Films from the 80s

10 timeless classics from 1985

#10 – Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

Directed by George Miller & George Ogilvie. Starring Mel Gibson, Tina Turner & Bruce Spence.

The Mad Max universe takes on an epic new scale and magnitude with this incredible third instalment that breaks all the rules of sequels being bad.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome rejoins our hero as he is exiled into the desert by the ruthless ruler of Bartertown and encounters an isolated cult centred around a crashed Boeing 747. Bringing better visual effects and more believable settings to the series, it’s basically the first two films with a bigger budget.

Including original action ideas and another brilliant performance from Mel Gibson, it’s a film that all of Australia has to be proud of. Marking an arguable high point in Australian cinema, it’s one of the most successful and acclaimed movies we’ve ever released from our shores.

Plus, that thunderdome scene is one of the most iconic action fight sequences in history.


#9 – Clue

Directed by Jonathan Lynn. Starring Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry & Madeline Kahn.

You’ve heard of video game adaptations and book adaptations. Now watch a film based on a board game.

Clue is based on the board game of the same name (we call it Cluedo here in Australia), and did something rather exciting and innovative. In its cinematic release, it had three possible endings, and each theatre received a different one. You’d have to travel around to different theatres to see all three. Nowadays, you can just get all three on the home video release.

Overall, the film wasn’t very well-received, but its campiness, uniqueness and innovation alone make it worthy of this list. Featuring an all-star ensemble cast of the likes of Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry and Christopher Lloyd, it’s definitely interesting to watch some of Hollywood’s favourites in such a ridiculous concept.

According to the director, there is actually one correct ending. See if you can guess which one it is after watching all three.


#8 – A Room with a View

Directed by James Ivory. Starring Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliott & Judi Dench.

Get ready for some of Britain’s finest actors in a romance that will take your breath away. This is one of the most successful British films of all time.

A Room with a View stars the likes of Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, Judi Dench and Daniel Day-Lewis, telling the story of a young woman in oppressive Edwardian England, who falls in love with a free-spirited young man. Generic though it may be, it executes the romance genre better than most ever will.

Met with universal acclaim, it was nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, and won three: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design. It currently holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes for its bright comedy and intellectual approach to the idea of love.

The film was primarily shot on location in Florence for the Italian scenes and around Kent for the scenes set in England.


#7 – Witness

Directed by Peter Weir. Starring Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis & Lukas Haas.

Forget Han Solo. Forget Indiana Jones. You want a really powerful Harrison Ford performance? This film is what you need.

In Witness, Ford plays a detective tasked with protecting a young Amish boy who becomes a target after he witnesses a murder in Philadelphia. Under Australian director Peter Weir, who is also responsible for Picnic at Hanging RockDead Poets Society and The Truman Show, this is an impactful and awesome crime thriller.

Nominated for eight Academy Awards, it is considered a critical highlight of both Weir’s and Ford’s careers. Ford’s performance was particularly praised for being unusually emotive and sympathetic for him, a very big deviation from his usual action hero roles at the time and definitely worthy of high praise.

During the setup and rehearsal of each scene, Weir would play music to get the cast in the mood, eccentric character that he is.


#6 – The Purple Rose of Cairo

Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels & Danny Aiello.

This is one of Woody Allen’s most underappreciated classics, and it’s responsible for the launch of a few careers that we know today.

The Purple Rose of Cairo is probably Allen’s most fantastical film, telling the story of a character who leaves his fictional world and enters the real world in New Jersey. Allen’s quirky humour works magnificently with a more surreal concept than his usual. As damaged as his relationship with Mia Farrow is, the two clearly worked together well at this time.

The whimsical and inventive twist worked. Critics received the film very well, and it won the BAFTA Award for Best Film. Allen’s blurring of the line between reality and fantasy was lauded as some of the most creative and original comedy that Hollywood had seen in a long time.

This film also saw the onscreen debut of Viggo Mortensen after his role was cut from an earlier film, as well as an early role in the career of Dianne Wiest.


#5 – Brazil

Directed by Terry Gilliam. Starring Jonathan Pryce, Robert de Niro & Katherine Helmond.

When Terry Gilliam isn’t starring with Monty Python, he’s still just about one of the funniest creative artists you’ll see in the 20th century.

Brazil is a brilliant dystopian science-fiction black comedy from the mind of the Python, starring such big names as Jonathan Pryce, Robert de Niro, Bob Hoskins and fellow Python Michael Palin. Described as a satire on bureaucracy, it is set in a world where humanity relies too much on poorly-maintained machinery.

With a whimsical sense of humour that could only come from a Python and cutting satire, the film became a landmark piece in the comedy scene, inspiring the cinematography of many satires and comedies that would follow. Directors of the calibre of the Coen brothers and Tim Burton have cited it as an influence.

Unfortunately, it was another film marred by studios’ fights to have influence over the final cuts of films, and Gilliam’s original 142-minute cut is lost to time.


#4 – Ran

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao & Jinpachi Nezu.

Don’t be fooled by Hayao Miyazaki’s whimsical tastes. Japan is very capable of a much darker type of film, especially with Akira Kurosawa at the helm.

Ran is one of the last of Kurosawa’s works, and certainly his best. Already renowned for the likes of IkiruSeven Samurai and High and Low, this was the cherry on top of a magnificent and underappreciated career. It is adapted from Shakespeare’s King Lear and was the most expensive Japanese film ever made at the time.

I say this with full disclosure that it is my personal opinion: it’s a dark horse contender for the greatest film ever made. If not for the fact that a few highly influential landmark films came out in 1985, and I have to consider cultural impact in this list, I would have it at number one. Its incredible action sequences, gorgeous cinematography and spine-chilling soundtrack will change you completely upon seeing this astonishing film.

Seriously, treat yourself. At the culmination of one of the finest careers in cinema history came the absolute perfection of his art. Ran is a masterpiece.


#3 – The Goonies

Directed by Richard Donner. Starring Sean Astin, Josh Brolin & Jeff Cohen.

So, what has enough cultural impact to push one of the greatest masterpieces ever from its perch? How about one of the greatest kids’ adventures ever that launched half a dozen brilliant careers?

The Goonies is a critically-acclaimed cult classic film following a band of kids from the “Goon Docks” who set out to find a mysterious treasure in order to save their home from foreclosure. Written by the genius mind of Steven Spielberg and directed by Richard Donner, it has charmed childhoods the world over.

From the very outset, even from critics who didn’t like the film, the consensus was that its child leads were future superstars. Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman and Martha Plimpton all got their starts as child actors in this blockbuster – that’s right. The Goonies gave us Thanos.

It’s not a Spielberg film per se, but according to the cast, Spielberg was like a co-director on the set, so it might as well be.


#2 – The Breakfast Club

Directed by John Hughes. Starring Emilio Estevez, Paul Gleason & Anthony Michael Hall.

Don’t you forget about The Breakfast Club in your 50-years-of-Tune movie marathon!

A coming-of-age film that has taken off to become one of the quintessential films of not only the 1980s but all time, The Breakfast Club is packed from end to end with iconic dialogue and brilliant character-based drama and comedy. The characters became so iconic that its five stars (Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall & Ally Sheedy) have become known as the Brat Pack themselves.

What is brilliant about this film that sets it apart from other coming-of-age films is that it never breaks us free from the claustrophobic setting of detention. Every character’s story is told subtly through their actions in the space of those couple of hours, which is so much more subtle and nuanced than most films will ever manage to be.

And don’t you forget to wait around for that last scene (which hasn’t aged that well and is probably much more cringeworthy than you remember)!


#1 – Back to the Future

Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd & Lea Thompson.

Great Scott! Nothing was going to stop Back to the Future from taking out top spot in 1985… or is it 1955?

The beginning of Robert Zemeckis’ iconic trilogy, starring the magnificent duo of Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, Back to the Future is indisputably one of the most memorable and iconic films of all time. This is one of the greatest examples of narrative construction you’ll ever see, not just in this film but in its equally excellent sequels… or are they technically prequels?

I find that few films blend comedy and blockbuster action quite as well as Back to the Future. On a sick day when all I have the energy to do is lie on the couch and watch movies, this trilogy is what I turn to. It’s stimulating enough for you to notice something different on every viewing, and at the same time it’s just plain old fun.

Pro tip: watch all three at once in one long sitting. The sequels are basically chapters in one long story.