I’ve always enjoyed learning how art imitates real-life contexts. Be it music, television shows or movies, a look into how their true cultural context always makes for interesting reading. This week, I delved into the movies of the 80s, 90s and 2000s. This week, we’ll look at the eighties. 

By Jonathan Foley 

Having been born in 1984, I took something of a personal interest in this era because of how much it linked with my earliest childhood memories. Not entirely unsurprisingly, this generated a whole lot of nostalgia before penning this article. 

The research gave me huge enjoyment as I watched clips from movies that I hadn’t seen in far too long. 

ET comforting Elliot with the words “I’ll be right here”, the Ghostbusters walking the Statue of Liberty through the streets of Manhattan via the use of a Nintendo control pad and who could forget tapping the toe to the memorable theme tune of Beverly Hills Cop?

But in a wider context, what made the movies of the 80s what they were? The truth is, I feel at least, that they both celebrated ordinary life and also because they were made with an abundance of imagination and creativity. 

Starting with the former, the eighties saw the rise in popularity of the teen-movie genre where younger actors and actresses took centre stage. The likes of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Dirty Dancing and Back to the Future spring to mind here.

The issues young people face in pursuit of their dreams drove the narratives of movies like these and others, forward. Normal everyday things like school life (or taking a day off from school life) could actually draw to a full-on 90 minute film. 

Due to the political uncertainty of this Cold War era, where distrust between the nuclear juggernauts of the United States and the Soviet Union was at its height, this also helped shape the movies we enjoyed. 

Badass characters like Rambo and GI Joe became heroes and it’s often been suggested that Arnold Schwarzenegger films such as Predator and Commando all held connotations and hidden messages of anti-Soviet feelings. 

One film where this was so clearly obvious was Rocky IV when the ‘Italian Stallion’ bent the rules to take on Ivan Drago; an almost robot-like emotionless Siberian boxer who is the product of a specially-induced government program. 

The movie is littered with political references to the Berlin Wall, patriotism and pro-American propaganda. For example, Drago is pumped with steroids and ruthlessly floors sparring appointments whereas Rocky trains in a humble shed and is seen to be helpful to the local villagers. 

And of course, in the end, the American wins. 

This decade was certainly not all underlying politics and movies that were filmed in low-cost surroundings such as high schools or unused hospital buildings doubling up as police academics, but it was also the time of great experimentation.

Science-fiction movies exploded onto the scene. Blade Runner, Alien and Short Circuit to name but a few were all released, but while this genre was nothing new, it took a whole new edge during this particular decade. 

The old Star Trek and The Outer Limits television shows were all well and good, but the likes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas wanted to make sci-fi more adventurous. Essentially, they wanted to recreate heroic cowboy-like figures to a new generation.

This had already started with Star Wars in 1977, but when you look at how characters like the Terminator and even Indiana Jones (although less sci-fi), they both had those maverick gun-slinger qualities that resembled the heroes of old Western movies such as Clint Eastwood.

In many ways, you could see how Spielberg and Lucas were rekindling their own memories of wanting adventurous heroes to come back to the silver screen. Often missing during the movies of overly-political and disco-obsessed seventies. 

Overall, the 1980s produced a wealth of pop-culture entertainment. It was the true birth of audio-visual entertainment, the rise of the music video on MTV and computer gaming at home; not to mention some quality catchy soundtracks.

And sure who still doesn’t love the Moonwalk?

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