Best Sci-fi Movies of the 80’s Part 2 (1985-1989)
This is part two of my look at the greatest science fiction films of the 1980’s. Last time we looked at the years 1980-1984 and now we look at the rest of the classics during the Decade of Excess.
The Return of Godzilla/Godzilla 1985 (1985): Japan’s greatest monster returned in the 80’s to start a new era, the Heisei Era to be exact. The Return of Godzilla (or simply Godzilla 1985 as it was also known) served as both a sequel and a reboot to the 1954 kaiju classic, and the American cut even featured a returning Raymond Burr in the lead role. This modern take on Godzilla, features a lot of the story beats which would be familiar to fans of the franchise. The Japanese government is alarmed when their greatest fear has seemingly returned to wreak havoc on their nation once more. This time the nation had built a weapon known as the Super X, an armored flying fortress which could take the fight to Godzilla and force him to a volcanic island where they can defeat the creature. Making things more complicated is the constant meddling of the US and Soviet Union who have their own reckless plans on how to defeat Godzilla. This film ignited a renaissance for the Godzilla franchise which continued into the mid-90’s.
Back to the Future (1985): To keep his friend’s greatest invention safe, Marty McFly has to take a time-travelling DeLorean back to the 1950’s at the time where his parents met. As one would expect his 80’s coolness clashing with 50’s squareness makes a mess of the time stream. His presence creates a ripple effect preventing his parents from meeting when they were supposed to at the Under the Sea dance. Not only must he make sure his parents fall for each other, but with the help of Doc Brown he has to repair the Delorean and get back to the future. Everything about this movie screamed “cool” from the music to the characters, making Back to the Future one of the iconic flicks of the decade. The movie ends on a cliffhanger and director Robert Zemeckis, took advantage of this by making two other sequels which are just as beloved by audiences as the original
Brazil (1985): Acclaimed filmmaker and former Monty Python member, Terry Gilliam brought an imaginative look to a dystopian era “somewhere in the twentieth century”. Sam Lowery is an ordinary bureaucrat in the service of an all-encompassing state. He happily does his job, until one day he discovers an error where the state arrested and killed a man named Archibald Buttle instead of an Archibald Tuttle. As Lowery tries to do his due diligence with his information he crosses paths with Jill, a witness to the arrest who bears an uncanny resemblance to the woman in his surreal fantastical dreams. Now he and Jill find themselves as fugitives from a fascist regime that does not want it publicized that they made a mistake. Gilliam’s inspired fusion of science fiction, noir, and fantasy was sadly almost never released. It was not until a handful of critics had a sneak viewing of Brazil and deemed it one of 1985’s finest films that the studio finally made the movie available.
Star Trek IV the Voyage Home (1986): Sticking with Simon Pegg’s edict that the odd numbered Star Trek movies were rubbish, we will skip Star Trek III on this list and go directly to Star Trek IV. Directed by Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, Voyage Home completes the story arc the USS Enterprise crew began in Wrath of Khan. Of course journey back to earth is not a smooth one as they encounter a probe which leaves a path of destruction in its wake. To decipher the mystery of this probe; Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura, and the rest have to travel back to the 20th century to find a pair of humpback whales to translate the probe’s signal. Surviving in the past may be difficult enough, but they must accomplish their mission while their valued friend Spock is still recovering from the events of the previous film. Star Trek IV provides a heartwarming conclusion to what many refer to as the Spock-trilogy, but also set these beloved characters up for a new series of adventures.
Short Circuit (1986): After a lightning strike, Number 5, a robot built for defense purposes is forever changed. Leaving the base where he was created, the little robot is found by Stephanie who takes him and he is rechristened “Johnny 5”. All the while his creator Newton is out to find him. Short Circuit has earned itself a place in the heart of 80’s children, earning itself a sequel, as Johnny 5 became one of the most memorable robots in moviedom.
Aliens (1986): When a sequel was made to the horror/sci-fi masterpiece Alien, James Cameron took over the director’s chair and pushed the series in a new more action oriented direction. After spending over fifty years in hypersleep, Ellen Ripley awakens and tries to warn her former employers at Weyland-Yutani of the dangers the Xenomorphs pose. Naturally she is ignored until the aliens rear their ugly heads, forcing Ripley and a team of Colonial Marines to launch a mission to eradicate the creatures. In addition to Sigourney Weaver returning to her badass ways as Ripley, Aliens also introduced many fan favorite characters to the franchise like: Corporal Hicks, Private Hudson, Bishop, and Newt.
RoboCop (1987): Detroit has become a cesspool of crime and violence, and the police are outmatched and outgunned in every way. In response the megacorporation Omni Consumer Products uses the broken pieces of the murdered Officer Alex Murphy to create a new soldier in the war on crime. Blending human and machine they create, Robocop. Trouble begins when Murphy begins to question his humanity and existence, making the corrupt executives who created him begin to realize there may be a problem. Like with many of his other flicks, director Paul Verhoeven, perfectly used RoboCop as a platform to showcase violence and social commentary in a way that was fun for moviegoers. RoboCop spawned a whole franchise of inferior sequels as well as an animated series (because in the 80’s we did not care that our children’s entertainment came from violent R-rated movies. See also the Rambo cartoon) and a highly polished unnecessary remake which missed the point of the original.
Predator (1987): In the 80’s Arnold Schwarzenegger solidified himself as an unstoppable action hero, which made it all the more shocking when an alien warrior smacked him around like a small child. While leading a team of macho mercenaries into the jungle, Arnie, as Dutch, finds himself hunted by a mysterious entity who is picking off his team while cloaked in invisibility. This leaves Dutch with no other choice than to send the survivors away, and under the cloak of darkness go mano a mano with that “ugly motherf*****”. While Arnold may have been the star of this film, the Predator became one of the greatest monsters in cinema being featured in an entire franchise which followed.
Akira (1988): The movie largely responsible for bringing Japanese anime to the worldwide masses, Akira is revered by fans of both science fiction and animation (to be fair there is quite a bit of overlap between the two). In the city of Neo-Tokyo two members of a biker gang, Shotaro and his friend Tetsuo find themselves unwillingly brought into a government conspiracy. Whatever the government is working on awakens a psychic power in Tetsuo which is steadily growing. In order to get to the bottom of what is happening to his friend, Shotaro joins forces with anti-government activist, Kei. But they may be too late as Testuo’s abilities are proving more than he can handle and our driving him mad. In a powerful climax, Shotaro must find a way to help his friend before the entire city of Neo-Tokyo is destroyed. Somehow, Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo found a way to distill his massive manga epic into a single stylized film.
They Live (1988): Fan favorite filmmaker John Carpenter, used this flick as a platform to speak out against the greed and unearned power of the elite during the Age of Excess. In an inspired piece of casting, wrestler and pop culture icon “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was placed in the lead as a smart-mouthed drifter who discovers a pair of sunglasses. He soon discovers that these are no ordinary glasses and allow him to see the truth that the wealthy and powerful are actually alien invaders using mass media and commercialism to subjugate the human race. Filled with quotable lines (largely ad-libbed by Piper himself) and commentary on the era, They Live is one of the coolest movies of the decade.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989): The movie which gave us the most awesome history report ever. On the surface bandmates Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted Theodore Logan of the Wyld Stallyns are just two slackers, but in the future they will be one of the great influences on humanity….if they pass their history class. Luckily an inventor from the future, approaches the boys with a time travelling phone booth presenting them an opportunity to create the best history project possible. As expected hijinks ensue, as two guys who would rather be jamming out are thrown into key events in human history, collecting important figures to bring back with them. Despite a simplistic sounding plot, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is incredibly entertaining thanks to the charming performances of Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, and it has a far better script than is often given credit for.