March 28, 2013

Top of the ’80s movies

The most iconic film of the decade? It's no contest, says our Dennis Perkins.


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Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise in “Top Gun”

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Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy and Jon Cryer in “Pretty in Pink.”

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Lee's exhilarating, brilliantly constructed howl of rage at the state of race relations in America was the best film of 1989, and exactly the sort of movie wake-up call the Oscar voters slept through by instead handing the statue to the filmic equivalent of a nice, soothing cup of cinematic tea.


Biggest Comedy Action '80s Blockbuster (In a Smarter, Parallel Dimension): "Big Trouble in Little China" (1986) – This John Carpenter-directed action flick is many things: A peerless vehicle for Kurt Russell's signature brand of goofball leading-man charm, an affectionate throwback to old-time adventure serials and, at its root, a slyly hilarious deconstruction of the sort of mindless action heroics clogging every '80s multiplex.

Russell's macho trucker-turned-reluctant-evil fighter Jack Burton is the very soul of jingoistic American overconfidence – stampeding into battle against ancient, unfathomable evil with nothing but his trusty knife, a belly full of cheap American beer and a catchphrase for every occasion. Honorable mention: Fred Ward in "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins."



Greatest '80s Villain, Teen Movie Edition: William Zabka as Johnny Lawrence, leader of the Cobra Kai dojo in "The Karate Kid" (1984) – Why are we even discussing this?


Greatest '80s Villain, Adult Edition: Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber in "Die Hard" (1988) – Seriously, I'm trying to be clever, but there's just no question on this one either, right?



Acceptable '80s Performance By a Teen Heartthrob Named Corey: Corey Haim: "Lucas" (1986). Corey Feldman: N/A.


Least Likely '80s Action Hero: Billy Crystal in "Running Scared" (1986). That didn't work …


Most Egregious Onscreen '80s Sexual Assault Played for Laughs: "Revenge of the Nerds" (1984): Having sex with the jock quarterback's girlfriend while disguised so she thinks you're him? More like "Revenge of the Date Rapists." Honorable mention: Paul Gleason and a gorilla in "Trading Places."


Most Homophobic '80s Eddie Murphy Character: There was no one funnier than Eddie in the '80s, and few more thoughtlessly gay bash-y. He's sort of apologized since, but for impressionable teen males, Eddie did some serious damage.

His "hilarious gay guy" disguise in "Beverly Hills Cop" was one thing, but literally half of his concert film "Eddie Murphy: Delirious" (1983), buoyed along by Murphy's electric charisma and undeniable comic chops, caused a lot of ignorant high school guys to parrot his lines – no doubt unknowingly hurting a lot of their friends' feelings. That's why I don't feel sorry when he stars in "Norbit."

And finally The Most 80s Thing That Has Ever Existed: "Top Gun" (1986) – Jingoism. Xenophobia. Literally faceless evil Russkies. Military fetishization. Karaoke. Hilariously unintentional homoeroticism. Ritualized bro-handshakes. Kelly McGillis trying not to be taller than love interest Tom Cruise. Shirtless beach volleyball action. And Kenny Loggins, warning us that we were, indeed, all entering the black hole that was the '80s Danger Zone.


Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.


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Additional Photos

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Spike Lee in “Do the Right Thing.”

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William Zabka in “The Karate Kid.”

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Kurt Russell in “Big Trouble in Little China”

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Alan Rickman in “Die Hard”

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Billy Crystal in “Running Scared”

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Corey Haim in “Lucas”

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