I love movies. Movies have always been a great way to spend an hour or two. Movies today are pretty good but, for some odd reason, I can’t help but compare a lot of them to the movies I grew up watching. Well, that’s probably because a lot of them are based on movies that I actually grew up watching! But, in all seriousness, even though there are a lot of great films being made today, they don’t really seem to be as memorable as the movies that were being produced during the 80’s and 90’s.
But why is that? Shouldn’t movies today be so much better than the decades before? Well, being a child who grew up watching these movies as they came out, I can think of five reasons why.
1. They were dumb, silly but they focused on being entertaining
Movies nowadays seem to be so needlessly complex. There has to be this big intricate plot to follow or there has to be some twist in the end. Why? What’s wrong with just giving the viewer a rip-roaring adventure full of excitement? It’s almost like Hollywood is embarrassed to give us something dumb. While it may seem like a good thing that movies are trying to give us something to stimulate the intellectual part of our brain, there is something to be said about just giving us a dumb action film like Commando.
Commando has probably one of the most simplistic plots ever created. Bad guy kidnaps Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character’s daughter in an attempt to hold leverage against him. This backfires and the Commando goes after the bad guys. That’s it! No twists. No needlessly convoluted plan by the bad guys. It’s just a guy who’s really, really, really, really good at killing people and he goes an rescue his daughter. If someone pitches the plot of Commando to Hollywood today, you can bet the movie studios will want to rewrite it to give a deeper backstory between the hero and the villain. Or reveal that his daughter isn’t really his biological daughter or some crap like that.
Commando, like a lot of the movies of the 80’s and 90’s worked wasn’t because it had a complex story. It worked because, even though it was simple, they just gave us creative action sequence after action sequence. After all, when we go to an action movie, what do we want to see? Action! And Commando and most action movies from the 80’s and 90’s delivered action in spades!
While we’re talking about action movies…
2. Action heroes were bigger than life
Action movies have gotten bigger and bigger. Yet, the stars have gotten smaller and smaller. The 80’s and 90’s was the heyday of action movie gods like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. And these guys were huge, both literally and figuratively! The only guys I can think of that could match them is the muscles department are The Rock and Batista, two former WWE wrestlers!
But even the action heroes of before had something different than the action heroes of before: a sense of invincibility. It may seem weird today but the heroes of action films during the 80’s and 90’s had no trouble mowing down possibly hundreds of grunts with relative ease! I mean, check out this collection of clips with Steven Seagal taking out bad guy after bad guy without even breaking a sweat!
Today’s action movies always seem to have the hero beaten and battered throughout the film and just manage to push on using sheer force of will. Sure that’s heroic… but definitely not as badass as the action heroes of the 80’s and 90’s!
3. Characters were characters, not caricatures
There was also something magical about the way characters were presented in the 80’s and 90’s. Oh, they were still weird and definitely followed a lot of tropes and stereotypes of the day. But there was still something that made them memorable. They had personality.
Take a look at Back to the Future. Marty McFly is the good-hearted teen with a troubled home life. Doc Brown is the crazy scientist. Biff Tannen is the big bully. George McFly is the geeky nerd who keeps on getting picked on. These are generally stereotypes you would see in a lot of movies. And yet, you know these characters and they’re incredibly memorable because they also had personalities and quirks that made them more than just caricatures of the good-hearted teen, the crazy scientist, the bully and the geeky nerd.
Back to the Future, like a lot of movies from the 80’s and 90’s always focused on giving us solid characters. It’s a credit to the actors of the era that, even though they had many, many roles, they still managed to make each and every character feel different from the other characters they played. Actors today can’t seem to really pull it off. You know what you’re going to get when you walk into a Kevin Hart film: a Kevin Hart performance. Even in the early films of Adam Sandler where he plays essentially the same character, at least he adds a little something different to each of them so you won’t get them mixed up.
4. They didn’t care about being politically correct
This may be an incredibly touchy topic but I’ll try to explain what I mean by this as best as I can. I was lucky enough to have parents that allowed me to watch Rated R films. This meant I could get to see some incredibly violent films like the aforementioned Commando above. However, one of my favorite films growing up wasn’t any of the more violent films. It was Revenge of the Nerds, a raunchy sex comedy about a group of nerds who, well, try to get revenge on the jocks that picked on them.
I guess part of why I liked Revenge of the Nerds so much was because of all the nudity. A part of it was probably because, even at an early age, I already identified with the feeling of being a “nerd” and how it felt to be picked on. However, I also loved how stupidly funny it was. A lot of the jokes were over-the-top goofiness and, well, kinda horrible and just wouldn’t fly by today’s standards/
There’s one scene where the nerds break into the sorority house that picked on them and install cameras throughout the entire house. They use the cameras to spy on the girls while in various states of undress. Can you imagine Hollywood actually making a scene like this in today’s politically correct atmosphere? They just can’t anymore! In Kingsmen: The Secret Service, even the hint of anal intercourse irked a lot of people! A lot of people found the joke offensive. Imagine if Revenge of the Nerds was released today! What kind of an uproar the “We’ve got bush” scene would get if Kingsmen: The Secret Service got flak for implied anal intercourse?
There were indeed a lot of comedies and action films that were good and didn’t have to resort to our base wants and desires. But there was always room for the comedies with crude humor and extremely violent films. Hollywood didn’t shy away from titillating audiences with politically incorrectness during the 80’s and the 90’s so there was something for everyone. Nowadays, you can’t get away with that kind of raunchy humor.
5. Not all movies were meant to be blockbusters or franchises
Movie budgets seem to have gotten bigger and bigger recently. It’s like Hollywood movies studios just love throwing money at projects in the hopes of making that next big franchise that will crank out sequel after sequel. I understand that this seems like sound business sense; make a huge film franchise and then churn out new entries once in a while to keep the money flowing in. This is in stark contrast on how movies were made before in the 80’s, it seems. While there were sequels during the time, it didn’t seem like they were planning to be a franchise. A prime example would be the very first movie to star John Rambo: First Blood.
First Blood stars one of the original action stars, Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo. It’s all about a war veteran who finally snaps after he was persecuted by the local authorities of a small town. First Blood was a huge financial hit so a sequel was greenlit. However, the movie wasn’t actually supposed to launch a film franchise. In fact, if the film followed the novel it was based on, John Rambo should’ve been dead and any hopes for future sequels would’ve died with him! It was just lucky that Sylvester Stallone and the other producers opted to have John Rambo surrender instead!
Like First Blood, a lot of successful film franchises weren’t planned out. They just got sequel after sequel because the original film was so successful and the movie going audience wanted more. This is stark contrast with how film franchises are developed today as they are planned out from day one! The problem with this is film franchises are constantly looking to their future installments instead of devoting their time and efforts to making the first movie good!
BONUS: Memorable one liners!
“I’ll be back.””Roads? Where were going, we don’t need roads.” “Wax on. Wax off.” “Be excellent to everyone.” “E.T. phone home.” “I’ll have what she’s having.” “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” “Go ahead. Make my day.” “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.” “Say ‘Hello’ to my little friend.” “Kneel before Zod.” “These go to 11.” Heck, even something as mundane as “It’s a trap” is just so memorable! Imagine that! Something as simple as those three simple words from Admiral Ackbar from Return of the Jedi is still stuck in the public consciousness that, if you say “it’s a trap,” you’re going to remember him saying it!
That’s not to say that there aren’t any memorable lines from the movies from other decades. I write on another blog called My Geek Wisdom, which draws from quotes from other media like movies and television. And a lot of the quotes there do come from different movies from different time periods. But the 80’s was special in the sense that a lot of movie quotes that we recognize today come from this time period.
What is the best decade for movies? Let me know your opinion in the comments below!