10 brilliant films from 1986
#10 – The Colour of Money
Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Paul Newman, Tom Cruise & Mary Elizabeth.
Martin Scorsese has generated some smash-hit films in his time, but this one is one of his more under-appreciated works.
The Colour of Money is the successor to Robert Rossen’s 1961 film The Hustler, with Paul Newman reprising his role from the original. It begins more than 25 years after The Hustler, following retired pool hustler and stakehorse “Fast Eddie” Felson.
While it doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, which has a place in the realms of cinematic classics, it features a brilliant Newman performance and a stunning up-and-comer performance from a young Tom Cruise. Scorsese’s direction makes it a fascinating sequel with a very different feel to The Hustler.
Controversially, the film is remembered for refusing to use the screenplay adaptation written by the author of the original novel, instead opting for their own adaptation.
#9 – Big Trouble in Little China
Directed by John Carpenter. Starring Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall & Dennis Dun.
I’m sure you’ve heard the story that F. Scott Fitzgerald died thinking his novels were a failure. Well, this is the film that almost ended John Carpenter’s career forever.
Big Trouble in Little China stars Kurt Russell as Jack Burton, who helps to rescue his friend’s fiancee from bandits in San Francisco’s Chinatown with a combination of martial arts and heavy firepower. It’s one of those incredible 80s action films that seemingly have a genre of their own.
Initially, the film was a box office failure and a critical flop, so badly in fact that Carpenter was disillusioned and left Hollywood, returning to making independent films off his own back. Years later, however, the film is considered a cult classic, critics retrospectively giving it credit for its writing and action sequences.
Thankfully, Carpenter didn’t die thinking he was a failure like Fitzgerald, so there are plenty more Carpenter films to check out if you like this one.
#8 – Little Shop of Horrors
Directed by Frank Oz. Starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene & Vincent Gardenia.
If you ask me, this is one of the best and most fun musicals ever created.
Little Shop of Horrors is about a geeky florist shop worker who finds out that his Venus flytrap can speak. With an all-star comedic cast of Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, Bill Murray and more, it’s hysterical from end to end and the musical numbers are a lot of fun.
Most interesting is the elaborate puppetwork required to operate the plant, which results in some iconic scenes and songs that will always be remembered – I love “Suddenly Seymour” and “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space” more than it’s healthy to love anything.
The film actually originally had a different ending which was changed after receiving negative feedback from test audiences, but you can still hear the songs that were cut from the film.
#7 – Platoon
Directed by Oliver Stone. Starring Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe & Charlie Sheen.
Reaction to the Vietnam War resulted in a lot of the most brilliant war films ever through the late 1970s and early 1980s, and this is one of the best.
Platoon follows a US Army volunteer serving in Vietnam while his Platoon Sergeant and Squad Leader argue and clash over the morality of war and the conduct of their platoon. It engages with the act of war on a philosophical level in an intensely confronting and thought-provoking way.
It was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning four including Best Picture, and despite being extremely confronting and controversial for a variety of reasons, is considered not only one of the best war films ever made, but one of the best films in general.
Despite being set in Vietnam, the film was actually shot in the Philippines – which turned out to be a bad choice, as filming had to go on hold during a political upheaval in February 1986.
#6 – Crocodile Dundee
Directed by Peter Faiman. Starring Paul Hogan, Linda Kozlowski & Mark Blum.
Ready to see where all the stereotypes about Australians come from?
Crocodile Dundee is one of the most successful Australian media exports of all time, following Paul Hogan as the titular character, a weathered man from the Australian bush who meets a reporter from the city in a whirlwind comedic matchup.
The film became a cultural phenomenon worldwide, sparking interest and replication (albeit inaccurate) of Australian accents, mannerisms, culture and attitudes. It put our country on the world map in a Hollywood sense, and it’s still remembered for it today.
It became the highest-grossing film of all time, overtaking E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial – now there’s a claim to fame for us Australians!
#5 – Labyrinth
Directed by Jim Henson. Starring David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly & Toby Froud.
This collaboration between three absolute icons in the entertainment industry is a fever dream you’ll never forget.
Muppets creator Jim Henson, Star Wars creator George Lucas and musical genius David Bowie join forces to bring you Labyrinth, a story about a 16-year-old girl’s quest to reach the centre of an enormous maze to rescue her infant brother from the Goblin King.
With the recognisable aesthetic of Henson and the world-building talents of Lucas (not to mention Bowie in the lead role), this film has a feel that just isn’t replicated in any other movie ever made. With its dark fantasy world and goofy characters, it’s an ambitious and brilliant film that the whole family will love.
The brilliance of the film is Henson’s puppets’ ability to put the visual effects of animation into a live-action setting. It’s wonderful to watch.
#4 – Stand by Me
Directed by Rob Reiner. Starring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix & Corey Feldman.
This is the first of two films that would solidify Rob Reiner as one of the greatest feel-good directors ever.
Stand by Me is an iconic film that any child of the 80s will remember. It follows four boys on a coming-of-age journey to find the dead body of a missing boy. And just look at the names in that cast! They weren’t just any four boys…
The legacy of this film is more far-reaching than those four boys would have ever thought possibly. Not only did it launch Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell into stardom, its cultural impact has been recognised years later as one of the most influential films in history.
You might not realise that this is also a Stephen King adaptation – the story was adapted from King’s novella The Body.
#3 – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Directed by John Hughes. Starring Matthew Broderick, Mia Sara & Alan Ruck.
1986 was also the year that comedy changed completely when Matthew Broderick shattered the fourth wall.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a classic teen comedy about the titular character, a high school slacker who skips school for a day in Chicago with drastic consequences. Few comedies have ever been so magnificently innovative and original, and it’s as hilarious today as it has ever been.
The film was actually intended to be a love letter to the city of Chicago, featuring many of the city’s landmarks including Sears Tower, Wrigley Field and the Art Institute of Chicago. But it’s the comedic style that makes this film as iconic as it is, setting the trend for meta-cinematic comedies that continues today.
John Hughes actually had Broderick in mind for the role of Ferris when he wrote the screenplay, saying nobody else could have pulled it off. I tend to agree.
#2 – Top Gun
Directed by Tony Scott. Starring Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis & Val Kilmer.
It’s Tom Cruise at his best in a brilliant action film with an iconic Kenny Loggins soundtrack. Love. This. Movie.
Top Gun is the fast-paced story of a young naval aviator who is given the chance to train at the US Navy’s Fighter Weapons School. It’s got something for everyone – action-packed jet fighting sequences, a whirlwind romance and an inspiring loose-cannon-turned-hero story.
Featuring Loggins’ “Danger Zone” as the theme song and a brilliant instrumental soundtrack composed by Harold Faltermeyer, this film has to be in the top five for greatest movie soundtracks of all time. It evokes chills no matter how many times you rewatch the movie.
The US Navy actually made real fighter jets available for filming of this movie. No CGI involved there.
#1 – Aliens
Directed by James Cameron. Starring Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn & Paul Reiser.
When you’re making a sequel to an action film and the original director won’t do it, it’s normally a bad sign. Then again, when the replacement is James Cameron, you’re not doing too bad.
Aliens is the sequel to Ridley Scott’s science-fiction-horror starring Sigourney Weaver. It follows Ellen Ripley as she returns to the moon where her crew encountered the horrifying alien creature – this time accompanied by a squadron of space marines.
Ranked as arguably the best sequel ever made, Aliens successfully evokes the horror and action of the original while being a brilliant film in its own right. Cameron slots perfectly into Scott’s role, bringing his brilliance in storytelling and originality to the franchise.
How often nowadays do you see a sequel nominated for seven Academy Awards?