16 Of The Best Eighties Movies To Time Travel With Tonight

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From Esquire

The Eighties saw the rise and rise of the Hollywood blockbuster movie and of big studios dominating instead of filmmakers. There were also leaps made in visual and special effects, meaning audiences were seeing flying bicycles and soaring spaceships that actually looked like they were real rather than being done with a puppet and strings.

The Eighties is packed with nostalgia-heavy adventure films which families enjoyed at their local multiplex or video shop, but there were also avant garde horror films and explorations into the simmering racial tensions of the time on offer too.

Quentin Tarantino might have once said the Eighties were the worst decade for cinema, but these gems prove that the era was more influential than he gives it credit for.

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

It's quite hard to comprehend just how big Eddie Murphy was in the Eighties, and quite how explosively he announced himself. His fast-talking, street-smart Axel Foley is a wild Detroit police officer who ends up on his last warning from his superior when his old friend Mikey is killed. Foley has to go behind his boss's back to investigate in the alien surrounds of Beverly Hills in LA. Completely unexpectedly, Kingsley Amis considered Beverly Hills Cop "a flawless masterpiece".


This is Spinal Tap (1984)

Calling a film 'endlessly quotable' isn't always much of an invitation to watch it – you end up just sort of waiting for The Funny Lines to arrive rather than watching it as a whole. When we call This is Spinal Tap endlessly quotable, though, it's in the sense that nearly every line of its script would be the funniest line in any other film. It's a mockumentary – rockumentary, if you will – following the heavy metal band Spinal Tap as they traverse America on a increasingly desultory tour. Drummers explode, love-pumps are licked, gloves are smelt, and the band collapses in a shower of idiocy, hubris and childish bickering. It traverses that fine line – identified by lead singer David St Hubbins – between stupid and clever. And, for the record, the best line in it is when the band visit Graceland and haltingly attempt three-part harmonies at Elvis's graveside.

"It really puts perspective on things though, doesn't it?" says Nigel.

"Too much," says David. "There's too much fucking perspective now."


Purple Rain (1984)

In a lot of ways, this isn't a completely flawless film. It is, however, the best way of beginning to understand the 360-degree creative world of the greatest and most mysterious creative mind of the decade. It's set in Minneapolis and Prince acolytes and protégées everywhere – The Revolution, Apollonia, Dez Dickerson of the Modernaires and, most enjoyably, an extremely vampy Morris Day of The Time all feature – while Prince himself plays a purple-loving wunderkind called The Kid. In the course of trying to to get his band together, he finds love, deals with abusive parents, and finally finds deliverance through power balladeering rather than his filthy, dirty, unapologetically Prince funk. Still, there's more than enough of that to spare.


The Shining (1980)

Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's seminal horror movie features a tour-de-force performance from Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, a crazed writer who spends a weekend at the Overlook Hotel with his wife and son. King might have never warmed to the film but it's motifs, from the winding maze to the spooky twin girls in the hallway, even the geometric carpets, have gone on to influence horror ever since.


Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

Never has pulling a sickie looked more glorious than in this timeless comedy about high schooler Ferris Buller (Matthew Broderick) who skips class and cavorts around Chicago for the afternoon instead. Sure, the stakes here are low, but Broderick's charm and the excellent Eighties fashion make very enjoyable entertainment.


Back to the Future (1985)

Featuring one of the most coveted cars in cinema history–a DeLorean retrofitted to turn it into a time machine–this adventure classic shows teenager Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travelling back from 1985 to 1955 where he accidentally becomes the love interest of his future mother. The sort of thing that would definitely get him cancelled in 2020 but in 1986 was all good fun man!


Blade Runner (1982)

Loosely based on Philip K Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ridley Scott's sci-fi thriller is up there with the very best of its genre, focusing on an ex-policeman turned special agent trying to exterminate a group of violent androids. The story has shades of a noir detective story as his mission sees him start to question himself.


ET (1982)

Steven Spielberg's story of the friendship between a lost alien and a ten-year-old boy is one of the most beloved in cinema, looking at ideas around commonality, compassion and difference. What on the surface feels like a sweet children's story about an alien on a flying bike turns into something genuinely moving.


Top Gun (1986)

Tom Cruise's most famous role sees him play Maverick Mitchell, a flyer who strives to be the very best in this action film which is steeped in Eighties Americana. There are also great performances from Val Kilmer and from Kelly McGillis, who plays Mitchell's gutsy flight instructor Charlie Blackwood.


Heathers (1988)

Long before Mean Girls came along, Heathers showed high school was a war-ground where the in-fighting and social climbing is as devastating as any physical attacks. Winona Ryder stars as Veronica, a reluctant member of the popular clique at school who takes them on with her new boyfriend J.D. (a dashing Christian Slater) before realising thing's aren't what they seem. Heathers is masterful in its black comedy and nailing of the perils of groupthink in teenagers.


Die Hard (1988)

Thirty years since it's release and Die Hard remains the quintessential American action movie, going on to spawn a string of sequels which never quite lived up to the promise of the original. In the role that catapulted him to fame, Bruce Willis plays NYPD John McClane who, with his sardonic one liners like "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker", springs into action when he finds his holiday festivities are under siege. It's also, as anyone on Twitter will tell you in December, the ultimate Christmas movie.


Do The Right Thing (1989)

Spike Lee's masterful story of 24 hours on a sweltering day in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn brings to life the people who live on the same block and the mounting racial tensions of the city. Lee manages to tell stories of the black experience which are moving and humorous in a story that keeps you gripped as things boil over.


Ghostbusters (1984)

Another plot where you wonder if this would make it out of the writing room these days, but story which is so weird it works, Ghostbusters has remained one of the most loved cult films of the Eighties. The story finds New York City under invasion from ghosts as a trio of former parapsychologists group together to exterminate the threat. "Who ya gonna call?' etc.


Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro's Oscar-winning turn as Jake LaMotta, the world middleweight boxing champion nicknamed 'The Raging Bull', is transfixing in this Martin Scorsese-directed classic. There's also a stellar script from Scorsese stalwart Paul Schrader who was behind Taxi Driver, The Last Temptation of Christ and Bringing Out the Dead.


Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Perhaps the most unflinching dramatisation of life on the frontline of the Vietnam War, Stanley Kubrick's 1987 film shows the dark comedy and bleak violence of combat in equal measure. Opening with a masterful sequence in basic training and a confrontation Lee Ermey and Vince D'Onofrio's character, Full Metal Jacket grabs you from the start and takes you on a strange and chilling journey.


When Harry Met Sally (1989)

With Nora Ephron on screenwriting duties, this will-they-won't-they love story set over 11 years is the gold standard of romantic comedies. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan play two graduates on a road trip together who years later are bought back together by fate. Sharp but not soppy, there's an iconic orgasm scene from Meg Ryan, the very good line: "When you realise you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible”, and the even better insult, "You look like a normal person but actually you are the angel of death."


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