The 1980s were a golden era for cinema, marked by a blend of blockbuster hits and hidden gems. While many films from this decade have achieved cult status or widespread recognition, there are several exceptional movies that have somehow slipped under the radar of mainstream audiences. This listicle delves into ten such classics from the 1980s, offering a fresh look at some of the decade’s most compelling yet underappreciated cinematic creations. Each entry explores a unique film, highlighting its distinct narrative, performances, and impact, ensuring a rediscovery of these underrated masterpieces.
Broadcast News (1987)
“Broadcast News,” directed by James L. Brooks, is a keen and witty dissection of the television news industry, blending drama with sharp comedy. Brooks, primarily known for his television work before this, crafted a film that is as insightful as it is entertaining. The story revolves around a love triangle involving two news anchors, played by William Hurt and Albert Brooks, and their producer, portrayed by Holly Hunter.
This film excels in its portrayal of professional and personal dynamics, highlighted by scenes like Hunter feeding lines to Hurt through an earpiece, a moment charged with both professional tension and underlying romance. The performances of the lead trio are some of the finest in their careers, perfectly capturing the exhilarating, high-pressure world of TV news. “Broadcast News” is further enriched by a cameo from Jack Nicholson, linking back to Brooks’ previous Oscar-winning film, “Terms of Endearment.” This movie is a must-watch for its authentic representation of the media world and its nuanced character studies.
The Elephant Man (1980)
David Lynch, renowned for his distinctive and surreal filmmaking style, made an indelible mark early in his career with “The Elephant Man.” This 1980 black-and-white biographical drama stands apart in Lynch’s oeuvre for its deeply humanistic portrayal of Joseph Merrick, a man suffering from severe deformities due to elephantiasis. Produced by Brooksfilms, a company led by comedy legend Mel Brooks (who removed his name to avoid misleading audiences), the film transcends the usual biopic formula.
“The Elephant Man” is as much a poignant exploration of humanity as it is a showcase of Lynch’s artistic prowess. Merrick, relegated to a life as a freak show attraction, finds dignity and compassion when a kind-hearted doctor sees beyond his physical appearance. This narrative, rich in empathy and depth, is complemented by hauntingly beautiful cinematography and powerful performances. The film’s stage adaptations, including three Broadway productions, have never quite captured the raw emotion and authenticity that Lynch’s direction brings to this tragic yet inspiring story.
The Verdict (1982)
Sidney Lumet’s “The Verdict” is a gripping legal drama featuring Paul Newman in one of his most memorable roles. Newman portrays a washed-up lawyer who sees a straightforward medical malpractice case as a chance for redemption. This film is a classic underdog story, pitting the little guy against the establishment in a battle for justice.
Directed by Lumet, known for his adept handling of legal and ethical dramas as seen in his debut film “Twelve Angry Men,” “The Verdict” carries a similar intensity and moral weight. The screenplay, penned by the legendary David Mamet, adds a layer of sharp dialogue and compelling narrative to the already potent mix. Newman’s character, initially disheartened and disillusioned, finds a renewed sense of purpose as he delves deeper into the case. His transformation from a man who had given up to one who fiercely fights for the truth is both inspiring and deeply human. “The Verdict” is not just a courtroom drama; it’s a powerful story of personal and moral resurrection.
Steven Spielberg’s “Always,” a remake of the 1943 drama “A Guy Named Joe,” presents a unique take on life after death. This film, often overlooked in Spielberg’s oeuvre, explores themes of love, friendship, and the importance of letting go. Known for creating magical cinematic experiences, Spielberg weaves a narrative that resonates with emotional depth.
The film’s soundtrack, particularly The Platters’ 1959 hit “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” beautifully encapsulates the romance at the heart of the story. “Always” is part of a trilogy of adult-themed films by Spielberg, showcasing his versatility beyond the family-friendly blockbusters he’s famous for. This film is a testament to his ability to craft stories that appeal to a more mature audience, making it a must-watch for fans of Spielberg’s diverse directorial style.
Brewster’s Millions (1985)
“Brewster’s Millions” stands out as a delightful blend of comedy and fantasy, starring Richard Pryor as a minor league pitcher who unexpectedly inherits a fortune. The catch? He must spend $30 million in 30 days without acquiring any assets to inherit $300 million. Accompanied by John Candy, who plays his loyal friend and moral compass, Pryor embarks on a wild spending spree.
This film, while often hailed as a comedy, transcends the genre to offer a unique fantasy – the dream of unfettered spending and the freedom it represents. The journey Pryor’s character undergoes is not just one of financial extravagance but also of self-discovery. He learns about his true priorities and values as he navigates this once-in-a-lifetime challenge. “Brewster’s Millions” is a fascinating exploration of wealth, friendship, and the human spirit, packed with humor and heart.
In “Witness,” Harrison Ford delivers a career-defining performance as a police officer who goes undercover among the Amish to protect a young boy who has witnessed a murder. This film is notable for its sensitive portrayal of the Amish community and the clash of cultures that ensues.
Directed with a keen eye for detail and emotion, “Witness” is more than just a crime thriller; it’s a deep dive into themes of community, identity, and belonging. Ford’s character, initially an outsider, gradually finds solace and connection in the simplicity and integrity of Amish life. Kelly McGillis, in one of her first roles, portrays the boy’s mother, adding depth and nuance to the story. This film is unique in Ford’s repertoire, showcasing his versatility as an actor and offering a narrative that is both thrilling and thought-provoking.
Joe Dante’s “Innerspace,” a blend of sci-fi and comedy, stands out as one of the most inventive films of the 1980s. The story revolves around a maverick scientist (played by Dennis Quaid) who is accidentally injected into the body of a timid supermarket clerk (Martin Short). This unusual premise sets the stage for an action-packed and humorous buddy film unlike any other.
The chemistry between Quaid and Short drives the film, as they form an unlikely team to thwart the villains after the shrinking technology. Meg Ryan, in an early role, adds charm and wit as Quaid’s former girlfriend. Dante, known for “Gremlins” and “Explorers,” masterfully balances the elements of action, comedy, and science fiction, creating a movie experience that’s both unique and unforgettable. “Innerspace” not only showcases the talents of its cast but also stands as a testament to Dante’s visionary direction, ensuring its place as a one-of-a-kind film in the history of cinema.
“Scrooged” is an inventive take on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” starring Bill Murray as a cynical TV executive. Directed by Richard Donner, this film stands out as one of the best adaptations of the classic tale. Murray’s performance, blending his signature snark with unexpected pathos, is a highlight of his career.
Donner, known for his work on “The Goonies” and the “Lethal Weapon” series, expertly balances comedy, action, and heart. “Scrooged” features memorable scenes with David Johansen and Carol Kane as ghosts, and heartfelt moments with Karen Allen. Also noteworthy are cameos by Murray’s brothers, adding a familial touch to the film. This movie is not just entertaining but serves as a reminder of the power of redemption and the human capacity for change.
Steve Martin stars in “Roxanne,” a charming adaptation of the 1897 play “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Martin, who also wrote the screenplay, shines as “C.D.” Bales, the beloved fire chief with a distinctive nose. This film highlights Martin’s comedic genius and his ability to create a deeply likable character.
In “Roxanne,” Martin’s charisma and physical comedy skills are on full display, whether he’s outwitting a bully or saving the town from a fire. Daryl Hannah’s portrayal of Roxanne adds to the film’s appeal, creating a romantic and comedic chemistry that is delightful. Martin’s portrayal of a modern-day hero with a unique facial feature makes “Roxanne” a standout in his career and a memorable 80s comedy.
“Moonstruck,” starring Cher and Nicolas Cage, is a masterful blend of romance and comedy. Directed by Norman Jewison, this film explores love and relationships with a mix of humor and depth. Cher’s portrayal of a middle-aged woman whose life is turned upside down by her fiancé’s estranged brother (Cage) earned widespread acclaim.
Jewison, known for classics like “…And Justice For All” and “In The Heat Of The Night,” brings his unique storytelling prowess to “Moonstruck.” The film’s exploration of unexpected love and the pursuit of happiness in unlikely places makes it a standout romantic comedy from the 80s.