Greatest Films of the 1980s
Greatest Films of the 1980s


Greatest Films of the 1980s
1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989

1981

An American Werewolf in London (1981, US/UK), 97 minutes, D: John Landis
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Arthur (1981), 117 minutes, D: Steve Gordon
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Atlantic City (1981), 104 minutes, D: Louis Malle
French director Louis Malle's tense, unsentimental, evocative and bleak character study was about an aging, has-been, small-time hood and numbers-runner named Lou Pascal (Burt Lancaster at age 68) who lived in the gray, depressing Atlantic City boardwalk area. Threatened to be put out of business by the casinos, he's forced to be the kept man of a miserly and abusive aging beauty queen - a feisty, broken-down gangster's widow named Grace Pinza (Kate Reid). His only source of escape and pleasure is secretively watching his neighbor - a younger, cynical clam-bar waitress named Sally Matthews (Susan Sarandon), who performs a sexy lemon-wash of herself at her window within his apartment's view. She aspires to become a blackjack dealer/croupier in one of the more glamorous resort casinos in Monte Carlo. Their lives are turned upside-down when Sally's deceitful, estranged husband Dave (Robert Joy) and her eight-months pregnant sister Chrissie (Hollis McLaren) show up on Sally's doorstep to sell a stolen shipment of high-quality cocaine. Lou befriends all three and promises he can sell the drugs due to his connections with the underworld. When Dave gets killed by the former owners of the drugs in the Philadelphia mob, Lou is able to keep the stash to himself as a financial windfall. He finally gets to play the role of his vain dreams as a big-time, respected, confident gangster, however illusory and dangerous, and is able to woo and show lavish generosity toward Sally as her self-appointed protector. After killing two gangland hoods to protect her, he admits his life was exaggerated up until then: "I never killed anybody in my life...But I did tonight", and he gleefully watches the report of the murders on the TV news: "Hey, that's me!...This story is going to be big all over the country: 'Gangland slaying rips apart Atlantic City!'" In the final sequence, Lou makes a final promenade down the Boardwalk with Grace - with a panning shot up to a view of a wrecker's ball smashing into an apartment before the closing credits.

Blow Out (1981), 107 minutes, D: Brian De Palma
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Body Heat (1981), 113 minutes, D: Lawrence Kasdan
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Chariots of Fire (1981, UK), 123 minutes, D: Hugh Hudson
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Das Boot (1981, W. Germ.) (aka The Boat), 145 minutes, D: Wolfgang Petersen
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The Evil Dead (1981), 85 minutes, D: Sam Raimi
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Gallipoli (1981, Australia), 110 minutes, D: Peter Weir
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Gregory's Girl (1981, UK), 91 minutes, D: Bill Forsyth
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Mad Max 2 (1981, Aust.) (aka The Road Warrior (1982)), 94 minutes, D: George Miller
Writer/director George Miller's imaginative, post-apocalyptic action sci-fi (western) film about a burned-out, ex-cop named "Mad" Max (Mel Gibson in a star-making role) (his last name from the first film in the trilogy, Rockatansky, is never uttered). In this comic book-styled B-film, the road warrior wanders the barren, lawless highways of an Australian outback wasteland in his black interceptor along with his dog. Living only to survive while dealing with anarchic crazies and violent road gangs, his main mission in life is to acquire enough precious petrol to keep nomadic. He agrees to help save a besieged, oil-producing colony (established as a small fuel depot at a refinery) from a crazed, marauding wasteland warlord, the evil Humungus (Kjell Nilsson), by promising to help the refugee community of survivors with a rush for the coast in a tanker-truck in exchange for gas. The entire film has the same formula as The Magnificent Seven (1960) or a Sergio Leone 'spaghetti western', with Gibson providing the Clint Eastwood "Man With No Name" legendary hero - or anti-hero role. This film is best known for its non-stop car action and amazing stuntwork in its dazzling climax, as well as its stark, naturalistic depiction of a post-apocalyptic future that nearly every film has imitated ever since. This sequel film, superior to the original film - an even darker revenge film Mad Max (1979), was followed by a nuclear post-apocalyptic sequel, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), memorably featuring a co-starring role by rock star Tina Turner.

My Dinner with Andre (1981), 110 minutes, D: Louis Malle
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On Golden Pond (1981), 109 minutes, D: Mark Rydell
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Ragtime (1981), 155 minutes, D: Milos Forman
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Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), 115 minutes, D: Steven Spielberg
Spielberg's thrilling, entertaining homage to 1930's cliff-hanging adventure serials/films at Saturday matinees. One of the greatest action films ever made - led to a trilogy. Mid-1930s, pre-WWII comic-bookish, globe-trotting, bull-whip toting adventurer/archaeologist Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) searches for rare antiquities. The film's opening sequence is a white-knuckled experience in a South American rainforest and cave with poisonous darts and a threatening boulder. In a race with the Nazis, dashing Dr. Jones is enlisted to locate the Biblical Ark of the Covenant before the evil agents of Hitler use its powers to win the war. From Nepal to Cairo, the self-effacing hero is aided by tough, hard-drinking, spunky and feisty ex-girlfriend Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), as he escapes one life-threatening situation, fight, scrape, and chase after another - especially venomous snakes and the mysterious wrath of God in its finale. Followed by three sequels: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).

Reds (1981), 200 minutes, D: Warren Beatty
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