Top 10 From Back Then: The Movies Of 1987

The world's population ticked in at five billion people during the summer of 1987, a year that single-handedly produced some of the most incredible movies of its decade.  Michael Jackson's hit album Bad was obliterating the charts and the classic Nintendo run-'n'-shoot Mega Man flooded shelves in Japan.  Patrick Stewart assumed the role of USS Enterprise Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation and the animated Simpsons family made its TV debut as short cartoons on The Tracey Ullman Show.  Danny Kaye and Fred Astaire performed their last tap-dances into the grave, the same year the planet was blessed with the births of Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood.  WWE's Wrestlemania III took place in the Pontiac Silverdome, setting the North American indoor sporting event attendance record with 93,173 patrons.  In the end, viewing these Top 10 From Back Then: The Movies Of 1987 beats falling down a well in Midland, Texas any day of the week.

Honorable Mentions:
Hellraiser, Lethal Weapon, The Princess Bride


10. Full Metal Jacket

"A day without blood is like a day without sunshine."

Stanley Kubrick directed this unhinged adaptation of Gustav Hasrod's 1979 Vietnam War novel The Short-Timers, a brutal display of the atrocious aftermath of mankind's worst pasttime.  War is indeed hell during the Tet Offensive for two platoons of U.S. Marines, one of which is headed by Private James T. "Joker" Davis (Matthew Modine), the film's narrator.  Filmed entirely in England and dressed over extensively to resemble a 1968 Viet Cong-ridden landscape, Full Metal Jacket earned the methodical Kubrick an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, just another feather in the cap of one of Hollywood's most exceptional directors.  One might say that the thing people forget about Full Metal Jacket is that there's still 71 minutes of movie left after Gunnery Sgt. Hartmann (R. Lee Ermey in an explosive, all-too-short role) gets blown away by that guy from Law & Order.  Watch this movie, "or I will gouge out your eyeballs and skull-fuck you!"

Movie Clip: "Do you believe in the Virgin Mary?"


9. The Untouchables

"You can get further with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word."

Although some facts were smudged in order to create more drama for a motion picture, Brian De Palma's The Untouchables remains a captivating retelling of the events of the 1957 autobiographical memoir of the same name.  Hotshot government agent Eloit Ness goes head-to-head with the infamous Al Capone during 1930s Prohibition era Chicago, a war which knows no bounds.  To capture an authentic performance by Kevin Kostner as Ness, the only living member of the real-life Untouchables, Albert H. Wolff, aided the future Dances With Wolves star with casting a perfect imitation.  Perhaps the only setback to this one is that Robert De Niro doesn't get enough screen-time to shine as the slickster Capone, stuffed full of pillows under his clothes to resemble the chubbier gangster.  Sean Connery snagged his only Oscar win as Irish-American beat-cop-turned-renegade Jim Malone, reason enough to give The Untouchables a solid recommendation.

Movie Clip: Batter up!


8. The Running Man

"I'm not into politics.  I'm into survival."

Another big screen literary adaptation finishes off the tail-end of this list, this time one very loosely based on a forgotten 1982 Stephen King science-fiction novel.  American life as we know it today is well on its way to mirroring this film's prediction of a completely bat-shit crazy society by 2017, a year when the nation is glued to its television thanks to a delightful little game show entitled -- you guessed it -- The Running Man.  The strategy of The Running Man's competitors (all of which are convicted criminals) is to evade the intentions of their oftentimes heavily-armed opponents to neutralize them in front of a live studio audience.  Arnold Schwarzenegger gives another rambunctious run as Ben Richards, a police officer wrongly accused of gunning down a crowd of civilians during a riot.  Come for the fantastically tongue-in-cheek performance by Family Feud host Richard Dawson as the lead villain; stay for the invigorating dance choreography by Paula Abdul.

Movie Clip: Ben vs. Fireball


7. Predator

"I ain't got time to bleed!"

Schwarzenegger's dominance of the 80s action movie genre became evident with Predator, director John "Die Hard" McTiernan's dark descent into the foreign unknown of hostile Central American territory.  A special forces team headed by Dutch (Arnie, minus the hammy quips found in The Running Man) wipes the floor with a band of guerrillas before squaring off with their true enemy -- a seven-foot-tall interstellar bounty hunter known only as the Predator.  Kevin Peter Hall, fresh off his portrayal of Bigfoot in Harry And the Hendersons, plays the ruthless alien warrior designed by special effects legend Stan Winston.  When it inevitably comes down to Dutch and the Predator, mano-a-mano, the situation gets really tense as the two survivors battle for ultimate glory.  Here's a fun fact -- Predator was based on a joke premise floating around Hollywood for years before its release about Rocky Balboa boxing an extraterrestrial in a future installment of the Rocky series.

Movie Clip: "Chubbs!  You took his--" --arm!


6. Raising Arizona

"How'd you get that kid so darn fast?  Me and Dot went in to adopt on account a' somethin' went wrong with my semen, and they said we had to wait five years for a healthy white baby.  I said, 'Healthy white baby, five years?  What else you got?'  Said they got two Koreans and a negra born with his heart on the outside.  It's a crazy world."

Rebounding from their dreary 1984 crime drama Blood Simple, Ethan and Joel Coen tripped over their shoelaces face-first into lighter fare with Raising Arizona.  Nicolas Cage is Herbert I. McDunnough, better known as Hi to his cohorts, a white-trash repeat offender falling in love with policewoman Edwina, better known as Ed to her colleagues.  Holly Hunter charms as the always-upbeat Ed, until she and Hi discover shortly after their shotgun wedding that she is unable to bear children.  Hi's criminal past dashes their chances of adopting, so the couple comes up with the obvious solution to their qualm -- kidnap one of the "Arizona Quints," five babies born to a local celebrity.  The comedic possibilities are endless with a setup like that.  The slapstick is almost cartoonish at times but impossible not to chuckle at, especially the fight scene between Hi and his prison escapee partner Gale Snoats (John Goodman, a longtime Coen Brothers go-to guy).

Movie Clip: Screaming John Goodman


5. RoboCop

"Dead or alive, you're coming with me!"

Among the most heralded action movies of all time, RoboCop features all of the gleam and polish of a comic book blockbuster, its grim depictions of urban violence pulled off with balsy execution.  Paul Verhoeven (future director of Total Recall and Starship Troopers) steered this futuristic tale of resurrection and redemption -- fresh-faced police officer Alex Murphy (the criminally underrated Peter Weller) is blown away by a gang of misfits in one of the most brutal death scene ever to clear an R rating.  Before his corpse can even fall to room temperature, Murphy is pieced back together on the dime of Omni Consumer Products, the conglomerate replacing the disintegrated pieces of Murphy's body with bulletproof metallic armor.  Some of effects wizard Rob Bottin's most ambitious creations are displayed when RoboCop hits the streets of "Old Detroit" to bust lawbreaking scum.  Also noteworthy is the ED-209 robot, the prime example of 80s stop-motion animation perfection.

Movie Clip: Toxic waste of life


4. Spaceballs

"So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph, because good is dumb."

After lampooning westerns with Blazing Saddles, spoofing horror with Young Frankenstein and roasting silent movies with Silent Movie, Mel Brooks turned his capacity for physical humor and sight gags toward the science fiction category with Spaceballs.  Taking its cues from Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien and several other archetypes of the genre, Spaceballs revolves around Captain Lone Star (Bill Pullman as a low-rent Han Solo) attempting to rescue a princess (Daphne Zuniga) from the clutches of the plotting President Skroob (Brooks, check the spelling backwards) and Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis in one of his most hysterical roles).  John Candy is Lone Star's loveable half-man half-dog companion Barf (short for Barfolomew) and Joan Rivers voices the C3P0-esque Dot Matrix, two more members of a cast fully educated in the comedic process.  Brooks allowed his actors to improvise freely, resulting in scenes like the following one delivered by Mr. Moranis...

Movie Clip: Dark Helmet's doll collection


3. Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn

"I'll swallow your soul!  I'll swallow your soul!  I'll swallow your soul!"

Literally everything that rocked about Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead was improved upon in its sequel, Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn.  Often considered a reboot of the first film, Part 2 retreads to familiar territory, once again placing protagonist Ash (Bruce Campbell returning to the role that made him a household name) in that formidable cabin in the woods to square off once more against an atrocious legion of unholiness.  More experienced behind the camera than he was prior to the first installment, director Sam Raimi amps up the action and humor, allowing Campbell to dazzle on screen, dismembering his tormentors with the help of his trusty chainsaw.  An increased budget handed over from producer Robert Tapert allowed for even more hilariously exaggerated bloodletting, solidifying it as an obvious candidate for the greatest horror sequel of all time.  In short, if you haven't seen Evil Dead 2 yet, I'd say that you're a cinematic idiot and I feel sorry for you.

Movie Clip: A Farewell to Arms


2. A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

"This is it, Jennifer!  Your big break in TV!  Welcome to prime time, bitch!"

After the pulsating turd that was A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, slasher fans demanded justice.  Freddy Krueger was destined to become one of cinema's most iconic villains after the original 1984 classic, but he desperately needed another run to push him to legendary status.  Thankfully, that boost was received with A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.  Wes Craven skipped out on the second movie but jumped back in to write Dream Warriors, the film picking up with the teenagers of Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital being terrorized in their sleep by an unspeakable evil.  It's up to Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp back from Part 1), now a specialist in dream therapy, to save their souls.  Unfortunately, this was the last film to showcase Freddy's twisted humor before it became overly cheesy throughout the rest of the franchise.  For my money, the Nightmare On Elm Street series doesn't get any better than Dream Warriors.

Movie Clip: Freddy snake!


1. Planes, Trains & Automobiles

"The last thing I want to be remembered as is an annoying blabbermouth.  You know, nothing grinds my gears worse than some chowderhead that doesn't know when to keep his big trap shut.  If you catch me running off with my mouth, just give me a poke on the chubbs..."

Even while considering the dozens of timeless comedies listed in Steve Martin's filmography, it's no real surprise that the man himself names Planes, Trains & Automobiles as his personal favorite film of a long and storied career in show business.  John Hughes ruled the high school dram-com landscape with hits like Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Sixteen Candles, but he showed that he was also proficient in the road trip classification with the help of Martin and the cuddly John Candy.  Hughes fleshed out the script in three days, birthing a touching story of an improbable friendship blossoming between fussy marketing guru Neal Page (Martin) and traveling curtain ring salesman Del Griffith (Candy) as their paths keep crossing during Neal's quest to make it home to Chicago for Thanksgiving from a meeting in New York.  A nearly flawless comedy that only gets funnier with age, Planes, Trains & Automobiles also stands as one of this writer's favorite movies ever made.

Movie Clip: "You're going the wrong way!"

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