The 80s were great.1 Great music. Great movies. Great books. Great fashion. Yeah, I said it. Fashion. I love 80s fashion, and I don’t care what you think about that!
Anywho. For today’s Five Faves post, I thought I’d take a stab at listing 80s science fiction movies. I know that the second I click the publish button on this post, I’m going to change my mind about the movies selected below. Oh well…
For me, this movie remains the best entry in the entire franchise. Alien (1979) is a great film, of course, but there’s something about the military SF setting of Aliens that better immerses me in this future world. I also love how Ellen Ripley changes throughout the film, taking on leadership and parental roles. It’s a different Ripley than we saw in the first film, but the change is, for me, part of a progression for the character that is utterly fascinating2. Plus, Ripley’s battle with the Xenomorph Queen is hands down one of the best moments in science fiction cinema. You all know this, of course. Most of you love this movie about as much as I do. Go on, admit it.
Enemy Mine (1985)
Fun fact: the only reason I know about this movie, Alien Nation, Star Trek IV, and Quantum Leap is due to my grandma’s insistence that I watch them. This was, I think, her clever attempt to instill certain moral values in me as a child (or, in the case of STIV, to make me laugh). All of these films have a strong moral message, but you can probably credit Enemy Mine and Alien Nation for shaping my young mind into expelling some of the prejudices one gains from living in small, very white towns (or large, very white towns). That moral messaging is part of what makes this movie so good. It’s basically a retread of a familiar story about people on opposing sides of a war being forced to depend on one another to survival, but it’s handled in such a delicate way. Louis Gossett Jr. gives a phenomenal performance as Jeriba Shigan, too.
I was tempted to include The Terminator here, but I actually prefer Predator a tad more. There are a couple of reasons for that: 1) this movie terrified me a lot more than The Terminator; and 2) I think Arnie gives a strong performance here, especially since he’s actually asked to do something other than be a robot. Predator is a classic action film with some amazing shots. I get chills every time Schwarzenegger stands out in the open and roars into the night. It’s such a primal moment, and the sequence that follows is beautifully rendered (ditto Schwarzenegger covered in mud). And what about the Predator himself? He’s horrifying in all the right ways. He has the look of a great terror AND he has the prowess of one. Too bad about Dillon, Poncho, Mac…all of them…
Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) AND Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
I’m a Star Wars fan. Are you even remotely surprised that two of the original movies would show up on this list of 1980s favorites? Look, I don’t need to re-hash the full story of why Star Wars is important to me. I’ve loved these movies since I first watched them on VHS. I will always love them. So many of my greatest memories involve Star Wars things. Empire Strikes Back is, of course, the best of the original trilogy. It is a beautiful film with a complex narrative arc — and, yes, it actually has an ending (FFS, it has an ending). Return of the Jedi is a less precise film, but I will always have a special fondness for it. As a kid, I used to love those space battles more than almost anything else. They were incredible (and still are). As an adult, I love what the film does with Luke and Vader or what the film has to say about the Empire through the Ewoks. Return may not be as good as Empire for all sorts of technical reasons, but it’s the film I return to more than any other for the sheer joy it brings me.
Finally, I have to include the greatest film from the other side of the Great Geek Divide. You know why. Wrath of Khan is fantastic. It’s approach to Kirk’s age and the madness that seeking revenge can produce is one of the reasons I can re-watch Wrath over and over. And the story behind the film — that fans watching the movie actually thought Spock was a goner — just adds a sheen of wonder to the whole thing. Imagine living in a time when you didn’t have the constant rumor mill trying to spoil everything for you. Imagine thinking your favorite hero was truly dead. Even without that, Spock’s death is absolutely gut-wrenching. You can feel the pain in the room (and it’s all acted pain…). It’s just so good.
- They were also damn terrible. The horrible treatment of LGBTQ+ people, the AIDs crisis, Reagan, the Cold War, Reagan, and so on and so forth. I just like the art…
- It’s a progression that collapses in the third (and ONLY other) Alien film, of course. This is actually one of the redeeming qualities of Alien 3.