Top 10 From Back Then: The Movies Of 1985

It's hard to believe how fast 27 years can just fly by.  In 1985, DNA evidence was first utilized in a criminal court case.  Vice President George H.W. Bush served as acting President for eight hours while Ronald Reagan went under the knife to remove cancerous polyps from his colon.  This memorable year witnessed the creations of Bill Watterson's classic Calvin & Hobbes comic strip, the North American version of The Discovery Channel, the first incarnation of Tetris, the Tommy Hilfiger brand and Windows Version 1.0.  '85 also produced four of today's hottest Hollywood babes in Amanda Seyfried, Keira Knightley, Michelle Trachtenberg and The Big Bang Theory's Kaley Cuoco. 1985 would go on to be recognized as one of the most celebrated in film history, so let's take a trip down memory lane and check out my Top 10 From Back Then: The Movies Of 1985!

Honorable Mentions:
Commando, Silver Bullet, Witness


10. Better Off Dead

"Greendale is a bodaciously small town, Lane.  A fly speck on the map, a rest stop on the way to the ski slope.  I can't even get real drugs here!"

Nothing about Better Off Dead makes sense, but that fact along with the film's oddball humor make it one of the biggest cult favorites of the 1980s.  The movie follows sulking teenager Lane Myer (a 19-year-old John Cusack) as he contemplates suicide after his popular girlfriend Beth (A Nightmare On Elm Street's Amanda Wyss) dumps him.  Such a heavy topic as teen suicide is handled steadily by director Savage Steve Holland, whose trademark weirdness pokes fun at the subject without being insensitive.  Of all the eccentric characters roaming Better Off Dead's landscape (including two Asian drag racers and Lane's younger brother who never speaks but is a whiz at building lasers), Revenge Of the Nerds's Curtis Armstrong steals the show as Charles de Mar, Lane's drug-crazed buddy who's been attending high school for the better part of a decade.  All-in-all, Holland's partially autobiographical picture should be a hit with crackpots everywhere.

Movie Clip: Expert skiing advice


9. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure

"There's a lotta things about me you don't know anything about, Dottie.  Things you wouldn't understand.  Things you couldn't understand.  Things you shouldn't understand.  You don't wanna get mixed up with a guy like me.  I'm a loner, Dottie.  A rebel."

Paul Reubens created an entertainment icon with his Pee-Wee Herman character, star of the uproariously funny Pee-Wee's Playhouse television series which produced five hilarious seasons through the late-80s.  The man-child's wacky antics paired well with director Tim Burton's quirky vision, spawning an inspiring tale of Pee-Wee's unflinching resolve while attempting to track down his stolen bicycle.  If the bizarreness of Better Off Dead was set to 10, then Pee-Wee's Big Adventure breaks off the knob, injecting the beloved children's show host into a world populated by some truly off-the-wall individuals during Pee-Wee's burdensome journey.  Burton's directorial debut stunned audiences and critics alike, paving the way for his nearly 30-year reign as one of Hollywood's most dominant forces.  Before popping in Alice In Wonderland or Charlie And the Chocolate Factory, check this one out and see how it all started.

Movie Clip: Large Marge


8. Fright Night

"His dinner... is in the oven!"

Earning the achievement as the second highest-grossing horror film of 1985, Fright Night stakes the competition when it comes to bloodsucking 80s cinema.  Perhaps taking a cue from Hitchcock's Rear Window, writer/director Tom Holland's Fright Night centers around Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) and his obsession with finding out the truth about new neighbor Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon in an awesomely flamboyant role), who Charley believes is a vampire.  The nervous lad enlists the assistance of Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall, having a great time with the material), a washed-up late night TV host whose on-screen persona creates the illusion that he's an expert in dealing with these undead monstrosities.  When the pair finally squares off against the fanged menace, the special effects take over, squeezing every penny out of the movie's meager $9.5 million budget.  Without a doubt, Fright Night stands as my personal favorite vampire movie of the 1980s.

Movie Clip: Evil Ed's transformation


7. Re-Animator

"Youuuuuuuuuu... bassssstaaaaaarrrrrd!"

Death is never the end in the world of horror, a conception addressed in Re-Animator, director Stuart Gordon's twisted tale of human resurrection.  Loosely based on an H.P. Lovecraft's story, the film cunningly harmonizes shocking gore effects with gut-busting laughs thanks in part to the wily script by Gordon and cohorts Dennis Paoli and William Norris.  Seasoned horror actor Jeffrey Combs shines as Dr. Herbert West, a socially-inept scientist embroiled in a heated feud with fellow researcher Dr. Carl Hill (the stone-faced David Gale) over the specifications of regenerating dead cells and ultimately bringing the dead back to life.  West's infatuation with his specialty drives him to experiment liberally with a serum that awakens corpses from their eternal slumber, and the zombies begin to pile up with chaotic results.  Heavily praised by horror fans and critics alike, Re-Animator dazzles as one of the strangest yet most entertaining oddities of its or any decade.

Movie Clip: Rumble in the morgue


6. Day Of the Dead

"You want to put some kind of explanation on all this?  Here's one as good as any other -- we're bein' punished by the Creator.  He visited a curse on us.  Maybe He didn't want to see us blow ourselves up, put a big hole in the sky.  Maybe He just wanted to show us He's still the boss man.  Maybe He figured we're gettin' too big for our britches, tryin' to figure His shit out."

George Romero, the pioneer of American zombie cinema, rounded out his original Dead series following 1968's Night Of the Living Dead and 1978's Dawn Of the Dead with Day Of the Dead.  The films spanned nearly two decades and put to bed any doubts that Romero, even while working with a limited budget, knows the genre better than any other director to ever tackle the undead.  Day zooms in on a band of military grunts and egghead scientists taking shelter in an underground bunker as a world of walking dead stagger around above.  Tensions escalate between the two factions and the zombies nearly take a back seat to the rivalry between the meathead soldiers and intellectual researchers.  Don't fear, as the drama brewing with the living leads to a fantastic conclusion featuring some of the bloodiest flesh-ripping effects ever committed to celluloid courtesy of Tom Savani.  Regardless of its flaws, Day Of the Dead supplies a thrilling end to the trilogy.

Movie Clip: "Choke on 'em!"


5. The Return Of the Living Dead

"Do you ever wonder about all the different ways of dying?  You know, violently?  And wonder, like, what would be the most horrible way to die?  Well, for me, the worst way would be for a bunch of old men to get around me and start biting and eating me alive..."

Crammed to the brim with self-aware buffoonery, The Return Of the Living Dead knows it's just a movie, but it's that quality that rises it above the myriad of zombie films that overpopulated the 80s.  Though not an official chapter of Romero's undead universe, The Return Of the Living Dead borrows heavily from the brand while simultaneously turning common zombie movie trends on their heads.  For instance, the corpses terrorizing medical supply warehouse workers Frank and Freddy (James Karen and Thom Mathews) cannot be killed simply by destroying their brains.  No, these suckers must be incinerated into nothing, but after one of them is burned in the crematorium near Resurrection Cemetery, the smoke causes a deadly rain that causes even more to dig themselves out from their tombs and attack a group of punkers partying in the graveyard.  An absolute must-watch for any zombie fanatic, The Return Of the Living Dead personifies its decade like no other.

Movie Clip: Enter Tarman


4. The Goonies

"Goonies never say die!"

The Goonies is one of those special movies that gives its viewers a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. The film has a knack for reviving countless memories that remind us of the happiness and simplicity that constituted our childhoods before adulthood transformed us into mindless consumers.  The Goonies follows a rag-tag collection of youngsters who embark on a trek to unearth the hidden treasures of 17th century pirate One-Eyed Willy.  What ensues is a whimsical adventure as the kiddies side-step booby traps set eons ago by the nefarious explorer while simultaneously evading the clutches of the sinister Fratelli family.  The Goonies has developed such a steadfast cult following that a 25th anniversary fan festival took place a few years ago in Astoria, Oregon, where a bulk of the movie was filmed.  This event is just a small testament to how the popularity of The Goonies skyrockets more and more as time continues to roll forward.

Movie Clip: Chunk's confessions


3. Fletch

"In case you haven't guessed yet, there's been a lot of drug traffic on the beach.  And I'm not talking about Robitussin and No-Doze.  I'm talking about the hard stuff and lots of it.  I've been trying to find out who's behind it.  It hasn't been easy.  I don't shower much."

I've always admired the comedic aptitude of Chevy Chase.  Whether he's hamming it up on old episodes of Saturday Night Live as the original host of Weekend Update or dangling from the rain gutters while attempting to decorate his home for the holidays in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Mr. Chase's deadpan delivery and superb timing remains unrivaled even as his career continues to slowly wither away.  Based on Gregory Mcdonald's 1974 novel, Fletch stars Chase as the titular character, a wise-cracking newspaper reporter who moonlights as a sleuth to investigate drug trafficking in Los Angeles's beach communities.  Watching Fletch outsmart everyone who crosses his path on his way to discovering the truth is a hoot as he assumes several different identities to gain access to information that would otherwise be out of his reach.  I assure you that you'll have as much fun watching Fletch as Mr. Chase had playing the role.

Movie Scene: "It's all ball bearings nowadays!"


2. The Breakfast Club

"Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong.  What we did was wrong, but we think you're crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are.  You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.  But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain... an athlete... and a basket case... a princess... and a criminal.  Does that answer your question?"

Never before (or since) have the social classifications of high school life been so well fleshed out as they are in John Hughes's The Breakfast Club.  The gang's all here to keep one another company during a grievous day of Saturday detention -- the jock (Emilio Estevez), the prom queen (Molly Ringwald), the straight-A student (Anthony Michael Hall), the rebel (Judd Nelson) and the nutbar (Ally Sheedy).  As the hours tick by, the group reluctantly gets to know one another within the confines of the school's library as they find a common enemy in the overbearing Principal Richard Vernon, played perfectly by Paul Gleason, who succeeds in transforming his character into one of the biggest douchebags in film history.  Anyone with a pulse will easily relate to at least one of the kids as they spend the day sharing what lead to their individual punishments and discovering how this afternoon will affect the way they perceive one another once classes resume next Monday.

Movie Clip: Obligatory 80s movie dance scene


1. Back to the Future

"If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits eighty-eight miles per hour... you're gonna see some serious shit."

What can one say about Back to the Future that hasn't already been said countless times before (including this sentence, which I'm sure has already been said countless times before)?  Back to the Future is not only one of the greatest action / comedy / science fiction movies of all time, but it is one of thee greatest movies of all time.  Michael J. Fox stars as Marty McFly, a fun-loving teenager whose eccentric scientist pal Doctor Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd in his most memorable performance) constructs a fully-functional time machine out of a DeLorean DMC-12.  The zany doc is suddenly killed by Libyan terrorists, and when Marty tries to flee the scene of the crime, he accidentally travels back to 1955, and... well... seriously, nothing I can say here will do this incredible movie justice.

Movie Clip: Skateboard chase

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