Yesterday, esteemed Pajiboverlord Dustin Rowles put together his list of 80s movies that have aged badly. Unfortunately, due to
trolling the readership including The Goonies on that list, it is my sad duty to report that Dustin is in critical condition at Our Pajiba of Mercy Hospital, due to wounds that, according to his doctors, “resemble somewhat what one might expect from being mauled by a bear, except much, much worse.”
Now, it’s not my job to go amongst the commenters, one-by-one, inspecting them for bear-hairs like some lycanthrope-seeking Javert. (Pajiba has their own people for that, armed with salmon stuffed full of silver bullets. One can’t be too careful about werebears.) I’m simply going to attempt to resolve the situation peacefully by
drafting a list of 80s hits – massive, massively successful movies, every one culturally and financially important – that, in the fullness of time, have been revealed as massive piles of suck rather than the classics people thought they were at the time.
In no particular order but with a countdown nonetheless:
Arnold Schwarzenegger has quite a respectable 80s lexicon. The Terminator, both Conans, Red Heat, Predator, The Running Man – classics all. But for some reason, with the exception of Terminator no Schwarzenepic is considered to be quite so iconic as Commando, mostly because Commando is supposedly the essence of Arnold: the baddies are bad and he kills them for being bad, for about ninety straight minutes. Here’s the problem: it’s boring and shitty. I could make that sound nicer, I suppose, but it would just be a lot of words that would all mean “boring and shitty.” Yes, I know Alyssa Milano is in it; it’s still boring and shitty. The action sequences have the slow, uneven pace of a retarded cow, the plot is nonexistent and even the explosions are somehow completely unsatisfactory. It’s a parody of 80s action movies and doesn’t realize it. In conclusion: boring and shitty.
9.) Mr. Mom
Mr. Mom relied extensively on shock value for its comedy, so it’s no surprise that it’s really not funny at all any more: the idea of a man staying home with the kids isn’t particularly odd nowadays, so an entire movie predicated on asking the audience “hey, look! Michael Keaton is taking care of children rather than going out and supporting his family! How emasculating is that, huh?” isn’t going to work like it did twenty-five years ago. (See also: the comic strip Adam, except that Adam wasn’t even funny during the 80s.) Mr. Mom could have been more timeless; after all, it’s got Keaton plus Teri Garr, Martin Mull and Christopher Lloyd, accomplished comics every one. (And even a very young Jeffrey Tambor!) But it’s not timeless: it’s a cheap hack comedy with good names trying to capitalize on cultural zeitgeist, and nothing ages a movie faster than tying itself to a given cultural shift or trend. (Unless it’s about breakdancing, lambada, or stunt skiing.)
8.) Three Men and a Baby
True story: once upon a time, Ted Danson was legitimately considered a sex symbol. No! Really!
It seems weird to include a Best Picture winner, and one that was rightly acclaimed at the time, on this list. But Platoon genuinely hasn’t aged well at all; in retrospect Oliver Stone’s script comes off as goofy and melodramatic rather than gritty and realistic as it did at the time, the movie seems to tread water in between often confusing battle sequences, and Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe and Charlie Sheen often seem to be trying to out-clench one another. But the biggest problem with Platoon isn’t even its own fault, really: it’s that Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam opus, came out one year later, and who the hell can compete with one of Kubrick’s best?
Quick quiz: name the last thing you saw Jennifer Beals in. Right, you can’t. But you can sure as hell remember her in those leg-warmers and welding shit so that she could pay for her leg-warmers. And she danced a bit. Nobody on the planet remembers anything else at all about this movie. Did she have a boyfriend in this movie? I am not sure. Neither are you. If you looked up “inessential” in the dictionary, you would not see a poster for Flashdance, because that is how inessential it is. It made a hundred million dollars and not one person on the planet remembers anything other than “Oh What A Feeling.”
5.) National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Actually, all of the Vacation films kind of suck, but the worst (other than Vegas Vacation, made in the 90s and therefore not eligible for this list) is Christmas Vacation, mostly because misplaced nostalgia constantly has people trying to tell you that Chevy Chase’s horrible mugging (his grins in this movie are so tight they form a kind of zombie-like rictus that is terrifying to behold) and a bunch of really horribly staged jokes makes for some kind of holiday classic, rather than the visual equivalent of a seasonal enema. Clark Griswold is the least sympathetic “hero” in Christmas movie history, and if the film had the guts to give Clark the giant “fuck you” that he clearly deserves it might be a dark, ironic classic. Instead, Clark gets his completely undeserved happy ending, surrounded by Beverly D’Angelo and Juliette Lewis and Randy Quaid as his horrible family. If they have Christmas in Hell, the only movie they show is Christmas Vacation, over and over and over again. (Well, that and Christmas with the Kranks.)
4.) Strange Brew
I’m Canadian, so I can say this with the righteous fury it demands: this movie is crap. Want more? Okay: SCTV‘s moments of genius were vastly outnumbered when compared to the innumerable sketches on the show that went absolutely nowhere and felt like they lasted forever. Rick Moranis is justly obscure nowadays, and Dave Thomas even moreso. Cult classic, my fucking ass: this movie just isn’t funny, and worse, you can lay the blame for all those Saturday Night Live sketches-turned-movies at this sucker’s feet. When your eyes travel over It’s Pat! in the video store (not the Blockbuster, but instead that seedy video store at the strip mall which has absolutely everything, which used to be your excuse to visit it when you needed to rent porn, but that was before the internet gave you free porn on demand), you have only Strange Brew to blame.
If we can blame Twins for anything, it’s the true popularization of high concept as a raison d’etre for making a film. With nothing more to it than “hey, what if Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito were twin brothers?”, Twins made a shitload of money and taught Hollywood exactly the wrong lesson, which is that people will go see anything if you can sum it up in a single sentence. Twins isn’t notoriously awful like some movies on this list; it’s just there, sitting like the turkey sandwich you forgot to throw out two days ago. You could probably still eat it. But do you want to?
2.) The Big Chill
The Big Chill was one of Dustin’s honorable mentions and probably the reason he survived that dreadful bear attack. This is because if there is a single movie that encompasses everything hateful about baby boomers, the 1980s, yuppies, and pretty much everything else that ruined the world forever, it is The Big Chill. This movie was goddamned definitive as a Boomer cultural touchstone back in the day, which tells you something unpleasant. The characters are former activist liberals turned successful young professionals, and their complex inner lives are all marked by the fact that they are all conspicuously selfish assholes of varying degrees (except for William Hurt, who is impotent instead, and there’s a bit of a message there: sell out or lose your boning ability!). By the time they start dancing to Motown songs completely unironically, the modern-day viewer understands that there is only one rational response to watching this movie, and that is to say “fuck these people.”
1.) Top Gun
Come on, what the hell else was going to be #1? Top Gun made, adjusted for inflation, approximately one zillion dollars. It reintroduced the word “maverick” to the modern lexicon, and we owe Tom Cruise a kick in the nuts for that because maybe he couldn’t have anticipated John McCain but then again he probably should have, because Tom Cruise has weird mind powers. Top Gun is almost completely unwatchable, and there isn’t any societal shift necessary to explain why. It’s unwatchable because it fucking sucks. Maybe you’re thinking “but if it fucking sucks, how can it have aged badly?” And the simple answer is that sometimes a movie that sucks can still be something that enthralls you briefly and momentarily. For example: the first Michael Bay Transformers. I came out of that feeling entertained, and only over a period of about two hours did I come to realize that I had just seen one of the biggest shitburgers I would ever see. Top Gun is like that, except it took people a few years rather than a few hours to realize it was very, very bad.