The Top 10 Movies We Binged in the 80s and 90s
Decades ago, we used to travel to the most wonderful places while sitting in our living rooms. Particularly on hot summer nights when school was out. Those were the days of 80s and 90s cable, an era when the young and idle would watch over and over movies that most people wouldn’t even sit through once. We were young then and possessed little concept of our mortality. The future went only as far as the weekly TV listings. In order to preserve those precious memories, we Flickchart bloggers have collected some thoughts about the movies that loomed large on the small screen in our formative years.
“What are three movies you watched well over ten times?”
Tom Kapr: The Star Wars trilogy was omnipresent throughout the 80s and into the 90s. I don’t know that I’ve sat straight through any one film into the double digits, but I’ve certainly lost count of my Star Wars viewings, and I’ve probably caught bits and pieces a hundred times, so I’ll say those three.
Ty Tag: Real Genius, One Crazy Summer and Nothing But Trouble come to mind, but I’ve seen plenty of movies dozens of times.
Chad Hoolihan: Midnight Madness may be my most viewed movie of all time. It’s about a scavenger hunt involving a zany cast of characters, including a young Michael J. Fox. After that, there are quite a few contenders. The World According to Garp and The Pirate Movie seemed to be on every day. The Toy, Kidco, Weird Science… I sat through those countless times.
Ryan Stuckey: Back to the Future, Tombstone and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
Greg Dorr: Sadly, some of the movies that I watched with the most frequency were not great. The movie channels would replay certain titles with alarming regularity. I recall one summer watching the Burt Reynolds race car “comedy” Stroker Ace nearly every day for at least a month. That’s too much Dom Deluise for anyone to handle. I’m not proud of it, but I also had National Lampoon’s Class Reunion practically memorized. I rewatched it within the last few years and was depressed by how many lines of dialog I could still repeat verbatim. My taste got better as I got older, and a few years later I was focusing my obsessive rewatching on Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money, which, coupled with its soundtrack, defined one of my summers during high school.
“What films do you still enjoy today? And which haven’t aged well?”
Tom Kapr: I saw Jurassic Park and The Lion King a few months apart at the same drive-in theater. I’ve watched them numerous times on both VHS and DVD. I’ve also seen both on every theatrical rerelease, and every time I’m impressed anew, especially by Jurassic Park. And I also saw Terminator 2 recently on the big screen for the first time—another I’d seen several times on TV, VHS, and DVD. Jurassic Park and T2 have both held up incredibly well and still look better than 90% of the CG in films coming out these days. On the other hand, Anaconda hasn’t aged that well. I remember thinking the special effects in that were so awesome. I rewatched it recently and they are not awesome. Still a fun B-movie though.
Ty Tag: Brainscan and Nothing But Trouble both have great makeup effects, but Brainscan holds up better.
Chad Hoolihan: There are a lot of movies from back then I’ll probably never watch again out of fear of disappointment. Cloak & Dagger with Dabney Coleman and Henry Thomas is one. I loved it at age ten, but I don’t know how I’d receive it now. The previously mentioned Midnight Madness did actually hold up when I revisited it about six years ago.
Ryan Stuckey: Hook and Blade haven’t aged well, but I still enjoy them. Free Willy doesn’t hold up at all.
Greg Dorr: One of my favorites from that era was another Martin Scorsese movie, After Hours. I watched it several times on cable and still find it richly rewarding with its dark, lonely, comic depiction of New York City. The “one crazy night” genre loomed large during my prime cable TV years, helping form my taste for bleak comedy, and the very similar L.A.-based Into the Night from John Landis was also among my favorites then and I still like it today. Of course, there were also far sillier entries in that genre, like the scavenger hunt comedy Midnight Madness, which isn’t as funny as I remember it, though I still think of it fondly.
“Did you have parental restrictions? If so, what was the first forbidden film you watched?”
Tom Kapr: I did. I generally was not allowed to watch R-rated films until ’96 or ’97, with exceptions here and there, so I would have been about 15. And then I still was basically only allowed to watch action movies, not horror, not raunchy comedies. Guys shooting the hell out of each other was fine, but sex jokes were inappropriate. First forbidden film… I was definitely sneaking out of bed some nights to watch HBO when we had it, but I can’t remember a specific first. I do remember catching bits and pieces of that 1994 film Chasers when I was home sick from school one day. Erika Eleniak showed her breasts. I was definitely not supposed to be watching that. But I also wasn’t supposed to be watching MTV, and I did that too. I don’t know why I remember Chasers. I still mostly stayed away from horror because it freaked me out. I didn’t start seeking that stuff out till college.
Ty Tag: Anyone who had wise enough parents,restricted them from watching some stuff and my parents were most strict about nudity. That’s not to say when a free HBO preview weekend came around I didn’t watch movies I probably was a bit too young to see. Like the Sean Penn movie Bad Boys from 1983 that was set in a juvenile detention center.
Chad Hoolihan: The one film I was told not to watch was the original Night of the Living Dead. My parents weren’t aware that far more graphic horror films were on late night cable. I watched whatever I could get away with for the most part. Every once in a while my parents would walk out of their bedroom at 2 A.M. and catch me in the middle of an incriminating scene. I’d play innocent and resume my forbidden viewing when the coast was clear.
Ryan Stuckey: Yes, but they weren’t heavily enforced so it didn’t take long to see movies I was probably too young for. I don’t think any were specifically forbidden so I can’t really answer.
Greg Dorr: We got cable with all four pay movie channels in 1984 when I was 12, and I had no parental supervision whatsoever. Every month when we would receive the cable TV movie guide in the mail, I would circle every movie cited as containing graphic violence and/or nudity. Early favorites were softcore classics like Nana, Emmanuelle II and Felicity, and gory horror such as The Beast Within and, later, The Reanimator. My mom says today that she had no idea how extreme some of the content could get and never thought to monitor what I was watching. Thanks, Mom!
“What film has shaped your movie watching most from those days?”
Tom Kapr: 1996 was a turning point for me. That’s when I really started paying attention to movies. The MST3K movie came out that year, and I caught it on cable, and soon I was way into that show, and it has shaped my sensibilities and sense of humor more than anything else. ’96 is when I was allowed to watch certain R-rated blockbusters, though I was still mostly into PG-13 fare. I know it’s a weird bunch to say shaped me, but ’96 was the summer Twister and DragonHeart and the ridiculous Schwarzenegger flick Eraser came out. I remember seeing trailers for these movies and they would just get my heart racing. But DragonHeart especially. The first TV spot I saw for that, was the silhouette of a guy on horseback riding over a hill toward the camera, and then all of a sudden this dragon flies up. That is still one of the single most indelible images in all of cinema for me. That they could make a dragon like that. It was very exciting. I was constantly watching the trailers for everything on DirectTV. ’96 is also about the time I started keeping detailed lists of movies I’d seen and wanted to see, with years of release, actors, directors, all of it. I did this in WordPerfect mostly. The days before the IMDb, long before Flickchart or Letterboxd. I wrote everything out, mainly using Microsoft Cinemania ’95 and video store flyers as my guides.
Ty Tag: I was going to say Sixteen Candles, and while I did see that back then, I appreciate it more now. So I’m going with my #3 on Flickchart, which is Big. It introduced me to Tom Hanks and my love of coming-of-age comedies.
Chad Hoolihan: From the mid-80’s to the early 90’s I encountered quite a few movies that fueled my cinephilia: Blue Velvet, A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver… I remember Cinemax used to have Vanguard Cinema, which showed foreign and art films. Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater on The Movie Channel exposed me to cult movies. That whole period expanded my horizons considerably.
Ryan Stuckey: Raising Arizona.
Gregg Dorr: Those early days of cable movie channels instilled in me a love for late-night exploitation cinema, even though their programming barely scratched the surface of what you can find today. 1980s horror, especially slashers, are like comfort food to me now. The edgy, semi-arty fare that Cinemax would show as part of its Vanguard Cinema series (like the Lone Wolf and Cub re-edit Lightning Swords of Death) and the punk-infused content of the USA network’s weekend block Night Flight (like Repo Man; Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains; Suburbia) more or less defined the irreverent attitudes and outsider energy that I still find exciting in cinema today.
For those of you who want to recreate our cable movie experience, here are our Top Ten picks. Watch each one at least fifty times on a low-res screen if you want the full effect.
10. Various John Hughes Movies
The eleven year-old boy in me is compelled to give credit to Weird Science. Kelly LeBrock seemed like the ideal woman at the time, though we don’t know how ethical it actually is to create one’s own female life coach (despite her sexualized appearance, that’s basically what she was). To really appreciate watching a John Hughes film in the 80’s, though, it is necessary to view the theatrical version of The Breakfast Club followed by the edited for television version. Chad notes that there is no other edited movie broadcast he watched more than The Breakfast Club. Having already heard the original raunchy dialogue, though, he wasn’t fooled by the ridiculously dubbed-over version.
9. Various National Lampoon Movies
Many 80’s cable watchers undoubtedly caught Vacation, European Vacation and Christmas Vacation more than a few times. There were other National Lampoon productions, of course, such as Class Reunion, which Greg viewed many times over.
8. Three O’Clock High
A stylized, oddball high school comedy. We’ve rarely heard anyone talk about it since, yet it still lingers in Chad’s memory. The set-up is the same as the Western Twelve O’Clock High. The protagonist, however, must instead face a notorious tough guy who wants to fight him after school. No matter how desperately he struggles to escape his fate, the time draws nearer and nearer.
7. High Spirits
There’s a scene here where a ghost (played by Liam Neeson) is kicked in the groin, and he responds with, “That was a dirty trick wasn’t it, eh? Eh? Kicking me right in the bahoogies.” Chad and his sister included “bahoogies” in their conversations for months after seeing it.
6. After Hours Viewing
As Greg mentioned, cable offered a fine selection of adult-oriented programming, from blood and guts flicks to West German sex comedies. Every weekend featured a new movie that we weren’t supposed to be watching. One of the most memorable horror movies from late night cable was Night of the Zombies (aka Hell of the Living Dead), a rip-off of Dawn of the Dead with gratuitous use of stock footage. Chad remembers that as a kid he felt disturbed and fascinated, but adult viewers immediately recognize the inherent silliness of it all.
5. Police Academy 2
Chad remembers watching Police Academy 1-4 hundreds of times before giving up on the series. Bobcat Goldthwait falling down stairs in Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment repeating “That didn’t hurt” still rings in his ears.
4. Real Genius
“Can you hammer a six-inch spike through a board with your penis?” As a youngster, Chad found that line fabulously amusing. The entire exchange, he maintains, amounts to the greatest of all cinematic dialogues. It’s still one of Ty’s all-time favorite films.
3. Midnight Madness
The appeal here is the colorful cast of zany characters and their zipping around from location to location in hopes of winning a scavenger hunt. The action pretty much never lets up, aside for the occasional moments of family drama involving Michael J. Fox as a troubled teen.
2. Various Tom Hanks Movies
By the early 90s, Tom Hanks had become one of those respectable actors that wins fancy awards. There was a glorious period in the 80s, however, when he appeared in a number of goofy classics that many folks remember fondly. The scene with the flying turkey in The Money Pit is perhaps the most riotous moment in the whole string of Hanks comedy masterpieces. A good cutoff point for this era of Hanks is A League of Their Own. Things get a bit hoity-toity after that.
1. Raising Arizona
Both Ryan and Chad view this early Coen brothers epic as the most influential film of their youths. For that reason, the film transcends the HBO and VHS era, echoing into eternity. Ryan explains its greatness:
It was the first movie I was exposed to that had an eclectic form of humor that at times feels like a Looney Tunes movie for adults. The world-building is fantastic. Despite the fact that nearly every character has an amped-up absurdity, there is a realistic charm to the whole thing. Also, it features my favorite actor before he became an internet punchline.
If you watch no other movie mentioned in the article, let this be the one.