The Me Generation
In the Calvin Harris song “Acceptable in the '80s,” the lyrics go, “I've got love for you if you were born in '80s.” The words ring true for me and even more so for things I thought were awful at the time. I now reflect on many aspects of those years with a fondness I didn't have back then.
There are blogs, Tv shows, books, retail outlets, and other industries dedicated to the '80s zeitgeist. The era heralded spectacular cultural upheaval and innovation, especially in music, but mostly in cinema — it was during this epoch my love of film arrived.
The '80s gave us some truly great movie cycles to enjoy. The success of '70s blockbusters such as Jaws and Star Wars laid the foundation for a seismic decade ahead. In addition, we saw the emergence of many different comedy genres (Eddie Murphy owned this decade), a rebirth of the spoof, an abundance of slasher horror movies, and countless B-movies based on popular trends.
An ‘80s Child
Growing up in the U.K. during the '80s, I was weened on a diet of '60s and '70s nostalgic T.V. sitcoms, bizarre shows about pastimes such as sheepdog trials, and low-budget soap operas. There were also live talent cabaret events, tacky but loveable game shows, and dozens of slick American T.V. shows to enjoy.
The decade was also a conveyor belt of warped children's T.V. shows written by acid-burnout art students from the '60s — now, there is a Google rabbit hole for anyone with a few hours to spare.
When I was five, I recall an American family visiting us once, of whom one was a girl my age. I subjected her to an episode of Jigsaw — not the title of Saw fame. Jigsaw was a children's puzzle show featuring a terrifying character called Mr. Noseybonk. After that, she never spoke to me again.
The Dawn of VHS
Before video recorders were widely available in the U.K., my entire family would gather in the living room and view for hours together — commercials and all. From 7 o'clock, we would watch our tiny color T.V., which was even smaller in the far corner of the living room. This would be equivalent to gathering around a cell phone on the coffee table.
As time wore on and my family bought our first VCR, life changed entirely. This meant I could now control when to watch my favorite shows and movies — though you still needed to be present to hit record before going out. Before then, if you missed something on T.V., it was ruined forever, as the whole class would discuss it the next day. You might not get a chance to see it again for years unless a friend maybe lent you their copy.
When The Game Changed
Being able to record videos — removing the tab so nobody could erase my recording of Star Wars — was a game-changer. The only problem was that the quality of movies on terrestrial T.V. was, Christmas notwithstanding, still lackluster.
The day that blew it all out of control was when a boy in school — that kid who always gets everything cool way ahead of the pack — had a double video recorder. We shook our heads in disbelief as copies of films still in the video shop became widely recycled among peers at school. I watched Robocop at least seven times before returning the tape, and I was in awe of this kid.
From Ridiculed To Revered
However, this plethora of awful '80s canon came with the bonus that the worse a film was, the funnier it became to watch, and before long, it became a favorite. Before the video piracy racket hit my middle school, there were lean years where any film was a bonus — even a poor one.
There are several criteria to consider when being an ironic movie watcher: production design, acting, script, and plot are all paramount. However, getting through them all wouldn't be possible — there are just too many gems out there.
With this in mind, here is a collection of my favorite funny-though-not-on-purpose '80s movies.
The '80s was a decade with a habit of finding something popular and then making a movie out of it, especially if it meant being down with the kids. As a result, the number of films dedicated to popular culture was notable, especially regarding music and sports.
Face-to-Face B-boy Expressions
Breakin' came in a wave of street culture films of the same period. The film followed the acclaimed Wild Style (1983) and competed with Beat Street for breakdance movie of the year. However, where Beat Street's plot and narrative were a solid coming-of-age story, Breakin' was more about the battles, the face-to-face B-Boy expressions, and the hilarious acting.
Starring many real-life B-Boys of the time, such as professionals Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quiñones and Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers, the character directing was always going to be a challenge. Sidenote: there is also a small role for a young Ice T, who played D.J. Talker
Caravan of Courage (1984)
With the success of the entire Star Wars trilogy behind, 1984 was the year of its first spin-off movie, Caravan of Courage, a spin-off adventure for children based on the Ewok world of Endor.
A Spin-off Based on The Ewok World of Endor
Two youngsters crash land on Endor, and after a local monster kidnaps their parents, they seek help in the form of the Ewoks after the younger of the two, a little girl named Cindel, befriends Return of the Jedi's favorite little Ewok, Wicket.
Anybody who was seven at the time devoured memorabilia related to their life-defining Lucas trio, so they forgave the rocky dialogue, the cartoonish villains, but most of all, Ewoks speaking in English. So there is no surprise fans want an English-free special edition released as canon.
Above The Law (1988)
Any Steven Seagal movie would make this cut if only because all of the protagonists he plays meld into one person, and that person is Steven Seagal. It needs to be clarified how Hollywood saw Seagal as a leading man, let alone a film star.
An Aikido Master in The Right Place at The Right Time
However, the multi-citizenship-holding Aikido master was in the right place at the right time. Coming at the end of a decade that spawned countless kung-fu, kickboxing, and martial arts classics, it was unsurprising that Warner Bros. handed Seagal a contract.
Hear me out. Brian De Palma's iconic movie remains a cult favorite, responsible for many one-liners and archetypal '80s set-pieces involving guns, coke —and more guns. However, it is hardly a film one can take too seriously.
A Cuban Immigrant Becomes The Most Powerful Drug Baron
The plot is simple: a Cuban immigrant, who is also a former soldier, seeks the American dream by becoming the most powerful drug baron in the land. Written by Oliver Stone, Tony Montana's ultimate downfall is his coke-fueled ego; the ironic part is that the character's hamartia is nothing short of hilarious — even spawning its own trope. Of course, it is not a bad film, though ironic because its set pieces elicit laughter — I am not so sure this was its intention.
There are so many great horror movies to choose from, so let's go with 1985's Ghoulies. Unfortunately, this film suffered a delayed release after falling into production trouble, and with Warner Brothers' Gremlins in production at the same time, the latter won the race.
A Rich Fratboy and Friends Summon a Group of Naughty Demons
The film's slow start meant it would forever be living in Gremlins' shadow, which was a success story. However, the producers, Empire Pictures, at least got some consolation from a prolific decade, including the cult favorite, Re-Animator, and the curiously named Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death.
Ghoulies' premise is textbook '80s horror: a rich fratboy invites friends to a party at his family's mansion, only to summon a group of naughty demons in a ritual — you can work out the rest. The film has ridiculous animatronics and enough riotous set-pieces to make any cynic laugh.
BMX Bandits (1983)
In 1981, the International BMX Federation was formed following the growth of BMX bikes through the '70s. Following the first World Championships in 1982, Hollywood looked on as Australia released BMX Bandits in an attempt to capitalize on one of many youth trends of the time (see Breakin').
A Gang of BMX Daredevils Has Fun With Police-issue Walkie-talkies
Featuring a lead role for an adolescent Nicole Kidman, this film's plot is far-fetched. After stumbling upon a box of police-issue walkie-talkies on the beach, a gang of BMX daredevils has some fun before stirring the vengeance of a local bank heist gang who stashed them there for their next bank job.
Lone Wolf McQuade (1983)
The premise alone in this film would have been enough to sell me on this movie, which stars some '80s movie muscle royalty. Here's the pitch: Chuck Norris plays an aging Texas Ranger living in the Texas desert in a trailer…with his pet wolf.
An Aging Texas Ranger Who Lives With His Pet Wolf
After a ruckus with some Mexican cartel thugs on the border, Norris heads to El Paso with his new partner, a clean-cut Latino ranger, who gets into strife with local martial arts experts and local crime boss David Carradine.
As if starting a war with him isn't enough, he meets a mysterious woman who saves his daughter from a horsing accident, and she tries to break down his tough exterior, first by cleaning his trailer, then breaking into his cold heart.
There is something hilarious about seeing two men in their mid-forties having a shirtless kung-fu fight in the desert. It is worth watching for this alone — but only if Chuck Norris says it is okay.
Red Dawn (1984)
An era that ended the Cold War and toppled the Berlin Wall meant we were treated to a cavalcade of jingoistic Reaganite movies. Red Dawn is one of many opportunities Hollywood took to stick troll the USSR, with a premise that would get the blood pumping in any patriot household.
The Soviet Union and Allies Invade The U.S.
In a fictional reality, NATO has disbanded, leaving the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies to strengthen, forming an alliance with some Latin American states and invading U.S. soil for the first time in history.
You know where this is going. Enter a local band of teenage friends who flee the Colorado town the enemy occupies only to regroup in the hills and unleash a can of red, white, and blue whoop-ass on the new invading host.
Good old Arnie cleaned up in the '80s, following his first taming of the American dream through his weightlifting prowess when he won Mr. Universe. His career after that was spectacular, ending with the Governator holding Californian governorship for eight years.
Some of The Greatest One-liners
It was always a toss-up between this and Conan The Barbarian, but Commando wins based on some of the greatest one-liners (“Don't disturb my friend, he is dead tired”) and action set-pieces ever to grace our silver screens. His eventual showdown with arch-nemesis, Colonel Bennett, is the stuff of '80s legend.
Several skateboard-themed movies were released during the '80s, and there is no competition with Thrashin' regarding ironic viewing. Even the title is funny — in '80s L.A., surely nobody really used the term thrashing for skateboarding.
An Armed Skateboard Joust Near The la River
What we have is a protagonist-from-the-valley meets rebellious skate chick plotline. She hangs with a group of misfit skateboard heavies from the wrong side of the track, and this is where our protagonist (played by a young Josh Brolin) gets in too deep.
The highlight of this film isn't the dialogue (“Get out of there, you Val jerk!”) or the wacky skate fashion of the time, but one of the movie's finest set-pieces: an armed skateboard joust near the L.A. River. Look out for a young Tony Hawk in this ridiculously great movie.
American Flyers (1985)
Kevin Costner had a good time in the '80s with several game-changing movies to add to an illustrious career. American Flyers is one of them, and this movie will never disappoint you. Kevin Costner is in fine, mustachioed heroic form as an all-American wheeled warrior — Lance Armstrong, he is not.
A Road Trip to a Cycle Race in Colorado
This film centers around two brothers lamenting their father's death from an aneurysm in the recent past. With the genetic condition a worry for both, they do the sensible thing and embark on a road trip to a cycle race in Colorado called “Hell of the West.” Wait, did I mention they were championship-level cyclists?
With rapscallion hijinks along the way — featuring a horse vs. bike scam with some cowboys — the lycra-loving duo finally arrive for the showdown. The funniest thing about this is the shoehorned Reaganite subtext: the competition comes from a Soviet Olympic racing bike champion named Belov.
Flash Gordon (1980)
There is something weirdly dark about Flash Gordon. This space opera features a football player embroiled in the battle for Planet Earth with an intergalactic overlord (and erstwhile caricature), Ming the Merciless.
A Rescue of a Love Interest
A bored Ming, who wishes to destroy the planet, enslaves Gordon, who must overcome all the odds to rescue his love interest, a reporter named Dale, and their new-found-friend and mad scientist Dr. Zarkov, whom they discover after a plane crash.
There are cameos from Brian Blessed, children's T.V. presenter Peter Duncan, and an impressive little role from a young Timothy Dalton in his pre-Bond days. If you like camp, comic-book capers, and a rip-roaring soundtrack from Queen, this is one for you. If you don't, it is even more worth a watch.
Road House (1989)
Some fans may consider Roadhouse a great movie and an important piece of the late '80s canon. Who can deny them? A film highlighting Patrick Swayze's career as an action hero, Roadhouse has a fantastic premise, and what is not to love? A ‘cooler' brought in from New York to help improve a redneck nightclub in Missouri forms the premise of Roadhouse.
Patrick Swayze Helps Improve a Redneck Nightclub
A 2023 remake of the film may appeal to the next generation of young people interested in fighting — martial arts in 1987 is nowhere near today's following. Casting UFC stalwart Conor McGregor alongside Jake Gyllenhaal, and swapping deep Missouri for the Florida Keys, is bound to be a huge success.
In this film, Patrick Swayze battles with '80s go-to bad guy Ben Gazzara, and there are plenty of hilarious one-liners, walking redneck tropes, and moments of needlessly gratifying violence.
Revenge of The Nerds (1984)
One of the greatest successes in the '80s was the rise of the teenage slacker movie — or nerd comedy. In a decade that gave us Weird Science, War Games, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, there was plenty of competition for this spot.
Freshmen Nerds Lose Their Campus Dorms to a Fraternity
Revenge of the Nerds is an example of how an ensemble of characters and one-liners is a good enough formula for a silly comedy to work.
The plot revolves around a group of freshmen nerds who lose their campus dorms to a fraternity of knucklehead football jocks after burning down their frat house. The nerds eventually regroup, forming a fraternity in a derelict house off campus, only to see the same jocks terrorize them. The talent show scene alone is a classic.
Jean-Claude Van Damme is considered legendary in Belgium, where books have been written on his one-liners and hilarious epithets of wisdom. The ex-dancer is past his mid-nineties peak, but what a legacy of muscle movies he leaves in his wake.
A Revenge Tale Set in Thailand
Kickboxer is a revenge tale set in Thailand about American kickboxer Kurt Sloane. After taking on the ferocious Li Pong, the undefeated kickboxing champion of Thailand, Kurt's older brother is paralyzed, leaving his younger brother. Kurt vows to defeat Li Pong and finds a trainer in the jungle. Naturally, the tough old master breaks him until he toughens up.
The revenge story begins at this moment, with the inevitable plot arc leading to a final showdown with broken glass-covered knuckles and a duel to the death. Be ready for textbook Van-Damme overacting and funny set-pieces.
Over The Top (1986)
Sylvester Stallone is an '80s legend for many reasons. First, the Golden-Globe-winning, two-time Oscar-nominated movie star was famous for action movies with muscle.
Wonderful Macho-man Tropes and Premise
Stallone was a screen icon multiple times with his portrayals of Rocky Balboa, Rambo, and Cobra, among other memorable characters. His lesser-known Over The Top gets a nod for its wonderful macho-man tropes and premise.
Picture this: Lonewolf trucker Lincoln Hawk earns extra money through arm-wrestling tournaments and has to mend his relationship with his estranged son, whose mother is on her deathbed and wants them to bond. So they embark on a road trip from Colorado to California, where Hawk plans to win the World Arm Wrestling Championships.
This road trip movie plot has enough arm-wrestling set pieces and macho one-liners to keep even the most cynical film lover happy.
Rocky IV (1988)
Another Stallone vehicle, this time the well-known Rocky IV, gets the ironic nod of approval purely because of the training scenes and his one-to-one moments with the nasty Russian boxer Ivan Drago.
Training Scenes and Moments With The Nasty Russian Boxer Ivan Drago
For many Rocky diehards, this is not an ironic watch. However, with famous one-liners (“He dies; he dies”), ridiculous boxing sequences, and one of the greatest redemption training montages ever, Rocky IV still requires ironic viewing.
Intriguingly, the boxing matches had their very own 30-page-long script. Co-star Dolph Lundgren once explained in an interview that the fight script had lines of boxing instructions for him to memorize.
Enemy Mine (1984)
Of all the movies on this list, Enemy Mine is one of the strangest. This mid-'80's science fiction movie may deserve a big-budget reboot more than its rivals.
A Relationship Between Two Would-be Enemies
The film is an adaptation of the science-fiction novella by Barry B. Longyear. It centers on the relationship between two would-be enemies: a human galactic fighter pilot and his foe, a bipedal reptilian humanoid pilot. After crash-landing on planet Fyrine IV, the enemies become best friends.
When you watch this, it is not a belly-laugh-out-loud kind of movie but more a silently-smile-at-the-weirdness affair. Moreover, the film's dated look is pure nostalgia for someone who grew up back then; it will be amusing for this generation.
Kevin Bacon was a hard-working actor in the '80s. He had parts in the acclaimed Diner, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and Friday the 13th, among others. It was the next decade when he grew into such a bankable star, but the highly successful Footloose helped get him there.
A Young Chicago Rebel in a Small Backwater Town That Banned Dancing
The premise is the funniest part of this well-acted and directed movie musical by Herbert Ross. It is hard not to chuckle at a young Chicago rebel who arrives in a small backwater town where the local pastor has banned dancing. You can guess where it goes; no more needs to be said.
No Holds Barred (1989)
Hulk Hogan was — and still is to many — the most iconic American wrestler ever to walk the earth. His contribution to the World Wrestling Federation's growth through the '80s and into the '90s was monumental.
Hulk Hogan's Fictional Wrestling Champion and His Conflict With a T.V. Executive
This level of popularity never goes unnoticed when Hollywood is around; thus, we have No Holds Barred. The movie centers around Hogan's fictional wrestling champion and his conflict with a T.V. executive who fails in his attempt to strong-arm the champion into joining his network.
His response is to procure a madman nemesis (played by Thomas' Deebo' Tiny Lister of Friday fame) who crushes all his foes — and with whom Hulk inexorably grapples in the ultimate showdown. There are few words spoken in the trailer by actors but loads of growling. That is all you need to know!
Sylvester Stallone makes it onto the list for a third time. However, this movie balances a fine line between irony and pure trash. Rhinestone should come with a public cringe warning. Every Sly fan needs to see this movie to appreciate his better career moments — this certainly is not one of them.
A Bet That Anyone Can Sing Country Music
Rhinestone is a fish-out-of-water story featuring protagonist Stallone and his confidant, a New York country singer played by Dolly Parton. She has a bet with a country music club owner that anyone can sing country music — even a self-avowed country music hater.
Enter his obnoxious cab driver, and you have a cringefest of a film, with the two protagonists going on a road trip to Tennessee for the eventual transformation. Watching Stallone singing and gyrating in Rhinestone makes you contemplate your good decisions in life.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Film reviews, analysis and breakdown, sport, education, travel, food, current affairs, books - in my spare time I like to be outdoors in nature, in the waves, or on a golf course.