Top 10 Quintessential 1980s Films

Neal Damiano of FilmWad takes a look at one of his favourite periods in American film history – the 1980s. What films perfectly encapsulate the era of big hair, Spandex and MTV?

What films encapsulate the social, economic and cultural direction of 1980s America?

From big hair and high heels to big business and cocaine. The 1980s remain a much loved yet infuriating period for Hollywood where excess and high concept took artistic control away from the directors and into the hands of the all-seeing Power Producers.

Neal Damiano of Filmwad tells Top 10 Films about his favourite “quintessential” 1980s films that not only highlight the highs and lows of the decade but are well worth seeing as well.

10. The Last American Virgin (Boaz Davidson, 1982)

This film really captured the essence of being a hormone crazed kid in high school in the eighties. Not to mention the amazing soundtrack.

9. Trading Places (John Landis, 1983)

The ultimate comedy about social status and the extremes rich people will do to keep their money. Put Eddie Murphy to the forefront of comedy.

8. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling, 1982)

The life & times of Southern California high shoolers. A film that continues to grow in popularity. Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli is one of the most revered characters in film history…put surfers on the map.

7. Risky Business (Paul Brickman, 1983)

Racy for its time in 1983 given its content a straight laced young man gets very ambitious when his parents go on vacation with an idea to make some cash, capitalism at its finest. Made a star of Tom Cruise.

6. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, 1986)

A timeless favorite from John Hughes. Ferris Bueller became a fixture in popular culture. Often quoted from his witty one liners every kid wanted to be Ferris Bueller in the eighties.

5. Revenge of the Nerds (Jeff Kanew, 1984)

The ultimate film about the underdog winning. Revenge of the Nerds was a battle cry for every kid that was put down and picked on. The characters in this film were a quirky delight and who can forget the ending.

4. Wall Street (Oliver Stone, 1987)

Great eighties film about the excess of greed. Really symbolized what was happening in America at the time in the stock market. The chemistry between Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas creates great drama.

3. Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984)

A timeless comedy, quirky story about some three very unlikely guys that save the world….coin one of the most popular phrases in cinema history “Who you gonna call ghostbusters”.

2. The Breakfast Club (John Hughes, 1985)

One of the most quoted films in history. Really captured a relatability with the characters and what teenagers feel and go through in their high school years. Also tackled issues of social status to a teen audience. But the film touches all ages it’s timeless.

1. Valley Girl (Martha Coolidge, 1983)

What can I say about Valley Girl it just had such an eighties feel to it right down to the characters and the soundtrack of new wave hits. A quirky love story of opposites attracting and some very quotable and funny one liners.The film showcased a scene that was happening in the early eighties with the clothes, music, and way of speak. Martha Coolidge really got it right with this one.

Written and compiled by Neal Damiano.

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Your turn – what are your favourite 1980s films?

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About the Author
Neal Damiano calls himself “an unhip film geek” who mixes his passion for movies with an enthusiasm for travel, music and journalism.

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    Jaina Reply

    Great list, nice to see Ghostbusters high up in there.

    Think my Eddie Murphy 80s film of choice would have to be Coming to America. You need at least one Eddie Murphy film in this list!

    I’m a bit shocked that I haven’t seen a whole bunch of these. And here I prided myself on my love of 80s films!

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    Rodney Reply

    Yes, yes and yes. I haven’t seen Valley Girl (and probably ain’t likely too any time soon) but the rest of this list is a magnificent example of 80’s excess and horrible clothes!!!

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    Scott Lawlor Reply

    Great list, with some very interesting choices. Obvs for me i would have had The Breakfast Club up at number one… but this is a great list indeed.

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    Pete Reply

    Wow a few surprises on here that I haven’t seen! Would have thought Wall Street would be number one! Or Breakfast Club! Glad to see both them in there!

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    Louise Reply

    There’s a few here I haven’t seen but totally agree on Wall Street, Trading Places, Ghostbusters and The Breakfast Club. All in their own way sum up the decade. As a proud Scot I might have found room for something by Bill Forsyth, perhaps Gregory’s Girl – it’s a very American list and maybe a Brit movie in there would give it a different feel. Love the list though…

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    Evan Crean Reply

    Never seen Valley Girl or Last American Virgin but the rest are fantastic and deserving to be on the list. I think your Revenge of the Nerds picture is from the sequel though.

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    DEZMOND Reply

    I’d put WORKING GIRL on the list too.

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    niels Reply

    It’s simply incredible to look at the awful clothing and the awful hair in all of those pictures. I was too young in the 1980s to remember, first-hand, how “colorful” of a decade it was. I haven’t gotten around to watching some of these, as my film resume for the 80s has always been paper thin. I will get around to fixing that sooner or later.

    Interesting list!

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    Dan Grant Reply

    While I’m glad to see your list include Last American Virgin, there a lot of films missing from your list that should be there. But first, Virgin did not capture ” the essence of being a hormone crazed kid in high school in the eighties”, it captured what it was like to be in love in highschool. Gary worships Karen. From the moment he first lays eyes on her he can’t stop thinking about her. She of course goes for his hot friend who happens to be an asshole. Sure the film has bits at the beginning where they pick up women and have sex with them, but at the heart of this film is a boys love for a girl and him getting his heart shattered.

    Fasttimes is a good one, so is Ferris and Ghostbusters. I would have included Rambo FB II, Friday the 13th (start of massive horror craze…even though Halloween came out 2 years earlier) and of course E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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    Neal Damiano Reply

    @Dan Gant I see your point somewhat but Gary was an idiot and sometimes love does that to people. He should of given up on Karen the moment she went for the arrogant jerk Rick. He should of recognized her shallowness from that point on the way he pined for her after she showed her inner ugliness was just heartwrenching to watch. I like to remeber the funny moments of this film…the reason I put it up here is because it captures the essence of the 80s to near perfection from the clothes to the music!!

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    Erich Kuersten Reply

    Ugh… tight list – and accurate, but PAINFUL to remember.

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    Dan Reply

    Hey Neal. I think this might have been the first piece i ever commented on at this site. Going back and reading it now I sound like an arrogant turd lol this is a fantastic piece that you wrote and I do see your point about a last American virgin. I do think there are some other films that would be on here but then again this is your top 10 list not mine. Really well done and it’s fun to go back and read some of the older pieces here. Well done mate.

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    Neal Damiano Reply

    @Dan Grant
    Oh wow, I just got this revisiting. No worries or harm done mate. Glad you take the time to read my stuff and I always welcome feedback. I appreciate the enthusiasm for Last American Virgin it’s a fantastic film.

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    Dan Reply

    I love your enthusiasm for The Last American Virgin. Watched it for the second time on Arrow Video’s fantasic Blu-ray yesterday and must agree it has to be one of the most affecting (and funny) 80s teen coming of age films. It captures that sense of teenage obsession when the hormones are going haywire and provides us with a realistic relationship without any rose-tinting. Karen is a heartbreaker in more ways than one but like Gary, she’s essentially going through the same sense of lust and a perception of “love”.

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    Aodhan: Waste management Reply

    Going to check out Fast Times with Sean Penn – actually have not seen that one

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