What a feeling we got watching Flashdance for the very first time back in 1983. This film had a totally profound impact on 80s style and altered the public’s perception of dancers and women, and specifically of women dancers. Oh, and it’s one of the best 80s movies ever.
Like many 80s movies, the film came with a theme song (“Flashdance… What a Feeling” by Irene Cara) that rocked up the charts and became one of the iconic hits of the decade.
Flashdance also changed the face of the musical, ushering in a filmmaking style in which music and dance is heavily featured but the performers don’t break out into singing at random points throughout the film. Instead, Flashdance gave us a more realistic twist on what a musical could be. And unlike most musicals, the film opted for gritty dance performances over traditional corny musical numbers.
80s Movies, Music, and Dance
Music and dance were essential components of many 80s movies. You had to have the big theme song, which got plenty of radio play and made soundtrack sales.
Some films were lucky enough to slip a few additional hits onto the soundtrack. Flashdance was one such film as the Flashdance Original Soundtrack also boasted hit song “Maniac” by Michael Sembello. Both the title track and “Maniac” reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983, the year the film was released.
The dance numbers in the film were modeled after music videos, which were a relatively new phenomenon back in the early 80s.
80s Movies and Total Success
When Flashdance first came out, the critical reviews were poor, but audiences loved it, and it became a box office smash, earning over $100 million.
Soon, girls were mimicking the fashion of the film, ripping their sweatshirt collars off and wearing them hanging off one shoulder, as depicted in the movie’s poster. One particular performance in the movie, to the song “Maniac,” became iconic and has since been parodied, spoofed, and even attributed in a 2003 Jennifer Lopez music video.
In time, Flashdance came to symbolize 80s movies, packed with hot hits, cool fashion, and plenty of dance, plus a great storyline and highly sympathetic characters.
When it comes to movies, there was no decade like the 80s for putting out totally awesome blockbuster hits. From hilarious teen comedies like Sixteen Candles to cutting edge sci-fi flicks like E.T., the 80s movies had us laughing, crying, and begging for more.
The film industry tried to bring back 3-D. Adventure films like Goonies and Raiders of the Lost Ark were all the rage, and special effects became standard fare thanks to the innovations of George Lucas. A nifty new invention called a VCR meant that we could finally watch just about any movie at home, which was totally rad, and we could even pop our our own popcorn in minutes thanks to the microwave.
There were dance scenes, unforgettable Oscar moments (“you like me, you really like me”), movies about dancing, belly-busting parodies (Spaceballs, anyone?), and did I mention the dancing? Dance totally ruled movies and like seeped into the culture – thanks to MTV and new style of music called hip hop, which sparked the breakdancing craze that helped define the decade.
80s Movies Made Stars
It was during the 80s that stars like Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Demi Moore, and Drew Barrymore made their marks in the world of cinema. 80s movies saw the rise and fall of the Brat Pack and failed crossover attempts by artists like Madonna and Eddie Murphy.
It was the decade of the Coreys and Keven Bacon. Molly Ringwald totally charmed us. Horror villains like Freddy Krueger made us wet our pants while heartthrobs like Rob Lowe (or Tawny Kitaen for you fellas) made us want to take our pants off. Chevy Chase had us in stitches and Steven Spielberg made sure our jaws were always on the floor.
They showed up on posters, in magazines, at the Academy Awards, and on the beloved big screen. The 80s movie stars dazzled, entertained, and wowed a culture that was on the brink of a technological boom.
Characters from Beyond
80s movies saw the rise of characters from like, you know, outer space and beyond. We totally fell in love with E.T. We wished for our own Gizmo (but not his Gremlin cousins), and we came to understand that Yoda was totally awesome and all-knowing.
Star Wars alone gave us a crowd of rad characters from space. Who wouldn’t want Chewbacca at their back or C-3PO as a traveling translator? R2-D2 was as loyal a friend as any human, and every kid on planet Earth totally wanted to meet an ewok. There were, like, bad guys too – Jabba the Hutt had us all gagging with spoons.
Fantasy films like The Neverending Story and The Dark Crystal introduced us to truly fantastical new creatures while Beetlejuice and Ghostbusters brought weird beings from the other side to life in living color on the big screen. Incredible puppeteering and breakthroughs in special effects made all these and a lot more characters from 80s movies possible, and we just loved them all.
Not Just for Teens
You could say that 80s movies totally catered to the teen crowd. During the early 80s, some big movie studio executive or marketing manager realized that the people who go to movie theaters the most are teenagers. Young, rowdy, rebellious, dating, curious, allowance-receiving teens who were mostly there to neck in the back row, but still, they were there. Paying customers. So that’s who they made movies for.
The quintessential 80s movies starred the Brat Pack, a group of young actors that kids totally loved and idolized. They starred in films like The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink.
Films like Weird Science tripped us out. Footloose made us want to dance. And Adventures in Babysitting made us see the possibilities in – well… babysitting. Karate class registrations reached an all-time high when The Karate Kid hit the theaters, and after Breakin’ was released, every teen and tween in the world had to have a boom box. These films launched trends and started fads, created fashion icons and celebrities, and even though the actors in those teen 80s movies are all grown up now, we still remember them with braces, headgear, and hard-ons.
80s Movies at Home
Back in the 70s, if you wanted to watch a movie at home, you were screwed. The best you could hope for was a rerun on your local cable network. That was before on-demand movies or rentals and downloads. No Netflix, no iTunes, and no DVDs.
But in the 80s, movies and access to them changed radically. It all started with the invention of the video cassette and its partner, the VHS player. Video stores popped up in every city and town, and everyone waited to see if those little beta movies would catch on. They didn’t (even though they were built with better technology).
VHS tapes carried us through the 80s but like all good things, they came to an end when the masters of technology handed us the DVD just at the end of the decade. Luckily, all our favorite 80s movies are on DVD! We’ll totally thank the movie gods for that!
And Then There Were Soundtracks
Did any other decade put out rad movie soundtracks like the 80s? The 80s soundtracks gave us theme songs that got stuck in our heads and so we hummed along. These were bitchen tunes that DJs actually played on the radio and at weddings. People literally went to the store and bought a movie soundtrack (on cassette tape of course – maybe even on vinyl — oh my god, remember vinyl?).
Who could forget the thundering cadence of the Indiana Jones Theme or the glorious championing of Chariots of Fire? We bopped along to Footloose, worked out to Eye of the Tiger, and made out to Take My Breath Away.
80s movies songs were so rad, in fact, that they still use them in movies today. And 80s movies are so rad that we’re still watching them over and over. And over.
The Mother of All 80s Movies
The Breakfast Club is like THE quintessential 80s movie. Ask anyone what is the mother of all 80s movies and they’ll totally tell you it’s The Breakfast Club.
In fact, this movie is such a huge 80s icon that it almost always tops any list of 80s movies, and it usually ranks at number one.
It’s packed with 80s attitudes, style, and jargon but it reigns as a classic despite its status as the be-all-end-all of 80s movies.
Fortunately, The Breakfast Club hit video after VHS was widely available. Oh sure, it was a big hit at the box office, but on video, you could watch it over and over.
Back then, watching movies at home was still kind of a big deal. We played our 80s movies day in and day out, and The Breakfast Club was no exception. It wasn’t uncommon for teens to know every line of the movie.
Probably what made this movie such a huge hit, besides the killer screenplay, was its amazing cast of up-and-coming teen actors.
The film itself had only a small handful of actors who played the five main characters (the kids who comprised The Breakfast Club), plus two supporting roles (the principal and janitor), and a couple of the kids’ parents, plus one sibling.
The five primary actors and the characters they played were:
- Emilio Estevez – Andrew Clark (The Athlete)
- Anthony Michael Hall – Brian Johnson (The Brain)
- Judd Nelson – John Bender (The Criminal)
- Molly Ringwald – Claire Standish (The Princess)
- Ally Sheedy – Allison Reynolds (The Basket Case)
This film launched all of their careers, and while most of them didn’t enjoy high visibility into the 90s, they made up almost the entire group of 80s movies actors known as The Brat Pack.
The Breakfast Club
Interesting to note is that John Hughes, guru of all the greatest 80s movies, wrote the entire screenplay for The Breakfast Club over the course of two days – July 4-5 in 1982. That’s a lot of writing in a very little amount of time, especially when you consider what a totally huge hit the movie turned out to be.
Hughes also acted in the film, appearing in a cameo performance as Brian’s father at the end of the film when Brian is picked up from detention.
The film is about five high school students, who are all totally different from one another. They have to attend a Saturday detention for the various infractions they’ve committed against school rules. When the day starts, they see each other as strangers, in some cases, enemies. But by the time detention’s over, they’ve learned a valuable lesson about what it means to be human. We’re all not so different after all.
According to IMDB:
The film’s title comes from the nickname invented by students and staff for detention at New Trier High School, the school attended by the son of one of John Hughes’ friends. Thus, those who were sent to detention were designated members of “The Breakfast Club.” “The Breakfast Club” at that school probably took its name in turn from the title of American radio’s longest running network entertainment show, broadcast from Chicago, 1933 to 1968.
Lots of 80s movies had soundtracks that we loved and played over and over. The Breakfast Club Soundtrack made good sales, but mostly that was because it had one big hit on it – The Simple Minds’ single “Don’t You Forget About Me.”
The song was a little bit haunting and had the driving beat, desperate lyrics, and new wave flavor that was synonymous with 80s music.
The video for the song featured the Simple Minds in a big, abandoned space with iconic checkerboard floors, very old-fashioned, interspersed with clips from the movie.
Grow Your Collection of 80s Movies
Even though the 80s are well behind us, you can still get a copy of The Breakfast Club. If you don’t have it, then your 80s movies collection is totally abysmal. Better hurry up and get your fix:
Stay tuned to Total 80s Remix for more of your favorite 80s movies.
80s movies are best loved for their uncanny tributes to 80s fashion, 80s slang, and teen appeal. But like all decades, the 80s gave us a handful of films that had us weeping into our popcorn.
Heartache, tragedy, and the loss of loved ones provided plenty of fodder for sad nights at the movie theater. Filmmakers gave us stories that tore open our emotions and had our hearts bleeding for the characters we’d grown to adore. When they lost what mattered most to them, we did too. And so we cried. Sometimes, we bawled.
80s Movies: 5 Tearjerkers
Grab the Kleenex because the mere memory of these heart-wrenching films might make your eyes water. Sure, you can blame it on your allergies, but let’s give credence where it’s due.
When a movie makes you laugh, cry, or feel emotions so strongly that you have a physical reaction, then the movie is doing its job. 80s movies did the job well.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Don’t even try to tell me that when E.T. died, you weren’t sobbing like a little baby with separation anxiety. And when his heartlight glowed and he came back to life, you kept right on sobbing gleeful tears of joy. Stephen Spielberg’s 1982 science-fiction blockbuster has audiences laughing, crying, and falling in love with a little boy named Elliott and his Reese’s Pieces-eating, alien, best friend. And who wasn’t crazy about little Gertie, played by a very wee Drew Barrymore? Turn on your heartlights, 80s people!
Terms of Endearment (1983)
One sure way to give moviegoers a solid tearjerker is to have one of your main characters die. And when a mother loses a daughter, the tears are sure to flow. Terms of Endearment is the mother of all 80s movies tearjerkers. Even the men were sniffling when Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) was desperately begging the nurses to do something for her daughter, Emma (Debra Winger), who was suffering from cancer. With Jack Nicholson playing a crockety old flirt trying to get into Aurora’s granny panties, this film also gave us a few good laughs.
Top Gun (1986)
This one had the men crying like chicks. The biggest bromance film of the 80s was Top Gun, and the dudes were dabbing their eyes when Goose died unexpectedly during a mock combat mission thanks to another one of Maverick’s foolish, show-off antics. Brotherly love between Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Goose (Anthony Edwards), a hot blonde on a power trip (Kelly McGillis), and an adoring wife turned widow (Meg Ryan) made this movie a hit for the men and the ladies. Remember when Maverick sang “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling?” Somebody serenade me!
The Color Purple (1985)
Based on the 1982 novel by literary genius Alice Walker, The Color Purple brought audiences into the tragic life of Celie Johnson (Whoopie Goldberg), who suffered through sexual and physical abuse at the hands of her father, and later her husband. Celie’s life is a string of unfair and unfortunate traumas that had audiences rooting for her, even as she found solace in the relationships she forged with the women in her life: her sister Nettie, her husband’s mistress Shug, and her stepdaughter-in-law Sofia. These bonds keep her going even though our hearts just kept breaking for her.
The death of a loved one is heartbreaking, but letting go is a close second. When Pete (Richard Dreyfuss) dies while on a dangerous aerial firefighting mission, his sweetheart, Dorinda (Holly Hunter) is devastated and left feeling broken and confused, and not sure how to move on. Pete doesn’t get into heaven right away, but is instructed by his guardian angel (Audrey Hepburn) to return and look after those he left behind. He must guide Dorinda toward a new path, one without him by her side. Ultimately, Always shows us that sometimes life is about moving on and loving again.
Honorable Mentions: Sad 80s Movies
Plenty of other 80s movies gave us the blues. Beaches (1988) was a huge hit, labeled chick flick, and had all the big girls crying. Another chick flick, Steel Magnolias (1989) almost made this list but the plot was too similar to the more gripping Terms of Endearment. Finally, Mask (1985) tells a sad but inspiring story of a motorcycle-riding, leather-clad, drug-taking mother and her deformed son.
There’s nothing wrong with shedding a few tears over these tearjerker 80s movies. Get them on DVD and watch them again and again. Just make sure you have a shoulder to cry on.