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Headwaters Film Festival Presents: 10 Iconic 80s Movies

by Dakota Drobnicki

For this year’s Headwaters Film Festival (Mar. 29 and 30) theme, BSU is sporting an 80s retro vibe complete with screenings of Back to the Future and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. While we wait for the festival to come, let’s take a look at some other movies that affected or reflected the culture of the 1980s.

1. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Would the all-time best Star Wars movie not deserve a place on our list? It’s a darker film than the first, it brought even more iconic sequences and characters into the fold, developed what they already had even further, and proved how much better Star Wars was (and still is) when George Lucas wasn’t the only one allowed to make creative decisions. The Last Jedi recently became its modern equivalent and carried its torch beautifully.

2. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Although he had multiple hits before and after the decade, Steven Spielberg is a director synonymous with the 80s, directing and executive-producing a number of its most iconic hits: the Indiana Jones trilogy, The Color Purple, Poltergeist, Gremlins, Back to the Future, and The Goonies. E.T. was his first home-run of the 80s, and the best showcase for the all-ages appeal that brought him ubiquity. Several million crying audience members and sold packages of Reese’s Pieces later, E.T. continues to warm the hearts of modern audiences even without an unnecessary sequel or reboot.

3. The Day After (1983)
You want a reason other than Freddy Krueger to never sleep again? Watch this famous made-for-TV movie featuring a scared public reacting to a nuclear war that comes to their homes. (Ask your parents or professors about it, I guarantee you they remember it.) Cry, scream, and watch as your nightmares turn from failed classes and student loans to mushroom clouds and the echoed shrieks of those unlucky enough to be in the blast radius. Then realize that there are people in power right now with itchy trigger fingers on the buttons to make its horrifying scenario become a reality. You want the essence of the 1980s? Here you go.

4. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Eddie Murphy was the funniest man in America throughout the entire 80s. Whether in his days at Saturday Night Live, his standup comedy specials, or his several hit movies, the man was the world’s first true “rock star comedian”. This film exemplified those qualities to a T, where Axel Foley was a fast, loose, fly and funny cop out of Detroit looking to solve his friend’s murder. Don’t forget treats like the iconic theme song “Axel F” or the shot where his visible stunt double looked old enough to be his dad. The movie is genuinely hysterical, but so is that shot.

5. Ghostbusters (1984)
Who ya gonna call if not for these funny fellas? At the core of this hysterical sci-fi horror comedy featuring two of Saturday Night Live‘s earliest stars is a quirky film about starting a business, catapulted into the stars by its leads’ fantastic chemistry. Its immense popularity spawned a massive line of toys, an animated series, a tired rehash of a sequel in 1989 and a misguided mess of a remake in 2016.

6. Red Dawn (1984)
In this Reagan-era drama featuring a nightmarish premise, the “Wolverines” — packed with stars including Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson and C. Thomas Howell — fend off a Soviet invasion that comes to their small Colorado hometown. Dirty Dancing and Road House may be great, fun Patrick Swayze movies, but this one resonates hard with many people who grew up in the 80s, who were afraid of a real Soviet invasion on US soil at the time. Much like Ghostbusters, it had a terrible remake this decade that left very little impact.

7. The Breakfast Club (1985)
How do you know that this John Hughes classic is still iconic? Last year, we had two major Hollywood movies blatantly rip off its premise to varying degrees — the Power Rangers reboot and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Each of the three films takes a stab at uniting high schoolers from disparate social cliques through detention and self-discovery. This one, however, did it without a nine-figure budget or action setpieces. Just raw human drama, some lovable characters and a soundtrack that constantly resurfaces in pop culture to this day.

8. Rocky IV (1985)
The Rocky series, which continues to this day with Creed and its own upcoming sequel, documented the rollercoaster life of working-class hero Rocky Balboa. On one end, you had the original film, a subdued chamber drama practically free of escapist hyperbole, where the focus wasn’t where Rocky won, it’s what he accomplished as an underdog. On another end you have this film, where Rocky fights a Soviet boxer played by Dolph Lundgren and single-handedly ends the Cold War with a rousing speech about peace. There are few films more symbolic of America’s end goal under the Reagan administration – beat back the commies.

9. The Transformers: The Movie (1986)
Children of the 60s remember where they were when they found out JFK was assassinated. Children of the 2000s remember where they were on 9/11. Children of the 80s remember when they saw their hero Optimus Prime die in this movie. The movie that launched the waterworks for millions of 80s kids is an excellent slice of where the Transformers brand was at the time, and holds up better than any of the Michael Bay installments ever will.

10. Predator (1987)
There are few movies from the 80s that symbolize machismo with the elegance of John McTiernan’s sci-fi classic. Our lead Arnold Schwarzenegger is my all-time favorite Hollywood action hero— an Austrian immigrant who built himself an empirical status in multiple fields from very little, riding his thick accent and sheer muscle all the way to the top. Tossing him in with a macho special forces unit and a brutal extraterrestrial opponent made for a bonafide thrill ride. You could plug Conan, Commando or The Terminator into this spot too, but Predator is Arnold’s finest achievement of the decade.