Films from the 80s

10 films that kicked off the eighties in 1980

#10 – 9 to 5

Directed by Colin Higgins. Starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin & Dolly Parton.

You know the song, but did you know that Dolly Parton also starred in the movie?

9 to 5 follows three working women (Fonda, Tomlin & Parton), who live out their fantasies of getting even with their company’s sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot of a boss (Dabney Coleman).

The film would prove to be Parton’s real star vehicle, launching her permanently into mainstream pop culture and launching her music career into the stars as well. A musical version would open on Broadway in 2009, with new songs written by Parton herself.

So, there you have it. I bet if you weren’t around at the start of the 1980s, you probably didn’t know that Dolly’s classic song won the Academy Award for Best Song!


#9 – Ordinary People

Directed by Robert Redford. Starring Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore & Judd Hirsch.

Throughout this series of countdowns, we’ve seen Robert Redford capture hearts as an actor. Now here’s his directorial debut.

Ordinary People follows the disintegration of an upper-middle-class family (Sutherland & Moore) in Illinois after the accidental death of one of their sons and the attempted suicide of the other (Timothy Hutton).

Redford’s success as a director was immediate. The film received six Oscar nominations and won four, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor. It’s a beautiful analysis of how our problems come from within and affect those around us.

Interestingly for classical music fans, this film brought Pachelbel’s Canon back into the popular mainstream.


#8 – Fame

Directed by Alan Parker. Starring Eddie Barth, Irene Cara & Lee Curreri.

The musical film went through an interesting transition through the late 1970s to become a vehicle for social change, and Fame is a great example.

Fame follows the lives and hardships of students attending the High School of Performing Arts, from their auditions all the way to their senior years. It follows some surprisingly heavy topics, most prominently sexuality and the LGBTQ community.

The soundtrack, predominantly put together by star and pop musician Irene Cara, was a rather large success, reaching number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would go on to win Best Original Score and Best Original Song at the Academy Awards.

This one is worth a watch, with all the choreography of Step Up, the attitude of Grease and the heavy topics of Rent.


#7 – Friday the 13th

Directed by Sean S. Cunningham. Starring Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King & Harry Crosby.

There were some really interesting things happening in the slasher genre in the early 80s too, and they’re much more complex films than they appear.

Friday the 13th follows a group of teenage camp counsellors who are murdered one by one by an unknown killer at a previously abandoned summer camp.

Slasher films really hit their peak with this release (and some that we will mention in later years), with some marvellous cinematography and a brilliant score in a film that depicts the corruption of innocence and a real sense of the violation of safety. It’s terrifying, but magnificent to watch.

Interestingly, the famous Jason Vorhees was not actually the killer in this film but became famous from the sequels. I won’t spoil who’s behind this one…


#6 – Flash Gordon

Directed by Mike Hodges. Starring Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson & Ornella Muti.

What a weird film. What a weird, weird film.

Flash Gordon follows its titular character (Jones), who has to stop the evil Emperor Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow) from destroying Earth to relieve his boredom.

This film deliberately tries to play on the camp style of the likes of the 1960s Batman series to appeal to fans of comic books and serial films. The result is absolutely absurd and completely strange, but a cult classic nonetheless. Not to mention a great soundtrack by Queen themselves.

The comics that were the inspiration for this film were also the influence, coincidentally, for Star Wars.


#5 – The Blues Brothers

Directed by John Landis. Starring John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd & James Brown.

Speaking of blending music into film, here’s a brilliant comedy classic that you’ll never forget.

The Blues Brothers follows the characters developed on Saturday Night Live (Belushi & Aykroyd) and is a tale of redemption for the pair who set out on a mission from God to save their Catholic orphanage from foreclosure.

It has retained its status as a comedy classic – completely over the top, with a brilliant cast and fantastic music. It has been listed as one of the greatest comedy films of all time and among the funniest movies in history.

The soundtrack for this film is certified six times platinum in Australia.


#4 – Airplane!

Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker & Jerry Zucker. Starring Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty & Leslie Nielsen.

This film is one of the silliest and yet best pieces of parody in Hollywood’s history.

Airplane! is a direct parody of the disaster film genre, following a traumatised war veteran turned taxi driver (Hays) who has to land a plane in an emergency.

Judged the second-greatest comedy film of all time behind Life of Brian, it’s full to the brim of gags and lines that you will have seen referenced and parodied in dozens of pieces of pop culture over the past 40 years. The script is iconic, the performances are brilliant and it’s nearly 90 minutes of pure hilarity.

It has been referenced in everything from Mythbusters to a Delta Air Lines onboard safety film.


#3 – Raging Bull

Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Robert de Niro, Cathy Moriarty & Joe Pesci.

Will we ever see Martin Scorsese and Robert de Niro fade from Hollywood’s pinnacle?

Raging Bull follows Jake LaMotta (de Niro), an Italian-American middleweight boxer whose self-destructive rage, sexual jealousy and animalistic appetite destroyed his relationship with his wife and family. He must battle his inner demons in order to redeem himself.

Scorsese’s incredible knack for exploring Italian-American identity, violence and rage continued in this film, which is considered one of his greats. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards despite only making a profit by the skin of its teeth, and has gone on to garner a much higher critical reputation all these years later.

In 2006, a sequel was in production, but as it turns out, it wasn’t legitimate. The creators were sued by MGM for trying to create Raging Bull II, and it was retitled to The Bronx Bull.


#2 – The Shining

Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall & Scatman Crothers.

Want to know the recipe for a perfect horror film? It’s Stephen King plus Stanley Kubrick with a dash of Jack Nicholson.

The Shining follows Jack Torrance (Nicholson), an aspiring writer whose sanity deteriorates when his psychic abilities send him mad while caretaking an isolated hotel with his wife (Duvall) and son (Danny Lloyd).

This is one of the most analysed films of all time, with its various inconsistencies, ambiguities and symbols leading it to be read into by critics for its meaning. Kubrick was a true genius, and Nicholson’s performance is absolutely astonishing. Some of the most innovative film techniques and creepiest shots in history got their start in this horror classic.

This film was one of the first to use the Steadicam mount – and boy do those shots show it!


#1 – The Empire Strikes Back

Directed by Irvin Kershner. Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford & Carrie Fisher.

I promise I’m not biased. The Empire Strikes Back is just one of the greatest sequels ever made.

The Empire Strikes Back is set three years after the events of the first film, following our heroes (Hamill, Ford & Fisher) as they flee the evil Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) and fight back for the Rebel cause.

Universally considered to be arguably even better than its predecessor, it has had a significant impact on filmmaking and popular culture. The climax is often cited as one of the greatest plot twists in cinematic history, and it’s certainly no wonder that what was once a trilogy has now become a multi-billion dollar franchise.

If you’re a comic book fan, you might be interested to know that you can pick up a comic adaptation from Marvel Comics!