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


Title Screen Film Genre(s), Title, Year, (Country), Length, Director, Description

Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987, Fr./W.Germ./It.) (aka Goodbye Children), 103 minutes, D: Louis Malle

Babette's Feast (1987, Denmark) (aka Babettes Gæstebud), 102 minutes, D: Gabriel Axel

The Big Easy (1987), 108 minutes, D: Jim McBride

Broadcast News (1987), 131 minutes, D: James L. Brooks

The Dead (1987, UK), 83 minutes, D: John Huston

Dirty Dancing (1987), 105 minutes, D: Emile Ardolino

Evil Dead 2 (1987) (aka Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn), 84 minutes, D: Sam Raimi
An exceptionally well-done sequel, a horror parody with an intense kinetic tone and quick edits, including incredible special effects, including stop-motion animation, reverse motion, lengthy tracking shots. This gruesomely funny, zany horror film 'remake' or sequel retold (or recapped) what occurred in the first film, in the film's opening. At the remote Tennessee cabin, incantations again unleased demonic forces from the dark woods outside, zombifying Ash Williams' (Bruce Campbell) girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) and nearly possessing him as well. After beheading and burying her, she was reanimated and her headless body attacked with a chainsaw. When his right hand was bitten, it became an evil body part and needed to be amputated - with the chainsaw. New arrivals at the cabin included the professor's daughter Annie (Sarah Berry), her partner Ed Getley (Richard Domeier), and other local rednecks - which led to more confrontations and possessions. Eventually, all of the characters were killed except Ash, who had clamped the chainsaw to his severed wrist and twirled a sawed-off shotgun into his backside-holster (and then exclaimed: "Groovy!"). Ash was sucked and propelled into a whirling portal or rift, along with his '88 Oldsmobile and other objects, into a time-travel journey to the Middle-Ages, ca 1300s - a set-up for the third film. This was the second of three Evil Dead films in a trilogy, from 1981-1992.

Fatal Attraction (1987), 119 minutes, D: Adrian Lyne

Full Metal Jacket (1987), 116 minutes, D: Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick's thought-provoking Vietnam War film was partly based on Gustav Hasford's 1979 book The Short Timers, and followed in the footsteps of Kubrick's other anti-war films: Paths of Glory (1957) and Dr. Strangelove, Or: (1964). This was Kubrick's first film after The Shining (1980), and it made an underappreciated appearance the year after Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986) won Best Picture. Kubrick's film was unsuccessful at the box office -- lost in the spate of mostly Vietnam-related war films that came out in Platoon's wake, including Heartbreak Ridge (1986) (about the invasion of Grenada), Hamburger Hill (1987), The Hanoi Hilton (1987), Casualties of War (1989), 84 Charlie Mopic (1989), and Born on the Fourth of July (1989). A two-part drama, the first part of the film takes place at Parris Island training-boot camp in S. Carolina (although the entire film was shot in England), where drill instructor Gunnery Sgt. Hartman (R. Lee Ermey, a former, real life Marine sergeant) transforms young Marine cadets into killing machines with twisted sentiments, and verbal, psychological, and physical abuse and torment. The first half climaxes with a chilling, dehumanizing bathroom scene between Hartman, Private Leonard Lawrence (dubbed "Gomer Pyle") (Vincent D'Onofrio) - an overweight, misfit cadet driven insane by Hartman's bullying, and Private J.T. Davis (dubbed "Joker") (Matthew Modine), who is caught between them. "Joker," a cynical Stars & Stripes military correspondent/journalist, is the bridge to the second half of the film on the nightmarish, violent front lines within Hue City - a cool, unemotional look at urban warfare on the eve of the 1968 Tet Offensive at the turning point of the war.

Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), 121 minutes, D: Barry Levinson
The late Robin Williams starred as irreverent, non-conformist and antagonistic Air Forces Radio disk jockey Adrian Cronauer who boosted GI morale in Barry Levinson's war comedy, with manic commentary and straight-forward news from Saigon in 1965 (his signature line: "Gooooooooood Morning, Vietnam!"). His early morning, fast-talking, unpredictable mouth, spewing anti-establishment one-liners, predictably alienated other superior officers. During his pursuit of a local Vietnamese girl as a love interest and a friendship with her little brother, he refused to racially stereotype them as "the enemy."

Hope and Glory (1987, UK), 113 minutes, D: John Boorman

House of Games (1987), 102 minutes, D: David Mamet

The Last Emperor (1987, UK/It./China/HK), 160 minutes, D: Bernardo Bertolucci
One of the most successful films ever, Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci's lavish epic biography of Pu Yi, the last emperor of the Qing dynasty of China (the "Lord of ten thousand years and Son of Heaven") before the Communist revolution deposed him. Based in part on Pu Yi's autobiography, From Emperor to Citizen, Bertolucci garnered unprecedented support and permission from the Chinese government, something no other Western film company had received since 1949. This was the first film ever to be shot in the Forbidden City in the People's Republic of China, aside from the Lucy Jarvis documentary Forbidden City (1973). The grand, sweeping, character-driven story, a Best Picture-winner, told through flashbacks, follows the bittersweet life of the boy emperor born in 1906, who first sat in the Dragon Throne at the age of three -- memorably depicted by the imagery of the scene in which the restless young boy leaps up and pushes away a billowing yellow drapery - and sees thousands of his loyal costumed eunuch-servants bowing before him. He was literally a puppet - imprisoned within the gilded walls of the Forbidden City, and never allowed to leave its gates. In 1912, at the age of 7, he formally abdicated the throne, and remained a powerless figurehead Emperor, receiving tutoring from Scottish Reginald Johnston (Peter O'Toole) in the ways of the West. In 1924 during a period of civil war, he was ousted from the Forbidden City (along with his opium-addicted empress Wan Jung (Joan Chen) and official consort Wen Hsiu (Mei)) and moved to his native, Japanese-controlled Manchuria, where he served as a puppet emperor backed by the Japanese. After World War II, he was held prisoner as a pro-Japanese war criminal - first by the Russians, and then by the Communist Chinese for ten years, until being freed at the dawn of the Cultural Revolution. In one of the film's most memorable scenes, as a dispassionate young adult (John Lone), Pu Yi wears Western clothes and wistfully croons "Am I Blue" - a silent cry for salvation from his boredom and entrapment. By film's end, his new life as a lowly gardener in Peking in the late 1960s is finally happy and free, and in a poignant scene as an elderly man, he revisits the Forbidden City, now open to tourists. One of the few films that won all of its Academy Award nominations.

Lethal Weapon (1987), 110 minutes, D: Richard Donner
See Lethal Weapon film series.

Moonstruck (1987), 102 minutes, D: Norman Jewison
Cher won an Oscar for her role as a cynical widow in this romantic comedy. She was "moonstruck" by a hot-headed baker (Nicolas Cage). Famous for her quote: "Snap out of it."

No Way Out (1987), 115 minutes, D: Ronald Donaldson

Nuts (1987), 116 minutes, D: Martin Ritt
High-class prostitute Claudia Draper (Barbra Streisand) was on trial for first-degree manslaughter, although she had acted in self-defense against one of her abusive clients Allen Green (Leslie Nielsen) (seen in flashback). The main issue in this serious, issue-oriented dramatic thriller was whether the hostile, troubled, uncooperative and disruptive defendant was mentally competent to stand trial. She wanted to be tried, but her parents, mother Rose and stepfather Arthur Kirk (Maureen Stapleton and Karl Malden), to avoid scandal, wanted Claudia to be declared "nuts" and committed for psychiatric treatment (probably indefinitely). They had hired high-priced WASP lawyer Clarence Middleton (William Prince), but he quit after Claudia punched him in the face. Crusty Judge Stanley Murdoch (James Whitmore) then assigned white-haired and bearded public defender Aaron Levinsky (Richard Dreyfuss) to take the case - he was also treated to heavy doses of Claudia's belligerent abuse, tauntings, and suspicions. In the case, Bellevue Hospital pedantic psychiatrist Dr. Herbert Morrison (Eli Wallach) believed that Draper needed to be institutionalized for her anti-social tendencies. The prosecutor was Frances MacMillan (Robert Webber). A competency hearing was held in a closed courtroom, before Judge Murdoch. Draper refused to be silent, interrupted the proceedings continually, and wouldn't obey the Judge. Both of Claudia's parents stated that their daughter needed to be treated rather than subjected to a trial. During cross-examination, Levinsky was able to procure a damning confession from Mr. Kirk - he was guilty of incest against Claudia, bathing her even up until she was 16 years of age. This revelation helped to explain how the bright, upper-class, white girl Claudia chose to become a hooker. Draper took the stand and testified on her own behalf, and admitted how she chose to make a responsible living as a high-priced call girl: "You think giving blow jobs for $500 is nuts, huh? Well, I know women who marry men they despise so they can drive a Mercedes and spend summers in the Hamptons. I know women who crawl through s--t for a fur coat. I know women who peddle their daughters to hang on to their husbands. So don’t judge my blow jobs, they’re sane. I know what I was doing every god damned minute and I’m responsible for it." She pleaded with the Judge to allow her to be tried, and judged for her own actions. She refused to be examined by another psychiatrist. Murdoch eventually caved in, and allowed her to be released from custody in order to stand trial for manslaughter. In a short epilogue, Draper was found not guilty through the efforts of crusading Levinsky. Psychiatrist Dr. Morrison resigned from his position.

Pelle The Conqueror (1987, Denm./Swe.) (aka Pelle Erobreren), 157 minutes, D: Bille August

Predator (1987), 107 minutes, D: John McTiernan
Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared in director John McTiernan's macho-oriented action flick as a battle-hardened, cigar-chomping soldier named Maj. Alan "Dutch" Schaefer. He was a one-man killing machine in the face of his slashing foe - an extra-terrestrial hunter-predator (enhanced with Stan Winston's special effects) with thermal infra-red vision. The brawny and lean Dutch was joined by Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, and other special-forces commandos who navigated a treacherous Central American jungle while being stalked by the alien nemesis who was only gradually revealed. Predator's manly characters spouted cheesy but memorable dialogue ("I ain't got time to bleed" or "Get to the choppa!" or "If it bleeds, we can kill it"). The film's nearly wordless final half-hour was pure macho Arnold, who had outlived the rest of the film's cast of tough guys, and covered himself in mud for a outwit-outlast showdown with the titular beast.

The Princess Bride (1987), 98 minutes, D: Rob Reiner
Rob Reiner's popular romantic comedy was framed as a classic fairy-tale bedtime story read to a sick little boy (Fred Savage) by his kind grandfather (Peter Falk). The doubting, romance-averse, cynical grandson didn't believe in all of the fanciful characters and motifs (but was won over at the end). At the heart of the romance in the kingdom of Florin was blonde princess heroine Buttercup (Robin Wright) and her true love, farm-boy turned pirate Westley (Cary Elwes). However, she reluctantly married a sinister Prince (Chris Sarandon) after being kidnapped by a threesome: wicked criminal mastermind Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), a giant (wrestling legend Andre the Giant), and swashbuckling Spaniard Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin). The latter was seeking revenge against the 6-fingered Count Rugen (Christopher Guest) who killed his father ("Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die"). Action and intrigue were provided by frequent swordplay and dueling scenes, a fire swamp with large rodents, and screaming eels. And last but not least, there were hilarious cameos by Billy Crystal (as life-restoring wizard Miracle Max) and Carol Kane (as his crone wife Valerie).

Radio Days (1987), 96 minutes, D: Woody Allen

Raising Arizona (1987), 94 minutes, D: Joel Coen

Red Sorghum (1987, China) (aka Hong gao liang), 91 minutes, D: Yimou Zhang

RoboCop (1987), 103 minutes, D: Paul Verhoeven

Suspect (1987), 121 minutes, D: Peter Yates
In this mystery thriller, in the opening sequence, US Supreme Court Justice Lowell (Thomas Barbour) made a tape recording, gave a secretary a thick envelope, and then suicidally shot himself in the mouth. Shortly later, Justice Department file clerk Elizabeth Quinn (Katie O'Hare) was also found dead (with her throat cut) and floating in the Potomac River. Derelict, homeless, fierce-looking, bearded Vietnam-Vet Carl Wayne Anderson (Liam Neeson), a deaf mute, was arrested for the crime. He was in possession of a knife and her purse/wallet (with only $9), and had been found sleeping in Quinn's unlocked parked car the night of her murder, in order to keep warm. Burned-out, dedicated D.C. public defender Kathleen Riley (Cher) was assigned to defend Anderson, who could only communicate through writing. He claimed he saw Quinn only after she was dead. He claimed another man with tattoos named Michael (Paul D'Amato) might also be a suspect. The case was to be prosecuted by Charlie Stella (Joe Mantegna), while presiding over the case was Judge Matthew Bishop Helms (John Mahoney). Riley only needed to prove that there was 'reasonable doubt' that Anderson was guilty.
The prosecutor claimed that when Quinn returned to her car, Anderson robbed and then killed her. Riley denied that he had committed the murder. The defense was bolstered when one of the jurors, Washington DC milk producer lobbyist, slick Eddie Sanger (Dennis Quaid), conducting his own discreet (and unethical) investigation into the killing, was collecting evidence, providing anonymous clues, and helping defender Riley with legal research - without the Judge becoming suspicious of jury tampering. She was able to have the case's doctor admit that the killer was right-handed, due to the nature of the stab wound. She clearly demonstrated to the court that Anderson was left-handed. With Quinn's filing cabinet key, Riley and Sanger broke into her files, and learned she had been transcribing trial transcripts from federal cases in 1968. In Quinn's car, Riley also found an audiocassette left in her tape deck - it contained the last confessional words of Justice Lowell as he described a 1968 case in which he (and others) had conspired to accept bribes (an important judicial appointment) in order to dismiss the prosecution's charges against a gangster named Cook. [Note: The 1968 prosecutor was presumed to be Deputy Attorney General Paul Gray (Philip Bosco). It was possible that Gray murdered Quinn when she notified him of the impropriety. This was the film's red herring, however.] It was soon revealed in the 'it-came-from-left-field' ending that Judge Helms, not Gray, was the 1968 prosecutor in the fixed case. When Quinn approached Judge Lowell with her evidence, Lowell committed suicide. But when she confronted Judge Helms, he murdered her, to prevent her whistle-blowing from hurting his chances of a promotion. Helms' bleeding right wrist, caused when Riley sliced the wrist of an unknown assailant in a dark basement the day before, also gave him away.

3 Men and a Baby (1987) (aka Three Men and a Baby), 102 minutes, D: Leonard Nimoy

The Untouchables (1987), 119 minutes, D: Brian De Palma

Wall Street (1987), 126 minutes, D: Oliver Stone

Wings of Desire (1987, W. Ger/Fr.), 130 minutes, D: Wim Wenders
Director/co-writer Wim Wenders' romantic, visually-affecting and whimsical fantasy was a meditative fable about two earthbound, heavy flannel coat-wearing angels Damiel and Cassiel (Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander), who dwelt in post-war West Berlin. They watched over the lives of others, in the divided, traumatized, pre-unified Berlin toward the end of the Cold War. The director and cinematographer Henri Alekan made extensive use of the prominent landmarks of the city and its architecture with sweeping panning shots, although the Wall itself was reconstructed in a studio. Two Berlins were displayed - a transcendental plane above where angels dwelt, and the drab earthly, physical city of streets and buildings below. In many profound scenes, the two guardians (invisible to people) observed and listened in -without judgment - to the thoughts and wishes of wounded souls of Germany's bisected capital city, including commuting subway passengers and library patrons of differing nationalities. A dilemma arose when discontented Damiel, tired of overseeing human activity from his elevated aerial perch on the Berlin Victory Column, expressed his wish to join the earthly world after he fell in love with a mortal - lonely circus trapeze acrobat Marion (Solveig Dommartin) who conversely wished to be immortal. Damiel's urges became stronger when an American movie star (Peter Falk), an ex-angel, tempted him with tactile and sensory sensations (coffee, cigarettes, the feel of cold on one's hands, etc.). The American remake City of Angels (1998) with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan lacked the imaginative, magical spark of the original German classic.

Withnail & I (1987, UK), 108 minutes, D: Bruce Robinson

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