Top 10 From Back Then: The Movies Of 1986

1986 was an interesting time to enter my "terrible twos."  In a year that witnessed the infamous Space Shuttle Challenger explosion and the disastrous Chernobyl meltdown, the world needed relief, and the remedy would soon come in several forms.  For instance, '86 saw the opening of Pixar Animations Studios and Mike Tyson winning his first World Championship by beating Trevor Berbick in Las Vegas.  The year took from us Metallica bassist Cliff Burton and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard but gave us Amanda Bynes, Kat Dennings and Megan Fox.  Bill Buckner's dimwitted missed grounder allowed the New York Mets to pull even with the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, eventually leading to a World Series victory for the Mets.  Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone's secret vault only to discover a bottle of moonshine might have been disappointing, but each of the Top 10 From Back Then: The Movies Of 1986 is sure to leave you satisfied.

Honorable Mentions:
Back to School, The Money Pit, Platoon


10. The Transformers: The Movie

"You, who are without mercy, now plead for it?  I thought you were made of sterner stuff!"

Twenty years before Michael Bay placed his poisonous hands on this beloved franchise, The Transformers: The Movie stuck with what made the television series it was based upon a hit -- a spectacular anime style highlighted with fantastic scenes of robotic destruction.  Bridging the gap between the second and third seasons of the treasured cartoon, the movie picks up in the middle of the never-ending battle between the good guy Autobots and the menacing Decepticons while introducing a brand new menace -- the spherical planet-consuming space giant Unicron (voiced by Orson Welles in his last role) is floating through the cosmos, devouring everything in its path, creating a common enemy for Autobot leader Optimus Prime and eternal Decepticon enemy Megatron.  Sure, The Transformers: The Movie might be a thinly-veiled toy commercial, but the film stands out as a classic compared to its modern day live-action time-wasters.

Movie Clip: Unicron Rises


9. Big Trouble In Little China

"Just remember what ol' Jack Burton does when the earth quakes and the poison arrows fall from the sky and the pillars of Heaven shake.  Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol' storm right square in the eye and he says, 'Gimme your best shot, pal.  I can take it.'"

By 1986, John Carpenter was well on his way to becoming the horror legend that he is today.  With Halloween, The Fog, The Thing and Christine standing out as highlights in his filmography, Carpenter, having always wanted to make a martial arts picture, turned his lens to Big Trouble In Little China.  Fighting against the studio, who wanted to cast either Clint Eastwood or Jack Nicholson as the lead, Carpenter locked in Kurt Russell for the role of Jack Burton, a wise-ass truck driver pulled into a fantasy underworld deep within Chinatown where a diabolical sorcerer named Lo Pan (James Hong) wrecks havoc.  Burton assists his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) on his mission to rescue his fiancée Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) from the evil wizard's clutches in a mad blaze of high-flying fight scenes sprinkled with comedic bits to lighten up the mood.  Although a box-office dud, Big Trouble In Little China has since become a cult hit amongst Carpenter's loyal fanbase.

Movie Clip: Rain vs. Wang


8. The Hitcher

"Do you got any idea how much blood jets out of a guy's neck when his throat's been slit?"

Nothing good ever comes out of picking up hitchhikers in movies.  That goes for both the traveler and the driver; the odds are probable that you'll either be knifed behind the wheel or forced into sexual favors at gunpoint as the passenger.  The Hitcher displays the worst case scenario and demonstrates why it's best to pound the gas whenever these roadside wanderers stick out a thumb.  En route to San Diego from Chicago, Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) combats boredom by offering a ride to drifter John Ryder (the ever-brooding Rutger Hauer).  Their first intense encounter results in Jim ejecting Ryder from his vehicle before the psychopath is able to make a mask out of his face, but it's just the beginning of his nightmare, as the resilient wanderer comes back again and again in this never-ending game of cat-and-mouse.  Ryder's motives are never made clear, but it's of little consequence; you'll be captivated by Hauer's intensity every mile of the way.

Movie Clip: Cafe Scene


7. Three Amigos!

"You dirt-eating piece of slime!  You scum-sucking pig!  You son of a motherless goat!"

Some of the greatest comedies ever made start off with a small misunderstanding that spirals into utter ridiculousness.  Three Amigos! displays this tried-but-true formula with gusto, as Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short assume the roles of Lucky Day, Dusty Bottoms and Ned Nederlander, a trio of silent movie actors in the 1910s who find themselves way over their heads in the middle of the Mexican desert.  A rough-and-tough bandit by the name of El Guapo (Spanish for "The Handsome One") and his henchmen have taken over a tiny village south of the border, and its citizens, believing that the sombrero-wearing buffoons are actual crime-bashing heroes, call on the guys to drive their tormentor out of town for good.  John Landis directs the script by Martin, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels and revered musician Randy Newman (who supplies the voice of a singing bush).  To this day, Three Amigos! still supplies a plethora of laughs.

Movie Clip: "Lookuphere, lookuphere, lookuphere!"


6. Stand By Me

"You guys wanna go see a dead body?"

Stephen King is certainly no stranger to seeing his writings translated to the screen.  Based on his short story "The Body," Stand By Me has withstood the test of time, not only as one of the best coming-of-age films ever, but also as one of director Rob Reiner's greatest efforts.  Labor Day weekend 1959 is the setting for a journey shared by four young men -- Gordie (Wil Wheaton), Chris (River Phoenix), Teddy (Corey Feldman) and Vern (Jerry O'Connell is his first film role) -- embarking on a mission into the wilderness in search of Ray Brower, a local kid who has gone missing.  The boys discover themselves during their trek as they come to terms with their budding adolescence, and with hoodlum Ace Merrill (Kiefer Sutherland in a particularly slimy role) and his cronies hot on their trail, the stakes rise when the two groups clash over who should get the credit for finding the body.  Stand By Me brings the laughs and tears, solidifying itself as a true 80s classic.

Movie Clip: Train Chase


5. Aliens

"What do you mean they cut the power?  How could they cut the power, man?  They're animals!"

Director James Cameron became a box-office juggernaut with Avatar and Titanic, but more than a decade before Leonardo DiCaprio froze to death in order to save Kate Winslet's sweet ass, he helmed this sequel to the 1979 science fiction classic Alien.  While Ridley Scott emphasized the horror aspect of being stalked by a single vicious extra-terrestrial millions of miles from Earth in the original, Cameron and his crew amped up the firepower for this film, creating one of the most exciting action movies ever made.  Sigourney Weaver nabbed her first Oscar nomination as Ellen Ripley, a scientist who awakens from hyper-sleep 57 years after the events of the first movie where Ripley reluctantly agrees to accompany a band of Marines to the planet LV-426 to eradicate the alien menace.  What unfolds is an action-packed thrill ride whose likes wouldn't be matched until Cameron released another mega-sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, five years later.

Movie Clip: Tunnel Of Death


4. The Fly

"How does Brundlefly eat?  Well, he found out the hard and painful way that he eats very much the way a fly eats.  His teeth are now useless because, although he can chew up solid food, he can't digest them.  Solid food hurts.  So, like a fly, Brundlefly breaks down solids with a corrosive enzyme, playfully called 'vomit drop.'  He regurgitates on his food, it liquefies, and then he sucks it back up.  Ready for a demonstration, kids?  Here goes..."

Three years after adapting Stephen King's The Dead Zone into a feature film, director David Cronenberg commandeered the remake of The Fly, putting his own deliciously unsettling spin on the cherished 1958 science fiction classic.  Defying his producers at 20th Century Fox, Cronenberg insisted on casting a relatively unknown Jeff Goldblum as scientist Seth Brundle, an anomalous researcher on the brink of discovering the complexities of teleportation.  Goldblum nails the role, his trademark stammering adding to his charm until he tests his "pods" out on himself, not realizing that a common housefly as entered the chamber with him.  His DNA mixes with the insect's, and before long, his humanity melts as quickly as his features do.  His transformation is magical yet nauseating due to the Oscar-winning effects work by Chris Walas.  In the end, The Fly impresses in all of its gooey, dripping, acid-vomiting glory.

Movie Clip: The End


3. House

"Damn!  Come back from the grave and ran out of ammunition!"

Helming sequels to one of the most decorated slasher flicks of all time might cause a director to want to dabble in less sadistic fare for his next project.  So was Steve Miner's situation after Friday the 13th Part II & III when he stepped up for House, a tamer yet still entertaining take on the haunted house genre.  As if horror novelist Roger Cobb (William Katt) hadn't endured enough anguish as a Vietnam soldier, his grief intensifies when an unseen force abducts his son.  Roger returns to his aunt's estate where the disappearance took place after the old bat hangs herself inside, forced into self destruction after angry spirits drive her bonkers.  George Wendt takes a break from Cheers to play the bumbling next door neighbor and the script by Fred Dekker (The Monster Squad) gives him plenty of opportunities as the comic relief.  House's greatest attribute lies in not taking itself too seriously, even when the random assortment of ghoulies bust loose.

Movie Clip: Sandy the Witch


2. Ferris Bueller's Day Off

"Life moves pretty fast.  If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."

I can imagine that every high schooler back in 1986 wanted to be like Ferris Bueller.  An iconic character was created with Matthew Broderick's star-making performance, the fast-talking, always-plotting Bueller popular with every social class in his school.  John Hughes, the ultimate director of 1980s teenage comedy, spins the decisive tale of adolescent rebellion -- Ferris, girlfriend Sloan (Mia Sara) and best buddy Cameron (Alan Ruck) skip school in favor of a day out in Chicago, visiting art museums, fancy restaurants and a Cubs game during their incorrigible joyride through the Windy City.  Principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones, now a convicted sex offender) makes it his duty to nab Ferris in the act in order to expel the rascal for repeated absences, and Ferris's older sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) attempts the same for reasons of her own.  Deserving of repeated viewings, Ferris Bueller's Day Off defined an entire generation's compulsion to break all the rules and just be a kid.

Movie Clip: "They think he's a righteous dude."


1. Little Shop Of Horrors

"If you wanna be profound / if you really gotta justify / take a breath and look around / a lot of folks deserve to die!"

As far as this lowly Internet writer is concerned, Frank Oz's Little Shop Of Horrors is the greatest musical film ever produced.  Rick Moranis is fantastic as the soft-spoken Seymour, a plant enthusiast working for the grumpy Mr. Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia) in his failing flower shop.  Along comes the object of Seymour's affection, the beautiful Audrey (Ellen Greene reprising her role from the Broadway play), whose abusive dentist boyfriend Orin (Steve Martin in an absolutely hysterical performance) keeps her on a short lease.  Seymour's world is turned upside down when an otherworldly perennial falls into his possession, and the success that he obtains from the plant's media attraction soon turns sour when it begins killing everyone around Seymour between musical numbers.  Featuring some of the best anamatronic work of the decade, Little Shop Of Horrors shines as an incredible achievement, not only in special effects, but in the realm of comedy as well.

Movie Clip: Skid Row

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