If you were around in 1982, it’s likely you remember Ms. Pacman, Tylenol capsules being laced with cyanide, or TIME magazine naming a computer “Man of the Year” for the first time. Probably the most memorable thing to happen in 1982 was the release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Although the music video to the album’s titular track wouldn’t debut for another year, the album’s success is the stuff of legend.
Music releases aside, some of the 1980s’ finest motion pictures were released that year. It’s easy to pop in or stream a movie today and take for granted the work that’s gone into it, but back then, filmmakers were pushing the boundaries of creativity and expectations through rigorous and extensive work. Practical effects, camera tricks, and even simply writing dialogue or shooting something that might’ve been taboo or put into question whether or not they’d gone too far, was all done for the sake of art and to give the audience a new experience.
From comedy classics to sci-fi sequels, these are 10 of the best movies of the year 1982.
1. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Director: Amy Heckerling
Yet another 80s coming-of-age comedy in which the teenagers all face timeless and universal struggles of sexual inexperience, falling in love, and passing their classes. Each character has distinct traits, which gives viewers the possibility of identifying with at least one of them.
Sean Penn plays Jeff Spicoli, the stoner, and he plays the character well enough you believe he’s actually high. Brian Backer and Jennifer Jason Leigh play Mark and Stacy; two people desperate for a meaningful touch. Adults could relate to Ray Walston’s character, who desperately wants his students to learn. It’s a well-rounded cast of familiar faces, and one of the best things about Fast Times at Ridgemont High, other than its soundtrack, is how it balances wild and crazy situations with real-life consequences, and it’s taken seriously.
2. Night Shift
Director: Ron Howard
Henry Winkler reunites with Happy Days co-star Ron Howard for Night Shift: a comedy about a passive aggressive morgue employee working the graveyard shift. Chuck, Henry’s character, doesn’t like noise and prefers to avoid confrontation, even after he’s given a co-worker named Bill, played by Michael Keaton.
Bill’s a loud, dreamer type, who eventually convinces Chuck to utilize the morgue to help a gang of prostitutes; the leader of which, played by Shelley Long, has caught Chuck’s eyes a time or two. Night Shift is a funny, charming movie with likable characters played by a solid cast. At no point in Night Shift is there a dull moment of excess material, where any of the characters are doing random things that contradict or take anything away from either them or the film entirely.
3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Even though Ricardo Montalban looks like a pissed off Rod Stewart on steroids, his performance as antagonist Knag Singh in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is unforgettable. Easily superior than its 1979 predecessor, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a wonderful exercise in character development and pacing.
William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and the rest of the original series cast reprise their roles, adding a noticeable weight to their characters. James Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise battle Khan, who initially appeared in the first season. I highly recommend Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, because it’s well-written and filled with action. As Spock would say, watching Star Trek is only “logical.”
Director: Tim Hunter
Adapted from S.E. Hinton’s novel from the 1970s, Tex tells the story of two brothers who are trying to survive on their own after their mother died and their father abandoned them. It stars Matt Dillon, Jim Metzler, Meg Tilly and Emilio Estevez.
There’s something about the movie that stays with you long after you’ve seen it. The adaptation is every bit as good as the book, and the realistic look at youngsters in small town USA makes it stand out. The acting is believable and the characters’ dialogue fits their personalities well. While the movie may seem difficult to find, if you’re interested in seeing it, Amazon currently has it for under $10.
5. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Director: Steven Spielberg
Personally speaking, I haven’t seen E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial uninterrupted and in full for over 15 years, but it’s not a film anyone could ever forget. To this day, I remember everything about it. Melissa Mathison wrote a beautiful and moving story about friendship and connection.
E.T. stars Dee Wallace, Drew Barrymore, Henry Thomas and Peter Coyote, all of who give excellent performances. Not long after finding the alien and luring it back to his family home, Elliot begins to experience telepathy, often feeling the effects of the alien’s actions, and vice versa. It’s funny, sad, moving and thoroughly entertaining. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is one of the better family films released in the 1980s and will likely remain a crowd pleasing classic forever.
6. Rocky III
Director: Sylvester Stallone
“I pity the fool” who refuses to give Rocky III an honest try. It’s worth it alone for the Survivor track, “Eye of the Tiger”, but the cast is pretty entertaining as well. There’s a few cheesy lines, but that’s somehow strangely part of its appeal. The movie was written and directed by Sylvester Stallone, who stars alongside Carl Weathers, Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith and Mr. T.
There are a few slight differences in how Sylvester portrays the titular character, and that’s likely because of how difficult it is to continue a dramatic sports film that’s covered all the bases in the original and its sequel. However, Rocky III is a strong enough motion picture to earn the praise it so desperately fought for, making this threequel a winner in and outside of theaters, for sure.
7. Friday the 13th Part III
Director: Steve Miner
Friday the 13th Part III was Paramount’s answer to reinvigorate interest in the stereoscopic 3D format, as it was their first three-dimensional film since the 1950s. 3D films have been around long before that, and over the natural course of time, they grew in popularity. Finally, in the early 1980s, there was a surge in popularity once more and the anaglyph effect was put to the test.
Most notable for being Jason Voorhees’s first appearance wearing the now-classic hockey mask, Friday the 13th Part III is easily one of the better entries in the franchise. Dana Kimmell’s character, Chris, takes her friends up to her family’s old cabin near Crystal Lake for a weekend getaway. While her friends are having fun, she’s dealing with a personal trauma that’s kept her away for so long. Richard Brooker is menacing as Jason, and Harry Manfredini’s disco theme is sure to get stuck in your head. It’s a solid flick, despite obvious continuity flaws.
Director: Sydney Pollack
Tootsie manages to comedically tackle social commentary, all the while offering a realistic behind-the-scenes look at show business. Dustin Hoffman plays a passionate actor whose level of perfectionism renders him difficult to work with. To prove his agent (played by director Sydney Pollack) wrong, Michael takes on the appearance of a strong woman, winning a role on a major soap opera.
There are some genuinely funny moments in Tootsie, as well as terrific dialogue and sympathetic characters. Neither the film’s comedic plot nor its staid delivery is overly pronounced. I was surprised by the acting performances and how the film’s subject matter is handled. Tootsie touches on a number of topics that are still just as relevant now as they were in 1982 and, for that reason, is deserving of its praise.
9. First Blood
Director: Ted Kotcheff
When discussing action movies, it’s not unlikely most favorites are from the genre’s heyday — the 1980s. What separates First Blood from other action movies, including its sequels, is a realistic story that feels just as important today. John Rambo is a discharged Vietnam War vetern, drifting from one place to another. He’s traumatized and doesn’t have much luck maintaining any sort of social life.
First Blood is based on David Morrell’s 1972 novel of the same name. Arguably one of Sylvester Stallone’s best performances (in and out of the franchise), John Rambo’s pushed to fight back against Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy) and his officers after being wrongfully detained. The physical and mental anguish he’s put through triggers flashbacks, aiding in developing Rambo as a serious and likeable character, as opposed to just some run-of-the-mill sweaty action hero.
Director: Tobe Hooper
Almost surprisingly, Poltergeist continues to freak people out to this day — and it’s rated PG, proving once and again that ratings aren’t always as important. The movie focuses on Steve and Diane Freeling and their three kids. They’re a typical Californian family, with Steve (Craig T. Nelson) making a living as a real estate developer, and Diane (JoBeth Williams) is a homemaker. Everything is swell until they realize their house is haunted.
Between the special effects and Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting score alone, it’s no wonder Poltergeist was a hit in 1982. Add to that a few solid performances, methodical tension building and smart direction, and both Tobe Hooper’s and Steven Speilberg’s haunted house story becomes a classic. It’s a terrific film and although there’s a few things to nitpick here and there, it works to the fullest of its abilities and makes a great introduction to the genre for young viewers.
I’m going to go right ahead and assume that everyone has seen at least one movie from 1982, whether it made the list or not. Comment below and let us know which are your favorites.
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