Imagine this: It’s 1984 and you no longer have just three TV channels as you finally got cable. Clara Peller asked, “Where’s the beef?”, Hulk Hogan defeated The Iron Sheik to win his first Heavyweight title, and in doing so, Hulkamania ran wild for the very first time. Alex Trebek became the host of the new Jeopardy!, MTV debuted its award show and Madonna gave the event its first “WTF? Moment” by rolling and writhing around in a wedding gown to Like a Virgin.
Ridley Scott directed Apple’s Macintosh commercial, which greatly references George Orwell’s 1984 novel – a move that, today, would seem like a blatant contradiction. The year is one pop culture moment after another, which may very well be a primary reason it’s heavily utilized in modern TV/Netflix shows and movies.
Speaking of movies, 1984 offered a lot of incredibly impactful motion pictures we’re still gushing over. Although it’s not the first movie slapped with the rating, Red Dawn was the first PG-13 theatrical release. John Hughes made his directorial debut and, unbeknownst to him, would end up defining a generation with his three-picture deal at Universal. Kevin Bacon danced his way to A-celebrity status, and Wes Craven haunted our dreams. Boy, what a year.
1. Bachelor Party
Director: Neal Israel
Following up his surprising breakthrough success as a leading man in Splash, Tom Hanks leads a quirky ensemble of curious characters in Bachelor Party. Rick’s pals plan to throw him a traditional, celebratory stag night that doesn’t quite go according to plan. As his party is at full swing, his fiance’s rich, meathead ex devises a plan to win back Debbie’s love at the insistence of her father.
While it’s by no means Shakespeare, Bachelor Party is comedy gold. The characters feel genuinely connected, each with their own personality, and beneath the gratuitous sexuality, there’s actually a story being told. Tom Hanks is naturally charismatic and entertaining, and you’ll route for his victory against the know-it-all, holier-than-thou upper class characters that berate and belittle him. It’s most assuredly lowbrow humor, with everything spelled out for you and very little left to the imagination. It’s primary intention is to entertain you, and it does an exemplary job.
Director: Ivan Reitman
Without a doubt, Ghostbusters is a fine concoction of sci-fi, comedy and action. Bill Murray stars alongside Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, who both co-wrote the script. Statz, Spengler and Venkman establish a unique start-up business as paranormal investigators, whose job description includes serving the Big Apple through detecting and extirpating supernatural entities; evil or otherwise.
Much fun is to be had with Ghostbusters. This film’s rich comedic performances from both the leading and supporting cast effortlessly exhibits their talent and dedication. The script is filled with jokes and thrills which, coupled with Ray Parker Jr.’s catchy theme, totally captures the pop cultural zeitgeist of the 1980s. That’s not to say it’s too much a product of its time, because this simply isn’t the case. Ghostbusters made – not an ephemeral impression — but a lasting one, as it’s a beautifully crafted product of its time that’ll surely entertain many generations to come.
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street
Director: Wes Craven
Of all the things A Nightmare on Elm Street can be (and has been) credited for achieving, I’ve yet to hear anyone weigh in on its ability to generate frustration. We know who’s behind the murders, and as the young characters learn, their parents and authority figures are powerless (or unwilling) to listen or help. Add that to an already creepy story with a horrific antagonist and you’ve got yourself a bona fide classic from the late great horror maestro himself, Wes Craven.
Springwood’s former resident and newest bogeyman, Freddy Krueger, seeks merciless revenge on his enemies by inhabiting their children’s dreams just long enough to torment and pulverize them. The script is dark and cleverly written, and Charles Bernstein’s score composition perfectly compliments it. For a mid ‘80s slasher picture, it’s beautifully shot. Robert Englund’s memorable portrayal of Freddy Krueger is absolutely spine-chilling. Heather Lengankamp’s final girl is one of the smartest and strongest; the same could easily be said of her performance.
4. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
Director: Joseph Zito
Horror movies, specifically that of the slasher variety, aren’t typically capable of spawning many sequels that appease their fanbase. They tend to run out of steam somewhere between the first and last sequel, and usually there’s more lows than highs. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is the 4th entry in the franchise and, confidently, I dare say it’s one of the better installments. There’s a great deal of action and suspense, and Ted White’s Jason is both intimidating and brutal.
The plot is rather simple, and there are some continuity issues, however the cast collectively turn out decent performances and Tom Savini’s special effects and make-up work is incredibly effective, even to this day. A great deal of work and care went into this one, with the characters seeming more realistic and Joseph Zito’s ability to direct action sequences. If this truly had been the final chapter in the now 40-year-old franchise, it would’ve been an acceptable one.
5. Sixteen Candles
Director: John Hughes
Sixteen Candles maturely addresses the woes teenagers are typically preoccupied by with respect to both its characters and the audience, who are able to relate to desire, angst, and heartbreak regardless of which generation they belong to. While some of the jokes may seem dated or uncomfortable for today’s viewers, it’s nonetheless a wonderful story with its share of rowdier moments. Both John Hughes’ script and direction are worthy of praise.
Due to the excitement surrounding her sister’s wedding, birthday girl Samantha Baker’s sweet 16 goes uncelebrated, but the icing on the cake is not one relative seems to remember the occasion. Add that to the fact she’s having a tough go of things between being relentlessly hit on by Ted, played to perfection by Anthony Michael Hall, and pining for the popular jock Jake Ryan. Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling give compelling performances that greatly contribute to the film’s enduring appeal.
6. Beverly Hills Cop
Director: Martin Brest
Eddie Murphy’s quick wit and energetic presence is easily one of the best things about Beverly Hills Cop. Axel Foley’s detective work is in Detroit, but once a friend of his is murdered, he pretends he needs some time away just so he can solve the case in Beverly Hills. What ensues is fun, action-packed and engaging. Further helping to set Beverly Hills Cop apart from other action dramedies of the time is Harold Faltermeyer’s score composition.
The action sequences are skillfully shot, with the film’s violence appearing impactful and realistic. While Eddie Murphy’s performance as a ballsy detective in an action movie sounds like a cheesy cheap shot at a couple of laughs, it’s masterfully crafted and taken seriously. Just like Sixteen Candles, some of Beverly Hills Cop’s jokes may seem out of touch or aged, however that’s not necessarily an issue with either the picture or its production. If anything, it’s a highlight of 1984, and Netflix is currently developing a sequel.
7. Red Dawn
Director: John Milius
Set in Colorado, Red Dawn tells the story of two brothers and their friends banding together against the USSR after an invasion in their hometown. The catch? Most of them are highschoolers. Establishing a resistance is no easy task, but inspired by their hometown’s mascot, they call themselves “Wolverines.” The cast is filled with recognizable talent, from Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, to Lea Thompson and Charlie Sheen.
Red Dawn is filled with stunning action-packed sequences and emotional performances, and the overall plot itself is both tragic and fear-inducing. There’s a palpable poignancy in the idea of a small, quiet down falling victim to a hostile takeover. The town’s youth are in school, not so much worried about war as they are with their studies and what their weekend plans are; Next thing you know, they’re striving to protect themselves and their country, fighting someone else’s fight. Both the score and the film’s director beautifully capture that concept masterfully.
Director: Richard Tuggle
Blurring the lines between slasher, thriller and crime drama, Tightrope is one Clint Eastwood vehicle that never fails to entertain. Detective Block is brought onto a murder case that incrementally gets more and more personal, resulting in Block having to reflect on his own personality as both a public servant and a father. Richard Tuggle wrote a dark and gritty script, and from that, directed a clever and suspenseful thriller.
I would argue that Tightrope is one of the more underrated movies Clint Eastwood has in his lengthy filmography. It succeeds in building tension and leaving the audience feeling affected and entertained by what unfolds on screen. Although it’s definitely not a full-on horror movie, there are a few scenes that would make you want to be more careful and much more aware of your surroundings.
9. Police Academy
Director: Hugh Wilson
Starring Steve Guttenburg and Kim Cattrall, Police Academy is one of the funniest movies of the 1980s. The mayor decides to make it a new requirement that the police department recruits as many people as possible to join the force, as there seems to be a small amount of working officers available for duty. Its brand of humor is similar to Bachelor Party, and Steve Guttenburg does a great job in his role as Cadet Mahoney.
Most of the recruits turn out to be unfavorable, awkward types that, without the mayor’s requirement, you know wouldn’t even entertain the idea of signing up. Even still, the characters each have their strengths — some of which are even their weaknesses. While Police Academy indulges in absurdity, it’s hilarious and has a somewhat meaningful ending. With a number of quotable lines and many laughs to be had, Police Academy is a great film to have on hand whenever you’re entertaining guests or just want to lose yourself in something fun.
10. The Terminator
Director: James Cameron
I’m fairly certain everything that can be said about The Terminator has been said already. The plot is pretty straight forward, with a cyborg disguised as a human travelling back in time to present day 1984 in an attempt to kill the future mother of a would-be war leader. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn are terrific in their roles and provide menacing and emotional performances.
James Cameron directed a fantastic movie from a script he co-wrote with Gale Anne Hurd. Deserving of a shoutout, score composer Brad Fiedel gave The Terminator an awesome soundtrack and the film’s theme song is easily recognizable today. Without a doubt, James Cameron’s little sci-fi action movie has become a huge inspiration to many.
There you have it: 10 of 1984’s best movies. I’m not sure about you, but if I existed back then, I would be at a movie theater every single weekend. The one downside to that is the likelihood of not having any money for 1985. Did your favorite make the list?
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