Films from the 80s

10 magnificent movies from 1982

#10 – The Secret of NIMH

Directed by Don Bluth. Starring Elizabeth Hartman, Hermione Baddeley & John Carradine.

This film is such an animation icon that it was part of my childhood… and it’s more than 15 years older than me!

The Secret of NIMH is an adaptation of the Robert C. O’Brien novel about a timid field mouse preparing to move her family out of a field about to be ploughed, but her son Timothy has fallen ill. What follows is a high fantasy adventure of fantastic proportions.

This film takes a very interesting approach in comparison to other big animators of the day such as Disney, not toning down its subject matter in the slightest. It’s a superb film that will please the entire family with beautiful animation and a gripping story.

For those who are fans of the novel, the character of Mrs Frisby had to be changed to Mrs Brisby due to trademark concerns with Frisbee discs, which were hugely popular at the time.


#9 – Conan the Barbarian

Directed by John Milius. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones & Sandahl Bergman.

One of my favourite aspects of writing these articles has been seeing the careers of legends from their very beginning. Well, here we go again.

Conan the Barbarian is based on the Robert E. Howard character, telling the story of the young muscular Conan, a barbarian warrior who seeks vengeance for the death of his parents at the hands of the leader of a snake cult. It’s one of those stereotypical action films of the 1980s, but it’s a roller coaster ride.

This film gave Arnold Schwarzenegger the worldwide recognition that would launch him into his acting career and later iconic films such as The Terminator and Total Recall. It’s easy to see why: Schwarzenegger is already his brilliant (and muscly) self in this early film.

If you’re planning a post-COVID holiday and love the supernatural setting of this film, consider heading to its real-life location in Cuenca, Spain!


#8 – Tron

Directed by Steven Lisberger. Starring Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner & David Warner.

OK, the visual effects don’t quite hold up, but this film was the beginning of a cultural phenomenon.

Tron was a film in development since 1976, starring Jeff Bridges as a computer programmer who is transported inside the software world of a mainframe computer and has to fight off its programs to escape. This was one of Disney’s few live-action successes of the time.

Critically, it was considered incoherent at the time, but I like to consider it ahead of its time. It would later become a cult classic, spawning several sequels and video games with its groundbreaking visuals and excellent performances.

Interestingly, the Academy Awards refused to nominate it for Best Visual Effects because they considered it cheating to use computers to generate environments. How ironic.


#7 – The Thing

Directed by John Carpenter. Starring Kurt Russell, A. Wilford Brimley & T.K. Carter.

Inspired by the grotesque horror imagery of Alien and the successes of slasher films, John Carpenter brought us The Thing.

The Thing is inspired by the 1938 novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr and tells the story of a group of American researchers in Antarctica who encounter a parasitic extraterrestrial life-form that imitates other organisms. It’s a story of paranoia as the researchers can no longer trust one another.

In 1982 it was described by reviewers as ‘instant junk,’ and was proposed as the most-hated film of all time. Critics praised the special effects yet criticised their repulsiveness. Once audiences became slightly more desensitised, it was later described as one of the greatest science-fiction horrors ever made. Funny how we change our minds.

That critical backflip will always baffle me. It made the list for Worst Movies of All Time in 1982, only to earn its place in the 500 Greatest Films of All Time in 2008. Few films can claim both, I imagine.


#6 – Annie

Directed by John Huston. Starring Albert Finney, Carol Burnett & Bernadette Peters.

Bring on one of the finest, best-choreographed and catchiest musical numbers in the history of both stage and screen.

Annie was adapted from the Broadway musical, following an orphan from New York City in the midst of the Great Depression, who is taken in by America’s richest billionaire. It’s considered one of history’s best musicals.

The film was not as well-received as the stage musical, but it still became an iconic element of many childhoods. It would receive Oscar nominations for its art direction, set decoration and music.

The entire film was actually shot in a university: Monmouth University in New Jersey.


#5 – The Man from Snowy River

Directed by George T. Miller. Starring Kirk Douglas, Jack Thompson & Tom Burlinson.

One of Australia’s culturally-defining works of poetry would later become one of our finest works of cinema.

The Man from Snowy River, based on the landmark poem by Banjo Paterson, is an Australian Western that presents an epic adventure in the Australian bush that starts after an accident involving a herd of wild brumbies. You will have to excuse some awful attempts at Aussie accents, however.

The film would become the highest-grossing Australian film of all time until Crocodile Dundee was released four years later, blasting our cinema industry into international acclaim, particularly with the performance of American Kirk Douglas.

One piece of credit for Douglas, despite his awful accent: he actually plays two roles in this film, as both brothers Harrison and Spur.


#4 – Gandhi

Directed by Richard Attenborough. Starring Candice Bergen, Edward Fox & John Gielgud.

The expression often goes when a film is not worthy of an Academy Award: “It’s no Gandhi.”

Gandhi is the biopic of the famed leader of India’s non-violent protest against the United Kingdom’s rule during the 20th century. It was a co-production between British and Indian film production companies and a resounding success.

Ben Kingsley’s performance as Gandhi has been lauded as one of cinema’s all-time greats, and the film would go on to win Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards in a sweep rarely replicated by any film.

This film was Richard Attenborough’s dream project, and he had tried and failed to film it on two previous occasions.


#3 – First Blood

Directed by Ted Kotcheff. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna & Brian Dennehy.

Even if you’re not a fan of action films, you probably know the name John Rambo.

First Blood continued the success of actor and writer Sylvester Stallone, who stars as Vietnam veteran John Tambo, who must rely on his combat and survival senses against abusive law enforcement. Not only is it an icon of action cinema, but it’s also an interesting take on the treatment of veterans after Vietnam.

Rambo has been hailed as one of history’s most layered and interesting protagonists: fierce, hollow-eyed, tormented and misunderstood, but never described as an anti-hero or villain. If not for a certain Rocky Balboa, it would be the career-defining performance of Stallone.

It was so popular upon its release that it even warranted a Bollywood remake, which is also an interesting watch.


#2 – E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote & Henry Thomas.

We all know by now that Steven Spielberg can do gripping horror and fast-paced action. Now for something beautiful and evoking of true wonder.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is the classic story of an alien stranded on Earth and the young boy who befriends him. Considered to be one of the greatest films of all time, preserved in the National Film Registry since 1994 and re-released twice, it’s one of the landmark films in Hollywood’s history.

By this stage, Spielberg was beginning to be recognised not as a one-off success, but a true genius and artist in his own right, and audiences flocked to see what he had in store for them next. It would become the highest-grossing film of all time, surpassing Star Wars, and premiered at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.

Spielberg actually drew the story from his own parents’ divorce, which just makes me want to cry even more about it.


#1 – Blade Runner

Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer & Sean Young.

Get ready for a science-fiction thriller that blew everyone’s minds before Christopher Nolan had even thought about starting in film.

Blade Runner is based on the watershed science-fiction novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, and follows cop Rick Deckard who has to hunt down a group of fugitive advanced replicants – synthetic humans bio-engineered by a powerful corporation.

Raising questions of the role of technology in society and what it means to be human, Blade Runner is Ridley Scott’s masterpiece that will have you questioning your very existence. It took some time for it to be truly appreciated, but now it is analysed by scholars and critics as one of history’s all-time greats.

Studio executives controversially created about seven different versions of this film because of disputes over what should be included, so make sure you get the director’s cut: Scott really knows what he’s doing.