The Top Ten ’80s-est ’80s Movies

July 7, 2008

Evan in Kansas City! Or should I call you “Chaz Bukowski”? Thank you for your donation you excellently-named boy! That makes seven donations in six days. We’ve (still) almost reach half of my goal, with eight days left to go! And now I’m getting nervous. Even though I’ve tried to put forth my best work during this stretch (or web-a-thon, if you will), I’m running out of ideas for top ten lists or mix tape themes. Please keep donating, friends. In case you have not heard, my roommates are moving out and taking their turntable with them, and I don’t have money to buy a new one plus the new phone/contract I have to buy next week. If you love the music you hear on this page, and want to continue hearing it (that’s not a threat, it just means I will not be able to rip weird, rare, vinyl-only releases anymore), you should donate to this page so that I can purchase a new turntable and phone. There is a Paypal link at the top left corner of this page. Or, you can bid on one of my eBay auctions. Or, you can e-mail me and I’ll provide you with a mailing address if you want to send a check instead of using Paypal.

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Tired, weak, and with my mind turned to mush, I arrived home from work last night to find everybody else in good spirits. They were so giddy, in fact, that they decided to order Masa’s Chicago-style pizza and watch an ’80s comedy together. Isn’t that just the perfect pick-me-up after a day of such horrifyingly awful proportions? To make matters worse, my requests to replace Real Genius with a movie I’d borrowed from work (either Shrooms or Killer Klowns From Outer Space) were heartily denied. Honestly, it stung a little bit. I’ve seen Real Genius, and I’m not a fan. I haven’t seen Shrooms, but it sounds incredible, and…well…you can’t deny the sheer awfulsomeness of those zany Killer Klowns.

The experience start me thinking (I am prone to thoughts every now and again), “What makes an ’80s movie so ’80s after all?” I tried to come up with a checklist that could be used for deciding just how ’80s a film is. That way, I could rank the top ten most ’80s movies of all ’80s movies. I might have forgotten one or two from this list, so feel free to correct me if you think it’s wrong. This is by no means definitive. If you see that either something is missing from the checklist or a movie is missing from the top ten, just leave a comment or e-mail me!

Now, for a movie to be considered ’80s, it obviously needs a film score that is entirely built upon the sounds of a synthesizer. It can contain one or two popular songs, but the soundtrack has to be 95% synthesizer-only melodies. Secondly, there has to be at least one montage. There need to be irrationally used sound effects (think of the boing sound you hear during Sixteen Candles when you see the popular girl’s tits). The main character has to have his or her own arch enemy that they encounter in everyday life. I don’t mean like a Batman/Riddler arch enemy, I mean more like an unnecessarily cruel classmate or co-worker who comes up with ridiculous schemes to sabotage the hero. For a movie to really be considered ’80s, it has to have Billy Zabka in its cast of characters. The last two checklist items are more thematic. Almost all ’80s movies contain themes of rebellion, most of which center around an educational institution, be it middle school, high school or college. Lastly, there are improbable schemes hatched by characters that are carried out as if they’re completely rational and easily accomplished. It sounds a bit vague, but just wait, you’ll see what I mean.

The Top Ten ’80s-est ’80s Movies

10. Weird Science – It’s hard to make a list involving ’80s movies that aren’t tied to John Hughes, so I figured I should just get this one and the next one out of the way first. You’ve got your two high school nerds who can’t meet girls who come up with an improbable scheme to create their own woman using a computer, hack into a US Government mainframe as if it’s as easy as popping open a can of cola, and wind up with Kelly LeBrock — the perfect woman — who not only wants to fuck and suck everybody’s dicks off, but also has supernatural powers? Uh, okay. Has it got an arch enemy? Check. Er, I mean “Chet”, Wyatt’s older brother (played by Bill Paxton). He’s no Billy Zabka, but he’s a total dick for no reason whatsoever. It’s got some goofy sound effects, and a terrible soundtrack. It’s on the list.

09. Breakfast Club – I’d say it’s got enough themes of scholastic rebellion for two movies. No Billy Zabka, though. There’s at least one montage, maybe two, but I don’t remember clearly. I guess when a movie’s entire plot revolves around a day of detention, you’ve got to show a passage of time somehow. I don’t remember any zany sound effects, and the score was a little more orchestrated than that of some of these other movies, but there is an arch enemy in the principal, and even enemies within the “cliques” represented by the students. There are also some improbable schemes (scoring pot without getting caught), though they aren’t nearly as awesome as cracking government computers. It’s weak, but it’s on almost every list of ’80s films so I guess it belongs on this one too.

08. Some Kind Of Wonderful – A third John Hughes movie. This is all about school and rebellion, and not about Billy Zabka, weird montages, improbable schemes (though there are a few, the most noteworthy of which is that one with Elias Koteas — the bad boy — who for some reason helps the likable main character out of the goodness of his heart do something at an outdoor amphitheater), sound effects or synth music. There’s the asshole who dates Lea Thompson as the arch enemy who is so painfully obvious in his arch enemy-ness that it gets to be comical halfway through the film. Also, there are enough quirky ’80s aesthetic things that put it on the list, but I’d have to watch it with a more scrutinizing eye to determine if it really belongs here.

07. WarGames – Hot on the heals of its 25th Anniversary DVD release, we have one of the ’80s most improbable plots. The suspension of disbelief one must allow while watching this film is enough to counter the fact that there is no real arch enemy, the soundtrack is orchestrated, and there’s no Billy Zabka. In WarGames you get themes of rebellion from school (does Matthew Broderick even go to school? I can’t remember), you’ve got some stupid sound effects (which you’re bound to run into when a computer is the real main character), and tons and tons of improbable schemes. I don’t remember if there’s a montage, but who cares. The movie revolves around a “bright”, “unmotivated” high school student who using a vintage 1970s computer to change his grades, hacks into a supercomputer, and nearly starts a global nuclear war. Oh yeah, then he’s caught and escapes from the grips of the FBI at Cheyenne Mountain like it’s the easiest thing in the world. He even goes to Oregon to find the guy who made the computer/program. Where are his parents through all of this, anyway? Chillin’ on the couch, watching Twin Peaks? What the shit?

06. Just One Of The Guys – The aesthetic alone might be enough to catapult this one to the top of the list. The look and sound of every character screams ’80s. I haven’t seen it in quite some time, so I don’t remember specifics about montages or soundtrack, but there were definitely goofy sound effects, themes of school and rebellion (the girl dresses as a guy to see if her teachers really are sexist), a hugely improbable scheme, an dastardly arch enemy in Greg Tolan, who happens to be played by Billy Zabka. And, to top it all off, the film was nominated for 3 “Young Artist Awards” in 1986! Top that!

05. Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo – Oh, Breakin’ 2, how you’ve changed my life for the better. Kelly, Ozone and Turbo are back, and this time, they’re…they’re…wait a minute, the plot of this movie is that they’re trying to stop an evil developer from bulldozing a community recreation center? Uh…ok….Hey, horrible synth music! Montage after montage after montage! Sound effects! Improbable schemes a-plenty, and a no-nonsense over-written arch enemy. No Billy Zabka, though.

04. Back To School – One of the great ’80s montages. Rodney Dangerfield has been paying kids to do his homework and ace his tests, (scholastic themes run the film), but now he’s got an oral exam on the horizon and needs to review an entire semester’s worth of material in…uh…one night? That seems a bit improbable. How on earth will thy show the passage the time! Oh, right, a montage! Totally instrumental song, sort of synthesizer-ish, I guess. He studies while getting a massage (?), while showering, and by the dim light of a lighter in an otherwise dark room. Wow. Just…wow. With Billy Zabka as Chas.

03. Real Genius – This is the film that inspired the list that you are currently reading. We watched it last night. I saw it again, for the first time, with fresh eyes and a crippling case of “too much Subway for lunch”. There are at least two montages that I counted. There’s a ruthless arch enemy in the character of Kent. Kent is, sadly, not played by Billy Zabka. There’s synthesizer’s aplenty. I think the only song I heard was towards the end of the film. “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”. Sound affects…eh, not so much. Obvious themes of rebellion and school. There are so many improbable schemes I don’t even know where to begin. I thought about making Real Genius number one on this list solely because Jon Gries who plays Lazlo Hollyfield also plays Roger Linus (Ben’s father!) on LOST, but that would have been too much.

02. Teen Wolf – Ironic that both Teen Wolf and Breakin’ 2 are on this list, because I used both of those film titles to cover up old porno tapes when I was 15. Like Back To School, this has one of the best montage sequences in the history of bad ’80s movies. For the entire film, Michael J. Fox has been ridiculed by his schoolmates for being a werewolf. Tragic, I know. Well, the second half of the film is entirely dedicated to making Fox’s character into a hero, in spite of his obvious physical differences. I’m sensing a metaphor here…Oh, wait, “Way To Go” by Mark Vieha is playing, so this must be the montage: he scores a basket in a basketball game, gets an A on a test, and bangs the hottest girl in school. Uh…why is everyone now totally accepting of him, he’s a fucking werewolf. Talking about improbable…

01. Karate Kid – This is it, the ’80s-est of the ’80s. It’s got Billy Zabka as the bad guy, and perhaps the greatest montage of all the ’80s horrible montages. It’s got school, rebellion, Zabka, and more Zabka. Yeah, I get it, there’s a lot of quirky orchestrated “Asian” music and not enough synth, but there are awesome canned sound effects, improbable schemes, and fucking Billy Zabka. God, I want to track that guy down and interview him one of these days. Him and the guy that plays Kent in Real Genius. Anyway, the Karate Kid montage is classic. You’ve got Billy Zabka kicking Ralph Machio’s ass for almost an entire movie, while Elizabeth Shue and her beautiful tits are waiting for Machio to just stick up for himself before she fucks him. I swear, by standing around watching him suffer in agony she’s basically doing the equivalent of a chick laying in bed spreading her pussy and saying “C’mere, stud”, but Machio’s character can’t do anything except get his ass kicked again and again by Zabka. “You’re The Best” by Joe Esposito. The best montage music ever. And how do they show Machio’s progress? By showing him kicking the asses of all Zabka’s cronies, who up until now spent an hour or more mercilessly beating on Machio. It makes no sense. It’s perfect. It’s the ’80s-est ’80s movie.


  1. Johnada

    Whoa, no Better Off Dead? That’ll delay my donation another post or two.

  2. |

    Good post. I just have a few seldom-mentioned things to add…- Hughes wrote the spectacular National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), which featured a score by Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac. The ridiculous guilty pleasure “Weird Science” by Oingo Boingo comes from the Hughes film of the same name.

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