The 1980s marked a resurgence for Hollywood.. The decade opened with many predicting a grim future for the film industry. In the Seventies, production costs had soared while ticket sales declined. It seemed that cable television and videocassettes could only make matters worse. That turned out not to be the case. The Eighties proved to be good years for Hollywood. Some critics complained that a "bottom line mentality" ruled the day, but in fact many films during the decade demonstrated that social consciousness was alive and well in the movie business. A few examples: Mississippi Burning (1988) delivers a powerful message about racism; Talk Radio (1989) does likewise on the subject of white supremacy. Platoon (1986) addresses the trauma of Vietnam as well as any film before or since. The Big Chill (1983) portrays the transformation of Baby Boomers from hippies to yuppies. Wall Street (1987) is a telling testament to the excesses of the decade.
There were a great many mergers and takeovers in the movie business during the Eighties. In 1982, Coca-Cola acquired Columbia, and then Sony purchased Columbia and Tri-Star from Coca-Cola seven years later. 20th Century Fox became the property of oilman Marvin Davis, and in 1985 media baron Rupert Murdoch purchased a 50% interest in the studio. MGM merged with United Artists in 1981, and then was acquired by Ted Turner. Paramount was taken over by Gulf+Western in 1989. As profits went up, so did budgets; film stars began earning huge salaries. And the sales of videos, along with revenues for cable TV distribution of theatrical releases, increased studio earnings. At the same time, multi-screen cinemas spread like wildfire across the country.
Youth-oriented movies were big in the Eighties. Many critics missed the fact that at the core of a great many of these films lay a protest against wealth, status, conformity and conspicuous consumption. Some of the most notable films in this genre: The Breakfast Club (1985) looks at the dark side of being a teenager; Pretty in Pink (1986) examines teenage castes and cliques; Risky Business (1983) satirizes the greed and materialism of the era; The Sure Thing (1985) delineates the very real difference between love and sex; Matthew Broderick's title character in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) defines the rebel kid of the Eighties -- a far cry from James Dean or a flower child, but no less symbolic of an era.
A group of young stars who became known as The Brat Pack dominated the youth-oriented films of the decade. Many of them joined the ensemble cast of St. Elmo's Fire (1985); they included Andrew McCarthy, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore and Judd Nelson. There were others -- Molly Ringwald, Matt Dillon, Charlie Sheen, Anthony Michael Hall, Sean Penn and Robert Downey, Jr. Born in the early Sixties, they were the hottest items in Tinseltown, and in both their performances and their not-so-private lives they represented the dreams and dilemmas of teens and young adults in the 1980s. Demi Moore was the only member who went on to greater fame in the 1990s; some of the others let drugs, sex and inflated egos do irreparable damage to their careers. (For more on The Brat Pack, see Material Things.)
The Eighties was the decade of the sequel, and in some cases the sequel was as good as (or even better than) -- and as commercially successful -- as the original. Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones became an American icon in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). Comic Eddie Murphy became a big star of the big screen with Beverly Hills Cop (1984) and Beverly Hills Cop II (1987). Lethal Weapon (1987) and Die Hard (1988) defined the action flick, and both spawned hit sequels. Sylvester Stallone's Rambo flexed America's muscles and represented the nation's renewed patriotic fervor in First Blood (1982), Rambo: First Blood, Part II (1985) and Rambo III (1988).
-- Jason Manning
Click here to read The Eighties Club reviews of films that represent the way we were (or thought we were) in the 1980s. (There are currently 177 reviews.)
The year's top 50 box office hits, Academy Award & Golden Globe nominees and winners, and the top box office stars. (Eventually, this information will be provided for every year of the decade.)
A complete listing of Oscar winners in the top categories from 1980 through 1989. (In time, this information will be incorporated into a new section represented by The Films of 1985 -- see above.)
The top ten money-making movies for each year, plus other noteworthy films.
Stars of the '80s
In which we showcase a prominent actor or actress of the '80s, complete with biography, filmography, critics' comments, images, and more.