80’s Blockbusters: A Retrospective
The 1980s were a time when the blockbuster was first coming into its own as an industry force. The 1980s saw the release of some of the biggest movies in history, with only a few of them being fairy tale adaptations or sequels.
The 1980s saw more original movie ideas than any other decade at that point. And though recent decades have seen the mega-budgeted, CGI-heavy spectacle get even bigger and grander as a result of lower production costs and new technology, it’s this decade that started it all.
That said, while most people might think of ’80s blockbusters as being nothing but comedies like Ghostbusters or action flicks like Predator, there were plenty of other genres represented in this group as well.
Films like Stand by Me, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Gremlins were examples of how the ’80s welcomed a new generation of filmmakers eager to experiment with the art form of cinema.
While the ’80s were full of family-friendly films, the decade also saw a rise in the popularity of darker, more adult-oriented films. Films like The Last Dragon, Trick or Treat, and A Nightmare on Elm Street proved that the ’80s were also a decade welcoming a new generation of horror films, many of which have since become cult classics.
80s movies were over the top, brash, loud, funny and exciting and that was just the posters.
These films were a total departure from the sombre, serious, and artistic offerings of the 1970s. In the 1980s, movies were bigger and bolder. These films celebrated excess and exuberance, and they were eager to please the audience.
They had larger-than-life protagonists who often engaged in impossible feats. They had happy endings and they were full of action sequences that were bigger than anything that had ever been put on screen before.
The Biggest 80s Blockbuster: “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial”
The most famous movie of the 1980s was also the biggest box office hit of the entire decade. 1982’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring a young Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas, tells the story of a group of kids who discover and befriend a lost alien.
E.T. is widely acknowledged as one of the most endearing and heartwarming children’s movies ever made. The plot follows a boy named Elliot who befriends an alien who has crash-landed on Earth.
The two friends have to keep their new companion hidden from the eyes of the government. E.T. was a critical and box office success and was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won four, including Best Director and Best Visual Effects.
80s Blockbuster Movies: Sequels and Adaptations
Probably the biggest thing that set the 1980s apart from other decades when it came to the blockbuster was the fact that the majority of the biggest movies were not original ideas. Many of the top box office hits of the ’80s were either sequels or adaptations of other properties.
Examples of these include the first two Indiana Jones films, the Star Trek movies of the late ’80s, the first three Batman films, and the first two Lethal Weapon films. Many of these films were very successful, but the reliance on adaptations and sequels meant that original ideas for blockbuster films were few and far between.
Of course, the two biggest box office hits of the decade were both sequels, with the first two instalments of the Star Wars franchise coming in at #2 and #3.
The rest of the top five followed suit as well, with the first two instalments of The Exorcist, the second and third instalments of The Planet of the Apes reboot, the third and fourth instalments of Jaws, and the first two Alien sequels making up the rest of the top five.
80s Blockbuster Movies: Comedies
Though there were plenty of big action and adventure movies released in the 1980s, there were also plenty of comedies, especially in the latter half of the decade.
During the 1980s, Hollywood movies were unstifled by political correctness and up-tight censorship, so were free to be funny without fear. As a result, the industry produced hit after hit, sequel after sequel, with breakout hits like “Airplane!”, “The Naked Gun” series and “Coming to America” just scratching the surface of a decade that produced some of the most iconic movies of all time.
The 80s was responsible for some of the greatest comedy movies of all time including works from legends like John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Uncle Buck and Spaceballs. Candy was a mainstay of the decade, starring in many classics and always bringing his unique brand of humour to the screen.
Another beloved actor of the 80s was Bill Murray, who was responsible for some of the best movies of the decade as well, such as Ghostbusters and Scrooged.
The decade also welcomed new and rising stars like Eddie Murphy, who was responsible for some of the best movies of the decade as well and was also responsible for setting the bar extremely high for the next generation of comedians.
Also notable for being a successful comedy is National Lampoon’s Vacation, which was released in the ’80s though written and produced in the ’70s.
Vacation is part of a series of films based on short stories published in National Lampoon magazine, written by John Hughes. The first two films were written by Hughes, but the third one was written by Tim Sullivan.
The first Vacation starred Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold and Beverly D’Angelo as Ellen Griswold. Vacation was released in July 1983. The film’s plot involves the Griswolds trying to spend a relaxing vacation in an amusement park. Unfortunately, things do not go as planned and the family finds itself trying to survive a series of unfortunate events.
A sequel was released 10 years later, this time with the Griswolds visiting Europe.
80s Blockbuster Movies: Action and Adventure
While the ’80s may have been a decade full of sequels and adaptations, the decade still saw plenty of original ideas, especially towards the start and end of the decade.
Some of the biggest box office hits were original stories, and there were plenty of other original films that weren’t financial smashes but are still considered classics today. The ’80s were a transitional period from the golden age of the ’70s to the modern era of the ’90s and 2000s, and it’s not surprising that this era saw a mix of original and adapted stories.
The best-loved action and adventure movies released in the ’80s were all original movies, with only the first Rambo being a sequel. Interestingly enough, Lethal Weapon and Die Hard came out at the same time, with both being released in August of 1988.
They were both commercial successes, but Lethal Weapon has become much more of a cultural icon. In the late ’80s, the United States was going through a period of high tension regarding relations with the Soviet Union. The Berlin Wall fell in November of 1989, but at the time, relations were still very tense, and there was a lot of fear of nuclear war.
Lethal Weapon came out at this time and was widely viewed as a reflection of these fears. Both of these films were also released during a time of economic uncertainty, as the U.S. was in the middle of a serious stock market correction that started in October 1987 and didn’t really finish until the early ’90s.
80s Blockbuster Movies: Dramas
While most of the popular blockbusters of the ’80s were either action, adventure or comedy-oriented, there were also a few dramas in the mix.
These films usually centred on a significant issue in the real world, such as racism, poverty, or environmentalism, and often had an inspirational message. Films like Rocky IV, The Karate Kid Part II, The Land Before Time, and Stand by Me are just a few examples of the dramas that were released in the ’80s.
The most memorable dramas of the 1980s were Driving Miss Daisy, Rain Man, Fatal Attraction, The Silence of the Lambs and The Colour Purple, with three of them being Best Picture winners.
Driving Miss Daisy is often thought of as the last of the “Old Hollywood” movies, being released in 1989. It won several Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actress (Jessica Tandy), as well as nominated for Best Actor (in a Leading Role) for Morgan Freeman. It was also nominated for Best Art Direction.
Interestingly enough, Rain Man, Fatal Attraction and The Silence of the Lambs all came out in the same year, 1988, with one of those films coming out each month from August to October.
80s Blockbuster Movies: Musicals
While there weren’t many musicals released in the ’80s (several of them coming towards the end of the decade), the few that were released were massive box-office hits.
Some of the greatest films in the genre were released in the ’80s, such as “Little Shop of Horrors” (1986), “The Music Man” (1988), and “Little Mermaid” (1989). These films proved that musicals weren’t just for kids – they could also be enjoyed by adults.
These ’80s musicals were commonly based on Broadway shows and fairy tales, and they were often campy in their approach. The dialogue was often delivered in rhyme, the characters often broke the fourth wall, and the plot often revolved around a struggle between good and evil.
80s Blockbuster Movies: Conclusion
All in all, the ’80s were a decade that saw the birth of the modern blockbuster, with plenty of original ideas and tons of 80s sci-fi and fantasy to boot.
While many of the films from the early ’80s have been largely forgotten, the ’80s in Film will always be remembered as a time when Hollywood started experimenting with bigger, bolder, and more ambitious films that broke the rules of traditional storytelling and gave us films that have become iconic pieces of cinematic art.
As the decade came to a close, it was, unfortunately, time to say goodbye to the likes of E.T. and Freddy Krueger, as the ’90s saw a shift towards more serious and gritty blockbusters. Although the stories of these films may have come to a close, the mark they left on the film industry will never be forgotten.
From the first frame to the last, these films will always be remembered for their creativity, innovation, and influence on generations to come.