Now the late 80s I remember much better. I was between ten and fourteen at the time, and I could see just about anything I wanted. This was also when VHS tapes were easier to rent, and films were transferred to tape much quicker.
1984-89 saw the rise of the big action stars like Stallone and Schwarzenegger, the continued dominance of Spielberg, and the appearance of newer directors such as Oliver Stone, James Cameron, and Tim Burton.
Many of today's biggest movie stars can also trace their careers back to this time. Robert Downey Jr. inhabited the teen comedy ghetto, a young Christian Bale featured in Empire of the Sun, and Tom Cruise was really making a name for himself with a string of hit movies. Tom Hanks, who had earlier hits with Splash and Bachelor Party, had another hit with Big.
Biggest Films of 1985: Back to the Future, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rocky 4, The Color Purple, Out of Africa, Cocoon, The Jewel of the Nile, Witness, The Goonies, Spies Like Us
I can remember Back to the Future being very popular at the time. I can't help but think that Christopher Lloyd (and not Michael J. Fox) was a big reason those movies were successful. I watched this film again recently.
Rambo II was the movie that every ten year old yearns for. That scene where he runs up the hill (just before his capture by the Vietnamese) is so ridiculous that it's fantastic. Stallone would also face off against Dolph Lundgren in Rocky 4 the same year. "Eye of the Tiger" baby!
I can remember watching Cocoon and The Goonies in the theater that year. I had an easier time relating to The Goonies. Much of the Goonies was also filmed in and around Astoria, Oregon, where I spent a lot of time as a kid. I also loved the Nintendo game!
Honorable Mention(s): American Ninja, Better Off Dead, Brazil, Commando, Day of the Dead, Enemy Mine, Fright Night, Invasion U.S.A., The Last Dragon, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Mask, Pale Rider, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Police Story, Ran, Re-Animator, Real Genius, Summer Rental, Weird Science
American Ninja, Commando, The Last Dragon, and Invasion U.S.A. are all terrible movies, but they are indicative of the times. Most boys in the 80s were obsessed with ninjas and survivalist white dudes. One of the posters for Commando features Schwarzenegger brandishing the same gun and striking exactly the same pose as Stallone did in the Rambo II poster.
Better Off Dead, Real Genius, Summer Rental, and Weird Science were your average teen comedies, but they featured early performances by John Cusack, Val Kilmer, and Anthony Michael Hall. If you look closely you can see Robert Downey Jr. as one of the bullies in Weird Science.
Day of the Dead, Fright Night, and Re-Animator were good horror films from the era. I thought a remake of Fright Night was unnecessary (especially since Chris Sarandon was the only reason the original was cool). Re-Animator was probably the best horror movie that year.
Pale Rider is one of Clint Eastwood's best films. Great movie. Seen it many times.
1985 was also when Jackie Chan started to make his presence felt. Police Story is still one of his best movies.
Biggest Films of 1986: Top Gun, Crocodile Dundee, Platoon, The Karate Kid Part II, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Back to School, Aliens, The Golden Child, Ruthless People
Top Gun was a colossal hit, in part due to the soundtrack. Man that movie was everywhere. I saw it again recently, and I'd have to say it isn't all that great.
Platoon was one of the best Vietnam films, right up there with Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket, and Hamburger Hill.
Back to School brings back a lot of memories. Rodney Dangerfield was having a good time in 1986! Again, there is Robert Downey Jr.
Aliens was so awesome. Of course the first movie scared the piss out of me, but Aliens managed to up the ante. Michael Biehn was always almost a big movie star.
Honorable Mention(s): The Mission, Howard the Duck, Armor of God, A Better Tomorrow, Big Trouble in Little China, Blue Velvet, Cobra, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Fly, Gung Ho!, Highlander, Sid and Nancy, Stand By Me
The Mission is an excellent movie. At the other end of the spectrum, Howard the Duck is so bad that it should be seen at least once.
Armor of God and A Better Tomorrow were two classic Hong Kong films that came out the same year. That fight scene at the end of Armor of God is one of the best ever.
Big Trouble in Little China was a different kind of film from John Carpenter. Now that I live in Taiwan, it's hard not to view it in racial terms, but if you don't think about it too hard it's a good movie.
Cobra, featuring Stallone and soon-to-be ex-wife Bridget Nielson, is also so bad it's good.
David Cronenberg's The Fly is epic. Not only is it Cronenberg's best film, but it's one of the all-time classic horror movies. David Lynch's Blue Velvet is equally great, but weird in a different way.
Biggest Films of 1987: Three Men and a Baby, Beverly Hills Cop 2, Fatal Attraction, Good Morning Vietnam, Moonstruck, The Untouchables, The Secret of My Success, Stakeout, Lethal Weapon, The Witches of Eastwick
Oh Christ, Three Men and a Baby. Forgot all about that one (perhaps I repressed the memory). Directed by Spock!
As you might have guessed from the presence of both Stakeout and Lethal Weapon, 1987 ushered in the era of the buddy cop film.
If you judged this year by the highest-grossing films, it was a depressing year for movies.
Honorable Mention(s): The Last Emperor, Wall Street, Angel Heart, Bad Taste, Empire of the Sun, Evil Dead II, Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill, Hellraiser, Innerspace, Masters of the Universe, Nekromantik, Overboard, Planes Trains and Automobiles, Predator, Prince of Darkness, Raising Arizona, Robocop, The Running Man, Street Trash
The Last Emperor is a great film, and Joan Chen is/was super hot. Wall Street, Angel Heart, Spielberg's Empire of the Sun, Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill, and Raising Arizona were other great "serious" (arty) films from the same year. Empire of the Sun was one of Christian Bale's first movies.
A lot of good horror this year. A remake of Prince of Darkness, given our current understanding of quantum theory, would almost write itself. Bad Taste, a horror movie about homeless people, was sadly overlooked at the time. Hellraiser looks kind of corny now, but I suppose they were working with a small budget.
Also a good year for Schwarzenegger, with Predator and the Running Man released the same year. The original Robocop, which competed for the same audience, is far better than the remake.
Perhaps the strangest release of 1987 was the Masters of the Universe movie. By 1987 no one was buying the toys that inspired the film, and the movie was, as expected, a dismal failure.
Biggest Films of 1988: Rain Man, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Coming to America, Big, Twins, Crocodile Dundee II, Die Hard, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, Cocktail, Beetlejuice
Rain Man went some way to proving that Tom Cruise could really act, though it was certainly Dustin Hoffman that made that film a success.
Who would bother to see Who Framed Roger Rabbit now? At the time the mixture of real people and cartoon characters seemed state-of-the-art, but with the modern prevalence of CGI it seems downright old-fashioned.
I can remember seeing Die Hard in the theater. I never understood the popularity of those movies. Whatever Stallone or Schwarzenegger were doing the same year(s) always seemed cooler.
Crocodile Dundee. Ahhhh... exotic Australia. "Now that's a knife!"
Honorable Mention(s): The Accused, Rambo III, The Abyss, Akira, Alien Nation, The Blob, Bloodsport, Colors, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, The Great Outdoors, The Last Temptation of Christ, License to Drive, Mississippi Burning, Scrooged, They Live, Willow, Young Guns
Rambo III! In Afghanistan! Bet you didn't know that Stallone films often prophesize the future!
The Abyss is a great James Cameron film. Both Michael Biehn and Ed Harris are great in it.
Akira really blew my mind when I first saw it. Back then there was no way to legally acquire the movie, so we were all trading VHS tapes of it.
The Blob wasn't all that great, but that blob thing sure was freaky.
Bloodsport marks the arrival of Jean Claude Van Damme, who was always ready to do some "Van Dammage." (Sorry, couldn't help myself).
The Decline of Western Civilization Part II was right in line with the music I liked back then. Metal was in full force, and I was an avid listener. Dave Mustaine has all the best lines in this movie. Remember when that guy wasn't a right-wing asshole?
License to Drive SUCKS, but it does features the two Coreys, Haim and Feldman, who will be familiar to all who grew up in the 80s. Corey Haim died from drug-related complications not long ago, and Feldman has (unfortunately) survived to front a ska band. I'm not wishing anyone dead here, but I sure do hate ska.
The Last Temptation of Christ and They Live are probably my favorite movies from this time. The former was a controversial film starring Willem Defoe and Harvey Keitel, while the latter is one of John Carpenter's best.
Why bother with those Lord of the Rings movies when you could see Willow? Also a cool arcade game!
Biggest Films of 1989: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Batman, Back to the Future Part II, Look Who's Talking, Dead Poet's Society, Lethal Weapon 2, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Ghostbusters II, The Little Mermaid, Born on the Fourth of July
I never thought Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was that wonderful. Same with Batman. Both movies were severely overhyped.
Lethal Weapon 2 was even more annoying that the first movie, and Ghostbusters II was kind of a disappointment.
Born on the Fourth of July was the second film in Oliver Stone's Vietnam trilogy, following Platoon. It was also a good movie. The last film in this trilogy, Heaven and Earth, was BAD.
Honorable Mention(s): Glory, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Black Rain, Casualties of War, Erik the Viking, God of Gamblers, Leviathan, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Pet Sematary, Tetsuo: the Iron Man
Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure is one of the reasons people bother with Keanu Reeves. Not a good reason, but one of the reasons.
God of Gamblers continues to enjoy enormous popularity in Asia. I'm not sure how many sequels they made to this movie, but the first is undoubtedly the best.
Leviathan and Pet Sematary were good horror movies from that year. There was another movie that year, Deepstar Six, which was very similar to Leviathan.
Testuo: the Iron Man is one of the strangest films you'll ever see. In some respects similar to Eraserhead.