There seem to be a number of nineteen-eighties movies that, when I first came to hear of them, were recent enough to not be considered sacred in any way. However, as time has passed, I’ve come to see more and more retrospective reviews of such films that increasingly seem to treat them as classics of the period. Presumably these are written my those who were kids when these films came out who have some nostalgic attachment to them. There are plenty of great Eighties films, but there are also some that not only don’t hold up, but are hard to see why anyone found them good to begin with. Below are my top 5 main offenders.
5. The Karate Kid (John G. Avildsen, 1984)
Here’s an insipid teenage romance posing as a martial arts film. The irritating kid of the title doesn’t like his new neighbourhood as he’s bullied by jock stereotypes but wants to hook up with the boring but pretty cheerleader. We endure an hour of slow, dreary soap opera before he even starts his karate classes with Mr. Miyagi. Then we get the typical, predictable underdog sports story (it’s from the director of Rocky), but even the final fight is a completely flat affair, with no thrilling karate moves to be seen.
The modern equivalent? Well this one’s actually been remade but I’m going with Pitch Perfect, a dreadful but inexplicably well-received underdog story, with a cappella instead of karate.
4. Sixteen Candles (John Hughes, 1984)
Particularly since his retirement and then early death, people have tended to group all of John Hughes’s eighties teen movies together. He stuck gold a few times (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller) but was also responsible for rubbish like Weird Science and this, his breakthrough film. The tiresome and simplistic story finds a teenage girl ignored by her parents and pining for a handsome, popular high school senior. Of course it ends with a awful, cheese-tastic romantic scene that feels like it was written by a twelve year old. Also, it contains possibly the most racist portrayal of an Asian character since Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
The modern equivalent? Twilight, an execrable high school romance whose tiny plot feels like it was written by a twelve year old too.
3. Friday the 13th (Sean S. Cunningham, 1980)
It’s often the case with horror franchises that while the numerous sequels churned out tend to be poor, at least the original was genuinely good (Saw, Halloween). Not so with Friday the 13th, which was terrible to begin with. If Halloween pioneered and popularised the slasher film in 1978, Friday the 13th did nothing but unimaginatively recycle it. It’s a shoddily made, chiché-ridden film undeserving of its iconic stature among horror movies.
The modern equivalent? Hostel, a terribly written and made horror that managed to enter public consciousness (at least it’s only had two sequels so far).
2. Dirty Dancing (Emile Ardolino, 1987)
Ugh, this sentimental drivel is surely the most enduringly popular film on this list. Its lazy and uninspired plot finds a seventeen year old rich girl visiting a holiday resort with her stern father, who has big plans for her future, and getting the hots for a much older and poorer dance instructor. There’s a dreadful abortion subplot thrown in but the film unfolds exactly how you’d expect, leading to a big dance finale accompanied by a terrible song. It’s a competently made film but nothing about its story or characters are particularly interesting or compelling. It does mystify me how this remains so favoured when superior romance films exist in abundance.
The modern equivalent? The Notebook, another trite, manipulative romance that retains a perplexing number of fans.
1. Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986)
Unlike most of this list, Top Gun is not a film about teenagers but it might as well be, it has the overused sports film plot as the vapid characters of Tom Cruise’s “Maverick” and Val Kilmer’s “Iceman” go up against each other to be the best pilot. To be fair, Tony Scott does film some impressive aerial sequences but that can’t get past the corny dialogue, banal romantic subplot, (possibly) unintentional homoeroticism, cringe-worthy ending, and frequent use of a dire power ballad. On three separate occasions in my life, I’ve had people sincerely tell me that they think Top Gun is “the best film ever made”. They have my pity.
The modern equivalent? You can’t have a smash hit action movie now without sequels but I’ll choose Transformers, an overblown, dumb, but hugely popular blockbuster with some hefty action scenes but poor characters, dialogue and story.