Overlooked Films of the '80s
By Kim Hollis
October 26, 2004

No, really! I'm going to win an Academy Award someday!

As it turns out, I found the voting process for our favorite films of the '80s to be absolutely agonizing. Part of the trouble stems from the fact that a grand total of seven of the films in my top ten of the '80s also sit in my top 20 of all time. In the end, all but one of the films for which I voted made the BOP 50 of the '80s, but that doesn't mean I didn't have regrets about leaving out some others. So, without further ado, here is a follow-up list of movies that I'm very sorry did not make our overall list.

1) Fast Times at Ridgemont High

This film was my lone '80s vote that failed to make the final cut for the top 50 list. Along with Say Anything… and Better Off Dead, I truly believe that Fast Times was one of the seminal and outstanding teen films of the decade. Based on a brilliant screenplay from first-time writer Cameron Crowe, the movie was unafraid to broach some of the darker subjects that would never have been conceivable in the blander John Hughes stuff that populated theaters throughout the '80s. Teenage girls scoping out much older men, abortion, and even masturbation were all given their place. It provided a number of young actors and actresses with memorable, breakthrough roles - most notably last year's Academy Award winner Sean Penn. His Jeff Spicoli is truly a character for the ages, a surfer/stoner whose interplay with teacher Mr. Hand provides unique conflict on a surprisingly intelligent level.

Along with Penn, the film featured Jennifer Jason Leigh and Judge Reinhold as highly memorable brother and sister. For the most part, Leigh's Stacy is the film's protagonist, though the episodic nature of the story allowed focus to shift from one character to another. There were also small roles for Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Nicolas Cage (known then as Nicolas Coppola) and Anthony Edwards. Stoltz's character would be the sole actor to reappear in the de facto sequel, The Wild Life.

And of course, who can forget Phoebe Cates? Her sexually ambitious Linda left a massive impression on many a young man that lasts to this day. As a female myself, I can certainly mark that performance as one of the most memorable to come from a precocious young actress from that decade.

2) The Breakfast Club

I go from dissing John Hughes to giving him my total admiration in one massive show of waffling, as I have to admit that The Breakfast Club stands above the director's other films as one of my favorites. Really, anyone who was a teenager in the '80s had to relate in one way or another to the iconic characters that populated the film. What was perhaps most remarkable about the story is the way that it unhesitatingly allowed the singular characters to come together as friends and allies even as you knew that it would all be different on Monday morning. It's brutal realism, but that's what the world is like.

3) Night Shift

I absolutely adore this early directorial effort from Ron Howard, primarily due to the breakthrough comedic performance of Michael Keaton (it was his first starring role in a major motion picture). His frenetic Bill Blazejowski was the perfect foil for straight man Henry Winkler, as both portrayed co-workers in a funeral home who ran a prostitution ring on the side. The film is hilarious and entirely quotable, though some of the funniest lines turn out to be muttered under the breath ("Corn dog!" as an expression of pleasure has to be one of the stranger movie references I've ever incorporated into my daily vocabulary).

4) Stripes

For me, Bill Murray is truly one of the defining comedy actors of the '80s. Just reviewing his resume from the decade makes me smile. In point of fact, I even voted for both Ghostbusters and Caddyshack in my own top ten. Stripes is still a uproarious romp, though, and only gets extra credit for including another of my favorite funnymen, John Candy, amongst its stellar cast. Poor Sergeant Hulka.

5) Summer Rental

Speaking of John Candy, I absolutely hate that I had to neglect this mostly forgotten little comedy about a family's messed up vacation in the Florida Keys. Basically, the film combines a number of my favorite things - Candy, the Keys and pirates - for a touching little family film about never accepting that you're always going to be the little guy. I'm still waiting for the Jimmy Buffett soundtrack song "Turning Around" to show up on a compilation somewhere, though.

6) The Blues Brothers

Here is another of my great regrets. It's one of those films that I've probably watched upwards of 50 times and I enjoy it equally every time. Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi do a note-perfect job of transforming their Saturday Night Live characters to a larger-than-life big screen presence. It's also just endlessly amusing to me to watch Carrie Fisher, who was at the time America's sweetheart for her portrayal of Princess Leia, going after Joliet Jake with vengeance in her heart.

Of course, it's ultimately the music that makes the film, and it's so hard to pick a favorite tune from the outstanding celebration of the blues. I suppose I'll be sentimental and award the prize to Ray Charles' "Shake Your Tailfeather." The stone-faced dance from the Brothers just adds to the song, somehow.

7) Gremlins

Gremlins is one of those films that I would unhesitatingly stop channel surfing for if I realized it was playing. It's clever, dark and scary even as its primary appeal has to be for a youthful audience. Ah, who am I kidding? I love the film because Gizmo is adorable and I want one of my own. I promise never to get him wet, to keep him away from bright light, and to never, ever, no matter how much he begs, feed him after midnight.

We also have already been receiving a steady stream of comments from readers on which films we missed. Here's a sampling of the films and my comments on why I personally didn't vote for them.

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial

I loved this film as a child, but it's simply too sugary sweet for me today.


Again, this was a film I really liked, with an absolutely stellar performance from Harrison Ford. In the end, though, this is a "Favorites of the '80s" list, not a "Best of the '80s" list. Witness just isn't one of those films that I want to watch over and over again, and therefore really isn't a favorite by any means.

When Harry Met Sally

This is indeed a great little romantic comedy that falls just a little short of competing with movies I remember quite fondly from my youth.

Dead Poet's Society

I love this film for the presence of Josh Charles alone, but again, it's just a little bit too saccharine sweet to work long-term.

Mississippi Burning

Another victim of the "Favorite" vs. "Best Of" paradigm. It's a good film, and a fine performance from Willem Dafoe. I sure don't ever want to see it again, though.

Beverly Hills Cop

This one is definitely legit. It's a great Eddie Murphy film. I'd put Trading Places and 48 Hours ahead of it.

The Natural

I suppose I'll always have trouble separating the film from Bernard Malamud novel, which is such a downer.


Calvin Trager covers this one on his list. It's definitely one of the outstanding comedies of the '80s, but I fall more on the Caddyshack side of the Chevy Chase line.

National Lampoon's Vacation

Scores huge points for the John Candy inclusion, but ultimately loses because the sequel is legitimately one of my most hated films of all-time.

Rain Man

Again, this film would probably score high on a "Best Of" list, but isn't necessarily rewatchable enough to make a Favorites list. Hoffman and Cruise are both fantastic, of course.

The Fly

It's a decent, smart horror film that I have seen numerous times. It would probably be somewhere down around #50 for me if I was making a list.


You know, I don't think I've ever actually seen this from start to finish, but I do think I've seen the whole film in bits and pieces. I loved Dudley Moore in Foul Play, but he never did much for me beyond that.

Terms of Endearment, Unbearable Lightness of Being, Ordinary People

Almost certainly a victim of "Best Of" vs. "Favorites". I've frankly never seen these films and don't care to.

Dangerous Liaisons

It's an awfully cold film for a favorites list.