These films were released during the 1980s

Twilight Zone: The Movie

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Back when the Twilight Zone movie was made, the concept of turning TV shows into movies was still in its infancy. In 1983, you had two Star Trek movies and that Get Smart Nude Bomb monstrosity, so this attempt to bring Rod Serling’s classic anthology series to the big screen was something of a novelty.

Unfortunately, any novelty value became permanently irrelevant on July 23, 1982, when actor Vic Morrow and two Vietnamese children were killed as an ill-advised helicopter stunt went tragically wrong. Even if John Landis’ segment had been the Citizen Kane of television-to-film adaptations, it would not have been worth the cost in human lives.

Sadly, none of the four segments or the overlong, unfunny introduction even came close to that standard.

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Buckaroo Banzai

Mix theoretical physics, rock’n’roll, neurosurgery, Orson Welles and Rastafarian aliens from another dimension and you get this goofily eccentric genre-bending science-fiction action comedy. This is definitely one of those “love-it-or-hate-it” movies that you recommend to friends with caution. After watching this, they will either thank you profusely or recommend you for civil commitment.

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Poltergeist

Conceived and shot virtually in tandem with E.T., Poltergeist is that film’s loud and scary cousin. Whatever the controversy about who actually directed it, this tight, nifty suburban ghost story is unquestionably a Spielberg movie. He produced, wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay, leaving his trademarks all over the place. The archetypal middle-class family living in an ever expanding sprawl of housing tracts shares a lot of DNA with the less happy families in Close Encounters and E.T.

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Wall Street

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Oliver Stone’s reputation as a wide-eyed provocateur of the left is mostly founded around one movie, the unfortunate JFK, and those who only see him through the prism of that one movie might expect Wall Street to be nothing less than a lacerating indictment of the entire capitalist system. The director’s target is more specific than that, however. His father was a stockbroker, so Stone isn’t about to trash the entire profession, but he does take aim at some of the more egregious excesses of the mid-eighties.

Keep in mind that this was before day trading and the days of CNBC and cable news channels with a full time stock ticker running across the bottom of the screen, so elements that seem familiar to us in 2007 were actually somewhat revelatory in 1987. Thus, Stone’s insider’s look at the world of corporate raiders and leveraged buyouts was pretty eye-opening at the time.

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Das Boot

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Wolfgang Petersen’s obsessively detailed World War II epic remains one of the most influential war movies and certainly continues to set a gold standard for submarine movies. Even the best of the rest, such as Hunt for Red October, run a distant second. If this all sounds like fanboy blather, well, it is, but it’s still hard to overstate the achievements of this film.

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RoboCop

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I’ll buy that for a dollar!

Although clearly intended as insightful social commentary on the Reagan era, Paul Verhoeven’s first American film works better as straight action with a dose of comedy and a surprising helping of existential turmoil for its titular character. The attempts at social satire were sophomoric even in 1987 but fortunately the director didn’t seem to take that element too seriously, focusing instead on Robocop (Peter Weller) and his struggle to reclaim his submerged humanity.

The film takes place in one of those fantasy futures where capitalism is just as evil as liberals imagine it to be. Continue reading

Flash Gordon

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This is the kind of movie that Ed Wood would have made if he’d ever had the budget. It has everything: bad writing, bad acting, bad special effects and bad music. Is it cheesy? There’s enough cheese on screen to keep every restaurant in France supplied with sauce for a year. Is it campy? It goes beyond camp. This is an entire Boy Scout Jamboree. Is it corny? Like Iowa, baby.

Okay, Mr. Smart Alecky Movie Reviewer Guy, stop beating around the bush. Did you actually like it?

Um… yeah.

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Red Dawn

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Ah, the Eighties. They were a time, weren’t they? We had MTV, big hair, narrow ties, Ronald Reagan and a commie behind every rock. John Milius’ tale of teenage insurgents fighting a communist invasion of the United States is violent, at times goofily operatic and it’s probably a better movie than you’ve heard. That violence earned it the distinction of being the first PG-13-rated movie ever released.

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Glory

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144 years ago this coming week, a Union regiment from Massachusetts led a futile assault on a Confederate bastion near Charleston known as Battery Wagner. As Civil War battles go, it was relatively minor and would normally go unremarked compared to the Battle of Gettysburg and the fall of Vicksburg, which both happened at roughly the same time. What made this action remarkable was the fact that 54th Massachusetts Volunteers was the first regular unit of the Union army to consist entirely of black soldiers, led by a white colonel, the son of prominent Boston abolitionists.

As an account of this event, Glory is reasonably accurate and thoroughly inspiring, built around a core of superb actors giving some of their best performances. It’s portrayal of Civil War combat is technically on par with the later Gettysburg, only more realistic and bloody, fully deserving of the film’s R rating.

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Full Metal Jacket

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Full Metal Jacket is an outstanding film about Marine recruits in training followed by two less successful films about the Vietnam War. It begins so strong with the natural conflict between the slow-witted and unhinged Private Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) and the profane force of nature known as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey, a former Marine drill instructor himself) that the two following segments border on anti-climax.

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Platoon

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Oliver Stone’s Platoon remains the pinnacle of his directorial career and with good reason. Presenting the grunt’s eye view of the Vietnam War, this is definitely a movie that could only have been made by someone who had been there. Even if you disagree with Stone’s politics and find fault with his later work, it’s hard to dispute the sincerity and brutal honesty he brings to this film.

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The Big Red One

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The Big Red One, Samuel Fuller’s fictionalized retelling of his own experiences as a member of the 1st Infantry Division in World War II, is a particularly effective grunts-eye view of the war, despite its somewhat meager budget. It follows an unnamed Sergeant (Lee Marvin) and four soldiers of his “first squad” who manage to survive the war with him. They join him as inexperienced “wet-noses” before the invasion of North Africa and follow him to the very end of the war, when they liberate a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.

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