They say that if you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t there. If you can remember the 80s, it’s probably because you videotaped it. Anyone who grew up between 1980 and 1989 – I was 14 at the start and 23 at the end –will be of an age now where nostalgia for a youth misspent moon-walking and worrying about nuclear annihilation – let alone watching the brand new Channel 4 into the night in case they showed an arthouse movie with a “red triangle” in the corner – is no longer something to be embarrassed about.
If Dirty Dancing was your coming-of-age movie in 1987, as a grown-up you can now see the touring musical version and have the time of your life – again. You can even take your daughter, if you have one (I only hope you didn’t name her Baby). As for Back to the Future, its time-hopping audacity showed the formerly revered 1950s which decade was boss by re-inventing rock ’n’ roll for those poor Brylcreemed saps. And now it’s due to hit the West End stage in musical form.
Suddenly, 80s remakes are everywhere. Ghostbusters, one of the most successful comedies of the 80s (and there were a lot of comedies), is being remade by Bridesmaids director Paul Feig with women in the roles previously filled by Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson. And Star Wars, whose second and third instalments, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, were released in 1980 and 1983, is about to be expanded by a seventh film, and it won’t just be kids who queue up to see it. The 80s are back, and they want your money. (They were always about money, weren’t they?)
The 1970s was christened “the ‘Me’ decade” by author Tom Wolfe. But the aggressive individualism he recognised became a way of life in the 1980s, especially in America, which divided the rest of the world into good and evil, as if plotting a Hollywood thriller, and then named a strategic missile defence system after Star Wars.
The rise of Wall Street (as seen in the greed-promoting 1987 film of the same name) combined with the expansion of shoulder pads and mullets to create a euphoric party of self-absorption and cheap credit. And after a decade of creative empowerment for film-schooled writers and directors (George Lucas and Martin Scorsese to name but two), Hollywood handed the keys back to the accountants.
Movies became more commercially driven than ever, making the defining blockbusters of the 70s – Towering Inferno, Jaws, Star Wars – look in comparison like Peter Greenaway experiments. Franchises reigned: Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, Beverly Hills Cop, Police Academy, Mad Max, and, at the end of the decade, Batman, which has been regularly rebooted ever since (Max is back this year, too, in Mad Max: Fury Road).
In the first decade of Aids, sex became more illicit and was used to sell thrillers (Fatal Attraction, Body Heat, even Blue Velvet if that’s your thing) and, to a more smutty degree, teen comedies like Porky’s and Revenge of the Nerds. It also became a pre-gore standby in horrors like Friday the 13th and Halloween. Thankfully, Tim Burton was around to put the fun back into fright with Beetlejuice.
Meanwhile, action movies promoted the one-man army – ideally that man being Sly, Arnie or Bruce – in deference to US foreign policy under former actor Ronald Reagan. It’s testament to the impact of 80s movies that the action stars of then are still saving the world now, in the Expendables franchise.
If you were born after the 80s, you may look at these films and ask, “Why are the special effects so, like, lame?” But even the pre-digital soldering-iron wizardry of Gremlins, Legend and The Princess Bride has a quaint, nostalgic appeal. Less mourned is the six-year wait between a film’s theatrical release and its arrival on VHS, Betamax or no-definition television. Some things are best left in the past.
The Greatest 80s movies is on tonight (Sunday 28th June) at 10.00pm