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

Back to the Future (1985), 116 minutes, D: Robert Zemeckis
See series: Back to the Future (1985-1990).

Brazil (1985, UK), 131 minutes, D: Terry Gilliam
Director Terry Gilliam's eccentric, offbeat, satirical ultra-dark comedy was a hybrid work, combining science-fiction, despairing ultra-black comedy and fantasy. It told about an oppressive and repressive, polluted, decaying future dystopian world of conformity, bureaucracy and Big Brother totalitarianism in a terrorist-threatened Londonesque metropolis. There were many visually-imaginative references to Kafka's The Trial (and Orson Welles' The Trial (1962)), Orwell's 1949 novel 1984 (and Michael Radford's 1984 (1984)), and Anthony Burgess' 1962 A Clockwork Orange (and Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971)). It had other similarities to Fritz Lang's mechanized society in Metropolis (1927), Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove: (1964), and the 'book-burning' of Fahrenheit 451 (1966). Mild-mannered and meek bureaucratic statistician Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), a low-ranking civil servant Everyman, worked in the regulatory Ministry of Information (MOI), jammed with paperwork and filled with endless pneumatic tubes and ill-functioning equipment. When a literal beetle was squashed in an office teletype printer and caused a typographical error that altered an arrest record, it unjustly identified an innocent citizen Mr. Archibald Buttle as suspected terrorist Archibald "Harry" Tuttle (Robert DeNiro). When Lowry investigated the case of mistaken identity (and the wrongful arrest and death of Buttle) and attempted to unravel it, he imagined himself as a lone heroic, silver-winged warrior knight-savior combating evil (ultimately embodied in the technological threats of the Machine Age). He would fly in the clouds toward a blonde fantasy-dream girl (Kim Griest), a doppelganger (a truck driver in the real world named Jill Layton (also Griest)) to rescue her and win her love. Jill's desire to help Mrs. Buttle sort out the error and find the real Mr. Buttle caused her to become regarded as a suspected terrorist and political dissident. Meanwhile, the self-deluded Sam became the subject of study by the totalitarian regime. His vain efforts to clear Jill's name ended when he was wrongly aligned with the rebellion, and his friend-turned-sinister MOI official Jack Lint (Michael Palin) arrested him for treason. He was detained in a large cylindrical room to be persecuted and tortured. A surrealistic fantasy ultimately saved him when he imagined himself escaping with the help of Tuttle and other resistance members, and leaving the city with Jill - in a happy ending - to an illusory idyllic paradise that was free of societal restrictions. However, it was all a delusional dream while he was strapped to a torture chair - and he died (as he hummed the film's theme song - Ary Barroso's "Aquarela do Brasil" or "Brazil").

The Breakfast Club (1985), 92 minutes, D: John Hughes

Cocoon (1985), 117 minutes, D: Ron Howard

The Color Purple (1985), 152 minutes, D: Steven Spielberg
This masterful, sentimental and moving period drama, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker, marked a major change from Spielberg's previous spate of escapist summer blockbusters. It garnered eleven Oscar nominations, although it suffered a record shut-out. It followed the survival story of an African-American woman in the early 1900s, Celie Harris (Whoopi Goldberg), against the forces of loneliness, poverty, and physical and emotional abuse. She was transformed into a life of courage and self-realization through the love, friendship, and guidance of two other females, her brutal husband's mistress Shug Avery (Margaret Avery) and outspoken Sofia (Oprah Winfrey).

Day of the Dead (1985), 103/96 minutes, D. George A. Romero
Part 3 of Romero's original zombie trilogy. This third film was regarded as the most dialogue rich and the goriest in the original trilogy. The film cleverly set the genre on its head again, showing how the living dead were misunderstood and oppressed. With the character of semi-intelligent, humanized zombie "Bub" (Sherman Howard). Although not well received originally - and the lowest-grossing film of the three - it has since become a cult classic after revisionist thinking. In this sci-fi disaster film, 'undead' flesh-eating zombies had taken over the world (at a ratio of 400K to 1). Human survivors, including two competing groups: mad scientists (experimenting on hostile, specimen zombies) and the military (trigger-happy soldiers), were trapped inside a claustrophobic, underground missile silo installation, located in Florida. Fascistic, megalomaniac Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) was in charge. In an era of Reaganite militaristic politics obsessed with science, this claustrophobic tale told of sadistic experiments performed on zombies in a subterranean bunker. Dr. Matthew Logan (Richard Liberty), known as "Frankenstein," was experimenting with the domestication of zombies, while scientist Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille) was struggling to find a cure for the apocalyptic plague and epidemic of undead swarming throughout the country. Its climax was non-stop dismemberment, disembowelment, and beheadings, as the zombies took over the complex. Rhodes was ripped apart at the waist by the undead creatures. He defiantly yelled out with his intestines exposed: "Choke on 'em!"

The Emerald Forest (1985, UK/US), 113 minutes, D: John Boorman

The Goonies (1985), 114 minutes, D: Richard Donner

Jagged Edge (1985), 108 minutes, D: Richard Marquand
This early Joe Eszterhas-penned courtroom thriller and mystery 'who-dun-it' contained a number of unpredictable surprises and twists. In the film's opening, set during a thunderstorm in San Francisco at a remote beach house, wealthy socialite/heiress Mrs. Paige Forrester (Maria Mayenzet) was murdered by a hooded, unidentified attacker (with a ski mask and black leather clothing) who wielded a jagged-edged knife blade and slit her throat. The word "Bitch" was scrawled in blood on the bedroom wall. A maid was also killed (off-screen), and her husband Jack Forrester (Jeff Bridges) also suffered a head wound. However, Jack became a prime suspect and was arrested on charges of double homicide after prosecutor Thomas Krasny (Peter Coyote) learned that he was to inherit his wife's entire SF Times publishing empire fortune. Forrester was also suspected when a jagged hunting knife was seen in his country club gym locker (# 122) by janitor Fabrizi (Louis Giambalvo). Ex-prosecutor and civil rights litigator with a high success rate, Teddy Barnes (Glenn Close), a divorced mother with two children, agreed to defend Forrester when a lie detector test proved positive. Things became much more complicated when Teddy began a passionate affair with her handsome client. During the case preparations, Krasny suspected that Jack's head wound was self-inflicted. Barnes' office began to receive anonymous typewritten notes (from a 1942 Corona typewriter), including clues about the case, and statements that Forrester was innocent. The judge in the case was Judge Carrigan (John Dehner). Prosecutor Krasny revealed that if Paige had divorced Jack, which was her intention (since they were both unfaithful to each other), Jack wouldn't have received the fortune. Pretty Virginia Howell (Leigh Taylor-Young) admitted that she had tried to have sex with Jack, but was jilted. Tennis pro Bobby Slade (Marshall Colt) testified that he had slept with Mrs. Forrester, and used the word "Bitch" to describe her. Another tennis club member admitted to having a jagged knife in his locker (# 222). Surprise defense witness Julie Jensen (Karen Austin), referred to one of the typed clue-notes, testified that 18 months earlier, she was attacked in the same manner as Paige Forrester - to prove that the defendant committed the similarly charged crime. However, Forrester was found not guilty. Soon after, Barnes found an incriminating typewriter (with a unique typeface including elevated 't's', that were found in all of the anonymous letters) in Forrester's closet, and confronted him with the information. In the nail-biting conclusion, a ski-masked figure entered her bedroom late at night with the murder weapon - a jagged-edged knife. She was ready for him - she shot him a number of times with a concealed gun. When he was unmasked by detective Sam Ransom (Robert Loggia), it was revealed that it was Jack who was the attacker (Ransom: "F--k him, he was trash").

Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985, Braz./US/Arg.), 119 minutes, D: Hector Babenco

Lost in America (1985), 91 minutes, D: Albert Brooks

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985, UK), 97 minutes, D: Stephen Frears

My Life as a Dog (1985, Swe.) (aka Mitt Liv Som Hund), 101 minutes, D: Lasse Hallstrom

The Official Story (1985, Argentina) (aka La Historia Oficial), 112 minutes, D: Luis Puenzo

Out of Africa (1985), 162 minutes, D: Sydney Pollack
Sydney Pollack's grandly-spectacular, handsome biopic romance, a Best Picture winner with Oscar-winning John Barry's marvelous score, harkened back to the old-style, sweeping epics of the 50s and 60s. The extravagant travelogue-romance was based by Kurt Luedtke on the life, works, and memoirs of Karen Blixen (a Danish writer who published under the pen-name Isak Dinesen). Spanning two decades in the early 20th century, the love pairing between its two major stars was very much embellished and put at the center of the story. The love story in the romantic biopic, similar in scope to David Lean's sprawling epics, was easily eclipsed by the more compelling, Oscar-winning, visually-poetic cinematography of exotic locations from beginning to end - an awesome, wonderful feast for the eyes. Meryl Streep portrayed the Danish Baroness who married and settled on a British East Africa coffee plantation with her disinterested philandering husband Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer) who infected her with syphilis before leaving. Interlaced with gorgeous, lyrically-beautiful scenes on location in Kenya, Karen spent idyllic romantic days during a brief passionate affair with white game-hunter Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford) (modified to be American instead of British) - holding hands with him in a biplane, and having her hair shampooed by him during a safari. The highlight of the film was the safari, with many majestic views of the African plains with streaming herds of wildlife - photographed both from ground level and from a biplane. Although their relationship heated up, his demands for personal freedom doomed full commitment. The film came full circle as just before Karen was planning to return home, she attended Denys' funeral when he lost his life in a tragic plane crash.

Pale Rider (1985), 120 minutes, D: Clint Eastwood

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985), 90 minutes, D: Tim Burton

Prizzi's Honor (1985), 130 minutes, D: John Huston
In the black comedy 'sleeper' hit about questionable loyalties, Jack Nicholson took the convincing role of Charley Partanna, a dedicated, proud and unquestioning hit-man for the powerful Prizzi boss 'family.' The dim-witted Charley was fatally-hooked and love-struck by sultry, Los Angeles-bred blonde Irene Walker (Kathleen Turner), a rival paid 'contractor' or hired assassin. After he asked, "Do I ice her? Do I marry her?" a bi-coastal, opposites-attract romantic courtship led to marriage. Unfortunately, their Mafia-associated love and work didn't mix well together, and they were both tasked with taking each other out. In the film's double-crossing confrontational bedroom scene, the two lovers armed themselves with a gun and knife to eliminate each other.

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), 84 minutes, D: Woody Allen

Ran (1985, Jp./Fr.), 160 minutes, D: Akira Kurosawa

Re-Animator (1985), 86/95/104 minutes, D. Stuart Gordon
A low-budget, horror comedy, and cult film favorite, similar to the Frankenstein tale. An adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's early 1920s serial novella Herbert West: Re-Animator. After controversial medical experiments in Switzerland, corpse-reviving, nerdy medical student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) enrolled in Miskatonic University. He resumed his obsessive experiments with bringing corpses (and body parts) to life, with the help of Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), a fellow co-worker/student and apartment roommate. West had developed a glowing green serum or reagent to regenerate life, first successfully demonstrated on Dan's dead cat Rufus. Dan reported Herbert to Dr. Alan Halsey (Robert Sampson), the Head or Dean of the medical school, and promptly had his student grant suspended and was barred from the school. Now under cover, Dan joined Herbert to prove the formula worked, using bodies from the school morgue. However, the reanimated corpses became violent, frenzied and blood-thirsty zombies. And one of them savagely attacked and killed Dean Halsey. Now that Halsey was a zombie, West's jealous and blackmailing superior and rival, brain surgeon Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), operated on the Dean's zombie corpse, to attempt to steal West's work. In the climactic ending, Dr. Hill was decapitated by West, but then after reanimating - Hill sexually forced his headless self upon Dan's kidnapped fiancee, Megan Halsey (scream queen Barbara Crampton), daughter of the Dean, who was strapped nude to an operating table. In the amazing scene, the decapitated Dr. Carl Hill (carrying his own disembodied head) had oral sex ("head") with Megan. A free-for-all battle of reanimated, mind-controlled, beserk zombies led to the death of Megan (who was injected with the reagent and brought back to life).

The Return of the Living Dead (1985), 91 minutes, D. Dan O'Bannon
An enjoyable, original parody or black-humor satire (O'Bannon's directorial debut film) on the zombie subgenre, based loosely on George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968), about ghouls rising from the dead. With a heavy-metal punkish soundtrack. Created variations or new "rules" for Romero's zombies - the creatures could talk, walk at normal speeds, and they were more indestructible. The film began with the premise, told by Uneeda Medical Supply warehouse foreman Frank (James Karen) to new teen employee Freddy (Thom Matthews) that George Romero's cultish 1968 hit was based on a real-life incident. Frank described a chemical spill at a VA hospital that leaked into a morgue and reanimated all of the dead bodies. He then told how there was a military cover-up, and the reanimated bodies were shipped off for storage, and because of various blunders, the bodies accidentally came to their warehouse. When showing Freddy an old Army military drum of deadly toxic gas (that caused the dead to rise up) in the basement, Frank accidentally ruptured it - and released a deadly toxic gas, and animated a frozen cadaver in the facility. Boss Burt Wilson (Clu Gulager) recommended that they kill the cadaver, when Frank asked about the inherent difficulty in killing something already dead. Frank responded: "It's not a bad question, Burt." When they cremated the attacking, carnivorous, brain-hungry zombie (now in dismembered parts) at the nearby Resurrection Funeral Home, ashes from the fire caused acid rain that fell on an adjoining cemetery - unleashing more hordes of zombies onto the unsuspecting town, and upon the punkish teens who were partying in the graveyard.

A Room With a View (1985, UK), 117 minutes, D: James Ivory
A delightful comedy of errors tale of repressed Victorian romance and British conceit, adapted from E.M. Forster's novel. A proper Edwardian young girl (Helena Bonham Carter) with her elderly, guilt-ridden spinster chaperone/cousin (Maggie Smith) take a tourist holiday in Italy. There, she meets a free-spirited suitor (Julian Sands), but is whisked back to Surrey, England when romance develops. Back home, she is engaged to a prissy, dispassionate, self-possessed, intellectual gentleman (Daniel Day-Lewis). When she is reunited with the charming young man from Florence, she must make a defiant decision regarding her marital plans.

The Trip to Bountiful (1985), 105 minutes, D: Peter Masterson

Witness (1985), 112 minutes, D: Peter Weir

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