Thursday, August 27, 2015

Take 5: Science Fiction Films of the 1980s

Karen: Boy, it's been a while since we did a Take 5! The premise here is to name your five top picks of the post's topic. Last weekend, I happened to put on the old classic Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Predator. I've always enjoyed that film, not only for the fantastic creature design of Stan Winston and his team but for the solid story and wonderful characters and performances by Arnold, Bill Duke, Sonny Landham, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, and of course, Kevin Peter Hall as the Predator. It was a great combination of action and science fiction. It also got me thinking about the science fiction films of the 80s. There were so many good science fiction films released in this decade (well, and a lot of terrible ones too). But a ton of great ones that I still think of fondly and will sit and watch just about any time. So why not do some reminiscing? 

Karen: I'll list my five top picks for my favorites of that decade, then you list yours, and let's all discuss. Deal? 

1. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
2. Predator (1987)
3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
4. The Thing (1982)
5. Aliens (1986)


Edo Bosnar said...

That's a solid list, Karen. There's no doubting the super-popularity of Empire when it came out and its subsequent influence, but as with all things Star Wars, it kind of lost its luster for me as time passed.
Arnie's films sort of have the same effect on me - used to love them all, now I don't as much, although I'll admit that Predator is a really engaging one (albeit not my favorite).
My own list:
1. Star Trek: Wrath of Khan
2. Star Trek: Search for Spock (those two just go together for me)
3. Star Trek: The Voyage Home (a common theme is probably becoming apparent at this point)
4. Aliens (honestly, it's nowhere near as good as Alien, which is so brilliantly grim and scary, but it's still an outstanding SF-action flick)
5. Terminator

Martinex1 said...

This is tough...very tough...
1. Blade Runner
2. Escape From New York
3. The Fly
4. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai
5. The Thing

david_b said...

I really wasn't into sci-fi in the 80s much.., first off, most of it was bad; second, I was finishing college so my head was more in music, women, and elsewhere, my interest in Starlog had dropped off once **every issue** was feeding the newly-budding sci-fi franchises (Trek, SW, Aliens, Back to the Future, etc..). Just getting a bit too slick and smug for my tastes.

That being said, I enjoyed the following the best..:

1) Empire Strikes Back
2) Aliens
3) Ghostbusters (paranormal, but still sci-fi)
4) Both Wrath/Search Trek movies ~ Edo's right, they do go together..
5) 2010

'The Right Stuff' was excellent as well, but of course it's retelling our early space race years (with obvious literary/dramatic license added..).

And who didn't love 'Back to the Future'...

William said...

Great list Karen.

I like Edo's list as well. Those three Star Trek movies are definitely some of my favorites. However, I left them off my list because I almost think of them as one long movie, and I didn't want to take up three spots with one movie.

So, here's my top 5. (Not easy to narrow down).

1. Empire Strikes Back - Arguably the best of all the Star Wars movies, so this was a no-brainer.

2. Return of the Jedi - Maybe not as good as it could/should have been, but at the time it came out, I loved it more than I did my mother. (Just kidding mom)

3. Predator - I saw Predator in a movie theater in Virginia when I was in Coast Guard and my ship went up to Norfolk. I still think it is one of the most perfect sci-fi movies ever conceived. I am still in awe of it's brilliance. One of the few movies where I wouldn't change a frame.

4. The Terminator - Arnold as a cyborg death machine from the future, what more could want from a sci-fi action flick. Still Cameron's best movie. It's a much better film than Avatar. IMO

5. Aliens - That movie has more quotable lines (mostly from Bill Paxton) than just about any other movie I can think of. "Game over man! Game over!!"

I almost put Superman 2, on the list, but I didn't think it really counted as the kind of Sci-Fi we're talking about.

Humanbelly said...

Yeah, if we bumped back to 1979 ALIEN would finish first for me and probably be midway through its victory dinner before #'s 2-5 managed to fight each other to the finish line. Unquestionably my favorite sci-fi film of all time.

But. . . we're moonwalkin' through the 80's, so---
Not relying on a chancy memory, I looked up a list of sci-fi films from the 80's, and man did that genre explode in that decade! Running down the list, there were no less than fifteen (!) that made the first cut for me. Roughly chronological:


And based on all kinds of intangibles, like what cast the most powerful "aura", what held up the most with repeated viewings, what has carved the most indelible memories, I'm gonna go with:

BACK TO THE FUTURE-- by a longshot in this group. I do not get tired of that film-- it never fails to delight me. Like IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, but not as susbstantial. . . and sci-fi.

AKIRA-- I watched it three times in a row about 15 years ago, and haven't since. But just thinking about it stimulates that "aura" I mentioned.

STAR TREK 2-- Really, the pinnacle of the "Original Trek" franchise overall. A fine, fine film that used a LOT of idiosyncratic actors to their best advantage. Well-paced, well put together, and an almost impossibly moving death scene, of course. We watched it on- ha!- laser-disc in the lobby of my dorm in college, and one rather reclusive, socially-awkward young woman broke down so completely that she had to be helped back to her room afterward. . .

ALIENS-- Also a great action/sci-fi film. More like a Deadly Dozen war film, of course-- but geeze, what a great treasure chest of memorable ensemble performances behind Weaver's struggling-but-determined Ripley. Yes, you get exhausted and even burnt-out on the relentlessly harrowing, over-long "final" sequence, and it's awfully hard to keep track of exactly why certain events are happening they way they are, but it's truly a suck-you-in cinematic experience. In a way, it's disadvantaged by its two immediate sister-films. The first is an utter masterpiece, and the third begins by completely throwing away the meaningful sacrifices made in #2 on, apparently, the whim of the writer.

Geeze, and then #5's a tough call. Personally, I want to say TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, but I'm pretty darned sure you guys'll throw things at me, as it is generally NOT considered a good film. It's between THE FLY, PREDATOR, and THE THING. I'm goin' with THE THING for both the over-the-top monster effects AND its brilliant use of silence, stillness and focus to create spine-shredding suspense. Egad-- that's whole testing-the-blood seqence. . .

HB (now I feel like watching a bunch of movies!)

dbutler16 said...

1. The Empire Strikes Back
2. Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan
3. Bladerunner
4. Return of the Jedi
5. Escape From New York

The top 3 are pretty easy, all 10/10's in my book.

Martinex1 said...

I like everybody’s picks. “The Empire Strikes Back” would be in my top 10, so would “Wrath of Kahn”. As HB said, the 80s was just loaded with sci fi, and it fell into many genres. I tend to like the stuff that borders on horror like “The Thing” and “The Fly”; “Alien” also would have made my list if it made the decade. Or I like very campy pics like “Escape from New York”; that movie seems so tied to the 80s despite being set in the farflung future of 1997; I like John Carpenter’s work including “They Live”.

I know “Blade Runner” is not everybody’s cup of tea, but the level of production work almost seems sci fi to me. The level of detail the creators put into that world always draws me in. I’ve read just how much development time went into just designing magazine covers at a newsstand in a brief shot. My top ten would have included some smaller films like “The Brother From Another Planet” and “Lifeforce”. And perhaps “Outland” and “The Road Warrior” would make the cut.

Garett said...

I like all the films in Karen's list. But I'm thinking of which films I'd watch on tv now if I had to choose a channel.

1. Terminator- I did see this on tv recently, and it pulled me right in.
2. Star Trek 4- I would've said Star Trek 2 back in the '80s, but this one has more fun in it.
3. The Thing- In winter this one has just the right mood.
4. Back to the Future- Holds up amazingly well, fresh and fun as ever.
5. Bill + Ted's Excellent Adventure- I saw this on the big screen again recently, and it's so much fun!

I'll add in to the other fine lists here:
Flash Gordon (silly but sexy, and as quotable as Aliens)
The Abyss
Outland (soft spot for this one even if it's not great)

Big disappoinments:
Battle Beyond the Stars
Heavy Metal


I think it was ok but I can't quite remember:
Enemy Mine

I'd love to see some like Aliens and Empire and Superman 2 on the big screen again. Now and then they have retro film fests, and it's fun to see with the popcorn and theatre experience.

The Groovy Agent said...

I did a list of ten, duh! Take "FIVE" Groove, lol! Here's my revised post:

I'm not a big "hard" sci-fi guy, so my list might be different from some...

1. Terminator
2. Back to the Future
3. RoboCop
4. The Running Man
5. The Empire Strikes Back

My runners up:
Somewhere In Time
E.T. (Somebody had to admit it!)
Return of the Jedi (in spite of the Ewoks)
Twilight Zone: The Movie

Garett said...

Here's some nerdy fun--a speed comparison of real and sci fi space ships:

Ewan said...

1) Empire Strikes Back (favorite movie of all time!)
2) Wrath of Khan ("He tasks me. He tasks me and I shall have him!")
3) They Live (funniest and best fight scene EVER)
4) 2010 (eternally plaguing science teachers thereafter to explain why Jupiter couldn't really become a star)

and number 5 (can't believe this hasn't been mentioned yet)...


Edo Bosnar said...

Man, I feel a bit embarrassed while reading everyone else's lists, just because I didn't include Blade Runner. I don't know why I blanked on that; maybe because it's one of my favorite all-time films in general, so I don't necessarily think of it as SF, although it totally is. Anyway, that would be my actually be my no. 1, bumping Terminator off of my list.

Also, it's interesting that a number of you mentioned stuff like Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, or Bill and Ted. Several comedies/satires occurred to me as well, but I didn't include them because, well, they're comedies. However, here's my top five list of SF satire/comedy:
1. Repo Man
2. Ice Pirates
3. Spaceballs
4. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
5. Battle Beyond the Stars (Garett, that one's not disappointing if you just think of it as comedy and roll with it)

Humanbelly said...

I've never seen Repo Man--- that's an SF film? Hunh.
Edo, is Battle Beyond the Stars the one where the hero & his sidekick successfully navigate the villain's challenges in order to earn their freedom, and when they confront him with, "You said you'd free us if we got through this-!", he simply responds with, "Oh-- yes, I lied."

'Zat the one? A REALLY young Molly Ringwald playing a character named. . . Nikki? Who is amazingly like the Niki in Guardians of the Galaxy?

Y'know, I liked Blade Runner fine--- but it's just not a film that grabbed me out of my chair like it does so many other great fans. I'm. . . just not cool enough.


Edo Bosnar said...

HB, yep, Repo Man is a rather dark SF comedy; haven't seen it in awhile, though, I really need to rewatch it...

It's also been a while since I last saw Battle Beyond the Stars, but I have no idea what you're talking about. The movie - a Roger Corman production - is a space opera that tried to cash in on the Star Wars craze; it stars John-boy Walton, playing a young lad from a farming planet who gets caught up in an interstellar struggle against a vile dictator (played by John Saxon). Other notable characters are a cowboyesque space trucker from Earth played by George Peppard (who has a belt that dispenses scotch and soda - I'm not making this up!) and a sort of space-faring Valkyrie, complete with winged helmet and skimpy metal bikini, played by Sybil Danning.

Anonymous said...

Did anybody mention Weird Science? I think that qualifies.
Say, what exactly happened to Chet at the end? Was he supposed to be a toad, or a turdpile, or what?
Bill Paxton should have done more science fiction films. He does obnoxiousness and terrified panic really well.

Martinex1 said...

I think HB is thinking of “Spacehunter, Adventures in the Forbidden Zone”. Ugh. I remember it being horrible and playing on what seemed like an endless loop on early Cinemax cable, but now because I have been reminded of it I am doomed to look for it and watch it again! Maybe in a double feature with “Yor”, “Xtro” or “Maximum Overdrive”.

I thought Chet was a turdpile.

jeirich said...

Great question. For me, it has to start (and, in some ways, end) with Blade Runner. An absolute masterpiece that 16-year-old me didn't know quite what to do with. My list, in order:

1. Blade Runner
2. Alien
3. The Empire Strikes Back
4. The Terminator
5. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Honestly, I have never appreciated Aliens or T2 nearly as much as the originals.

Humanbelly said...

D'oh, the buzzer's soundin' on ya, jeirich!
ALIEN was 1979 (which why I couldn't make it my own #1)-- bump up 3 thru 5 aaaaaaand whatcha got on deck, eh?

(Looking at your list, I'm going to say your next choice might be either PREDATOR or ALIENS. How close am I? Ooh-- what PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED? Did we even give that one proper consideration at all??) (I kid-- fine little movie, sure, but not in the realm of a "best ever". . . )


Humanbelly said...

Oh wait-- ALIENS didn't grab you, you said.
Hmmm- John Carpenter's THE THING, maybe? Yeah?

HB- for the last time, for pete's sake!

Anonymous said...

If we expand the category to include fantasy without sci-fi overtones, The Princess Bride gets my #1 slot. I wore out the tape of that one.

Let's see...

1. Empire Strikes Back: still the best movie in the most popular sci-fi franchise of all time.
2. Back to the Future: still the best sci-fi comedy.
3. Terminator: still the second or third best horror/sci-fi hybrid.
4. Star Trek IV: I know Wrath of Khan is better, but this movie is still the funniest Star Trek has ever been (possibly- Trouble with Tribbles and DS9's Trials & Tribble-ations were also laugh-out-loud funny). I remember seeing this movie in the theatre with my family and all of us having a great time. I saw it before any of the other movies but while I was first enamored with the tv show, making it more meaningful.
5. Time Bandits: still an underrated gem, funny and exciting as all heck.

- Mike Loughlin

Jerry said...

I'm actually surprised at how many really good sci-fi movies there were! I certainly didn't appreciate it at the time.

My top 5 has most of the usual suspects, but I have one that I think is fantastic for the first half, and then gets awful...
1: Star Trek 2
2: The Thing
3: Aliens
4: Empire
5: Dune (just the first half! 😃)

Honorable mention for Big Trouble in Little China and/or Escape From New York in the quasi sci-fi / fantasy category.

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