Let me guess: By the time 1988 rolled around, you were donating your Bugle Boy parachute pants and rocking something fashioned out of denim or leather. You owned a dozen or so cans of hairspray — probably Aqua Net. You spent your Tuesday nights sitting through Who’s The Boss? waiting for Roseanne to air. The mall was your escape from politics and socioeconomic status concerns, or maybe you just really wanted to meet Tiffany for some reason.
What was the music scene like that year? Guns N’ Roses had an Appetite For Destruction, Paula Abdul was Forever Your Girl, the New Kids on the Block were Hangin’ Tough, and Tracy Chapman had a Fast Car. Rod Stewart was Out of Order, Weird Al had it Even Worse, Jane’s Addiction released Nothing’s Shocking, and N.W.A came Straight Outta Compton. All in all, a fairly decent year for vinyl releases.
If, for whatever reason, you grew tired of waiting for your song request to play on the radio, or channel surfing didn’t offer comfort, there was always something worth checking out in theaters. Maybe even at your local Blockbuster or Major Video. The slasher sub-genre was on its way out, with many going the way of straight-to-video release. Although CGI was already in development, practical effects were still impressively created and utilized to stunned audiences.
Clint Eastwood played Harry Callahan for a fifth and final time, Bruce Willis was rising to stardom, and most comedy movies were still following the tradition of having a theme song. Sound interesting? These are 10 of the best movies of 1988.
1. They Live
Director: John Carpenter
WWE Hall of Famer Roddy Piper plays John Nada, a drifter who works at a construction site. He’s aware of his surroundings to the point of noticing suspicious activity in and around a church one night. He returns the next morning only to discover a box of special glasses that, when worn, reveal subliminal messaging and aliens are all around him.
They Live is a fun, allegorical thrillride with one of the best (and longest) fight sequences in film history. Roddy Piper’s performance is just as entertaining as anything he’s ever done in a wrestling ring. The popularity of They Live has grown in recent years, with the key themes of commercialism, capitalism and propaganda being relevant and topical.
2. Bull Durham
Director: Ron Shelton
A rookie pitcher named Ebby (Tim Robbins) plays for a minor-league baseball team, the Durham Bulls. Since the MLB offers opportunities to prepare for the major leagues, Ebby’s sent a MLB vet named Lawrence (Kevin Costner) to help him meet his goals and both men take a liking to Annie (Susan Sarandon). She’s a baseball fan in her own right, offering her own kind of help.
Bull Durham is easily one of the best baseball stories captured on film. It works both as a romantic comedy and a sports movie, and the filmmakers show an experienced understanding of both. The screenplay, rich with character development and laughs, is cleverly written and reads like an autobiography.
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
Director: Renny Harlin
By this point in the franchise, Freddy was no longer scary. Audiences were expecting more laughs and gore rather than terror and suspense. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master is, at least to me, the last decent Freddy sequel. Lisa Wilcox plays Alice Johnson, Freddy’s (Robert Englund) new muse for murderous mayhem.
After Freddy takes out the last of the Elm Street children, it’s through Alice that he finds more victims to slaughter. It’s up to her to take every bit of strength given to her and use it to stop Freddy. It’s a tad on the predictable side, but is visually appealing and the characters are likable. The effects are praiseworthy for its time, and it has an awesome soundtrack.
4. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
Director: Dwight H. Little
10 years after the events of the original, a comatose Michael Myers is set to be transferred to another facility. Miraculously, he comes to and escapes custody, heading back to Haddonfield in search of his niece, Jamie (Danielle Harris). Donald Pleasance reprises his role as Dr. Loomis and Ellie Cornell co-stars as Rachel, Jamie’s stepsister.
Halloween 4 is a fun entry and even has a surprisingly effective theatrical trailer. The performances, especially Danielle Harris’, are impressive for a slasher sequel. Alan B. McElroy’s script often feels like John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s Halloween script in reverse, but the atmosphere, tension and suspense are all its own — and it works to full effect.
5. The Land Before Time
Director: Don Bluth
The Land Before Time is a simple but effective adventure movie. Littlefoot (Gabriel Damon) sets out to find others of his kind at Great Valley after he loses his mother. Going along with him is his best friend, Cera (Candace Hutson). Their adventure proves to be quite the obstacle course, but along the way they learn some lessons all the while making new potential friends.
As far as animated movies go, The Land Before Time is one of the best. It’s every bit as entertaining as The Brave Little Toaster or The Lion King. James Horner masterfully composed the film’s score, adding to both the fantasy and dramatic aspects of it. If you haven’t seen it in years or you have kids of your own now, it’s a fun walk down memory lane that holds up well.
6. My Neighbor Totoro
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
My Neighbor Totoro is a wonderful story about two little girls and their father moving to a new area to be closer to their mother, who is being cared for in a hospital. While they adjust to their new surroundings, they’re visited by spirits. Mei, the youngest daughter, is the first to meet the spirit she calls Totoro.
The story of My Neighbor Totoro goes beyond the typical animated movie silliness by mixing both a realistic, grounded plot with child-like innocence and imagination. It’s funny, heartwarming, and although it does feature some sadder moments, it’s a great movie sure to put you in a good mood. You can watch My Neighbor Totoro at any age and not get bored of it.
7. Elvira: Mistress of the Dark
Director: James Signorelli
Okay, so it’s not Big or Heathers, or Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Still, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is an entertaining piece of cinema history that embraces its B-movie status the same way the titular character (played to perfection by Cassandra Peterson) embraces the B-movies she hosts on her Movie Macabre TV show.
Elvira travels to Massachusetts to pick up her inheritance, where she’s harassed and rejected for her appearance, just as she was at her LA gig. The people judging her believe she’s a threat, when in actuality, someone among them is and she’s the only one ballsy enough to stand up. Not only is Mistress of the Dark funny, there’s actually significance in its simplicity.
8. License to Drive
Director: Greg Beeman
License to Drive tells the story of a daydreamer named Les Anderson (Corey Haim), who wants nothing more than to get his license to impress the girl of his dreams, Mercedes (Heather Graham). Things obviously don’t go as planned and chaos ensues. Along with Mercedes, Les brings his friends, Dean (Corey Feldman) and Charles (Michael Manasseri).
Anyone can identify with the characters in License to Drive, especially Corey Haim’s eager, lovestruck dreamer. It’s a hysterical popcorn movie with plenty of quotable lines and decent acting turns from its young stars. I feel as though License to Drive is underrated as a rite of passage movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, this is my recommendation.
9. The Dead Pool
Director: Buddy Van Horn
The Dead Pool focuses on “Dirty Harry” (Clint Eastwood) being at the center of a celebrity death game that was started by a horror movie director (played by Liam Neeson). A serial killer starts crossing off the list and, as Harry tries piecing things together, he grows closer to a TV journalist named Samantha (Patricia Clarkson).
The Dead Pool works as a whodunnit more than a typical cop drama, and its strong point is either its more comedic moments or the tension it builds, specifically in the third act. Beyond shoot-outs and chase scenes, it does touch on obsession, mental illness, and sensationalism. It’s a neat action movie with a good cast and a decent story, nothing more, nothing less.
10. Die Hard
Director: John McTiernan
Bruce Willis plays John McClane, a cop from New York City who goes to L.A. to spend the holiday with his wife (Bonnie Bedelia) at her employer’s Christmas party. The Nakatomi plaza is taken hostage by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman in his first movie) and his team of terrorists, who plan to open the vault and steal bearer bonds.
Whether or not you consider it a Christmas movie doesn’t matter. Die Hard is entertaining no matter when or how many times you watch it. Reginald VelJohnson is great in his supporting role as Sgt. Powell. Part of what makes Die Hard so good is that the villain is every bit as entertaining as the hero.
1988 was a pretty awesome year for movies, right? Each genre has a lot more to offer than what’s listed above, but as far as stand-outs go, these hold up fairly well. Comment below and tell us some of your favorites.
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