As I entered the 80s era, I had come to realize that this was the age of the great science fiction and fantasy films. CGI was just coming into play and the special effects were evolving to blending puppet animatronics and computer simulations, giving life to aliens, fairies, and other out-of-this-world creatures. The writers and filmmakers hadn’t lost touch with the story outline of the films and were not yet distracted by their developing special effects capabilities. Even today, most science fiction films can’t seem to beat the 80s. Back then, they still had crazy imaginations.
Director, Mike Hodges
“Gordon’s alive!“ This is what I call a classic 80s sci-fi film. This movie was a remake of the science fiction cult classic serials of the 1930s. It’s score was mainly performed by Queen with the hit song “Flash, Ahh!” Great movie if you’re looking for cheesy comedy and a great sci-fi goofiness. This movie is not to be taken seriously. Grade C+.
-The Empire Strikes Back
Director, Irvin Kershner
Probably the best Star Wars film ever made, Empire excels in direction and story. This is the darker of the original three and has a more intriguing and anticipating plotline. If you’ve never seen a Star Wars film, this is the one to start with…seeing as the main “spoilers” have already been spoiled. Grade A.
-Escape from New York
Director, John Carpenter; Starring Kurt Russell
John Carpenter returns to sci-fi with this film, which is a much better piece of work than his last sci-fi, Dark Star. It’s funny, exciting, and keeps you on the edge of your seat as you wonder anxiously how Kurt Russell will come out of the futuristic New York island alive. A classic Carpenter style with leather, machine guns, knives and crazy mohawks. This movie is a lot of fun and really reflects the 80s sci-fi era. Grade B.
-Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
Director, George Miller; Starring Mel Gibson
Again, another sequel that happens to be better than the first film. This must have been the trend during the 80s. Somehow the sequels end up being way better than their predecessors. In any case, this is a must see post-apocalyptic film about motorcyclists against cars…generally. The film’s style is almost similar to Conan The Barbarian, which is also a fantastic fantasy film. Mel Gibson plays a great rogue, every man for himself type of dude. Science fiction grade B+.
Director, Ridley Scott; Starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer
Ridley Scott comes back again to sci-fi after making the horrifically terrifying but popular film Alien. Though this movie has a huge following of fans, I felt a little less interested in the film. The film’s visual effects were less impressive, but relied mostly on artistic features. The storyline is very deep, almost too deep that I felt like I was drowning in confusion. I have seen this movie many times, and by the last time, I finally felt like I understood what was going on. In any case, the film itself moves very slowly with lots of mysterious new information constantly being thrown at you. I give this film a C+.
-E.T. the Extra Terrestrial
Director, Steven Spielberg
Spielberg and Lucas were neck and neck during the 80s when it came to science fiction. Spielberg’s next sci-fi movie, after Close Encounters, would be a rival to the Star Wars franchise. It even featured some cameos from Empire to make Star Wars fans go crazy. E. T. is a fantastic film, well directed, top-notch acting—even from the little alien puppet—the music score emotionally riveting—compliments to John Williams—and the story so touching it’ll make you wanna watch it over and over. Grade A.
-Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn
Director, Nicholas Meyer
Nicholas Meyer brings the Star Trek franchise up to speed with its competitors. This movie should have been the first Star Trek, in fact, The Motion Picture is so lame, there’s no point really to see it—unless you’re a diehard fan, or want something to compare it to. Kahn is phenomenal, entertaining and was known for a long time to be the best Star Trek movie ever made. The acting is superb, the storyline exciting and with all the right adventurous touches, and the directing is smartly done. If you’ve never seen a Star Trek movie, there are only three that I would suggest to see. This movie, First Contact and Star Trek 2009. “Kahn!” Grade A-.
Director, Steven Lisberger; Starring Jeff Bridges
This is an interesting movie following the cheesy 80s sci-fi style. If you’re into video games and other science fiction films, then I suggest seeing where it all began. This movie utilizes computer animation for most of the film and was a test, so to speak, to see how far they could go blending the blue screen with the actor. The special effects are rough and are sometimes hard on the eyes. The storyline is decent, the acting a little silly, but so are a lot of science fictions films of the 80s. It’s what makes them loveable. However, this particular film I would like to see remade someday, minding that we get a good writer to work on it. Grade C.
-Return of the Jedi
Director, Richard Marquand
Aw, it’s the little Ewok movie. The last installment to the original three Star Wars films ended with cute little talking teddy bears. Well, not just teddy bears… This film was a decent end to the trilogy and was exciting from start to finish. There were great action sequences, the special effects were so advanced you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference from today to then, and the storyline was a perfect conclusion to the popular franchise. Except for the bears… Nonetheless, the actors pulled off their performances just right in response to the cute, fuzzy little creatures, and the audience could walk away contently. Grade A-.
Director, Peter Hyams; Starring Roy Scheider
This is the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey and could have been a really interesting story except that it didn’t make too much sense in the end. Also, if you watch both movies side by side, you can tell there’s a huge time difference. Where this film is supposed to be nine years in the future, it feels like its twenty years behind. The storyline is slow moving and doesn’t catch your interest too often. Though it’s interesting to note that 2010 is just a few months away, it might be humorous to watch it now and see that we’re nowhere near mining moon. Grade C-.
Director, David Lynen; Co-starring Patrick Stewart
Ugh…great book, great story, and not so shabby acting or directing, but please spare me the crazy blue-eyed special effects and other bad CGI attempts. The special effects were so bad and the movie so long that it made it hard to survive through it. I suggest skipping over this one and watching the remake instead. Grade D.
-The Ice Pirates
Director, Stewart Raffill
If there’s one thing I could say about his movie, it would be HILARIOUS!!! I was laughing the whole way. Again, the film isn’t to be taken seriously, and its comedy is almost right up the Mel Brooks alley. If you love sci-fi and comedy, this is a must see. It’s action-packed, but in a ridiculously funny way. Grade B.
-The Last Starfighter
Director, Nick Castle; Co-starring Robert Preston
I watched this movie with a vodka and sprite, but I still ended up loving this adorable film about heroic dreams and space adventures. The concept is really quite interesting and unique. The special effects were a little under par, but because the story was so cute and such a classic 80s, that is was easy to ignore how unrealistic some of the aliens and ships were. I definitely suggest to see this film. It’ll warm your heart and bring hope to your dreams. Grade B.
-Star Trek: The Search for Spock
Director, Leonard Nimoy
This is the third installment to the Star Trek film series. It had an interesting idea, but came off a little less engaging. This is where the movies start to only filter towards the Trekkie, meaning that anyone else would probably be less into it. The special effects are, of course, very upscale, the storyline entertaining but not quite believable, and the actors have acted these roles for so long, they have become the characters. Generally, this movie was a little slow, action-wise, and Star Trek relies on action. So, even though I’m a huge Star Trek fan, I give it an overall sci-fi grade of C.
Director, John Carpenter; Starring Jeff Bridges
John Carpenter gravitates away from the biker/rocker, post-apocalyptic and actually does a romantic sci-fi flick. Bridges plays a believable alien from outer space trying to fit in as a human being. The story is a cute adventure and is well directed. It doesn’t reek of sci-fi, per se, and has more of the sense a drama/adventure rather than space action or post-apocalyptic. So if you’re in the mood for a romantic sci-fi, which I have to say there aren’t many, see this one. Grade B.
Director, James Cameron
Fantastic story. Though the acting can get a little cheesy, it sort of works with the style. It’s almost like a the sci-fi version of Freddy Kruger or Jason in the campy slasher films. The special effects is a little mediocre, but it doesn’t make it a bad movie either. This film is more horror based compared to its action-packed sequel. Still, a great entertainment and you get to see the Governor of California say his famous line for the first time: “I’ll be back.” Grade B.
Director, Ron Howard
Another cute sci-fi. I’m not sure what it is about the trends of the 80s, but a lot of their movies were really into the sweet and adorable aliens. Despite the title and its original poster, the movie is a drama about old-timers feeling young again. The direction is good, thanks to Ron Howard, and the performances done by the actors is believable. This movie will warm your heart and bring a smile to your face. Grade B.
Director, Joe Dante
This is mainly a kids movie in space. It’s cute and if you have a kid or baby-sit, bring this movie along. It’s fun and family oriented. The special effects are more cartoonish and alien makeup is mainly puppetry, but it’s not so bad if you’re into that kind of film. Grade B-.
-Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
Director, George Miller, George Ogilvie; Starring Mel Gibson
Mel Gibson is back in this third installment of the Mad Max series. This movie gets a little kooky with guest star Tina Turner. It’s not as good as its predecessors, but it still gets the entertaining job done and stays true to the motorcycle, gas fighting gangs. Grade C.
Director, James Cameron; Starring Sigourney Weaver
After the success of Terminator, Cameron was asked to direct the sequel to Alien. This movie is topnotch science fiction and action, with a touch of terrifying suspense. The special effects are at its peak in this film and the aliens look just as real as the humans. But don’t get too close, or you’ll end up with an alien in your chest. This movie excels in performance, direction, storyboard, and plotline. You can’t miss this film! Grade A.
Director, Stephen Herve
Oh, boy. Well, the one thing I have to say about this film is…a total waste of time. I will admit, there are some cheesy 80s horror films that are entertaining. This one is not one of them. I couldn’t tell if it was a comedy or a horror. The director definitely needed to figure that one out. The sad thing was, it wasn’t funny or scary. Just plain stupid. I still can’t believe it made sequels. Grade F.
-Flight of the Navigator
Director, Randal Kleiser; Co-starring Sarah Jessica Parker
Again, another cute science fiction film with mediocre plot, special effects, and direction. It’s a renter if you’re a babysitter. Grade B-.
Director, David Cronenberg; Starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis
A great remake of the original and a lot more disgusting. It’s definitely a good horror flick and will make you hate flies forever…and probably sugar too. The special effects are not too bad for the 80s. There’s a lot of makeup, masks, and puppetry involved in this one, but you really get into the plot that it’s all believable. I suggest seeing this movie just for educational purposes. It’s definitely a different perspective on Star Trek’s transporters. And don’t eat donuts while watching this. Ugh. Grade A-.
Director, John Badham
Ah, yet again…another CUTE sci-fi. A little slow moving, but it’s fun to watch if you’re in the teddy bear, cuddly mood. I get the feeling E. T. really inspired all these cutie-patootie films. Only E. T. was actually really good. Grade B-.
-Star Trek: The Voyage Home
Director, Leonard Nimoy
This film is hilarious. Nimoy didn’t put in too much special effects, and I will say, there were some scenes that weren’t too realistic looking. Nonetheless, it was still fun to watch. Not very action-packed like all the others, and relies more on comedy. Shatner and Nimoy are a riot. I suggest seeing this movie just to see how funny they all are. However, the real crisis in the plot is disappointing. It doesn’t make sense and it’s not critical enough to make us worry for the characters. The story is more like a fun, comedic ride to the past. Grade B.
Director, Steve De Jarnatt; Starring Melanie Griffith
I had high hopes when I read the synopsis of this film. A mix between Mad Max and other post-apocalyptic films, this one fails as anything but lame and boring. The story has no depth and moves too quickly for you to get into the characters. The characters are stagnant and pathetic, not to mention unbelievable in their acting. I yawned the whole way… Grade D-.
Director, John McTiernan; Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger
This movie had potential in being just as good as Alien, and even though I know there is a very loyal fan following to this film, I think it really fell short in delivering something great. Arnold does a decent job in his role and the story is really something unique. However, I couldn’t get over how awful the music was. It really helped distract me from the film itself. I would have probably enjoyed it a lot more without any music at all. It’s mainly all action and lacks any depth of a story. Grade C+.
Director, Paul Verhoeven
This film is great to watch, especially if you have a vengeful side. The good guy definitely gets his chance to beat up the bad guy and it leaves you feeling satisfied. Though, I did feel the film ended too suddenly, all in all it was a fun little piece of action. Grade B.
-The Running Man
Director, Paul Michael Glazer; Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold strikes again in this really interesting sci-fi. The story is actually really different and intriguing. It keeps you into it all the way through. It is your typical sci-fi, though, without mixing any other genre. It’s fun, exciting, adventurous and entertaining. Grade B.
Director, Mel Brooks
A classic space spoof. Mel Brooks delivers a great little raunchy comedy starring Star Wars, Aliens, even a little cameo of Planet of the Apes, and all sort of other famous sci-fi flicks. You can’t go on with life without experiencing SPACEBALLS. Grade B-.
Director, Graham Baker; Starring James Caan
An interesting and unique movie about aliens from another planet trying to make a living on Earth. The style is more like a cop suspense/mystery rather than a science fiction film. Still, it wasn’t boring to watch, though, again, I felt like the ending came up too short. It did produce a TV show later. Grade B.
-Short Circuit 2
Director, Kenneth Johnson
Much better than the first film and a lot more fast paced and interesting. Still, it remains a cute film about an adorable robot trying to make it in the real world. This one grabs your attention a lot more and really touches your heart. Grade B.
Director, John Carpenter
Oh man. This one is ridiculous. Carpenter keeps pooping out bad to awesome films, but there never seems to be an in-between. This one doesn’t entirely make any sense and the fist fight scene NEVER ENDS! And when I say never ends, I mean it! There’s maybe a whole half hour of the same two guys fighting each other into a bloody pulp. Any normal human being would have been dead by then, but NO…these guys can keep going even when they’re not breathing. It’s very comical and the movie shouldn’t be taken seriously for sure. Grade D.
-Earth Girls Are Easy
Director, Julien Temple; Starring Geena Davis, Jeff Goldblum
Kind of a knock off of The Rocky Picture Horror Show, only this one didn’t create a cult fan club. Really weird and the singing isn’t so great. In fact, it’s outright, flat out, incredibly crazy. Not sure where they were trying to take this one. Especially with all the famous actors running amok. Grade F.
Director, James Cameron
Cameron returns to the science fiction world and inspires a whole new trend of underwater aliens and monsters flicks. This movie is mainly a show-off of special effects, trying out new techniques and that sort of thing. You can see the CGI obsession starting here. The story is intriguing and moving, though incredibly long and doesn’t really go anywhere by the time it ends. Though, it’s not an entire failure. Grade B.
-Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Director, Stephen Herek; Starring Keanu Reeves
Very awesome, dudes! This movie‘s tubular! ‘Nuff said. Grade C+.
Director, Albert Pyun; Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme
Ugh, shoot me in the head because that’s how I felt when watching this film. Though, I will admit, Van Damme is easy on the eyes and was worth watching his muscles in action. However, the story itself died a long time ago and was pretty much a waste of time and effort for these poor actors. There could have been potential, but wait…oh no, there wasn’t. Grade F.
Director, Sean S. Cunningham
It’s Alien but underwater! Go figure. The story is sort of a knock off of The Thing and generally is a waste of time. It doesn’t make any sense and the special effects is incredibly stupid and unrealistic. Grade F.
Director, George Pan Cosmatos
I can’t believe this came out in the same year, but again, a horrible waste of film. The special effects is just bad and tasteless, the story isn’t worthwhile or even original, and the acting falls flat. There are some entertaining moments that keep the movie rolling, but all in all, I could have been happy to never see it. Grade D-.
Director, Steven Lisberger; Starring Mark Hamill
AGAIN!! Another horribly made film. This story is at least a little more unique and has some potential, but the direction the movie took was long and boring and action-less. It needed a hell of lot more oomph to get this movie going, and even the famous Mark Hamill, playing a bad guy—can you believe it?!—couldn’t help bring this film up to par. Started out dead, ended dead. Grade D-.
-Star Trek: The Final Frontier
Director, William Shatner
Shatner gets to direct his first Star Trek film, unfortunately the story is really a drag. The idea of the story has promise, but the script didn’t bring it anywhere. The acting was a little lame as well, though they stayed true to their characters. You can tell by now the Star Trek film writers were running out of ideas. Grade C-.
After watching as many 80s science fiction films, I had come to notice a pattern throughout each year. When one movie comes out and makes it big, other movies copy its story. For instance, E. T. with the loveable, good alien comes out and is a blockbuster hit. Then, other films like Explorers, Flight of the Navigator, and Short Circuit follow immediately with pretty much the same storyline idea. Same thing happened with The Abyss, an alien underwater storyline. Then followed a couple of other movies that were really stupid.
All in all, I have to pick the best science fiction film of the 80s and it’s gonna be hard, because there were a lot of good ones. Aliens, The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn, and E. T. were all the best sci-fi films of that year. But if I had to pick one out of those films, it would be Empire.
Though Aliens comes in pretty close behind, Empire has all the elements of sci-fi and really was able to pull it off exceptionally. It had the believable story, the special effects, the fantasy, and the acting and directing were much better than in the first film. The Empire Strikes Back wins the 1980s.