Teen-Oriented Angst Films and the Dawn of the Sequel, with More Blockbusters
Film History of the 1980s
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6
Film History by Decade
Index | Pre-1920s | 1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s
1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s | 2010s
Other Films with Military Themes:
Although the much-publicized Annie (1982) by renowned director John Huston failed, other non-traditional dance musicals flourished:
The Rise of Independent and Non-Hollywood Films:
Independent (or "indies") films made by various directors and writers provided uncompromising, low-budget, original visions of reality outside the studio system, following in the tradition of the first wave of independents by John Cassavetes in the 60s. Innovative films included Jim Jarmusch's acclaimed minimalist road-film comedy Stranger Than Paradise (1984) (that won the Camera d'Or at Cannes in 1984) and another odyssey film of three escaped prisoners entitled Down By Law (1986). Camp director John Waters' Polyester (1981) included smelly Odorama; he also directed Hairspray (1988).
Writer/director David Lynch made some of his best films in the 80s. His brilliant but disturbing Blue Velvet (1986) starred Dennis Hopper who revitalized his acting career in the repulsive role as the villainous, sadistic, and blackmailing Frank Booth toward a brutalized Isabella Rossellini. The unique film visualized the repulsive and twisted horrors that lurked behind ordinary small-town life - all stemming from the mysterious discovery of a severed human ear in a field by a naive college student.
Director Stuart Gordon's outrageous H.P. Lovecraft adaptation Re-Animator (1985) contained gore and demented black humor. German film-maker Wim Wenders directed the haunting Paris, Texas (1984) with Nastassja Kinski (as a lost wife working in a peep-show behind a one-way window) and Harry Dean Stanton as wandering husband Travis (on an obsessive quest to piece together his family) in an impressive Sam Shepard adaptation. The non-linear film included a Ry Cooder soundtrack, and an impressive opening credits sequence in the desert.
Maverick filmmaker Jonathan Demme (noted for The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Philadelphia (1993) in the next decade) began his career as a B-movie director/writer and trainee under Roger Corman, and had a number of cult classics in the 80s, including: Melvin and Howard (1980), the concert documentary Stop Making Sense (1984) about the Talking Heads with singer/guitarist David Byrne, Swing Shift (1984), Something Wild (1986), Swimming to Cambodia (1987), and Married to the Mob (1988).
The first feature film from independents Ethan Coen (producer) and Joel Coen (director) - the complex, suspenseful Gothic, film noir thriller Blood Simple (1984) was just the beginning of their many off-beat, dark-edged films - this one featured the screen debut of Coen regular Frances McDormand. It was a tale of murder, mis-read motives, a premature burial, plot twists, and a gruesomely-impaled hand (belonging to vile private eye M. Emmet Walsh). The black comedy won the Grand Jury Prize at the newly-created Sundance Film Festival. Raising Arizona (1987) was next - an original, contemporary screwball comedy-farce about the kidnapping of a baby (one of the Arizona quintuplets) by a childless couple (Holly Hunter and Nicolas Cage).
Through his independent Zoetrope Studios, Francis Ford Coppola financed the exorbitantly-expensive and experimental One From the Heart (1982), a romantic musical set in Las Vegas. The stylized film was innovatively shot entirely on videotape within the controlled environment of the studio. And writer/director Michael Moore's iconoclastic documentary Roger & Me (1989), an expose about the disastrous effects of the closing of a General Motors plant (headed by CEO Roger Smith) on Flint, Michigan, earned almost $8 million - the highest ever earned for its genre.
Independent Film-Maker Steven Soderbergh:
Versatile independent film-maker/writer-director Steven Soderbergh's low-budget, minimalist, character-driven debut film was sex, lies and videotape (1989). The film featured four New Orleans characters without obvious sexual activity or nudity: a childless married couple (Peter Gallagher and Andie MacDowell in her first major screen appearance), the wife's adulterous sister (Laura San Giacomo), and a high-school friend (James Spader) of the husband who 'voyeuristically' videotapes the women talking about their sex lives.
Its premiere at Robert Redford's 1989 Sundance Film Festival captured everyone's attention and helped to encourage the production of other thought-provoking indies. It was the winner of the top prize (Palme d'Or) at the Cannes Film Festival, and went on to be a commercial and critical success. [Although Soderbergh would continue making various films in the next decade, his breakthrough came in 2000 with two more mainstream films: Erin Brockovich (2000) and Traffic (2000).]
Spike Lee and John Singleton:
Black movie-making emerged in a stronger state in the mid-80s, with films from independent film writer-director-star Spike Lee:
24 year-old John Singleton would soon join Spike Lee as an influential black moviemaker in the early 90s with his debut film - the coming-of-age drama Boyz 'N the Hood (1991), one of the highest-grossing films ($57 million) ever directed by an African-American. With his film, Singleton became the youngest nominee for Best Director in Academy history, and the first African-American to be nominated as Best Director.
Writer/director/actor John Sayles first won acclaim for the low-budget Return of the Secaucus 7 (1980) about a weekend reunion of college friends (a precursor of The Big Chill (1983)) and then directed the independent The Brother From Another Planet (1984), an E.T-like urban fable about a black space alien-fugitive pursued in Harlem by white bounty hunters. His historical drama Matewan (1987) told the true-life story of exploited 1920s coal miners in Matewan West Virginia, and Passion Fish (1992) was a more intimate character study of the physical and spiritual healing of a paralyzed soap opera star in her Louisiana bayou hometown.
One notable milestone in the 1980s and early 1990s was that women producers and directors were beginning to emerge within the male-dominated film industry:
Re-Runs of Previous TV Material:
Hollywood studios turned for script material to vintage 50s TV series:
Brian De Palma:
In the 80s, De Palma was also credited with many sensational, Hitchcock-like thrillers:
PG-13 Ratings Debut, and R-Rated, Adult-Oriented Features:
For most of the 70s and part of the early 1980s, the increase in violent movies, horror films, and slasher films (with an increase in depictions of violence toward women) encouraged Jack Valenti, the president of the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) to finally take action. The MPAA created a new ratings category between R and PG known as PG-13. It issued its first PG-13 rating (after the inappropriately PG-rated Poltergeist (1982) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) from Spielberg for its heart-ripping sequence) for right-wing writer/director John Milius' Red Dawn (1984), an imaginative tale reflecting fears of a Russo-Cuban invasion of the American heartland. By 1986, a rating of PG was automatically given to films with swearing and narcotics use.
Paul Mazursky's R-rated Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), with Nick Nolte as a homeless person (similar in character to Spielberg's alien E.T.) befriended by a filthy rich Beverly Hills couple, was noted for being Disney's (under the name of its adult-oriented subsidiary Touchstone Films) first film to use the 'F' word. Jack Nicholson was diabolical as Daryl Van Horne in the R-rated black comedy fantasy The Witches of Eastwick (1987), seductive with Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer. The biographical R-rated romantic drama Sid and Nancy (1986) was a story of punk rock, heroin addiction, infatuation and doomed love between Sex Pistols' singer Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) and groupie Nancy (Chloe Webb).
There were a few adventurous American films, with R ratings, that were specifically aimed at adult audiences. As the decade was just about to dawn, Richard Gere bared all (one of the first instances of a male star appearing nude) as a high-living, convertible-driving gigolo in director Paul Schrader's American Gigolo (1980), accompanied by Blondie's song "Call Me." Director Ken Russell's erotic thriller Crimes of Passion (1984) starred Kathleen Turner as prostitute China Blue and Anthony Perkins as an obsessive preacher.
Reflecting the Puritan morality of the late 80s, however, and inspiring many talk-shows on its issues of marital infidelity and the dangers of dating, was Adrian Lyne's follow-up film to Flashdance (1983) - Fatal Attraction (1987), a suspenseful, melodramatic, erotic thriller about one-night stands, sexual games, and obsessive love (with Glenn Close as Alex Forrest - a murderous jilted, stalking woman). Its crowd-pleasing ending was determined by focus groups and preview audiences and substituted for the original version found in the script and filmed earlier. Sex was served up very hot, kinky and steamy in Lyne's next film - 9 1/2 Weeks (1986) with Wall Street executive Mickey Rourke serving up sensual foods into art gallery worker Kim Basinger's upturned mouth to the tune of Bryan Ferry's "Slave to Love."
Revival of Film Noir with Neo-Noir Films:
Dark, shadowy scenes, deadly females, and menacing circumstances were brought back in modern, revisionistic film noirs in this decade. Lawrence Kasdan's first film was the steamy, modern-day Floridian, 40's style film noir Body Heat (1981) (with Kathleen Turner in a sexy screen debut) - based upon the plot-lines of Double Indemnity (1944) with William Hurt as the sexually-horny lawyer duped by a rich, gorgeous trophy wife. Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson instilled heavy sex in the kitchen into Bob Rafelson's lackluster remake of the 1946 classic film noir The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981).
Taylor Hackford's Against All Odds (1984) attempted to loosely remake the classic Out of the Past (1947) with Rachel Ward as spoiled heroine Jessie (the Jane Greer role), Jeff Bridges as ex-football star Terry Brogan (the Robert Mitchum role), and James Woods as gambler/businessman Jake (the Kirk Douglas role). Cast members from the original film in the remake included Jane Greer (now as the mother), and Paul Valentine (as a two-bit hood in the original, but now as Councilman Weinberg). The Coens' Blood Simple (1984) featured sleazy characters, an endless murder scene, and double-crosses - all characteristics of classic film noir.
Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa (1986), set in a depraved London, was a gritty tale about a high-priced call girl (Cathy Tyson) and her ex-con chauffeur-bodyguard (Bob Hoskins). Alan Parker's occult post-noir Angel Heart (1987) (originally X-rated) featured a seedy private detective's (Mickey Rourke) search for a missing singer in New Orleans for a devilish client Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) and involved voodoo, corruption, devilish circumstances - and an infamous sex scene (restored on unrated video/DVD releases) between Rourke and The Cosby Show star Lisa Bonet.
Writer/director David Mamet's moody House of Games (1987) dealt with the surreal world of con artists and their victims. The first film appearance of serial killer Hannibal Lecter (later appearing in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Ridley Scott's Hannibal (2001)) was in Michael Mann's thriller Manhunter (1986). Jim McBride's erotic crime noir The Big Easy (1987) featured Cajun music and a slick detective's (Dennis Quaid) murder investigation and romance with a repressed DA (Ellen Barkin). Ridley Scott directed the visually-compelling top-notch romantic crime thriller Someone to Watch Over Me (1987), while Roger Donaldson's No Way Out (1987) was based on John Farrow's classic The Big Clock (1948). Al Pacino played a New York police detective who fell for one of his suspects (Ellen Barkin) - a potential serial killer in the tense Sea of Love (1989).
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6