Batman, Harry and the Chamber of Secrets, Troy, Dorian Grey) creates, the score by Michael Kamen (The Dead Zone, Die Hard, The Last Boy Scout, Band of Brothers) is astounding and supporting players like Ian Holm (Alien), Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit), Robert DeNiro (Goodfellas), Kim Greist (Manhunter) and Katherine Helmond (Cars) help bring the rich world to life. It’s honestly just a great film that everyone should see-and whoever wanted to cut the ending should be ashamed of themselves for trying to ruin a peice of art.
Re-Animator might be one of the best Lovecraftian films ever made, along with being one of the best horror films people forget about. It’s a gory film about life after death, the experiments to prove it and the messy results. It feels somewhat like a mix between The Autopsy of Jane Doe and The Void in terms of modern horror cinema, just with a slight comedic tone that makes it all the better (and somehow this became a musical theatre performance). Directed by Stuart Gordon (From Beyond, Dagon), shot by Mac Ahlberg (Deep Star Six, Beverly Hill Cop 3), scored by Richard Band (Brother of Full Moon’s Charles Band and composer of The House on Sorority Row, Ghoulies, Troll, Puppet Master, Doctor Mordrid, Dragonworld, Shiver) who makes a very Hitchcockian score and stars Jeffry Combs (From Beyond), Bruce Abbott (The Last Starfighter), Barbara Crampton (We Are Still Here) and David Gale (The Guyver) with every party at the top of their game for this low budget horror affair. The gore and practical effects are spectacular, it hits the right notes of horror (including creepy surrogate father figures giving into dark desires and that haunting ending) while still being a small fun ride. I highly recommend this to every horror, sci-fi and genre fan-and reminder that Lovecraft was a racist and he sucks and I like filmmakers and storytellers adapting his work to have none of his garbage beliefs in these modern works.
One of Ridley Scott’s masterworks often forgotten by modern audiences: Legend is the kind of fantasy I love-where mood, visuals and dreamscape logic are more important than mythology or plot mechanics. Not based on any single fantasy story and instead a universal compilation of everything from Brother’s Grimm, Germanic Fantasy, Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast and more-the film is the feeling of falling asleep while a parent tells a fairy tale you know well and carrying it into your dream. Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry and the rest of the cast do an immensely wonderful job with the material and Curry especially rules as the villain Darkness who is wearing one of the best film costumes ever designed. It looks astounding thanks to Scott’s use of experimental formalism, the production work done on the 007 Studio Lot and by cinematographer Alex Thomson (Excalibur, Labyrinth, Leviathan, Alien 3, Demolition Man, Hamlet) with the amazing original score by Jerry Goldsmith perfectly punctuating the film. The film was cut down by the studio, rescored and released to mixed reviews and ultimately the director’s cut seen later became well-renowned (Just like Blade Runner before it). Now rather easy to find, Legend should be seen pretty much by anyone who loves fantasy, beautiful films, Legend of Zelda, Kubo and the Two Strings or great films in general. This might be a fairly big claim, but I think Legend might be the best fantasy film of the 80’s (only The Last Unicorn rivalling it) and the best fantasy film pre-Lord of the Rings. It’s a masterpiece and much see that perfectly blurs the line between art-house beauty and fun adventure.
Ran is one of the greatest testaments of film you will ever see. Directed by master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa (Drunken Angel, Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, The Hidden Fortress, High and Low, Kagemusha) Ran is not merely a Japanese tale of dynasties and schemers, but an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s King Lear (Makes sense as Throne of Blood was an adaptation of Macbeth). It’s an epic drama about a father who must divide his land between his 3 sons while still holding a heart of anguish and war. It’s a story that starts on tense ground and eventually continues to grow darker. While the plot is dark, it’s beauty is nigh flawless. It’s one of the best looking films before CGI became a cinematic maintain. Kurosawa’s direction has always been astounding whether it be in black and white or colour, but Ran’s colours are absolutely glorious-especially the battle at the films mid-point with fiery arrows and armies adorned with red and yellow colours clashing on screen. Brought to life by 3 cinematographers, an amazing production team and wonderful cast-the film can best be described as Lord of the Rings…before Lord of the Rings.
Now there’s something I wanted to address about the late Akira Kurosawa. I wasn’t aware of this at the time because Kurosawa is considered one of the old school masters like Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Orson Welles, but for the longest time Kurosawa was actually considered the less of the Japanese Golden Age movement compared to his peers-especially by those involved in the French New Wave. Why? Because Kurosawa was primarily a genre filmmaker influenced by American Westerns and French New Wave hated mainstream Hollywood films…even though the praised the cheap pulpy noir genre films of that era and Hollywood was producing films like Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Hitchcock’s most famous bodies of work, The Ten Commandments and sci-fi was beginning to boom. Kurosawa was considered less impressive than his peers and it wasn’t until his movies began to have immense staying power that he was re-evaluated. There’s a reason Seven Samurai would be remade twice and ripped off more, a reason why George Lucas made Star Wars inspired by The Hidden Fortress and why his films are considered amazing-he was a great filmmaker who told great stories. It’s not the genre or the set-up that defines a film, but by execution in how you tell that story. And making the hipster argument doesn’t deny a film’s quality or impact. Blockbusters and genre films made by great storytellers have always stood the test of time. Right now the likes of James Wan’s Aquaman, Patty Jenkin’s Wonder Woman, Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe dominate the popular consciousness by being entertaining stories with something to say and the talent to say it well. While John McTiernan somewhat egotistically claimed all modern blockbusters owe credit to him, I’d actually claim it belongs to Akira Kurosawa. And he might be the greatest filmmaker in Japanese history, but that’s a debate considering the likes of Satoshi Kon, Yasujiro Ozu and especially Hayao Miyazaki. Regardless, please seek out this legendary warrior filmmaker’s work-especially Ran, the best films of 1985.